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What are examples of inappropriate co-parenting?

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Being a good parent is hard enough, but having to co-parent with your ex, is arguably even more difficult. Juggling raising a child with another parent in another household and fostering a positive relationship with someone whom you may still have deep conflicts with, is no mean feat. It can be easy to slip into negative behaviours, but what constitutes inappropriate co-parenting? Read on for more information.

What is good co-parenting?

We all have different values and standards, so there is no one definition of inappropriate co-parenting because it means different things to different people. Positive co-parenting can be characterised as a relationship where there is respect, open and honest communication, and where both parents take time to listen to the other’s concerns.

Co-parents should value their respective role in their children’s lives, and try to cooperate with one another in order to foster a healthy relationship from all sides.

What are examples of inappropriate co-parenting?

Sometimes bad co-parenting behaviour can be subtle, so is important that you are able to instantly recognise inappropriate conduct. Here are some examples, although this list is not exhaustive:

  • The blame game

This can extend to blaming your ex, or them blaming you, for things such as your child’s cold, their bad school report, or breakdown of the relationship. This generally happens when one or both parties are still hurting and getting over the split. In other words, old resentment remains, and they have not moved on. But what can be done? If they attack your parenting, reframe the blame as a problem that needs solutions. For example, if your ex says, “Jack’s always tired when you bring him home”. Instead of launching into defensive mode, suggest something along the lines of, “it’s probably a good idea for us to agree a set bed time at both houses.” Turning the accusation into a solution, can take the sting out of a situation.

  • Stubborn behaviour

Parents who exhibit stubborn behaviour usually have no interest in collaborative working – it’s their way or the highway. Unfortunately, it will be next to impossible to change their behaviour, and you may have to accept that rules may be inconsistent across two homes, because making your ex adjust will probably only make it difficult for the children. Over time, you may be able to build a more collaborative working relationship with your ex, but this will take a lot of patience.

  • Gaslighting

Does your ex make you feel like one minute you’re the best parent in the world, the next, you’re a danger to the children? Or on Tuesday, you’re greeted with the warmest welcome, but by Friday, they refuse to let you drop off a forgotten backpack? You may never be certain what triggers such rapid changes, which can be exhausting, confusing and destabilising. So, the best strategy is to lead by example, set boundaries that are comfortable for you and make sure you maintain them at all times.

  • Talking badly about the other parent

This is never ok and will have a profound impact on the children, who will internalise the insults and barbs. This type of behaviour could include saying unpleasant things, rolling their eyes at something you’ve said, crossing their arms, turning their back, or making faces when your children mention you. These damages children, who are likely to feel they are in a loyalty bind, and diminish their sense of trust, security, and confidence. Many parents are simply unable to understand the effect of their actions on the children, so you may find it helpful to seek mediation or counselling.

  • Trying to control the other parent’s parenting

This ties in with stubborn parenting behaviour, in that it demonstrates the other side of the same coin. It is important to understand that while it is great to have consistency of rules, ultimately, you cannot control what happens in your ex’s home. Unless your child is in danger, your ex has a right to set their own rules as they see fit. When it comes to disagreements about what happens in your ex’s home during their time with the children, these issues are best addressed together, with respect, and clear communication.

  • Withholding information

Withholding information about the child’s wellbeing or activities from the other parent can be extremely damaging to a co-parenting relationship. It can lead to missed appointments and adversely affect the child’s health. Think about setting up a dedicated email address, or download a co-parenting app with a shared calendar.

How should I deal with a difficult co-parent?

The most effective way to deal with a difficult co-parent is to be firm, open, and clear. Keep communication short and child focussed, and always keep them away from any conflict. Choose your battles and time them wisely, predominately when the children are not present.

Finding alternative ways to arrange pickups and drop-offs to minimise contact can pay dividends for your own wellbeing. Being precise about when and how your ex can contact you about parenting decisions is something you can set out in a parenting plan. This is a written plan worked out between parents after they separate. It covers the practical issues of parenting, such as living arrangements, education, healthcare, and finances, and aims to help parents resolve arrangements amicably and informally.

If you want to co-parent to the highest level, then, when in doubt, ask yourself the question “is this behaviour in the best interests of my child, their welfare, and my relationship with my ex?” This may help you take a step back, consider your actions, and take an alternative course.

Other tips include:

  • Create a thorough parenting plan
  • Set boundaries
  • Control your emotions
  • Don’t stoop to their level
  • Don’t retaliate
  • Think about downloading a co-parenting app
  • Focus on the children and what is in their best interests

Being a good parent is hard, but being a bad co-parent, though it may initially feel satisfying in the moment, is never worth it. Ask yourself how your behaviour affects your child, and if it reflects badly, stop doing it. If you have concerns about your ex’s co-parenting conduct, document your concerns and contact your solicitor for legal advice on what you can do.

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