Co-Parenting Boundaries? The Partner Issue…

I’m all for co-parenting.  Children need both parents.  Parents must communicate about their children.  Divorced parents will forever be connected by the lives they created.

But at what point does “co-parenting” cross a line?  Last week, I read a blog post from a concerned mother who spoke to her ex on their children’s behalf because the kids expressed discomfort regarding the amount of time Dad’s girlfriend was spending with him/them.

My initial reaction was:  it’s unfortunate that the kids feel that way. Dad should be more sensitive to their needs. And, that’s really nice that the kids feel comfortable opening up to Mom about these issues.  Obviously, they trust her. And, Good for Mom for trying to diplomatically solve this problem with her ex!

Most of the comments following the post conveyed some level of animosity for the father and his partner.  Except one: a seemingly-scorned father stated (rather harshly) that the issue was none of Mom’s business as it exclusively related to Dad’s personal life and his relationship with the kids.  The angry dad suggested the children were working the situation by telling Mom something that would cause her to advocate for them, thus gaining attention and creating drama. (dare I suggest this behavior served to temporarily reunite the parents?) He said Mom should step back and let the kids work it out with their father.

Although it seems that Angry Dad was coming from a place quite different from the author of the post, he caused me to re-evaluate my initial stance and reflect on my own experience…

As a child of divorce:
When I was 13 I knew that my mom didn’t like my dad’s girlfriend.  She didn’t talk about her feelings, I just knew.  But I liked my dad’s girlfriend and, like many teenagers, I thought my mom was just dumb (note to Younger Self:  Mom isn’t as dumb as you think).  I told my mom good things and funny stories about my dad’s girlfriend (an attempt to alter her opinion).  But Mom offered little reaction.  She neither argued nor agreed with me.  Eventually I got bored with that game and gave up discussing the topic.

As an adult in an evolving family:
In my current situation, Boyfriend’s kids knew all-too-well that their mother did not approve of me.  In order to avoid hurting her (the truth surely would have been hurtful), they made up ugly little lies about me.  Ultimately, this resulted in years of strained relations, to say the least.  The Partner Issue proved to be a huge road block in effective co-parenting as the boys’ mom fought to “defend” and “protect” her children.  But the kids weren’t in jeopardy, so her efforts brought about further conflict instead of resolution.  (And just to compare:  Mom was never so concerned with details about anyone else who spent time with the kids while they were in Dad’s care.)

So now I think I might be siding with Angry Dad on this one:  exes need to co-parent on topics such as school affairs, behavioral problems and medical issues.  However, relationships are private matters.  Unless the situation is dangerous, perhaps co-parents should just trust each other’s judgment (and accept the fact that everyone messes up from time to time).

(and as a side note, I do realize that every family is different and some parents have a pre-approved agreement for situations like this)

OK, I’m done.  Who wants to stone me?  All relevant comments are welcome…

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14 comments on “Co-Parenting Boundaries? The Partner Issue…

  1. No stoning. As you know, I’ve been deeply involved in this issue. I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I certainly recognize the validity of the arguments that try to protect against the children creating unnecessary drama, trying to reunite parents, trying to play parents against each other, trying to tell parents what each one wants to hear, etc. These *are* concerns and you can’t go into any of these scenarios with your eyes closed to that sort of thing. And there is absolute truth to the fact that my children are well aware of my feelings about their father and their father’s girlfriend, even if I never express any of those feelings verbally. Of course kids just KNOW.

    BUT. I cannot agree with Angry Dad that the kids just have to learn to suck it up and Dad gets to do whatever he wants with his life. Obviously, this is true in the end, but there is great damage being done to the relationship between my kids and their dad—as the result of his actions that they may not be discussing with him. There is a difference between complaining to one parent that “Mom makes me have an earlier bedtime/eat my vegetables/use manners/etc.” or “Dad won’t let me spend the night with friends when I’m with him” and saying to one parent “Dad is choosing his girlfriend over me. I love him because he’s my father but I don’t love him the same as I used to. Help me talk to him.” When my kids say that to me, at least the first time, I am stepping in. Period. I know they are better off having a great relationship with their dad, regardless of what he did to me. I know that they are better off if they love him as much as they always have. If my kids were registering a complaint to their father about something that was large enough in scope that it was changing the amount or way in which they loved me, I would want to know. Hell, yes, I sure would–especially if the relationship had deteriorated enough already to the point that the kids didn’t feel comfortable talking to me directly about it.

