In the divorces in Dallas Texas and surrounding areas, I see a lot of parents that struggle with co-parenting. It is almost cliche to say that a divorce means the end of the husband/wife relationship, but not the co-parenting one. Still, many people allow their anger/distrust/dislike of each other interfere with their shared parenting responsibilities with the child’s other parent. Yes, I said "responsibilities" — you two chose to have a child together, so you have an obligation to your child to work through whatever the difficulties are to parent the child together. Virtually never will a parent have zero access to a child unless his/her rights are completely severed by a court at law. So, get used to dealing with him/her.
Lee Block wrote a good article about this on The Huffington Post Blog:
The divorce is done and things are going along nicely for a while, and then it happens. Your ex doesn’t tell you that when the kids were with him or her they got sick. Not just a little sick, but sick enough that when it is your visitation, you have to take them to the doctor.
And, then it happens again. It is their visitation and they show up hours late for pick up, and your plans to meet your friend for dinner had to be canceled. Or, they bring the kids home hours late, and won’t answer their cell phone to tell you what is going on.
And, yet again. They stop answering emails and suddenly don’t answer the phone when they have the kids so you can speak to them during their visitation. Communication breakdown in post divorce is common and become critical. It is critical that both parents have access to the children no matter who is in possession of them. That is why most decrees state that phone calls can be made and must be answered. It is critical that the parent who does not have the kids knows when the children are sick, and when they call to see how they are doing, that the phone is answered.
It is critical for the children to know that they have access to each parent, no matter whose house they are staying at. But, emotions get in the way. He made you angry because he has a new girlfriend. She made you angry because she didn’t tell you about a parent/teacher conference. The list goes on and on.
Despite the long list of complaints you have about your ex-spouse, you must co-parent and communicate. You are divorced on paper, but the truth is, you are never divorced from your spouse if you have children. You spend the rest of your life seeing and communicating with that spouse.
When co-parenting breaks down and one ex refuses to communicate, it is imperative that you put your foot down right away. Do not accept less than what is your right, for your sake and for the sake of your kids. Sometimes that involves going to see an attorney to find out your rights. And, if you are lucky, then one single letter will shape up the situation. If you are not, it could mean several trips back to the courthouse.
But, no matter what it means, co-parenting is essential in the post divorce process. You have to raise your children together. Even though you might consider yourself a single parent, your children do have another parent. And, if that other parent wants to be involved, then you must communicate with them. Put the anger and bitterness aside and communicate.
One tip that has always helped me is to keep it on a business level, rather than a personal level. You are now in the "business" of raising these children with a person that no longer resides in your home. It can be tricky. Do you discipline the same way? Do you have the same values? Do you put the same emphasis on what is important?
It can help if you write down what you need and want regarding how the kids deal with homework, which friends you like and don’t like, how you like them disciplined and if there are any issues, such as they are punished or grounded and things they are not allowed to do.
When it comes to children, they need and respond to continuity. So, it is important that both houses provide that continuity. For instance, Little Sophie didn’t do her homework, clean her room and talked back to Mom. Mom grounded Little Sophie and took the television away for the week. But, Little Sophie is going to Dad’s house on Thursday night. Make sure that Dad knows that Little Sophie is not allowed to watch TV and the reason why. Tell Dad when he picks Little Sophie up, so she knows that he knows, and can’t manipulate Dad. Dad should then not only respect that Little Sophie was grounded, but he should talk to Little Sophie about her actions.
Just because you are now living in two separate houses does not mean you can’t work together to raise your children. Is it harder? Absolutely. But, if you were still in the same house and Little Sophie had broken those rules, she would be grounded with no television and it wouldn’t be an issue. This is important to remember. How would it be IF you lived together?
If you and your ex can co-parent in separate homes the same as when you were parenting in one home, then communication will remain open and there should not be any kind of breakdowns. Also, never forget, it’s for the kids that you are doing this. Not each other.