One thing that I find astonishing is how some parents will expect the co parent to change parenting time agreements just because they have a new significant other. In my opinion, when you have made an agreement with someone and it is working for you, you have no business changing that schedule just because you have someone new in your life who would like things to be different. For example, it does happen where a couple meets and find that their children have opposites parenting schedules. Maybe it is inconvenient that you cannot get the kids on the same weekend. Maybe you would like to have all the parenting time on the same weekend so that you get a weekend alone together every other weekend, when the children are visiting the other parent. I think you need to always honor the original parenting time schedule and anything else should be secondary and worked out gradually.
It can make your ex crazy if they feel that you are going to try to change everything on a whim or every time you meet someone new. You are going to stir up those old feelings of loss and being cast aside. Anyone who wants to make the relationship with their ex a good one will put that agreement first. Those who want to cause pain for their ex or use the children as a weapon are selfish and inconsiderate.
While I understand that you do not want to live your entire life with opposing parenting time schedules, especially if the relationship is serious, I think you have to go about changing it with caution and compassion.
First, make sure you know this new person well and are fairly confident it will last. If you have only known someone for a couple of months, it is ridiculous to expect your ex to make changes for what may be a fleeting affair. Believe me when I tell you that I have seen many cases where one or even both parties have several new significant others over the years of raising children. If this new relationship is “the one” then that person will be understanding of your obligations as a parent. Remember that your children are getting older every day and that will change things over time. Just as you need to allow the children to adjust to the new relationship, you have to consider the feelings of the other parent about your new relationship. If you press an issue too fast, such as trying to change the entire schedule, it will cause you a great deal of grief. Wait for a reasonable amount of time before approaching your ex for anything. If you are not confident that you want to share your life with this new person, do not make any changes to parenting time until you can be sure.
If, in time, you are ready to commit to the new relationship, gently approach your ex. Do not put it all out there and do not make them feel that you are doing it for your new love interest. Make it about you and the children. Test the waters first by requesting a change for a weekend. For example, you and your new partner would like to have all the kids together to get to know each other. Do not make a first attempt on a holiday. There will be more holidays ahead. Try it on a non important weekend. This will give your kids time to adjust and your ex will most likely not have reason to deny it. Think about it, holidays are very important to us because of our extended family. You are slighting your ex when you try to change holidays and make them feel that your new partner’s family is more important. They are not. Your ex’s family are relatives to the children and should be treated as such. Over time, these relationships may change as the children’s views change, and they may feel more connected to your new partner’s family as they spend more time with them. You do not have to push the relationships. If you allow them to form on their own, you have a much better chance that they will be good relationships. When people feel forced into them, things do not go well.
Finally, be very careful how you approach this with your ex. Here is an example of what NOT to do. Dad approaches Mom so that he can have the children on the same weekend his ex does.
Dad: “Hi, Molly. Say, I want to change my schedule with the kids. Sandy and I never have a weekend that we do not have kids. We would really like some alone time, if you know what I mean.”
This approach is going to be met with anger and disgust. Why? Because it shows that dad is only thinking about what he and his new partner want. It has nothing to do with the children and nothing to do with the ex. You have given mom reason to get upset and say no. She does NOT care what you and your girlfriend want, especially if your divorce was bitter.
A better way to do it would be to say something like this:
Dad: “I would like to talk to you about changing the parenting time schedule with the kids. Does it matter to you what weekends you have parenting time?”
I often tell people that less is more. You do not have to go into great detail about why you want something. It is usually better when you do not. Giving the co-parent a reason why you want something, often creates a reason why they do not want to accommodate you. This is actually why men fare better in court and with parenting consultants than women do. Men usually give short answers and do not talk about their feelings. Women often say too much and come across as vindictive or jealous. That is typically not how they are feeling, but that is how it comes across. More on that in another post.
Suppose that mom says, “Well, I guess it doesn’t matter, but I don’t see why you need to change it. There is nothing wrong with the way it is now.”
Dad can then say, “I am finding that the schedule is not working for me as I hoped it would. I would like to swap the weekends. I would really appreciate it if we could try it, even just as a test. I’d be willing to let you have two weekends in a row as the starting point.”
This puts a positive spin on things. You are being accommodating to mom and not giving her a reason to say no. This tells her that it is about what you want and only you. She doesn’t need to know if you and your new love want it. You are also not pushing it down her throat. You should never say to her or the children that you want this because of your new relationship. That will bring the greatest resistance and personally, I think when people do that, you are doing it to hurt the other parent. If that is your main goal, you will end up with fighting and bitterness. If, on the other hand, you want to create a new life with your children, doing so with patience and compassion is the best way to get there. It may not always work, but it helps much more than it hurts to try to do things with compassion.
The truth is, you are starting a new life and a new relationship with the other parent. You want to make it more of a business like relationship. In business, you would not go into a great deal of detail, you would stick to the basics. For example, you want to take a day off to go to the doctor. Most people ask the boss if they can have the time off. Some go further and say that it is for a doctor appointment. Very few are going to say, “well, I have to go to the doctor because I have hypertension and need a refill on the meds for that and my depression issues. I have also been having some digestion problems. I better see what the doctor can do about that”. Does going that far do anything to help the situ
ation? No. It might actually harm you at work now that you have told your boss you have depression.
It is about self disclosure. There are appropriate levels of self disclosure in all relationships. Most people know how to be professional at work and keep personal matters for their friends and family. The problem with divorce is that you are going to start bringing that relationship to a different level. It is going to go backward. In life, we rarely have to take relationships backward. Most of the time when we decide we do not wish to continue a relationship, we just dismantle it completely. It is over and done. You are not going to see that person anymore and you do not have to change the way you relate. Of course your ex knew you very intimately, but that is no longer appropriate. They knew you intimately then, but you do not need or want them to know you intimately now. If you do, then you have issues and are not ready to enter into a new relationship.
You have to play it carefully to avoid ex spouse headaches. If you do not want them interfering in your new relationship then do not invite them in. When you start making requests of an ex, by telling them that you and your new partner want something, you are in essence inviting them into your new relationship and allowing them decision making power over the needs of the new relationship. Do not make this mistake. Also, do not allow your new partner to make any requests of your ex. They are not the co-parents. While they may develop a relationship in time, allowing it to happen on its own is the best way to do it. I am going to caution you that it is better for the new relationship if the old one is not allowed in. You will save yourself many a headache!
Take things slowly and be careful to allow changes to the old relationship and the new relationship happen gradually. It is a delicate situation and you will have to be patient.
If you struggle with these issues, consider giving coaching a try. I can role play with you to see how your approach may go over. I can help you figure out the best way to create change with co-parenting relationships and allow you to practice what you are going to say to the other parent.
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