Kim Kardashian recently opened up about co-parenting with ex-husband Kanye West, offering the very honest appraisal that, “It’s hard. S–t like co-parenting, it’s really f—— hard.” Sound familiar? If co-parenting with your ex has become difficult or feels downright impossible, here are some tips for overcoming conflicts and common problems so you can get on with the important task of raising your kids.
Co-Parenting Problem: You and your ex can’t see each other at parenting time pick up/drop off without exchanging barbs or a fight breaking out.
Co-Parenting Solution: You have no control over your ex’s behavior, but you do over your own. So, resolve to be polite in front of your children. Show up on time. Say please and thank you. Stick with short neutral conversations and don’t take the bait. Ideally, these are ground rules of respect that you both agree to follow, but if you’re not quite there yet, YOU following through model what good behavior looks like. In most situations, positive behavior will be mirrored back at you once your ex realizes that you are no longer taking the bait.
However, if nothing is working to keep custody swaps civil, you are probably better off doing pick ups and drop offs in public and/or supervised spaces, such as the public library or even the police station lobby if needed. Your lawyer can help you draft a modification to your current agreement to note any new locations of pick ups and drop offs. Also, if you are fighting because your ex is chronically late for custody swaps, keep a log and consult with your attorney to see whether seeking to modify the current parenting time schedule is in your children’s best interests.
Co-Parenting Problem: Nasty emails and toxic texts have become the norm
Co-Parenting Solution: The purpose of emails and texts between co-parents is to deliver facts and logistics, not to lash out at each other. Keeping your messages simple and devoid of emotion will help maintain an amicable co-parenting relationship. Received another nasty text? Go “gray rock” and don’t respond. It’s the quickest and often most effective way to put out the fire. Flames can’t burn without oxygen! When you do need to respond, put an email delay filter in place to give you time to hit “unsend.”
Some high conflict co-parents may need to spell out what communication can and can’t contain by creating a separate communication agreement. In some cases, communication between co-parents may be limited only to emergencies, with all other communication going through attorneys or another trusted third party (i.e., a parenting time coordinator or therapist).
Co-Parenting Problem: You and your ex constantly criticize the way the other parents (i.e., discipline style, bedtimes, etc.)
Co-Parenting Solution: It can be a smart idea for divorced co-parents to be on the same page around discipline, bedtimes, policies about electronics and homework. It just makes life easier for both of you – and your children. If you agreed to a consistency plan, follow through. Otherwise, your ex will be less inclined to hold up their end of the bargain.
If you don’t have any such plan, and don’t foresee being able to figure one out, then you need to come to grips with a golden rule for co-parenting: Unless actual abuse or neglect is present, what goes on in your ex’s house is none of your business – and vice versa! Resist the urge to give “helpful advice” and politely but firmly decline any that comes your way.
Another golden rule? Don’t triangulate the kids by telling them you’ll intercede if they don’t like Mom or Dad’s rules. Don’t call/text/FaceTime your kids multiple times during your ex’s visitation. Don’t make your kids feel guilty for having a good time with their other parent. No matter what you think of your ex, he has a right to their parenting time.
In order to co-parent effectively, you need to respect your former spouse’s right to run their household the way they see fit – and expect the same respect in return. In some situations, working with a family therapist can help co-parents create mutual expectations to help them work through this problem.
Co-Parenting Problem: You just can’t stop being angry with your ex and it spills over into everything.
Co-Parenting Solution: It’s easy to become addicted to anger. It distracts you from the difficult task of creating a whole new life. It keeps you psychologically entangled with your co-parent, which is the exact opposite of what you want if you’re to move forward. If you find that you’re constantly marinating in bitterness, get professional help to work through your anger.
What not to do? Don’t be that divorced couple that everyone dreads seeing. Be a grown-up and interact appropriately with your ex when you’re attending parent conferences, birthday parties, school events, or anywhere you’re around others. Demonstrating animosity towards your ex – via nasty words, grandstanding, or dramatic body language — will make the most important people (your children!) anxious.
Harboring resentment, missing your old life, being angry about lost opportunities – all these negative thoughts only serve to keep you psychologically entangled with your ex. Having a good co-parenting relationship means breaking a toxic psychic bond so you can focus on your interactions in the present.
If you’re always in conflict with your ex, figure out what you may be doing to create and/or perpetuate drama. Are you engaging in email battles? Do you exchange angry words in front of the kids? Bullies want to get a rise out of you, so if you yell, cry, lecture, or become defensive, your antagonistic ex will just look for more ways to upset you. Don’t give them that satisfaction! Practice your coping skills so you can modulate your own emotions around your ex.
As a co-parent, your #1 job is to facilitate your child’s relationship with your ex. Envy and competition have no place in a co-parenting relationship. So be the grown-up, put your feelings for your ex aside, and be grateful that your kids have two parents to love them.
Important! If either of you just can’t succeed with this one, explore “parallel parenting,” a parenting method that can still bring calm to high conflict situations.
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