Avoiding Stressful Situations in Co-Parenting
Co-parenting with an ex is seldom easy. The thought of close collaboration with the person you just divorced may bring on a panic attack — or at least a bad case of heartburn. Here are a few tips to help you deal constructively with the most common problems you are likely to encounter in co-parenting.
Anger is the most common reason that co-parenting plans fail. The best way to solve the anger associated with the shared parenting is to detach yourselves from each other emotionally. Try to see your former spouse, not as a failed life partner, but as your children’s other parent. One technique that may work is to treat your ex like a business associate. Think of each contact with him or her about the children as a business meeting. Develop a co-parenting agenda and stick to it.
Decide now who is the first point of contact when your child is sick at school or there is an emergency. The job belongs to whichever co-parent can best minimize the impact on their finances. If mom is salaried and can make up the time whenever, and dad works on an hourly basis and can’t get away without getting in trouble, then it’s mom’s job. If dad is laid off due to winter weather, then it’s his job. Make sure the school has contact information for both of you.
Don’t pump your children for information about mom’s new boyfriend or dad’s latest expensive purchase. You can listen to what they have to say, and certainly follow up on hazards to their health. However, the real danger is that you may make the children feel like traitors to their other parent. Hurt the relationship between your children and their other parent, and you will hurt your children.
If you resent paying child support because you think of it as money you’re giving to your ex, you need to adjust your thinking. Remember it is for your kids. If writing the check makes you upset, have it withheld from your pay and transferred to your ex.
Children who go from one home to another may need time to adjust to the differences, unwind, and prepare time for the next day. “Decompression” happens when children change households and go from one parenting style to another. It occurs very commonly when children go from a household with little or no structure to one with that is highly structured. In the less structured household, your daughter may feel insecure. To compensate, she may try to create structure and actually assume control of when and how things are done. When she comes back to your house, she no longer needs to be in control, so she is momentarily disoriented by her change in roles. This causes her to act out, defying your structure when she typically creates her own. The best way of handling the decompression is to avoid overreacting to it. Send the child to a secure, familiar place such as her bedroom to engage in a quiet activity like reading. It’s not a punishment, just some down time. A couple of hours in her own space will usually allow enough time for her to adjust.
Remember: parental conflict is extremely damaging to children. Your children will thrive after the dissolution of your marriage only if you and your spouse eliminate conflict, and that requires maturity and patience from one (or ideally both) parents.
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