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.
Family Dispute Practitioner, Fresh Start Mediation
Through an understanding of neurodiversity focusing on the strengths and benefits associated with brain functioning, we can encourage an inclusive and accepting approach to children living with neurodiverse developmental conditions in separating families.
In our mediation work, we see first-hand how much effort it takes from both parties to reach a co-parenting agreement in the best interests of their child. Once an agreement has been reached, the relief felt by both parties is palpable. But then comes the hard part - making the co-parenting agreement work. That’s where co-parenting apps come in - to make this next stage of co-raising kids just that bit easier.
Choosing a mediator suited to the needs of your dispute as well as someone you feel comfortable with is an important first step towards resolving the conflict in your life.
Enrolling in a parenting course does not mean you are a lousy parent. It means that you are willing to develop your parenting skills to meet the specific needs of your children after separation
If the mediator channelled Gwyneth Paltrow, we’re confident at least one, if not both of the parties would walk out. We get it.