Can't Stop Sweating The Small Stuff?

What can you do when minor arguments start to affect your co-parenting?

Advice about co-parenting solutions often focuses on larger issues faced by newly separated or divorced parents, tackling topics such as parenting schedules, shared expenses, and the communication of vital pieces of information. But friction doesn't always start with the big stuff.

Smaller disagreements contribute to discord in all types of relationships: couples, co-parents, friends, and co-workers will all experience issues that cause micro-arguments between individuals. Minute resentments can contribute to a general state of discontent and make it harder to work together positively toward solutions, something you do not want happening to your co-parenting relationship.

Behaviors you and your co-parent found annoying or petty about each other will likely not disappear after you divorce or separate, though your exposure to them may lessen. On a candy-filled holiday like Halloween, perhaps old arguments about junk food in your child’s diet will once again raise their ugly heads. Or maybe the fall semester will reawaken disagreements about homework assignment organization. You’re no longer together, but you’ll still be in relatively close contact, so you may find yourself in an uncomfortable limbo as to how to approach these situations. Here are some steps you can take to work through your annoyance when you feel your hackles beginning to rise.

Determine if a problem actually exists.

If your co-parent ends up letting your kid have more candy on Halloween than you would have, will it have a lasting negative impact? Barring medical reasons for being more conservative with the sugar consumption, a single night of bite-sized candy bingeing will most likely leave your kids unscathed. You probably realize that your children will wake up on November 1st no worse for wear, but you may still find yourself seething about it later, venting to friends and family members. These annoyances may be products of old patterns in our relationships that can prevent us from moving forward, so try asking yourself these questions to determine if this is an issue you actually need to discuss with your co-parent.

  • Is my child’s safety being put into question by my co-parent’s actions?
  • Can I reasonably expect my co-parent to change their behavior because of the way it affects me?
  • Is my level of anger or frustration in proportion to its source?

It’s easy to fall into old patterns when reacting to common scenarios with your co-parent. But your co-parenting communication may stagnate if you’re unable to break free from a cycle of negativity that has been ingrained over the years. The only person you can reasonably expect to control is yourself, so if you simply find your co-parent’s behavior to be annoying rather than harmful, you may want to focus your energy on changing your own reaction instead.

Keep calm and focus on your children.

Simply realizing that your co-parent’s behavior is beyond your control may not be enough to move you past feeling frustrated by their actions. If mild frustrations continue to build up, your fuse may become shortened to the point where even minor mishaps cause your nostrils to flare. At that point, co-parenting could become an impossible task rather than just a normal facet of your everyday life. To prevent your frustration from getting to this point, try the following.

  • Don’t dwell. When you’re annoyed, you may be tempted to relive your annoyance with your family members, friends, or random passersby. Picking at old scabs never helps them to heal, though, so resisting this temptation could be your first step toward letting go of frustrations.
  • Distract yourself. Sometimes dwelling on a problem can be one of the easiest things to do, so if you find yourself stewing over minor mishaps, try distracting yourself with another activity. Listen to podcasts, read a book, play with your kids, sign-up for a meditation class, anything that puts mental space between you and the event that annoyed you in the first place.
  • Remind yourself of the positive. It’s likely that your co-parent has some great parenting qualities. So when you find yourself mired in negative thoughts about lesser issues, make an effort to remember positive qualities your co-parent has when it comes to your children. Are they a good listener? Are they the master of helping your kids with math homework? Try to focus on areas where your co-parent excels at supporting your children.  
  • Consult a professional. Sometimes negativity will get the better of us. If you feel unable to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts about situations that are beyond your control, consider talking to a mental health professional. They’ll be able to give you healthy steps for handling your thought processes when they become overwhelming.

Your arguments with your co-parent may not revolve entirely around Halloween candy or homework, but regardless of what makes you steam, minor annoyances will likely be a reality for your co-parenting relationship. When your response to those minor annoyances expands beyond you feeling somewhat frustrated, however, you may want to take steps to learn how to better cope with those emotions and to control your own reactions.

People’s actions and behaviors will never be perfectly aligned to our expectations, so there will likely be irritation felt by both sides of every co-parenting relationship. Parents should simply make sure that despite whatever exasperation they may experience, they should still be able to work as a team with their co-parent to raise healthy and loving kids.