In this series of blogs we’ve been talking about arranging the summer holidays. We’ve talked about why it’s important to start the process early on, and we’ve talked about what to do when you’ve hit an impasse and can’t agree.
In this blog we’re talking about not just not being able to agree but about being in a situation where the whole process of agreeing anything with your ex partner is draining and extremely difficult. If you feel like you cannot go through the process of agreeing school holidays any more then this blog is for you. Relations between ex partners can become extremely difficult for a variety of reasons. These can be circumstantial such as either of you embarking on a new relationship or it can be to do with the people you and they are; or it can be to do with the relationship dynamics between the two of you.
If you’re finding co-parenting a challenge then you may be interested in this video that was put together by Louisa Whitney and Una Archer, a psychologist who helps separated parents to soften the impact of the separation on their children and to resolve any emotional or behaviour issues that might have cropped up along the way. It encourages separated parents to tune into what pressures might be present for them and offers a simple way of re-focusing on what’s really important.
Consider whether having a more rigid pattern might help where you hit a wall with making arrangements. Many parents like having flexibility to tailor their arrangements but for some parents a rigid system of which holidays are spent with which parent, or always sharing the same part of the holiday can be useful in meaning that they never have to negotiate a holiday again. If you know that your children are always with you in the last two weeks of the summer holidays then this also means you can plan your holidays in advance.
It may also be helpful to think about how you interact with each other about issues relating to your children. Can you see patterns in conversations or exchanges? In our series of blogs looking at well being we also looked at identifying your big stress. It can often be the big things that cause anxiety and touching on these issues in discussions can make us see red very quickly meaning that calm and constructive conversation becomes very difficult. It’s entirely understandable that some of your worst fears, and therefore stress points, would relate to your children. If this is you and conversations with your partner press your buttons because of this then identifying this can be the first step in changing the conversation. If you can look at what it is that pushes your buttons then you can move to step two and dealing with that. This can lead to a very different conversation indeed.
The bottom line is that you can’t change your ex partner. You can’t make them a different person, or deal with things any differently. You can, however, change the way you feel about things and therefore react to situations and it is surprising how powerful just one person making changes can be. Owning your emotions in these conversations can also be really important. You will often find you get a very different reaction saying “I feel angry when I don’t feel listened to” to saying “you make me so angry when you don’t listen to me”. The second option is going to feel like an attack and that you’re making everything the other person’s fault. The first option is explaining how you feel and owning that you got angry.
If you’d like to break the cycle that you can see happening then you may find the services of a professional useful. This can either be through sessions just with you with a counselor or therapist. Or it can be in family therapy if your ex partner is willing to work with you to try to make things better. This can help to identify patterns in conflict and help you to make changes to make your dialogue more positive and constructive.
Family mediation can also be useful in having conversations about what happens next. Having a trained professional help you structure your discussions and provide information can help keep them on track. They can also assist with keeping you on the point rather than jumping between issues. Although family mediation is not therapy it may be possible to see a family mediator with counselling qualifications (or two mediators where one has counselling or therapy qualifications) to help you improve the way you work together.
If you’re worried about the effect that constant disputes with your ex partner may be having on your children then it can also be a good idea to consider getting extra support for your children. Talking to their school can be a useful first step in identifying whether there have been some changes in their behavior at school. There may also be extra support that can be accessed through school and in school so your child is in a familiar environment. There are also counselors trained to see children. Having a professional and independent person for your child to talk to can be really useful in helping them talk about things that are bothering them with without them having to worry about upsetting the person (which is how they may feel about talking to their parents).
Older children (around 10+) can also give their views as part of the family mediation process. This can be a way of giving children a voice within the family mediation process so that their views are heard by both parents. It doesn’t give them any responsibility for decision making as that will rest with their parents but it can ensure that decisions are made with their views in mind.
If you’re finding making arrangements for holidays with an ex partner challenging then we would suggest you give some thought to what (or in the case of another professional who) might improve things. It can be tempting to think you only have a few holidays left where children are older, or that you will just grin and bear it. But it’s worth remembering you will have a relationship as your child/children’s parents for ever (through your children) and investing some time in trying to improve things now can reap dividends in making arrangements and meeting up less stressful – for both of you and for your children.
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