The custody agreement says that my son’s dad is supposed to have him home by 7 pm after their weekends together. But they’re never home by 7:00! Is it big deal? Well, sometimes it is, but in the big picture – probably not. After all, you’re both going to be raising this kid together for, oh, another 15 years. 15 minutes isn’t going to hurt a whole lot.
So what is a big deal, and what isn’t? To help you decide, first think about who it’s affecting most. Sure, some things your ex does may be annoying, but is it really affecting your child? Is it actually affecting their positive growth, or is just tweaking your ego. Sure, it may be both, but make sure when you pick your battles, it is about your number one priority – your child – and not your sensitive feelings.
To help you decide whether or not to pick your battle out of a certain topic, boil it down to this: What are you fighting for? Here are some common issues that come up for many co-parents and how to help you decide whether it’s a big deal or simple annoyances.
Annoyances v. Big Deals
Being on time: Everyone is late sometimes. And when your ex is late it can be really annoying. But most of the time you can just shrug it off as “that’s why we divorced” and there’s usually no harm done. But when it’s consistent it can be an interruption of the children’s schedules. And If it’s interrupting their schedule dramatically (e.g. affecting bed time, meal times, school, etc.) then now it’s getting into the realm of doing no good for your child and it’s probably time to pick your battle.
Choice of entertainment and screen time: It’s not unusual for one parent to allow more time watching movies and playing video games and to allow different content. Call it different strokes for different folks. But make sure the movies and games are age-appropriate and that you balance the screen time with other activities. If your ex is using screen time as a babysitter and they spend all their time watching inappropriate games or videos, it’s probably time to pick your battle.
Different rules: This can apply to simple things like screen time and bed time, but as kids get older it can also mean unsupervised social time outside the home. It’s important for each parent to respect the other’s lifestyle, but it’s even more important that children/adolescents experience consistency.
Switching times. Does your ex want to change times because his mom is coming to town? Probably not a crazy idea. In fact, you’d probably want to do something similar if you had family coming to town. But if he wants to switch times whenever something cool comes up, ready to forsake his time with the kid at the drop of a hat, now that’s a battle worth fighting.
So now what? You’ve decided that the issue is more than an annoyance and it is interrupting the consistency that is so important to your kids. Now it’s time to communicate adult to adult, business partner to business partner. Remember that this can’t be about your own emotions. Enter this conversation with a plan that supports your child’s needs – and not your own conveniences.
Communicating Tips When You Pick Your Battle
No “I” Statements!
There’ a time and a place for “I” statements (when communicating your own needs, for example), but this isn’t it. This is a time for child-centric statements only. Imagine your ex telling you what he or she needs/wants. You don’t really care, right? Well, it goes both ways. (This is why it’s important to figure out whether you’re picking the battle for your child or for your own ego beforehand because they don’t really care if it hurts your feelings). So when you’re faced with a situation that needs to change for the better of your child, here are some do’s and don’ts:
DO state the facts …
“It’s hard for Emily to get to sleep by 8 when you’re running late. You know how she is – he
struggles in school if she doesn’t get enough sleep the night before. Can we talk about it for a
DON’T make a complaint …
“I need him here on time because I need to get him in bed by 8. I don’t think you realize how much
we have to do and how stressful school nights can be!”
DO honor the things they share …
“It’s cool that you guys love watching scary movies together. I understand that’s your thing. But do
you think maybe some of them are too scary? She’s been having some pretty bad nightmares
DON’T disrespect their relationship …
“You need to stop with the scary movies. Do the research: she’s too young! Can’t you do
something else together?
DO respect each other’s values
“It concerns me that you and your new husband are taking our son to a new church. Can you help
me understand the church’s beliefs and practices?”
DON’T judge and control
“Our son doesn’t need another religion, he already has one, and besides that, do you even know
anything about this church?!”
It’s OK to be annoyed about your ex and efforts at co-parenting. In fact, it’s normal. You’re human. But your ex doesn’t need to know about it. And neither do the kids, because nothing good comes of it. Need to vent? Not a problem. Tell your mom or your best friend or your sister.
But sometimes it is necessary to stand up for what you know is best for your child, and when that happens, leave the “I” statements behind, pack away the emotions, and stick to the facts. Use this as an opportunity to show your children that despite differences in values and opinions, you and your ex can still work as a team.
About the Author:
Tim Mullins has worked with adolescents and their families for nearly ten years as a high school teacher and administrator, He is currently works as a behavioral therapist, providing therapy to adolescents with developmental disabilities and is currently completing his Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy at Regis University.