Co-Parenting: What Not To Do
Knowing these co-parenting what-not-to-do’s will help you be a better parent post-divorce.
Co-parenting after divorce is tough. But did you know you can make it even harder for yourself, your ex and your kids?
That’s why when it comes to co-parenting, knowing what not to do is just as important as knowing what to do. There is plenty of online advice for what you should do when co-parenting, but it rarely goes into detail about what not to do.
And this lack of clarity about the co-parenting what-not-to-do’s is often confusing for those parents who are trying their best to co-parent yet somehow, they just can’t seem to make it work as well as they’d like.
The lack of clarity can cause parents to believe that their behavior is appropriate when in reality it isn’t.
Regardless of where you fall, knowing what not to do when it comes to co-parenting (and then not doing it) will make you a better parent.
The co-parenting what-not-to-do’s fall into 8 different categories:
- Communication And Collaboration
You probably already know that the foundation for successful co-parenting is communication and collaboration with your children’s other parent. Yet this can be difficult to achieve when your divorce still feels fresh.
Here is a list of things that co-parents do that make co-parenting more difficult and even impossible:
Have no plan for communicating with your ex about parenting issues. Parenting issues will arise – guaranteed. So, knowing ahead of time how you will address them will remove the potential for conflict.
Be contentious and accusatory when you have a problem with your ex’s parenting. Ever heard the phrase you’ll catch more flies with honey? Well, the truth is it’s true of communicating and collaborating with your children’s other parent too. If you truly want your ex to change their parenting, then typically your first best option is to speak to them with respect about the matter.
Don’t plan anything with your ex. Coordinating schedules is part and parcel of successful co-parenting. Not doing so is a recipe for disaster.
Make your kids speak to their other parent for you about everything. You can’t expect your children to communicate with your ex for you. That’s unfair and leaves the kids in the middle instead of feeling free to love you both. Besides, there are some conversations that are meant for adults and not children.
Neglect or “forget” to keep your ex up-to-date with any scholastic, medical, psychiatric, extracurricular activities or appointments you make for your children. Regularly doing this is antithetical to co-parenting. Co-parenting is about the kids. It’s not about getting back at your ex or keeping your ex in the dark about what’s going on with the children.
Keep your ex in the dark about all changes in your life or circumstances that are challenging or difficult. Successful co-parenting and healing from divorce usually requires boundaries to keep your personal lives separate. However, if what you’re dealing with impacts your children, letting your ex know about your situation is necessary.
Refuse to work with your ex for your children’s participation in extracurricular activities. Remember, co-parenting is about your children and doing what’s best for them. By working together to support your children’s interests you’re helping them – not your ex.
Ignore whatever your ex has to say if it doesn’t align with what you want. Effective communication is about you and your children’s other parent respectfully speaking AND listening to each other – even if you disagree.
Consistently refuse to agree with each other about nearly everything. Co-parenting requires and ability to compromise. If you find that you’re consistently unable to compromise with your ex, you may need outside assistance to resolve the disagreement.
- Behaving As If You’re Your Children’s Only Parent
Co-parenting is about working together and respecting each other as parents. So, unless the courts have determined that your children’s other parent is no longer their legal parent, you aren’t their only parent.
Here are some ways that parents will behave as if they’re an only parent:
Ignore the rules and discipline your ex has for your children. Children need as much consistency as possible. Does that mean that everything is the same between your home and your ex’s? No, but it does mean that you’re more consistent that not – for your children’s sake.
Don’t tell your ex if you move or change your phone number. Your children’s other parent needs to be able to reach you and generally know where the children are when they’re with you.
When you travel with your children, don’t tell you ex or provide any means for her/him to contact you or the kids. Again, your children’s other parent needs to be able to reach you and generally know where the children are when they’re with you – even if the travel is due an emergency or happens on the spur of the moment.
Refuse to defer to your ex for child care. Your children love both of you and enjoy spending time with each of you. So, if you need childcare that your ex could easily help with, then it only makes sense to first ask your ex to help out before asking anyone else. And if they say “yes,” your children can enjoy the time with their other parent instead of a babysitter.
Expect your ex to have ZERO influence in your children’s lives. Your ex will have a huge influence in your children’s lives whether you like it or not. Your children love both of you and want to please both of you. Let them know that it’s OK if they do things like their other parent sometimes and like you at other times.
Ignore your ex’s calls and texts. It’s rare that ignoring your ex’s calls and texts is an appropriate action when you’re co-parenting. Doing so regularly is highly disrespectful and will only harm your co-parenting relationship which in turn will harm your children.
Ignore the parenting plan schedules you had to agree to, so you could get divorced. The parenting plan schedules were put in place to help your children and are meant provide you and your ex guidelines for being the best parents you can be. If your schedules need to be adjusted, work together to do so for the benefit of your children.
- Encourage Or Demand That Your Children Break All Ties With Your Ex And His/Her Family
Your children are a wonderful combination of you and their other parent and by extension your families. So, they deserve to spend time with and know the amazing people they’re related to – even if you’ve never liked them or they’ve never liked you.
