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Tara Fass

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Nipping Conflict in the Bud

Posted: 10/11/11 01:11 PM ET

Co-parenting plans need to grow along with the children for whom they're intended. If your kids have outgrown their plan and communication with your ex is in tatters, then pay attention. If you're losing your moorings and having trouble being your best self with your kids, that's a sign you need a tune-up.

Before things go from bad to worse and you get bogged down in self-analysis paralysis (aka woulda-coulda-shouldas), it may be time for a session with a neutral third-party -- a mediator or some other objective village/tribal elder with credibility who can maintain objectivity and confidentiality.

Whether you are just exiting your relationship or you have been co-parenting for a while, there is little else to know about your dreaded former partner. Hopefully you've let go of trying to change your co-parent's value system or style of interacting with the children. And yet, if you feel like the overly self-reliant parent, or the bullied parent, this needs to be discussed. Finding yourself huffing and puffing and complaining that you are always called upon to be the better, more reliable and more responsible one is a prescription for trouble.

How do you know it if you over-do it in the "hurts so good" department? Becoming increasingly pissed about the unfairness of it all and not getting through to your cringe-inducing former partner is a clue. If your expectations are out of line with reality, this needs to be better understood. These feelings are natural and understandable. But playing the self-righteous, angry victim won't cut it if you are to fully participate in what's become known as the "Custody Shuffle."

Former beloveds need to get with the co-parenting program -- after all, it may go on for years or even decades. At some point it must become the new normal. Conflict and pain are inevitable, but if you're aggravated with your co-parent 30-40% of the time and the effects are detrimental to the children even once, and if the goal is to have everyone step-up to something they can really do, it's time to call in the reinforcements.

Another signal that it's time for a change in approach comes when you notice that you've forgotten Thy Grandma's Rule -- "You can do a little better for the kinder (Yiddish for children)." If you value setting a good example for your children who you say light you up, then listen up."You can do a little bit better" is dual-acting: not only do your children benefit, you benefit as well.

You also may notice that you're seeing yourself in the reflection of the anxiety-evoking other, that you yourself have become what you purport to hate. This kind of projection can cause you to act out in destructive ways, so the idea is to get out of your own way by realizing that if you have a complaint about the co-parent, there is may be a contribution on your part too. None of us advances on our path in isolation. Good co-parenting -- like good parenting -- is an "all hands on deck" enterprise.

As the holiday season approaches -- it's already time to get out the pumpkins! -- it is important to seize the moment and, perhaps with professional help, get back on track with your former partner and your kids. Recognizing that you're in trouble and reaching out for assistance is half the battle.