Joint Custody 10 Strategies For Co Parenting With An Uncooperative Ex

Joint Custody 10 Strategies For Co Parenting With An Uncooperative Ex



Almost six years ago, when the​ father of​ my children and​ I divorced, we wholeheartedly agreed to​ share joint custody of​ our two children, who were 3 and​ 6 years old at​ that time.

During our nine years of​ marriage, we had never argued about parenting philosophies or​ values. I saw no indication that parenting after divorce would be any different.

So, with the​ help of​ lots of​ books and​ research, I set about creating a​ lovely best-case scenario of​ how it​ would be after the​ divorce: co-hosting birthday parties, welcoming each other’s new partners into an​ extended and​ joyful family unit, sitting together at​ their school and​ sporting events while beaming with pride at​ the​ accomplishments of​ our beautiful children, and​ getting on the​ same page with mealtimes, bedtimes, etc., so that there would be as​ much consistency between our two home as​ possible. These are wonderful and​ healthy ideas, and​ many co-parents I know have achieved them.

But I forgot to​ allow for​ one critical variable in​ my lovely scenario. I had assumed that my kids' dad would want to​ participate in​ this optimal arrangement.

Unfortunately, I was wrong.

Shortly after our friendly divorce was completed, he informed me that our future conversations were to​ be confined to​ solely to​ the​ topics of​ scheduling and​ the​ exchange of​ relevant information, such as​ the​ results of​ their dental checkups. There would be no philosophical ‘meeting of​ the​ minds’ about parenting. He would parent our children as​ he saw fit on his time, and​ was not interested in​ my opinions or​ input.

I was horrified to​ think that our kids were going to​ be raised in​ two homes with no overlap. I had envisioned co-parenting as​ a​ bigger happy family spread out over two homes. Instead I faced the​ reality of​ parallel parenting—two separate worlds with no intersection except in​ a​ parking lot at​ exchange time.

That was almost six years ago. My kids have adjusted better than I could ever have imagined. Their worlds have expanded immeasurably—they have two new stepparents, and​ large extended families. They have stretched their minds and​ hearts in​ order to​ accommodate the​ wildly diverse values held by those they dearly love.

They are flexible, open minded, and​ think for​ themselves. They understand the​ relativity of​ truth—when my daughter was about four I overheard her tell a​ playmate, “Well, that might be true for​ you, but it’s not true for​ me!” They’ve learned how to​ discern what works best for​ them from a​ variety of​ options.

They’ve taken the​ lemons life gave them and​ made lemonade.

I’m writing this article to​ reassure those of​ you who have less than ideal co-parenting situations that there are things you can do in​ only one home (yours) that can make life better for​ your kids, and​ for​ you.
Here are some of​ my road-tested tidbits of​ advice:

1)Be available. Save your shopping, errands, etc. for​ the​ times they are not with you. When they first arrive at​ your house, just sit down. My kids usually join me for​ a​ snack at​ the​ kitchen table for​ about an​ hour, during which they unload their stories, complaints, news updates, school projects, etc. Sometimes one of​ them will sit on my lap, or​ my daughter will play with my hair.

Be still, and​ make yourself available for​ them to​ physically and​ emotionally reconnect with you. Give them time to​ re-calibrate to​ the​ rhythm of​ your home before you expect them to​ jump into chores or​ homework.

Of course, in​ order to​ be truly available for​ your kids, you need to:

2)Take good care of​ yourself. Get regular exercise. Spend time with a​ good friend or​ therapist who can listen without judgment to​ all your feelings. Write in​ a​ journal. Work through your anger and​ pain. Eat well. Don’t sacrifice your health or​ sanity thinking it’s noble or​ necessary for​ the​ good of​ the​ kids.

Just like they say on the​ airplane regarding the​ oxygen masks, secure your own lifeline before helping your child. You don’t have much to​ offer if​ your own basic needs aren’t being met.

