So you think you’re a good co-parent. It’s your spouse who has the problem. Take this test and see how you do.
- Do you have open conversations with the parent of your child? In order to really maintain consistency across households this requires open communication. You have to talk to the other parent. Find out how they do things at their house. Ideally, this is done face to face but if the divorce was acrimonious then give yourself a slightly lower rating for texting, email and voicemail messages.
- Do you have the same rules at both households? Children thrive with structure and routine. No matter where they are the same rules need to apply. You and the parent of your child need to come together and have mutual agreements about bedtime, chores, homework, computer time, and behaviors that are unacceptable in both households. If there is a pet that belongs to the child does it go back and forth between households? Do you share clothes or do you make your child change clothing before going to Dad’s house? Does the child’s iPad go back and forth or do you have separate iPads at each home? If you don’t know the answers to the basic questions about bedtime, allowed screen time, chores, and homework at your ex’s house then give yourself a pretty low rating. If you each have to have your own stuff for the child at your house then also give yourself a low rating for not being able to share. If you are consistent on all fronts give yourself a high rating. Research shows that children who are raised by two parents who have a unified parenting approach do better.
- Talking smack about the other parent. What would your child say about your opinion of their other parent? If the answer is Mom absolutely hates Dad and thinks he is the worst parent ever then Mom give yourself a low rating. When you criticize the other parent you are criticizing one-half of who your child is. Save the negative comments for private conversations with your best friend or therapist when you don’t have the children.
- Using your child as a pawn. Do you ask your child for every detail of what they did at Mom’s house over the weekend? Do you ask about minute details related to who Dad’s new girlfriend is? Do you tell your child to talk to the other parent about whether or not they can go to a rock concert instead of calling up the other parent yourself to discuss it? Do you tell your child to ask your Dad for lunch money because you don’t have it? This should be obvious but to the extent you use your child to get information or influence the other parent give yourself an F.
- How flexible are you? Do you agree to last minute changes in plans when special family members are in town and want to see your child? Do you agree to change nights when your child is sick and just wants to stay in bed? Do you insist on exchanges in the middle of a snowstorm? Are you as accommodating with your ex as you would like them to be with you?
- Do you have an extended family member plan? Do you agree on how/when grandparents, aunts, and uncles will see your child? Welcoming Grandma at Mom’s house but refusing to allow your child to see Grandma at Dad’s house is problem.
- Do you compromise? How often do you propose compromises, agree to compromises, or think about compromises when it comes to your children? Divorce is nothing but a big compromise and so is raising children.
- How stable are you? Do you purposefully play the role of the “fun” parent so that you are considered the cool Dad or do you try to follow Mom’s rules about bedtime, regular meals, and screen time? While it may be fun in the moment children need consistency and discipline. As their parent it’s up to you to provide a stable and consistent place to live, to work the same job, to do what you say you are going to do, to pay your child support, and to instill routines that are comfortable for your kids. While none of these things are fun it’s up to you to model good behavior for your children and your ex.