I can't tell you how many times I hear the words, "co-parenting is impossible with someone like my ex". When I hear this statement, there's always some frustration behind it, a little sadness, and many times some anger and bitterness. What pushed me to write this post, though, is that there's a loss of hope in too many people who think co-parenting is impossible.
Today's post is all about defining (or re-defining) co-parenting for these folks. If you're in the camp where you genuinely believe you will never have a co-parenting relationship with your ex, keep reading as I work to give you hope.
In order to change your mindset about co-parenting and what it can look like, in order to give some hope back to those who may feel hopeless about co-parenting, I need to dis-spell some myths about co-parenting.
Myth #1: Co-Parenting means you and your ex come to an agreement on every issue
To be frank, no it doesn't. Co-Parenting isn't a relationship where you and your ex work together all the time. Even in the best of co-parenting relationships, arguments happen, and the ex's disagree. If everything worked all the time, wouldn't you two still be together? The second you put an expectation of perfection on the co-parenting relationship, it's the second you set it up for failure. I hear what some of you are thinking, though. You're thinking, "Perfection isn't the goal, but simply communicating would be nice." I get it.
I'll tell you the story of co-parents who were in such bad shape originally that their judge ordered them not to talk to each other. In fact, the only communication that could happen was via an online emailing system for co-parents. After 2 years of this, Dad in this situation would email his thoughts on issues their child was having and would send ideas about how to help their child through it. In 2 years, he never once heard back from his ex. She simply refused to reply. It was so bad, that she had texted him at one point saying, "I don't have to tell you anything I do at my house, I'll what I want." Here's the thing, though. Their child ended up working through the issues, their child got better. How did it happen? Even though Mom was angry and refused communication, she put every single tip Dad sent into action and it worked. Does it look like a positive co-parenting relationship from the outside? No. But did it work for the child? It did.
Myth #2: A positive co-parenting relationship means my ex works with me instead of against me
This is a partial un-truth. Yes, in an ideal co-parenting relationship, the individuals would listen to each other's sides on an issue and come to an agreement, compromising sometimes, for the sake of the children. The whole truth, though, is that a positive co-parenting relationship doesn't have to include this all the time. Sometimes compromise happens and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it works in the child's favor, sometimes it doesn't. This is where you have to consider the big picture.
Again, a story of co-parents in which compromise didn't happen. Over a national holiday, both parents wanted to travel to another area of the state they lived in. In fact, they both wanted to travel to the same area of the state, about 3 hours from their homes. Placement for the kids started with Dad and, since it was Mom's holiday (and Mom's placement time immediately after the holiday), either Dad's vacation couldn't happen or Dad would have to drop the kids off at the location where Mom was on vacation. Again, their vacation locations were within 15 minutes of each other, so it was simple. Or so Mom thought. It turns out that Stepmom hated the idea of missing the holiday so much, she made the kids drive home (3 hours) to get dropped off at Mom's actual house since "that's what the parenting plan says" and, if Mom wanted to continue vacation with the kids, she would have to drive them 3 hours away again. It was an obvious attempt at making Mom's life difficult, but it ended up hurting the kids.
Here's the thing. Dad and Mom in this situation still have what I would consider a positive co-parenting relationship because on the bigger items, they come together. This was 1 vacation in the grand scheme of over 9 years of being co-parents. Yes the kids suffered in it and that isn't fair to them. Yes the stepmom in this situation overstepped her boundaries and it wasn't fair. Yes, Dad should have done something more for his kids, but chose the stepmom's point of view, and that isn't fair either, but as long as Mom lets that 1 event set the stage for the relationship going forward, Mom is doing just as much to hurt chances at a co-parenting relationship as Dad and Stepmom. The Stepmom in this story pushed those kids away and is now working to rebuild a relationship with them, but the kids (rightfully so) don't trust her. She did that to herself. Again, it wasn't fair to the kids (at all), but it was 1 event in a long line of events and everyone needs to move on with the expectation of what Stepmom (and Dad) are willing to contribute to the relationship.
Myth #3: You should expect your ex to co-parent because it's what's best for the kids
The last story is what brings me to this point. Many co-parents will talk to me about the fact that their ex should work with them. Their ex should communicate. Their ex should see that they're only hurting the kids. Yes, they should. The reality is that each person in the co-parenting relationship is doing what they're capable and willing to do. What that means is that "should" and "are" are two different things.
Let's be realistic. If you and your ex divorced or separated because there was a lack of communication and he/she never listened to your point of view, why would it be any different in a co-parenting relationship? If you and your ex divorced because there was another person involved who started running the show, why would there be an expectation of your ex suddenly working with you when it comes to the kids? Do you see where I'm going here? Your ex is showing you what he/she is capable of and willing to offer. Expecting any more from them, even though it's the right thing, will only set you up for disappointment.
Expecting only what they can offer, though, doesn't mean a co-parenting relationship is lost. There are so many ways to adapt to what a negative person shows you they're willing to bring to the table (nothing) and make it work for the kids. In the vacation story above, Mom ended up planning an incredible little stay-cation with the kids and they had just as much, if not more fun, spending quality time with Mom and Stepdad. It worked out. Mom and Stepdad and the kids just had to be realistic about what Dad and Stepmom were willing to put into co-parenting and adapt as necessary. Is it fair? No. Is it reality? Yes. It's a sad reality, but reality none-the-less.
Keep reading to see more posts like this as we move into a series on co-parenting with people who refuse to co-parent. Get on the list to get these in your inbox once/week, see the information below.