Common barriers to making it work
Most parents experience some teething problems as they adapt to becoming co-parents. These can feel like insurmountable barriers at the time but with a bit of effort and understanding you can get round them.
Cooperation v competition
Many couples go through quite a rocky period after they part when there are frequent rows and difficult conversations. It's a normal reaction to all the changes that their family has to make and after a while things usually settle down. But if things are proving to be very stressful or not seeming to improve you may want to take a longer look at what's happening.
When a separation has been difficult, the urge to criticise, put down or hurt your ex can be irresistible. We all know what buttons to press to get a reaction. And as soon as you feel your buttons being pressed you leave rational, considered thoughts behind (all those good intentions!) and head for defensiveness or even counter attack. The result is angry exchanges, conflict and unhappy children. Despite the fact that this way of behaving towards each other is stressful and exhausting, it can become a habit that's hard to break out of.
Before doing any button pressing, try to weigh up the short term satisfaction of 'winning' an encounter with your ex against the longer term satisfaction of having a successful parent partnership. Remember that in a few years time the competition about who is the better parent or who was right will feel pointless.
Before the separation you were just parents, now the amount of time you spend with the children is an important difference between you. When parents are not agreeing about parenting time they can both feel that they are getting locked into a power struggle; neither being prepared to back down as they resist the feeling of being controlled by the other.
Disagreements about parenting time often stem from a lack of understanding of each other's needs and feelings. If you believe that the other parent is being unreasonable it's hard to put yourself in the other's shoes. But really making the effort to see things from the other's point of view can be the difference between a disagreement escalating and you reaching an agreement.
- You are in the fortunate position of having more time with the children. Try to understand how hard it is for the other parent to be away from the children and missing out on day to day activities with them.
- Although you may be in charge of managing the children's routine, don't assume that you have sole control in deciding when the children see the other parent.
- Although you have less time with the children, try to appreciate how much time the other parent spends doing the exhausting, routine jobs.
- Don't assume that you can please yourself when you see the children and that the other parent will always be happy to change their plans to fit around you.
Child support and parenting time
Just as children have a right to a spend time with both parents, so they have an expectation that parents will support them financially. Parents under pressure can be tempted to use the bit of control they have over these areas as weapons against each other, either by withholding child support or stopping parenting time. Parents sometimes feel that they have no choice but to use these tactics when they feel they cannot negotiate with the other parent. Sadly, both of these strategies are damaging to the co-parenting relationship. If your efforts to problem solve don't work, consider using mediation but in the meantime:
- Always pay child support regularly even if you're angry or contact is being withheld.
- Always commit to the parenting time despite any issues you have about child support.
Focusing on faults not solutions
Parents who are finding it hard to move on to being cooperative will frequently complain that 'good advice' might work for other people but their ex is completely unreasonable and it couldn't possibly work for them. They may be right! But a common block to dealing cooperatively with issues when they arise is always seeing your ex as the problem. When people feel like this they tend to focus on finding fault and apportioning blame. Inevitably you end up looking backwards to all the things that went wrong in the past; the disappointments and the character flaws. When this viewpoint dominates, you despair that anything can ever change between you.
There's a tendency then to spending a lot of time blaming the person and hardly any time exploring the problem. It's a hard habit to break out of, especially if you really do see your ex as the problem. You might not be able to change your ex, but you could change the way you interact. Switching your focus to the future and looking for solutions that leave fault and blame out can make a difference. It requires lots of practice, perseverance and a degree of faith that things can change, but it does work.
Follow this link for further information on what to expect after a separation