My Ex Won’t Talk To Me - And We Have Kids!

Family

My Ex Won’t Talk To Me – and We Have Kids!

Exes can be a source of movie comedy and drama or real-life nagging frustration, especially if you both have parenting time with the children. In an ideal scenario, the “ex” is a supportive ally with shared bragging rights when children have winning moments, or a resource for figuring out how to handle discipline decisions.  But when children spend time with their parents in two separate households, parents don’t always have the luxury of choosing how they get along with their co-parent over time. 

At the time of separation or divorce, parent communication is aspirational. Parents often say they will put the children first. The way communication plays out over time may or not match what research says is best for kids. Some co-parents aren’t even in the same playbook and don’t communicate at all – not even close to being on the same page. 

Communication may be the proverbial key to working through issues, but what if the emotions run too high, a new significant other interferes, or one parent just isn’t getting on with their life? The emotions of anger, sorrow, frustration and grief that frequently accompany separation and divorce may linger and sabotage attempts to discuss joint parenting decisions. For unsuspecting parents, these emotions also get in the way of putting the children first. When attempts at co-parenting communication fail or create further conflict, it’s time to adjust expectations.

Welcome to the “reality gap” – that unwanted space between what you want and what you have. According to Russ Harris, the acclaimed author who coined this descriptive term in his acclaimed book The Reality Slap, we can adjust our perspective to discover what we can do, not what we can’t do

In conflicted co-parenting situations, people often think that they have only one way to get their needs met -- to get their ex to behave in a certain way. The question they ask is, “How can I get my ex to do ________? (talk to me, pay for a shared expense, be on time, quit berating me, you name it!) The focus in on the behavior of the former partner, and this never works to get the desired results. When we focus on our own behavior and consider multiple responses, we can find a satisfying path forward. The following options lead to even better outcomes and help us let go of the misguided need to control others. 

Seek out a vent-mate

Support people are ideally the people that help you create your next chapter just the way you want it. Before you can get to creating a plan for next steps, find someone who is willing to help you accept yourself just as you are – wildly fluctuating emotions and all. Request that your friend, co-worker or family member let you share your frustrations without offering solutions or judgment. This vent session with a trusted other (sometimes called a “bitch buddy”) may be all you need to shake off the disappointment when your co-parent simply won’t … well, co-parent. 

Rely on your own best

Take, for example, a situation that could have gone awry if newly single Tamika got caught up in the “my ex won’t talk to me” trap. When Tamika’s daughter Ava turned 14, Ava asked to have her boyfriend over several days a week. This worried Tamika and she wished she could rely on her ex to help re-direct Ava from the intensity of her new relationship. Fatherly advice in this situation seemed appropriate. 

When Tamika reached out to Ava’s Dad, she reached a dead-end. Her hunch was that his new girlfriend had shut down the channel for communication. Ava’s Dad was simply not responsive. Tamika reminded herself some things were just out of her control. Without obsessing over the “why’s,” Tamika calmly handled the adolescent distraction, working with Ava to set the relationship rules they could all adhere to. 

As much as you may want to collaborate in on-going co-parenting, pleading, criticizing and complaining about a non-communicative co-parent simply won’t get the job done. Focusing on your own successes and knowing you did your best given an unpleasant reality can be a game-changing attitude adjustment. This independent approach can give kids not only the best of you, but also models for children that even a lagging teammate doesn’t de-rail your responsible approach to parenting. 

Create an out for yourself

If a co-parent won’t respond to requests to put your heads together on parenting decisions, tell the parent what you will do unless otherwise discussed and agreed. Joe, a city firefighter planning his next 3 days off work, wanted to take his two young sons to sleep over at their cousin’s home in the country where they would be up late at a county fair. Joe was planning on leaving it up to the cousins’ mother to handle bedtime.  Joe always preferred to coordinate activities with the boys’ mother, but lately Mom was not responding to Joe’s requests to coordinate changes in the boys’ schedules. Joe informed Mother by email he was planning a trip with 2 overnights away under the care of his brother’s wife unless he heard any concerns from Mother three or more days out. Joe set himself up for empowered decision making even with an unpredictable and aloof co-parent. 

Find an Alternative Source for Information

Call the parent of your child’s friend, a coach, or school personnel to fill you in on important information when your co-parent won’t. Information is a powerful resource for effective decision-making. If your co-parent does not openly share information, move on to other sources as long as you don’t put the children in the position of messenger. Being “in-the-know” is an important part of the parenting job description, even if you learn what you know by several way-outside sources. 

John, father of special needs daughter Alexa, follows up with Alexa’s teacher in between parent-teacher conference. “I can’t wait for Alexa’s mom to report in to me. Half the time she doesn’t even bother to send me updates from school meetings I unfortunately can not attend due to work. And if she does contact me, she gets in to my business and asks tons of questions.”  John and his co-parent may not understand all the information exactly the same way, but they both have what they need to work with Alexa at home. 

In summary, don’t give away your parenting power by waiting around or pleading for your ex to participate in conversations. Think “parallel.” Parallel parenting is a term used for parenting with few interactions between the parents in an effort to keep conflict low and away from the children. “You set the rules for how you parent in your house, and I’ll set the rules in my house” is the motto for parents with a parallel approach. 

Parents may hand-off the children through exchanges at school, and limit communication to an on-line app or infrequent, emergency-only text messages. Independent co-parenting is empowering and effective when an ex won’t engage in productive conversation. Depending on your own ingenuity and resourcefulness will allow you to independently reduce conflict and providing for the best interests of the children.

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Amy Armstrong is the co-founder of The Center for Family Resolution in Columbus Ohio, serving separating and divorcing couples through parent coaching and mediation. Amy inspires clients to take responsibility for their choices and create new habits that transform chaos to calm. For further coaching and mediation services, see www.thecenterforfamilyresolution.com.