Virginia Coparenting Methods

Posted on Nov 3, 2023 by Katie Carter

I’ve never come across a parent who admits that he (or she) is deliberately making things difficult on the children.  No, almost every single parent I’ve met – including the opposing parties – insist that its all about the kids.

But it’s not as though there’s only one way to move through a separation, divorce, and whatever comes after.  It’s not as if there’s ONE, perfect, singular approach to coparenting, and that method reigns supreme.

Far from it.  Much like parenting for the rest of the world, parenting after divorce doesn’t come with a manual.  You – or your ex – may be coming to the table with some specific ideas about how coparenting should be navigated, but coparenting is not one of those things that one party can mandate on the other.

In fact, I find that, especially in really abusive cases, the dad takes a position that he insists is all about the kids – but is actually rooted in his desire to control the mother through the kids.

I recently came across a dad who was behaving in this exact way, which is what drove me to write to you today.

He wrote – publicly, on social media – that he reaches out to his child’s mother and asks that they hang out together at family events, that she share photos during her time with the child, that they get to know each other’s significant others, all in the name of family unity.  He’s just trying to be a dad, he says, but she doesn’t even answer his messages.

What gives?

I mean, obviously, in this instance, his approach is designed specifically to disparage mom and to make it look like he’s the good guy.  She, obviously, is not putting the child first.  Right?

On the surface, it might look like that – but its just not the case.

He, no matter his motive, does not get to mandate that coparenting looks this way.  Maybe it would be nice if coparenting COULD look this way, but oftentimes I see narcissistic or abusive dads use the kids as a way to continue to control the child’s mother even after divorce.  Though I can’t categorically state that this man is either narcissistic or abusive (though I may have my own private thoughts), its certainly clear that he can’t respect her (healthy!) boundaries.

You can’t think for a second why she might not want to even open those messages?  I mean, it probably has nothing to do with the public status updates condemning her choices.

You can coparent however you choose to coparent, and your child’s father does not get to take the power away from you to choose.  If the way he wants to do it is not healthy for you – or, worse, if its abusive towards you – that is not going to be in the child’s best interests anyway.  It’s okay to say no, to suggest alternatives or, failing that, to refuse to participate at all, beyond exactly what’s outlined in your custody agreement.

A couple suggestions?

  1. Consider parallel parenting.

Technically, the term coparenting refers to parents who work together.  Parallel parenting, on the other hand, is a ‘my house, my rules’ kind of approach to parenting, usually reserved for parties who don’t get on that well.

You don’t have to have mutual conversations about rules or boundaries or goals; you can parent you child on your parenting time, and that’s it.  Is it ideal?  Well, maybe not in an absolutely perfect world, but it may not be possible to perfectly coparent with your child’s father in your specific situation.  You do not have to continue to sacrifice yourself on the altar of the children.  You can establish separate, healthy, different boundaries – and enforce them.

Read up on coparenting strategies, and don’t be afraid to insist on or implement strategies that allow you to keep your own well being (and the well being of the children) in mind.  It’s not healthy for you or them to let him continue to control you post divorce in the spirit of doing things ‘for the kids’, when, in reality, it just gives him the power to continue to hurt you.

  1. Manage communication.

Just because he’s calling or texting or asking for updates or pictures or news doesn’t mean that you have to provide it.

In general, I think its wise to consider coparenting communication technology, including apps like Our Family Wizard.  That way, any communication – or things like calendar or form sharing – can take place in a format that prevents it from being used abusively against one parent.  You can give access to the app to your attorney, or even a Guardian ad litem, so that messages can be monitored.

You do not owe him immediate correspondence.  You can even insist that all correspondence be in writing, or that it relate to visitation exchanges only.  You do not have to share pictures or details about how you’ll be spending your parenting time.  You certainly do not owe him an accounting for how you’ve spent your child support.

‘No’ is a complete sentence.

  1. Visitation exchanges can take place at a police station or similar.

If you don’t feel safe, you can insist that visitation exchanges take place at a police station or some other public place where they’ll be recorded – and not by you.  You can record if you like, but I find that recording often just amplifies the situation.  If he’s recording, I’d just be super, super careful; in fact, I’d just kind of assume that he’s recording.

You don’t just have to accept the treatment.  He doesn’t get to dictate, any more than you do, how things will go down.  Coparenting is a joint effort.  In the event that you can’t work together, parallel parenting works just fine, too.

Don’t let him to continue to manipulate or abuse you under the guise of doing whatever’s best for the kids.  Seeing you set healthy boundaries and become the best version of yourself is definitely in the kids’ best interests, too!

For more information or to schedule a consultation, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.