Tips for Co-Parenting with a Difficult Ex
A Single Dad Offers Advice to Help you Co-Parent effectively
Well, unfortunately, if you’re reading this, you’re most likely in a less-than-perfect co-parenting situation. Luckily, almost all of us are in a less-than-perfect co-parenting situation. Now, we may be doing a little research to find out if the person we are trying to co-parent with is a narcissist, which may very well be possible, but isn’t necessarily the case just because we’re having trouble dealing with them.
At the root of co-parenting are two people who are heavily vested in the well-being of their children. A lot of the arguments, or maybe a calmer term would be disagreements, come from differences in parenting views, not just a person intentionally or subconsciously being difficult. This article will provide some insights that will help you be a better co-parent, and maybe we will even improve your relationship with your co-parent…crazy, I know!
Keep your children’s best interests in mind
So, let’s start with the little dudes and dudettes. One thing that I remind myself of constantly is that we are products of our environment. Of course, we have some traits that are passed along genetically, but the significant things that we come to understand about social interaction, problem solving, religion, and ethics, all come from interaction with others. Kids are constantly pulling in information from all around them to try and understand what is normal and what isn’t, what is acceptable and what isn’t, and what their role is in this weird interaction.
Now, with that in mind, even though divorce has become a more socially acceptable thing, your kids are most likely going to be an outlier in their day-to-day environment (school/daycare). They are starting out with what they see as an abnormality in the social world. Their friends will be going on vacations with both parents, have both parents at all their extracurricular events, and have both parents at home. No matter how well you co-parent you are not going to be able to remedy this fact. Have the conversation with them about it (if they are old enough).
Of course, it seems obvious to us that whether or not your parents are together, doesn’t determine if you’re a good person or not, but they’re still trying to figure that all out. Have the discussion with them and allow them to tell you how THEY feel and what is bothering them about the situation. It is important that you understand what aspects of the situation cause them problems that they are struggling to deal with. Defending the situation by telling them the other parent is a jerk doesn’t help them deal with what they are feeling and can be damaging. So keep that in mind when you’re trying to help them work through difficult situations.
Understanding that they are starting their social life feeling out of place, you also need to remember that they are learning how to interact with others from you. The way that you interact with them, and especially their other parent, will have a profound impact on their ability to deal with others. If they see their parents dealing with complicated situations with the calm of a thirty-year yoga master, they will likely try to use that approach when they encounter their own complicated situations. If you instead react like Connor McGregor after slamming a case of Red Bulls in response to your co-parent merely mentioning that they’d like to take the kids out-of-state, then you might expect your kids to have a similar response when you tell them to turn off the XBOX. It’s reasonable to assume that every parent’s intention is to give their children the best chance they can at living a full and happy life. You’re not going to accomplish that if they don’t learn how to rationally deal with emotional social interactions.
Maintain stability and don’t be reactive
If there is a situation that you really disagree with and you know that the conversation may be heated, save it for a time that the kids aren’t around to hear it. Don’t just be reactive and dive right into a fight, especially if your kids are around. You should also avoid discussing it with others in front of your kids or using them as your way of venting. Adding onto their understanding of how to deal with problems, your children look at both parents as extensions of themselves. If you say that the other parent is a dipstick, your kid will be both offended that you’re saying that about their parent and take it personally as that would suggest that they are 50% dipstick. Your ability to display high moral character will be recognized by your children and they will understand on their own if there are differences between you and the other parent. They don’t need you to tell them what the other parent is or isn’t to recognize character, but they can make assumptions about their character based on your heated exchanges. So, take the high ground.
The last thing that I’ll point out that plays a significant role in your kid’s life is schedule. It is 100% beneficial for them to have a steady schedule. This goes beyond custody. There are going to be things going on (sports, band, other after school activities) that you’re not going to want to miss on days they aren’t with you. You’re not going to be able to make all of these events, but your kids might expect you to. This is where you need to be consistent. If you can make it, you tell them. If you can’t make it, you tell them. Parent’s level of involvement in programs being consistent can provide a significant amount or reassurance to them that they are important. Even if you aren’t the primary parent, your dedication to being involved will shine through.
Understand your co-parent’s perspective
Now that the easy part is over, let’s talk about how you might deal with that other “adult” involved in this whole mess. If we start at the most basic concept available, you are both just humans. You have to try and view what you are doing and what they are doing from the position of a disconnected, unbiased observer. I realize that will be an incredibly difficult thing to do because, as I just mentioned, you are a human. Our raw emotions, especially in a difficult situation, can have overriding properties. The faster you can curb that and realize why you both act the way you do, the happier you will be with yourself and the easier it will be for you communicate honestly about your intentions. You will undoubtedly have an initial propensity to be cold and brash with your co-parent. If you view this from that outside perspective, you will recognize the waste of time and energy that comes with it. If you want to be able to effectively communicate with that person, you must buy into the fact that they are flawed and possess values that you don’t agree with. That’s not going to change. Never the less, you will be the benefactor if you can find a place where you can have meaningful conversation with that person, when you have to.
As a quick reminder, you didn’t agree on everything having to do with parenting when you were together. Though you may have let some things slide when you were together to satisfy some virtue signaling with each other. Now that you aren’t together, you like to stand your ground like riot police in full gear. Find the common ground: the wellbeing of your kids. You can, most of the time, find some portion of the conversation to agree on. Focus on what the outcome is and not necessarily on what you assume to be the intent. If you want to be involved in taking your kid/s to school, asserting that you must be the one to take them every day might not fly. It is much easier to have a conversation about wanting to be involved than telling the other parent how it’s going to be. That only works in situations that the other parent doesn’t care about. Even if there’s no push back on that specific topic, you’re establishing the tone of the conversation, which means the next one, you both may carry that negative posture instead of being reasonable. Value of any one thing, is determined by the perspective of the person viewing it. Find common ground on the things you both value in different ways and be willing to concede issues that you don’t value.
At the end of the day you should try to keep two things in mind; what’s going to be best for your kids and keeping things civil. There is no guarantee that any of this will go smoothly (and it won’t). The one thing you can count on is your children seeing what type of person you are. Make the effort to provide what they deserve. Be the better person when you’re dealing with your co-parent. Your kids will recognize what “right” looks like. They will appreciate you and try to emulate your actions. When your co-parent realizes that this is taking place, they just might follow suit.
Article written by Ben Sockle
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