    Will I continue to step in on that issue? No. That’s not my job. My kids raised the complaint and asked for my help and I let my ex know that the issue and their feelings were out there. He has chosen to ignore all of that and in fact, his response has been to tell the kids that the girlfriend is moving in soon. That’s his choice and now the responsibility for his relationship with his children rests on his shoulders, not mine. I still feel like it was the right thing to do to let him know that the kids were expressing those concerns and feelings, because I would want to know if the situation were reversed and I would want the opportunity to salvage that relationship.

    It might sound warped to say this, but (running out of space!)

  2. (continued) but I really feel like conveying those concerns to him was a courtesy from me to him. I could have listened to my child say these things and reacted: “Awesome! I am winning! They will love me more!” but this is not a game. I wanted him to know in case he was completely unaware of what was going on with them (because they weren’t telling him). I don’t want my kids to stop loving him or stop respecting him or to feel rejected by him … because that is not what is best for them. That may happen anyway, but I feel that there is an obligation to try to prevent it. I was the conduit for the conversation to start between my daughter and her dad, but then I stepped out of it. That conversation is between them now, and the chips will fall where they fall.

    • There’s a difference between opening the door for communication between the kids and their other parent vs. acting as The Advocate. I realize that- not so sure Angry Dad did. You bring up a great point about not stepping in and “winning”. Funny how many ways there are to view these scenarios. It just further proves that every family is different.

      I’m surprised there haven’t been more comments here… I thought this might be a hot topic. It was a big thought-provoker for me… I didn’t expect that Angry Dad would make me think so hard about it and question the boundaries I’d mentally constructed.

  3. Mandy says:

    I realize that my life is simple because neither my ex nor I are dating so this issue hasn’t come up. That being said, with other issues my children have with their dad, I have tried to take the stance that it is for them to resolve with him. My job would be to talk to them about it, if I see that they are bothered by it – what it is they are feeling, why do they feel that way, what would make it different etc and then to coach them on how to broach it with their dad. But it almost always works out better when it comes from them rather than me. My kids are teenagers but I don’t think any child is too young to speak for themselves and the sooner they learn to voice their needs the better.

  4. Lori says:

    I am struggling with what seems to be a simple aspect, but really is more about information. My ex told the kids that his ‘friend’ is actually his ‘girlfriend’ without telling me he was doing so. These are the same children (3.5 and 5.5) who are still asking me, six months after I returned to work, when I will stop working. I feel like by him NOT telling me that he was updating them on this status left me at a disadvantage when the topic came up. In a similar vein, he told them that I was ALWAYS welcome at his house, without ever having actually extended that invite to me. So again, when they come out and say “Daddy says you can come to his house” and I’m confused and sputtering (and of course, this is the house he lives in with his girlfriend). I’m not sure how I’m supposed to co parent with this!

  5. shana says:

    i would have to side with the Dad in this regard. as you
    have stated every family is different, and if the kids have issues
    with their father and his new partner that should be a discussion
    for that family, the mother is simply out of place and should mind
    her business, no one is harming her children…..get over yourself
    and learn to co parent effectively. that is an issue for the new
    family and she should simply encourage her children to communicate
    with their father on their feelings rather than jump in. is she
    going to fight the school bully too???

    • Thanks, Shana! I like your comparison to the playground bully, it adds a new perspective (although many parents get involved there too). I think this situation has a lot to do with Mom and Dad’s relationship. If it’s not good, there is a greater chance that Mom’s concern will be perceived as ‘meddling’.

