8 steps to consider before correcting your ex-husband’s parenting blunders

It’s been almost seven years since my divorce. At that time my children were both in diapers, my son was still devouring bottles, and each needed one if not two naps everyday. Thankfully, as of this post, neither has been rushed to an emergency room, the Heimlich maneuver has yet to be employed, and Child Services doesn’t know where I live. I still tuck them in bed every night they’re with me and Martha Stewart would be proud of my culinary prowess as we enjoy a home cooked meal around an actual table, together. But if you were to eaves drop on some conversations between the Jap and I, especially in the early days, you’d have thought my kids were being abducted every other weekend by the world’s vilest super-villain with a penchant for poor hygiene, running with knives, and shoving pennies in electrical outlets. My parenting aptitude have and remain under constant surveillance and screw-ups still are quickly and passionately noted.

If there is one element of divorce that proves more difficult than all others it’s co-parenting. This is largely because neither you nor your ex has to listen to or do anything you tell the other and this is made even more enjoyable when you’d prefer to stab them in the neck with a led pencil. If your kids are at their dads and he wants to ram soda and Pixy Stixs down their throats at 2am on a school night there’s very little you can do to change that.

All divorced moms have been through the following drill, the kids come back to your house and begin recounting their weekend at dads and by the end of the conversation you’re white knuckled with steam coming out your ears and fire burning in your eyes. But you don’t who to be more angry with, him for being so stupid or you for saying ‘yes’ in the first place.

Disagreements naturally occur between any parents but add in a helping of heightened emotions and frustrations, a dash disrespect and animosity with a side of occasionally wishing the others demise and we now have a Molotov cocktail ready to ignite at the slightest provocation. And more often than not this powder keg’s fuse is lit courtesy of an ex-husbands thoughtless and irresponsible behavior.

These parenting snafus could be trivial like allowing little Suzie stay up past her bedtime on a school night or more serious as letting your 12-year old watch R-rated movies. Regardless of the specific incident the main point is their dad is parenting in a way you don’t agree with and you feel something must be done about it. The standard reaction in these situations is to immediately dial his phone, send a text, email, or even pile the kids in the car and head over to his place all so you can let him know what’s what. And his normal response to your knee-jerk reaction is to ignore, belittle, criticize, or go ballistic on you for ever questioning his fatherhood skills, all of which might lead to his next child support check mistakenly getting lost in the mail. Don’t ask me how I know.

While it’s easy to say divorced parents should simply put their differences aside for the sake of the children it’s a lot more difficult to put into action. Old wounds remained unhealed, emotions are unusually intense, and egos often get bruised and the natural course of action is to make the source feel as much pain as they caused you – ‘playing nice’ isn’t an article in divorce settlement agreements.

So how does a single mom talk to her kid’s father about these sensitive topics without causing her life more difficulties and stress than it already has?

The first thing to understand is all men are toddlers – who shave. And like two year olds we get upset quickly and our feelings are often hurt at the slightest indiscretion. And contrary to what you’re told men are very sensitive creatures who don’t want anyone telling us what to do which includes directions and we certainly don’t appreciate being told we’re a bad parent by our ex wife. And because we persistently think we’re smarter and wiser than we really, rarely will we admit when we’re screwing up. So here’s a couple of things to consider the next time you want to offer unsolicited parenting advice to your Mr.-Sensitive-Cry-baby-ex-husband.

  • He’s not you – this may come as a shock but he isn’t going to do things your way and who’s to say your way is always right? You shouldn’t expect him to handle kid situations in the exact same manner you would. Plus he needs to establish his own presence and influence in their lives and not limited to what you think is correct.
  • Remember he’s fragile – His ego is like a delicate flower and the slightest pressure will bruise and damage it. That doesn’t mean you walk on eggshells but you should seriously consider the approach before you go postal on him. Coming out with guns blazing usually means you’ll get shot at also.
  • Make it about the issue, not the person – Try to frame potentially tense conversations without direct use of the word ‘YOU’. That pronoun is like a dagger of unfiltered accusation. Make the focus about the behavior and not about him personally. Instead of saying “Why do you let the kids stay up late?” maybe try “Are the kids staying up late when they are over?”
  • Have few expectations – It is a mistake to believe that his parenting flaws will suddenly correct themselves because you’ve now pointed them out. Odds are he’ll continue to do what he has been doing for a while – just because he can.
  • Keep it open – Twenty years of management has taught me that open-ended conversations around tense subjects usually results in the other person selling himself on your solution. Something like “Cindy has been asking me to stay up past midnight on school nights, are you having the same issue?”
  • Know when to fall on the sword – Not every issue is going to be a life-threatening crisis. Believe me I understand the attraction that comes in lighting the ex up but divorce is business and part of good business is knowing when to say something and when to keep our mouth shut. If you bring up every trifling offense he commits then you’ll just come across as the nagging ex-wife who is never taken seriously.
  • Let him make mistakes – Most men learn by doing which means we’re going to make mistakes. You’re not momma so stop trying to be. If it doesn’t involve a physical, emotional, or mental safety issue then sometimes it’s just better to give him some rope and pour yourself another glass of Merlot.
  • Take a breather – if you get nothing else from this post please remember this. If something just has to be said at least wait 24 hours before doing it. Abraham Lincoln had a habit of writing scathing letters to his Generals during the Civil War complaining about how bad of a job they were doing. He would then place the letter in his desk drawer to mail the next day. He routinely destroyed the nasty grams the following morning because it didn’t see as serious after a night’s rest. Lashing out in an emotional state is never a good idea.

