Most psychologists and court judges agree that having both parents share custody of the children post-divorce is best for the long-term adjustment of the child on psychological, educational, and behavioral levels. Once both parents can agree that their children’s best interests are their top priority, keeping communications cool and agreements met becomes a bit easier, even if they remain at odds with each other.
What’s a parent to do when the other half of the co-parenting equation seems bent on remaining difficult and uncooperative, though? What if one parent has a personality disorder that seems to make civilized co-parenting impossible? We’ll give you some tips for co-parenting in a high-conflict situation, and we’ll even start with the big takeaway first.
Ready to learn how to make your situation as peaceful as possible? Control the only thing you can control-You. Read on to see how we break down this one rule into several attainable goals.
Though life may seem completely uncontrollable right now, remember that you have the power to control one major aspect–yourself. Unfortunately, you cannot control the way your ex (or your ex’s new partner) speaks to you or about you, but you can manage your response to any seemingly inflammatory comments or actions.
Try your best to approach dealings with your ex with a business-like attitude. Keep conversations strictly about your children and any pending divorce agreement loose-ends. Insist on texting so that you have documentation of interactions, and never put anything in a text that another party can use against you in a court of law or mediation. Remember to congratulate yourself anytime you’ve kept your cool during a provocation–a well-earned pat on the back!
Be very mindful of your tone of voice and facial expressions around your kids, who quickly pick up on non-verbal cues even though they may not be able to describe the feelings. Also, avoid bad-mouthing the other parent if your child might be anywhere within earshot. Children can easily experience loyalty conflicts, which are stressful to the child and harmful to their relationships with one or both parents. Children need to know that it is okay to love and be loved by both parents.
What about if the other parent is bad-mouthing you? You are definitely entitled to defend yourself to your child. Please do so calmly, speaking factually and keeping it age-appropriate. Let your child know they are safe coming to you with anything they hear that might be upsetting. Explaining a complex situation in terms your child can understand can soothe their fears. For example, “Daddy is angry right now. People can say very hurtful things when they are angry. Of course mommy does not love her job more than you. I’m sorry that was said to you. Please know that you can always come to me with anything that upsets you, and I may be able to help you understand what was said or why it was said.”
Your smooth handling of a delicate situation now can help your child feel safer and set a healthy example of how to conduct themselves in any future stressful situations because they have learned by watching you.
Where your thoughts go, there, also, goes your energy. When dealing with a problematic co-parent, recover emotional neutrality by turning your focus away from unsettling behaviors and towards your parenting plan. Your parenting plan is a written arrangement outlining custodial responsibilities like schedules, holiday and vacation times with your child, and shared expenses.
Scheduling and expense-tracking make for some of the most divisive topics between co-parents. As such, find an online tool or mobile co-parenting app to help you plan, communicate, pay, and document co-parenting responsibilities while remaining detached from your ex. We have a blog detailing some recommended apps to help you start your search. Click here to read more.
Seek help from professionals and friends. You do not have to carry the weight of the aftermath of a divorce alone. Therapists, mediators, and lawyers are just a few of the educated professionals who can help you minimize the brunt of dealing with a challenging co-parent. These specialists can also be the voice of reason, assisting an uncooperative co-parent in agreeing to necessary boundaries or logical resolutions. Caring friends and family can be a great sounding board and give you a much-needed hug.
It’s no secret that divorce is difficult. Wounded feelings lead to raw emotions, which complicate the situation. Coming together for the sake of the children involved can be more than some adults can handle, at least in the beginning. Do your best to practice self-control and maintain a necessary physical and emotional boundary so that you can continue to take the moral high road. While you cannot control what a high-conflict parent says or does, you can begin to establish a business-neutral demeanor for your interactions. Document shared payments and messages using apps built to help co-parents stick to their parenting plan while remaining distant.
If you are faced with a high-conflict situation while co-parenting, it can be challenging and tricky to deal with it in a peaceful manner. That is what makes co-parenting uncooperative and sometimes almost impossible. But you can get through this by controlling one thing that you can: yourself. It might seem too general but have broken it down into smaller and attainable goals. Read this infographic.