3 Common Co-Parenting Issues
How to handle 3 common co-parenting issues with an ex.
All parents fight, no matter what their relationship or situation looks like. You and your co-parent are no different. You are going to disagree with each other on things throughout your child’s life. It’s how you handle these disagreements that will play a significant role in the success of your co-parenting journey. With that in mind, here are three common issues that tend to come up between co-parents and how to approach them for the benefit of your child:
Separation and divorce are often emotionally charged experiences filled with denial, hurt, pain, anger, and mourning. It can be an extremely personal and painful process, and those feelings can extend far beyond the couple separating, to friends and family who may also feel hurt by the uncoupling. 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 arises between co-parents, particularly in high-conflict situations. The solution is: don’t do it. It’s devastating to a child’s mental and emotional health when they 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 child’s other parent without realizing it:
- 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 co-parent directly or through a secure co-parenting communication service like TalkingParents.
- 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, as it can be painful to see your ex with someone new. Additionally, your co-parent’s new partner may be quite different from whom you would’ve chosen, and this new person may now have a role and influence in your child’s life.
Ideally, you and your co-parent should have agreed early on not to introduce any new partners to your children until the relationship grew in seriousness. Depending on your kids’ ages and the 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.
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 own emotional reactions to this change of situation, and it’s your job to be their sounding board.
You must be respectful. Just as there is no badmouthing of your child’s co-parent, nor should there be any badmouthing of their choice in partner. You should avoid making your children feel like they must take sides or feel guilty for having a relationship with this new person. You also don’t want your children to be disrespectful to this new partner.
You’ll want to have an open and honest conversation with your co-parent 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 may also 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 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, and it’s easy to fall into the pattern you’re 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 for which you may need to seek out legal help or counseling.
Though you should work to create consistency when you can, it’s essential to recognize that there will be differences between your home and your co-parent’s home, and that’s okay. It can teach kids flexibility and how to adapt to different circumstances. Acknowledge these differences with your kids, but don’t badmouth their mother or father 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.