Being a good parent is hard. Being a good co-parent, in many ways, is even harder. For one thing, you’re trying to coordinate child-rearing efforts with another person in another household. For another, you’re trying to foster a positive relationship between your child and someone with whom you may still have deep conflicts. Both of those efforts can be a struggle, especially when you feel like you’re doing the lion’s share of the work. It can be easy, without realizing it, to slip into negative behaviors directed at your ex that wind up harming your child. How do you avoid this? Awareness is the first step. Here are some signs you’re being a bad co-parent—and what to do about it.
Shutting Your Ex Out of Co-Parenting
Co-parenting means more than just both you and your ex having time with your child. It means you are both actively involved in raising that child. But some co-parents, especially if they don’t like their ex’s parenting style, take measures that effectively shut the ex out of parenting, making them a “visitor” in their child’s life rather than an active participant. Sometimes these measures are overt, sometimes unintentional, and sometimes a bit passive-aggressive, but they’re always unhelpful. See if you recognize any of these:
- Withholding important information about the child’s schooling, such as parent-teacher conferences, concerts, or activities
- Scheduling activities for the child during the other parent’s scheduled parenting time without clearing it with the other parent
- Not giving your ex access to the child’s school, medical or religious records or providers if the other parent is legally entitled to have them
- Not discussing decisions regarding medical care, education, or religious training with your ex even if he or she is legally entitled to participate in those decisions
- Not listing the other parent’s contact information on school/medical forms when required or appropriate
- Not inviting the other parent to events that are important to the child, such as birthday parties, sports banquets, recitals, etc.
- Being inflexible about reasonable requests for changes to the parenting time schedule
- Using others for child care when needed during your parenting time, rather than giving the other parent the opportunity to spend time with your child
- In general, refusing to communicate with your ex about your child.
In the best case scenario, these behaviors might be motivated by a desire to prove to yourself that, even as a single parent, you can manage things. But often, there’s an underlying desire to show that you’re in control and that you’re the better parent. If you notice yourself doing any of the above things, ask yourself how it is benefiting your child, and how you would feel if your ex did the same thing to you. If you are honest with yourself, you will probably see that shutting your ex out in this way is not the right thing to do.
Sabotaging Your Child’s Relationship With the Other Parent
Keeping the other parent from fully participating in your child’s life is bad enough. What may be even worse is taking actions that damage their relationship. For one thing, these actions are often directed at the child. Your child wants to love both parents, and if you make your child feel that loving their other parent hurts or angers you, your child will be in a state of constant stress. You may manage to hurt the other parent if that is your goal, but in the process you will hurt your child even worse by doing any of the following:
- Bad-mouthing the other parent in front of your child or in their hearing
- Directing negative non-verbal communication at the other parent in front of your child
- Exposing your child to conflict between you and their other parent, whether in-person or on the phone
- Being intrusive or interrupting the child’s scheduled time with the other parent, e.g., by frequent, unnecessary phone calls
- Making it difficult for your child to call, text, Skype, or FaceTime with their other parent
- When the child is with you, requiring them to have all communications with the other parent on speaker phone, or otherwise denying them privacy to communicate with the other parent
- Reading and/or censoring written communications, including e-mails and texts, between your child and the other parent
- Telling your child not to call/write/text the other parent
- Making your child unavailable at scheduled call times with the other parent
- Failing to give your child phone messages from the other parent
- Using the child to convey messages to the other parent rather than communicating directly
- Asking the child for information about the other parent or to “spy on” the other parent
- Asking your child to keep secrets from the other parent
- Discussing child support or financial issues with your child or blaming the other parent for financial difficulties
- Leaving adult information (like copies of court motions) out where your child may have access
If you have done any, or several, of these things, it is time to ask yourself more hard questions. One is, what are you afraid will happen if your child has a strong relationship with his or her other parent? Often, there is a fear that if your child is close to the other parent, your own relationship with your child will suffer. Please know that it is not a zero-sum game. Trust that your child will, in the long run, be able to understand that you put their needs before their own. Likewise, if you sabotage your child’s relationship with the other parent, know that they will eventually figure that out and that it will poison your relationship with your child.
Being a Good Co-Parent
Being a good co-parent isn’t always easy; in fact, it’s often a struggle. But being a bad co-parent, though it may feel satisfying in the moment, is never worth it. Before taking an action, ask yourself what the judge in your custody case would say if they could see or hear you. More importantly, ask yourself how your action benefits your child. If you believe it is truly in your child’s best interest for their other parent to be less involved in their life (for example, if there’s a safety issue) then you may need to talk to your family law attorney about a custody modification. Document your concerns and give your lawyer a call. Otherwise, try to remember that your child needs you both, and act accordingly.
If you have questions about allocation of parental responsibility, or are concerned because your ex has done many of the things listed in this article, we invite you to contact our law office to schedule a consultation.