Tips for fathers facing challenges to co-parent effectively with their ex after divorce.
You want to be a cool dad, but things get heated with your ex when she doesn’t respect your co-parenting style. When your kids return to your house, it’s like starting all over again. The most frustrating part is that she knows what your rules are with the kids, and still disregards them.
Ultimately, this is not necessarily about policies and procedures in the custody schedule or parenting plan. All kids need healthy boundaries to feel safe, especially when the stability of having two parents together is no longer an option. Clear rules that are well thought out and followed through with will be their strongest asset in the long run.
But how can you help them right now, if your hard work is constantly being sabotaged? We know that one of the few ways that 50/50 custody and other shared parenting arrangements fail is that the parents screw things up.
Here are five tried and true methods to ensure your children feel supported by your method, even when you’re not around.
1. Resolve Personal Conflict
We all let our primal brains take over and do the thinking sometimes. In the right situation, that works out great. Unfortunately, when we’re still ticked off over stuff that’s not about the kids, it influences our decision-making abilities when we need that big brain to be calm and rational.
Your first instincts might include: raising your voice, talking over her, and bringing up issues totally unrelated to what you are supposed to be discussing. Using these tricks might make it seem like you won the fight, but did you really? If she’s stressed and mad (and trust me, if you just did these things, she’s mad!), there’s no way she will cooperate with you.
Take a deep breath. You don’t need to be a Zen master, but breathing calms your nervous system. Tell your ex you want to talk about the conflict between you before you talk about your differences in parenting style. While this probably won’t resolve your conflict right off the bat, I guarantee that this change in how you are addressing her will start a healthier conversation that will end up more in your favor than just plain old shouting would have.
2. Get Her On Your Team
Transparency is essential for good co-parenting communication. If you can explain what rules the kids have at your house and why they have them, your ex will at least know you have put some thought into it.
Ask her what rules she has at her house and see if the two of you have any overlap. Point out that you want to honor her rules when the kids are at your house.
Now, instead of asking if she can have the kids follow your rules at her house (asking her for a favor), tell her you would like for both of you to honor each other’s parenting styles wherever the kids. Cooperation might allow her to be a better mom and do what’s best for the kids.
3. Join Her Team
Even better than having her on your team is you being on hers – as long as her team is your team. It’s a lot less tricky than it sounds.
You want to plant the seeds of your parenting style by presenting your ex with tough parenting questions that lead to answers you have already thought of. Discuss her answers, and when she comes to your ideas, tell her that you agree and support her.
If she does not draw the conclusion you were trying to suggest, see if she does have valid points you agree with. You can always double back to trying to get her on your team by letting her know what your answers are.
The trick to making this work and avoid conflict is listening, not talking. Try listening to her fully and then ask if she feels heard. If she says no, then ask her to clarify because you want to understand.
When she says she feels like you hear her, then thank her for the opportunity to help you understand her better. Add that you would like to feel heard too. If she feels like you listened to her, she will be more likely to listen, and actually hear you.
4. Scratch Her Back (and Let Her Scratch Yours)
If you’re striking out with the first three tips, or just need some extra ammunition, try some kindness. You’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar (not literally, but in this scenario use the honey).
Is there anything your ex has been asking you to do that, up until now, you have not been doing? Now is the time to step over the ‘meeting someone halfway’ line and go all the way in.
Does she want to spend the entire Christmas break with the kids and her side of the family? Great! Tell her to book the tickets. It is always a good time to give.
Even better, if you can give without asking for anything in exchange, you can build up a fund of goodwill. At some point, when you need to cash in on that fund, it will likely be given in return.
If your ex refuses to acknowledge your constant and potentially selfless giving, then take a step back and try to turn giving into mutually beneficial exchanges.
5. Teach by Example
Whether or not your ex is on board for anything you set out to do with the kids, you have a personal relationship with her. You can set your own clear, firm yet kind boundaries with her.
Your kids will inevitably always be watching and scrutinizing how both you and your ex act in your co-parenting relationship. Role modeling your own kindness, problem-solving skills, and how you treat other human beings respectfully is always the best option. While this may be initially for the benefit of your and your children, your ex may grow wise to what you are doing and start cooperating.
If none of the above works for you, don’t panic. When you can’t change your circumstances, you can always change your mind about them.
Let your kids know that they must follow your rules at your house. You would also prefer they follow your rules at their mother’s house, but they are only obligated to follow her rules there.
A reward system for their diligence and honesty may go a long way to further your cause here. Taking responsibility away from your ex eliminates any chance that they can meddle. It also sets your children up for the real world scenario that there are different rules for different environments.
One last thing to remember is that your ex is entitled to her parenting style as well. Even (especially) if you don’t agree with it, respecting that she has a different method than you do will go a long way in her respecting you. As well, your children will feel like both of their parents are supportive.
Sabotaging her rules and ideas, undermining, or mocking your ex in front of your children will only reflect badly on you, as well as exacerbate any conflict already in motion.
While you want your children to obey your rules when they are at your house, it’s good to remember that they are people. They make mistakes, they are entitled to have feelings, and nobody follows the rules one hundred percent of the time, no matter whose house they’re at.