There can be a huge shift of trust, common sense and appreciation from when you parented together pre-separation to parenting after separation. Your coparent may be trying to undermine you and label you incompetent in an effort to gain an upper hand in the eyes of the court. It can be like walking on eggshells as if your ex is waiting to pounce to critique everything you do as a parent, waiting for you to slip up.
Accidents can happen with kids and can be accepted as such when you are in a relationship but when you split up it can turn into an accusation of negligence. This can have an adverse effect on your parenting, almost turning you into a helicopter parent hovering to ensure the kids don’t have a mishap that is going to be used to discredit you as a competent parent to jeopardise your parenting time.
The reaction of the other parent is heightened tenfold when you separate. You may have taken the kids to the beach, and you all got eaten alive by sand flies resulting in the kids been covered in bites. If that occurred whilst you were still together the other parent would have accepted that this is an unfortunate situation out of your control and if they had taken the kids to the beach, they may have had the same incident. Common sense, right? Well after separation, if the kids are dropped back to the other parent and the bites were discovered on the children you may find you are bombarded with abusive texts or phone call on how incompetent you were as a parent to let that happen!
As a parent, your own feeling of dread can occur when things like this happen overwhelming you as you know that the other parent is going to go off the deep end, interrogate you, chastise you and let you know what a bad parent they think you are. It seems so unfair.
There may have been an incident where your child has tried to take something out of the oven and accidently burnt the top of their hand on the rack causing a burn. You hurriedly run their hand under the cold running water whilst grappling for an ice pack out of the freezer, all the while fretting how the coparent is going to react. If this happened whilst you were together the other parent would help soothe and calm the situation knowing it was an accident. Now that you have separated it can escalate into a call to child services to investigate for negligence.
So how do you reduce the stress and the impact of your coparent’s reaction after an incident with your child?
There are 5 key tips to reduce coparenting conflict after child accidents;
1. Plan ahead
Have safety as a key priority on your mind to think ahead on what could happen to try and avoid it. For examples above, take insect repellent in your beach bag along with sunscreen whenever you go to the beach or the park and apply it to the kids when you arrive. Remind the kids if they need something taken out of the oven to ask you to do it to avoid an accident.
2. Take appropriate action
If an incident occurs ensure that you take action to try to remedy the situation such as obtain some medication for the sand fly bites or take the child to the medical centre or hospital based on degree of burn to get medical attention. Your action can make all the difference if you end up having to justify your actions to child services.
3. Future Mitigation
Replay the incident in your mind and think about how it could have been avoided so that you can reduce the risk of it occurring again. Most coparents want to be reassured that this won’t re-occur so it is vital that you have a strategy to articulate to them to de-escalate the situation.
4. Don’t try to hide it
The worst thing you can do is have the coparent discover the incident themselves. They are more likely to react if they find the child has bites all over their body or a burn mark on their hand. At handover, outline what has happened, what you did about it and how you will prevent it in the future. This can put the other parent’s mind at ease that this is an isolated case as measures will be put in place to avoid it happening in the future.
5. Reality Test Reaction
If you are the parent receiving the child at handover and there has been an incident where they may have got hurt, make sure you think about whether this could have happened to you too when the kids are in your care.
It is important to reflect on how the incident was handled, whether the parent took care of the child when the incident happened, has thought through how to avoid it in the future and how you may have reacted pre-separation.
Remind yourself that your coparent loves the children just as much as you do and accidents can occur with whichever parent the child is with. Always think that the other parent doesn’t intentionally allow the child to be hurt, accidents happen.
Remember, it can happen on your watch too!
Author - Cheryl Duffy, Divorce Coach, Mediator and Author