Raising children with another person can be unbelievably stressful. Despite our best efforts to be sensitive to another person’s parenting style or preferred method of discipline, aligning one’s values with the other parent when both parents have strong opinions of the “right” or “wrong” way to rear children can be tricky.
While parties who don’t have children together can effectively sever ties (absent a financial obligation to the other party), this is an impossibility for parents. What was once a “bundle of joy” may now be a ball of stress, especially if decisions cannot be made for the best interest of their child.
In Illinois, parents are presumed to be fit to co-parent absent the existence of an impediment to this presumption. I have many clients who complain that their former partner is “impossible” to co-parent with, that co-parenting with a difficult partner seems like an oxymoron, and that seeking sole decision making on behalf of the child or children is the only option.
Is all lost in the face of a difficult parent? If conflict has abounded during the period of separation or thereafter, is sole decision-making the only option? I do not believe so. In fact, through a plethora of tools and approaches, co-parenting with the difficult parent can happen. It is not without tension and the need for taking (many) deep breaths, but it is feasible with the help of a few tools.
1. Centralize. While texting is quick and efficient, tone often gets lost over text. How many times have we interpreted a perfectly benign comment as an insult? Texting between separated parents, though perhaps necessary in the event of an emergency, begs for conflict.
Luckily, a number of online tools are available for separated parents where communication can be centralized and monitored. I encourage parents to use websites like OurFamilyWizard.com and Talkingparents.com, where messages are stored and it is possible to see if a parent has viewed a message and when. On top of this, OurFamilyWizard.com can analyze messages before they are sent to identify inflammatory language and suggest alternative words that will diffuse a message.
2. Organize. In addition to using centralized communication portals, where parents can share a calendar and even upload receipts for reimbursement of expenses, parents can avoid conflict by being organized in what they communicate with one another. When sending an email, stick to one topic per thread to ensure matters are addressed separately. While it may seem cumbersome to break down subjects into several emails each, there is less of a risk of misinterpretation or finger pointing when decisions need to be made.
3. Diffuse. Parenting coordinators are professionals who assist parents with resolving disputes without the need to go to court, unless a party disagrees with the parenting coordinator’s suggested resolution and needs a judge to weigh in. Considered a “mediator with teeth,” parenting coordinators are governed by circuit court rules and appointed by court order that includes very specific terms regarding the types of decisions he or she will make for the parties. In addition to immediate resolution of conflict when a decision has to be made (versus litigation, which can take months to resolve with the courts’ full calendars), the cost savings can be significant.
Whether parents to toddlers or teens, separated parties can raise children together in a less conflict-ridden manner than one might think, provided there is a commitment to working through differences and taking advantage of the tools out there to do so.