Co-parenting with a difficult ex

BY PENDA HONEYGHAN

Monday, April 23, 2018

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WHEN a couple separates, it can be a source of anguish and stress for all involved. Unfortunately, while childless or very mature couples can survive and continue to have healthy relationships and partnerships, when there are children, co-parenting can be particularly difficult in instances where one parent constantly acts like a thorn in the side of the other.

“Co-parenting can be very difficult as well as it may be a pleasant experience, depending on whom you ask. Naturally, if a parent is out to make the life of the other parent difficult because they want to or because of revenge, then there will always be problems, as then their concern is not the child but their own ego,” said Clinical Psychologist Dr Pearnel Bell.

Dr Bell pointed out that many adults unknowingly destroy their children by acting selfishly in co-parenting situations. She also noted that it is important that parents speak to each other about how and what co-parenting arrangements are, and then ensure that there is a steady, open flow of communication for the sake of the children.

“Children should not be treated as pawns. Parents ought to learn to be fair and to always put the best interest of their children first, even if it means sharing space and making compromises with the person you can tolerate least,” Dr Bell said.

She added that you can possibly make co-parenting a little easier by following these guidelines:

Always remember that your child's best interests is priority

An important thing to always remember is that you cannot change who the other parent is. And so as much as you would want to give into your ego and be petty, be reminded that your child is the one who will be hurt at the end of the day. It is important that this is also your central focus even when your partner is too blinded by ulterior motives. So even when he/she acts out of line, still offer respect especially when in front of your children and encourage them to do no less.

Try to maintain a cordial relationship, as difficult as it may be

Yes, we know that when dealing with people who are troublesome it takes a lot of patience and tolerance, but you have to make the decision that if that is what it requires for the sake of your children, then that is what you will offer. This does not mean that you will allow your ex to push you around. Keeping a firm footing is important; just don't allow them to drag you to that unhealthy place.

Create a schedule with the other parent

As much as you don't want your children to feel like robots, to protect yourself and your children against manipulation, a schedule is your best bet. Also have a set of established rules, activities, scheduled visitation times, family holidays and activities.

If the child says the other parent speaks ill of you, don't reciprocate

One way that a troublesome parent tries to get inside the head of the other parent is to try to get the child or children on their side, or rattle the other parent by speaking ill of them, often making claims that are false or half-truths. All that you need to do is to set things straight with your child if they do not already know the truth. Then respectfully ask your ex-spouse to desist from engaging the children in that type of discussion. Also, never reciprocate, as tempting as it may be.

Limit communication as best as you can

Talk to your ex only when absolutely necessary. This will limit the possibility of you having conflicts. Try as best as possible to avoid short texts and make sure that whatever type of communication you have is structured; so e-mails, for example, may be better than texts which tend to become heated if you can't have face-to-face conversations.

You may need the help of a third party

It is important that parents can recognise when it is impossible to have a cordial relationship. When this becomes impossible, invite a mutual party that you both agree on to be the mediator. They can help you to set up schedules, work out a way to deal with things that may come up spontaneously, as well as a plan through each month's list of activities. This will reduce the possibility of conflicts.

Never try to compete

When parents co-parent, it is natural for them to sometimes compete because they want to look like the better parent. Sometimes they want to outdo the other parent or trigger some negative reaction, and so they do things like purchase expensive gifts, crossing agreed boundaries in a bid to be the cool parent. This is something you should try hardest not to do.

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