Separation is distressing at the best of times, but bring in the added complexity of having children together and it can compound the challenges. This is not to say that separation without children isn’t equally emotional or stressful, but having children adds another whole dimension.
Co-operative co-parenting is the goal after most break ups and that dynamic is the one that I will explore here.
Note: This article does not attempt to explore relationship separation due to family and domestic violence or in other traumatic circumstances, that is best explored with trusted and appropriately skilled professionals.
FEELINGS AROUND CO-PARENTING
Let’s get things straight, to co-parent effectively you don’t need to push down or ignore your feelings of anger, resentment and/or fear. These are very normal and appropriate feelings to come up in a situation like separation and when negotiating a new norm for parenting.
When we feel like we can’t control things – like court or custody arrangements, differences in parenting techniques etc we can feel really anxious, worried, frustrated and angry!
So, remember any feelings you are having are normal, and embrace them by exploring them and reflecting on what you are feeling and why. It doesn’t seem like it could have much of an impact, but simply acknowledging your emotions goes a long way to reducing them.
When we explore our emotions, it helps us to understand them, and when we understand them, we feel more confident to manage them and subsequently they feel less scary or overwhelming.
CO-PARENTING WITHOUT HATE
But co-parenting without hate is not just about acknowledging your emotions, it’s also about how you direct and respond to those feelings.
Holding on anger is bad for us emotionally and physically, it stops us from being able to process or move into a different space (not necessarily forgiveness, but definitely a place of acceptance), it can also impact on current situations that are neutral but when we bring anger into it, it can taint our perceptions of what’s happening in the here and now. Anger also increases blood pressure which can impact on heart health.
So, let’s explore some ways to re-direct anger.
HOW TO LET GO OF HATE AND BE A BETTER CO-PARENT (cont.)
KEEP YOUR CHILD IN FOCUS
It’s easy to be so focussed on “winning” or one upping your partner to punish them for your separation or their behaviours during your relationship, but no one is winning in a separation.
Least of all our kids.
They are always watching and picking up on any conflict, so try and communicate openly and honestly where possible, reassure them that the separation is not their fault and use your child as the focus for moving towards an amicable co-parenting relationship.
Regardless of your relationship breaking down with your ex, that person will still always be their mother or father and it’s important to allow them to have and maintain that relationship.
Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of the present moment, a skill that helps us identify and acknowledge our feelings without judgment of them being “good” or “bad”. It can help you bring your focus back to the present and not on past hurts, but also allows you to examine what comes up for you, witnessing the emotions, but not allowing them to influence you in this moment.
Mindfulness activities are aplenty so find an app, or a YouTube channel that can talk you through a mindfulness activity; it could be focussed on your breathing, or focussed on the body, or it could be a visualisation, just find one that works best for you.
RECOGNISE THE SOURCE OF ANGER
Anger is an important emotion and tells us lots of essential things about our safety and boundaries. Generally, we feel angry when something or someone has stepped over a boundary, or made us feel unsafe in someway (it could be emotional or physical).
Anger tells us about what we value, so paying attention to why we feel angry and when it occurs can tell use lots about how we can look after ourselves, including changing boundaries or expectations of others in order to keep ourselves safe.
Recognising triggers also helps you map out or plan responses if you know you are going to be exposed to a situation that might elicit feelings of anger.
LET’S GET PHYSICAL
We all know that exercise releases lovely feel good endorphins in our body which reduce stress and made us feel happy. But when we experience anger it also comes with a lot of physical energy.
It is just as important to process and rid our body of physical side effects of anger as well as processing the cognitive/emotional impact. So, get your body moving to shift angry energy.
FIND THE POSITIVES
Sometimes we get stuck in a rut and unconsciously start seeking our negatives, so we need to actively step in and re-direct our thoughts to neutral or positive things happening around us.
You might recall some redeeming quality about your ex-partner (they always try to be on time for school pick up, they love your child just as much as you do etc) and really keep this positive thought at the forefront of your mind.
You might also consider starting a daily gratitude journal or setting daily affirmations to get your mind focussed on other areas of your life that are wonderful, happy and abundant.
You can’t have rules about everything and not all parenting decisions are going to go your way when you co-parent. If you set too many rules or expect your ex to parent exactly the way that you do, you are setting them up to fail and it’s going to be hard to be amicable.
So, sit down and really identify the non-negotiables, what are the values you are going to hold as a family moving forward (trust, honesty, open communication etc). A couple of key values that keeps you aligned as co-parents and any real non-negotiable expectations each might have (communicate in advance any changes to custody arrangements, call if you are going to be late, no mobile phones until XX age etc) is a great place to start.
Despite these strategies I just want to really normalise that its ok to have angry feelings, or be really upset with your ex-partner. But the risk of staying stuck in a space with those angry feelings is that eventually these feelings take over and can creep into other areas of your life, or can start to effect other relationships.
Be really kind to yourself, and focus on taking little steps away from anger, once you do you will notice the relief and hopefully can move close to acceptance and comfort in your co-parenting role.