CUSTODY - I'M SORRY YOU FEEL THAT WAY
Co-parenting, can anything be worse?! Whether it's your spouse, ex-spouse, former relationship or one-night stand, attempting to parent a child together is difficult. There are few things that simultaneously tear apart your heart, sanity, patience and temper like the daily frustrations of co-parenting. I'm sorry you feel that way should be your mantra!
After over twenty years in the family law field (and my own personal custody matters), I have learned that there are important things which you should understand and ways to address this co-parenting nightmare that can make things easier for you and for your child and help to preserve your sanity and day-to-day outlook:
What you need to understand
1. THIS IS ABOUT YOUR CHILD, NOT YOUR PERSONAL ISSUES WITH THE OTHER PARENT.
2. This is a life-time situation. Except where someone passes away, voluntarily relinquishes their custody or the Court takes away their custody, parenting and co-parenting are forever.
3. By law, without an Agreement or Court Order, both parents are equally entitled to be with their child, without restrictions.
4. Sole custody is VERY difficult to achieve as the standard is generally unfitness of one parent and what the Courts, by statute, consider unfit and what you likely see as unfit are usually far apart.
5. Even if you obtain sole custody or one of the other situations mentioned above happens, this does not mean that your child will forget or ignore the absence of a parent in their life.
6. Co-parenting means you both have to give and take in a variety of matters and situations.
7. No, for the most part you can't control what the other parent does in their household or the different rules they may have. If it is not a danger to the child's mental or physical well-being, there is little you can do and less, that a Court will or can do.
8. It is, in my opinion, ALWAYS better to try to work out custody and visitation issues with the other parent. Yes, sometimes that is simply not possible but, there are few more painful experiences then having a Court determine how and when you see your own child. The courts should be your last recourse, not your first.
9. When it comes to child support, do not use money or any arrears they may owe, as justification for refusing visitation time with your child. It is unfair to your child and, if you end up in court, this will not be looked at well by the Judge.
Now that we've covered things you need to know; how can you make things better for yourself and your child?
· You have to get "me" and "mine" thinking out of your head. No matter what the situation, you and the other parent are, whether you like it or not, an "us".
· Try to remember that just because you now have personal dislike towards the other, your child still sees them as their parent. Keep your personal opinions away from your child.
· Take a breath. Whenever the other parent asks about time with your child, stop, take a moment before responding, and decide if your response is truly based on what you think is best for your child or if it is just what YOU want. If it is anything other then what is best for your child, you need to adjust your thinking and response.
· Consider going to counseling to help develop a plan for dealing with the stressors of co-parenting, work through any anger or dislike you feel towards the other parent, or to talk through the situations that arise.
· Additionally, DO NOT call child protective services or similar over everything your child might say or you suspect. Try talking to the other parent about any concerns but, not in an accusatory fashion. If they will not talk or, if after talking you still believe there is an issue, then involve other services. Children, yes even your child, can lie or make things up based on their feeling towards a parent, try to be sure before taking additional steps. Obviously, if there are physical signs of injury or mistreatment, contact services immediately.
· Practice saying, "I'm sorry you feel that way" and use it anytime that the other parent decides to say negatives things to you. You can't control what they say or think but, you can control how you respond. Don't escalate things or give them an emotional response - it just gives them power over you.
· Try to work with the other parent to establish consistency for your child. No, you are not going to see all things the same and no, you are not going to have the same rules but, you can still work together. If you put a punishment in place at your house but your child is going to the other parent, encourage (but not demand) that they maintain that punishment during their time. You should do the same for them and let them know that you will. It actually is to the benefit of your child to have this consistency and will avoid the child manipulating situations.
· For older children or, when they get older, let them have a little more say in the time they spend with each parent. It can be a little painful when, at times, they choose to be with the other parent but, it actually improves their relationship with you as they feel less forced or controlled. Of course, you still have to make decisions based on their best interest so regardless of what they want, there are times you may have to say otherwise.
· Set up a means of communication with the other parent which is open and transparent. There are applications like the free one at Talking Parents that can be extremely valuable for effective co-parenting. This allows you to communicate but with a record of everything which usually keeps all on their best behavior and, if you have to go to Court, can cut through to the truth.
· There will be others that come into your life or that of the other parent, especially new spouses. While that are definitely not you, or a replacement for you, try to avoid the temptation to see them as the enemy or as inherently bad for your child. It is difficult but, try to take the time to get to know them as a person not just as "that person". You might be surprised by what you find sometimes they can be your best ally in dealing with the other parent.) Try to remember that more people LOVING YOUR CHILD is a good thing, not bad. Of course, if their involvement is detrimental, then you will have a bigger challenge ahead. When talking with your co-parent, DO NOT insult or belittle their partner, this will only make co-parenting more difficult for yourself and create a negative atmosphere your child will sense. Again, keep your personal opinions away from your child.
· Remember, this is not a game and not a competition. If your focus is on how you are the better parent or on the other parent's faults as a parent, no one wins and your child loses.
In the end, this is a challenging and lifelong journey that you must learn to navigate. There is nothing easy about this process and, at times, it can be incredibly heart-wrenching, stressful and infuriating. But, as we all know, life is challenging enough, if you keep your focus on making the path as smooth as possible for your child during their most important and informative years, the hard work will be rewarded with a much more well-adjusted adult.