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Children best served by healthy co-parenting after split

By Staff

Effective co-parenting is a skill that can be learned, but that requires some practice and should be adopted early on, Alberta child protection specialist Melani Carefoot tells

“People let their own adult emotions get in the way,” says Carefoot, owner and principal of Positive Choices Counselling & Assessment.

She points out that emotions during and after a separation tend to taint a parent’s view and inevitably influence how the couple communicates. Although they’re no longer together, the two are inextricably linked through their children.

The only relationship you cannot leave is co-parenting, Carefoot says. So after a divorce or separation, the former couple has to develop a new relationship.

“Co-parenting is doing things in the best interests of your children,” she explains.

The situation is complicated because this new dynamic of the ex-couple’s relationship is often launched from the negative experience of the split.

“They have cared for their children together for years and when they decide to dissolve their marriage or relationship they have to learn how to co-parent. It’s a new skill,” says Carefoot, a therapist, divorce coach and child welfare specialist. “It’s no different than learning any new skill.

“There’s a great deal of grief and loss that people experience in divorce and separation. It comes at a time when people can be quite vulnerable and in need of support.”

The hurt feelings and disappointment that accompany a split can affect a person’s ability to co-parent, Carefoot says. But the children’s world has been turned upside down, too. For them, suddenly everything is brand new and they’re caught in the middle.

The best approach is trying to adopt a healthy co-parenting model, which includes positive communication with the former spouse early on.

“If you have bad communication patterns, you get into arguments and poor exchanges of children from one home to another can become an issue,” she says. “People often come to us after they realize it has not been working for some time and now everything’s a mess. We have a great success rate, but it takes much longer to dig to the bottom.

“Many people cannot develop a co-parenting relationship without some help.”

Poor communication, adds Carefoot, can lead to manipulation by the child. For instance, if the child is prohibited from using the tablet for the weekend, but the other parent isn’t told, the child often takes advantage of that situation and happily pulls out the computer.

That, in turn, affects the child’s behaviour around other people.

“You’re then teaching your children maladaptive communication patterns. And that can potentially stay with them for life,” says Carefoot.

She likens a successful co-parenting arrangement to a business relationship when the children are the business and the adults learn to be business partners.

She finds getting children to talk about the situation is also quite beneficial and can help with the family’s overall communication, she adds.

The child should be able to enjoy time with both parents and see them as a support for each other, not an enemy, she says.

“Those transitions between houses can be made so much easier,” concludes Carefoot.