Monday, February 7, 2011

Co-Parenting

Did you start laughing when you read the title of this post?  Co-Parenting....it feels like a big joke.  Like whoever came up with that idea had definitely not ever been divorced and lived in a world of rainbow skittles, fuzzy bunnies and happy little elves.

The reality is, however, that when you go through a divorce and there are children, you, as the father, are expected to co-parent with your ex-wife regardless of your custodial status or the amount of visitation you have received.  You are also expected to co-parent with your ex regardless of the amount of drama, trouble and terror she may try to inflict on you for trying.  AND, to top it all off...if you decide to disengage from that parenting responsibility its very likely that you will be back in court and have more restrictions put on your ability to spend time with your children. 

Co-Parenting is defined as, "...an arrangement in a divorce or separation in which the parents share legal and physical custody of a child or children."

Unfortunately, for the men who I'm reaching out to through this blog, co-parenting's real definition is something like this, "...an arrangement after divorce in which the father is required to uphold the rules of the mother's home, agree with her decisions, occassionally is allowed to voice his opinion which may or may not be taken into consideration, and ultimately run his household just like hers."

Cynical of me...isn't it?

Often when things get too difficult between exes, the non-custodial father disengages and ultimately sees less and less of his children.  There are lots of reasons behind this type of disengagement.  In a study of 40 disengaged fathers the following factors were found:


Reason
Percentage that mentioned
(Number)
Access difficulties90(36)
Father's decision to cease contact33(13)
Practical difficulties (distance,finances, work schedule)28(11)
Child(ren) not wanting contact18(7)
Legal injunction16(6)
Early pattern of no contact (prohibiting future contact)5(2)


Please note that the fathers surveyed were able to choose multiple reasons behind their choice to disengage.  If you aren't quite to this point I thought it was time to talk about co-parenting because the ultimate goal behind the co-parenting theory is to do something that is good for your children.  So, while you may not be able to completely effectively co-parent there are some things you can do:

About.com has an article about rebuilding trust with your ex that I though applied to what I think would help when trying to co-parenting with a difficult ex.

1.  Keep your promises.  And I am going to go a step further and say that if you make a decision you need to stick with it.  If you say you are going to pick up your kids at a certain time...make sure you do it.  Those little inconsistencies cause way more drama than you want in your life.  I promise you that.  As a co-parent, its important to provide stability for your children when they are in your care.  Most likely many of the routines your children have with your ex can carry over into your home.  You don't have to do everything the same, but stick with your decisions.  Mixing it up every time they come to see you will cause your ex to claim you don't know what you are doing and ultimately that you aren't a fit parent.  Whether you like it or not, they are going back to their mother's house and telling her all about their time with dad.  It will get back to her...and she will react.

2.  Be considerate.  Note that I didn't say be a doormat.  Being considerate doesn't mean you have to back down or be the "flexible parent" every time.  But it does mean that you will usually get more kindness when you show more kindness.  Pass along pertinent information to your ex about school events or homework or sports.  Never speak unkindly about your ex in front of your children.  Never raise your voice to your ex in front of your children.  Its better to walk away and respond with the comment that you need to discuss this later whent he children aren't around.  Maybe this should be titled try and be the bigger person instead of being considerate.  Ultimately, if you make efforts at kindness the people that see them...your children...will remember them.

3.  Ask her opinion.  Yep.  I actually gritted my teeth when I wrote that.  I know how hard it is to encourage your ex to have input in your time with your kids, but, there is value in even just letting her think she has some say in what you are doing when your children are in your care.  I find this to be especially true when your child is having a hard time with something.  For example, if you have a child with nightmares or who doesn't sleep well.  Asking your ex if there is something she does that helps the child with this problem will result in two things.  1.  She senses you trust her as the child's mother (and thats a BIG deal to her.) and 2. She may actually have a good plan that works for you and provides cosistent parenting for the child. 

It may feel like a stretch for you now, but think about it the next time something comes up that you might be able to ask her opinion on.

4.  Last, but not least...Apologize.  Remember that blog post a few days ago about what factors played in the demise of your marriage?  If you truly have something to apologize for...and you are ready to say the words...a heartfelt apology may go a long way in making her easier to parent with.  You may be surprised that even long after the fact - an apology may help your ex release some of the anger built up from your divorce.

3 comments:

  1. In some cases, even adhering to the best efforts you describe is impossible. I think a depiction of "Parallel Parenting" would be interesting.

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  3. Good post! Thanks for sharing this information I appreciate it. God bless!

    co-parenting

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