The Problem Co-Parent

© Dr. Nodrick 2000  


Because of your joint parenting responsibilities, and the negative impact that enduring parental conflict has upon children, it is essential to find a way to manage your interactions with your former spouse so they are more productive and less upsetting for all. Following are some suggestions: 

  • Regard your former spouse as you would a business client, literally. Strive to deal with them in a mature, thoughtful, and business like manner.

  • Use your problem solving skills and powers of persuasion rather than emotions, to get where you need to go.

  • Treat the difficulty you’re having with your co-parent as a problem (which is solvable) rather than a catastrophe.

  • Remind yourself that finding a solution may take some time, but it’s worth it.

  • Ask yourself: “How else could I look at this situation?” A new “view” is very likely to produce a new solution.

  • Before jumping into an issue, ask yourself: “In what ways have I been/am I being a problem co-parent myself?” Consider the tone of your comments (hostile or sarcastic?), and your presentation (self-righteous? accusatory? impatient?). Effective communication is essential for any good relationship.

  • Chances are that you need to stop sniping and criticizing if you genuinely wish to be able to co-parent effectively.

  • Do ask yourself if you are still blaming your Ex for your emotions.

  • Don’t expect your co-parent’s way of relating to you to improve after you separate or divorce. It is likely to be more problematic for the first year or two.

  • Don’t “accept the invitation” when your co-parent attempts to draw you into a heated exchange. Do take a mental step backward and try to understand what is motivating his/her behaviour. Is it his/her failure to acknowledge the "death" of the bio-family?

  • Notify your co-parent that you will not participate in any conversations that involve yelling or profanity because to do so is unproductive and fosters ill will.

  • Be clear that you are open to resuming a discussion when things can be calm and remain calm.

  • Set limits if discussions are yielding more heat than light—leave the scene, hang up the phone, disconnect the answering machine, turn off the telephone ringer. Consider using a neutral third party.

  • If you feel physically threatened, promptly take the appropriate action. (For example, change your locks, get a restraining order, call the police, remove yourself and the children to a place of safety, etc.).

  • Don’t try to banish a problem co-parent from your or your children’s life.

  • Do appreciate that problem co-parents are often quite devoted to the children and, once a better co-parenting relationship has been established, you will be grateful for their involvement. 

The Under- Involved Parent  

  • Heads up. Once maintenance payments are being made, an under-involved co-parent is likely to want more involvement with the children.  

  • Recognize that children do need contact with their other bio-parent and will be disappointed, angered and possibly harmed by their absence, lateness, lack of interest, etc.  

  • If you suspect your co-parent’s lack of involvement is a ‘reaction’ to the divorce, explain this to your children. Let them know that it takes time for adults to adjust to a divorce too, but you are hopeful that things will come around in a few months when things have settled.  


The information contained on this page is for the personal use of stepfamily members visiting this web site. All other use, reproduction, distribution or storage of this work, in whole or in part, by any and all means, without the express written permission of the author, is strictly prohibited.


Stepfamily Foundation of Alberta