How To Deal with Your Kids When They Are with Their Co-Parent

By Brie Tucker, Contributor to No Guilt Mom

It’s 2pm on a Sunday. My phone rings.

It’s my daughter. Hmmmm…this is her week at her dad’s house. I wonder why she is calling? 

I pick it up and see her on the other end with her angry eyes, arms crossed, ready to fire off about some major injustice happening. This week, it’s because she was scolded in front of her friend for being up late and being loud (and thus keeping others up in the house) when she had a sleepover. 

Such a grave injustice in her eyes! Sigh. This is not the position I want to be in. 

I’ve only been divorced a couple of years… 

I’ll be honest. I’m still learning my way through everything and still learning how to deal with this.

However, based on my professional background in parenting and child development, I can confidently say that I have a few tools in my toolbox for situations such as this. 

In the very beginning, I struggled emotionally A LOT with these situations. My children would often call me on their week they were with their dad crying about one thing or another.  I was the primary parent during our marriage so this was what they were used to- you got hurt, you came to mom; you were sad, you came to mom, and so on.

I used to fight my motherly instinct to fix it and make it all better. Instead, I had to support them in a way to build a relationship with their dad. Or at the very least make them feel like they could talk to him. 

The Tip That Changed Everything!

A dear friend, fellow co-parent, and counselor gave me this great technique:  bring it back to the kids. Empower them to make their own decisions, thoughts and to speak for themselves. 

All this could be done by asking them one simple question: How do you feel about that? Or What do you think about that?

My daughter scuffed. She clearly wanted someone to agree that she was being treated unfairly. She wanted someone to sound the horns and go into battle with her. But that wasn’t going to be me. 

That couldn’t be me. 

No matter what my feelings are or were about her, her dad or the entire situation, my place was to help guide her through this moment.

I asked her, “What do you think about how things happened?”

She admitted that she might have been up late, but no one said she couldn’t be, and that she definitely wasn’t being loud. 

After about 10 minutes with a little more talking back and forth, she eventually came to her own conclusion that was much more level-headed. She felt confident to talk to her dad about what happened. Crisis averted.

READ: Four Steps to Deal with your Tween’s Next Mood Swing

4 Tools to Get You Through Co-Parenting Woes

1. Be there. Yes, this one seems like a no brainer, but it isn’t always. 

Co-Parenting brings in a whole new level of “boundaries” that you never even knew existed (but that’s for another post)! 

When they reach out to you, in any way, be there. Even if it’s just to ask what’s going on and then re-direct them to the co-parent they are with.  

Just knowing that you are still there is comforting. 

2. Reflective Listening. This is a technique I have been using for years (back when I started working with families and children in home visitation). 

When using this technique, your main goal is to understand what your child is trying to say. You ask them to share with you what they are calling about and it all starts there. 

Then, you just reflect back to them what you are hearing them say. For instance, if they say, “I’m so mad right now! Everyone hates me here! Evan came in my room, took my stuff and I am the one that got in trouble!” You would reflect what you are hearing them say “ Wow. that sounds really frustrating for you. You feel what happened wasn’t fair. Can you tell me more about what happened with you and Evan?” 

3. How do you feel about that? Or What do you think about that? 

These 2 phrases are very powerful. 

They bring the emotions and/or thoughts back to your child and take out your opinion in those lovely situations where you can see that you are clearly being led to the slaughter in the middle of your child and your co-parent. 

Remind your child that they are the one that controls their feelings and thoughts. No one else has that power.

READ: Teach Your Kids Feelings: 2 Activities You Can Do With Your Child

4. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. 

This starts by stating the obvious: There will be 2 different homes, 2 sets of rules and expectations, and your child needs to RESPECT the parent they are with. 

Even the very best co-parents will have some degree of differences in their homes. But the bottom line is that as long as your child is safe and you know that your child is not in danger, they need to respect the parent whose home they are in. 

It’s not your job to critique your co-parent’s rules and expectations. You can always speak to your co-parent at another time, and in private (not in front of the kids) where you can let them know of any concerns you may have. Realize that this feedback is not always welcome and may make the situation more strained for both you and your child. 

Now, I’m going to say it again, when it comes to co-parenting everyone has their own beliefs and everyone is dealing with a learning curve in the beginning. 

In the end, only time will tell if I was a successful co-parent, but at least I can look back and confidently say…well…I tried my best.

Do your kids put you in the middle with your co-parent? Here are 4 great tools to help you deal and help your kids to stop doing it.

Brie Tucker

COO/ Podcast Producer at No Guilt Mom
Brie Tucker has over 20 years of experience coaching parents with a background in early childhood and special needs. She holds a B.S. in Psychology from the University of Central Missouri and is certified in Positive Discipline as well as a Happiest Baby Educator.

She’s a divorced mom to two teenagers.

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