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The 10 Parenting Mistakes Made During a Divorce or Separation

Are you or your ex-partner guilty of making one of these parenting mistakes?

Let’s face it. Parenting is difficult at the best of times. It throws us daily challenges even when both the parents are in a happy relationship and working together to bring up the children. It is far harder when you cannot bear to be in the same room as the other parent, let alone communicate with them or make important parenting decisions together.

In the past 10 years we have dealt with a variety of cases involving children. Many of these cases are heart-warming in the parent’s ability to put aside their differences and focus on their children’s well-being. Others, well – mediators do not usually admonish parenting methods, but sometimes you can end up feeling very sorry for the children involved.

Below, I have put together the most common mistakes that we believe separated parents make and explain why we believe they are mistakes. As always – and family law does account for this – every family and every child is different. What might work for one family, does not work well for another.

So this list is a generalisation, but see if you are making one of these 10 parenting mistakes and before you place more guilt on yourself as a parent, console yourself that some of our mediation team have made these same mistakes when going through our own child arrangements and so have many of our clients:

1) Asking the children to pass on messages to the other parent

“Can you tell your father that you have an extra ballet class on Thursday, so he can’t pick you up until Friday morning”

“Can you ask you dad for £50 for your school trip”

“Can you tell your mum that her solicitor needs to respond to my letter by next week or it is going to court”

All of these are genuine examples of messages that one parent has asked the child to pass on to the other. You may feel that the first two are fairly innocuous, which in themselves they are. However, passing messages through your child, however innocuous is a mistake. It puts a responsibility on the child to get the message passed in a timely and correct manner. It puts too much responsibility on them, when they are adjusting to their new circumstances and it shows them that their parents do not communicate between themselves

separated parents

The above examples, were all from the same couple. What started off as passing messages about an extra ballet class soon turned into a message about solicitor’s letters and court. If you really cannot communicate between yourselves as parents, you can get a ‘parenting notebook’ and write important messages in it. Your child can then take this with them when they stay with the other parent.

2) Interviewing your child when they return from the other parent

“Did you have a nice time?” “What did you eat?” “What is daddy’s new girlfriend like?” “Did daddy’s girlfriend stay overnight?!”

Talking to children whose parent have been through a divorce or separation show one of the top things they hate is being interrogated about what they did when they stayed with the other parent.

There are several reasons they hate it. They hate feeling they may be betraying a trust in one of their parents. They may feel they have to give an answer that the parent asking them wants to hear…”No, it was horrible, as I missed you so much.” Children especially hate being asked about the new partner of a parent. Let your children tell them about matters themselves in their own time. You can ask them if they had a nice weekend, but let them tell you what they want to tell you, don’t ask them lots of questions. Your child will appreciate it.

3) Saying derogatory things about the other parent to them or in front of them

This is always a difficult one. Let’s take a philandering spouse who ran off with a work colleague 20-years younger than them and now only sees their children when it suits them. You are heart-broken, your life has been ripped apart and you have no idea how you are going to afford to pay for the children’s new school uniform, whilst your ex is holidaying in The Canaries, enjoying some late summer sun with their new partner….and you have to say nice things about them in front of the children?

Well, yes. Polish your halo, remind yourself that this is just one of many sacrifices you make as a parent for the sake of your children and remember that when you say nasty things about one of their parents, you are also hurting the child. It’s their mum or dad you are slagging off. Be honest, but we respectful.

4) Arguing in front of the children or physically fighting

Many children state that their parents arguing is one of the things that stays with them for many years. Parenting MediationThe two people in the world who they love the most, visibly hate each other. It scares them and constant arguments can have a negative effect on their mental wellbeing, their school work, their ability to form relationships later in life and their general development.

Agree never to argue in front of the children. Use mediation to resolve issues if need be and always ask yourself the question: “Is the thing we are arguing over more important than the negative impact this argument is having on our children?”.

