One-sided coparenting: coping with an uncooperative ex
Here’s an audio about a recurrent theme of mine:
Below is the transcript:
I’ve had friends and colleagues who were absolutely fabulous examples of co-parenting, and I’ve also worked professionally with scores of divorced couples and individuals working hard and succeeding at being able to cooperate, communicate, and share parenting their kids.
Sadly however, I’ve often needed to provide help and support to one parent whose problems now included the other parent, the ex, who is either nowhere to be found, or unreliable, uncooperative, inconsistent, and/or simply so inept they make things worse.
What usually happens at first is that the functional parent thinks they’re okay, thinks they’ve adjusted to the fact that everything isn’t a perfect 50-50. (Some even admit privately they kind of like it that way.) But then come problems – the kids have difficulties, school, peers, money issues, health issues whatever – and the hope is that the other, the ex, will rise to the occasion. But, if anything, that’s when the opposite happens.
So now the functional parent feels taken advantage of, abused. Even though they thought they’d adjusted to parental life always being so busy, tired, and constantly worried about everything – now everything escalates. Emotions run sky high as the kids become demanding, critical and hostile, often unfairly seeming to favor the parent not there. That happens because so often children need to be loyal, defend emotionally and overcompensate toward the absent, more negligent parent.
It can take people to the brink, to their wits end – exhausted, angry, and very hurt at the lack of appreciation.
And yes, frankly, we’re still mostly talking about women far more often being the coparent truly trying, and the menfolk still more likely to be AWOL regarding cooperation, communication, and actual effort. True enough, the reverse is becoming somewhat more frequent these days. I have had Dads being the one staying on duty, doing the right thing, holding the family together. But it’s still not really close to being 50 – 50.
So. Along with the support, and help handling parental issues, managing stress, and staying healthy, it’s also true that one of my messages is a tough pill to swallow: unless the ex is an outright abusive monster, allowing your kids to have whatever piece of the ex is there to have, even though the unfairness of it rankles so much, almost always truly pays off down the road. For the kids and the parents.
I’ve had clients agree right away and clients pause a long time before coming around to agreeing with that proposition. It’s tough to hear, but parents shouldn’t try and shouldn’t even be seen to be trying to make the other parent look bad in a child’s eyes. Children are living in a better, safer, more emotionally healthy bubble when they’re allowed to hope and believe that only a particular set of unavoidable circumstances is keeping the other parent from being around more and being the parent they have it in them to be. It’s the high road. It’s the better way to be.