Co-Parenting Tips for Challenging Times

Little girl sitting on her mother's lap and reading a book
August 28, 2019
|   updated:
July 9, 2023

In the course of your co-parenting days, you’re likely to encounter some difficult situations that you may not know how to handle. Below, you’ll find examples of co-parenting issues you may run into along with some suggested solutions. The Anecdotes are fictional but based upon actual experiences.

Managing Risk

Michelle wants to take her daughter skiing, but her ex is concerned about the possibility of injuries. He has never learned to ski, and it seems quite dangerous to him.

Conflicts can arise when co-parents have differing standards for safety. Maybe your ex-spouse is a bit of a helicopter parent, while you are more free-range. If this is the case, you are bound to have some differences of opinion about what your child should be allowed to do. The same goes if you are the one who tends toward the cautious side, while your ex is more adventurous. Co-parenting means that both parents must agree on what constitutes a reasonable risk. If you want your child to participate in an activity that carries some danger, consider how you might be able to lessen the risk. Doing so may help make it acceptable to your child’s other parent.

Handling Family Members

Holly has problems with her former mother-in-law, who tends to be opinionated. She prefers that her daughter does not hear some of her mother-in-law’s views, but the girl loves to spend time with her grandmother, who takes good care of her.

A parent needs to know that any family member who cares for their child is capable of doing it well. Also, a parent has the right to limit a child’s exposure to specific ideas and behavior. You and your child’s other parent should reach a consensus about members of your extended families and what roles they are allowed to play in your child’s life. A family member whom you don’t particularly like can still be a positive presence in your child’s life. Being exposed to different world views is a part of life, and children can learn to love other people without accepting all of their viewpoints. If you have a strong objection to someone in your ex’s family, the two of you can agree to limit your child’s exposure to that person.

Juggling New Relationships

Allie has a new love who is mature and responsible and gets along well with her son. One day Allie had a scheduling conflict and asked her boyfriend to drop off her son at her ex’s house. Her ex was angry that someone that he had not met was being allowed to transport his son.

When a parent gains a new significant other, even a good co-parenting relationship may have new issues to address. It’s immensely helpful if you and your ex have agreed not to introduce the children to casual dates. Still, the time may arrive when you have a relationship that is serious enough that keeping it separate from your child is no longer possible or desirable. At that point, you may want to introduce your new partner to your ex. Still, it may be wise to take it slow when it comes to delegating parent-type duties to the new person. Try to wait until the relationship has proven to be significant and lasting as well as for your ex to be fully on board. If it is your ex who is in a new relationship, try to talk calmly and objectively about integrating the new person into your child’s life.

Preparing for Awkward Meetings

Dale’s son has received a special award for his artwork. Dale wants to be there to see him receive it, but he knows that his son’s mom and all of her family will be there. He hasn’t seen his ex’s family since a series of heated exchanges during the time that his marriage was failing. He is tempted to skip the ceremony, but fears that he will regret it later.

When your child receives an honor or celebrates a milestone, the chances are that both you and your ex-spouse along with assorted family members will want to be there. For some occasions, such as graduations and band concerts, the audience may be large enough that everyone can attend without rubbing elbows with each other. That may not be possible at other times. Why not discuss the situation with your ex ahead of time? There are several possible courses of action. Everyone can agree to be friendly even if there are some lingering resentments. Another option is to greet the other family but avoid conversation. It’s best if you and your ex can agree upon the protocol ahead of time and share it with all who will be attending.

Sharing Financial Setbacks

Dennis is a salesperson in an industry that is in the midst of a downturn. His income has taken a big hit because of lost commissions and bonuses. His pride has taken a hit, too, and he’s trying to keep his ex from learning about his situation.

As difficult as it might be, you need to let your child’s other parent know about financial setbacks, especially if your child knows. It’s not right to expect a child to keep secrets from the other parent. Even if your child is too young to know, if the setback will affect your parenting, it’s best to share it with your ex-spouse. Be brief and matter-of-fact, and reassure your ex that you will continue to support your child financially to the best of your ability.

Avoiding Holiday Uproars

Jill asked to have her daughter on Thanksgiving because some out-of-state relatives were visiting. Her ex agreed. Since then he has made a series of other requests, always reminding Jill that he gave up Thanksgiving for her.

Holidays are always sticky situations, but who gets your child when should be clearly spelled out in your parenting agreement. If you alter the agreement, you and your ex should agree in advance what the alteration means. Does the parent who gave up the holiday get something else in return? Still, if there ever was a time to be extra considerate of your ex-spouse, the holidays may be it. Many times people are extra vulnerable emotionally around the holidays, and your co-parent will probably appreciate a little extra flexibility on your part.

Monitoring Alcohol Consumption

Liz’s marriage broke up in part because of her husband’s alcohol abuse. Since the divorce, they have managed most of the challenges of co-parenting, but she still has a hard time trusting him during his parenting time. She can’t shake off the worry that he will drink while he is in charge of their son.

Both parents should agree to limit their alcohol consumption or abstain altogether during parenting time. This can be a special concern if one of the parents has struggled with Alcohol Use Disorder. If your ex-spouse has been granted parenting time in spite of problems with alcohol, consider suggesting the use of a remote monitoring system such as Soberlink. Such a system allows the parent in question to demonstrate full sobriety or simply before and during parenting time. If you are the parent who has struggled with alcohol abuse, you may welcome the chance to show that you are being a responsible parent. Such a system can also help you resist temptation by making you accountable for your actions.

Summing Up

Your co-parenting skills may be challenged by situations like these, which you are likely to encounter sooner or later. If you and your child’s other parent have worked hard at co-parenting, everything will probably come out okay. But even if you stick to your parenting schedule and put your child first at all times, co-parenting may still be hard at times. Only two things are fairly certain: you and your ex will get better at it as you go along. And, for most of us, co-parenting is better than any alternative.

About the Author

Susan Adcox is a former teacher and a writer who specializes in generational issues, including parenting, grandparenting and family relationships.

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