5) Ceasing child maintenance payments because you are angry or upset, or not happy with the parenting arrangements

Some non-resident parents do this and it is usually a mistake. The legal responsibility to make child maintenance payments is not dependant on the arrangements (or lack of an arrangement). As Judge Rinder says, “If you make ’em, you pay for ’em!

In law, both parents are legally responsible for the financial costs of raising their child.  Children need to be fed, clothed, heated and housed. A judge will frown on the fact you have stopped payments because you are no longer being allowed to see the children. Continue the maintenance payments and hold the moral and legal higher ground.

On the flip side, don’t punish your child by changing the arrangements because their father is not paying child maintenance. Remember child maintenance and the arrangements your child has to see the other parent are two very different matters. Children should never be treated as a ‘pay per view’ subscription.

6) Thinking you have control over how the other parent chooses to parent the child when they are with them.

It can be very difficult to let go of the control of parenting your child, especially when they are young. You may have spent months getting them into a routine only for that routine to be cast aside as they get to stay up late at the other parent’s house, or fed junk food or allowed to watch videos they would not normally be allowed to watch at home. The trouble is, unless the child is at serious risk (the kind you would phone the police about) there is very little you can do to control what goes on when they are with the other parent.

More so, trying to control what is outside of your control will just make you go mad. Try to relax and enjoy the time you have to yourself to focus on you, without worrying what your children are up to every minute. In an ideal world you will work together as parents to ensure continuity of routines, rules, and discipline. A parenting book with routines and the child’s like can help here. If you cannot agree then mediation can really help to establish these and address your concerns about the other parent’s parenting –  but if all else fails, there is very little you can do about it, so stop trying to.

7) Dropping the child off at the bottom of the road as you can’t stand to see the other parent

Some parents do this, as they believe it is better for the child so they don’t see their parents arguing or Using mediation for holidayssee the parents upset.  But it does have a negative effect on the child and it does show them that you are unable to communicate as parents. The children love you both and don’t want to have to walk 50 yards because their parents cannot bear to see each other. There are exceptions with regards to domestic abuse, but don’t punish the child because you can’t get on as parents.

8) Reporting the parent to the police or social services without establishing the facts

Of course, as a parent you should always raise a concern about the safety of your child. However using the police or child services to get back at your ex-partner or further your case at court is a dangerous and irresponsible thing to do. You do not want your child placed on a child protection plan for something that can be easily sorted out between the parents.

9) Not wanting the child to have a relationship with their new family

“I don’t mind if they see my ex this weekend, but not if their new partner is there.” It probably does not sit comfortably that your children will be spending the weekend with your ex and their new partner, especially if the children are young or the new partner may have been the cause of your relationship breaking down.

But the fact is that the more people who are a positive influence in your children’s lives, the more people who love them and care for them, the better for the child. This is another time to polish your halo as a parent. Family mediation helps to establish how you will communicate about introducing a new partner to your children.

10) Not sharing toys, clothing or gifts

I have known cases where a child has to get changed in the car as the two sets of parents did not want ‘their’ clothes going to the other’s house.

divorce jigsawWell-meaning friends and parents might give you gifts for the child but ask that they keep it at your house. How would you feel as an adult if you could not take your iPad out of the house, or had to change clothes half-way when you visited your friend’s house? The clothes and toys belong to your child, not to anyone else.

Let them enjoy them and take a favourite toy to the other house if they want to. The continuity of having a favourite toy transferred between parents can also help the child settle into their new routine.

Are you or your ex partner making one of these parenting mistakes? Or do you have a good reason why you are doing one of them? Feel free to comment below.

Give us a call today on 0330 999 0959 or contact us at admin@mediateuk.co.uk to find out more about making a parenting plan together and how mediation can help separated parents. 


Ali Carter MediatorThese 10 parenting mistakes have been produced by Ali Carter & the family mediators at Mediate UK.

Ali is the Managing Director of Divorce Ltd, a mediator, divorce negotiator and has previously been through a divorce himself. He has helped in over 3000 divorce or separations since 2010.

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