It should go without saying that if the children are in danger then appropriate legal steps should be taken. However, the vast majority of co-parenting disagreements blow up into huge issues because the parents make them big. Regardless of what you think most men will listen to your advice and even tolerate your criticism – we just need to be talked to in our language.

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26 responses to 8 steps to consider before correcting your ex-husband’s parenting blunders

  1. Well, you’ve got me for most of this – except may I suggest that all men aren’t “toddlers” – since that devalues any other adult respect you try to command. Instead, let’s just say that all men are humans – just like women – and because of that, we have emotions, flaws, and moments of vulnerability AND stupidity. I mean, I get what you’re saying – no offense taken, but I’m one of those militant “don’t call men kids” dudes. Now let’s high-five and hug it out. Good article, thanks for sharing!

  2. Random Girl

    Good advice and great perspective on the other side of the fence for me as always. Although I would prefer that my ex always just acknowledge I am awesome and right and my way is best (because I am and it is…in case you were wondering!) he obviously didn’t agree with that thinking or we wouldn’t be divorced in the first place. I have gotten better about picking my battles. I know he loves the princess and would protect her to the end so as long as she’s safe, healthy, and protected, I pretty much keep my mouth shut even if I do think he gives her too much junk and lets her stay up too late… 

  3. Great post. I used to try and micro manage my Ex’s parenting but have learned (the hard way) that I need to let him figure out his own parenting style and techniques. It is not easy because I am a bit of a control freak but so far it has mostly worked out well

  4. OMG just what I needed to read. I’ve been so frustrated too lately with Mr. X I might have blown some steams out of my ears but without him knowing it. It’s so hard so thanks for this post!

  5. In this particular case, where the parents have been married, living and raising the children together, it’s fair to assume that they established rules and boundaries for the children during that marriage, right? So then why, when they get divorced, would the dad turn around and start letting the kids do things he never would have let them do before? Just to piss the mom off? To make the kids like him better? 

    I’m all for different parenting styles, but not so much when it comes to divorced parents. I firmly believe in divorced parents being a team and raising their children as a unit. (not living together, but with the same rules and boundaries) I think that adults should be adults and set their differences aside to make the best decisions TOGETHER for their children as a parental unit. I know that a lot of people don’t do that and it’s not because they can’t, it’s because they won’t. If my ex-husband and I can, then anyone can. 

    The reason why I’m saying this is because I believe it’s best for the children to have the same rules and boundaries at each house. I also read it in several books way back when we first split up, which I wish I could remember the titles of right now. Dammit! Anyway, the parents can still be very different in the activities they do and the fun they have, but there are still those very fundamental basics that the parents should both agree and adhere to for the best of the children, in my opinion.  

  6. I would concur with April. My ex and I had very similar ideas about boundaries and rules, even without discussing them, before we split. We’ve been luck enough to not have issues since then. There are a couple of things that I know I’m very conservative about, but am willing to overlook as long as there are no bad side effects.

  7. Anonymous

    I agree with every word. Unfortunately, my ex and I have different ideas about parenting, thus, we’re not together.

  8. I don’t think that’s fair to assume and I don’t think it’s fair to say that your divorced life should mirror your married life.

    You’re probably right, in theory. It probably is best if parents can have the same or similar rules even after they split up.

    The reality is that it’s just not like that for everyone. If you managed to do that, great. But it’s not realistic for many MAN divorced couples.

    If the parents can’t agree on every little thing…….Chopper Papa has amazing advice.

    The bottom line is that we can’t force the other parent to do ANYTHING. We can’t control other grown ups. And unless we are talking abuse………differences aren’t going to kill anyone.

    What I’ve noticed as a childcare provider and a divorced mom is that kids are adaptable. They are perfectly capable of knowing there are different rules at moms than at dads than at school than at grandmas than at the babysitters and adjusting to differences just fine. 
    There are things my ex and I don’t agree on. Whats more harmful to my kids…….their dad and I having a bitter, resentful relationship where we are constantly fighting? or having different levels of TV watching at moms house than at dads?

  9. IveLanded

    and I meant  “many MANY”, not “many MAN”. oops.

  10. I would say that both parents raising the kids together in a marriage isn’t always the norm. Usually there is the stricter parent and the easier going parent. I think those personalities are sometimes kept in check as they bounce off of each other in such close proximity, But when a divorce occurs that buffer isn’t there anymore and then it’s free reign to do as they please. And we always have to remember most divorced parents revert to teenagers once the papers are signed. 

