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The Dreaded 'X': The Importance of Team Parenting

  • Dr. Dave Swift Smalley Relationship Center
  • 2001 27 Aug
The Dreaded 'X': The Importance of Team Parenting
The "ex" relationship, now there’s a challenge. How are you supposed to get along with someone you couldn’t stay married to? Didn’t you divorce so you could get away from them? So many divorced parents fail to realize just how important their relationship is going to be. The survival of their new single parent homes and their stepfamilies will often depend on the strength of this "ex" relationship.

Recently, we received a phone call from my 17-year-old stepson who lives with his father in a different state. Now I knew something was up, because my wife was on the phone with him for over two hours. She had a stunned look on her face as she sat down to talk to me.

Now you have to understand some of the history of this story. Garrett went to live with his dad approximately three years ago. Without a doubt, this was the toughest decision my wife has ever made. We love Garrett with all our hearts, but he needed his dad, and we knew it. The decision to let Garrett go came with reservation. Julie and her ex had a rough history. Their parenting beliefs and styles were very different and Julie worried about boundaries and appropriate rules for Garrett. Their history had proven they did not agree on many things and a lot of their problems were still unsolved. Still, she focused her decision on Garrett’s needs and allowed him to move.

The decision was a good one for Garrett as his grades and attitude improved greatly during his first year. Things seemed to be going fairly well for him throughout this time with his dad. However, at the "other" home front, his mom had missed him terribly. She second-guessed her decision about a million times and never seemed to get comfortable with his absence. Julie prayed for Garrett’s happiness and I prayed for Julie’s.

The phone call. Julie’s prayers had been answered. She came out of our study with tears in her eyes and said, "he’s ready to come home." Seems Garrett’s dad had pulled all his privileges and he couldn’t stand it anymore. Garrett’s grades had dropped and he wasn’t showing his dad the appropriate level of responsibility for a 17-year-old. Now Julie cares deeply about Garrett’s success, but Garrett wanted to come home. The last two hours had been spent with Garrett figuring out what had gone wrong and what would or would not be different living with us. He told Julie he had been thinking about this for a long time and that he was ready. You could see the anticipation, the hope, and relief in Julie’s eyes as she explained the story to me.

Step parenting has a lot of pitfalls, but for now, we have to focus on one of the advantages. Being a stepparent offers a unique "third" party view that often evades birth parents. Julie and I have proven this to each other time and time again. It was clear that Garrett was running from his Dad, and running from his responsibility. If he moved back to our home, we would be faced with the same problems. However, he was able to present his side to Julie in a way that made it look like a well thought out decision. This argument with his dad was "the last straw." Julie simply wanted it to be true, and she wanted him home. So how do I tell her without breaking her heart?

The next hour was painful. There is really no gentle way to move through this problem. In order to understand the reality of Garrett’s position, Julie has to let lose of his return. Once we talked about it, she was able to "see" the truth. That didn’t make it any easier. I’ll never forget her tears and the desperation in her voice when she said, "I’m running out of time."

At it’s best, team parenting with an "ex" is challenging. Think about it, if you agreed with each other on parenting, money, and morals, you probably would not have divorced, right? It can seem overwhelming and at times impossible to agree on the issues surrounding the children. Still, some middle ground must be struck. Team parenting is supportive, consistent, firm, and fair. All parents are supportive of each other’s decisions, rules and enforcement are consistent between homes, and our approach with the children is firm and fair.

Need some motivation? The "ex" issue can be the root of many problems in the stepfamily. Developing a solid, well-defined team approach to parenting can prove healthy for both divorced families. Children become very good at "splitting" their parents. Playing one against the other can prove profitable for them. Children will use anger, guilt, and the need for sympathy to get what they want. And there is plenty of it to go around. The advantage of two homes also comes into play, and the closer you live to each other the easier it is for the children to manipulate their parents.

Consistent, firm and fair rules enforced equally in both homes will put a stop to this process. The surprise in all of this is the kids will actually be happier. Remember that structure provides security for everyone. That is why companies have policies, schools have guidelines, and homes have rules. They keep us safe. In reality, that is really what children need and want. A place to feel safe and secure.

Julie was able to gather herself to make the phone call back to Garrett. She had a lengthy conversation with her "ex," where they discussed his reasoning, process, and goals for Garrett. She supported Garrett’s father in his decision to buckle down the rules, even though she did not agree with his tactics. She told Garrett that he was always welcomed to come home, but that it had to be during a time when his relationship with his dad was peaceful.

I believe it important for the reader to understand how hard this is. It is so easy to put something down in writing and expect that people just put it into action. Following through with Team-parenting is very hard, and can prove to be a rough ride. You must keep your focus on the children and off the problems you and your ex have had. You have a common goal. Raise your children in God’s light, and keep them protected. Sometimes protecting them requires some hard rules and tough decisions. Decisions that you may not like, or want to enforce. Remember you only have control over your behavior. You can not control your ex. If each of you work together, a medium ground can be established. Do it for your children and do it in the image of Christ. You will be amazed at the results.