Even in the best of circumstances, co-parenting situations can quickly become inappropriate if the people involved become careless or presumptuous.
On top of that, maintaining a new relationship can be challenging since your personalities and boundaries are bound to clash.
The first step to avoiding inappropriate co-parenting behavior in the future is by clarifying those boundaries. You, your partner, your ex, and your children need to be especially mindful of one another’s expectations before acting.
Your children may not take to this situation well at first, so expect and empathize with their resistance. Don’t try to sell them on your new partner – let them decide this for themselves. Lastly, make sure everyone feels heard and respected by everyone else in the family!
Co-parenting situations can be a bumpy ride to navigate, but you’ll need a lot more than brute force and good intentions to see everyone through this in one piece. Inappropriate co-parenting situations need to be addressed for the sake of cultivating a healthy blended family dynamic.
Solving Inappropriate Co-Parenting While in a Relationship
1. Recognize and Respect Everyone’s Unique Positions
Early on, this budding family can be filled with a lot of tension.
It’s much too easy for the people involved to feel threatened by one another’s presence. This insecurity could lead to people lashing out impulsively, creating even more family problems.
You aren’t discussing your new relationship, or what you have with your ex now. It isn’t about who these people are relative to you, but what their role is in the family.
Your current partner isn’t there to replace your ex in this relationship, nor are they involved to usurp their position as the child’s “new” parent. Your ex deserves respect – even if your relationship has soured, you must at least acknowledge them as the mother or father of your child.
Establish that upfront with everyone quickly, as most inappropriate co-parenting behavior stems from a mix of impulsiveness and insecurity taking root and forcing people’s hands.
No matter the problem, it all ends the same way: everyone sitting down to talk it over like they should have to begin with!
Good co-parent boundaries need to be managed with civility, so save everyone the time, energy, and hostility and recognize that the children need all of you working together!
Dealing with Your Ex
The stress from this new situation might lead to one or both of you falling back into old habits – the ones you had as a couple in the past.
Do note that this behavior doesn’t need to be romantic or even sexual to count as inappropriate. Even some “light” casual banter may be too much at times.
You don’t have to be a robot here, but be sure to keep things professional. They aren’t your partner anymore. They can’t be your friend – not when both of you are on the clock as co-parents.
Discuss boundaries with them on how to care for your child together. Cover visitation schedules, education, future plans, etc. The two of you will likely make the bulk of the serious parenting decisions here, so work together closely but professionally.
Your current partner is being considerate of your unique position here, letting you keep in touch with your ex for the sake of your children. Don’t use that concession any more than you need to.
Even if you have no plans or intentions to go back with your ex, you want to make sure that your partner understands that it won’t even be a remote possibility – through actions, not just words!
Dealing with Your Partner
Parenting is something you have experience in – your current partner may not have the luxury. Even if they’re parents themselves, they won’t have a clue about how YOU parent kids!
Talk with your partner to hash out how much responsibility they want to handle, along with how they might approach dealing with them. If they want nothing to do with it, that’s acceptable too.
- What kind of presence will they have in your children’s lives, if at all?
- Would your new partner be expected to discipline the children?
- If so, what means would they be permitted to use?
- How do you expect them to handle navigating your ex if you aren’t available to mediate?
- Do they want to change anything in your current household ruleset?
- How are they advocating for this change?
Make sure that the two of you know exactly what to expect from one another. Your goal here is to ensure that your partner’s goals can be integrated into the plans you and your ex set.
If your partner doesn’t want to participate in raising the children, focus your questions on gauging their boundaries about your ex’s presence in your life.
- Is your partner okay if your ex had to drop in a few times a week to discuss terms?
- What kind of interactions with your ex make your partner feel uncomfortable?
- Would they be comfortable lending a hand if the situation demanded it?
You might be worried about probing too hard or making things awkward, but it’s better to get answers you don’t want early on – while you still have the time to plan around them.
2. Let Your Child Evaluate Your New Partner for Themselves
Your new partner will play a part in your child’s life – even if they have no interest in being a stepparent. They’ll be at your home often enough for your children to start asking questions.
It might seem tempting to keep those aspects of your life separate, but doing so would be grossly unfair to either your children or your partner. There’s no “splitting the difference” here, as one or the other will end up feeling distant and isolated from you.
Your partner doesn’t need to become a stepparent, but they can’t take you away from your children. Doing so would be pretty irresponsible, and would definitely tick off your ex!
It can feel scary joining those two different parts of your life together, but both parties deserve all you have to offer – not just the love you allocated for them.
Arranging the Meeting
Many people think home is a nice spot to introduce people – it’s a neutral, comfortable space. While that might be the case for some adults, it doesn’t apply to most children.
Many children view their homes as their emotional foundation – a safe, personal space reserved for family and friends, not strangers. Bringing your partner to meet your children at home might feel like a good idea, but you’d be grossly overstepping your children’s boundaries.
It doesn’t matter how much you trust and love either of them. For all intents and purposes, those two are strangers to one another. Even if they might hit it off, you can’t afford to rush the process!
You’d have better luck bringing them somewhere casually familiar instead – preferably somewhere communal too, like a restaurant or a nearby park.
Keep the first meeting brief, as you don’t want them to feel bombarded by information. All they need to know right now is who you’re dating, why you love them, and maybe a bit about who they are. Drip feed the rest of the details through other meetings to avoid overwhelming your children.