Here is a list of co-parenting what not to do’s when it comes to allowing your children to interact with your ex and her/his family:
Regularly talk poorly about your ex and/or your former in-laws in front of your kids and encourage others to do so too. When your children hear you or anyone else talk poorly about their other parent and their other parent’s family, they are hurt. Your children know that they’re part you and part your ex. And when you say disparaging things about your ex and your former in-laws your children hear you talking disparagingly about them too.
Encourage your kids to talk poorly about their other parent. This is the same as teaching your children to not only disrespect their other parent, but to disrespect themselves.
Do your best to prevent your children from ever interacting your ex’s side of the family. Unless your children are in imminent danger by being around their other parent’s side of the family, you have no business interfering with their relationships. Your children deserve to know the people their related to and who love them.
Make sure your kids love you the most. When you try to coerce your children into loving you the most, you’re undermining a relationship your children need to have fostered. Your children love you and your ex. You’re their parents, so you both have the job of encouraging your children to express and nurture the love they feel for each of you.
Always refer to your ex as your ex in conversations – even with your children. Your children aren’t interested in your marital status – in fact it’s painful for them to be regularly reminded of it. They know you both as their parents and deserve to hear you refer to their other parent as “Mom” or “Dad” or as your children’s “other parent.”
Put your children under pressure to choose between you and their other parent. Asking your children who they’d rather live with and doing what you can to make sure it’s you, regularly telling your children, “I miss you!” when they’re with their other parent and making them feel guilty for any time they don’t spend with you are all ways you’re coercing your children to choose between you and their other parent.
Telling your children your new significant other is their new parent. Your children already have two parents. If you should remarry, your children will have a bonus parent or a stepparent, but no one will ever replace their parents.
When your children tell you things about your ex that upset you, immediately jump to conclusions and condemn your ex in front of your children. If your children do tell you things about your ex that upset you, you need to pause and decide if it’s enough of an issue or concern for you to discuss the matter with your ex or not. If not, don’t react. If it is, don’t react and schedule some time to respectfully discuss the issue with your children’s other parent.
- Neglect Your Parenting Responsibilities
Getting divorced isn’t easy. And self-care is necessary as you make your way through it, but self-care is different from ignoring your parenting responsibilities.
You’ll know you’re taking your self-care too far if you find yourself doing any of these things:
Consistently putting your wants and needs above your children’s needs and rights for psychological, spiritual and physical well-being and safety. Despite the difficulties of your divorce, your children still need and deserve to have you care for them as the precious beings they are. Doing so will help them more easily get through the divorce too.
Keep your kids guessing about how you’re going to act today. Another way parents don’t live up to their parenting duties post-divorce is by being unpredictable. Sure, the emotional rollercoaster of divorce is real and you have your feelings to sort out, but children (including yours) thrive on consistency.
Grant your children’s every wish without limit to alleviate your feelings of guilt about the divorce. All parents want their children to be happy. However, all parents also want their children to grow up to be happy adults. And most happy adults understand core values and the need to contribute instead of having their every wish granted. The world just doesn’t work like that.
Punish your ex by allowing your children to shirk responsibility. Part of successful parenting is teaching your children responsibility. It doesn’t matter how much you hate your ex or how much you think they should suffer for what they’ve done, your children must take priority over ideas of vengeance.
Disregard your children’s presence when you argue with your ex. Children suffer greatly when they’re around conflict – especially when that conflict is between their parents the two people they most want to please. Your children will feel responsible for making things better between the two of you which is impossible for them to achieve. And the futility of their efforts will wear away at their sense of safety, capability and even self-esteem.
Regularly break the agreements you make with your children. Your children depend on you. They look forward to spending time with you. They want to trust you. If you’re consistently breaking your word with them (regardless of the reasons for doing so), then you’re undermining the relationship you have with them. And your children will take it personally. They may even start believing that you don’t love them anymore.
- Expect To Control Your Ex
Regardless of what you think of your ex’s parenting abilities or their parenting philosophy, unless your children are in danger you must let go of your desire to micromanage your ex.
You may already know that, but you may also be doing things that you don’t realize that are definite co-parenting don’ts. Below are some of the mistakes co-parents make.
Withholding child visitation because you want your ex to stop doing or start doing something. Of course, if your ex is a true threat to your children, you should get the proper authorities involved. But if your children’s other parent isn’t a threat to them, then this is straight up cruelty and viciousness directed at your ex and your kids.
Having unclear boundaries with your ex. The truth is you don’t get to control what happens at your ex’s house or in their life. And they don’t get to control what happens at your house or in your life. Getting clear about what is and isn’t appropriate now that you’re co-parents is critical to becoming great co-parents.
Airing dirty laundry on social media. The people you know on social media don’t need to have unfiltered insight into what’s going on with you or your ex. And using social media to try to shame your ex into behaving differently is shameful on your part.
