This day and age blending families seems to be the status quo. There are step-parents, step-siblings, and step-grandparents by the millions. Divorce statistics say that one out of every two marriages end in divorce, and sometimes these splits can be bitter, and in some situations a truce seems impossible. So what can we do to smooth the waters with our child’s other parent? I have put together a list, based on my own experiences, of mostly common sense methods you can use to keep, or gain, the peace.
1- Don’t lie about your money- Now this doesn’t mean that you should provide your ex with a photocopy of every paystub and bill you have, it just simply means if you plan on putting your child in dance classes over the summer, and you are not asking for help footing the bill, you should explain exactly how it is you have the extra money to do so. This especially holds true if you are the receiver of child support because you can be taken back to court and forced to provide proof of what you spend that money on.
2- Follow your court orders- Whether it’s your child support order, or your physical and legal custody agreements, follow the court orders to the letter. This is particularly a good idea if your relationship with your ex is some sort of hostile. Plan events around the dates and times you will have your child. Avoid asking for favors such as switching days, or times until you have a better co-parenting relationship. Asking for favors in a hostile relationship will almost always lead to a fight.
3- Question without blaming- When your child comes to your house spouting off a new vulgar word, or showing questionable behavior that you know did not come from your household, a good way to approach your ex about the situation is to talk to them and say, “Hey, I don’t know where this behavior came from because we all know that little Johnny is at that age where he is going to pick up anything and everything, but will you please work with me when he comes home in trying to put a stop to it?” The reverse of this is also a good idea. If you know that your child picked up the word or behavior from your home, it is best that you admit it.
4- Share and update contact information- Give each other up to date lists periodically of addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses for the places that your child spends a good amount of time, i.e.: home address, location of school or daycare, etc. If nothing else, it is a good back-up in case of an emergency, and if something were to happen to your child you would have the information to trace it back to find out exactly what is going on.
5- Include each other in major decisions- If you plan on changing your child’s school or daycare, or want to enroll them in some sort of extracurricular activity, have an open conversation with the other parent about it at least a month in advance, especially if the decision you are trying to make involves the other parent paying some of the bill. Leaving a good time frame allows for both parents to make an educated decision, and come to some sort of compromise if there is any disagreement.
6- Don’t play the “I’m right, you’re wrong” game- There is no such thing as a perfect parent. Each parent is naturally going to have their own parenting style with regards to everything from routine to discipline. If one parent believes in taking away toys as opposed to a time out,you can’t come back and say that either method is better than the other. If a child is coming over with constant diaper rash however, you might want to have a conversation about it and see what is going on, but don’t openly attack parenting abilities. Most of us do the best that we can, and no child came with a manual.
7- Don’t unfairly express ill feelings towards a step-parent- Step-parents cannot replace, nor do they want to replace the real parents. For the most part, step-parents know their role within the family already without the other parent disliking them or blaming them for things unfairly. That person is now going to be an adult figure, and an influence on your child’s life. It is a much better idea for everyone if you get along. Trust in your ex’s judgment about the person, and if you are uncomfortable try to get to know them yourself. Send them an email to break the ice, and make an effort at open communication.
8- Offer some help and extra support- If your child is sick, and the other parent doesn’t have the day off but you do, offer to take the child to the Dr. It’s a good way to spend some extra time together, and you will come out knowing exactly what the child has, and how to take care of it should it happen again.
9- Agree on split-expenditures before you act- You cannot just go out and by your 16 year old a $20,000 car for their birthday and give your ex a $10,000 bill out of nowhere. The same holds true if you would like to enroll your child into a private school. Chances are you could get a court order and force the ex to pay half of the tuition, but it will just become a fight. It isn’t fair for one parent to make assumptions about the other parent’s finances, and it isn’t fair to place an extra burden on them without consulting them first. Who knows, the other parent may love the idea of a private school and be more than willing to foot the bill.
10- Don’t undermine the other parent on a major decision- This is especially true if you already know that the other parent gave a very stern and definitive no. If parent A tells their 13 year old daughter that they can’t get their belly button pierced, parent B should not run right out to the nearest piercing parlor to have it done. The 13 year old might be ecstatic, but all it is going to teach her is that she doesn’t have to respect parent A, and parent A will be infuriated, to say the least.
For the most part, these ideas are common sense. I am not an expert of human relationships or psychology, but I do have a great deal of real life experience when it comes to these matters. Once you have a child, you are tied to their other parent for at least the next 18 years, or more in some places. Wouldn’t it be a better use of your time to play nice with them? Get along and compromise so that you can spend more time enjoying your child, and less time angry and frustrated with their other parent.