Don’t worry, baby

Parenting apart from birth – how to make it work

Becoming a new parent is an emotional, physical and practical rollercoaster, an all-consuming challenge like no other you have experienced before.  They say it takes a village to raise a child and I have recently learnt how vital support of family and friends is at this life-changing time.

I am not sure how it would have worked for us if my baby had two parents who lived apart (and consider myself very lucky to have a supportive partner to co-parent with).  Life as a new parent is challenging enough when there are two of you to share the load together, let alone when there are other issues added into the mix or you are flying solo.

I often have clients in exactly that situation. Perhaps they weren’t in a relationship with the other parent when they became pregnant, or perhaps they separated before or shortly after their baby was born.

Mothers are often anxious about the prospect of their new baby being away from them for a while (thinking that the stereotypical “every other weekend” or 50/50 would be forced on them by a court immediately). Fathers often worry about asking for time with their new baby and the mother saying no, and then being powerless to do anything about it.

Many hope that I can wave a magic wand and find a solution that will last for the long-term, so that they don’t have to think about it again, can get used to a routine and can focus on the demands of being a parent, without needing to think about their child’s other parent.  In reality, there isn’t a magic solution at such an early stage and this approach simply won’t work in the long-term.

Bringing a new baby into the world is overwhelming enough without adding potential parental conflict into the mix.  Working on limited to no sleep can make it difficult to remember whether you’ve had breakfast, let alone feel as though you are capable of making important decisions about your family’s life.

This is why communication from the outset is so important if you are faced with the prospect of parenting apart.

What to think about

Here are some top tips which may be helpful if you find yourself in this situation:

  • If you and your baby’s other parent aren’t together before baby arrives, make time for a sensible conversation about how you see things working after baby is born.
  • Be sensible. This isn’t about getting one over on each other if you are still sore about your break-up. It’s about ensuring your baby has the opportunity to grow up having the best possible relationship with each parent.
  • Keep your baby’s needs as your focus. Keep adult issues separate and if these are still affecting you, get help to work through them before baby arrives, if possible.
  • Think about what works best for baby depending on their age, in terms of time, location and frequency.
  • In the early stages, long periods of time (many hours or days) are unlikely to be appropriate, given a baby’s needs. Think about small chunks of time to start with, and eventually look to build that up as baby becomes less dependent and in a more established routine.
  • Depending on where you both live, think about whether short, daily visits would work better and at what time of day. Be prepared for this to change as baby’s routine changes in the first few months.
  • Babies like familiarity. It may be that at least to start off with, time with the other parent takes place in baby’s own environment.  This may feel awkward with it being one parent’s house, but it’s about what works for baby and where they feel most comfortable and calm.
  • Be realistic. If your baby is being breastfed, naturally they will need to be nearer their main food source. However, that isn’t a reason for one-on-one time with the other parent not to happen.  Try and think ahead – your baby will also need to be fed by the other parent eventually, so try and plan how this will work and when and how you will get baby used to a bottle.
  • How are you going to communicate with each other about baby’s development? There will be so many milestones in the first few months that you will both want to be involved in as parents and it’s important for your child that you both parents are involved in these events if they want to be.
  • If communication between you isn’t easy, consider having someone help you to talk to each other, such as a mutual friend or sensible, level-headed family member.
  • Be mindful that children pick up on tension between adults and can be negatively affected, not only by physical and verbal abuse, but also on arguments and raised voices. Evidence shows that this can also have a severe impact on babies, not just older children or toddlers. With this in mind, make sure that any discussions take place without your baby present, if possible, and think about how you communicate with each other in front of your child.

If you can’t make decisions together, it’s easy to think the court can sort it out for you. The truth is, it won’t. A judge will not be interested in the everyday things, like feeding and changing.  They can make decisions about how often and for how long a child will spend time with each parent, but they simply don’t have the time, and are not required by law, to rule on the rest.  Besides, what works this month may not work next month, anyway, so all that time and anguish spent at court may not amount to much anyway.  If you can’t sort things out yourselves, there are plenty of options that don’t involve the court, such as mediation, that can help.

The important thing to remember is that whatever you agree on now shouldn’t be set in stone for the long-term. Arrangements for your children will inevitably change as they grow and their needs change.  It shouldn’t be about what works for the parents at the time – it’s far better to mentally keep things under review and to have an honest conversation with each other as parents if circumstances change.

If you find yourself in a similar situation and want to discuss your options, please do get in touch.

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