THE BLOG

When Co-Parenting Is Difficult

11/18/2013 02:10 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014
Klaus Vedfelt via Getty Images

How do we come to terms with folks who won't cooperate with us? After divorce, feelings run high and the hurt can last a long time. Those feelings can cause distrust and unwillingness to cooperate, which is hard for everyone involved. It means giving up hopes of shared cooperation and deciding together what's best for the kids. Yet, sometimes this is the reality you might face and your challenge is how to keep your own perspective and do your best in a difficult situation. It will mean stating clearly about what's important to you, what battles to fight, when you'll be willing to be flexible and what boundaries you'll need to set. Here are some thoughts about how to do that.

Accept Where You Are

It may seem obvious, but to be your best you have to really accept that you are in a less than perfect situation, and that you won't have the cooperative co-parenting relationship you had wished for. You'll have to accept the unfairness as unfortunate and something you have no control over. Life is full of unfairness and it's important to come to terms with it. You don't want the unfairness to be something that consumes and controls you. If you let yourself move forward and not remain stuck in unfairness and blame, you'll have the emotional energy to successfully manage your new circumstances. And very importantly, you'll be a good model for your children: demonstrating how to meet challenges with strength and a positive attitude rather than as a bitter victim of circumstances.

Trust Your Own Ability to Parent Well

When you have an ex who is not equally committed to doing what's best for your children, don't expect yourself to make up for that. It's simply a loss that you're not responsible for. Do your best, but don't expect perfection from yourself. You'll make the normal mistakes, but your commitment will be obvious and a comfort to your children.

Have Your Own Support System

Parenting is hard work. When you don't have a cooperative co-parent to help, it's easy to become stressed. You'll need reassurance and concrete advice. Make sure you have a sturdy support system, including folks you can trust and call on the spur of the moment. It's important to know when you're asking too much of yourself rather than asking for help.

Keep Clear of Negative Patterns

There are patterns in your married life that will get played out in your co-parenting. Try to be aware of these so you can emotionally step back and gain perspective. Take a breath and get centered. Just noticing what patterns are being repeated is important. It's the first step in breaking them. Eventually you'll be able to disengage and feel more empowered. Notice how many of your patterns are about trying to change your ex or get him to validate you. Keep a notebook if that would be helpful.

Be Reasonably Flexible

We all like predictability, but sometimes things happen beyond our control. We might be requested to change schedules or fill in when we weren't expecting to. When possible, be flexible. You don't have to keep score, but expect that over time your flexibility will be reciprocated. If it's not, then you need to rethink things. Being flexible is a positive trait that should be appreciated, not exploited. If you end up doing all the giving then you will eventually feel taken advantage of and resentful.

Different Houses Can Have Different Rules

If you like to provide predictable routines for the kids, but your ex is more permissive, there will be lots of differences in what you each will allow. You might feel annoyed when you learn your kids are getting to bed later, watching more TV or missing their after school activities. This is upsetting, and it makes sense that you would like more consistency between households. But kids adjust to the differences and understand their parents have different priorities. Getting upset is not going to change it, your ex will resist your interference and it will only cause conflict. All you can do is provide the consistent routines you value at your house.

Head Off Conflict

Try to head off conflict by limiting conversations to topics about parenting. Don't get pulled into side conversation or more heated topics. Its okay to say, "I'm sorry that's not something I'm willing to talk about."

Try to keep things calm by being willing to understand the other parent's point of view. If things get tense take a breath, and ask if you've misunderstood something. This is a difficult space where the challenge is to try to listen to unravel misunderstandings. If, though, you've understood, but still disagree, you can try for compromise. Ask if there's any way you could both have your concerns meet. Something like, "Would you be willing to consider...," or, "Let's see if we could brainstorm some other options" might help.

If the conversation becomes argumentative or aggressive, it's a good time to agree to stop and continue at another time. See if email and texting might help reduce conflict. If, over time, you're trying, and your ex is uncooperative and hurtful, you'll need to limit your contact. Instead of direct contact find a friend, therapist or mediator to help settle your disputes.