Contact arrangements are a real source of stress and anxiety for parents, especially if communication has broken down, or if either parent is unhappy with the arrangements.

Often children won’t feel comfortable coming from time with one parent and returning home to another. They may not want to talk about it because they don’t want to cause upset. They might have had a nice time, or a difficult time, but either way, they might be worried about saying the ‘wrong thing’ or upsetting one parent.

If children are withdrawn it can be easy to assume they’re quiet because something has happened. It may be that they just need time to adjust as they move between two parents who are hurting, and between different parenting styles.

What can you control?

With contact issues, parents can sometimes find it difficult to get past what their ex is or isn’t willing to do. They might feel let down by their ex’s actions or attitude, and can end up focusing on those rather than the needs of the child.

When people speak to Parentline, we help parents to concentrate on what they can control. This also means bringing the children into the picture and not losing sight of their needs.

No matter how frustrating it is, your best chance of changing someone else’s behaviour is by changing your own behaviour first. This can be really difficult to accept.

By putting aside any differences you have with your ex in order to do what’s best for your child, you can slowly start to improve the situation. For example, how might you respond better to an ex’s message? Or how might your react if you feel they’re not keeping up their end of an agreement?

It’s very common to fall into a negative cycle of tit-for-tat behaviour. It takes a lot of strength to be the ‘bigger person’ and take a step back from responding with more of the same when you feel hurt.

What practical steps can you take?

In most cases, both you and your ex will want what’s best for your child. It’s therefore better for you and your children if you can have some communication with your ex-partner. But it’s not always easy or possible for good reasons.

We know that each situation is unique, but here are some things you might want to consider: 

  • Draw up an agreement – including contact days/times, how you’ll contact each other, what happens if plans change, what to do in emergency etc.
  • If texts or calls end up in a back and forth battle, can you agree to email arrangements instead?
  • If you’re worried about your child, how can you discuss it?

Alternative ways to communicate

If there is no communication with your ex, there may be alternative ways you can communicate to make arrangements involving your children. For example:

  • Is there a mutual friend or family member who could help to mediate over contact?
  • There are organisations that can help with mediation between partners, including Relationships Scotland.
  • One Parent Families Scotland can provide free advice about contact arrangements.
  • Getting a legal agreement in place. This doesn’t always have to involve a court process. The Scottish Child Law Centre may be able to help with this.
  • Getting a court order.

To avoid damaging difficult relationships further, we usually recommend telling an ex-partner if you intend to pursue a course of action – like a legal agreement or mediation, which require both parents’ consent – so it doesn’t come as a complete surprise.