Creating Peace In Volatile Parenting Relationship with Tammy Daughtry

As single parents, we all have direct and extended parenting relationships and will for the rest of our kids’ lives.

Often, those relationships can be strained and even volatile. For example, things can escalate quickly before divorce, and it’s an ongoing contentious situation. Then some ex-in-laws have strong opinions about raising their grandchildren, and they can tend from time to time to overreach.

For those who haven’t been married, the other parent has certain rights to be in their child’s life. But from our perspective, it’s often less than optimal for our kids.

How do we bring peace into the situation in all of these cases? Of course, we know nothing will ever be perfect, but how can we bring peace and the stability it fosters?

Counselor, Author, and Head of the Center for Modern Family Dynamics, Tammy Daughtry, shares tips and lessons on creating peace in volatile parenting relationships.

As a child raised in a divorced family, a single mom for seven and a half years, and now a blended family mom for over thirteen years, Tammy’s message to single parents is that families and relationships are complicated. Still, there’s hope in the midst of it.

She believes that amid the confusion and drama, the truth that every single parent should understand is that they can only be responsible for their actions and behaviors.

“The only thing you can control is yourself. We can’t make the other person do the right thing or stop doing the wrong thing, but what we bring to the equation and how we show up, in the long run, is the thing our kids will look back and remember,” she says.

Tammy believes that even when relationships are complicated, the reality is that both separated parents have one thing in common: the love they have for their kids. She says that sometimes the hurt of the past gets in the way of showing up respectfully, but “usually, there are no other two people in the world that love children more than their biological mom and dad,” she adds. So even though life gets complicated, we want to cheer for that love and try to find peace around them.

How do we create peace when our ex does not follow the parenting plan schedule?

Think immediate and long-term

Not adhering to the parenting plan schedule might be randomly showing up to visit when it’s not their time. But what makes this more complicated is when our kids are excited to see them.

Tammy suggests we deal with the immediate and think about the long term to handle this situation.

In the immediate, when the other parent shows up unannounced or unexpected, and the kids are happy to see them at that exact moment, try to respond to keep the peace for the children. “Let them say hi to their other parent. Maybe you step outside for a little while, and they talk in front of the yard,” she says.

Try to manage the situation with the least amount of damage in front of the kids. It is essential to manage the problem because it might be that the kids have not seen their other parent for a long time. So, it’s vital to allow them to enjoy the experience.

However, to avoid unexpected visitation from happening again, there’s a need to set clear boundaries. And one way to do that, according to Tammy, is for both parents to initiate a co-parenting meeting. This can be tricky, especially when dealing with a parent who does not follow a parenting plan schedule, but you can ask if you could discuss it over the phone or at the coffee table when convenient for both of you. Also, discuss the possibility of rescheduling because sometimes work, and geographics make it possible for a parent to adhere to the schedule.

But if the other partner is not cooperating, by being rude, disrespectful, or not following the schedule, you can take steps to get into mediation. However, Tammy says that the ongoing disruption will ultimately backfire on the kids long-term. “A lot of parents are not thinking about that. They are only thinking about the immediate, what is convenient,” she adds.  

But in the long-term, we must be sure that the kids and the parents know what to expect so that it doesn’t create a pattern of one of the parents always missing visitation.

One of the things that helped Robert in his very volatile situation was acknowledging what he perceived his ex-wife to want out of a situation whenever he called her and then saying that he wanted the same thing. “I believe most of the volatility came from her not feeling heard or dismissed, and it became a battle,” he added.

Tammy says there are two kinds of people in a separated relationship: one that left and the other that got left. “A lot of times, it seems common that they are in different positions when it comes to being cooperative co-parents based on how their initial marriage or relationship ended,” Tammy says.

Although the reason for breaking the relationship or marriage could be valid and ultimately good for the children, there will often be an issue with who is ready to compartmentalize and go by the parenting plan and who is not there yet. The parents have to be compassionate enough to consider what will make the kids happy and give them the best experience with both parents.  

Tammy recommends that parents who want to handle schedules and the complexities of being single parents should consider relying on technology such as Family Wizard App, Appclose.com, etc.

Dealing with intense emotions about our ex

Control your body language, tone of voice, and facial expression.

