Q: My ex and I share custody of our 2½-year-old son. My challenge is dealing with issues like toilet training and sleep routines — just as I think I am making progress in these areas, he goes to his dad’s and any progress is wiped out.
A: Going back and forth between two parents can be very difficult, especially for young children who don’t yet have the language skills needed to communicate about their experiences. At the same time, your son needs to have time with both parents. A co-operative relationship between you and your ex concerning parenting issues will give your son the consistency he needs to thrive and grow.
Communicate with your ex in private about the strategies you are using with your son and about the progress he is making. See if your ex is willing to use the same approach, or if together you can come up with a plan that feels right to both of you. Try to stay focused on your son’s well-being; if you find you have painful feelings, process them elsewhere, with a trusted friend or a therapist.
Bear in mind that even if you both manage to use very similar strategies and routines, your son may continue to experience setbacks when he goes to his father’s house, which may be a result of being away from you, especially if you are parenting him most of the time. To help, prepare him in a positive way for each pending stay with his father. Remind him of his upcoming visit one or two days in advance, and support your son’s need to visit with his father. You might want to see if you ex is willing to limit his time with his son to daytime hours and gradually add overnight visits as your son seems ready for them.
Teamwork with your ex may not be easy — it may be necessary to involve a therapist or a mediator to help you establish a co-parenting relationship.