When Aussie actors Daniel McPherson and Zoe Ventoura announced the sad news that they had separated, they made it clear that their priority will remain their infant son.
In identical statements posted to Instagram the pair wrote, “Together, we will continue wholeheartedly to raise our beautiful boy Austin. He is, and will forever be, our greatest priority.”
Ventoura, 39, and McPherson,40, married in 2015 and welcomed Austin in December 2019. In an unusual and refreshing move, the couple refrained from publicly announcing his birth until five months later.
Now, like so many couples who choose to go their separate ways, McPherson and Ventoura will co-parent their child.
The term co-parenting, while certainly not new, has gained cultural popularity in the past decade with former celebrity couples being celebrated in the media for their effective execution of the principle.
Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony and Kourtney Kardashian and Scott Disick are all examples of parents who have been able to put their differences aside and focus on their offspring — often still vacationing together and dedicating sweet Mothers/Fathers Day messages to their exes on social media.
Co-parenting is important for a myriad of reasons that range from providing security for a child during a period of increased stress and uncertainty, demonstrating a constructive model for conflict resolution for any offspring, minimising the risk of mental health or behavioural issues brought on by exposure to hostility and ensuring that both parents are able to be present and productive in their children’s lives.
Successful co-parenting is also beneficial for adults as it can decrease stress, assuage feelings of resentment or guilt and minimise the possibility of arguments erupting around parenting decisions.
Sadly, in the aftermath of 2020, it is likely that there will be a large wave of folks who need to adopt the principles of co-parenting into their day to day lives.
Divorce rates in Australia look poised to skyrocket in the wake of COVID-19 restrictions and the ensuing economic downturn that saw countless Aussies in their homes and out of work. These circumstances contributed to a spike in Google searches for the term ‘divorce’ which surged to their highest rate in 12 months at the end of June. If de facto relationships are also taken into account, the resultant number of breakups could be considerably higher.
For someone who finds themselves going through a separation that is far from amicable, the idea of co-parenting may not only seem unappealing, it might feel downright impossible. However, there are some key factors to keep in mind when facing this daunting task.
Remember the Things You Loved About Your Ex
When going through a messy breakup, it can be very easy to dwell on all of the things that made you want to throttle your former partner, but according to marriage and family therapist Dr Juliana Morris, it’s helpful to find things to be grateful for in that person and to see your relationship as “completed” instead of “failed.” This type of reframing can be beneficial to both parties in order for them to better take care of themselves and their children.
Keep the Trash Talk to Yourself
No matter how angry or hurt you are by your ex’s actions, it is crucial to refrain from speaking ill of them in front of any children you may share. As Sherrill A. Ellsworth, one of the founders of the app coParenter (yes, there is even an app for it), explains,
“When you use negative speech in front of a child, you are teaching them to be disrespectful.”
Additionally, being exposed to derogatory comments about one or both of their parents can lead to feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. “Children often see themselves as a combination of their parents,” says Ellsworth. “If parents can’t stand one another, it sets into motion a depletion of the child’s self-worth.” So, try to save the venting session for your friends or therapist, instead of for your little one.
Remember That You Are the Adult in the Situation
Ellsworth cautions against using your child or children as a sounding board for important decisions in the wake of a separation. “We should give them a voice and let children pick out their clothes, class electives and ice cream flavours,” says Ellsworth, “But we should not let them pick where they will live, whether they will go to school, or get an inoculation.” Along with putting additional stress and responsibility onto a child during an already difficult time, Ellsworth explains that “it can also result in a child feeling sullen, guilty, depressed or anxious”.
Communication is Key
This one can, understandably, feel a little redundant given that many couples who separate cite a breakdown of communication as one of the reasons for splitting. However, it is important to keep the focus on the children and to effectively problem solve as a team when it comes to decision-making that concerns them.
For some couples, treating their relationship as more of a business arrangement in which the child’s welfare is top of mind can be a useful tool for working through issues around schedules, holidays, school pick-ups and extra-curricular activities. Says Morris, “It can actually be helpful for kids to see their parents go through the process of working through a disagreement. Just remember to never get personal, and to treat each other with respect.”
If you or someone you know is in need of resources for coping with separation, Family Relationships Online can provide support and information.