Putting your children first

You and your ex-partner need to set aside issues in your own relationship when children are involved. To work out care and access arrangements, parents must be able to have respectful and mature discussions with each other.

Young children are not able to see your break up in adult ways. They don’t have enough life experience to see the bigger picture, so sometimes they may react in ways that seem unfair to you. It's important to respond to them with sympathy and understanding.

Your children need both you and your ex-partner in their lives, no matter what the issues in your relationship are. They also need their family and whānau. Having grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and friends in their life is important. Making sure children keep up these relationships is important for their wellbeing.

Find out more about professional help for your children

On this page:

Doing the best for the children

To help your children through stressful times, it's important that:

  • you and your ex-partner cooperate with each other
  • you and your children (if or when they're old enough) work together to sort out how you will care for them in the future
  • you reach agreements without fighting and arguing
  • you encourage your children to talk about their feelings and to help in making plans – this will help them adjust to their new lives
  • you and your ex-partner both do what you agree on, but stay flexible and cooperative with each other if you need to change something for your children’s sake
  • you make as few changes as possible to other parts of your children’s lives
  • you don't blame yourself or your ex-partner, especially in front of your children
  • you consider what's fair and reasonable for everyone, which might mean making some compromises.

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Co-parenting

Parenting after a relationship break up can be tough. You might have concerns about your ex-partner’s parenting skills, or there might be other problems that are still being worked out.

Co-parenting means working together cooperatively and peacefully, with the best interests of the children at heart. Co-parenting ensures that both parents (or guardians) continue to have an active role in the lives of their children, which is important for their emotional and mental wellbeing.

In order to co-parent successfully, you need to separate your personal feelings towards your ex-partner from the co-parenting arrangement. You're no longer living together or in a romantic relationship, but you still have a family. Putting your children’s needs first is the most important thing.

Tips for effective co-parenting:

  • Keep your conversations focused on the children.
  • Communicate respectfully – listen to each other.
  • Don’t put the children in the middle of conflict or use them as messengers between you and your ex-partner.
  • Don’t say negative things to your children about your ex-partner.
  • Work as a team – keep rules and routines as consistent as possible between your separate households.
  • Express your feelings in a safe space – not to your child or at your ex-partner. Talk to friends, family, or a counsellor if you need to get things off your mind.

Effective co-parenting helps children to:

  • be emotionally healthy: Children who experience conflict between parents are more likely to develop anxiety and depression, or have problems developing emotional maturity (good decision-making, healthy relationship skills, controlling emotions)
  • learn by example: Parents who work together in a mature way set a good example for healthy relationship management and problem solving
  • feel secure and reassured: Children adjust easier to new family and living situations if they feel supported by both parents.

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Ideas for coping

It's important to pay attention to your own feelings so that you don't get overwhelmed or react negatively. You need to look after yourself in order to take care of those around you. Here are some ways you could help yourself to cope:

  • Organise support from friends and whānau.
  • Keep in touch with friends and whānau.
  • Ask for help to look after your children when you need a break.
  • Take good care of your health, especially:
    • eat well
    • get some exercise
    • get as much sleep as you can.
  • Remember it’s OK to cry.
  • Try not to rely on drink or drugs – you will be able to deal better with what’s going on for you and your children without these things. Call the Alcohol Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797 for help if you need it.
  • Get professional support if you feel you're not coping. You could get that support from:
    • your health professional (for example, GP)
    • a school counsellor at your children’s school
    • a professional counsellor (you may have to pay for this service)
    • social support agencies or parent groups in your area.
  • Talk to other parents you know who've split up.
  • Work at making friends if you move home and are living in a new area.
  • Keep a diary – write about how you and your children feel. Over time, you'll begin to see that you feel stronger and that your lives are moving forward.