Thursday, January 10, 2013

How am I supposed to co-parent? My Ex is a Psycho.

Everyone uses the term “co-parenting.”  You go to court and the judge tells you, in no uncertain terms, that you have to learn to co-parent.  Lawyers, counselors, therapists and doctors tell you that if you want to do the best for your children, you will learn to co-parent.  However, co-parenting implies that both parents are actively doing their part.  

What do you do when the other parent makes co-parenting difficult or impossible?  After all, just as it takes two to tango, it also takes two to co-parent.  What happens when the other parent sends you nasty emails and texts, spreads gossip by telling friends and family members the intimate details of your relationship without regard for the truth, constantly bad-mouths you, fails to share important details about the children, threatens to hurt you, poisons the children with rants and accusations that are simply not true and otherwise is a walking, talking, poke-in-the-eye?  Without both parents participating in the “co,” co-parenting simply will not work.  

So, if you do not have even enough of a degree of civility with your Ex to succeed in even a minimal amount of co-parenting, what are your options when you share children?

Think about your parenting situation at arms-length to assess your options.  Are there other times in your life when you need to deal with difficult people?  What happens when you work with someone who is simply not cooperative or actually impedes productivity?  If you cannot or will not leave the job, and your supervisor will not remedy the situation, generally an employee will simply cope by doing the best job possible and attempting to avoid the other person.  What happens when children of different skills or interests play on a playground?  They may not interact with each other, but rather, they play side-by-side.  Even friends who do not agree on an activity can sometimes manage to still spend time together, without too much interaction.  An example would be going to a museum and each going your separate ways with one going to the impressionist painting area and the other to the sculpture exhibit.  A couple could enjoy spending time together, but simply cannot engage in the same activities.  They may get a house at the shore together, but one spends all of the time surfing, while the other one spends all of the time catching up on reading on the beach.

These coping mechanisms can also be used when attempting to parent with your uncooperative Ex.  Rather than attempting to consult and confer on everything, you simply decide that you will go your way and the other parent will go his or way.  This is a concept called “parallel parenting.”  You still must communicate with the other parent, because that is virtually impossible to avoid and is generally required by the concept of shared legal custody.  However, when you are angry about what happens at the other parent’s home or upset about the other parent’s parenting style or otherwise feel there is no cooperation, you can take a step back and disengage from the situation.  Then, think about how you can develop a strategy that allows you to operate independently of the other parent while still protecting your child.  Additionally, to the extent that the other parent attempts to pull you into the fray by instigating an argument, think about stepping back and avoiding the conflict.

Any serious issues regarding the child’s health, education and welfare must be discussed with the other parent.  However, in parallel parenting, learn to draw the line as to what will significantly affect your child’s health, education and welfare.  Choosing an orthodontist is significant, while the brand of baby aspirin probably is not.  Deciding on public versus private school is significant, while micro-managing homework at the other parent’s house is not.

Sure, agreeing on theories of parenting and giving children consistency and routine from household to household provides the best child-rearing atmosphere.  However, if the other parent cannot or will not cooperate, you need to resign yourself to being the best parent you can be during the time you have your children and trying to let go of the concept of cooperative parenting about the minutiae of your child’s life.  This way, you can limit toxic interactions with the other parent.  By limiting the fighting, you will give your children some relief from the conflict.

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