Keeping it about the kids: 'My ex never sticks to the arrangements'
In a recent blog, I wrote about the most common complaint I receive from Dads, namely their ex is restricting access to the children and they need help.
This time I am turning to another common complaint I receive, often from Mums: ‘My ex never sticks to the arrangements.’ Mum usually goes on to say that Dad isn’t reliable, comes and goes from the children’s lives and doesn’t put the children first. Sometimes she will say that she has stopped the children seeing their Dad in order to protect them.
I completely understand how hard it can be - it’s a parent’s instinct to protect their children from hurt. It’s natural to feel angry and frustrated if your ex is unreliable, but it’s how you choose to respond to this sort of behaviour that is so crucial.
Be respectful. Communicate politely and reasonably. Don’t bad mouth the other parent. Do all you can to allow your children to establish and keep a good relationship with their other parent. Maintain reasonable boundaries to look after yourself.
Here are some more tips to help in these circumstances:
You can’t force the other person to be a good parent
Sometimes a parent comes to see me and wants to go to court to insist that the other parent takes responsibility and sees their children more often. Unfortunately you can’t (even via the courts) force the other parent to be a good parent. You can force them to pay child maintenance, but that’s about it. You just have to work with what you have.
Support your children’s relationship with the other parent
Often parents will say to me, ‘it’s not my role to support the other parent to see their children.’ That may be true, but it is important to your children that you do all you can to support a relationship between them and the other parent, even if the other parent is not pulling their weight.
What are you protecting them from?
Where one parent is unreliable, the other parent often wants to shield the children from being let down. Sometimes that will be necessary but it is worth asking yourself what you are shielding them from and whether that is the best path. A child who has been consistently shielded from the unreliability of the other parent may misunderstand this shielding as either the other parent not caring about them, or end up demonising them as a bad person. You have to think very clearly about what you say to your children so that they do not get a false view of the situation.
Don’t expect the other parent to change (and then they just might…)
Often parents will tell me that their ex has always been unreliable and never helped much with childcare. So I wonder why they expect that person suddenly to change? Often, they won’t. You have to meet them where they are and adjust your expectations. That might not feel fair, but you have to keep in the front of your mind that you are doing this for your children. This doesn’t mean that you don’t set boundaries around what is reasonable and what is not, or that you should become a victim to your ex’s unreliability. It is more about managing your expectations and planning accordingly. For example, if the other parent is always late for handovers, why not arrange to meet in the park where the children can play while you are waiting. Expect the other parent to be late. Work out your boundaries and communicate them – for example, tell your ex, “I will wait for so many minutes and no longer. If you arrive after that time, I will have left.”
Never close the door on the other parent stepping up to their parenting responsibilities
Often parents will moan to me that the other parent has never been interested in seeing the children regularly until suddenly they have met a new partner and now they want to ‘play happy families.’ I know it can be really annoying when this happens. Especially if you have been bearing the load for some time and things have settled into an easy pattern with you and the children. But children need both parents and they need to know both parents love them. So just because it has taken one parent a little while to realise how important this is, don’t shut them out when they do. You are doing it for your children, after all.
Behave respectfully to the other parent, support them as a parent and don’t bad mouth them
However the other parent behaves towards you, you can be the bigger person. You may not be able to control what the other parent does, but you can control how you respond. So, if your ex has behaved or communicated badly, pause before you respond and choose the best response. When choosing your response ask yourself whether what has happened will matter in six months? If not, let it go. If it does matter, then ask yourself how your response will impact your children both now and in the future.
It is normal for tensions to be high immediately after separation and often for some time afterwards. But in the majority of cases, once things have settled down, parents work together to do the best for their children. Parents who are respectful, who communicate politely and respectfully, who don’t bad mouth the other parent and who do what they say they will do, are far more likely to create a good co-parenting relationship. Of course this isn’t always easy, who said it would be? But it gets easier as time goes by and our children will thank us for getting it right for them.
Mediation can be a helpful to have discussion about sticking to the arrangements in a way that ‘Keeps it about the Kids’. If you think mediation might be helpful to you, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call on 07706 513496.