Welcome to our weekly online series on parenting advice with local expert Dr. Deborah Wood.
Dear Dr. Debbie,
How do I avoid conflict during exchanges with my ex? When one of us has to drop off our daughter, “Daisy,” at the other’s house, there almost has to be some direct interaction. I try to hold off discussions for more appropriate times, phoning or emailing about things we need to come to agreement on, but it’s not always feasible. Around my work schedule and taking care of Daisy, it’s hard to squeeze in communicating with the often contentious person I’m supposed to be co-parenting with. At times my ex deliberately escalates debates with me in front of Daisy. I try my best to hold my composure. When arguments erupt, it upsets all of us. I would like to find better ways to avoid conflict because of how badly it upsets our child.
Dear Peace-seeking Dad,
How unfortunate for everyone, especially Daisy, that there has to be so much stress during transitions between her parents. Many couples go to counseling for a period of time after they have severed their relationship to fully understand what went wrong, especially when, as in your case, the parenting partnership continues. There could be many reasons for your break-up, including distrust of one another’s abilities and intentions, and incompatibility between the values, beliefs, and habits you each have.
Have you worked with a mediator, parenting counselor, or other neutral professional before? This person can help the two of you to civilly express your needs and views and settle differences of opinion regarding Daisy’s upbringing, without Daisy being there. During this process, you might come to an agreement about the best times and ways for the two of you to communicate. “Agitating,” “hostility,” “meanness,” “spite” or whatever term she understands, will be defined so that neither of you will mistakenly use it when Daisy is present. A mediator/ counselor can also help you agree on topics that are prohibited when you pass Daisy between you. It may take a few counseling sessions, with feedback about how these agreements are being carried out, before Daisy’s mother accepts that you will simply not engage in verbal conflicts in front of Daisy.
Daisy, you, and the ex will all fare better if disagreements are re-directed to an appropriate time and place, and the three of you can come to expect transitions to be pleasant exchanges of information between two caring parents.