Parenting separately can seem scary. People will tell you, “You’ll be fine,” “You can cope,” “There’s plenty of single parents out there,” or “Just because you’re not together, doesn’t mean you can’t both be good parents.”

This though doesn’t always help when you’re facing the big unknown.

Find ways forward

Things will fall into place, but it can take time. In the meantime, you may find the following helpful:

It can be overwhelming when you carry all the difficulties around in your head. It may be useful to share your struggles with your child’s other parent to see whether they are the same or different. This may start conversations about how you both are going to parent apart in the future.

School holidays

Looking after your children as a separated parent can throw up many new challenges. How you manage the school holidays is one. This can be especially difficult if you’re a working parent.

You and your children’s other parent will have both practical and emotional issues to consider. Parents who work together to make arrangements are more likely to find solutions to childcare arrangements in the school holidays. These don’t have to be fixed for every holiday, though one parent may find it easier to cover holidays than the other.

Practical considerations

Talk to your ex and children about how to prepare yourselves for the school holidays ahead. You may find it useful to think about the following together:

Emotional considerations

Any kind of change can be hard. You may find yourself dealing with holiday childcare for the first time, or you may feel you’ve lost control. The following may help you deal with your feelings as you adjust to managing childcare differently;

If you’re in a relationship that doesn’t feel OK, then it may be that sex is not something that you want to have with your partner. Many couples work through difficult relationship issues, either together or with the help of a counsellor and sex becomes something that feels more possible again and may even be more rewarding than before. But no one should have sex against their will or feel pressurised into activities that don’t feel right or comfortable. 

Family calendar

Once you’ve made a checklist and potential plan with your ex, make 2 copies so that you each know what dates you’re responsible for the children and where they’ll be. You may want to jot these onto a calendar so you and the kids can all see it clearly, and talk about the plans with whoever else is involved and might need to know..

School holiday fund

It can help to have a pot of money set aside to make the most of school holidays.

Source a money box or set up a savings account and make arrangements to pay in something once a week. Start this week. When school holidays come it can be a pot of money to do activities with the children or make the most of time to yourself when the children are with the other parent.

Changing arrangements about time spent with children

A request for a change in contact arrangements with your children may well come out of the blue for your children’s other parent. They could respond to it as they would to any unexpected news – with shock or surprise.

Sometimes parents can look for reasons why things shouldn’t change. For example, your children’s other parent may say the children wouldn’t like it, or they simply can’t accommodate your request because of their job or family situation. They may feel angry that they’re being asked to change their routine.

Change though is sometimes necessary. Thinking carefully about how you approach your request can be sensible.

"When Ben started army cadets this was on a night he usually saw his dad. His dad didn’t like it and I wish I'd helped prepare Ben for that conversation better. I could have seen it coming."

Prepare for a reaction

Try to think what your children’s other parent may feel and how they may react when they hear your request. This may depend on how far into the separation you are.

If you’ve just come out of a difficult separation, there may still be lots of emotions around making it extra hard for them to take on another change quickly.

Prepare your request

Some people find it helpful to know why they’re being asked to make changes, so it can help if you think through carefully how you put your case. If your children’s other parent understands why you need the changes they may feel more able to accommodate them.

It can also help if you don’t discuss the change as a “done deed”, but rather as something that you’re inviting your children’s other parent to find a way to manage.

Seek short-term support

It can be important to think about what happens if your children’s other parent can’t immediately make the changes you’re asking for. Ask them for their ideas on what might work for all of you and be prepared to negotiate something entirely different.

Talk to your children

It can help to keep your children as fully informed as possible. If the changes concern the children and they’re old enough to have a view, include them in discussions too.

Joe's story

Joe, father of Gemma, had been separated for two years when he needed to make changes to the agreement that was made for spending time with Gemma.

An opportunity came up at work to get a pay rise. I really needed the money because of my child maintenance payments, and my daughter Gemma’s birthday was only a couple of weeks away. The only thing was it meant working away during the week. I was dreading talking to my ex and Gemma about this because for the last couple of months I’d been having Gemma regularly every Thursday, Friday and every other Saturday.

My ex was really angry because she relied on me to have Gemma whilst she worked these days. I can see why now because it meant her having to change her childcare arrangements, but I did everything I could and we agreed that I would pay extra for Gemma’s new childcare arrangements, and I said I would have Gemma any weekend.' My ex was really angry because she relied on me to have Gemma whilst she worked these days.

I can see why now because it meant her having to change her childcare arrangements, but I did everything I could and we agreed that I would pay extra for Gemma’s new childcare arrangements, and I said I would have Gemma any weekend.'

Practical tips for changing arrangements

Write down the ideal arrangement that you would like for you and the other parent to manage the time you each spend with the children. Describe when you’d like to have the children and when you’d like your ex to have them.

Now looking at your ideal outcome try to identify:

You may wish to ask your ex and your children to do the same so that you both then have a starting point with regards to compromising and trying to find some middle ground.

Content originally produced for What Next? The Parent’s Guide to Separation © Copyright DWP 2015

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