Tom Nash, better known as Mr Divorce Coach, is an internationally certified and specialist Divorce, Separation and Family Coach. He is also a Master Practitioner in Coaching and positive mindset techniques and one of a handful of male Divorce Coaches in the UK.
Tom is also a father, co-parent, step-father and divorcee – using his own experiences to provide advice and guidance to parents – both Mums and Dads – to navigate parenting with an ex.
What does it actually mean to co-parent?
The definition of co-parenting states that it is the process of two parents working together to raise a child(ren), where the parents are no longer together, sharing the legal & physical upbringing of their child(ren).
To me, co-parenting is about finding a new way to work together. To co-exist and more importantly function as parents after a divorce/separation, parenting together whilst being apart. I love words and language, the prefix of “co” is to be collaborative, cohesive, cooperative. In short to still work together for the greater good… your child(ren).
Co-Parenting isn’t about being friends per-se, it’s great if you can be of course, but it’s got to start somewhere and somehow, with a new foundation, a new form of respect, trust but also accountability and an understanding of change and the need to evolve. From our communications with one another to parenting styles, boundaries and much more.
I use the analogy of the workplace with co-parents I work with. I ask, have you ever worked with someone you aren’t that keen on, maybe don’t particularly like very much sometimes (or even most of the time in some instances)? But yet you still recognise and acknowledge that they are the best person for the job! They alone have the unique set of skills and abilities to fulfil that special role within your work/project. That at its core is how to look at successful, sustainable and fluid co-parenting relationships.
It is also about opportunity. To do things differently, better, than maybe others have before us. To break the mould, shift preconceived ideas and presupposed ways of doing things, a more positive way of being, that ultimately supports your children.
What are your top 5 tips for successful co-parenting with an ex?
- Language – verbal and non-verbal, it’s not always what you say, it’s what you don’t say or indeed what you do or don’t do in your actions. Think about your words & how you use them… “ours” not “mine” or “yours” when referring to our children. The use of pronouns to describe your fellow co-parent, referring to them as he/him/she/her, sub-consciously devalues that parent in the child’s mind, and morphs your emotions of hurt, upset, anger, resentment, etc about the other parent into guilt, shame and fear for your child.
- Stop Creating Your Own Obstacles! The majority of difficulties I witness with clients struggling with co-parenting is where one or indeed both parents are creating obstacles where there needn’t be. Causing smaller issues and challenges to feel like they’re “winning”… The “winners” of your co-parenting journey are and will always be your children. It’s your child’s feedback of this experience that will determine and show you if you have done it right or not. Not your own feedback to yourself.
- Planning – “Failing to Prepare is Preparing to Fail”, if you’re leaving big event plans (birthdays, Christmas, etc) to last or later days and weeks, contentiousness and issues have an opportunity to arise. My fellow Co-Parents & I will discuss events months in advance. Summer holidays are sorted after NewYear, Christmas is organised by May bank holiday. The sooner you discuss the better. How could you do that, well how about “Parenting/Family Roundtable”? Set a pre-agreed agenda, stick to the points of the agenda, any deviation can again create an opportunity for difficulties or disagreements outside what was planned.
- Boundaries – Make them unique to your situation. Bedtimes don’t necessarily have to be the exact same time in each home. If one parent lives 5 mins from school and the other 45 mins, it’s acceptable that there can be flexibility on such topics and rules. Be clear about each other’s boundaries, create a respectful safe word or gesture that you both agree on to flag when a boundary is being impeded.
- Tech can be Helpful or Hindrance – Modern tech has a way of catching us out or off guard. If you have changed your ex’s name in your phone to something derogatory… don’t! Change it to something respectful like “Mummy/Mum/Daddy/Dad” and their initials. For example my ex is “Mama N”. If you have changed it to something like “that cheating ****” or “Gold Digger”, one day your tech will catch you out. Modern tech cars like Tesla’s for example talk to you, imagine your driving along and your kids are in the car and the car says “Gold Digger has text you….”! Not a nice experience for anyone. Also look at useful tech, Co-Parenting Apps like Our Family Wizard. You can centralise everything, from parenting schedules and request changes, to transferring payments/funds right through to messaging. All in one app, leaving your email, texts, WhatsApp, Insta, Snapchat free from your ex communicating and impacting you. Streamline how you Co-Parent. Be efficient. Use the tools with which we are fortunate to have available to us.
Lastly and this is not a top tip but more of a statement, but Co-Parenting is NOT 50/50… It is 100/100. You both need to be committed to working together, however challenging. You have to get through the weirdness and find your own unique path and approach.
I’ve met someone.. How would you recommend broaching the subject with my ex (and kids!)?