  11. alley

    The only thing in this I really disagree with is the part about respecting his ego. Everyone has an ego and no one likes to hear they’ve messed up, but adults should be able to hear it without going balistic. 

    Of course there is a right way and a wrong way to approach certain people, but if the person who is supposedly just as “responsible” for raising my children as I am needs to be treated with kid gloves to ensure a decent outcome to the situation, then something is terribly wrong. 

    I wont give you a long back story, but lets just say my particular Ex is doing me the combined favor and disservice of moving 1300 miles away. Because no one here treats him right or will give him a job. 

  12. I didn’t say that your divorced life should mirror your married life. What I was saying is that in most marriages, parents tend to want to be on the same page when parenting their children. Would you not agree to that? So why would that change when you divorce? Why, just because you’re not married anymore do you have to be parents with 2 totally different parenting styles? That doesn’t make sense to me. Now because you’re divorced you’re not going to be on the same page when it comes to parenting? 

    When my ex and I first split up, he changed and was letting him do everything we never let him do when we were together. EVERYTHING. My son was coming home from his house a different kid. It was taking me the 2 weeks he was at my house to straighten him out, only to send him back to his dad’s again. And I’ve heard many, many other parents have this same complaint.  

    At that time, we were both angry and upset with each other. Finally, I sat him down and said, “Listen, we both came from broken homes with parents who still to this day hate each other. They put us in the middle for years. We need to set OUR differences aside and be on the same page when raising our son. We need to make compromises if we don’t agree on things.” He thought about that and it made and impact on him. Ever since that day, we have had NO issues. Not a single one. As a matter of fact, we’re friends now. I don’t expect divorced couples to be friends and I know that my situation is unique in that aspect. But I do not see why parents can’t set their differences aside for the sake of their children and be on the same page with raising them the same way. To me, that is the ADULT thing to do.  I would venture to say that 99% of the bitter, resentful relationships you’re speaking of in divorced parents have nothing to do with parenting styles and everything to do with what happened during the marriage to end said marriage. Maybe it’s unrealistic to think that ADULTS can set those differences aside, but, it can be done. And in my opinion, it should be done. (Just so you know, I left my marriage because my husband was verbally and physically abusive due to an addiction, which he got help for after I left. But by that point I was too far gone.)

    I didn’t say Chopper Papa didn’t give great advice. I was merely giving my opinion, which differed from CP’s.  Again, you’re reading more into my comment than what I wrote. 

  13. IveLanded

    I don’t think I’m reading anything in…with all due respect, I think your view on this is a bit myopic. 

    Don’t get me wrong….I completely agree with you, in theory. You are right. Adults SHOULD be able to set their differences aside. It probably IS best if co-parents get on the same page. You are right about your theories, for sure.

    But, no, I don’t think AT ALL that most adults agree on parenting when they get married. Hell, it seems to be a huge cause of friction that leads to divorce. I don’t think that most people really talk about parenting before they have kids or really even realize the depth that they need to get into until the kids are there in front of them.  And I DON’T think most parents are 100% on the same page. I think that, like most things in marriage, there is often compromise. And then you have a divorce that can be a little bitter or a lot bitter, and you have parents who say “Well, gee, I DON’T have to compromise with that person anymore!” and they don’t. For me, when my husband and I had our first son, there were issues I overlooked, but by the time we separated and had another son and the boys were both older……..we were regularly fighting about parenting issues because they were things we didn’t delve into deep enough when we decided to have kids in the first place. Add in a fractured marriage and it spells trouble. (FWIW, I was in the same situation……my ex was abusive because of mental illness and addiction, which is finally getting treatment now that we are apart but, yes, for me it was also too late). 

    I actually have two babydaddies. I tried VERY HARD with #1 to do what you suggest….to be on the same page. But he resisted every step of the way. And even to this day, 12 years later, things are better but there are still things we do differently. But our daughter is a straight A honor roll cheerleader. We don’t do everything the same……..but she’s still doing ok. 

    I think the parents like you and your ex are the exception to the rule. I think it’s expecting a LOT to expect other adults to put their differences aside and parent the same. I’m not saying that it’s probably not BEST, but I think it’s unrealistic.

  14. Alley, thanks for the feedback. I’m not referencing ego here as much as I am the appreciation for his ability to father on his own terms. When it comes to parenting, the message most dads receive is “prove to us you’re not a horrible father”. Every time a single father is criticized for some parenting snafu and more particularly how he is criticized just reinforces the message that he isn’t fit to be a dad. 

    This doesn’t mean that issues shouldn’t be brought up but that both co-parents should try to put themselves into to the other person’s shoes. 

    And as pointed out in the article…who is to say everything mom does is right, anyway? 

    Thanks for your feedback. As far as your ex is concerned…please have him read this article I wrote about absent fathers. 

    http://chopperpapa.com/2011/10/a-manifesto-on-absent-fathers/

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