Co-parenting woes
November 2, 2015 2:43 PM   Subscribe

I've read The Co-Parenting Handbook and Raising the Kid You Love With the Ex You Hate and I'm in therapy, but God help me, co-parenting sucks. Please help me.

Please tell me it will get better because right now, year one, co-parenting sucks. Having to authorize all financial decisions sucks [I can't afford to just pay for everything myself]. Having to authorize all non-emergency medical decisions sucks. Ex is terrible at responding to time-sensitive requests and I have to remind/nag multiple times and both of those things suck. Having my kid at the other house half of the time eating crap, watching crap, and not doing her homework sucks. Not being able to rely on the other parent to get my kid to her extracurricular activities on time or at all sucks. Having to relay so much information (ex wouldn't bother reading the newsletter to know that Friday is food drive day or that November 15 is a field trip and kids need to wear boots and a raincoat) sucks. And yes we use shared calendars and spreadsheets and things.

At the core of this is that ex has a tremendous amount of power over me and there is nothing that I can do about it but the day to day sucks too.

Will this get better or do I have another decade of this? What can I do to make things better for me? Multiple people have told me that I need to let ex fail and feel the brunt of their screw ups. I've tried to let little screw ups go, but I can't bear to have my kid suffer majorly [miss an important concert, for example] because her parent screwed up. And somehow the screw up repercussions don't seem to matter to ex. "Kid was upset that she was the only one without X today" doesn't hurt ex.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Anecdotally I can unfortunately report that you could well have another decade of this. It may or may not get better but the only thing you can change is your stress-response to it. Assume it will never get better - how will *you* deal with that? Because that's how your kid is learning to deal with difficult situations.

I can't bear to have my kid suffer majorly [miss an important concert, for example] because her parent screwed up.

For what it's worth, this won't make your kid suffer majorly. Not nearly as much as an upbringing filled with anxious parenting by one and power plays by the other. And it's better to have the kid's coach and teacher and friends and etc. recognize what's going on, and your kid have to accept it, than for you to run interference all the time and *you* be the one disparaging the other parent.

The reality is that your kid's other parent is not in sync with you. That probably contributed to your not being together, and it's probably not going to change.
posted by headnsouth at 2:53 PM on November 2, 2015 [19 favorites]

What you are describing does not sound like co-parenting. Seek legal advice. I can't think of any other advice.

If you entirely went through mediation, find a family law attorney to help you correct whatever went wrong in your agreement. This is entirely too much work on your side. I'm sorry you have to go through this. The bright side is that the short-term hassle of hiring an attorney is easier than the long-term hassle of being your ex's secretary, whom he routinely ignores.
posted by jbenben at 2:54 PM on November 2, 2015 [12 favorites]

Go back to court, get full legal custody, and arrange your ex's visitation days around times in your kid's schedule when their halfassed parenting will cause the least damage.

I'm sorry I don't have a better answer.
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:05 PM on November 2, 2015 [17 favorites]

What I suggest is that you talk to a lawyer and fix the things you can fix.

"Having to authorize all financial decisions sucks [I can't afford to just pay for everything myself]."

Change this by averaging out costs for the last 6 months/year or so and just asking him to pay more child support up-front or monthly. If he's lazy he'll prefer this anyway, so frame it as you not wanting to stress him out.

Having to authorize all non-emergency medical decisions sucks.

You should switch this to a "parent who is with the kid gets the medical care and informs the other parent". It's a totally legit way to do it. This kind of authorization stuff is really silly and bad for the kid, because she suffers while you wait for each other.

We started as more co-parenting and making decisions together and it's too stressful for us, so we have clearly delineated areas where we make decisions (I make all the medical and school-related decisions, he does more of the day-to-day things like costumes and field trips.) Other than those things that require us both to okay them (surgery, body modification, out-of-the-country trips), when the kid is with the other parent, they are with that parent, barring an emergency. This is what you should try to achieve legally.

As for the other stuff, you might just let it go for now (let her go to school unprepared) AND start documenting the no-homework-doing, the no extracurriculars thing, and the not being adequately prepared for school stuff.

You then, after this continues to break her heart (I AM SO SORRY), can consider pushing for a change so that you have school-time custody all the time. But be aware that it sucks to just be the responsible-time parent and have the other parent get summer/weekend/fun time.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 3:12 PM on November 2, 2015 [6 favorites]

My mom wasn't good at taking care of shit. I went to school without lunch money (and never a packed lunch), never was dressed for picture day, showed up a day late for a birthday party, didn't have field trip permissions, etc. It was just how it was.
If someone made me feel like some kind of victim I feel like I would have felt sorry for myself and I think would be affected today.
I became resilient and learned to figure stuff out for myself. Help your daughter help herself and come up with solutions. I switched school 8 times and wore the same pair of pants everyday to school in the 7th grade because my mom didn't go get the school uniform.
I'm fine. Better than fine. So many friends can't deal with any disappointment in life. Can't bounce back. I have learned to plan for more than just the desired outcome.

