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Diane L. Danois, J.D. Headshot

Co-Parenting: 5 Steps to Avoiding Conflict Escalation

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It goes without saying that we all want what's best for our children. Unfortunately, trouble arises when what's best for our children has multiple meanings. Conflicts often escalate between divorced co-parents, when one parent wants to rear the child one way, and the other parent wants to rear the child a different way... often a diametrically opposed way. Since these differences in child-rearing were likely also contributing factors to the demise of the marriage in the first place, it's not surprising to see them continue post-divorce. So, what are divorced parents to do? How can they co-parent and co-raise their children, when they don't see eye-to-eye? Is a trip to the local courthouse the answer, when Mom wants Billy to play soccer and Dad wants Billy to play piano? Is it really necessary to run up attorneys' fees arguing over sending Sally to sleep-away camp versus a local day camp? Clearly, each parent has different priorities, and those different priorities are still in the child's best interests. There is no right or wrong, just different. These complicated differences may exist between married parents. The reality is that these matters are simply more complicated with divorced parents because there are two separate households. Two separate sets of rules. Two separate child-rearing philosophies. And your child is not a wishbone.

When arguing with your ex over co-parenting issues, consider the following:

1. Consider your child's needs first and foremost, and try to strike a balance between the "needs" and the "wants." Most children need structure in their daily lives, but they also need some down-time. Filling every afternoon with an activity may seem fun and create a well-rounded child, but studies have also shown that an overly busy schedule may also create unnecessary stress on a child. Remember also that children typically want to please both of their parents, and what is said to one parent may differ vastly from what is said to the other parent.

2. Respect your boundaries. When your child is with one parent, it is inappropriate for the other parent to make demands that will affect the timesharing of the other parent.

3. Don't judge. Recognize that your households run differently, and don't pass judgment on one another.

4. Be flexible. If there is something that benefits your child that does not negatively impact your timesharing (or you are willing to make an exception), try to accommodate the other parent.

5. Don't be dismissive of sensitive financial issues. Discussions of money have no place in a child's ears, and it is inappropriate and hurtful to tell a child that one parent will not or cannot pay for something. Whether it's asking for new clothes, getting a new bike or buying a new toy, the best answer is always, "Let me discuss this with your mother/father." Regardless of the outcome, the child never needs to know who is paying for what expense.

I believe it's safe to say that most parents want what's best for their child. It's just a question of what constitutes "what's in the best interests" of that child! Remember that there may be (and often is) more than one correct answer! Recognize that you each have different priorities. Try to be respectful of those priorities and allow each other the ability to co-parent to the best of his/her abilities without instructions or demands from the other. If one parent wants to fill every day with an after school activity, that is his/her prerogative. However, recognize also that it is inappropriate to expect or berate the other parent to do the same.

Above all, when all else fails and you simply cannot agree, reach out to a certified family law mediator or qualified parenting coordinator to help you resolve the conflict before it unnecessarily escalates out of control.