Coparenting Tips for Improving Communication from the expert authors of Overcoming the Alienation Crisis: 33 Coparenting Solutions. For more information about OCB Publications go here.
My coparent remarried and my child says they do not like their new stepparent. They say they want less time at your coparent’s home. What do I say?
Children’s complaints about new partners are much like lightning during a thunderstorm—pretty likely, though not a sure thing. Stepparents married to a resisted parent are in a nearly impossible spot. If the children are resisting the biological parent, they will almost always resist a stepparent or a new partner. Compounding the problem is that the favored parent often has little trust in the new stepparent and also holds negative beliefs and attitudes, and vice versa. Favored parents tend to accept the child’s complaints about the stepparent as adequate proof that something is wrong with the new partner’s parenting. A favored parent thinks, “Anyone who would get involved with my ex must have issues.”
Stepparents tend to make coparenting conflict either significantly better or significantly worse. They may be the calmer presence in the household, easier to communicate with, and have a slower burning fuse. They may be more diplomatic in responding to a problem that arises and less likely to escalate conflict.
On the other hand, a stepparent may feel the need to carry the banner in battle for their spouse. They, too, are made miserable by the conflict. Intractable conflict tends to isolate opposing sides into tribal warfare. Even stepparents who try to remain neutral usually get drawn into the polarized thinking that frames intractable RRP.
The Neutral Coparent assumes that:
- The stepparent likely wants to stay out of the conflict muck.
- The child is likely having a negative experience with the stepparent because of the child’s resistance to their biological parent.
- The child is probably safe with the stepparent.
- The stepparent can be a buffer for the child against the coparenting conflict.
The Neutral Coparent looks to the stepparent as a peacemaker for the family. Tough duty, no doubt. Meeting with the resisted parent and the stepparent takes a lot of courage for the Neutral Coparent. An Escalated Coparent may not allow the stepparent to meet with their coparent; there is nothing a stepparent can do about that. An Escalated Stepparent may not accept that their good intentions are going unheeded and may reach out to the favored parent, an action that will likely provoke the favored parent instead of resulting in a peace initiative.
If a child says they want less time at your coparent’s home, the Neutral Coparent says artfully but clearly, “That is not an option.” One parent explained to his child that in many families only some family members feel close and enjoy one another; others find a family member difficult to deal with. Some don’t like a family member for a while, then later they do. But healthy families don’t engage in splits and cutoffs as they journey through life.
Love’s way is not easy. You and your coparent can teach your child that love can be hard and love’s pain can be deep, but no matter what, you will support your child as they find their way through the difficult side of love.