3)Do not judge the​ other parent within earshot of​ your children. This may sound impossible, but let me assure you, it​ can be done. Your ex lives forever inside your children’s DNA. if​ you speak condescendingly about their other parent in​ any way, your child feels insulted. We may see the​ distinction and​ separation, but our children do not. Keep your judgments to​ yourself until you can safely vent them with your supportive listener from tidbit number 2.

It is​ imperative that you accept that there is​ more than one way to​ do things. I have a​ ‘no comment’ policy on what happens at​ their other house. I don’t ask them why it’s that way, or​ why their dad said this or​ did that. I simply acknowledge their communication in​ a​ neutral way, and​ reflect back whatever feelings they might be having. ‘Hmmm, sounds like you might be feeling disappointed about that situation.’ This way the​ kids can stay in​ their own experience and​ move through it, without feeling like they need to​ defend the​ other parent from your attack.

And prepare ahead of​ time for​ when your kids get old enough to​ become curious about why you got divorced. You’ll need a​ neutral and​ nonjudgmental answer. Here’s one I read somewhere during one of​ those many research sessions that I liked: Get out some pots and​ lids of​ various sizes. Show the​ kids how even when there’s nothing wrong with either the​ pot or​ the​ lid, not all of​ them fit together. “Mommy and​ Daddy just didn’t fit together in​ a​ happy way anymore.”

4)Do not judge your children’s feelings. Just listen. One day my son came home extremely angry about something that had happened at​ his dad’s. I followed my ‘no comment’ policy, not making his feelings right or​ wrong, but simply reflecting them back to​ him. Within a​ few minutes, the​ storm had passed. He gave a​ deep sigh of​ relief, thanked me for​ listening, and​ went out to​ play basketball.

There was no resolution, no problem solving, and​ nothing had changed in​ the​ situation. He just needed the​ freedom to​ vent his frustration, and​ to​ feel love and​ acceptance while doing so.

Telling him not to​ feel that way, refusing to​ allow him to​ speak of​ his father in​ my home, making excuses for​ his father, or​ jumping on the​ blaming bandwagon with him would have inhibited the​ clearing of​ his emotional energy. Just listen.

5)Teach your child to​ solve his/her own problems. In that idyllic world of​ healthy co-parenting, you can hold a​ family meeting with all of​ you present to​ address any problems. for​ those of​ us in​ the​ adequate but not ideal world of​ parallel parenting, that’s not an​ option.

Instead, I’ve helped my kids to​ learn effective communication and​ problem solving strategies, and​ we practice them in​ our home.

I do not intervene in​ any problems they are having with their other family. After reflecting back their feelings, I encourage them to​ speak directly to​ their father. Often, they decide not to.

This is​ hard for​ me to​ watch, but I’ve learned to​ let them take full responsibility for​ their actions and​ choices regarding their father. My job is​ to​ keep my own lines of​ communication clear and​ available for​ them.

6)Buy doubles. It’s embarrassing how long it​ took me to​ figure this one out—we had far too much stress about boots or​ snow pants or​ dress clothes being at​ the​ wrong house at​ the​ wrong time.

I finally went to​ Saver’s and​ Goodwill and​ spent just a​ few dollars on extra clothing. Now on exchange days, the​ kids have a​ choice. They can wear the​ cheapie clothes, and​ not have to​ worry about remembering to​ bring them back, or​ they can wear their good clothes, and​ the​ prospect of​ wearing the​ goodwill ones when they return helps them remember to​ bring them back. Problem solved!

7)Don’t use your kids as​ messengers, or​ ask them to​ speak for​ you or​ their other parent. and​ don’t think you can fool them, either. They know when you are plying them for​ the​ scoop on the​ other parent, no matter how subtle you think you’re being. and​ they hate it.

Unless you suspect abuse or​ neglect, what happens at​ the​ other home is​ not your business, so don’t ask for​ details. of​ course you can listen if​ the​ kids want to​ tell you something, but don’t pry.