Jumping to conclusions, overreacting, criticizing, blaming, being accusatory, being rude, being mean and sarcastic, making demands, using profanity, being unreasonable with deadlines, being disrespectful and calling names are all signs you’re attempting to bully your ex. Doing these things is never acceptable behavior. If you find it difficult to prevent yourself from being so disrespectful to your ex, please reach out for help because these behaviors will not only destroy your co-parenting relationship but they cause your children anguish too.
Making a big production out of any event you and your ex attend for your children. Your children want you to be proud of them and they want to be proud of you. If you’re unable to put your feelings for your ex aside when you’re both attending events for your children, then you’re disappointing your children and embarrassing yourself.
Using your children to sway your ex to your way of thinking or doing things. Your children aren’t pawns you can use to manipulate your ex. You need to allow your children to be children and not your minions.
- Expect Your Children To Be Your Friends Or Support System
If you have older children, you may need them to take on more responsibility for helping around the house now that you’re divorced. However, expecting your children to deal with the practical and emotional issues you’re dealing with as a result of your divorce is completely inappropriate.
You’ll know you’re falling into the trap of this co-parenting what-not-to-do if:
You complain to your children about the problems you have – especially those you have with your ex. Your divorce and the repercussions of it are yours to come to terms with. Your children aren’t prepared to deal with the adult realities of divorce. They have their own challenges because of the divorce and don’t need to take on you and your burdens too. It’s your job to be there for them, not the other way around.
You have unclear boundaries with your children. Children need well-defined boundaries to understand who’s responsible for what. They also help children to develop respect, self-control, responsibility and know who they are – all keys to being able to successfully navigate the world when they become adults.
You keep your children informed about all the details regarding custody negotiations and court appearances. Coming to an agreement for your divorce is between you, your lawyer, your ex and his/her lawyer. The ironing out of the details are none of your children’s business and bringing them fully into it will only make their lives much more difficult.
You are your children’s friend instead of their parent. Being a parent is much more complicated than being a friend. Being a parent requires that you have boundaries, limits and structure in place. It also requires that your children have time away from you to develop their relationship with their other parent and to start to gain some independence. You’ll be stunting their intellectual and emotional growth if you choose to be their friend first instead of their parent.
- Use Your Children To Keep Tabs On Your Ex
It’s natural to be curious about how your ex’s life is going. You might even feel jealous when s/he is doing well, or happy when s/he isn’t.
However, using your children to keep tabs on your ex is a definite no-no when it comes to co-parenting. Instead, you need to talk directly with your ex about any questions you have and be willing to accept it if your ex tells you what you’re asking about is none of your business.
Just to make sure you’re not accidentally using your children to keep tabs on your ex, you’ll want to be aware of these behaviors:
You question your children about everything they do while they’re with your ex. Your children’s time with their other parent is about growing their relationship not for you to learn more about your ex’s life. Unless you have significant reason to believe your children are in some kind of danger with your ex (and you should be getting help from the proper authorities if you do), you need to let your children have their relationship with their other parent.
You ask your children to do specific things while with your ex. You may ask them to look for something or to say something, so they can report their findings back to you. Putting your children in this position isn’t healthy for anyone. Your children will suffer if they do as you ask because they’ll be betraying their other parent. And if they don’t do as you ask, they’ll also suffer because they’ll be betraying their relationship with you. You’ll suffer because you’ll not be communicating with your co-parent in a productive way. And your ex will suffer due to your lack of respect.
- Don’t Heal From Your Divorce
Getting over a divorce is difficult, however, it is possible and necessary if you’re going to be a great parent for your children and move on with your life. By healing from your divorce, you’ll be teaching your children powerful lessons about resilience, forgiveness and dealing with disappointment.
You’ll know that you’re not healing from your divorce and undermining your parenting if:
You’re sure you’ll hate your ex for the rest of your life. The longer you hate your ex the longer you’re letting them control you. And you probably don’t want that.
You’re terrified of ever being in another relationship. Just because your marriage didn’t work doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for you to have a good relationship.
You can’t seem to shake the feeling of being a failure. Your relationship failed, and you played a part in things not working out. However, that doesn’t mean that you’re a failure.
You’re unable to forgive yourself. Everyone makes mistakes. You’re no different. However, refusing to let yourself learn from your mistakes and move on with your life is guaranteeing you a lifetime of unhappiness. And that’s probably not something you want to model for your children.
Knowing what not to do will definitely help you be a better co-parent. However, don’t beat yourself up if you discover that you’re doing one or more of the co-parenting what-not-to-do’s listed above. We all have bad days and we all make mistakes. Just course correct as soon as you’re able (and reach out for help if you need it).
If after reading these co-parenting what-not-to-do’s, you’re clear that your children’s other parent is having a difficult time co-parenting, you have a few of options:
- You can discuss the situation with them.
- You can switch from co-parenting to parallel parenting.
- You can take them back to court to change the parenting agreement.
Parenting after divorce is difficult. And by knowing what not to do and then not doing it, you will be making things better for your children, yourself, and your co-parent.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help people navigate co-parenting with their ex. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.