Co-parenting is tough. Add to the job the hurt feelings and lingering emotions related to a divorce or the end of a romantic relationship between parents, and co-parenting can feel insurmountable. Normal parenting style differences and differences of opinion can lead to the crumbling of communication between parents when parents fall back into old relationship patterns and begin to draw lines in the sand. It’s unfortunate but common that the normal tasks of raising a child can get caught in the static between parents in a way that holds all child-related decisions hostage. When Parent A asks to adjust parenting time the answer is always no. When Parent B seeks agreement on an extracurricular activity that occurs on both parents’ time, the answer is no.
When a co-parenting relationship descends into serious dysfunction and the answer to everything is “no”, it is very difficult to get the relationship back on track without professional help. Therapists, parenting coordinators, and attorneys to advocate for new court orders all cost money and take time. Are there things you can be doing to prevent a total breakdown while still maintaining your sanity? Yes!
It is important to view your co-parenting relationship as a transactional relationship and not an emotional one. You and your dentist likely have a transaction relationship. You contact him or her when you need a regular cleaning or if you have something unusual come up with your teeth. You keep the conversation focused on the dental care task at hand (perhaps with some meaningless small talk on the side) when scheduling an appointment and engaging in treatment. You do not get emotional because your relationship is focused on the dental care transaction. Your co-parenting relationship should be similar. You and your co-parent signed up to complete a task. You are to successfully raise a child from infancy to adulthood. Even if there was an emotional relationship between the two of you previously, that relationship has ended. Focusing your attention solely on the task at hand – raising a healthy child to adulthood – helps to refocus your attention on your child and away from the prior relationship you had with your co-parent.
When engaging in a co-parenting relationship, treat it like a bank account. You must make deposits into your account in order to make withdrawals. When it comes to co-parenting, this means that you must give the flexibility you hope to receive. If your answer to a request to adjust parenting time is always “no”, you will have no flexibility on deposit when you need to make a withdrawal and ask for a change in the schedule. While your reflexive response might be, “Whatever he asks for, I don’t want to give him”, take a moment to step back. Evaluate whether the requested change is possible. If you can do it, it’s a good time to make a deposit into the co-parenting account. You may even earn interest if you make the adjustment process painless for your co-parent because you remember that the relationship is transactional and not emotional.
What should not get lost in all this is that your child is the ultimate beneficiary of a peaceful co-parenting relationship. Remember that you are always providing an example to your child about how to treat others and how to handle conflict. Will your example be peaceful and productive, or will you be teaching her dysfunction and ugliness? It also bears mentioning that marinating in conflict at all times with your co-parent is not healthy for you either. Your mental health, blood pressure, and quality of life will be vastly improved if you invest the effort needed to focus your decisions on the task at hand, which is managing your child’s only childhood.