Intro To Co-Parenting Advice Column

November 29, 2022

Dear Divorce Coach: 

I see friends who are divorced happily cooperating to take care of themselves and their kids, but my co-parent and I don’t do that. I don’t even know where to begin because no matter what I do or say, he responds negatively. Can you help?

– Discouraged Co-Parent

Cherie Morris and her kids just before her marital separation

Dear Discouraged,

When I decided to divorce, my then husband decided I was the enemy and his job was to make everything difficult for me, and by extension, the kids. Early on I leaned into the resistance and tried to educate him about what I knew to be true about helping kids in life transitions, including divorce. By doing so I inadvertently made it worse for all of us. His black and white thinking, limited ability to have anything but a win/loss mentality and existing alcohol abuse made it impossible to see anything I said as positive or helpful. The criminal law system even became involved when my husband thought it better to send me to jail when I called 911 for mental health assistance for him, claiming I had committed violence against him, rather than just leave the marital home. This isn’t unusual, surprisingly, no matter your material or social circumstances. Although I was able to address the criminal matter successfully and forcefully, the emotional trauma and financial consequences to the family system, especially me and the kids, is real and resulted in the necessity for lots of intervention to repair real damage to us.

Did I make a mistake by trying to divorce or encouraging my husband to cooperate in the way I knew my transformative mediation training, yoga teaching and other holistic modalities teach? Maybe, but in hindsight, I necessarily consider it part of the wisdom gained in the journey. Now, my full-time job is to help co-parents shift a toxic dynamic so they can do better for themselves and their kids and not waste time with lawyers and courts, as well as emotional trauma for everyone involved.

As a lawyer who handled complex litigation for many years, I can tell you the family law system doesn’t help families much, if at all, most of the time. It can issue orders and put adults and children through difficulties that costs too much and damage the people involved. Many family law lawyers will tell you that they may profit from this path, but it isn’t good for anyone at all. It’s why I developed a clear path, based on my lawyer training, mediation experience, and coaching credentials to do better for individuals and families now. It’s still to rare but real help exists. If you find yourself at loss for real help and even a lawyer you’ve hired tells you there is nothing they can do or that you are “too much” it may be you are taking the wrong path for you. Lawyers do legal work only and just can’t help you solve the relationship issues that surround divorce.

What does work with an intractable spouse or co-parent that can help the family system?

  • Don’t try to be their teacher but, rather, introduce education through a neutral source, including a divorce coach, trained in parent coordination, to help you make a plan with them.
  • De-escalate yourself. Only when you can regulate your own emotions, and put on your own oxygen mask, can you help your children too. Make sure they have their own objective help too, including a therapist educated about divorce who isn’t afraid to hold parents accountable for their behavior.
  • Get your financial world in order. It’s one of the most important aspects of divorce and even in the midst of overwhelm, you need to do it! Get professional help and you can succeed.
  • Don’t worry about who is right! Forget justifying yourself to family, friends, colleagues, or anyone else in the world who may disagree with your decision to divorce. It doesn’t matter and may hurt you. It wastes time and energy. Those who do show up will be remarkable and likely on your life-long journey. Let the rest fall away. Their dismissal, gossip, or rejection of you is much more a reflection of their own life challenges than yours. It’s hard to see in the moment and so important to recognize in the long run.
  • It takes time. Practice skills you learn from a professional and acknowledge you will make mistakes. That’s ok. It’s even important for your kids to know you aren’t perfect. Just make sure you don’t disparage your co-parent when you do and admit that it’s hard to manage difficult situations and people. Don’t ask your kids to take care of you either as that hurts them a lot. Validate feelings and coach skills with your kids.

Obviously, these steps don’t solve all your difficulties with a co-parent who is determined not to cooperate. Sometimes legal intervention is required. However, starting with neutral support can start your path of healing when you radically accept that the only shift can come from you and you must, necessarily, let the rest go. Only then will you notice, perhaps, that time, your steadiness and taking care of yourself and your kids has created a shift in the family system—maybe not your co-parent–but for you and your kids.

For more, and some practical tools, consider this co-parenting course I’ve created right here!

I’m also available for more transformative help that allows a radical shift that you may need for those ready to commit to individual or couples work with me.

Co-Parenting: The Basics

What It Is & How We Do It

This interview-style video workshop breaks down those most pressing questions parents face as they begin to navigate co-parenting during separation and divorce.

Plus get a 50+ page guidebook that provides additional answers and worksheets to get you started today.