Co-parenting pitfalls are the divorced dad’s equivalent to hitting potholes that wreck your wheel alignment. Just like pothole damage can affect the way your car handles, there are pitfalls to co-parenting that affect visitation with your kids.
I love road trips. I used to drive from Arkansas to Michigan and back regularly. After doing this a few times, I became keenly aware of changes in surface of the road as I crossed each state line. The worst was Michigan during early spring. Pot holes everywhere! I would have to swerve and dodge to avoid the large ones. No matter what, there were always a few I didn’t see soon enough and BAM that teeth rattling clunk. Can you feel it? It’s the same way with co-parenting.
One moment you’re cruising along raising your kids, the next you’re wincing from the pain of unexpected co-parenting pitfalls. I’m going to put some construction cones around five of these common pitfalls and show you to avoid them.
If You’re Assuming, You’re Wrong
Our brains are hard wired to make assumptions. We automatically recognize patterns in nearly everything from shapes to facial expressions. This wiring is particularly helpful for tasks such as fitting $200 worth of groceries in a small refrigerator or determining if your boss is in a bad mood. But, when it comes to co-parenting pitfalls, it’s best to leave your assumptions behind.
A Holiday Story
My ex and I had agreed on a time split for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. She would get the Eve and I got the Day. On Christmas Eve after I had called my sons to say goodnight, their mom sent me a text to ask when I would be picking them up in the morning. This escalated into a mild argument as she wanted me to come later that I had planned. Things got worse when I asked her to make sure they had clothes for the next day. She insisted that an overnight was not part of the plan. As the chain of angry text messages flew back and forth, I tried to keep my cool and take the high road. In my mind, it was 100% reasonable to keep them overnight on Christmas day especially since she had both Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with them every year.
As I scrolled through our messages, and replayed our face to face and phone conversations, I realized there was not a single piece of communication that confirmed my assumption. No matter how reasonable my request, I had assumed she knew that I would want to keep them overnight. I had assumed she would be okay with it.
You would think we would know better when it comes to co-parenting. As divorced dads, communication problems should not be a surprise. Yet, we still assume things. To avoid this co-parenting pitfall, my advice is simple. Clarify everything. When possible, get it in writing. If you think you know, verify again.
Avoid the Tense Exchange
Sharing time with your kids means transitioning them from your house to their mother’s house. These exchanges can sometimes be the scene of tension and hostility. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t felt my blood boil when picking up my boys from their mom. Janice Ferguson Pugsley offers 11 Strategies to Ease Transition Between Mom’s House and Dad’s House. I like her idea of “buffer zones.” My ex and I have found that it keeps tension down for us if we do not do as many exchanges at our houses. Instead, we pick the boys up from school. So, on Fridays when it is my weekend, the pickup is focused entirely on the boys and not any tensions between me and their mom. We will also exchange the kids in public places like restaurants. This works especially well in the summer when school is out.
Interrogating the Kids
Curiosity gets the best of us sometimes. Who doesn’t wonder what goes on behind closed doors once your kids are back at home with mom? It can be tempting to pump your kids for information. But, there’s a problem. This just isn’t fair to your kids. Children basically need to feel safe and loved. How safe and loved does your daughter feel if you’re interrogating her about mom’s new “friend” or what she says about you? What kind of anxiety would it cause if your son had to worry about the questions you’re going to ask when he gets to your house? Not to mention the fact that the questions you’re asking could find their way back to mom. If you want to know something about your ex-wife’s life, ask her. If you are too uncomfortable to ask her, you shouldn’t ask your kids. It really is that simple.
Bad Mouthing Your Ex’s Friends and Family
Sure, your ex’s friends and family may not like you. They may have even said some pretty nasty stuff about you to other people. You cannot allow yourself to fall into that trap. Your kids did not divorce those friends or family members. They still have regular contact with them and they care about those people. Talking negatively about them (especially in front of your kids) will alienate your children from you.
For a while, I had a hard time hearing my kids talk about all the great things they did with my ex and her best friend. I was hurt because I was sure that friend believed horrible things about me. Yet, there she was with my kids and they love her. Over time I realized it doesn’t matter what she thinks of me if she’s good to my kids. Now when they talk about her I can join in. I can even tell them a few funny stories about her.
The Need to Win
Divorce often gives birth to a form of competition between parents. The cases might as well be titled Mr. Dad versus Ms. Mom. We all want to win. When it comes to co-parenting, the need to win is a Cadillac sized pot hole in Michigan. If you slip into this pitfall it can do serious and ongoing damage to your success as a parent. Consider this article by Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker Stop Toxic Fighting with Your Ex. Dr. Hartwell Walker suggest that we should give up the idea that every encounter will end in absolute fairness. Unfortunately, when it comes to co-parenting, we can’t just agree to disagree on somethings. This means a decision must be made or an action must be taken that one or both parties will not be 100% happy about. That’s parenting.
What’s more important, winning or being a good father?
What’s more important, winning or being a good father? In my experience, I have found that the two rarely line up. So, daily I choose the high road when I would rather be a jerk. I choose cooperation and compromise over attack and argument. I am not perfect in this, but I see the bigger picture. I know I am avoiding major damage by checking my ego and competitive nature at the door.
Pick Your Lane of Travel to Avoid Co-parenting Pitfalls
There is no perfect road map for co-parenting. Every one of us has unique dynamics that make raising kids challenging. I hope that by marking these co-parenting pitfalls I have given you enough time to avoid them.
How do you handle co-parenting problems? Tell us in the comments below.
Looking for more ways to maximize visitation? You’ll like Why You Should Have a Take Your Kid to Work Day. Then check out Seven Tips for Consistent Co-parenting After Divorce.
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