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Shared parenting and contact

A significant number of children whose parents are not married to each other are raised by their mothers alone. However, fathers, as well as mothers, are very special to their children and it is important for children that both parents take an interest in and are involved with them. Discuss how best the two of you can share the parenting of your child. If you are cohabiting you are already sharing the parenting. However, if you no longer have a relationship and are living apart, shared parenting will be more difficult, particularly if your relationship has become acrimonious, or if either parent is in a new relationship.

Parents will need to consider issues such as:

* entering the fathers' name in the Register of Births,
* contact arrangements,
* maintenance payments and
* whether or not the father should become a joint guardian of his child.

If parents are having difficulty reaching agreement on these issues perhaps mediation would help.

Talking to children
Children need to know as much as possible about both their parents, so that they will have a good sense of their own identity and their personal history in order to be able to give an account of themselves. Where parents are not living together this is especially important.

In talking to children about their other parent:

* Be honest and truthful about - why both parents are not living with them, - what the other parent is like, - who the real father is, if mother has a new partner, - who is mother and father and who is granny and grandad if they are living with the extended family.
* Do talk about the other parent but don't invent stories.
* Answer questions truthfully.
* Start telling children early about the family situation and build up on this information as you go along.
* Be positive about the other parent - s/he must have some good points!
* Even if you can't be positive - be neutral.
* Tell relatives and staff at the nursery or school about your situation and what your children know. It is important that you are all dealing with the same facts. * Encourage your children to talk about their feelings.
* Ensure that your children know they can ask questions without fear of rejection.

Contact with both parents can give children the possibility of a nurturing relationship with them. Good contact needs the co-operation of both parents and for children, visits are the best way of knowing the other parent. But the parenting contact can also be kept alive through pictures, photos, a voice on the phone etc.

Practical hints for both parents to help make contact easier:

* If you have difficulty reaching an agreement you may need the help of a mediator who can assist you in reaching your own agreement.
* Children need information on the arrangements. Changes or cancellations should be explained well in advance.
* Plan the beginning and end of a visit carefully as everyone is usually on edge at these times.
* Don't use the children's visiting times to sort out problems with the other parent.
* If you are in the initial stages of a new relationship don't bring a new partner with you. Your time with your children is limited but precious.
* Do not encourage gossip and tale telling - don't expect children to be a spy in the other camp, bringing back secrets.
* Try to be patient about visits which are treats from beginning to end. Remember that the visiting parent has very limited time in which to keep the relationship with the children alive.
* Help the children's other parent to feel responsible and involved as a parent. You could send copies of school reports, photos, and let the other parent know about school open days, carol concerts, and football matches etc. Try to work out which parent goes to what school event as leaving it to chance can be upsetting for children. What matters most is that someone is watching, applauding, listening to their talk, meeting their friends, and sharing the day with them.
* Visiting children need to feel at home by having their place in the family acknowledged. Having their own toothbrush in the bathroom is a sign that they belong and are not merely passing through.
* If children are having regular contact with both parents then it is worth bearing in mind that some other people need to know this, for example teachers, club leaders etc. Teachers should also know who should and should not see or collect children or be told or consulted about school matters.
* Contact with other family members, such as grandparents, can also be very beneficial for children.

Get a copy of Family Links - steps and stages from Treoir (2.50 including postage). This book is for lone parents who are rearing their children alone and helping their children to understand their family situation. Positive pointers for shared parenting

* Parenting is a job for life and for children there is no such thing as an ex-parent. Children recognise the importance of a continuing relationship or link with both parents, no matter how distant.
* Remember that it is not adding people to children's lives but taking important people away that is hard for children to accept.
* Remember the good things about your relationship and share these with your children.
* Children need to know that it is all right for them to love both parents and to like or love step-parents .
* Try to come to terms with the fact that your children may have a relationship with their other parent over which you have no control.
* Adults need to separate their parenting relationship with their children from the relationship they have with each other.
* Don't let your own unresolved emotions get in the way and do not involve your children in parental conflict.
* Listen well to children - they can say one thing and mean another and it is important for children to feel that they are being listened to.
* All children, in both one and two parent families, can sometimes be difficult.
* Even though your relationship did not survive, this does not mean that either parent is a failure as a person.
* Most important of all, be positive about your children. They are unique and important human beings. Children's confidence and self esteem blossom when they hear good things about themselves and those close to them.
* Tell your children you love them - continuously!

At the end of the day it is important that children feel loved by both parents and can feel free to love both of you as parents.

Useful Addresses
Family support services in
Mulhuddart 01-820 4033
Tallaght 01-452 5090
Dun Laoghaire 01-284 2323
Loughlinstown 01-282 0328
Blanchardstown 01-820 0211
Cherish 2 Lower Pembroke Street Dublin 2. 01-662 9212
Meetings: Monday mornings 11 - 1p.m. Creche facilities available for meetings free of charge.

Father's Family Time Sunday afternoons 2.30 - 5p.m.
Contact centre for separated fathers exercising visiting rights with their children in
Litton Hall,
Leeson Park,
Dublin 6.
2 per family. Contact George Ferguson at 01-494 1201

29/30 Dame Street,
Dublin 2. 01-671 0291
Meetings: at YMCA 56 Aungier Street,
Dublin 2.
Tuesday nights at 8 p.m.
New members night Mondays at 8p.m.

One plus,
Single parents information and support group,
St. Helena's Resource Centre
St. Helena's Road,
Finglas South
Dublin 11.
01-834 5407 / 834 3558
Meetings on Friday morning at 12.00 a.m.

One Parent Exchange and Network
OPEN is a national network supporting the growth and development of lone parent self-help groups.
Unit 19 Greendale Shopping Centre
Dublin 5.
01-832 0264

Parental Equality,
54 Middle Abbey Street
Dublin 2.
01-872 5222 / 872 5393 Monday - Friday 9 - 5p.m. New members: Tuesdays 8 - 10p.m.

Parenting Programmes
The Parenting Skills Unit
St. Brendan's Hospital
Dublin 7.
01-838 5844 extn 585
Courses available free of charge to any parent in Eastern Health Board area.

Helpline for parents under stress
Monday - Friday 10 - 4pm and 7 - 9.30pm
Also offers support groups for parents.
01-873 3500

Parents Alone Resource Centre,
Bunratty Drive Coolock,
Dublin 17.
01-848 1872 Fax: 848 1116

Peer support groups on a national basis for children affected by bereavement, divorce and/or separation of someone close to them. Contact: Rainbows National Office
The Loreto Centre Crumlin,
Dublin 12. 01-473 4175
for details of local support groups

has a data base in its National Information Centre on local support groups for lone parents around the country. For details contact the Centre at
36 Upper Rathmines Road
Dublin 6. 01-496 4155

Enhancing our Future
A profile of parenting programmes in Ireland Available free of charge but 2 for post and packaging from The National Children's Resource Centre Barnardo's,
Christchurch Place,
Dublin 8. 01-454 9699 Mon. to Fri. mornings only.

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