Accept the Resistance
Change is often scary, especially when people walking into it have no idea what to expect. Even adults hesitate here, so it’s natural for your children to harbor some resistance at first when it comes to your new partner. They’re still trying to make sense of this new, messy situation.
If your partner is half the person you believe them to be, they’ll easily win your children over. You just need to be patient – give the kids all the time and space they need to process their thoughts.
The best way to help them here is by validating their feelings – even ones you disagree with! Your child acting resistant isn’t exactly the best start, but it is part of the process. They’ll probably touch on why they’re so resistant, giving you the opportunity to talk them through those doubts.
Your children have yet to see a lot of what makes your partner lovable – a little skepticism is expected. Hear out their concerns, but encourage them to keep an open mind rather than influencing them towards adopting your own perspective.
You can’t brush aside your children’s concerns – they’ll just get postponed rather than settled, and will re-emerge as a bigger problem in the future. You don’t have to jump in to deal with them right here and now, but it’s always preferable to handle these situations sooner rather than later.
The Relationship at Home
While bringing these two parts of your life together is a necessary step, it’s important to be mindful of your pacing. You don’t want to risk making things awkward. Avoid displays of physical affection with your partner in front of your children – early on, that even includes hugs!
Your children need to get to know your partner as their own person. You can’t let your partner’s relationship with you dominate your kids’ profiling attempts, since they might just recognize your partner as either an extension of you or even just an extension of your relationship.
Be sure to give your children ample time, space, and security for them to see your partner for who they truly are. This process can’t be rushed, so bear with a little inconvenience for now.
Strive To Present a United Front
You can’t hope to move someone forward if you’re yanking them in every direction at once! Every family needs to present a strong, united front – and this goes double for blended ones!
Blended families need that organization to ensure mutual respect between all parties involved. While everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, they must ensure that no one involved is undermining anyone else’s authority, intentionally or otherwise.
Anything less than that risks creating sides, and the children involved will struggle to decide on whose authority they need to abide by. At worst, a lack of civility between ex-partners could lead to custody battles or other legal migraines. Remember that children suffer the most in this situation.
Everyone serving in authority roles needs to operate interdependently with one another. Be sure to back each other up as needed, never decide on someone else’s behalf, and keep disputes lowkey.
Handling Your Ex
Your role in your ex’s household – and their role in yours – will mostly be advisory in nature.
A united front doesn’t necessarily mean standardized rules. For example, it’s common for co-parents to disagree on curfew hours for their children. A person can set the hours they want within their own household, but can’t hold their ex to those standards.
It’s okay to weigh in and debate it, but the final decision is still on them – even if they disagree, they’re well within their rights to do so in their own household.
This arrangement is supported primarily by respect and open-mindedness, rather than total synchronicity. You don’t have to agree with your ex, and truth be told you probably won’t be agreeing with them often. Just be sure that both of you can respect one another’s decisions.
Handling Your New Partner
You’ll need to work a lot more closely with your partner here, given that you’re sharing a household. Figuring out what you want for your children might have sufficed for your ex, but handling things with your partner demands way more finesse, coordination, and planning.
Be sure to plan for what you can ahead of time. If something unforeseen comes up, consult with your partner to figure out how you’ll be approaching this as a team.
To clarify the difference a bit, take discipline as an example:
While you and your ex have the autonomy to enforce this as you both see fit, you can’t afford NOT to be on the same page with your current partner on that topic. Your children might start favoring one of you over the other, which can cause a lot of tension in your household.
You don’t have to agree with all of your partner’s decisions, but remember that the two of you – decision-making-wise – are a package deal as far as your children are concerned. You’re welcome to dispute their ideas in private all you want, but be mindful of maintaining a united front at home.
3. Fairly Involve Everyone in the Discourse
You, your partner, your ex, and your children are all stakeholders in this blended family. While your contributions and responsibilities may differ, everyone here reserves the right to be involved in deciding on the direction this family goes.
It might be tempting to pick one side over the other, but doing so could end up alienating certain parties involved. Remember that your goal here is long-term civility, so make sure all stakeholders have their worries and inputs properly validated.
You may have fallen out of love with your ex, but they still deserve to be respected as a parent. You might have a bigger say than your new partner in raising the kids, but that doesn’t mean you can just up and ignore their input when they’re offering it out of love for your family.
Lastly, you might contribute more to this household than your children, but you need to remember that you’re doing this for them!
They deserve to have their thoughts and feelings valued. Just because you’re doing different things doesn’t mean that all of you aren’t equally important in this family.
You might disagree with everyone here at times, but you aren’t competing with them. Never forget that a win for one of you is a win for all of you!
While the above goals are admirable, they aren’t always feasible for most blended families. Existing tensions and history can make people emotional, clouding their judgment and lowering their willingness to compromise.
You can be the most patient, reasonable person in the world, but some people simply aren’t interested in listening to you. Solving inappropriate co-parenting while in a relationship requires more objectivity than you can provide – consider enlisting the assistance of professional family counselors to clear things up effectively.
Inappropriate co-parenting while in a relationship is tough to figure out. Resist the urge to keep everything separate, as doing so with your limited time would make things unfair to either your children or your partner.
Respect your ex’s decisions, even if you disagree with them. Respect your partner’s decisions by working closely with them. Respect your children’s decisions because you love them deeply.