Tammy suggests things to pay attention to when a single parent or co-parent deals with complicated situations with other relatives and family members. First, pay attention to body language, tone of voice, and facial expression. For example, sometimes it takes everything in you to hold your mouth from saying what you want because your children are standing nearby. “In every situation, mind how you show up and remember your kids are always watching,” she adds.

Have a buddy to call

Another vital thing to note is that you need a buddy that we can always call when it seems that the pressure is too much and the wheels are falling off. Tammy calls this friend “a 3 am friend.” “We need to have a go-to buddy that when of these moments happen, and the wheels feel like they are falling off, that you can speak open and honest in a safe place to another adult,” she added.

You have to be mindful of your body language, especially when you’re in front of your children because even when you are not saying anything, your body language can scream to the kids that everything is not okay. You will want to try to model that you’re a stable, strong, and positive parent, even when, in reality, you are feeling a lot of things inside. “As they see you handle a hard situation, you are modeling for them what an adult does when things are complicated,” she adds.

Robert adds that not escalating to the degree that your ex-partner escalates is not compliance, losing, or agreeing. Instead, it is restraint, strength, and control.

According to Tammy, “sometimes it is not always what we say; it is what we don’t say that is a protective decision for our kids.”

Have a mantra

Tammy also believes everybody needs a mantra in their pockets for those moments when the other partner throws something at you in front of the kids, which could be a small thing. However, it would be best to have a mantra to guide you in moments like these. So, for example, your mantra could be, this is not the time and space to talk about it, or I am not going to discuss it here; I’m happy to schedule a co-parenting call with you.

Ensure you stick to your mantra during tough situations. Make sure it’s something simple that you can say calmly with respect so that when your children see the way you react, you can always feel like you did the right thing. “I always tell my kids; we do not treat people how they treat us. We are who we are. We will always be kind, grace-filled, and loving,” says Kimberly.

How do we diffuse argument without escalating it and dragging our kids into it?

Tammy reiterates that you can’t control the other person or make them do the right thing or stop doing the wrong thing. However, there are two perspectives to tackling this problem.

According to Tammy, kids, especially teens, usually approach a more flexible parent with fewer rules or are open to granting their request when they want something. On the other hand, the parent might want to become the favorite parent and do what the kid wants. However, what you have to do is let your kids know that there are expectations in your home, especially when there is a situation where they are comparing you with the other parent.

You could also reach out to the other parent privately and politely ask if it’s possible to schedule a time where you can both discuss your kids.

Tammy says separated people have different households with different expectations. “Being different isn’t bad, but for kids, it can be confusing when one parent is being negative about the other or somehow throwing the other parent under the bus,” Tammy adds.

So, both parents sit down to discuss where they agree, are aware of where they disagree, and respectfully promise each other not to say negative things about themselves to their children.

Both parents should also know that one parent berating the other hurts the child. “To hear either one of us berate either parent doesn’t hurt us; it hurts our kids,” says Tammy. So you both should figure out a different way.

But if a parent refuses to talk, Tammy says, “you keep choosing the way you run your household, and not to return negative with negative.”

One of the hardest things for kids is to hear negative words about their parents because they internalize what they hear within their own identity. This is because they know they came from both parents. “It might not even be a cognitive thought, but emotionally and internally, they feel connected,” says Tammy. Because of this connection, if anything is negative or broken about a parent, they will internalize and feel something is wrong with them. So while parents might be trying to hurt the other adult with harsh remarks, it will pierce the child’s heart.

How do you keep the peace when you sense that an ex is intentionally trying to get under your skin?

Robert shares a story about a person who had planned to get a particular gift for their kid, but the partner who had most likely heard the conversation went behind and bought the exact kid for the child. For Robert, this act was deliberate to get under their partner’s skin.

For Tammy, Christmas and birthdays seem to bring the best and the worst. Divided parents either work together or try to outbuy each other. But the experience you create in your home around holidays and birthdays is what your kids will remember.

Tammy says the best way to deal with this kind of situation is not to share the information about what you want to buy. But above all, it is essential to note that what matters is not the gifts or gadgets you get for your kids but your time with them and having conversations. These are what they feel connected to the most. Ultimately, “it’s not your job to be their friend or favorite but to keep them safe and point them to Jesus,” Tammy adds.

How do we bring peace to a situation where a parent doesn’t show up or call or abandon their children?

