We all have different values, fundamentals, and standards. That’s why there is no one single definition of inappropriate co-parenting. Inappropriate co-parenting means different things to different people. If you wish to co-parent the best way you can, then my advice is to always ask yourself the question “Is this behavior in the best interest of my child, their development and their relationship with their other parent?”
Positive co-parenting is characterized as a relationship in which there is respect, honest communication, and where both parents take time to listen to each other’s concerns. These co-parents value each other’s role in their children’s lives, and try cooperate with one another in support of a healthy relationship between their children and both parents.
Although it may seem counterintuitive, the most effective way to deal with a nasty co-parent is to lead with kindness. Keep communication brief, and child focused, always keep your child out of any conflict there may be. Choose your battles and the timing of them wisely. Choose a place and time to have them when the children aren’t present. You may also consult a parent coach, therapist or mediator.
Finding ways to arrange pick-ups and drop-offs to minimize contact and being very precise about when and how your former partner can contact you about parenting decisions is also something you can outline in your parenting plan.
While you are attempting to raise strong, confident, loving children with someone you despise, someone who has disappointed and hurt you, someone who has broken promises or spoken to you aggressively, this is no easy task.
You might feel you have tried everything you can think of to make co-parenting easier and better, but you continue to find yourself frustrated. Despite your frustration, you persist because this difficult ex is your partner in the most important job of your life–raising your kids.
Here are some examples of inappropriate co-parenting, and some tools for getting through them:
The Blame Game
Playing the blame game will get you nowhere. Blaming your ex, or your ex blaming you for everything, such as your child’s cold, their bad grades, or the breakdown of the relationship doesn’t serve you or your children. This typically happens when one or both of you are still hurting from your time together. In other words, resentment is still present and one or both has not moved on.
Remember that it takes two to fight, and that you don’t need to accept every invitation to argue with your spouse. When playing the Blame Game, the other parent attributes everything bad on you. The child’s rash or poor grades, the hostile texts, possibly even the breakdown of the relationship.
Tip: Don’t argue. Accepting the invitation to argue keeps you engaged in the drama,which is unhealthy for all involved. Instead, ignore personal attacks. Let their accusations go. When they attack your parenting, reframe the blame as a problem and suggest solutions. For example, when your co-parent says, “She’s always tired when she comes back to my house. Why don’t you put her to bed at a decent time?!” Say, “It’s probably a good idea for us to have a set bedtime at both houses. What do you think about 8:00?” Then try not to argue when the other parent requests 7:30 instead.
The confusion maker
Do you find yourself feeling like you are riding a roller coaster? Often life with your ex can feel like this. One minute you’re the best parent on the planet and the next, you’re a danger to your children. On Monday, you’re greeted with a bright smile and a kind hello, and by Thursday, you’re not allowed to drop off your child’s forgotten backpack. You’re never sure what triggers the rapid changes, which can be exhausting and confusing for you and destabilizing for your children.
Tip: Remember you are not the cause of the rollercoaster ride. It’s helpful to remind yourself that whatever is causing the rollercoaster, it’s not you! Likely your co-parent is struggling with residual hurt from your marriage or some other personal issue that has nothing to do with you. The best strategy is to lead by example. Be unequivocally kind and polite to your co-parent. Set boundaries that are comfortable for you and maintain them throughout the ups and downs and respect the boundaries they request.
Stubborn as a Mule
Parents exhibiting stubborn behavior have no interest or ability to collaborate. They do everything as they see fit. They may attend the soccer game or may not, but you probably won’t know until game time. Typically, this is not new behavior, it’s just showing up in different way.
Tip: Don’t push the river. You will be unsuccessful in your attempts to get them to change. This may make things a bit more difficult for your kids, as house rules may be inconsistent across two homes, but kids will adjust and you will have less frustration and anger. Over time, you can gently ask questions about how they do things at their house and begin to build a more collaborative working relationship. This will demonstrate a lack of judgement AND a desire to work together. Be patient, change takes time.
Trash talking is never ok, no matter what. Your children see themselves in both of you, whether or not they are biological kids. They see themselves in each of you. Trash talking your ex is essentially trash talking your kids! They will feel and internalize this! A Trash Talker might say unpleasant things about you to a family member or friend when the children are within earshot. They will roll their eyes when they hear your name, cross their arms or turn their back when you are present, or simply clam up and look angry when your children mention you. All of these damage children, who believe that both of their parents are extensions of themselves. When children hear or sense ill-will toward a parent from the other parent, they feel as though they are in a loyalty bind, their sense of security, trust and confidence is diminished.
Tip: If you believe (or know) that your co-parent verbally or non-verbally trashes you in front of the children, you should address the issue. Perhaps seek the help of a coach or mediator. Many parents just don’t understand the impact of their actions on the children and they need educating. It will be difficult, but try to share this information in a non-judgmental, collaborative way. Treat it as an issue you both want to address.
You probably detected a pattern in my advice. The short version is, regardless of inappropriate co-parenting:
1. Always be kind
2. Ignore what you can
3. Keep communication brief and child focused
4. Be collaborative in decisions
5. Look at your own behaviors that may impact the situation
6. Make sure your children are protected from anger and fighting
7. Seek mediation or parenting coordination before going into attack mode.
In case it seems like I’m asking you to be kind and collaborative just to be a good person, I want to clarify: I’m suggesting that this will be the easiest and least painful way through this process. It is simply more difficult to fight with someone who is unfailingly decent. I recognize that this puts the onus on you to be the bigger person, but it will benefit you and it will benefit your children. I promise! I’m here if you would like to schedule a complimentary consultation.
Rita Morris, M.A., LMHC is a Certified Life Coach, a Parenting Coach, a veteran therapist, and a mom of two. Rita, who holds a Masters degree in education and who has been a practicing psychotherapist since 2003, specializes in helping men and women during and after divorce with coparenting through strategies to ensure their children thrive. Rita also has a concentration in helping parents with kids who have ADHD and anxiety disorders. Learn more on her website.
Like this article? Check out, “5 Tips for Co-parenting with Someone Who Hurt You”