When You and Your Ex disagree
It has been said many times that it takes two people to make a war and to a certain extent this is true. However, even if one parent refuses to participate, the other parent can continue a barrage of trouble and conflict.
Research shows that the single factor that affects children the most in divorce and separation is not their parents splitting up, but parental conflict.
Is it me?
- Are you doing anything to make things worse?
- Do you criticise the other parent in front of your children?
- Do you ignore the other parent?
- Are the things you refuse to compromise on absolutely crucial?
This is not to say that you should just do what the other parent says but it is important to keep things in perspective. Does it really matter if the other parent goes to Open Evenings at school as well as you? Is it the end of the world that their dad lets them have fizzy drinks, or their mum doesn’t bath them every night?
Is it them?
- Try to be reasonable.
- Some fundamental things may be important to you. If your child is a vegetarian then you may wish the other parent not to stuff them with hamburgers, or if they are just getting over a heavy cold, you may not want them to go in an outdoor padding pool in November.
- Most differences in parenting styles are not matters of life and death. It is more helpful to tolerate them than to get into a row.
- Matters of safety cannot be overlooked. If your child is not being put in a child seat for car travel or the other parent does not supervise a child playing near a busy road and you are unable to express your concerns and have them heard, then you must stop contact for a while and go through a solicitor.
I really hate my ex!
- If you genuinely dislike or hate the other parent, then it indicates you still have an emotional connection to them. Truly moving on with your life results in emotional indifference, not hatred. See Moving on.
- The resentment you feel may not be dislike for the other parent so much as hurt pride because they left you, envy that they have a better life than you, or indignation on behalf of your child. Be honest enough to admit this to yourself; it is a normal reaction. See Giving your child permission to love the other parent.
- Talk your feelings through with a good friend or a counsellor. Ask your doctor about free counselling sessions.
Helping the children to cope
- If, despite your best efforts, there is still conflict around, try and keep it as separate from the children as possible.
- Write a polite letter to the other parent (perhaps with the help of a friend so you don’t get too carried away), explaining that your child is becoming very upset at the conflict between you.
- Reassure your children about how much you love them, and that you aren't going to leave them.
- It can help children to have someone else to talk to. For a younger child, this can be Grandma, or a teacher. Children of secondary school age may well have access to a listening/counselling scheme through school or you could seek help at your local Relate. Watch the video from a child’s point of view, which includes useful tips.
- If things get too fraught you may have to consider withholding contact. Discuss this with your solicitor before taking action.
- Remember that this can be one of the main ways you can help the children.
- You don’t have to walk around with a stiff upper lip, but you can find other outlets for your feelings, away from the children so that they can feel that they have at least one calm and reliable parent.
- This can feel infuriating as the other parent appears to “get away with it”. When you look back on this time, it will be good to remember that you did your utmost to preserve their security.
Finding a way forward
Create an agreement stating specifically what you would like to happen, for example:
- Agree to meet for Mediation.
- Agree to make phone calls/emails/texts at a pre-planned time to make or change any arrangements for the children.
- Agree not to discuss volatile subjects; to stay on topic when discussing the children.
- Agree not to criticise each other to your children.
- Agree that someone else does the handover, if there is still a lot of anger between you.
Remember this is an agreement, so you may need to compromise, but keep it as simple as possible for it to be effective.
Process for unworkable situations
- Discuss or write a letter stating what you wish for in the future regards to contact.
- Be prepared to compromise.
- If you are really unhappy with the situation, contact your solicitor to discuss future arrangements.
- If you are seriously concerned about the safety of your child’s wellbeing, withhold access and contact your solicitor or Social Services.
- If at any time you feel that your child is in imminent danger, contact the Police or Social Services.
- Check your own behaviour.
- Your child’s safety is paramount but make sure you are not arguing about things that don’t matter.
- Be honest enough to admit your feelings about the other parent.
- Seek professional help if needed.
- Consider mediation.
- Stay strong and positive and give your children extra reassurance. Even surly teens need this!
Useful links and organisations
www.nfm.org.uk - A network of Family Mediation Services which offers help to those affected by separation and divorce.
www.relate.org.uk - Counselling offered to children and young people, parents separating and families, face to face, by phone or through their website.
www.youngminds.org.uk – Support for you and your children’s mental health and wellbeing.