Dear Dr. Jann,
My ex and I share joint custody of our 6-year-old son. One week at Mom’s, one week at Dad’s. My fiancé understands the joint birthday parties and discussions about doctor’s appointments, but she has a problem with casual conversation. I constantly reassure her that I have no intention of getting back together but she feels there is too much contact and makes it difficult for me to comfortably discuss the little things that come up with our son. What is the best way to handle this? Is therapy a good option for us?
Years ago, when there was a break-up, mother got sole custody, dad got every other weekend, and that was the end of their communication. Now, with many “joint custody” parenting plans, a child is required to go back and forth between the parents’ homes and parents must continue to talk to each other in order to problem solve in the best interest of their child. As a result, boundaries get blurred, new partners get jealous, and as a result, try to control the parental interaction. For all parties involved, therapy together and individually maybe able to help this coParenting dynamic and open up communication.
New partners must understand the huge responsibility they take on when they marry someone who successfully coParents. All of a sudden it’s not just their partner and them carving out a new life, but a juggling act coordinating efforts with their new partner, his or her ex, and their child—all done in the best interest of that child. It’s not an easy life.
Two things must happen if you expect to make a go of it with your fiancé. First, you draw the line about parental interaction, not her. You are the one to figure out reasonable boundaries that don’t step on her toes and also keeps your son’s best interest in the forefront. That doesn’t mean chatting with your ex three times a day–unless your child is in ICU–but discussions about who brings the snacks to soccer practice are completely understandable—and your fiancé must understand this.
The second thing? A change in mindset. A week on/week off parenting plan is the most equitable parenting plan out there and it is not for the faint of heart. It requires people to go against human nature—to comfortably converse with someone they would never dream of talking to, like a new partners’ ex or a new girlfriend, all in the name of the child that goes back and forth between their homes. That means, and here’s where the change in mindset comes in–it may be time for your fiancé to cultivate her own relationship with your child’s mother. They don’t have to go shopping together, but learn to converse cordially so your son does not witness constant bickering or someone standing behind you at every phone call telling you to hang up.
Make sure your communication with your child’s mother is completely transparent and the less insecure your fiancé will be about the interaction. With time, if you see that is not the case, marriage may not be in the cards.
If all this doesn’t work then therapy will be your best option. A third party professional will be able to be a neutral opinion that can open your fiance’s mind to the fact that you must communicate with your ex. The therapist will also help you, your fiance and your ex establish healthy boundaries that everyone is comfortable with. Not every coParenting relationship is the same so you have to find what works for you and above all what is best for your child.