Parents fight. It happens. Even in the happiest of marriages, parents don’t agree on everything. You and your co-parent are going to disagree with each other on many things throughout your child’s life. How you handle these disagreements will play a significant part in the success of your co-parenting relationship.
Remember the end game: You are co-parenting because it is what’s best for your child. Your child needs both parents involved in his or her life. So, no matter what the disagreement, you are going to have to figure out a way to solve it or, sometimes, to let it go.
With that in mind, here are three common issues that tend to come up between co-parents:
Separation and divorce are emotionally charged experiences filled with denial, hurt, pain, anger, and mourning. It is an extremely personal and painful process, and that pain can extend beyond just the couple separating to friends and family who also may feel hurt by the separation. Of course, you want to talk about it; you need to talk about it, but under no circumstances should you talk about it in front of your children.
Co-parents or other friends and family talking badly about one another is one of the most common issues that arise between co-parents. The solution is: don’t do it. It’s devastating to a child’s mental and emotional health for them to hear their parents calling each other names and insulting one another. It creates a sense of unworthiness in the child and low self-esteem.
Take the high road on this one—be extremely conscious and cautious of what you say around your children.
Belittling or insulting a co-parent can happen in subtle ways too, so be aware of some of these common ways you may be badmouthing your co-parent.
- Referring to your child’s other parent as “my ex,” rather than “mother” or “father.”
- Saying things like “we can’t afford this because your dad didn’t give us enough money this month.”
- Using your children as messengers to pass information back and forth rather than speaking to your ex directly.
- Using your children as spies to find out what is being said or done in your co-parent’s house.
Introducing new significant others into the picture is another common issue that comes up between co-parents. For a myriad of reasons, it’s common that co-parents don’t immediately bond with the new person their ex starts dating. It is painful to see your ex with someone new. Your ex’s new choice in a partner may be quite different from whom you would choose. Most concerning, this new partner now has a role and influence in your child’s life.
Ideally, you and your co-parent agreed early on not to introduce any new partners to your children until the relationship grew in seriousness. Depending on the children's ages and circumstances of your divorce or separation, it can take kids as long as two or three years to adjust to the realities of their parents living apart. Check out our blog, on how to introduce a new significant other to your child
No matter how you feel about the new person your co-parent is dating, you shouldn’t express these thoughts and feelings in front of your children. Your children are going to have their emotional reactions to this change of situation, and it’s your job to be their sounding board.
You must be respectful. Just like there is no badmouthing of your child’s co-parent, nor should there be badmouthing of their choice in partners. You do not want your children to feel like they must take sides. You don’t want your children to feel guilty for having a relationship with this new person. And you don’t want your children to be disrespectful to this new person.
You’ll want to have an open and honest conversation with your ex to set clear boundaries for this new significant other and the role he or she will play in raising the children and changing household rules. You also may have to accept that your ex and the person he or she is dating are going to do things differently from you. If it’s not endangering your children or breaking the rules of your divorce decree or parenting agreement, you are going to have to let it go.
Differences in parenting styles is an issue that comes up all the time, regardless of whether parents are married, divorced, separated, or have never been a couple at all. There are four types
of parenting styles that are most often talked about by experts:
- Authoritarian – Strict
- Permissive – Laid-back
- Uninvolved – Neglectful
- Authoritative – Balanced
An authoritarian parent will have strict expectations when it comes to things like bedtime and grades. On the other side, a permissive parent is more likely to let kids figure things out on their own. Most parents use a mix of parenting styles.
For example, one parent may put a huge priority on health, so they are authoritarian when it comes to set mealtimes and the types of food that should be eaten, but they are more permissive when it comes to allowing their children to ride their bikes around the neighborhood unsupervised.
With divorced parents, consistency in parenting styles is difficult because the parents live separately. We all tend to fall into patterns we are most comfortable with.
Communicating with your co-parent about how you will work together to bring consistency to routines between homes is the best way to deal with different parenting styles. If you feel your co-parent is uninvolved, this is a more serious issue and one in which you may need to seek out legal help or counseling.
It’s essential to recognize that there will be differences at your home versus your co-parent’s home. That’s ok. It can teach kids flexibility and how to adapt to different circumstances. Acknowledge these differences with your kids, but don’t badmouth their co-parent because of it.
Differences aren’t always good or bad; sometimes, they are just different. For your kids, what is most important is knowing they have two loving parents and two safe, secure homes.