How to Co-Parent when Your Co-Parent Won’t Cooperate

From the moment you and your spouse said “I don’t” to your marriage, your children became confused, sad, angry and perhaps even traumatized.

Why then do so many divorced parents spend their time and energy on getting back at their ex and “sticking it to them” as best they can? This only magnifies the impact on these young wounded souls.

In an ideal situation—and yes, they do exist—the two parents agree to put aside all anger and animosity towards each other. They prioritize the best interest of the children. This cooperation and compromise takes an undesirable situation and makes it workable.

Now, let’s look at what co-parenting is not:

  • It is not a sharing of decisions (you obviously couldn’t agree, what makes you or the courts think that’s going to start now?)
  • It is not one parent in complete control, making up the rules and expecting the other parent to follow.
  • Co-parenting is not capitalizing on confused feelings that your child has about your ex-spouse.
  • It is not a competition. There are no winners here, because when you making winning your focus, your children lose.
  • Co-parenting is also not pretending that everything is still normal by having your ex join you in activities. Although the intentions may be good, this attempt to pretend that things haven’t changed only confuses the children and prevents the ex from being able to move on.

What happens when a co-parent can’t seem to separate your marital past from your current parental relationship? She assumes that because you weren’t the marital partner she needed, you are incapable of being a good parent. I see this often and can attest that most of the time, the criticized party turns out to be a great parent once he is released from the constant scrutiny that took place in the marriage.

What do you do when no matter how amicable you try to be, your ex-spouse treats you with animosity? This happens in a higher percentage of divorces than I would like to admit. These ex-spouses cannot seem to interact without an argument or physical altercation taking place. Everything is a battle, and court motions and legal battles seem to become a hobby. In these cases there seems to be a desperate attempt to punish the other. But It’s not the grown-up who gets hurt. It’s the children.

Here are the best tips I have to offer for those who find themselves trying to co-parent with someone who seems more interested in doing battle.

  1. Resist getting defensive. Nothing good ever came from two people acting the fool and arguing.  If your ex is the abusive attacking type, put on your armor of protection and let it bounce off of you.  Easier said than done, yes, but with practice you will come to realize that this person’s dysfunction and inability to communicate is not worth you surrendering your peace.
  2. Keep trying. I can hear your thoughts now: Are you crazy, you have no idea how nasty this person is. She will just laugh at me, no matter what I say or do. To that I say, you are probably right and I could probably say the same for you. You are here for the children right?  Trust me, you have more influence than you think. Your ex-spouse wouldn’t be acting so argumentative and defensive if what you had to say didn’t bother her. Keep pressing forward.
  3. Don’t use the children as messengers. Do not use your children to deliver messages to your ex-spouse. It’s not their responsibility and only puts them in the middle. If your ex refuses to speak with you, than he or she won’t get the information. It’s that simple.

Your efforts to co-parent cooperatively may fall on deaf ears, but I assure you that trying is better than adopting your ex-spouse’s mentality. In the meantime, create a loving home for your children. Remember that your children are confused and disrupted, so set boundaries for them so they can regain a sense of knowing what to expect. Gently reminding them of the difference between the homes will help in their feeling loved and cared for.


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