Having had a bad experience with an ex-partner can leave such a suspicious imprint that it’s hard not to hold a dim view of them when you are separating. Having proven so unsuitable as a partner, it’s all too easy to convince yourself that they must be a lousy parent too!
Questioning and reflecting back on the relationship, you may have felt frustrated by their ‘lack of presence’ when you were together but have noticed that since your separation your ‘ex’ is suddenly laying claim to being ‘parent of the year’. Or they appear to be doing all the things you wished you could have done together as a couple and as a family. To add insult to injury they suddenly want to spend ‘more time’ with your children compared to when you were a couple and they were “far too busy working”. And just when you were hoping to keep the contact to a minimum after separation – now they are taking you to court over child arrangements!
But let’s just say that your couple relationship was simply not working well and the other parent was not at their best – and possibly neither were you. Then, of course, any changes in their behaviour may now seem highly suspicious. However, your negative views of your ex will seriously skew your aspirations for your child as you are likely to react towards them with a lack of confidence or belief in their parenting skills or disregard them by literally not wanting to discuss parenting issues or even think about them.
There is bound to be an ‘overlapping’ of co-parenting issues that affect your child’s relationship with their other parent. Also your difference in parenting styles will become even more obvious and you may perceive this as an irritant or obstacle to your newfound solo parenting style, somehow believing “it’s better not to have to deal with them or have them around – it’s far too much bother!”
Sometimes separation can change someone. They may not be the same person you once knew. Most parents want to be the best possible role-model they can be for their child. Of course they may not live up to your ‘standards’ and there are going to be times when your child comes back exhausted and cranky from spending time with the other parent. But this does not necessarily mean that your child is not in safe hands.
A child experiencing the transitions of separation can be both emotionally and physically tired moving between different homes and adapting to different parenting styles. There is a period of re-adjustment for them – just as there will be for you. Getting used to being without your child and missing them is very hard and ultimately avoiding any contact with the other parent is highly unlikely and certainly not in your child’s best interest.
Some parents are eager to find fault in each other, contributing to persistent negative profiling and sometimes intent on building a ‘case’ based on personal feelings and harmful accusations, claiming that everything they do is ‘in the child’s best interest’. Behaving this way helps vindicate and reinforce reasoning behind the separation.
Your child has a legal right to see both parents and confusing your intimate couple relationship with your ex’s parenting skills could be seen as depriving them of that right. Denying your child a meaningful relationship with their other parent is an active criticism of them. And honestly assessing the difference between your wishes or those of your child can be a tricky conundrum to disentangle, especially when your child is probably telling you exactly what you want to hear. Sometimes seeking professional support can help you achieve a more neutral stance and filter out the emotions from the situation.
Unless there are proven safeguarding issues (risk of harm) and genuine concerns over child contact arrangements, your child has more rights than you do as a parent. The term ‘parental responsibility’ focuses on the parent’s duties towards their child rather than the parent’s rights over their child.
Ask yourself if you are really doing the right thing for your child. As tempting as it may be to overrule your child’s right to see their other parent and maintain a relationship with them, or to overtly or subtly criticise your ex, it is ultimately up to your child to decide what they think of each parent and they will ultimately be the judge of how well each of you fared as separated parents.