There are a lot of arguments in co-parenting.  Some happen because the co-parents are in competition mode, which court has a way of bringing out.  Some arguments are created because of mental illness.  Some for other reasons. There are many reasons that co-parents argue, but one of them is because one co-parent feels like the other is trying to control them.  

Have you felt like your co-parent is constantly demanding instead of asking?  Have you felt like your co-parent is trying to control you?  

I get it.  One text message or email from your co-parent saying they're going to do something can send anyone over the edge.  "What do you mean you're going to...."  Just because it's a demand, you instantly put your foot down and refuse to let it happen.  You think, "all they had to do was ask and we would have a conversation about this." 

Most co-parents have gone through this at one point or another.  Be it, "you'll have these items ready for me when I pick up the kids" or "I'll be there 30 minutes early today" or even "I'll be signing the kids up for dance and you'll be taking them to practice on your days", you know what I'm talking about.  

The next time this happens to you, below are my 4 steps to overcoming the urge to shut down and how to continue being the positive co-parent you are:

  1. Try to understand where it's coming from.  Has your ex been turned down a lot lately? Has there been a court ruling that didn't go his/her way?  Have they been having difficulties in their life?  Has your ex been diagnosed with a mental illness that makes this type of communication the norm?  I know it's none of your business and I know that now that you're separated or divorced - you don't care, but understanding where the demands and attempts to control are coming from can help you in overcoming them.  That's all you're doing, simply understanding where it's coming from.  You're showing empathy.  That's it. 
  2. Ask yourself if it's truly a demand, if it's truly an attempt to control or if it's just how you're perceiving the situation since it came from your ex.  Yeah, we're slightly biased when it comes to our exes.  If your significant other, your sibling or your parent had sent the same message - would you take it in the same way?  Would you feel it was a demand or an attempt to control you?  If not, then it's likely your feelings that need to be checked.  If you would take the message the same way from your loved ones, but you wouldn't care since there's give and take in your relationship - guess what - it's likely your feelings that need to be checked again.  The good news is that this is easier to fix your own feelings than it is to fix your ex.  Simply putting up reasonable boundaries with your ex is one way to prevent your feelings from being stepped on.  A positive way to phrase this is to say, "I really want to work with you on this, but it's hard for me to get in the spirit of working on it if I feel like we're both closed off from having a conversation that includes both of our viewpoints.  Assuming your message was asking me how I felt on this, here are my thoughts on the subject and I'm looking forward to hearing yours so we can come to a decision together."  
  3. Don't respond until you've managed your frustration.  I'll be honest with you, I hate feeling like others are controlling me.  In fact, many times I take suggestions coming from anyone as ways others are trying to control me.  Because I know this and because the last thing I want is to create an argument (when there isn't one to be had), I walk away and gather my thoughts on it.  For me, this means redirecting my thoughts to something (anything) else for at least an hour.  Then I can go back and think about what was said to me in a calmer way.  I'm usually able to see that whether it's truly a demand or not, I can calmly and intelligently handle the situation without creating an argument.  I wouldn't have been able to do that unless I had taken time to walk away, however.  Do what's right for you: listen to music, go for a walk, eat something, etc.  Then go back and look at it with a different mindset.  If your ex has a mental illness that makes communication from him/her look like demands (or are demands) all the time, know this, it's not fair.  It's not right.  It's maddening and though divorced, you're still stuck with it, but it's reality.  Unless your ex is doing what it takes in therapy to manage their mental illness (usually not the case), it's not going way because you have to co-parent.  I know that's completely unfair and I'm truly sorry for what you have to go through on a daily basis.  I can tell you that there is support for you and ways to get your frustrations out.  I've been there.  
  4. Keep to the facts.  It's easy to want to say, "Because you didn't ask, the answer is no, this will not be happening", but who does that serve? Though not said in the right way, the request may actually be something positive for your children.  If that's the case, then the situation is less about who got their way and who didn't and more about creating reasonable boundaries in a positive way.  Take a look at the phrase in #2 and rework it for your purposes, but stick to the facts, don't accuse, and remain open (despite wanting to shut down).  

One of the reasons people divorce is to get rid of the feelings their ex created in them, but because co-parenting is a daily reality, you're never completely rid of your ex.  Use these steps and comment below with others that you found to be helpful when you feel like your ex is trying to control you.  

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Kaern Becker, MA Life Coach