Don’t wonder out loud what Dad was thinking when he took them to​ McDonald’s for​ both breakfast and​ lunch. Don’t ask if​ Mom’s boyfriend went to​ Water World last weekend, too. if​ you really want to​ know, ask your ex and​ leave your child out of​ it. Kids hate being asked to​ spy for​ you. They may feel that giving these answers is​ a​ kind of​ betrayal, or​ fear that they will be punished for​ something that was not under their control.

(a little sidenote here: don’t ask your kids to​ keep secrets from the​ other parent. This puts them in​ a​ terrible position. if​ there’s something you don’t want the​ other parent to​ know about your life, simply do not tell the​ children about it.)

Develop a​ direct channel of​ communication between the​ parents. We use email, and​ before that we used the​ back door option on voice mail to​ send each other messages without ringing the​ phone. Some parents send a​ communication notebook or​ folder back and​ forth in​ one of​ the​ kids’ backpacks.

Just last night my daughter told me her dad wanted to​ know if​ I would take her to​ sports practice that would fall on ‘my day.’ I could see the​ relief on her face when I said, “Honey, don’t worry about that. I’ll talk to​ your Dad about it​ and​ we’ll work it​ out.”

8)and the​ corollary: Don’t speak for​ the​ other parent. Sometimes my kids will ask my why Daddy won’t let them spend their allowance the​ way they want to, or​ why he thinks this way or​ that.

It took more will power for​ me not to​ speak for​ my ex at​ the​ beginning, when I still knew him well enough to​ have an​ idea about the​ reasons why he did things. Now, I honestly have no clue what he’s thinking, so it’s easy to​ refer them to​ him for​ the​ details.

It’s important that you give the​ other parent the​ opportunity and​ responsibility to​ speak for​ themselves with their children. Don’t run interference. Don’t defend or​ protect the​ other parent from the​ true consequences of​ their actions. Let them explain to​ your child why they were late, rather than covering for​ them. the​ sooner your child faces the​ reality of​ who their parent is, the​ sooner they can get about their business of​ forgiving them and​ making whatever adjustments need to​ be made.

9)Free your children to​ love both of​ you without reservation or​ fear. And any new partners, as​ well. Please, do whatever internal and​ emotional work you need to​ do so that you are not threatened by your child’s love for​ your ex or​ stepparent. This might the​ most important tidbit of​ them all.

Show your child how a​ candle can share its flame to​ ignite other fires without losing any of​ its own light. Love is​ infinite—it cannot be diminished by sharing it​ with others. Let your child know that it’s OK for​ her to​ love both mommy and​ daddy, regardless of​ how they feel about each other, and​ that you are confident that she has so much love inside her that it​ can never run dry.

10)Be a​ storehouse of​ happy family history. If it​ is​ true, your child will love hearing that she was conceived in​ love, or​ that Mommy and​ Daddy were so happy when he was born. Kids with co-parents probably get to​ see them engaging in​ peaceful and​ productive, sometimes even warm, interactions. My kids hardly ever see both of​ us in​ the​ same place at​ the​ same time, and​ even less frequently do they witness an​ actual interaction.

My daughter was only three when we divorced, and​ has no memory of​ her dad and​ I being happy together. So I gathered some pictures of​ good times that included various permutations of​ her family forest (*it’s bigger than a​ tree - this concept came from a​ book in​ the​ resource list below), and​ I hung them in​ a​ big collage frame in​ her room. She beamed, and​ told me that her favorite was the​ one of​ me and​ her dad holding her when she was a​ baby.

And when she asks, I tell her stories about her birth, and​ how we loved her so much, and​ how we would take her on walks around the​ neighborhood together. Little, everyday kinds of​ stories, to​ fill in​ the​ blank places in​ her memory with joy.

That should be enough to​ give you a​ good start. Oh, wait, just one more:

On the​ hard days, when you’re tired or​ frazzled or​ overextended and​ you slip up, please forgive yourself and​ just start again. Be gentle with yourself ... you’re doing the​ best you can.




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