Post-Separation Parenting Guidelines

Gary Dawe M.S. Psy

The separation of two parents means that they have decided they do not want a life together but want to live separate lives. These statements are intended to be guidelines that adults should follow that will help them continue to be good parents after separation. Divorce and separations are sometimes amicable, sometimes very conflictual. These guidelines often minimize the conflicts that occur after separations or divorce, help maintain a positive relationship between the adults and their children, and minimize the negative effects of divorce/separation on the children. The guidelines are not meant to apply to all situations at all times and should be used in conjunction with therapeutic interactions with a qualified therapist.

- Gary F. Dawe M.Sc. L. Psych

There is an overriding theme that both ex-partners should try to rebuild their lives into a new family structure that is as separate from each other as possible given that they have children in common. If parents separate, it means that they are building new lives. Adults cannot do this if they are always involved in the lives of their former spouse. For this reason, it is recommended that former spouses limit their interactions to planning for their children. These talks should be the least conflictual possible.

Parents should not talk negatively about the other or blame the other parent for the separation. Separations are the responsibility of both parents. Blaming a former partner in front of the children forces them to take sides. This is not fair to the child because it places the child in the middle. Both ex-partners assume equal responsibility for the separation in front of the children. The ex-partners do not have to go into details of what happened to the children. Each should simply acknowledge that the “couplehood” was no longer working and it was agreed to separate. The children should have assurances that although members of the couple no longer love one another they as children are and will be always loved and cared for. They need to know they are not to blame for the breakup.

Each ex-partner should show unconditional support of the other ex-partners attempts to rebuild their lives, have new friends, different life styles, and create a new life. There should be no criticism about the other’s behavior or attitudes in front of the children. If parents separate, they must respect each other’s lifestyle. Separation is to allow parents to live differently from one another so these differences should be respected by each parent as the other person’s right.

Each ex-partner will have different ways they nurture, support, and discipline their children. If children talk or “complain” of the other parents “techniques” or “house rules” the parent hearing such talk or complaints should “stay out of the loop”. In other words the parent hearing the complaint should simply say “you should discuss this with your mother/father - she has her rules and I have mine” and simply move on. Unless there is a suspicion of abuse or neglect of a level that is reportable to social services, both ex-partners should be accepting of each other’s differences in discipline and house rules, etc. After a separation, each parent has the right to make his or her own house rules. This means that the father’s rules can be different than those of the mother. As long as there is no abuse, it is OK. Parents should remember that children can learn to cope with many different sets of rules. School rules are different than home rules that are different from recreation center rules. Kids can adapt.

Children should not be placed in a parent role. Parents must not, therefore ask advice of their children on adult issues or go to them for emotional support. They must seek this elsewhere.

The parents must respect the choices each might make when they choose new partners. The children also have the right to ask a parent to postpone developing a new relationship if they think that things are not stable at home since starting a relationship takes much energy and may have to be put off until home issues are dealt with.

Whatever the visitation schedule has been agreed upon (either by the court, a custody agreement, or whatever) it should be followed and planned out as far in advance as possible. There should be no changes to the schedule, the timing, the drop off procedures, and pick up procedures once decided upon. Written copies of the schedule should be in the hands of each ex-partner. Children benefit from the psychological and physical consistency such an agreement brings.

As part of this visitation schedule pickup and drop off times and procedures should be rigidly adhered to if there has been excessive emotionality and conflict surrounding these transition times. The main theme here is to decrease the potential of negative emotionality that may occur whenever the ex-partners connect.

The major component of the children’s lives that is shared between the ex-partners is information regarding education and health. School report cards, any written health documents, and medical diagnosis, and any prescriptions and accompanying procedures currently being followed should be shared.

If one or more child is participating in something public (say a child is in a drama play, Xmas concert, public speaking etc.) both parents should be able to participate if at all possible. If there is a peace bond of no contact between the ex-partners, then participation should alternate. Children benefit from the knowledge that parents are actively involved in, and encouraging of, their important activities and accomplishments.

Both ex-partners should agree to make no major moves without consulting the other through their respective lawyers. Here the phrase “major moves” is taken to mean actually physically moving residence from one place to another.

Ex-partners should try to see divorce as a loss from the children’s point of view. People react with mixed emotions to loss. Don’t deny there is loss and talk about it when children bring it up without being negative or conflictual toward the other spouse. Be aware that children usually did not want this separation – the adults did, so children often feel powerless and may still wish, even long after the break-up, that their parents would get back together.

Try to maintain your own physical and mental health and ensure that the children see you as being available, loving, healthy, and consistent.

Try to maintain stability in terms of the child’s friendships and school if possible. If you have to move schools or locations prepare and involve your child as much as possible.

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