At best, co-parenting is an ideal. The notion that you can jointly make decisions regarding your children with a former spouse, who you divorced for a reason, is unrealistic for most. For a minority, this utopia of parenting is achieved because of shared ideals, generally similar values and an ability to set aside differences in the best interests of the children. For most, however, it is an untenable situation fraught with pitfalls and landmines plaguing your relationships for at least the next 18 years ... but more often, for a lifetime.
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.
What are some of the tell-tale signs that co-parenting is on a collision-course destined for courtroom drama?
• When you are co-parenting with someone who wants to be your child's friend instead of a parent (the "cool parent" syndrome)
• When you are co-parenting with someone who hides information about the child from you
• When you are co-parenting with someone who lies
• When you are co-parenting with someone who makes important decisions that affect your child without discussing with you first, and then apologizes afterwards (the "better to ask for forgiveness rather than permission" ploy)
• When you are co-parenting with someone who usurps and undermines your parental authority by intentionally not adhering to rules making you look like the bad guy
Prime example: 14-year-old asks Dad to take her for a belly button ring. Dad refuses and tells her that she can't get any body piercing until she's 18 years old. Girl asks Mom, who is aware that Dad has already refused, takes her daughter for the piercing. Ripe for a battle? You betcha.
When faced with 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."
2. Respect boundaries.
3. Don't judge.
4. Be flexible.
5. Don't be dismissive.
I believe it's safe to say that most parents want what's best for their child. Remember that there is more than one correct way to raise a child! 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 impact the other's parent's timesharing or expect the other parent to participate in the activities.
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. Working with someone to help diffuse conflict or prevent conflict escalation altogether aids in effective co-parenting, and is key to avoiding a co-parenting collision-course.
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