Q. When my ex and I were together we had some pretty heated arguments. So, my question is, if we weren’t respectful when we were together, how do you expect us to be respectful now that we have broken up? He badmouths me constantly. Co-parenting is next to impossible so, I suggested co-parenting counseling. I doubt we can sit through it, though. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. Your entire question is just a big red flag telling us that you have lost sight of what’s important. You sound as if you think you don’t have control over how you act, when, of course, you do. The devil did not make you do it. You and your ex are adults with brains, and you can work through a problem without losing it if you choose to.
This is where angry parents tell me they just can’t do it. “The guy drives me so crazy; he pushes every button I have.”
But, you can control yourself. Do you swear like a sailor in front of your kids? Are you rude to the checker at the grocery store for no reason? Do you mouth off at your boss?
Probably not. So the truth is, you can control yourself when it serves you. You know the right thing to do.
People who want to get along do. People who don’t want to get along don’t.
The first thing you must do is stop making it about you and your ex and make it about the children. (Ex-Etiquette for Parents rule #1 is, “Put the children first.”) They depend on you for a healthy, safe, environment. From what you have told me, you’re letting your children down.
If you “co-parent,” that tells me you have a court order that requires your children to go back and forth between your homes. That means your kids have to listen to their parents fight and argue with each other, on a weekly, possibly a daily basis. They have no positive role model for a lasting, loving relationship. Their parents are too wrapped up in perpetuating their drama and they are left to fend for themselves.
Let me bring it home so you can really think about this — and share it with your ex.
Studies show that children who witness arguing and fighting as you describe actually face developmental consequences. They won’t forget as they get older. Domestic violence alters their brain development. It’s even more dramatic in infants. An infant’s brain and stress-related systems are particularly susceptible to environmental stimuli. Exposure to intimate partner violence (IPV) during infancy disrupts the infant’s emotional and cognitive development.
So, knowing that, do you still think it’s impossible to properly co-parent?
Kudos to you for suggesting co-parenting counseling. Searching for help from a professional when you need direction is the right and honorable thing to do. A co-parenting counselor will give you tools to better communicate so you can problem-solve on your own in the name of your children. You have the power to turn this around. Do it for your kids. That’s good ex-etiquette.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com.