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Tips for Co-Parenting with a Difficult Ex

Unfortunately, not everyone has an amicable Co-Parenting situation. Effective Co-Parenting requires two parents genuinely invested in putting aside their own differences to best promote the well-being of their children. However, often it is difficult for one or both parents to lay to rest their past conflict. Much of the time, Co-Parenting difficulty stems from a deep or longstanding distrust of the other parent which can turn the simplest of disagreements over parenting styles, scheduling, children's activities into World War III. Below are a few ideas to try to help parents attempt to maximize Co-Parenting, even in difficult circumstances.

Kids Mirror Parental Behavior

Parents need to be cognizant that children are learning how to interact with others from their own parents behavior. They are sponges, absorbing all that you put out there. As such, the way a parent interacts with their other parent, profoundly affects the children's development, and their own ability to deal with others. If children see their parents dealing with complicated situations with a calm demeanor, they will likely try to use that approach when they encounter their own difficult situations. If the children instead react in a hostile or violent manner in response to the most minor request (such as a suggestion by the other parent to enroll the child in a sport or activity), then those parents need to expect their kids to have a similarly hostile response from the children when told to put away their video games and do their homework. Every parent wishes that their child develop to their maximum capacity. That will not happen, if they learn from their own parents that an appropriate response to a challenging situation is to lash out.

Don't Engage

If there is a situation or issue that you are sure will cause great disagreement, and you suspect that the conversation may even become heated, DON'T ENGAGE. Do not talk about it around the children. Period. What the point of calling the other parent an "idiot"?! Even if provoked by the other parent, DON'T ENGAGE. For example, if you say that the other parent is an idiot, your child will be both offended that you’re saying that about their parent and take it personally as that would suggest that they are 50% an idiot. Additionally, your children are not sounding boards for you to vent to about conflict with the other parent. Don’t engage in the conflict in front of the children and don't involve the children in your thought process.

Understand your Co-Parent’s Perspective

When a challenge is posed by the other parent, it is important for a parent to try and view what they are doing from the position of a dispassionate bystander, with no stake in the conflict. This can be an incredibly difficult thing to do because we all are human. However, raw emotions, especially in a difficult, highly charged situation between parents, can have detrimental consequences upon children. The faster a parent faced with such a challenge can get their emotional response in check, the easier it will be to communicate honestly about one's intentions, and in turn, act in a manner most beneficial to the children. Undoubtedly, there is the initial instinct to be cold, brash and even difficult with the other parent. But if viewed as an unbiased bystander, a recognition will come quickly that being oppositional is a waste of time, energy and emotion. In order to effectively communicate with the other parent, one must buy into the fact that the other parent possesses values that you don’t necessarily agree with, and that will probably not change.

You may be reading this and saying to yourself, “well that’s all fine and dandy in theory, but this writer doesn’t know my ex. He/she really knows how to push my buttons.” Really? Why are you a vending machine with buttons to be pushed? Controlling your reactions to the parent’s conduct, no matter how unfair it might be perceived, will only be beneficial for the children as you can rationally and appropriately respond.

One tool to help to view from the other's parent's perspective is to remember that when the two of you were together, you didn't agree on everything. There was give and take in your relationship as a couple; now, there needs to be same give and take for the well-being of your children. Before you broke up, there were numerous opportunities where you let things slide, for the sake of your relationship with that person whom you once loved. The same holds true now, for your children's benefit. There is no need for you to stubbornly stand your ground like riot police in full gear. Find the common ground with the other parent--and that common ground always will be the best interests of your children. Most of the time, you can find some portion of the conversation to agree upon with the other parent. Focus on those simple, small agreements, before tackling bigger issues. Don't try to read into the situation as the other parent having an ill-intent, rather, focus on what is the end beneficial result for your children. . Focus on what the outcome is and not necessarily on what you assume to be the intent. Find common ground on the things you both value in different ways and be willing to concede issues that you don’t value.

When Co-Parenting, above all else, keep the following in mind: Civility and the Best Interests of Your Children. There is no guarantee that Co-Parenting will go smoothly (and oftentimes it won’t). The one thing you can count on is your children seeing what type of person you are. Make the effort to provide what they deserve. Be the better person when you’re dealing with the other parent, no matter their own issues or hostile approach. Your children will most likely ultimately recognize what “right” looks like, and will appreciate the solid foundation of decorum you have established and instilled in them. When the other parent realizes that the children are emulating your civil, level-headed approach in their own developing behaviors, a once hostile parent, may just follow suit, and effective Co-Parenting might actually be realized for your family.

Divorce with minor children can be emotionally difficult and the decisions made can affect you for many years. We have years of experience helping our clients through the difficulty of divorce and creating a suitable parenting plan. Contact us today at (253) 838 – 3377 or email at, to talk about your divorce or need to create a parenting plan.

Disclaimer: All materials provided on this website have been prepared by Bains Law Firm for general information purposes only and no representation is made as to their completeness or accuracy. Information on this website is not intended as legal advice, and may not be relied upon as such. Only an attorney who can review the unique facts of each case and apply them to the statutes, case law and court rules can provide legal advice. Nothing in this website shall be construed to create an attorney-client relationship.

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