Let's assume you have tried the suggestions contained in the earlier article about co-parenting with a jerk. Despite your best efforts, the jerk has not responded effectively.
Here are some techniques that will benefit your children:
- Don't criticize the other parent. If you say negative things about your ex-spouse, the children will respond with having to defend the other parent or hide the behavior that you find offensive. The children will become more anxious as they worry about protecting the parent when they return home. They will also worry about what information they should leave out or hide from the other parent.
When your children are on their guard about what they can say around you, they will not enjoy their time with you nearly as much. Save the criticisms for your therapist.
- Don't use your children as messengers. If you have issues to discuss with your former spouse or want to negotiate something, such as parenting time, talk directly with the former spouse.
Do not have the children call the other spouse asking if it's okay to stay longer at your house.
Do not place notes in the children's backpack to be delivered to the other parent. This especially applies to child support checks.
This is adult business. Do not involve the children.
- Do not tell the children about a vacation that will interfere with the other parent's parenting time before you have discussed it with the other parent. The children will be excited about the vacation and this places the other spouse in the position of being the spoiler. Yes, they will have to go along with the parenting time change to avoid disappointing the children. However, they will resent being set up.
If this happens to you from the other side, try to resist retaliating. However, make it clear that if it happens again, you will not capitulate and the other spouse may end up eating the cost of those expensive plane tickets.
- Try to discuss necessary changes or negotiate in person. There is a lot missing from a written email or text. Make an appointment with your former spouse and have a face-to-face discussion. If you worry about one of you losing his/her temper, schedule the meeting in a neutral, public place such as a coffee shop, where hopefully you will both be on your best behavior.
- Give the children permission to avoid hearing criticism from either parent about the other. When the children are old enough, give them permission to say, "I don't want to hear that." when one parent starts to criticize the other parent. Further, tell them it is okay to leave the room after they have stated this.
- Allow the children to have private phone conversations with the absent parent. If the children need to communicate with the other parent, allow them space to talk without you being in the room. This applies to electronic communications as well.
- Place yourself in your children's shoes. Before you limit time between the children and the other parent, put yourself in their shoes. Most children want a strong relationship with both parents and enjoy spending time with them both.
- Find a good counselor for your children to talk with. Sometimes, the other parent simply cannot put his/her needs above those of the children. Children recognize the faults in their parents. They may need an objective, trained adult to whom they can vent. They may need to learn strategies of how to travel between your two homes. If you have joint legal custody, you may need to get permission from your former spouse or a court order.
- Find a new lawyer. If you feel that you are getting no where in trying to manage the conflict between your former spouse and you, consider getting a new lawyer who may have alternate ways of dealing with the conflict. They may suggest some additional professional intervention, such as appointing a parenting coordinator. Be open to trying some new methods.
Children do survive divorce well, if the parents can keep the conflict at a minimum. There are interventions that can help keep the conflict in your family low.