Wondering what to do when your ex’s co-parenting style clashes with yours? Worried that your kids will grow up dazed and confused because they have to navigate two sets of rules? Get your finger off the panic button! Even married couples disagree at times on the best way to manage children. Here are some things you can do to create a more positive co-parenting relationship with your ex – even if he or she is not cooperative.
1. Don’t judge, criticize, or otherwise try to control your ex’s co-parenting. How likely are you to change your behavior if someone reads you the riot act, or treats you like you’re a moron? You would probably argue back, get resentful, and dig in your heels. Well, so will your ex! Stop playing the blame game and focus on your own parenting.
2. Think about what your ex is doing right. Most likely, your ex is at least providing the basics for your children: a home, food in the refrigerator, clothing, providing transportation to school. If your kids are getting the basics, they are better off than most children in the world. By focusing on what’s going right in the other parent’s home and in his or her co-parenting, you will feel less anxious and in a better frame of mind when dealing with your ex.
3. Try to agree on big-ticket items. If possible, sit down with your ex and see if you can agree on any important co-parenting issues. Big-ticket items may include: no spanking, rules for use of electronics, informing the other parent of major transgressions such as lying, cheating, or drug use. Do NOT sweat the small stuff! The world will not come to a screeching halt if your child doesn’t eat organic or has a different bedtime at your ex’s house. It just won’t.
4. Be flexible. Is there anything your ex suggests that you could do in your own home? Is it possible that he or she actually has a good idea? Cell phone policy? Computer curfew? Instructing your child to set aside a portion of their allowance for charity? Your own flexibility may build capital in the co-parenting bank, so don’t let pride prevent you from acknowledging that your ex is right some of the time.
5. Model respect. If you obsess about all the ways you think your ex is screwing up your kid, you will invariably create more conflict and ill will. One of the best things you can do for your children is to show them how a mature, respectful grown-up behaves.
6. Maintain boundaries. Trying to run the other parent’s home is a violation of their personal boundaries and will only plant your child in the middle of a war zone. Focus on the only thing you can control, which is what you do in your home.
7. Realize that your kids will adjust to different rules. Kids learn to modify their behavior in different environments. They know how they act in Ms. Smith’s history class won’t fly in Mr. Jones’ math class. Not only will they adapt to different expectations in their two households, but they will also learn important life skills, such as how to fit in to different social circles and workplaces.
8. Tell your kids to work out their problems with the other parent. Even kids in intact families try to leverage one parent against the other to get what they want. Do NOT be your child’s intermediary. Unless there’s a crucial reason to intercede (solid evidence of abuse or neglect), redirect your child to speak directly to the other parent about what is going on in that home. Also, do not use your child as a weapon. It’s not your child’s role to let your ex know how you are feeling, or what your complaints are. Keep adult communication between adults.
9. Be the best parent you can be. Trying to control the other parent will not make you Parent of the Year. Instead, think about what you could do better. Do you need to cultivate patience? Improve time management? Enjoy spending time with your kids of worrying 24/7? Figure out what you need to do, and do it.
10. Focus on this new phase of your life. Helicopter parenting doesn’t help kids; it cripples them. Much of the motivation behind compulsive over-parenting has nothing to do with kids but a lot to do with parents who rely on their children to meet their psychological needs. Part of being a good parent is being a good, well-rounded human. So don’t neglect the other, “non-kid” parts of your life. Focus on your job (do you need to change it?), your hobbies, self-care, friends, spiritual practice, and whatever else makes you thrive.
If you ask adult children of divorce what they wish their parents had done differently, the answers invariably involve one wish: less conflict. While it’s ideal for divorced parents to agree on how to raise children, it is not always possible. Remember: The #1 thing to do when you and your ex have different parenting styles is to change your attitude — not your ex.
Have questions about how to find custody solutions that will help you establish a positive co-parenting relationship? Our family law attorneys are here to help. Please contact us today to schedule your initial consultation.