Raising children together after a break-up is not for the faint of heart. I often tell parents it requires superhero powers—and none of us are superheroes. Co-parenting asks us to overcome the very real emotions we all feel when are hurt or feel betrayed. You can’t be angry at your ex in front of your kids. You can’t vent on the phone within earshot of the kids. You can’t scream, “It was all your fault, not mine! I didn’t have an affair!” So, there you are, pushing down all that emotion to be cordial with someone who simply infuriates you–all in the best interest of your children.
Although there are quite a few common co-parenting pitfalls, there are five that occur most often. Most co-parents have faced them during their attempts to co-parent, particularly at the beginning of the experiment.
Late to exchanges
When parents begin to co-parent, much of their time is spent jockeying for position. Control is a huge factor and being late to an exchange is a passive-aggressive way to control the other parent’s behavior—or at least pay them back for whatever you perceive they did to you. Passive aggressive behavior is best explained as “indirect resistance to others’ demands by avoiding direct confrontation.” In this case, the other parent must wait for you—and you can show up late with an excuse of traffic or a flat tire—and they can’t yell at you because the kids are watching. You have control.
Not returning the children’s clothes they came in
Again, a passive-aggressive way to get back at the other parent. I often hear, “They are my clothes. I buy them, and I never get them back!” In actuality, the clothes belong to the kids, not the parents! Time to get over whatever is preventing you from being the co-parent you should be and return the clothes so your kids can enjoy them at both homes. Kids grow so fast that they will be out of the clothes before the argument is settled.
Using the children as messengers
Once again—human nature—and here’s where you need those superhero powers. When you don’t want to talk to someone you tell someone else to pass on information. In this case, it’s your kids and it’s wrong. Making your children the messenger puts them right in the middle of the two people they love the most. And, when a child passes on information and its met with anger, that child will lie not to get into trouble. That’s when I hear parents ask, “Why would my child lie to me?” Because you put them in the middle and asked them to rely on their childlike resources for survival. You aren’t taking care of them. They are taking care of you. If you have something to say to your child’s other parent, tell the parent, not your child.
Kids have a keen awareness from a very early age that they are half mom and half dad. When mom puts down dad or dad puts down mom, a child can easily personalize it. A child’s secret reasoning becomes: If Mommy thinks Daddy is bad and she hates him (or vise-versa) and I’m half Daddy, when I’m bad, Mommy might hate me, too. it can be something as simple as, “Your mother is always late, and it drives me crazy!” Essentially, bad mouthing asks your child to align with one parent or the other. Can you imagine what that kind of stress does to a child?
Not supporting the other parent’s visitation
In the world of co-parenting, it’s a red flag when a child prefers one parent’s home to the other’s. But, some parents don’t see it that way. They secretly praise themselves for being the preferred parent and continue to do things to undermine the other parent’s time with the child. When a judge must decide primary custody between bickering parents, the final decision often lies with the parent who is most likely to support the child’s relationship with the other parent. That parent has the best interest of the child in mind—and that’s with whom a judge will place the child.