Parallel Parenting: When Co-Parenting With An Unreasonable Ex Doesn't Work
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By Allison Wright, Guest Author - September 28, 2016

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In an ideal world, co-parenting would work for everyone. But it doesn’t work for everyone. And it didn’t work for me. Sometimes even our best efforts leave nothing but damage in its wake. Navigating the waters of co-parenting with an unwilling partner isn’t worth the fight.

 

You know the old saying “up the creek without a paddle.” Now, what if you had the appropriate number of paddles but your canoeing partner purposefully decides not to use his? No matter how good you may be at paddling your canoe, it will be very difficult to reach your destination if your partner never sticks his paddle in the water, right? Or what if as you are trying to paddle for the both of you, he sticks his paddle straight down into the water in an attempt to stop all forward motion? You wouldn’t arrive at your finish line in this scenario either. Now imagine co-parenting with this person.

You share a child, maybe two, maybe more. Maybe you have joint custody or maybe shared 50/50 custody. Maybe it’s been months since your divorce, or maybe it's been years. But no matter how hard you try, you just can’t get along with one another. As a result, you are incapable of working together to raise your kids in your now-separate households. And worse, your ex now appears to be purposefully sabotaging your co-parenting efforts just to spite your efforts.

Your ex doesn’t care that you’re attempting to reasonably co-parent with him. He’s not concerned about what’s in the best interest of the kids. He responds by saying you are trying to “control” him and control what goes on at his house. And all you did was suggest that the kids should have similar bedtimes in both homes, after finding out they don't have a bedtime at his house. It doesn’t matter to him that you were trying to provide consistency between the two homes as the kids adjust to their new post-divorce lives. It just doesn’t matter. And on it goes. 

You’ve been told by your therapist that you’re doing all the right things in your attempts to co-parent. You feel relieved and reassured that it’s not you at the root of these problems. But you knew that. At your therapist’s recommendation, you email your ex requesting that you both see a mediator to help develop better co-parenting skills. Your ex refuses to go saying he doesn’t need help. Instead, your ex responds by yelling at you via email saying that you can’t tell him what to do! A brick wall. Another big, fat brick wall. Any suggestions you’ve made over the last few years have been shut down in a similar manner. At this point, your therapist advises that you stop responding to your ex’s harassing emails. 

So now what? Oh yeah, right enter, the lawyers. Your ex hires a lawyer to fight for him now that you have stopped responding to his combative emails. As a result, there are now judges and mediators telling you that you need to “learn” how to co-parent. "Figure it out," they say. They tell you to put aside your differences for the sake of the kids. They don’t care to understand that you’ve done just that, as well as about everything else in your power to make co-parenting work and that it’s your ex who needs the lesson. They believe the failing co-parenting efforts are just as much your fault as they are his. And then they want nothing more to do with you. So if the courts refuse to get through to him, what chance will you ever have? 

You think you’ve been reasonable with your requests and suggestions made to your ex. Your ex doesn’t care.

You feel as though you’ve extended the proverbial olive branch time and time again to your ex. But your ex still doesn’t care.

You’ve even forgiven him for his shortcomings, but then wonder why you even bother. He doesn’t care. So why should you?

Ah, but you do, and you know why you bother. For the kids. You would move mountains for them, and that’s what this entire process feels like. Trying to move mountains from your tiny canoe while your ex back paddles. And since there doesn’t appear to be any olive branches heading your way anytime soon, you paddle on.

But do you have to?

There has to be a point when you can stop co-parenting without feeling like you've failed, doesn’t there?

A point when you know that by doing so, it doesn’t mean you’ve given up on parenting. A point when you stop paddling your 2-person canoe in circles and buy yourself a kayak for one!

Contrary to what judges and mediators may believe and contrary to what you feel you should do (by society’s norms), you don’t have to co-parent with your ex. If the above sounds at all familiar, stop spending your days frustrated and exhausted from your efforts. Really, it’s ok. Just let go. I tried everything and was confident in the fact that I was doing everything to the best of my ability to make our co-parenting relationship work. But it wasn’t working. And I was beyond exhausted. So give yourself a break from it all, and find out if parallel parenting might be a better fit. 

One day, while scouring the internet on how to be a better co-parent, I came across a life-altering Huffington Post article by Virginia Gilbert about parallel parenting. I had never heard the term before and felt hopeful. In the article, Gilbert explained that it’s ok to have little to no communication with your ex. Less is more in a contentious situation. It’s also ok to keep your distance from your ex when at school functions or sports activities. She actually recommended it so that your kids aren’t further exposed to the tension between the two of you.

She also suggested letting go of what happens at your ex’s house. While I admit this one was hard for me initially, it was also very liberating. In fact, the entire article was liberating! Parallel parenting was an actual thing! I felt as though I had been looking for it all of my life (well, all of my co-parenting life)! As I read the article, tears filled my eyes and I felt an overall sense of relief. My anxiety level immediately decreased. She was speaking to me. I was done trying to co-parent. And I was ok with it.

In an ideal world, co-parenting would work for everyone. But it doesn’t work for everyone. And it didn’t work for me. Sometimes even our best efforts leave nothing but damage in its wake. Navigating the waters of co-parenting with an unwilling partner isn’t worth the fight. Not for me or for my children. My kids are much better served by a mother who isn’t paddling around in circles and drowning in the whitewater of co-parenting. 

And if and when my ex ever decides to paddle his half of our canoe, I’ll be back in the co-parenting race. But for now, my kayak and I are navigating the waters of parallel parenting just fine. And that’s in the best interest of the kids any day.

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