Dealing with your ex can be unpleasant, but your emotions can reach a new level of fury when your children come back from visiting their dad repeating the negative things he said about you. First, breathe! Give yourself a time-out to calm down. Once you’ve cooled off, you must decide to put your children’s emotions first. Using children to get back at your ex hurts them the most. Commit yourself to taking the high road and avoid thrusting them in any emotional crossfire between you and your ex.
Create a child-centered relationship. Think of the relationship with your ex as a new one that is not about either of you, but centered on the needs of your children. Through co-parenting, children feel secure that the love of their parents will prevail despite changing circumstances. Through their parents’ modeling, they will learn to work effectively and peacefully solve problems.
Agree to avoid disparaging each other to your children. Do not allow the children to speak disrespectfully about the other parent. Parents who transfer their angry feelings toward their ex onto their children, create feelings of helplessness and insecurity. If you need to vent, find a neutral person to speak to away from your children.
Communicate directly with your ex to make peaceful, productive communication your highest goal. Although speaking with a person you would rather forget is difficult, don’t put your children in the middle of the conflict by using them as messengers to your ex. Never let any conversation digress into a discussion of your own, or your ex’s, needs.
Communicate in a business-like manner with your ex. Granted, you may feel like an angry associate in the beginning, but speak with him as you would a colleague. Be courteous and respectful. Instead of demands, use neutral language to frame your requests. Say, “Would you be willing…?" or “Can we try…?" Get outside help if necessary to stay calm and avoid allowing your ex to push your buttons.
Establish consistency in both homes. Although being exposed to different perspectives can be healthy for children, having the same expectations and rules at each home will avoid confusion. Remember, children like to test boundaries. Establish the same rules for important basics such as meals, bedtimes and off-limit activities and behaviors. If your child loses TV viewing privileges for misbehaving in your home, the same consequence should be followed at your ex's home.
- Learn to choose your battles. If the children's usual bedtime is 7:30 p.m., but they are allowed to stay up until 8 p.m. at your ex’s, don’t make a big deal over it. Learning to compromise will make co-parenting less stressful for everyone.
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