Co-parenting 101: The dos and don'ts of starting to blend your family

No matter how easy some celebs might make it look, co-parenting is a tricky thing to navigate.

Even in the most amicable of breakups, there’s likely to be lots of complicated emotions at play if not for yourselves, then for your children.

For those just starting out on that journey, one of the first major hurdles will be the introduction of new partners to your kids.

If you want things to go as well as they possibly can, empathy is key.

Counselling Directory member Shelley Treacher tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Just because your relationship didn’t work out as partners, doesn’t mean you can’t have compassion for yourselves and each other during this difficult time.

‘Compassion for how all parties feel is the key to a smoother transition.’

Bec Jones, Divorce Coach at amicable, says: ‘I know from personal experience how tumultuous the process of creating a blended family can be.

‘Navigating the emotional rollercoaster is a tricky task, even when you have the best intentions.

‘I quickly understood that my ex would want to introduce his new partner to our children. From that point, I made the conscious effort to adopt a positive view of this new parental figure, acknowledging and embracing the fact that they would eventually provide love, affection and support for my children.

‘In my opinion, the more adult role models, the better. Multiple adult influences are a wonderful thing that should not be shied away from out of insecurity or fear.

‘Making an active choice to be positive about the new person in our family life has meant that my children have followed by example. In all honesty, this can be easier said than done.’

When introducing your new partner to your family, Shelley says it’s ‘respectful’ to run things by your ex first.

She adds: ‘Be aware that feelings are likely to run high and be negative. Keep your priority on your relationship with your children, rather than on rehashing the problems in your relationship.

‘Talk about anything uncomfortable and try not to be defensive.’

Bec agrees that you should talk to your ex first, saying: ‘Creating an agreed plan on how and when to tell your children will mean no nasty surprises come up – you wouldn’t want either of you finding out through your kids.

‘Keeping the communication channels open and honest from the start is the foundation of a happy blended family.’

Shelley also says you shouldn’t be introducing a new partner to your kids until you feel certain the relationship is really going somewhere.

She adds: ‘Offer your children the choice of meeting them when they are ready, and on their terms.

‘Be sensitive to how all parties feel. This is a big deal that deserves your attention.

‘Take particular care to ensure that everyone knows that your partner is not a replacement parent.

‘It is also essential to stay out of being defensive or reactionary with your children. They are likely to be hurt, frightened or angry.

‘They need to be able to express this with you, without you defending yourself. Likewise, they need to see that you care how they feel, and that your love will not be taken away.

‘Make sure you spend plenty of time with them. Take it slowly. Gradually show your children that there is now more love in all of your lives, rather than less.’

Being on the other side of things and having your children be introduced to your ex’s new partner isn’t always easy either.

Bec says: ‘Accept neither of you can stop the other from introducing someone new.

‘In an ideal world, you will have agreed on how and when the introduction happens – but unfortunately, we don’t always live in an ideal world. In this instance, try to accept your ex has a new partner, who will play a part in your kid’s life, and move on.

‘You may want to meet your ex’s new partner, but if it isn’t possible trust that your ex will not introduce anyone unsuitable to your children.

‘He or she now has a new life and accepting you have no say over it can be hard. Relinquishing this control and coming to terms with the new relationship you have with your ex will allow you all to move forward positively together.’

Shelley recommends: ‘When your ex introduces you to a new partner, allow yourself to grieve, but also try to accept that one of you was always going to be in this position first.

‘Talk about boundaries around the children with your ex. Try not to run the partner down (especially in front of the children) and keep communication open about anything that feels difficult for you.’

Bec agrees that it’s important to never badmouth your ex’s new partner, saying ‘Never talk in a derogatory manner about your ex’s new partner. Especially in front or in earshot of the children.

‘This is unfair to them as they should be able to form a new relationship with the new person without worrying that they will be compromising their relationship with you.’

Bec also says you should discuss boundaries, explaining: ‘The new partner will ideally respect you and not overstep the boundaries in their relationship with your children. But this may be hard, especially if they do not have children of their own.

‘Try to get a dialogue going with them and talk about anything you feel uncomfortable with. Once again, communication is key. Try not to be defensive or insecure – no one will usurp your role in your child’s life.

She adds: ‘If you are struggling to communicate, reach out to a co-parenting coach or mediator who has experience helping couples who may be struggling.

‘Some days will be harder than others, but remember to be kind to yourself and lean on a trusted support network. Friends for instance can be a great source of comfort.

‘Tech can also be invaluable in easing the emotional and organisational strain. Amicable’s co-parenting app has several useful tools to help reduce miscommunication and acrimony.

‘These bespoke features designed for parenting post-separation include a messaging function with pre-filled conversation suggestions to help facilitate calm discussions; a shared goal feature so parents can stay focused on the bigger picture; and a co-parenting calendar to help handover logistics.’

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