Do you find your coparent to be controlling, harassing, or manipulative? Has your coparent become more uncooperative, confrontational, accusatory, or nasty? Has your coparent started a new relationship and their new person has changed the communication dynamic you used two used to have? Is your kid coming back from the other parent’s house acting like a different kid? These are common coparenting problems that are emotionally draining and result in your children not receiving the emotional support they need going from house to house.
Here are 8 tips to try and prevent good coparenting from going bad.
1. Remember when you were happy together
At one point in time, you and your coparent discussed having children together and then built parenting beliefs together. When you and your coparent separated, you broke off your intimate partner relationship, but the coparenting relationship remained. When disagreements arise in that coparenting relationship, each parent’s knowledge of how to upset the other can come out and each tries to push the other’s hot buttons. Worse, one parent then makes choices that he or she knows are outside of their parenting beliefs simply to disagree with the other parent. When this happens, it is natural to focus on why this is occurring instead of on how to get back to the same coparenting beliefs. Take a moment and focus on a time when you and your coparent were happy together and making joint decisions. Describe for yourself how you communicated and what that type of communication was successful. If such reflection is difficult for you, ask someone who knew you and your coparent well when you were together to objectively describe the positive communications he or she observed when you were happy together.
2. Identify all the issues that currently are affecting your coparenting
Take some time and look objectively at what is currently going on in your coparenting relationship. Fold a sheet of paper in half and on one side of the page list how you are feeling. For example, you may write down that you are feeling frustrated because no matter what you do your coparent is always telling you that you are doing it wrong. Or you may write down that you feel as if you are constantly being controlled by your coparent because he or she is always late to exchanges which makes you late for whatever is next making you feel as if you are not in control. On the other side of the page, write down the communication issue that is causing your feeling. For example, you may write down that verbal communications are poor because that is how the other parent criticizes you. Or you may write down that the other parent never sends you a text message to let you know that he or she is running late you can adjust accordingly. Another example may be receiving emails that are supposed to be about the kids, but the other parent uses this type of communication to engage you in non-parenting conversations.
3. Compare 1 and 2 side by side
Now, look at the positives you learned from tip 1 with the list of negatives written down from tip 2. Assess how to communicate to the other parent all the issues that are affecting your coparenting. This communication should be business-like in that you are simply addressing what you need to address for the best interests of your children and leaving out all the other unnecessary communication that is causing stress on your coparent relationship. This communication should be the first with subsequent communications only being focused on a child-related topic. The tone should be free of either parent’s emotions even when there are disagreements on what activities your child should be enrolled in or the cost of a select sport versus a team at the YMCA.
4. Ask yourself what coparenting relationship you want for your kids
When you and the other parent were together in a relationship, there was a belief that both of you were 100% responsible for the children. When the relationship ends, it is normal to feel that you are now 100% responsible for the children. This feeling of being solely responsible can cause you to do a lot of self-reflection and ask yourself several questions that ignore that the children do have another parent. Look at what you want for your kids and what type of coparenting relationship is necessary for that to occur. Shift your thinking from being 100% responsible for the children to how can you and the other parent can divide up the parenting responsibilities for the children to receive the best from both parents. This type of cooperation benefits all involved. You receive help from the other parent which lessens your parenting responsibilities. The other parent stays involved in the children’s daily activities. Most importantly, the children see that even though their parents are no longer living together, they are working together to raise their children from two separate households.
5. Ask yourself if you are the problem
This is self-reflection 101. Are you getting in the way of coparenting? No one can be the best parent he or she can be every moment of every day. No parent is perfect, and we all make mistakes. Your kids don’t expect you to be the perfect parent. So, self-reflect and ask yourself if you are doing anything that is getting in the way of effectively coparenting. How are you interacting with the other parent? What are you doing when communicating with the other parent that is getting in the way of effective coparenting? Are you stirring the pot with the other parent so the other parent will react? What are you communicating to the other parent that has nothing to do with the kids?
6. Let go of some things
This is the next step after asking yourself if you are the problem. If the answer to any of the questions in 5 is yes, then you need to let go of some things. Usually, coparent counselors tell their clients that the first thing to let go if is the expectation that you can control what happens when the children are with the other parent. The other parent’s daily parenting way may not be your daily parenting way but if your children’s needs are being met then it is ok. So, you should see the differences in the way you parent but let go of those differences that are not in your control but are ok for meeting your children’s needs. Once a new significant other comes into the situation, it is common for more things to start irking you. Those will add to the not picking up the kids on time or following through with payment or failing to respond in a timely manner. Instead of engaging, you can let go of these concerns by keeping a custody journal and noting them in the journal each time one occurs. By writing down the date, time, and specifics you are retaining the information for future use if needed in Court but letting go of the need to engage which could affect your coparenting relationship.
7. Understand your tolerance level
Tip 6 must be followed by understanding your tolerance level. At some point, you won’t be able to let go of all the things that are affecting your coparenting relationship. You will want to address these concerns so you can have peace of mind and secure what happens in the future with each parent’s custody time. Ask yourself what you need now that your tolerance level has been reached. Then figure out which route is best to address that need. Is it mediation? Is it coparent counseling? Is it filing a Motion to Modify?
8. Change how you communicate to be a better coparent
When you are facing coparenting challenges, communication is very important. Be sure to not send any messages that include matters unrelated to the kids. Read what you write before sending it to ensure that what you are sending is what you intended to send. If you are only sending a communication for information purposes only, make sure you state that intent to avoid the need for the other parent to respond. If the communication requires a decision to be made to resolve a child-related problem or enrollment in an activity, then clearly state the timeline needed for a reply. If you are not doing any of these things before sending a communication, consider changing how you communicate moving forward to move toward a better coparenting relationship.
Should you need the advice of an experienced divorce and child custody attorney or have questions or concerns about your situation, know that we are here to help and ready to discuss those issues with you.