Being a co-parent after divorce with kids is not the easiest water to navigate. Learning how to be a co-parent to your child can be more difficult than learning how to be a strong, effective parent. This is because the initial relationship is not present and essentially two very different individuals are parenting one or more children. The hardest challenge is getting two co-parents on the same page, but it's even harder when you have one parent who doesn't want to play nice.
One major challenge in a co-parenting dynamic is when a co-parent does not respect the other co-parent. This can be exhibited in many ways; Verbally, physically, or emotionally. When one co-parent refuses to cooperate with the other parent, actively dismisses the other parent, or acts out in anger, then conflict will continue to exist. This will prohibit a healthy co-parenting dynamic from taking place. One parent might be disrespectful of the other parent's time, personal boundaries, or lifestyle habits. Passive-aggressive comments can become the norm creating animosity. Avoidance or a complete refusal to engage respectfully can also mean that no communication gets shared about the children. These communication styles in the co-parenting dynamic often become very toxic. Confronting these issues is even more challenging because the motivation to find resolution no longer exists like it once did when you were together.
The struggle in the power dynamic between divorced parents can be the main source of conflict that neither wants to acknowledge. When parents put their own needs ahead of their children, then the children suffer and get caught in the middle. When co-parents do not respect each other's boundaries or perpetuate negative energy towards the other parent, the children suffer. These issues can become even more aggravated when you allow a new spouse to interject themselves into the dynamic. After a divorce with kids, the most important thing you should do is make a solid commitment to always put your children first. This might be despite the needs of your new spouse, your new lifestyle choices, or anything else that might have changed since your divorce.
The normal outcome of most break-ups is no longer having contact with someone you don't get along with anymore. Co-Parenting with an ex means that you have to continue a relationship with someone you don't necessarily like. The personality differences become magnified even more when you have to try to agree about issues regarding children you share. Co-parenting with a difficult ex requires more than just a conversation. It requires a full shift in how you interact with people who are difficult. You can't always be the nice person who just tries to keep the peace. When you try to avoid conflict or mitigate issues with this person, you are only allowing yourself to be taken advantage of. It easily leads to resentment and anger which can prohibit you from enjoying time with your children.
The best course of action is to create firm, solid boundaries with the other parent. That can be in the form of anything that prevents you from engaging in toxic dialogue or exhausted energy. Sometimes avoiding phone conversations and just sticking to texting or emails can prevent being hung up, for example. Another example could be that you do not deviate from the schedule you have in place, as hard as that might be. Sometimes when you give someone an inch, they take a mile but do not reciprocate. Co-parenting can be flexible except when it is self-serving for one parent all the time and not about the children anymore.
Co-parenting communication should also avoid using the children as messengers. This is one way that a co-parent might try to infiltrate you by using the children as a go-between. It is ok to teach your children to advocate for themselves and insist the parent take their message directly to the other parent. Refusing to participate in these types of antics are just as much a lesson for your children as for yourself. Removing any guilt from your children and allowing them a voice to say they refuse to participate in toxic communication will empower them, in divorce, and in life.
When you are trying to deal with a nasty ex co-parent who is unreasonable, difficult, angry, or manipulative, you should keep things as transactional as possible. What that means is that you stick only to the facts, the details, and the logistics. What time are you picking the kids up, where are you meeting, and who will be there? You do not need to get into the why's or how's, or go any deeper than necessary. Your ex might enjoy getting an emotional rise out of you, but you have to be aware that you control your emotions, not them.
If your ex-partner is not capable of respecting your boundaries, talks over you, disrespects your time, is insensitive and self-serving, then you have to default to minimal contact and communication. You can not change people, but you can teach people how to treat you by doing what you expect in return. Keep things simple and straight to the point. Remove emotions. State your point and be clear in what you will or won't do.
If these pointers do not help your co-parenting dynamic, then you may consider speaking to a parenting coach or personal counselor. You should be familiar with the legal parameters of co-parenting as well and maintain your own integrity even if the other person refuses to do so. There are many reasons that parents can not remain together and must become co-parents after divorce or break-up. The reasons why your relationship ended still remain. It is helpful to always be mindful of these reasons and not try to have different expectations about your interaction together.
If you are finding it difficult to get along with an ex co-parent, talk to someone who has experience in divorce or co-parenting. The world of divorce with kids is unique to only a few and many times trying to discuss the issues with friends and family is not helpful. A counselor in Orlando who deals with blended families, divorce counseling, or parenting after divorce will help you navigate these waters in a professional way.
Heather Oller is a licensed Orlando therapist at Orlando Thrive Therapy, Coaching & Counseling who specializes in counseling Orlando couples, individuals, and families who are seeking changes in their lives. She has been a mental health professional for over 17 years and is a practicing Orlando counselor that specializes in conflict resolution for couples. You can contact her for an appointment or call 407-592-8997 for more information.