Help her bounce back from little disappointments and you take care of the big ones.

She doesn't want to hear your ex is a screw-up that sucks. When he screws up I think the response to her should be an eyeroll and a cheery "You know how your dad can be! Why don't we fix this together?". When she's old enough add "Remind dad about xyz". As long as she's safe I think this will only make her a more capable human.

I had to purposely forget my kid's backpack at home so he wouldn't assume I was going to take it every time. Now he remembers.
posted by ReluctantViking at 3:43 PM on November 2, 2015 [34 favorites]

No solution, but some ideas:

Lower your standards about random school events. Remind him of really important things, like concerts, but not stuff like food drive day (because really, it's not a big deal, and schools ask way too much of working parents in many ways). If not doing homework isn't keeping her from learning, it doesn't matter. If it does mean she has trouble keeping up (very rare in grade school, but maybe) then that would be something you'd need to consider getting a court to enforce.

Your kid will decide if this stuff is important enough to her to remind him of on her own. It sucks but isn't the worst thing in the world.

I don't get child support. My ex and I keep a joint account we can both draw from for joint expenses (like orthodontia).

Reducing the number of transitions makes my life easier, first because I don't have to see the %$ as often, second because when he messes up he's more likely to have to deal with the fallout. We each keep our kids for a week at a time.

Reduce the amount of power he has over you in as many ways possible. For example, I started dropping the kids off at his place rather than having him pick them up so I didn't have to wait around for him. Make doctor and dentist appointments for them on your own time. If you always have the kids on certain days a week, sign her up for the extracurriculars you care about on those days.

A lot of it is a psychological shift. Don't let him get to you, basically, and brainstorm ways to minimize his impact on your life as much as possible.
posted by metasarah at 3:54 PM on November 2, 2015 [11 favorites]

I have been co-parenting with a man similar to your ex for 10 years. In some ways, it has gotten better- mainly because my kids are big now and navigate a lot of the stuff I used to have to do for themselves. If they want to get to a party, or have something important they need to buy and I can't afford it, they ask their dad directly. In some ways, things are still the same in terms of how he chooses to communicate and how he makes decisions without talking to me about them. I don't care as much anymore, and things are not as critical as they once seemed. For me, the best (but also the saddest) thing for me, is that my kids know exactly who their dad is, and what they can expect from him. I bit my tongue until it bled when they were younger to not say anything negative about him (I was the child of divorce, and my mom's constant belittling of my father only made me romanticize him, despite him not having any involvement in my life), and it has paid off in the long run. This is both positive and negative for them-they know he is a jerk, but they love him and know what they can count on him for, their relationship with him is all theirs.

I said this in another post on metafilter, but you can go back to court and fight, and get things in writing, and make agreements, but there are no divorce police who help enforce those things. The best thing to do is think about what is best for your kids right now, and try and do that. It does get better, but you are attached to this man forever- eventually you might have grandkids with him.Also, I recommend finding some single parent friends in the same boat. My single parent friends are my saving graces- we text all the time about our exes. It is great to have someone else who relates, and a safe place to air our frustrations.
posted by momochan at 5:38 PM on November 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

It sounds like there's a good reason you divorced your ex.

Can you reframe it in your head that you are the primary parent, and he is more like the babysitter? Or the relief teacher? So you do all the planning and you ex is responsible for keeping your kid alive and reasonably happy. No, it's not fair, but I'm guessing that this is exactly what it was like when the two of you were together.

First, set up reminders from the calendar. Both reoccuring and one offs, so ex gets pinged 24 hours before something happens. Call your kid everyday at about homework time, and ask them what they are doing. Call before things like concerts and wish your kid luck (and check that your ex has remembered). But also, pick your battles. Food drive is not really that important, whilst concerts are.
posted by kjs4 at 9:35 PM on November 2, 2015

I have no clue on parenting, but what comes to mind for me is that you are just going to have to let go and let the ex fuck up and fuck up your kid's life to some degree, because you can't stop or control it. You're gonna have to let your kid suffer because you can't yank all power out of your ex's hands and take the wheel. That's just how it is. I know it sucks. But the eating and watching crap thing won't kill her (probably). I don't know how old your child is, but the older she gets, the more that flaking on homework isn't so doable, and SHE will have to take charge of herself. I think ReluctantViking has it down: shit like that happened and it was just how it was, and eventually RV learned how to be his/her own parent. Which is something your daughter will have to learn sooner than other sheltered little kids, but trust me, the kids who grow up fast because they had to instead of being pampered and spoiled (like myself, I'll admit) turn out as better adults, in order to compensate for who couldn't be one for her.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:48 PM on November 2, 2015

Agreed with the above - think of it as empowering your kid to deal with this stuff, because it probably won't change and she'll need to start dealing with it sooner or later, as she becomes more aware of her other parent's lack of care and how it affects her. If you can empower her, rather than sheltering her from it, constantly apologising for it, or constantly being anxious about it, you will set her up for later life.

