• March 22, 2022

Why a parenting alliance is the gold standard for separated families

In separated families, a parenting alliance is like a deal between parents to work together to raise the kids. By entering into a parenting alliance, both parents take the approach that together, their parenting care will be more impactful and better for the kids than as two separate entities with a different set of rules for each household. In other words, they act as a united team, splitting the parenting responsibilities. Each parent allows the other to play to their strengths and they support each other in decision-making.

What each parent must bring to a parenting alliance for it to work

For a parenting alliance to work, there are some fundamental drivers that must be in place, starting with each parent’s acknowledgement of the strengths of the other. To create a successful alliance requires cooperation, communication, and respect regarding parenting the kids. Understandably, many parents often find themselves in poor emotional health, following the gruelling process of separation. It’s important to ensure enough time for emotional recovery and repair to take place so that a level of trust can be restored before separated parents can progress towards an alliance enabling them to effectively co-parent in the best interests of the children.

Develop a plan together with established boundaries

The first step towards developing a practical co-parenting alliance is to create a plan with the best interests of the children at its core. For the plan to work, there should be a reasonable degree of agreed-to flexibility by both parents – as the unexpected (like a pandemic), will happen and each parent must be adaptable to the realities that life turns up. Boundaries are easier to respect when there are some basic ground rules in place. Those rules should center on keeping communication focused on the children, never criticising each other in front of the children, regularly engaging with each other in an agreed to format (parenting apps are a great idea here) and most importantly, not using the children to deliver messages and announcements to the other parent.

Don’t get fixated on a 50 / 50 parenting arrangement

It’s my right to have 50/50 with my kids is something we hear often in family mediation. Acknowledging that family mediation and a parenting alliance is always focused on the best interests of the child, sometimes that doesn’t mean 50/50. It’s not that equal time can’t work, in a certain set of circumstances it can and does, but for a multitude of reasons, sometimes it’s not the best outcome for the children – or parents. A solid parenting alliance allows for the child or children to having a meaningful relationship with all parents. And in our experience working in this space, kids are much happier when a parenting alliance focuses on quality of time not quantity of time with the kids. When parents agree to an alliance playing to their strengths, often the time spent with each parent reflects this. Also, the ages and developmental needs of the children, plus the living arrangements of each parent should factor into the agreed-to days/nights. Again, flexibility is key here – things will and do go wrong (a parent falling ill or having to travel unexpectedly etc) and things may need to be re-worked to reflect this.

Consistency across the board

Separated parents have plenty of differences – but in a co-parenting alliance, they share the important common goal of consistency when it comes to their children. In acrimonious scenarios, kids can learn to play one parent off against the other – sometimes without consciously realising that’s what they are doing. To avoid this and other parenting challenges in separated families, consistency around discipline and reward is crucial. Consistent discipline between houses makes it easier on both parents and provides stability, clarity, and solid guidance for the kids. On the reward front, it’s also important parents agree on strategies to promote positive behaviour in the kids – this may include everything from allowances to screen time. The final important piece of the consistency pie is routine. This can include bedtime, homework, self-care (how many kids like brushing their teeth?) and diet. Consistency of routine does not need to be perfect and never deviate from the plan – but it needs to pass the ‘kid test’ so that each child understands the non-negotiables no matter which parent they’re with at any given time.

Be prepared to revisit the parenting plan as needed

Change is a reality of life. Sometimes it’s driven by us: deciding to move, seek a new job, return to study, ending a relationship – and sometimes change is dictated by forces beyond our control: a diagnosis, a redundancy… a pandemic. As your children grow, their needs and wants will evolve and that means change. A good parenting alliance will be open to, and ready for that.

A co-parenting alliance is a work in progress

Things will always happen in a co-parenting alliance that change the dynamic – often a new partner with children of their own presents a challenge to the alliance forged between separated parents. But like the Jedi Force, if built on a foundation of communication, cooperation, respect and shared trust, the Alliance will remain strong and weather threats to its very existence, because life is full of storm troopers approaching from unexpected angles.

One more thing…

And finally, everybody benefits from a co-parenting alliance. A solid co-parenting alliance leads to less hassle and less drama for the parents and improved wellbeing for the kids helping them continue a stable and positive developmental journey despite a massive change to their small world.

To help you prepare for mediation, we have created a library of helpful information including checklists, tips and added detail around the process of mediation. For useful and relevant information you can download for free, we encourage you to visit our resources page.

Author: Cath Pope, FDR practitioner/mediator

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