  6. RedApple says:

    I know it’s been quite a while since this issue was first posted, but I have a front row seat to this situation. I’m the “girlfriend”, soon to be wife. The ex firmly believes the same as nowisgoodblog. But the problem in our situation is she is the one actually causing the situation and then trying to “fix” it. She is convinced that regardless of the fact that we will be married soon, the old family should still continue to exist (without me, of course) for holidays and frequent “family only” dinners and outings, even vacations, and has convinced her kids that this is what they have the right to want and expect, but dad is the one “opting out” and making them feel like they aren’t important to him anymore. She has no boundaries – calling and texting at all hours (even when we were on vacation), getting a blow by blow from the kids of every conversation and event that happened while they were at dads. Then it’s all dissected and followed up by the weekly “you suck as a dad” email or phone call where she is trying so hard to convince him to see the error of his ways and re-establish his relationship with his kids and put them first like she does. Lately, she is even getting calls or texts from the older 2 kids and dad gets the reprimanding call of how she would have handled the situation and how he should do it her way within 30 minutes of the event. It has evolved to where it’s almost like they are all living in the same house, yet trying to pretend they are divorced. Dad has tried to set boundaries, but mom says if it affects her kids, it’s her business. We’ve done our very best to try and do things the “right” way – but mom’s the one that will give them what they want, and try to force dad to do likewise. I’m with Angry Dad on this.

    • I can relate to your situation. How old are the kids and how long have you been with your partner?

      We found that the only thing you can do regarding the boundaries is set them and abide by them. Say “no”, hang up the phone, etc when the boundary is crossed by the other person. it doesn’t work overnight, but with consistency it helps.

      • RedApple says:

        Kids are 17(girl), 12(girl) and 9(boy). The boy is fine. The girls have been firmly pulled into mom’s camp and I think I understand why. With the information they have, they really have no choice at this point. We have been together 2 years. The first year was spent doing things together as a “family”, then a year ago he stopped that to commit more fully to our relationship. It’s been a constant war for him ever since. The intrusions into daily and personal life have increased and the situation with the “reporting” is increasing noticeably, too. Enter counseling. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Also watching as the boundaries are being set and hopeful over time it will work for us, too.

  7. Careful and curious mom says:

    I would be really interested in knowing what issues a biomom has the right to “step in on”. Seems like we’re the evil b* from hell anytime we express concern over parenting choices of the father. I tend to mention things when my son expresses some discomfort over an issue. Example: Although flexible on most things, and putting deliberate blinkers on for other things, I find out son has been gaming for too many hours at dad’s/gf’s house and been banned for using bad language on a forum. He’s in elementary school, 3rd grade. I mention it and dad gets defensive, saying he just had the computer running but son was not on game. Son had initially lied about his own banning, backing up dad’s story (did dad tell him to lie to cover his butt?), but when inquiries with forum admin were made, fessed up. Dad is teaching him to lie. I find out son has smelled pot smoke at the gf’s remote rural house. I already know the father and gf are both smokers. They deny smoking. Son knows the smell. Hmm. Can’t do anything about that, can I. I find out the new gf has a certain dubious past they won’t be transparent about and they are sleeping with son in the same bed. Ick. Dad becomes angry and accuses me of interfering on these things, implies longer-term legal consequences to my disadvantage for what he thinks are my playing cheap care cards on him. He pays no support and I ask for none, so there is no meal ticket at issue here. What should be a care problem worth approaching (we are not talking about moderate cigarettes, alcohol, broccoli vs candy etc.just the occasional blip or son mentions something specifically upsetting to him), and when can we mention it at all? What if they deny doing something and child says they are lying and you smell a big rat because of what you already know? Proving it would just be harassment, wouldn’t it? Are we not allowed to care and inquire? When is caring and inquiring abusive of the other parent’s boundaries and when is it not?

    • It’s a tough issue. Each family is different and that puts a whole new spin on things. I know of divorced parents who still vacation together with their children and talk about all issues openly. And I know other families who prefer to “parallel parent” and have very rigid boundaries.

      Personally, I think some of the issues you describe warrant some cooperative parental interaction. But if Dad doesn’t want to cooperate, you’re left to make the call as to whether you should pursue the issues or let it go.

      I think the appropriate parental action depends a lot on the children in question and how well they can process the issues. Some kids might be uninterested/unaffected by marijuana use while others might be influenced in an unhealthy direction.

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