When a relationship or marriage full of conflict ends, many of the struggles may be resolved or fade away. But co-parenting after divorce or separation can create new challenges as parents learn to navigate a new kind of relationship in which they are no longer romantic partners but still must maintain a working relationship. While this new parenting relationship can be difficult, there are ways to handle parenting conflicts to make the relationship work better for everyone.
Your Child Comes First–Always
The goal of divorced parents must be to make decisions and plans that are in the best interest of the child. When you face parenting conflicts with your co-parent, focus on the reason you want to successfully resolve the conflict: your child’s health and happiness. Your children are also the reason your interactions with each other as co-parents must be respectful, especially when your children are present.
Facing conflict with a co-parent is inevitable. You’d likely face many of the same parenting conflicts if the marriage were still intact. Conflict itself is not the problem; rather, the way we handle the conflict is what matters. We don’t have to like a person to treat them with respect. When you and your co-parent respectfully disagree and work through conflict, your children benefit from a less stressful childhood and learn important conflict resolution skills.
Let the Past Be the Past
Whatever happened between you and your ex in the past needs to stay in the past. Any parenting conflicts that are not related to the children do not need to play a role in parenting decisions. Instead, focus on what is happening with your kids now, and the choices you as co-parents need to make. If you can’t leave the past conflicts completely in the past, at least save them for a non-parenting discussion when your children are not present. The one exception is any past events that put your child’s health, safety, or well-being in jeopardy. These issues should be addressed with your family lawyer, pediatricians, and mental health professionals and should be considered to ensure everyone’s safety.
Don’t Speak Negatively about the Other Parent
There may be many things about your ex that you don’t like. His or her presence may even make you angry. When we harbor dislike and anger toward an ex, it is tempting to speak ill of him or her to your child. Don’t. We may think our kids will love us more and dislike the other parent when we point out the negatives, but the opposite is often true. When we talk negatively about the other parent to our children, we risk alienating our kids, damaging their self-esteem, and hindering our relationships with our kids. Your child is more likely to be disappointed in you for saying negative things about their other parent. Even if the other parent’s behavior truly is disappointing to your child, you serve your child (and yourself) better when you support your child’s emotional well-being than pointing out the obvious negatives.
Don’t Make Your Child the Messenger or “Spy” Between Parents
Your child’s job is to be a child. It is not to deliver messages between parents, and it is certainly not to report to you all the things your ex is doing. If you need to talk to your ex, figure out a method of direct communication that works in your relationship, like text messages, phone calls, or emails, and don’t ask your kid to “tell daddy” or “ask mommy” anything that should come directly from you. Similarly, don’t ask your child to tell you details of the other parent’s life that have nothing to do with parenting.
Know What’s Unacceptable…and Accept the Rest
If the other parent is not operating within the bounds of your separation or divorce agreement or is endangering the health, safety, or well-being of you or your child, that behavior is unacceptable. In those instances, you may need legal intervention. In most other instances, your co-parent’s behavior may be extremely annoying, but it’s likely best to accept the behavior and move on. You may be right; he may be wrong. But being right is not everything. Sometimes, keeping the peace for the sake of your children is the best way to handle things – even when it’s unfair to you. Instead of trying to change your ex’s behavior, focus on yourself and your kids.
Co-parenting takes a lot of energy and dedication, but when both parents are committed to doing what’s best for their children, it can work well for everyone.
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