Yeah, But You Don't Know My Co-Parent!

How your peaceful leadership can make all the difference.

One of the most common things we hear is, “I want to be cooperative, but my co-parent doesn't!”

Interestingly enough, sometimes in the same family both parents seem honestly to see themselves as the only one working for cooperation and peace.

We assume that because you're taking the time to read this article, you really are focused on your children's need for peace in their lives— and on taking the lead in improving the interaction they need you to have with their other parent.

Here are some things we think can help you with that difficult challenge.

1. Give yourself credit.

Start by giving yourself credit. Childrearing is one of life’s greatest challenges even without the burden of conflict with one’s co-parent.

There are no parades or plaques for such things, but, in fact, anyone who protects a child from conflict is a hero. Every act of doing so is heroic. So honor yourself for every time:

  • You’ve remembered a child’s fragile heart instead of exploding.
  • You’ve kept embarrassing information about your co–parent from a child.
  • You’ve complimented the child’s co-parent to the child (instead of sharing criticism).
  • You’ve helped your co-parent’s plans work out, even if the favor wasn’t returned.
  • You remembered that as hard as things are for you, they are many times harder for your children.

2. Remember the goal.

All that’s at stake here is your children’s lives. 

In the pain of conflict (and remember that if parents find their conflict distasteful, children find it absolutely intolerable), keep the goal in mind: to give helpless children a safe place to live their one and only childhood.

There is one and only one scorecard in parenting or co-parenting: the children.

3. Appreciate the difference you can make alone.

You have no control over your co-parent. (That’s why you’re reading this article.)

The good news is that children are helped by having even one parent who gives them a safe sanctuary from a storm.

Parents who pollute their children’s lives with conflict can never really blame each other. Each can give the children the gift of withdrawing from the fight.

Here are a few things you alone can do for your children:

  • Live by the Child Safety Zone Pledge—your promise to keep all conflict away from your children.
  • Write 10 compliments and good memories about your co-parent—and make these kind of comments the theme of everything you say to your children about their other parent.
  • Celebrate things your children get to do with their other parent.
  • At least every other day your children are with you, cheerfully encourage them to call their other parent.
  • Make it easy for your children to love their other parent—whatever your co-parent does, make sure your children always have one sanctuary to live, love, and grow.

4. Understand the need for you to pick up the slack.

Parents in your circumstances so often correctly diagnose the problem (“My co-parent isn’t a help”)—and then jump to precisely the wrong conclusion (“Then I quit, too”).

What?

Suppose your children were in a burning building and the only people around to save them were you and your co–parent. If your co–parent stood idly by and did nothing (maybe even started to fight with you about child support), what would you do? You’d run into the building alone.

It’s too late to pick a new co-parent. Your job isn’t to raise or reform your co-parent. (How different things would be if you’d succeeded at that long ago.)

Your job is to save your children by ending conflict they can’t end.

5. Use good resources.

All sorts of things can help you.

  • The "Articles and Videos" on UpToParents.org
  • A good book like Robert Emery's The Truth about Children and Divorce or Julie Ross and Judy Corcoran’s Joint Custody with a Jerk.
  • Time spent with people who have good divorces.
  • Child-focused counseling or mediation.

Remember that children, not parents, are the only persons without resources. Reach out for what you need—and for what they need you to use.

6. Consider the subjectivity of it all.

If you’ve been frustrated by the interaction between you and your co-parent, probably everyone is frustrated.

It’s impossible to be completely objective in the middle of difficult family circumstances like these. 

Your co-parent may have a different perspective—and many private wounds as well.

The job of co-parents is to accept each other as they are and merge the strengths they bring to the table.

7. Focus on those who really can't go it alone--your children.

Again, this is tough going. Give yourself high marks on what is maybe the most important lifework you’ll ever be charged with.

At the same time, remember that children don’t have the resources you do. Nor the chance to fix what necessarily falls on you to fix.

Let their helplessness be the final irresistible call to your heroism.

8. Remember the joy.

In the end, it’s the joy of parenthood that sustains all of us. “On paper” parenthood makes no sense. None. The output exceeds any prospect of return. From the pains of labor to the years of physical and emotional and financial dependence, from the calls about embarrassing outbursts at school to worry over their very survival, from skinned knees to broken hearts—our children need us.

But we endure those sacrifices because they are, well, our children. Our link to a world we will never see. Our hope that they will get things right and do better than their parents.

And when we nobly endure the burdens—including, yes, the burdens of co–parenting with a flawed partner, just as our partners must do with us—the sun rises.

And then there is no greater joy.

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