How To Deal With A Do-Nothing Co-Parent
Words: Dominique De’Vizia
Co-parenting with an unwilling ex isn’t easy. A divorce mediator gives her advice on ways to make it easier.
This week we’re answering an email from “Overwhelmed,” a 25-year-old single mom in Los Angeles. (You can read the full letter here.)
Along with being cash strapped and dealing with a 2.5-year-old daughter in the throes of the Terrible Twos, Overwhelmed doesn’t have a community to help support her: Her friends don’t have kids; her mother has health issues and is unreliable; her brother, who was her biggest supporter, has left for the military; and her ex is reluctant to be a fully present coparent:
“Her father pays a minimal amount of child support in comparison to my bills, and doesn't relieve me with time to myself. He comes around every other week or so and wants me to be there during that time because he's not comfortable with her alone. I get annoyed with that, but also feel like I don't trust him alone to care for her anyways.”
We reached out to Chicago-based divorce mediator and single parent coach Dominique De’Vizia to get her advice on what “Overwhelmed” can do about co-parenting with her ex.
Sounds to me like you’re experiencing the growing pains of being a single mother, which is completely normal.
First of all, in regards to child support, go back to the court and request a modification to your child support—specifically, ask for an increase. You can also draft a parenting plan for the two of you to follow. This plan should include child support, visitation schedules (what time, when, and where), any custody details (joint or residential), who files your daughter for tax purposes, who pays for insurance, and who pays for child care, just to name a few. Make sure your parenting plan is specific to your situation—remember there is no one-size-fits-all approach. (Here’s a parenting plan template to help you create yours.)
Secondly, you have to make up your mind about whether or not you want your daughter’s father to learn how to properly care for her, especially if he doesn’t have any experience. If you do, understand that you will have to teach him how to care for the baby. If you expect to just drop her off and go about your business to get some "me time," that’s not being realistic. You will have to get your daughter comfortable enough to be left alone with her dad, and I will be the first to tell you, this is going to take some time. I might even say your ex is doing this to keep you close, especially if there was a breakup. But, if this is his first child, then there is a big possibility that he is intimidated. If that’s the case, I would recommend you taking your time leaving the baby with him, as to not overwhelm him… or her.
My daughter was 2.5 years old when I began leaving her with her dad and he would say some of the same things as your daughter’s father is saying. Instead of allowing it to drive me crazy, I simply told him, “She is your daughter, you will figure it out.” I encouraged him to simply be himself with her, and she loved every bit of it. They ate cereal in their underwear, he carried her everywhere instead of using the car seat, he fed her some of the same foods he enjoyed (like chili, beef stew, pizza). And though some parenting and nutrition experts may frown upon his behavior with her, it created a bond that they still have to this day: Now my daughter is 5 and I cannot keep her away from her father.
I think it is important to reassure your parenting partner that he is not going to “break” the child. Monitor the way he reacts when frustrated, but, for the most part, allow him to be himself—his instincts will kick in. Furthermore, do not make him feel as though he has to do everything the exact way that you do it. As long as he cares for her, nurtures her, and loves her unconditionally, try not to get lost in the details of the “how.” Your parenting style will be different from his, and that is okay!
Do yourself a favor and breathe. Stop victimizing yourself—you are stronger than you think. And ground yourself, love, because it’s going to be a challenging ride.
Dominique De'Vizia is the founder of De'Vizia & Co., a Chicago-based divorce mediation and blended family coaching company. She is a divorce mediator and single-parent coach serving both single moms and dads.