Written by Angela Lake-Carroll

Angela has over 30 years' experience of working with separated families and she has written a range of short guides for separating families. Angela works across the broad range of family law and family dispute resolution as a practitioner and adviser. She has also worked with and contributed to government policy for families, children and young people.

Very many families today live in situations where children go between their parents rather than living with both – or just one. Being a successful separated parent takes work – and compromise. Listed below are some hints and tips that you may find useful as you plan or begin your changed role as a parent.

Put your child or children first

Whatever has happened that has resulted in your separation as adults is secondary to meeting the needs of your child or children and ensuring their continued and future happiness. Muddling your anger or hurt about the ending of your relationship with what needs to happen to ensure your children’s continuing security is dangerous. Ending your relationship is adult business. Raising secure, happy children is your responsibility as their parents.

Continuing conflict between parents causes emotional harm to children that may affect their whole lives

Children caught in conflicts are more likely to have significant problems as they grow up, to under-achieve and to find making adult relationship difficult.

Don’t make your child or children take sides

They don’t want to. They love you as their parents, it is hurtful and damaging for them to feel that they have to make choices between the two people they love most in the world.

Keep your communication as parents going – even if it is in a business like way, it will help your children to understand that you remain, as their parents, together and united in your concern for them.

Finding it difficult to be civil to each other?

Think of yourself as partners in a family business – just as sometimes happens in work situations, you may not get on or even like each other, but you have an investment in your children and a task to complete in raising them to adulthood.

Keep your communication as parents going – even if it is in a business like way, it will help your children to understand that you remain, as their parents, together and united in your concern for them.

Think about the language that you use to help your children and you to be reminded that you both remain parents.

Start sentences with ‘we speak’ e.g.

‘Dad/Mum and I hope that’, ‘have decided that’, ‘think that’.

Make sure that if you’re not sure what the other parent thinks or has said, simply say that you need to check it out with them. ‘Hope’ is a great word – don’t make promises that you may not be able to keep, instead tell your children what you hope might happen.

Think about how it felt for you when your child misbehaved in public

And then think about how it would feel to your child or children if you and their other parent did so at a public event important to them – school plays, sports day, parents’ evenings.

Your being there at significant events is important to them – as is your civil behaviour together. If you really, really can’t manage to attend together, alternate your attendance at significant events.

Happy Birthdays

To a child, a birthday is an exciting occasion – they deserve to have happy birthdays free from worries about an atmosphere between their parents and free to enjoy their day. They would prefer to spend it with both of you (where it is possible for you to do so) – try to ensure that they will have some contact with both of you, by phone or for a short time at least.

Making their Christmas

Or other significant dates in the calendar means thinking through how you can each compromise to ensure that your child or children can look back at those occasions in their childhood with good memories. Try to think ahead and plan for these events ahead of time – don’t make assumptions and don’t plan or book things without talking to their other parent, and remember older children and teenagers need to be part of any planning because they too may have things they want to do at significant times of year.

Think about other significant things that happen as children grow up

Typical events could include change or choice of school, medical treatment, problems at school and everyday things such as bedtimes and discipline. Try to think through how you need to ensure that each and both of you know what will happen if and when there are decisions to be made or action to be taken. If you can’t do that without help, think about using a mediator to help you set out a framework for all the important areas of your children’s growing up.

Children need families

Don’t forget that your children have other family members to keep in touch with – Grand- parents, Aunts and Uncles and family friends. A sense of family and of belonging aids children’s feelings of security so ensure that they can continue to spend time with all the family members whom they have previously known and loved.

 New partners and friends

Face it – if you haven’t already, there’s a strong likelihood that you will have a new partner or friend. Just because they are significant to you, do not assume that they will be immediately significant to your child. If they are going to be part of your life for the future, there is plenty of time for them to become involved in your children’s lives don’t rush it, children need time to adjust to new arrangements and new people, and your new partner will not thank you for dumping them into a wicked step-parent role!

How would you like to be treated when you have a new partner?

And how would you expect your new partner to treat your children? Whatever that is, apply that to your ex and their new partner.

Help friends and family to know how you want them to help

Friends and family need your guidance to know how they should behave and react. People who love you often want to protect you from hurt or show loyalty. Occasionally and sadly, friends may be acting out their own agendas about past hurts of their own. Be clear with them that you and your ex are trying to work things out together and that is important to you and for your children. Be clear that you want them to support your children – and both of you, no matter what their view about what might have happened.


Children learn what they live

Growing up in a situation where things are dealt with through conflict or anger and where there is little or no communication between their parents means that you shouldn’t be surprised if your children deal with their relationships with you, their friends and the wider world in the same way – it will be how they think adults behave.

Growing up knowing that their parents love and care for them and want them to share their time with each of their parents is a fundamental life lesson for children about relationships, sharing and caring.

Stay confident

When a relationship ends it is easier to feel failure than gain. Remember, however, that no relationship that has produced children is a failure. Try to stay proud of your achievements as parents – and don’t lose confidence in your ability to continue to parent well and successfully.

Useful Resources

We have a section on Recommended Books which has books that support children and parents.

You may like to read this article by Dr Angharad Rudkin ‘What Does It Mean To Put Your Children First’







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