Lauren is a single parent to her young son. In this blog, she writes about her experiences of making contact arrangements with her ex-partner, and offers her top tips for other parents who are establishing their own routines.
For the vast majority of single parents, managing contact arrangements with the child’s other parent can be a huge challenge. For me personally, managing my son’s contact with his dad is something which has always been, and continues to be, an ongoing source of contention and stress.
Firstly, I am a firm believer that both of us as parents should play a role in my child’s life and upbringing, and that our child’s happiness and welfare is paramount. As a bit of background, my son has always lived with me, and from the off, it was a real struggle juggling full-time work, nursery, additional childcare arrangements, never-ending doctors’ appointments and my son’s busy social agenda. Becoming single added additional pressure of having to arrange contact time with his dad around his ever-changing shifts. It was mentally exhausting, physically draining and, worst of all, our son had no clue where he was from one day to the next.
The turning point was when I had the one-year visit from the Health Visitor and it was her words that completely influenced the way I would approach managing contact with our son. She was very clear that ‘routine and structure’ were crucial for our son’s development. That gave me focus and underpinned all communications and contact with his dad going forward.
A few years later, and although there are still some difficulties and disputes, these are very much limited to the rare occasion. There is equal amount of flexibility and structure with contact, and although still the odd argument, everything is largely amicable and, most importantly, our son is happy and flourishing.
I am certainly no child expert, but here I offer six tips that I found helped me enormously in what was a desperate and tiring period of my life.
- Always look to your child when you need a positive focus.
This is probably a no-brainer, but no matter how upsetting or difficult the relationship with the other parent is, always have in the forefront of your mind what is best for your little one. It’s not about me – it’s about my son and his future. Always remain selfless and objective in your contact decisions. You will get a great sense of contentment knowing that you are doing the right thing by them – plus, it will help to add focus to your contact arrangements to take some of the headache away from difficult or conflicting decisions.
- Be business-like in your contact planning.
As the childcare experts suggest, structure and routine are key. I find it helps to be business-like in any contact planning, and where contact has been arranged, try to avoid deviating from what has been previously agreed. No matter if you get on well with the other parent (or, conversely, if they spark an incessant list of swear words to enter your brain), once you start to allow some extra contact time here and there it will become the expectation. It is very hard to say no from this point – I learnt this the hard way.
Whatever contact arrangements are decided upon, get something in writing so that you have something to refer to if conflict arises. The Gingerbread website has some great resources and information for contact arrangements and I found this to be a great point of reference when I started doubting myself or questioning if what we were doing was right. If you and the other parent are still finding difficulty in agreeing on contact arrangements, there is also guidance on mediation and other next steps.
- Acknowledge there may be sacrifices and find your own outlook of acceptance.
For me, my sacrifice was running and playing hockey. For some, this may sound trivial and somewhat selfish, but they were always a huge part of my life; my stress relief and my way of socialising and catching up with friends. Plus, I now have to walk around almost a stone wobblier and not being able to fit into half of my wardrobe! Sometimes making selfless decisions and managing contact arrangements means a complete change to your previous daily routine. Again, this may be a no-brainer, but acceptance of and embracing this change has helped me no end.
Previously, I resented the other parent for still getting to do their usual hobbies and socialising, but I would then try and focus on the fact that I am helping to shape the future and development of our little one – so now, in my mind, it is absolutely worth it. Always remember when making contact arrangements that life is short and you will never get that time back, so make wise choices.
- Stay happy and find a way to manage emotions.
Managing and maintaining contact with the other parent is certainly no mean feat. No doubt there will be times that you find yourself wanting to shout, cry and scream in despair. Remember that there’s a beautiful little face watching you the whole time and picking up on your emotions. If I feel an argument brewing with my son’s dad while he drops him off, I ask him to leave and then we resolve our dispute out of sight (and little ears) by text when he is napping.
It may seem unconventional and somewhat teenage-like, but that way, we both get to express our feelings and vent frustrations (usually some very strong frustrations…), but they are completely hidden. I certainly believe the happiness of both parents, especially the resident parent, is crucial for the happiness of the child. Gingerbread have a link on their website for you and your child’s mental health, including a factsheet with ideas to help improve how you feel, boost your confidence and manage difficult situations.
- Look for and accept support if you are struggling.
There are times where it helps to have an impartial, unbiased and expert viewpoint when making contact arrangements. If you are struggling to work out contact arrangements or need some specialist support, please don’t be afraid to get help. Gingerbread have a fantastic helpline if you need any advice or support. A great way to get support, and also break the isolation that sometimes comes with being a single parent, is to meet people who are or have been in a similar situation. Gingerbread have local single parent groups which are perfect for this.
- Finally…. You will never please everyone, so stop trying.
You could be the (almost) perfect parent, allow more than necessary contact with your child, be respectful and involve the other parent in everything they want – but there will always be times that they or their family may never be satisfied or pick you up on the little things you didn’t do. Don’t let this demotivate you or let it get you down.
The way in which you react and conduct yourself with the other parent and their family is a true reflection of your character and something which will set a positive example to your children. The day I learned to ignore negative criticism and sarcastic comments is the day I became a much happier person. Keep remembering that you are focusing on your child, you are selfless, and you are doing an amazing job!
Find out further information and advice on making contact arrangements with your child’s other parent.