Last time I wrote I talked about the ten things that co-parents should do to be successful at co-parenting. Today I want to talk about the flip side of that coin, the things that you should never, ever, do as a co-parent.
I spend a lot of my time counseling my clients on how to be effective co-parents and I will tell you that no matter how good a parent is, I almost always have to remind them of at least one of these. That’s large because co-parenting is so hard in the beginning because you are dealing with a huge life change and all of the emotions that come with a breakup or divorce. You are also required to try and talk to this person who you are likely very upset within a rational adult manner, putting your kids first. That’s a challenge even on the best days. So, try and remember these things you shouldn’t do, and avoid them.
Your problems with your ex are exactly that, yours. Your children love both of you, and should not be forced to play messenger, or be in a position where they ever feel like they have to choose between their parents. Keep your conflict, no matter how bad, away from your kids. If they ask you about it just say “That’s a problem between mommy and daddy, and we will work it out. You don’t need to worry about it.” This period of transition is just as difficult for your kids as it is for you. Please don’t make it worse by including them in the conflict.
As Elsa (and my daughter) are so fond of singing “Let it go!” No one likes to be blamed for problems or accused of doing something wrong. Work on letting go of the past and all the things you think your ex did (or does) wrong. Instead of trying to figure out who is at fault for any given problem, spend your time and energy figuring out how to solve that problem. If you find yourself saying to your ex “You never…” or “You always…” take a breath and refocus. You can’t change or control how your ex behaves, but you can absolutely control how you react to it. If you come at them with blame and accusations they will get defensive. Instead, try offering constructive solutions and talking about what you need. Instead of saying “You never tell me about doctor’s appointments.” try “Would you be willing to work with me to make sure I know when doctor’s appointments are?”
I’m not saying you’re not allowed to disagree with your co-parent, or that you can’t refuse any request. What I am suggesting is that you should work on either offering explanations or alternatives when you disagree (preferably both). This is about communication and dialogue. When one of you wants something, you can earn goodwill and build a bit of trust by working together. Now sometimes requests won’t be reasonable at all, and there aren’t really any good alternatives. In those cases offering an explanation as to why you disagree or won’t agree, keeps a dialogue open and allows for greater understanding. The goal is to work together on all aspects of your parenting, compromising and coming up with solutions jointly whenever you can.
Just like number 3, the goal here is to come up with solutions together as much as possible. Sometimes you can agree on part of an issue, but can’t resolve another part. Be willing to accept partial agreements and to be flexible. When you say “take it or leave it” you are essentially shutting down discussion and dictating terms to the other person, rather than trying to work cooperatively. That’s the exact opposite of what you should be doing.
It’s easy to suspect that your ex is playing games or trying to manipulate a situation. Avoid guessing or believing what your ex is thinking when you are trying to resolve disputes. It takes a certain level of trust, but try and take what they say at face value rather than ascribing nefarious motives to their every action. Focus on what they identify as important and what they want rather than playing mind reading games and suspecting them of ulterior motives. Ultimately what their motives are or aren’t don’t really matter, what is important is the problems and issues that need to be resolved.
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