Becoming coparents can have you walking on eggshells as the consequence of your parenting can be used against you to social services and the court system.
You could be accused of emotional abuse, physical abuse or neglect which wouldn’t have happened pre-separation.
As parents our parenting styles may have been completely different, one parent may have been more of the disciplinarian whereas the other parent may be more laid back in letting the kids do what they want. For example, the disciplinarian parent could be travelling with the children on the train and may tell the kids off for running around and to sit back in their seat otherwise they won’t go to the beach and will have to return home. The children continue to run around, climbing over seats and annoying other passengers so the disciplinarian parent says “ok, if you can’t behave, we are going back home” and proceeds to usher the children off the train at the next stop to catch a return train home. The kids are upset and disappointed and when changeover occurs the children tell the laid-back parent what happened and start to cry. The laid-back parent is unhappy the children are upset and becomes protective thinking this is emotional abuse concluding the other parent has always been controlling. They may include this incident in their submission to court to portray the other parent as causing emotional abuse to the children whereas pre-separation the laid-back parent would have said to the disciplinarian parent “they are just kids playing, not mini adults” and proceed to console the children.
Another situation may occur where one parent may allow the kids to explore and try new things like skateboarding whereas the other parent may not allow the children to do skateboarding as they may fall off and hurt themselves. One day a parent allows their kids to ride on a friend’s skateboard in the park and the daughter, Sally falls off, breaking her arm. Sally is rushed to the hospital and the other parent is notified who meets them at the hospital. The other parent is so angry this has happened and says “Sally shouldn’t have been on a skateboard; how could you be so negligent” Once again this incident could be used in a submission to court to show how the children are not safe with the other parent or worse still social services contacted. If this incident occurred pre-separation, the parents may have argued about why Sally was allowed on the skateboard in the first place and concluded she wouldn’t be able to ride one in the future.
Another situation may be that one parent took the kids to the beach and forgot to put sunscreen on them. After a few hours at the beach, they returned home and both kids were red raw with sun burn and cried in pain as they couldn’t sleep. At changeover, the other parent saw the kids’ distress and their burnt bodies exclaiming to the other parent “You are so neglectful and not fit to be a parent”. This incident may then be used in their submission to court to demonstrate the risk of their safety being with the other parent or contact made with social services of neglect. Pre-separation the parent may have been angry that the other parent forgot to put sunscreen on the kids and say they can’t take them to the beach alone if they can’t be trusted to put sunscreen on but the incident wouldn’t be alerted to authorities.
Another situation may occur whereby a child is discovered to have bruises on them after changeover and the parent immediately suspects the other parent is physically abusing the child and reports to social services without even exploring what happened with the other parent. Pre-separation the parent would ask the other parent ‘Why has Johnny got bruises on his arm” and the other parent has the opportunity to explain what happened.
As coparents you can feel anxious on your coparenting time if your child gets upset or hurt as you feel there would be repercussions as the level of trust and perceived safety of the child has diminished with the demise of the relationship. Even parenting time may be withheld by a coparent or in negotiations for parenting time overnight stays are being disputed even though you have had the kids overnight on your own pre-separation but post-separation you feel you have to prove you can be trusted.
Often accusations put to court or social services are dismissed but the emotional damage endured, increased conflict and impact on the children can be irreparable.
As coparents, always reflect on how the other parent looked after the children pre-separation as your reality test for the kids spending time with the other parent. Through the children’s eyes see the special relationship and bond with each parent to be retained. Always consider how you may feel if your parenting was scrutinised and how it would make you feel before casting accusations.
Children deserve be to love and be loved by both parents.
A Parenting Coordinator can help you improve communication, resolve day to day disputes and increase parental alliance.
Author – Cheryl Duffy, Divorce Coach, Mediator & Parenting Coordinator