High-conflict co-parents are defined as those who cannot fit into the roughly 30 percent who are cooperative (flexible with ease in communication and negotiation) or the roughly 50 percent who can achieve a parallel style (following the court-ordered plan with minimal communication, negotiation or flexibility). The conflicted 20 percent are those we professionals try to move into one of the other categories. Getting the 20 percent to move into a healthier category is not rocket science, but it does require a formula that at least one parent must follow. I’ve dedicated this post to the “secret sauce” and I hope you’ll share it with everyone you think might need it. It works but requires someone to make the changes. Here goes:
When you don’t know what to do about your co-parent’s behavior, choices, words, etc., follow this recipe:
- Obedience: Do what the court order says (at least on your end).
- Protection: If it’s not in the court order, the order is unclear, or the other parent refuses to follow it, make whatever choice is necessary to ENSURE that the children have no idea there is a conflict. That means you might have to give something up in the moment for their sake.
- Counsel: If the choice you made in response feels so unfair that you can’t live with it, then talk to your attorney, DFCS, your parenting coordinator, your therapist, or whoever you go to for complaints against your ex. If it’s not life and death, none of them seem too interested, or it’s going to cost you more money than you have, then let it go. Your children will be fine because you chose to honor them and provide for their needs in the midst of conflict.
If you see court in your future and feel like you have to document these multiple violations against you, then don’t build your case against your ex in your communication with your ex! That will tank your co-parent relationship like quicksand. Instead, keep a legal “in case I need it” journal, complete with dates, times names, addresses, accusations and defenses. Your attorney might be interested in that if ever needed, but until then, make sure ALL your communication is civil, respectful and courteous. In response to a harsh opinion, say “Thank you for letting me know.” In response to a request you don’t want to say yes to, say, “Thanks for asking, but we’re not good at flexibility. Let’s just stick to the parenting plan.” You don’t have to be mean and you don’t have to give in unless it’s something you think the kids need. Yes, I know. It would be nice if the other parent would do better by your kids, but they are saying the same thing about you.
This recipe is probably not very appealing to you (because you are hoping the OTHER parent can be fixed), but if you will train your brain to memorize the secret sauce, it will probably add ten years to your life. Embrace life!