Want to Be a More Cooperative Co-Parent? Change Your Focus

Deesha Philyaw photo

Deesha Philyaw
Co-founder, Co-Parenting101.org

Even though the New Year has begun, it’s not too late to make an important resolution: a commitment to being a more cooperative co-parent.

In fact, it’s never too late to decide to engage more peacefully with your ex-spouse as you parent your child together.

One key to greater cooperation with your ex is focusing on those aspects of co-parenting where you can be intentional and proactive, instead of reacting to the actions of the other parent.  Below are five areas of focus that can help you cooperate more with your ext:

1. Focus on the problem, not the person.  Take  a solution-oriented approach when conflicts arise with your co-parent.  For example, if she doesn’t insist on a regular bedtime at her house, don’t treat her as the problem when you address the issue. The problem is your child’s fatigue the next day at school and difficulty readjusting when she returns to your home. Children thrive when co-parents work together to attack a problem rather than attacking each other.

2. Focus what you can control. Building a cooperative parenting partnership is a two-person job, but there are two areas where you can act unilaterally: yourself and your home.  If your co-parent refuses to give your child a regular bedtime, even after you try to address the problem with her constructively, accept that you can’t control what happens at her house.  But you can control what happens at yours; you can make sure that your child gets plenty of rest (or nutritious food, exercise, or whatever else may be lacking at the other parent’s house).  Let your motto be: “His house, his rules.  My house, my rules.”

If your ex sends an email that’s 90% nasty and 10% about soccer practice, just respond to the part about soccer practice.   If your ex calls and is speaking disrespectfully, you can tell him that you’re going to hang up, but will be happy to talk again when he can speak to you appropriately and stick to talking about your child’s needs.

Your ex is entitled to her opinion of you, your intentions, and your parenting, but you don’t have to be ruled by it or go on the defenisve.  Let the benefits to your child motivate you to do the hard work of cooperating with this person who doesn’t think very highly of you.

shared parenting

Working together for the sake of your little ones.

3. Focus on your child.  Here’s a hard truth: You can’t remained embroiled in conflict with your ex and give 100% to your job as a parent.  In order to consistently act in your child’s best interest, you’ll have to let go of the need to “win” and instead choose your battles wisely. Maybe you think that an affair disqualifies your ex from having parenting time.  Or maybe you’re reluctant to switch weekends to allow your ex to take your child to a special event, because you can’t afford such outings.  These are valid feelings.  But they don’t negate your child’s right to have a relationship and time with both fit and willing parents, unfettered by guilt and loyalty fears.  And being flexible is a gift you shouldn’t hesitate to give your child, just because your ex will also benefit.

Another hard truth is this: A person can fail as a marital partner, but still be a very good parent. You look at this person and see every wrong they’ve ever committed.  But your child just sees “Mom” or “Dad. Seeing your co-parent through your child’s loving eyes will help you to be more cooperative.

4. Focus on the future. When your child is an adult and looks back on his childhood, how do you want him to remember you as a parent?  Being a cooperative co-parent allows you to create fond memories for your child, even under less-than-ideal circumstances.  One co-parenting dad wasn’t awarded any holidays in his parenting agreement. So for holidays like Thanksgiving, he celebrates with his kids during his weekend parenting time.  Instead of continuing to battle his ex on this point, he’s creating new traditions and memories with his children.

Co-parenting doesn’t end when your child turns 18; it just changes.   Parents Weekends at college, graduations, weddings…all occasions where you and your co-parent will be in the same place.  Remember that these days belongs to your child.  What can you do–or not do–to make these events memorable for the right reasons?

5. Focus on your mental and emotional health. Staying mired in the past and in conflict with your ex-spouse keeps you from enjoying all the possibilities of your life in the present.  Bitter feelings compound your stress and unhappiness.  Instead of expending emotional energy trying to hurt your ex, or returning fire for fire, invest in your parenting, divorce healing, and rebuilding and reclaiming your life.

grounds for divorce

You don’t have to always react to provocation.

The greater your investment in your own well-being, the better able you’ll be to work through issues from your marriage and divorce.  Cooperation with others, including your co-parent, comes more easily when you’re at peace within.

But even if your ex refuses to co-parent cooperatively, you’ll experience greater personal satisfaction and freedom from the bonds of bitterness if you tend to your emotional and mental health just as you would your physical health.

If you’re having difficulty healing from the divorce, or if your ex’s high-conflict behavior is impacting your or your child’s psychological or physical health, a family counselor or the family court system may offer some relief.

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Resolving to be a more cooperative co-parent doesn’t let your ex off the hook for his negative behavior, and it doesn’t mean you should be a doormat.  Whether you make it at the outset of your separation or years into your co-parenting, this resolution is a commitment to your child, not your ex.  It’s a commitment to doing your part to keep your child out of the crossfire of parental conflict, and to manage the inevitable conflicts in a mature and responsible fashion.

Co-parenting cooperatively isn’t always easy.  But your child is worth the effort!

Deesha Philyaw, co-founder, Co-Parenting101.org

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