When Minnesota parents divorce or separate, their relationship doesn't end. Instead, it transforms from a romantic relationship into a co-parenting relationship, in which the children are the focus of the parents' interactions with each other.
Like parenting itself, co-parenting isn't easy, and it often doesn't come naturally. If couples experienced conflict over how to parent before they broke up, it's not going to automatically become easier when they're in two different households, with two different sets of rules and expectations. The main thing to remember is this: if trying to co-parent is difficult for parents, the experience is even more stressful for their kids.
Imagine that you work for a small business owned and managed by two partners who didn't get along but are both committed to the business. Because they have difficulty being together, they work on alternate days. Each partner operates according to his or her own set of rules, and expects you act in accordance with those rules. One boss doesn't mind if you take a long lunch or break, but insists all documents be neatly filed. The other boss isn't fussy about filing, but is very strict about how you manage your time. Their management styles differ in other ways as well, and they barely communicate with each other, relying on you to convey important messages back and forth.
Although you have one job, it feels like two, because of all the conflicting demands. You're constantly being criticized by one boss because of work you did to the other boss's specifications. Even when you're not being criticized, you're stressed out because you sense that each partner is upset with you for trying to please the other partner. Despite all of this, you care for both of your bosses and want to make them both happy, though this seems impossible.
Now: imagine that you are at work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, that you don't have the power to quit your job, and that you're dependent on your bosses for even the basic necessities of life. That's what it's like for a child whose parents can't work together to co-parent.
Successful co-parenting requires a realization that your relationship with your child's other parent is no longer about the two of you as a couple; your relationship is now a business relationship. That business is the successful raising of your child. You need to find ways to communicate effectively and cordially. You are entitled to have different house rules than your child's other parent does, but you and the other parent should take into account extra pressure and confusion that this may cause for your child. The focus, always, needs to be on what is best for your child, not the right to do things your way.
One way of handling this can be to establish a co-parenting plan, where you and your co-parent reach agreements about such things as bedtimes, homework routines, discipline, how decisions will be made about extracurricular activities, and any other details affecting your child's daily life. While it's not necessary to nail down every contingency, it can be helpful to get on the same page about issues that come up over and over again. Not only does this reduce stress for your child, but it can reduce stress for you as a parent, because you know that you won't have to get your child used to "your" rules again when she comes back from her other home. As an added bonus, if you and your co-parent are in agreement on issues, it will be harder for your child to play one of you against the other.
A difficult but necessary thing to do is to realize that your ex doesn't need to parent in the same way as you do. Obviously, truly harmful behavior can't be overlooked, but if your co-parent lets your child have a little more junk food or stay up a little later, it's probably not the end of the world. It can be tremendously freeing to let go of the feeling that you have to monitor every parenting choice your ex makes—and when you relax, your child's stress goes down as well.
No matter how you choose to work with your ex, the bottom line is that for co-parenting to work, parents have to love their child more than they hate each other.
Please contact us at Mundahl Law with any questions you have about establishing a co-parenting plan or taking other steps to be a better and happier co-parent. We look forward to working with you.