My Trip to a Co-Parenting Workshop

With the exception of one hour with my youngest child at a Contact Centre, my ex-partner has successfully prevented me from having contact with my three children for just over 7 and a half months.

Between my ex-partner and I we have spent in excess of £9,000 over the last seven and a half months. I have also overcome unfounded safeguarding concerns against me. My ex-partner’s intention is to keep my children away from me and my intention is to co-parent. As part of a Court Order (which she has already breached on numerous occasions) my ex-partner and I were ordered to separately attend a co-parenting workshop. The following is my account of my recent attendance at said course.

I entered the building, carried out the obligatory signing in and was then shown into a kitchen area where other attendees were making themselves hot drinks. I said hello as I entered and in return I received a few subtle nods, a couple of smiles and a couple of friendly ‘hellos’. I was then instructed by staff to write my name on a sticky label and place it on my shirt; necessary but somewhat cringe-worthy.

“Thanks for reminding me of the sense of powerlessness I currently feel.”

We were then shown through to the training room. The course facilitators introduced themselves with a mix of well-placed intention, a poor attempt at humour and a hint of naivety with regards to the magnitude of the issues being faced by each of the attendees.

The facilitators then proceeded to give a monologue of how everyone present was here due to all our respective Court Orders. “Thanks for reminding me of the sense of powerlessness I currently feel” I thought to myself. They then went on to say how the Court should only be used as a last resort and that the Court did not have the time or the resources to understand the complex dynamics of each of our situations. They also reminded us that the legal system was lengthy and expensive, “no shit Sherlock” a little voice said in my head. This introductory speech was given with no sense of irony or sarcasm. I immediately thought to myself “there’s nothing quite like a subtle reminder of how utterly ridiculous the legal system currently treats alienated parents, prior to commencing a co-parenting workshop for parents that are currently being prevented from seeing their own children!” Thanks guys, well done!

As a whole, the course attempted to inform us that the way forward was to co-operate with your ex-partner and to work together in the interests of your children. We were given hints and tips on how to be good parents and how we should all strive to co-parent successfully with our ex-partners.

Later on in the day we were encouraged to have open discussions about our own experiences. One attendee informed the group how his ex-partner had been allowed to breach in excess of 20 Court Orders over the last 11 years with little to no consequence. At present he had not seen his daughter for almost 12 months. Another attendee explained how his ex-partner had handed over his child with a soft-toy that he subsequently found a hidden camera inside. Throughout these discussions we were discouraged from using the term ‘parental alienation’. “We must be careful when using the term parental alienation” we were told by one of the course facilitators.

One section of the course highlighted to us the turmoil children go through when parents are unable to separate successfully. Terms such as mistrust, turmoil, estrangement, anxiety, anger issues, distress and depression were used to further emphasis the point. Another well intentioned, but naïve point on the part of the course facilitators. For me (and other attendees I’m sure) a poignant reminder of what our children are currently going through, and an additional reminder of how powerless we are to do anything about it at the present time.

The course was concluded by discussing the various support groups that are currently available to parents that need advice about separating successfully. At this point I felt the need to highlight the fact that I was not yet at the stage of being able to co-parent. I stated that my ex-partner was refusing to communicate with me and that furthermore she was continuing to state via her solicitor that she had no intention of co-parenting. I asked the staff, in light of this entrenched and unhelpful approach on the part of my ex-partner, how they felt I should engage in these co-parenting initiatives they had so enthusiastically advocated throughout the whole day. Their reply was that “we must hope that people learn to co-operate in the best interests of their children”. After this lacklustre and somewhat insensitive attempt to reassure me I returned the conversation to that of support groups; I asked if there were any support groups for alienated parents. I was informed that they provide a ‘successful-separation’ drop-in session. Mindful of the earlier reminder to be ‘careful’ of using the term ‘parental alienation’ I asked yet again if there were any support groups for those parents that are currently finding it difficult to cope with the fact that they have not seen their own children for months sometimes years on end. This time their reply was that there was a ‘well-being service’ provided by the local Mental Health Trust. At this point I gave up, feeling that my argument was futile and pointless.

At the end of the course we were each handed a certificate to take home.

As someone that believes in the lifelong process of nurturing, shaping and improving various knowledge and skills in further understanding the world around me, I reflected on what I had learnt from the course:

Not all sticky labels stick
Overhead projectors are unreliable
During afternoons I prefer coffee with two sugars instead of one
Far too many people that claim to be ‘experts’ talk utter rubbish
My understanding of co-parenting is correct in the context of current evidence based approaches
With regards to tackling parental alienation, the current legal system is even more ineffective, insensitive, biased and misinformed than I had initially believed
I miss my children now more than ever

btg dad