Parenting can be tough. Even two people who agree on nearly everything may find themselves at odds when it comes to expectations with children. For many of us, raising children puts us face to face with our own personal histories guiding us to what feels right or wrong. Our histories often sneak into our own parenting. If you are no longer together with your spouse, things can get even dicier. Co-parenting can be a near-insurmountable challenge. If you or your co-parent (or even spouse!) are on opposite sides of the parenting fence, there are a few things you can do to ease the tension.
Agree to Disagree
Was this what you were expecting to hear? Both of you are entering this parenting business from entirely different histories and perspectives. Maybe one of you had a stay-at-home mom present at all times while the other of you had 2 full-time working parents. Some families encourage quiet obedience and others expect equal participation from all members.
Regardless of your background, now that you’re in the middle of it, your fall back method will be steeped in your own history. So go ahead and accept that you are NOT going to agree on everything when it comes to the kids. It’s time to let go of the dream.
Set Your Priorities
Now that we’ve gotten that out-of-the-way, we can move on into the more important stuff. Time to set your priorities. Each parent should take some time individually and pick the top 2-3 things that are MOST important to them as parents. Once you’ve each picked your top 3, time to compare notes with your co-parent. Are there any of the top 3 that you both share?
Agree to support your co-parenting partner’s top item
This is where it gets tough. Sometimes what is most important to your co-parent and what is most important to you are not going to be the same. But if your co-parent’s top concern is that it is super important to them that your child not drink soda, it’s time to back them up. And if it’s your top concern that they go to bed by 9 PM, it’s time for them to back you up.
It’s going to take time, but focus on JUST ONE THING to support your co-parent on. And ask them to do the same for you. You do not have to like it. But you need to present solidarity to your kid. Don’t throw your co-parent under the bus. Just calmly tell your child that “Your mom and I have decided that you need to be in bed by 9 PM every night.” and then follow thru.
Check back in with your co-parent
After a week or two of following thru with 100% support of your co-parent’s top item, check back in with them and see how it is going for them. Any concerns? Are there any obstacles in the path that the two of you can trouble shoot together? How are they doing with your top request?
Stay positive in front of the kids
You may still be angry or hurt with your co-parent. But your child doesn’t need to know about it. It is our job as parents to protect them, not for them to protect us. So no passive-aggressive comments in front of them. Do not talk down about your parenting partner in front of them. Think whatever you want in your head, but don’t let it exit your mouth.
Instead, find a couple of good things about your co-parent and make sure your kid hears it. If dad has nixed all junk food, make sure they hear from you that “dad really loves you and wants to make sure you are making healthy choices.” If mom makes them sit at the table and complete all homework before playing they need to hear “mom really wants to make sure you are successful in school.” It may not be your method, but it doesn’t mean it is totally without merit.
Communication is Key
It can be difficult to communicate with your partner in parenting when there are unresolved hurts and angers. How do you think you can best communicate with your co-parent? If you can talk face to face, that is often the best. But it doesn’t work for all families. Maybe email is best. Or texting. If there are significant barriers then you could consider working with a mediator or family counselor. Try one thing, and if it doesn’t work, try another. Keep trying till you find a way to reliably communicate.
Know your boundaries
The honest truth is that you are only really in control over those things that happen on your own turf. It may be ideal and recommended that the children go to bed on a regular schedule, but you really only get to control when they get to go to bed at YOUR house.
Kids are much more flexible than we give them credit for. They are smart enough to understand your house, your rules. It is ok to cheerfully (and unapologetically) enforce the rules at your house even if they look different from what happens at school, daycare, mom’s house, or grandparents.
Hang in there. Parenting is tough. And co-parenting is tougher. But keep your eyes on the goal (your kids!) and put one foot in front of the other. You, and your child, will get thru this.
If you are struggling to figure out healthy sleep habits check out Healthy Sleep Habits for School. To help your child calm down you can try some simple tips with Help Your Child Find Their Calm.