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We sat down with Deesha Phillywaw, co-author of “Co-parenting 101: Helping Kids Thrive in Two Households After Divorce.” We must admit, at first we were cynical. She actually gets along with her ex. We’re not talking, small-talk and exchange Father’s and Mother’s Day cards.  It’s more like, let’s blend this family on vacations, at birthday parties and in business. We pictured past episodes of “The Brady Bunch.” We wanted to know how to deal with someone who’s difficult.

But Deesha quickly made us believers through her website, Co-parenting 101. Because the couple have a cooperative partnership, they sought information from those  struggling to co-parent with someone who is uncooperative.  Deesha also gained insights based on personal experiences with her new husband’s ex. Most of the Google searches leading to her site are queries from women dating co-parenting men, “co-parenting with a narcissist” or “my ex refuses to co-parent.”

The one query she’ll never forget was: “How do I get my boyfriend’s kids to hate their mother and love me?” She wishes she could have warned that dad. Instead, she’s warning women about not falling into the tit-for-tat trap. Here’s her advice to women who say, “… but you don’t know my ex.”

Control Yourself

Keep in mind that you can only control yourself, your household, and your responses. Sometimes, a co-parent can act in ways that are so unfair and infuriating, and we just want them to stop. But as my grandmother used to say, “You can’t make grown folk do anything they don’t want to do.” If you appeal to your co-parent’s sense of fairness and what’s in your child’s best interest, and yet they remain uncooperative, you can pursue legal actions when it’s warranted and feasible, and you can become resolute to keeping your focus and actions on your child’s best interest.

Don’t Respond Immediately

You don’t have to swing at everything your ex pitches. And when a swing is warranted, it doesn’t have to be immediate. Sleep on it, and count to ten. Before you hit “send” on that email or text, run your response by a trusted friend. Make sure it’s your best friend who is a calming influence, not the one ready to take off her earrings and ride for you.  And check yourself: is your response designed to address a matter that’s important to your child? Or is it just tit-for-tat defensive?

Don’t Respond to Everything

One co-parenting dad I know was getting so many angry emails from his ex, that he made a policy of only responding to her on Fridays, and even then, he only responded to things that had to do with their children—action items. He responded to the request to pick the child up from soccer practice; he ignored the one calling him a deadbeat dad and throwing jabs at his girlfriend.

A co-parenting mom I know changed her email address, and let her sister take over her old account to monitor the emails from her child’s father.  It was a lot of criticism, but if there was ever anything the mom actually needed to respond to, her sister would let her know.  She spared herself all the nastiness, but in order to do so, she had to let go of the need to defend herself to her ex.

Choose What To Give Up

Don’t give up on doing what’s best for your child, but do give up on “winning” or punishing your ex or making him “do right” or get along. When co-parents lock in to do battle, no one wins, and children always lose. Be the bigger co-parent, and choose your battles wisely. The family court system isn’t perfect, but it’s better for your child and for your peace of mind for you to, for example, pursue child support through the system rather than going back and forth with your ex whenever there’s an expense.

Hang up the Phone

Get off the phone. Texts, emails, and if need be, certified mail are conducive to more level-headed, non-reactionary responses. Plus, they create documentation that can help with scheduling parenting time, and in the event that you do end up in family court.

Take a Business Like/Just the Facts Approach

Like the dad who stuck to soccer practice and ignored his ex’s personal attacks, try to stick to just those matters that have to do with your child’s needs and well-being.  Even if the other parent doesn’t respond respectfully or immediately, explaining that “It’s important that you adhere to the parenting time schedule because our child needs the stability and consistency” is more appropriate than, “I can’t believe you didn’t show up and let him down again. You’re a deadbeat!”


Affirm Your Child’s Feelings Without Demonizing Your Ex

Veteran co-parents tell us that it’s a long, hard road, but eventually kids come to see negligent or irresponsible or uncooperative parents for who they are, without any editorializing from the stable parent.  Being the responsible, sacrificial, bigger co-parent can be exhausting and feel like a thankless job, but in the end, your kids are worth it.  Kids identify with both parents, so they feel conflicted and bad about themselves if parents speak ill of each other.  It can be really tough for the co-parent who is doing all of the heavy-lifting of parenting to accept that their child can seemingly be happy with–or even prefer–the parent who does less and who is less responsible. But as one fifth-grader told her mother, “I know Daddy is a jerk, but I don’t want anyone else to call him that.”

Vent Away

Vent away…just not to or around your child. If you’re minding your manners in email, around your kids, and at pick-up and drop-off times, you need an outlet for your frustrations and anger. Remember, feelings are always okay, but actions may or may not be okay.  Express yourself to a trusted friend, counselor, or support group–people who will help you honor the commitment you’ve made to your child to support her relationship with the other parent by being civil.

Toast to the Future

It’s never too late to turn over a new leaf as a co-parent, to commit or re-commit to a peaceful approach that minimizes your child’s exposure to adult drama. Cheers to a drama-free future!

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