Coparenting can be chaotic and fraught with conflict when one coparent expects you to drop everything to accommodate their demands. The parenting plan may be in place but your coparent doesn’t stick to it, chopping and changing parenting time and changing pick up and drop off times. This makes it very chaotic for you, but especially for the kids. This type of environment where kids have routines disrupted can make them become very anxious and struggle with the shared parenting arrangements.
Your children may be expecting Dad to pick them up from school to stay at his house tonight but the school receives a message from the mother to request the teacher pass on a message to the kids to advise that mum is picking them up today instead. The kids are left wondering if they are still staying at Dad’s or going home with mum. The kids feel in a state of limbo uncertain of what is going to happen.
Dad is supposed to drop the kids off at school in the morning but yet again calls mum saying he can’t do it now as he has to go to work early. Mum is stressed, hurriedly gets ready, picks up the kids from Dad’s, drops them at school, then continues on to her own workplace. No time to pack any lunches so scrambles to see if she has sufficient money in her purse to give the kids so they can buy lunch. Mum gets to work frazzled before she even starts her day and the kids are caught up in the chaos going to school stressed after a frantic morning.
Mum calls the kids and tells them she will be picking them up a day earlier on Friday as she is taking them away for the weekend leaving Dad unaware of the changes. Dad had told the kids they were going to the movies and out to dinner that night. The kids don’t know who to believe and left confused on where they will be on Friday night, as they thought it was with Dad, and now could possibly be with mum.
Dad is supposed to pick the son up from soccer training but the coach calls the mum saying he and your child have been waiting half an hour for the Dad to pick him up. You feel angry your son has been let down, grab the car keys and drive off to collect your son. As you arrive you see your son and the coach standing at the empty field in the cold on their own. Your son looks sad that he had been forgotten to be picked up when all his mates parents came on time to collect them.
You decide this constant chaos has to stop as it isn’t good for you or the kids. So, you decide you are going to set boundaries to create structure and routine that needs to be adhered to, so everyone knows what is going to happen and when.
In your attempts to stick to the parenting plan and stop the chopping and changing, you find that your coparent starts accusing you of emotional abuse. They say you are controlling, not working together as coparents. Your coparent starts to bombard you with calls, texts and even gets the school involved to outline that you are unreliable, not supportive and that they should only deal with your coparent in regards to the children. You feel as though you are in a helpless situation as you want to bring calm to your chaos but setting boundaries has been like throwing fuel on the fire. The conflict has escalated and threats of withholding the children as blackmail start so as to get you do what they want.
You reflect on your relationship pre-separation realising your ex was always demanding their own way and to keep the peace you accommodated. You wonder to yourself should you have just continued to keep the peace or break the cycle and set boundaries to modify behaviours to bring about a more collaborative parenting relationship.
Unfortunately, the situation may escalate to the point that you end up going down the legal path to get parenting orders in place which are legally binding. This can be costly, but trying to negotiate with your coparent seems untenable.
Avoid getting into this situation in the first place by ensuring you set boundaries AFTER you have consent orders in place so you have legally enforceable parenting arrangements. Setting boundaries to change someone’s behaviour without legally enforceable orders, amidst chaos and conflict can just escalate into an adversarial battle with your attempts to bring structure and routine resulting in accusations of control and emotional abuse.
Tread carefully, go through Family Dispute Resolution mediation with the key aim to help the children have a stable routine which you can both reach agreement, have a workable parenting plan and apply for consent orders BEFORE you set boundaries to adhere to the consent orders.
Author – Cheryl Duffy, Divorce Coach, Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner, NMAS Mediator & Parenting Coordinator