When your ex demands or complains about certain aspects of your parenting of your children, is that part of co-parenting—or is it just another way of controlling?
The divorce is not even finalized yet, and the same pattern of behavior is already resonating loud and clear. It started with a haircut for my toddler that she did not approve of. Then, it was a timeframe for me to watch our children on her week for visitation while she goes to work. She calls it co-parenting, but I call it controlling.
The most absurd part of her demands is my soon-to-be ex-wife will be under supervised visitation for several more months thanks to her poor decision-making and irresponsible behavior. My ex started having an affair with a co-worker and got hooked on drugs to the point she could not stop using, even in the presence of her children.
Mind you, not all divorces and custody arrangements are as ugly or complicated as mine. However, in any divorce where children are involved, there are many issues that need to be addressed if you are going to craft a healthy and cohesive co-parenting plan with your ex.
Basic ground rules can be difficult to set, especially if your former spouse has a history of establishing a dominant stance over any decision-making for the children.
The jostling back and forth between two households week in and week out can be stressful enough, especially for younger children like mine. It becomes more emotionally damaging to them when one parent attempts to command the routine in both homes. So what do you need to do when one parent is more relaxed and carefree in their child-rearing, while the other is more strict and controlling?
Based on my personal experience in setting the ground rules of a co-parenting plan with my domineering ex, I arranged some basic strategies to prevent my controlling ex from ruling both roosts.
Do your best to keep your personal lives personal.
Your romances and extracurricular activities have no place in your co-parenting arrangement. Unless there is a clear and present danger to the emotional and physical well-being of the children by your ex's love interests or social activities, your personal feelings about them need to be pushed aside. Likewise, it is fine to respect and listen to your new partner's opinions or suggestions, but any co-parenting or custody arrangements are between you and your ex.
When the discussions between you and your spouse continually turn personal or toxic, you may need to go a few steps further to separate your personal life from the co-parenting plan. This may include removing or blocking your ex from your social media accounts. It also helps to avoid checking on their social status, especially if their behavior or life choices are not agreeable to you.
Don't forget to change those passwords, too. My ex took time to snoop through my social media and emails in an attempt to dig up dirt, as well as using video chat and message boards to confront me. If your children use your electronic devices, they could see or read things that could be damaging to them. It is best to resort to using the traditional method of phone calls, and keep your conversations with your ex limited to the children.
Make sure the children's monthly agendas match in both households.
Set up a calendar of events and appointments so you and your ex have the same information about who is doing what and when. Having a monthly calendar, and designating the responsibilities of getting the kids to their respected practices, sporting events, school activities, doctor visits, etc. will prevent conflict over who is doing more. Just because you and your former spouse do not get along does not mean you cannot share these necessary duties.
Try to agree on a reasonable bedtime schedule for both households, especially when school is in session, or if you have younger children. Even on the weekends, it is important to establish a similar routine for bedtimes. It will help avoid ugly transitions from one residence to another, and limit the fighting between you and your ex.
Agree on what will be considered fair punishment in both households. If a child is being punished in one home, carry over that punishment, or a fair equivalent, to the other home. Overruling, or undermining, a punishment creates confusion for the children and conflict between you and the ex. Doing this is a manipulation of the children against the opposing parent. As younger children get older, they will tend to use adversarial behavior as a means of manipulation for their gain.
Respect one another's parenting decisions, even if you do not fully agree with them. Any disagreement needs to be resolved privately. Keep in mind that it is not necessary to be friends in order to establish a cohesive co-parenting plan. With time, you will see that a cohesive co-parenting routine will be beneficial to the emotional and physical health of your children, as well as yours.
Written by Eli James Yanna
Eli James Yanna runs a blog called Daddy’s Duties, a site dedicated to the male perspective of life as a stay-at-home father. The stories tell tales of how Eli deals with being a full-time father coping with a messy divorce and caring for three precocious girls, one beastly little boy, and a sixteen-year-old son, too.