THE BLOG
01/29/2016 12:47 pm ET Updated Jan 29, 2017

5 Tips for Dealing with a Gopher Co-Parent

Co-parenting after divorce is challenging enough without one parent "conveniently" appearing and disappearing as they see fit. These 5 tips will help you deal with a gopher parent without losing your temper and hurting your child in the process.

By Marina Edelman, LMFT for Divorce Magazine

Imagine a post-divorce world where the couple separates but is still able to co-parent. Sit with that wonderful image for a while...ahhhh. One parent supports the other's rules and disciplines similarly. Parent A, instead of verbally bashing Parent B, is actually encouraging respect. Both parents show up to events and discuss important issues, such as healthcare and education, and make child-focused decisions.

Is that not your reality? Sadly, that's not surprising. Too often, parents take out individual resentment intended for their ex on the children they swear they want to protect and nurture. Inadvertently, one parent takes the lead in the children's care, which creates two scenarios for Parent B: they either fight for their parenting rights or take a step back. Quite often the latter is selected. Because the transition from being an equal parent to back-up parent can be difficult, that parent often becomes a gopher parent.

A "gopher parent" is a parent who disappears at times and pops up when it's convenient for them. This style of parenting is different from Disneyland parent because Parent B can pop at times when education decisions are to be made. Take for example a Dad who moves out of state for divorce. When college selection comes around, they glorify their state university and insist that is the best place for their child. They might even threaten to not pay for other universities. You get the picture.

Tips for Dealing with Your Gopher Co-Parent
It is very difficult for a primary parent to co-parent with a gopher parent. Here are five strategies to better deal with these types of issues:

  1. Each parent should be mindful and respectful of other parenting choices and keep in mind that although they have different ideas on how to deal with their child, it is in everyone's best interest to keep both parents active and present in the child's life. If this is implemented from the beginning, the gopher parent scenario will most likely not exist.
  2. If you're dealing with a gopher parent, keep them as informed as possible - even if they don't appear to be interested. By keeping them in the loop, you will feel good about yourself.
  3. Maintain your composure and stay calm when they do appear. Refrain from bashing them for not being there at other times. Instead, co-parent as if they are always available and interested in their child. This will allow you both to deal with the issue at hand and not detour into the past relationship problems.
  4. Enlist a professional. Having consistent family counseling after divorce will provide a platform for decisions to be made in a safe setting that will facilitate cooperation and avoid conflict.
  5. Relationships with your ex-in-laws are key. Tapping into that side of the family can help you indirectly co-parent. For example, if you are having a hard time getting your child to do chores, try contacting the grandparents and explain the situation, and maybe they will help enforce chores when their grandchild visits them.

One of the best things you can do after separation is create a true support system. Sometimes having a place to vent is all you really need to re-center and continue co-parenting in a respectful and kind manner. Join a single parent support group so your feelings can be normalized and you have a place to bounce ideas around. Let's be realistic: you are divorced for a reason and it would be foolish to think you could parent in harmony after divorce. Keep in mind that things will get better but not overnight. Your child deserves to have both parents available to them, so accept the amount of parenting that your ex-spouse provides - even if you think it's not enough.

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