How CAN Non-Custodial Parents support Custodial Parents? (Part 1)

The temptation in coparenting is to believe that the grass is always greener on the other side and all the crap is in YOUR part of the pasture. The reality is that coparenting is hard on either side of the fence as a custodial or non-custodial parent.  A custodial parent has the most physical time with the child and cares for the child in regards to the day-to-day decisions.  A non-custodial parent is one who does not have primary physical custody, but can still have legal rights and should play an important part in their life.   I decided to write a 2-part series to focus on the common issues custodial parents (CPs) and non-custodial parents (NCPs) each feel.  The goal of these two blogs is to come to a shared understanding of each other.   Below are 6 common issues custodial parents may feel.  Underneath each issue, I give suggestions (in bullet points) on how a non-custodial parent can support their custodial parent in healthy and productive ways.

Common issues for Custodial Parents are:

1.  Feeling non-stop responsibility 24/7

For the custodial parent even weekends without the child include thinking about them, planning your week around them, and having the feeling like you are never truly "off".  In addition to working, custodial parents often assume responsibility for kids schedules, doctor appointments, homework as well as most of the discipling that goes into raising a child.

Non-Custodial Parents can:

  • Be a safe place the CP can come and ask for your help without feeling guilt, shame or resentment

  • Offer to bring dinner or take kids out without keeping a scorecard

  • Offer to help with homework

  • Help with carpooling even when it isn’t your day (consistent time in the car with your kids can be some of the best time you get with them!)

  • Keep kids on custodial parents schedule (expect in special circumstances) so when they are returned they are not exhausted, leaving the custodial parent to deal with them

  • On the weekends you have the kids, ask the CP is there anything the kids need you can get them (shoes, clothes) or any schoolwork you can help with to ease the burden during the week

  • Consistently give your appreciation for all the CPs does that goes unappreciated 2. Feeling like the bad guyCustodial parents often become the consistent disciplinarian. As a result, they feel as though they are the ones ALWAYS saying "No", which can be exhausting because you always feel like the mean parent.Non-Custodial Parents can:

  • Have the same rules and discipline the child when they break them

  • Back your CP and their rules

  • Always respect your CP (if kids catch wind you disrespect each other they WILL manipulate this whether they mean to or not)

  • Be available and willing to be present when you need to problem solve your child's bad behavior

  • Don't be the "Disneyland Parent" provide structure and discipline during your time as well 3. Feeling unappreciated, stressed and burnoutCustodial parents can feel burnout. There is little time for themselves between raising the children and working, which leaves no time for self-care.Non-Custodial Parents can:

  • Offer to give the CP a break when it isn’t your time

  • Promote the CP taking care of themselves (this is your children’s parent- you want them around for their sake)

  • Ask how they are and mean it without giving advice on how they should change

  • Pay attention to what the kids say and look for ways you can help you CP

  • Acknowledge to the kids the CP is doing a hard job

  • Express appreciation for your CP to the kids and your CP (a lot of times just being appreciated goes a long ways)

  • Encourage the kids to express appreciation and to help the CP when they can 4. Feeling resentment over the lifestyle of the Non-Custodial ParentThe perspective of the CP can be that the NCP has a lot more freedom than they do, since the CP has the child a majority of the time. Therefore, the CP may often be dealing with made up stories in their heads of the "carefree life" the NCP now lives-child-free.Non-Custodial Parents can:

  • Don’t share your new lifestyle with your CP if you know it would cause resentment

  • If you sense resentment be direct and ask them about it

  • Acknowledge the resentment. Listen to their concerns. Express to them that things may not always be what they seem.

  • Recognize you cannot fix their resentment (that is the recovery work of the CP), but you can be respectful and not add fuel to their resentment fire. 5. Feeling responsible to keep the coparent informed about the child’s lifeCPs can feel like it is up to them to keep the NCP informed about doctors appointments, school updates, problems at school, etc. This information download can become draining and build resentment if one parent shoulders all of the responsibility of informing the other parent.Non-Custodial Parents can:

  • Take this burden off the CP by signing up for an school updates so you stay informed

  • Value the CPs opinion in regards to decisions about what your child is involved in (you can still value someone's opinion and disagree with them...you do this in business all the time)

  • Go to Meet the Teacher, Parent Conferences, get on the school website and take responsibility for learning how to stay informed about your child's life

  • Email coaches or after-school teachers/tutors and ask them to copy you on any emails regarding your child

  • Tell the CP what you are doing as a means to help them, not to undermine them

  • Communicate with your child directly about their schedule and life (if old enough) to keep the burden off the CP 6. Feeling responsible to help the child maintain contact with the coparentOften it can become easier and easier for NCPs to fade out of their children's lives as they lose daily contact with their children. Some CPs see it as their responsibility to keep the relationship alive, which can also create exhaustion and resentment.Non-Custodial Parents need to remember that:

  • This is NOT the CP’s responsibility. It’s YOUR child. Figure out what works in terms of staying in contact with YOUR child. Is it texting, Face Time, emailing, lunch at school once a week, coffee date after school? Be consistent. Don’t give up....Again I say, don't give up! Your child needs you, even when they act like they don't. This is the truth for any parent married or divorced. Parents OFTEN have to be curious about their child and find creative ways they can connect with them.

There are joys and difficulties for both custodial and non-custodial parents.  As grown-ups, divorced parents have got to find ways to dismantle the fences of resentment and injustice that make their coparent an enemy.   Instead, coparents need to become allies in their joint work of raising children.  Having an ally in your coparent will make your life easier and it will make your child's life better.  Kids can eventually begin to thrive after a divorce if parents have learned how to coparent well.  It is not the divorce that harms children, it is the conflict between parents that hurts them.  Part of coparenting well is learning how to support and understand each other in the parenting role and finding green pastures on both sides of the fence.

If you are stuck in your co-parenting relationship and not sure how to move forward, co-parenting counseling with me can help!  Please email at sara@sparrowcounsel.com or call me at 205-538-3978 or go online to schedule an appointment.

If you enjoyed this blog you might enjoy my other blogs on coparenting!  Click here to check them out!

Sara Dungan, M.Ed, LMFT, ALC, NCC, Certified Parenting Coordinator, Divorce and Family Mediator (Domestic Violence Trained) has her private practice called Sparrow Counseling in Birmingham, AL.  She specializes in Parenting Coordination, Co-Parenting Counseling and Divorce and Family Mediation.  Her passion is helping parents learn how to become successful coparents, so their children can thrive after their divorce.  Contact Sara at sara@sparrowcounsel.com.

Sara is an Associate Licensed Counselor (ALC) under the supervision of H. Hobart (Bart) Grooms, M. Div, MEd, LPC-S, LMFT-S, Supervising Counselor.