We were such good co-parents, once.
It goes something like this. You’ve done the hard work of getting unmarried with as much dignity and courage as possible. You’ve both been mindful of keeping the kids out of the middle, and have worked out pretty effective co-parent communication. You’ve been following your creative, child-centered Parenting Plan for a couple of years with only minor hitches. Then, either suddenly or with a steady sense of erosion, it’s become much more difficult. You have begun accusing each other of being unreasonable, demanding, inflexible, incommunicative, selfish, not doing what’s best for the kids.
What’s gone wrong?
If previously workable co-parent strategies have begun to fail, it usually has to do with change in circumstances for one or more family members. Change is inevitable and often positive, but it can create anxiety, anger or resentment if it feels too sudden or out of one’s control. What changes are most likely to lead to co-parenting stress? Here are some likely candidates:
1. The teen years. When kids hit adolescence, parenting itself usually becomes more challenging. Power struggles and disrespectful attitudes often go with the equation. Though developmentally normal, this change from “cuddly kid” to “aloof or snarling teen” can be upsetting. Parents can begin to blame each other’s parenting styles for any difficult behaviors of their adolescent children. This is especially easy to fall into if a child has learned how to manipulate the situation when parents quit talking to each other out of frustration.
2. Employment shifts. A parent loses a job, is required to work different hours, is demoted or is faced with the need to make a geographic transfer to keep a job. These changes can directly affect economic stability in both homes. If one parent’s job change necessitates a shift to the parenting time schedule on which the other parent has become dependent for his or her own life balance, this becomes a very stressful co-parenting situation.
3. Health crises for parents. A health crisis can be physical, emotional or an addiction. Depending on the level of trust and transparency in co-parent communication, parental health concerns may or may not be directly shared for fear of reactions and consequences. Mutually agreed upon Safety Plans for the children can be created, but parents may instinctively react instead by withholding “private” information from their co-parent. This raises red flags in co-parenting.
4. Health crises for children. Co-parents can unite behind their love and concern for a child with a health or developmental crisis, but it also places significant stress on any parenting relationship. Worry, grief, and fatigue go with the territory, and impact communication. Parents may also have significant disagreement about treatment modalities and parenting strategies.
4. New significant others. When new significant others enter the family system, a lot of things may begin to change. To normalize the impact, it’s important to acknowledge that this is never a neutral situation, even if both co-parents feel that it is reasonable and an appropriate time for new relationships to evolve. (If the timing or the readiness feels wrong to one or both parents, there will be many other issues to work through.) Here are just a few of the typical impacts on co-parenting: establishing clear boundaries, bonus parent roles and responsibilities, holiday celebrations, communication patterns, keeping kids out of loyalty binds…,,and the list goes on.
How can Our Family Forward help?
Co-parenting is hard work, and it doesn’t come with a manual. Clear and detailed Parenting Plans and Relationship Plans can be invaluable, but can’t anticipate all the day-to-day challenges as well as the major impact of the changes described above. Our Family Forward is designed provide you with skills and strategies for finding a path to effective and respectful problem solving and co-parenting communication. We have been there for many families in similar circumstances to yours. Though each family is unique, we believe there are time-tested tools to be learned. We would love to teach you!