If you're dealing with a difficult ex, Jenny Erikson recently wrote this eye opening piece for The Stir on how to co-parent when you and your ex just can't agree. Her short answer-- you don't.
Erikson and her ex-husband separated two years ago and share joint custody of their two children, with each parent having equal time. When they found themselves unable to agree on how to parent their children and unable to interact politely with each other on the phone or in public, they fell into the practice of what she calls "parallel parenting." From The Stir:
We live completely parallel lives, to the point where our kids rarely talk to their dad when they're with me, and vice versa. That means I usually go a week at a time without talking to my babies, which is harder some weeks than others, but the flip side is that I don't have to interact with him on my weeks with them.
While going for such a long stretch of time without talking to either parent isn't ideal for either parent or child, it may be better for the kids' long term emotional well being to not witness their parents having intense fights over the phone all the time. Presumably as the children get older they can use the phone on their own to call the parent they aren't with when they want to talk to them without mom and dad having to interact. Erikson goes on to say:
How does it work? We just trust each other to keep the kids healthy, safe, and get them to school on time. That's it. I think he's overly strict with them, and he got peeved when I let our 11-year-old read Twilight and The Hunger Games. He doesn't allow sugar cereal; I toss Pop-Tarts at them in the car on the way to school. We go to churches of different denominations. Santa doesn't visit his house, and the kids aren't always in bed by nine at mine.
Co-parenting is tough even when you're in a loving relationship with someone and happy couples sometimes struggle to come to a parenting decision they can both live with. Erikson says that she's tried to be friends with her ex and that for whatever reason, he's not interested in working with her to coparent. There's a maturity in acknowledging that you can't change your ex and trying to come up with the best possible solution for your children under the existing circumstances. Parallel parenting offers that option-- to allow the other parent to do things the way they want and to trust they won't try to intervene with how you chose to parent in your own home.
I spent my childhood watching my divorced parents fight in front of me and would have gladly rather them ignore each other. As an adult I worked in the family court system as a clerk and an attorney for nearly seven years. That entire time I watched judges encourage people to work with their exes and try and get along for the "sake of the children". I've seen courts order divorced couples to co-parenting therapy or direct them to pay for a website that will allow a third party to monitor all of their correspondence with each other. But maybe we have been going about this all wrong.
Erikson and her ex work with a therapist on issues they either can't agree on or can't ignore that come up with their children. She feels that this parenting arrangement is the best possible one they can have under the circumstances.
There's a reason why divorced couples are no longer together. Maybe the solution to easier co-parenting is to acknowledge that they don't get along rather then try and force a relationship. Parallel parenting could be the way most divorced couples co-parent in the future.
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