Also, can you think of some ways to empower yourself? As people have suggested above, lawyering up and getting a better process in place for financial stuff would be good. But find ways to take back a little of that power you perceive your ex has. Perhaps try making a new start in some way - change something up, whether the situation or your outlook, hell move house or something if it would give you a bit of a page-turn.
posted by greenish at 3:52 AM on November 3, 2015

Having worked (as a lawyer) with new co-parents figuring out parenting agreements (and 'old' parents fighting over/rehashing them), I think that a real part of success is viscerally accepting that each person will not have the control over their kids' childhoods that they thought they would. Whether the co-parenting is the plan A or the plan B after a relationship didn't work out, that's still true.

I think it means to some degree accepting that it was you and not the kids who chose the co-parent, and/but that you'll all live out the consequences of that decision. I think that's pretty hard to stomach, both on the taking responsibility for choosing the co-parent end and on the kids living with/suffering for something they had no say in end. Also, accepting that it was the adults and not the kids who made the choice that co-parenting outside a romantic relationship was the better option than co-parenting in it, and really deeply trusting yourself that as hard as it may be sometimes, it was the right decision for your family. That means that all the headaches that it comes with are, in some sense, your chosen headaches (chosen above the headaches of continuing the romantic relationship and parenting in that context).

I think that once each parent has deeply accepted that the other parent (in almost every situation, an other parent that they themselves chose) will actually parent how they see fit and your kids will be parented in a way you did not choose, then it is possible to make the best of things without losing your mind. You may end up deciding that you need to go for full custody, but it's really important that you make that decision from an informed and emotionally 'squared' place, with a full understanding of the new risks, costs, variables, you are introducing.

If your daughter's dad had been capable of being the husband and father you wanted him to be, presumably you'd still be together. He will probably continue to disappoint you as a father as long as you continue to have expectations out of line with what he has shown himself to be capable of. You need to have the emotional and financial equilibrium to hash out some true priorities and and devote the resources *you choose* to them, and to accept the things that fall short.

I strongly recommend seeking out support from other parents in your situation who have been there, who are there, whom you can vent to and complain with and get perspective from, and from a therapist and a lawyer who can help support you and figure out what is important and urgent emotionally versus legally, what is actionable or not emotionally and legally, etc. If money is an issue this is a time to ask for help from whoever might help you with it. I really think that you're at a juncture where investing the money (for therapy, babysitting/respite, legal support) to get things sorted now will pay dividends and save you money in the future.

posted by Salamandrous at 5:00 AM on November 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

I'm just responding to the parts about your ex failing your daughter. I think that if you don't find a way to be less judgemental of ex, you're going to add lots of harm to your daughter and her mom. That harm is in addition to whatever harm you perceive him to be doing to her, and is your responsibility and optional. Your child will feel it if it's there, even if it's silent. By judgemental, I mean allowing yourself to decide how good or bad ex is on a given day, based on his actions or their outcomes. Your judgements won't have any effect on what your ex prioritizes. Communicated or not, you will not find them helpful as a training regimen. My advice is to focus on completely supporting your daughter 100% in building a loving relationship with dad. To resolve to only speak positively about him, and even to let that dominate your thinking about him. You can commiserate about the missed soccer practice, but not about what a jerk dad is, even if that's how your daughter starts the conversation sometimes.

As one possibility, learning a meditatation practice helps (helped me substantially anyway), but no matter what, it is hard to keep up. I think it's really key to moving on, though. I wish I'd let go of more more quickly, and I am doing hella better than I was at the stage where you are. It does get better.
posted by kroshka at 5:47 PM on November 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

I realized in retrospect the irony that my comment itself was pretty judgemental of your post. Sorry! Still hope there's something useful there once you clear out the attitude.
posted by kroshka at 6:40 PM on November 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hi! I am also a co-parent who hates their ex.

Occasionally, my ex gets into busy periods at work and she forgets to do things for the kid like make sure he is dressed properly for events at school on days she has him, does not plan properly to get him to sports stuff on time, or that he has his haircut, etc. Most of the times she is OK as a co-parent, tho.

When she gets into those busy periods and lets stuff go, i document all of it and send it to her in a text and an email and remind her to get her head in the game because she's letting the kid down through her lack of attention to parenting detail.

She usually gets super defensive (she's also very self-centered and a bit lazy at times), but ultimately, her behavior does change for the better. Yay guilt trips! Hope that helps!
posted by PsuDab93 at 9:48 AM on November 12, 2015

« Older Finished jury duty, how can I learn more about a...   |   This should have been an email. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.