Connect your children to adults

This is hard, and you cannot altogether remove the hurt that comes with it, but be intentional about looking for other adults to connect to your children. These adults could be uncles, aunties, grandparents, neighbors, or anybody aside from someone you’re dating. “Somebody who could invest some one-on-one time that you trust to be with your children to help speak life into them,” Tammy adds.

However, no mentor or stepparent can replace the biological parents, but those healthy adults can pour into the child’s life. These people should also be careful in answering questions from kids, especially those surrounding why their parents don’t come to see them or call. “Those are questions we can’t answer for other parents. We can only point them to the fact that those of present love them,” says Tammy.

Kids will carry some of that hurt of not seeing their parent, but having another adult around who is not the bio parent speaks life into them and help them see how important they are.

Lessons from John Trent

Tammy shares some inspiring lessons she learned from John Trent’s story, whose father walked away when he was still a kid and never saw him again until he was in his fifties.

He said his mom made two godly choices that kept him on the straight and narrow.

1. She always talked to John about God’s plan for a lifelong marriage. Even though she couldn’t be an example of it, she upheld that with good conversations and what the Bible says about marriage and exposing him to families that had a lifelong marriage.

2. She never said anything negative about his missing dad. When he asked about his daddy, she would only say positive things. She spoke intentionally about the good things. When John met his dad for the first time in his fifties, he realized that he was a chain smoker, alcoholic and unfaithful. When he confronted his mother about telling him the opposite of who his daddy was, she said she wanted him to believe the best about his dad to believe the best about himself because she knew that anytime he looked into the mirror, he saw two sets of genes.

Some days, you will feel that your kids will not be okay because of the abandonment and loss. It’s significant and essential that you attend to it but choosing to point your kids to the Lord and God’s plan for marriage and family and to speak life into them as much as possible that’s connected to that absent parent can build that child up to believe the best about themselves.

Is it okay to say “I don’t know” when a kid asks about an absent parent?

Assure kids it’s not their fault.

Tammy says even when you don’t know the best answer to give when your kids want to understand why their other parent is not reaching out, it’s vital to let them know you want to know what they feel and think about the whole thing.

Part of the conversation should assure the kids that it’s not their fault that their other parent isn’t showing up. Tammy suggests you tell your kids, “It’s about an adult who is somehow in a situation that they are not prioritizing this, but it’s not you. You didn’t break this, and you can’t fix it.”

Study good books and God’s Word

There are also good books that you can read that will give you the right resources to use in this situation.

Tammy adds that although it’s true that there are some questions that you can’t give clear answers to as an adult, you can go back to God’s Word and find some scriptures you can hold on to and help your kids do the same. You can be an example of knowing where to find the only true and unfailing love, and that is in God.

Kimberly believes that Jesus uses our children and their stories to help other children passing through the confusing and heartbreaking phase of a broken family or absent parent.

Robert adds that we will always be disappointed since we are in a fallen world. Indeed, parents should be in a kid’s life, but the “shoulds” can stop us and hurt our peace. But living with the struggles of being a single parent can equip us to be so much stronger and more resilient with a better sense of identity and peace.

How can we bring peace when our teenage kids cause the volatility?

Tammy believes that even though kids have the same parents, they will have different personalities and temperaments and sometimes respond to transition differently. “The teenage years are like an alien takes over the brain for a while,” Tammy says.

Equip yourself with the right tools

According to Tammy, part of what can help parents keep their sanity during their teenage years is equipping themselves with helpful parenting tools. However, parents should have mastered using these tools before kids get to that age. “I would ask a parent to think about what tools can you equip yourself that gives you specifics about each of your unique children,” she adds.

Counseling is okay

Tammy adds that it’s not a problem to reach out and ask a counselor for help. Some wonderful family therapists will sit with kids and parents, figure out where issues are coming from, and work on them. “There is no shame in not knowing everything because most likely, you have never been at this stage with your kids before,” Tammy says.

Schedule some sessions for yourself and ask for insights on leading your family. If you don’t have the finances for it, some churches have someone you can always talk to who is willing to help.

In her final words, Tammy says there is always hope in the midst of it, keep pointing your kids to the Lord, and don’t lose sight of your anchor in the Word and godly friendships because, in the long run, the kids will learn from watching you do that as well. So, as a parent, don’t isolate yourself. Don’t do things on your own because life is meant to be done in community.

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