Parenting a child, or children, under one roof is challenging enough. The lack of sleep when they are a baby. The temper tantrums of the toddler phase. The moodiness of the preteen years, and the uncontrollable hormones that highlight adolescence. Why do we do this parenting thing, again? These challenges are only amplified when you are co-parenting. There are issues that naturally and consistently arise as part of a co-parenting relationship. The following is a short, but not complete, list of the most common co-parenting issues and suggestions on how to best deal with them.
“My co-parent refuses to communicate with me.”
This is the most common by far. This is obviously problematic when it comes to school and medical appointments, sporting events, plays, financial issues, and just about anything else you can think of. What’s important to realize from the start is that someone cannot be forced to communicate. Regardless of court orders and how much the co-parent reaches out, if they don’t want to communicate, they won’t.
All you can do is be the best parent you can be and that may mean communicating without reciprocation. You deliver any information you have to the other parent. It is not unheard of, as time passes, for the anger to subside and communication to improve.
“My co-parent is not allowing me to see my kids.”
This usually occurs when one parent believes that there is some reason why they must keep the kids from the other parent, for example, past or current drug abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, delinquent child support payments, et al. These may or may not be true. Regardless, if you believe that you have a right to see your child and your co-parent refuses to let you see them, then your only choice may be to seek assistance through the court. I have always been an advocate for using the court as a last resort, but there is no choice when your co-parent shows no flexibility towards giving you access to your children when you have a right to be with them.
“We don’t have a court-ordered custody agreement and my co-parent is keeping my kids from me.”
In this case, there is nothing legal about who should have the kids and when they should have them. The solution in this situation is to seek out a court-order dividing up the custody and visitation of the minor children or the more cost-effective way by using the coParenter app to create a parenting time schedule with the help of a coParenter professional.
“My co-parent lets the kids stay up later on weekends, gives them more allowance, and does not punish them for bad behavior.”
If your co-parent refuses to work with you on consistencies between homes, with exception to illegal behaviors, your co-parent can manage his / her home however they feel like it. Just like they have no say about what happens in your home, you have no say what they do in their home. Once you have given up that need for control with your kids while they are with their other parent, you may have an easier time with this co-parenting challenge.
Ideally, it would be preferable if both homes were consistent with bedtimes, allowances, chores, and behavior expectations. In reality, these two homes are usually quite different. There are some parents that will make a point about having a different home than their co-parent, especially if they know that it will make them the favored parent. In the case that the two homes are quite different, and the children will almost always notice and bring up the differences, it’s a good idea not to show your frustration.
What the children need to know is that each home is different, that it is managed by a different person, and that they will have different experiences and expectations at each home. This is very typical in parallel parenting relationships, where co-parents simply refuse to cooperate. The ability to shift from one environment to the other, and back, is a good exercise in flexibility. This will serve them well as they get older.
It is in your (collective) best interest for you, as co-parents, to share with full disclosure your household policies. This way if there is any discrepancy from your kids you know they may be gaming the system. Here’s an innocent example, your daughters complain when you put them to bed at 8:30p saying dad lets them stay up until 10p when in fact you know for a fact he puts them to bed at 8:30p too.
“I would like to take my kids on a week-long trip. The last two days are my co-parent’s time. He/she refuses to let me have those days.”
This is one of the more common issues I come across. Many court-ordered custody agreements come with a built-in vacation schedule for both parents. With this, each parent must approve the other co-parent taking the children for a set amount of time each year. In the case that the custody order does not include a vacation schedule and one of the parents is refusing to let the kids be away on their time, a little bartering may help.
I encourage parents to trade days. “You need the last weekend in June? That’s my time. I need the third weekend in July, which is your time.” With plenty of notice, this usually works pretty well. It’s also this trading of days that helps the co-parents realize that cooperation is a two-way street and that they must give a little to get a little.
“My co-parent talks bad about me to our kids.”
This is another very common issue I discuss with parents. A parent, frustrated and angry with their co-parent, regularly vents to the children they have in common. What that parent may or may not realize is that doing this is incredibly damaging to the children.
Children understand the concept that they are combinations of their parents right down to the DNA. They look like them, they sound like them, and they have similar behaviors. When one parent constantly puts down the other parent, the children interpret this as an insult to themselves. “If dad thinks mom is mean and rude, and I have similarities to mom, then that must mean I am mean and rude.” This brings about low self-esteem and low confidence. In addition, the kids will start to question how much they can trust the insulting parent. When a child loses trust for a parent, the child feels unsafe with them. What I have suggested in this case is for the parent being insulted to stop reacting to their co-parent’s negativity. Think of the childhood belief that if you ignore the school-yard bully they will stop picking on you. The same belief applies here. Stop reacting to the negative words of the co-parent, and they will usually stop when they see that you just don’t care.
Author’s final note…
Co-parenting is hard. It may be one of the hardest things you will ever do in your entire life. There will be days that you just want to quit. Don’t. The first thing that you should realize is that you are not alone. There are parents all over the world that are struggling like you. You all have one thing in common, you are trying to be the best parent you can for your child. Your child may not say thank you very often. They may not know how hard you work. But they are receiving the best gift you can ever give them. Peace. The more peace you can provide in this rather stressful situation, the better. Co-parents have a profound responsibility to provide the most peaceful environment possible for their children. What co-parents do now will have lasting effects on the health of their child’s future relationships and personal wellbeing. You have the opportunity to make this a positive experience for your kids.
Keep up the hard work.