Bridging the gap in parenting understandings

I am often involved in assisting parents to work out an acceptable structure around the parenting arrangements, to enable them both to support the child moving from one household to the other, and to promote meaningful time for the child with both parents.


Some parents have concerns about the safety and wellbeing of the child, or the quality of the parenting they will receive when in the care of the other parent. This often prompts a discussion around these protective concerns in an endeavour to understand the nature of the issue, and initiate the development of a way to give both parents comfort and confidence as to the quality of parenting the child will receive.


One parent is generally keen for an acknowledgement of the concern, and a promise as to how this will be managed in the future, to avoid any possibility of risk. The other, often denies that there is any cause for concern, but may be prepared to agree to some provisions for the purpose of reassuring the other parent, and achieving a parenting arrangement.


Parenting understandings are often developed between the parents that provide for some compromise to deal with these concerns. Often they are agreed to with a denial (stated or implicit) that they are required.


Some obvious examples include:


  • The need for the time that one parent spends with the child to take place in the presence of , or in the substantial attendance of, or to be supervised by another person such as a family member, new partner or mutual friend;
  • The need for a child not to be brought into contact with another person such as a new partner, a friend or another family member when they spending time with a parent;
  • The need for a child not to be exposed to anyone affected by alcohol, illicit drugs, an abuse of prescribed medication, or any paraphernalia or person associated with drug taking;
  • The need not to expose children to any negative comment regarding the other parent or any member of their family
  • The need for consistency of routine including such matters as attention to personal hygiene (bathing and brushing of teeth), bedtime, diet, schooling requirements, support for extra-curricular activities,;
  • The need for consistency in parenting including matters such as discipline, toileting, exposure to age appropriate materials, the use of social media and participation on the internet;
  • The importance of meaningful time whether involving special activities and outings, extension and enrichment activities, as well as the more normal and structured parenting tasks such as homework, reading and music practice;
  • Mutual commitment to extended family, important family functions, culturally significant or religious practices, family traditions and rituals.


The resulting provisions can often be misleading, unenforceable and poorly drafted. They often give rise to more problems than they intend to solve.


A mutual accommodation must be reached to allow the family some structure to be able to move forward, and ensure that the child has the benefit of the strengths of both parents in their lives. Care must be taken to ensure that the wording of these understandings is clear enough to provide certainty and stability for the children, rather than a new range of issues for the parents to disagree and argue about.

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