This can be a minefield and a big cause for anxieties, worries and even boiled backup emotions from the past. Softly softly at first and those earlier days. As per setting boundaries mentioned in the tips above, discuss with your co-parent an acceptable timeframe in which you or they have been seeing someone before you bring it up to them. Some people are fine with it almost immediately, others need more time to get it right in their own mind. Various studies out there but you will want to wait a good few months before making any major announcements.
Having discussed with your ex when you agree to inform each other of new partners, that makes the process of that much easier and more respectful discussion. You are both prior prepared that this is a likely outcome at some stage, lessening the impact and reducing the chances of any negative situations arising.
Telling children is as unique as who your children are, how they operate and process new information, their own maturity and ages are considerations of course. Again, discussing this with both your co-parent and your new partner is paramount. If your new partner has children, are they going to all meet together? Are you telling them you are a romantic item right away? My partner and I introduced our two sets of two children (my two and her two) at a festival. Our youngest’s had met once on a train as we both worked and commuted to London, so they had met for an hour once before in a natural setting. At the festival I was there with my two, my new partner was there with hers, separate tents and all that, but we spent the weekend as a big friendly group of 6. We continued with sporadic weekend meet ups to help the children adjust and get to know each other, and the new adults so as to forge a happier healthier start to the relationship. By the time we came to tell them some months later they were very happy and excited that their new friends were going to become part of their new family.
Do your research on Step Parenting as well, it can be unbelievably rewarding done right. But it comes with its own set of challenges and obstacles. You and your new partner need to establish the reality of this life decision, not just the “Disney” movie we play in our heads? What will you do if conflict arises? Sibling rivalry can be rife. Step-Parent/Step-Child relationship requires effort, consistency, a lot of patience and an acceptance of what that relationship can and may well look and feel like. If biological parent/child relationship and love is unconditional… then you have to accept that non-biological parent/child relationship and love IS conditional! You need to earn that trust, that love and affection, it isn’t always easy, but it is a million% worth it if you get it right.
What would your advice be to our users who would find co-parenting especially challenging? (e.g. if they’re ex was abusive)
Unfortunately we do not live in an ideal world, where everyone can and will get along. So co-parenting isn’t always the best or even achievable option. It does take two to tango I’m afraid.
In the earlier days of a divorce/separation, you may want to consider Parallel Parenting. Parallel Parenting is where there is very little to no contact between the parents, except for core basic stuff like health, dental, educational, etc type information. There are typically very little to no shared or mirrored rules in each home. This options does allow for the tempers to dial down whilst the rawness of emotions are still high.
Parallel parenting can have an adverse affect on your children though. Children in Parallel parenting homes, often feel torn, unsettled, confused by the difference in house rules, parenting styles, etc. Children who experience these difficulties are vastly more likely to experience mental health issues, underperformance at school, under supported adult relationships in later and adult life. There are various studies out there but all show the same thing. Children of divorced parents who experienced a negative family breakdown are vastly more exposed and likely to have a multitude of difficulties in later life.
If you have left or indeed managed to escape an abusive relationship, whether that be physical, emotional, financial, psychological abuse, then you must protect yourself. Going no contact and keeping strict lines in the sand to protect you and those around you is paramount. If your ex suffers from NPD (narcissistic personality disorder) then co-parenting and even parallel parenting are not an option. People with NPD are out for pure annihilation and won’t stop until they’ve destroyed you. NPD is overtly used all too often these days, everyone has narcissistic traits and we’re all on a scale to a degree one way or another, they say on average that only around 5% of people have true and categoric NPD. So do your research and know what you’re truly dealing with before you decide your ex is a narc! If they are, then unfortunately it is best to keep well clear and have very strict guidelines and rules in place over shared care of the children.
The one form of divorced / separated parenting to stay well away from, whether your ex is abusive, has NPD, or is just a bit of a pain in the butt, is Counter Parenting! Counter Parenting is where one parent goes out of their way to be disruptive, difficult, cause problems just to get at you/you get at them. As the name suggests, it is highly counterintuitive, it perpetuates the already existing problems and lays the foundations for further bitterness and acrimony to set in. People with NPD will very likely go to Counter Parenting as their default. You have to remember if you bite, your actually just adding to their supply, their need to know they’re getting to you.
All forms of parenting are about accountability. What you do. What you bring to the table. What your actions are. Take the high road, be the best version of you you can be for your children. Ask yourself if what you are about to do/say/etc is actually for your children or driven by your own feelings? What lessons will they take from this experience? Ask yourself “how do I want to Co-Grand-Parent”? How do I want this to look like, sound like, feel like when your kids are 25, 35, 50? When they’re adults with their own children, and they may end up getting divorced/separated? How would you like them to approach it from the lessons you’ve taught them, that ultimately will in time determine how often you see your grandchildren!
Successful & sustainable Co-Parenting is an inter-generational experience. It’s not just once that court order is in place. You will live in the sphere the rest of your lives, as will your children.