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Whether you are married, separated, or divorced, being on different pages as co-parents is an option no family can afford – it’s important to try to be a team as much as possible. In some situations, this is anything but easy. However, your child is worth it

Family on a therapy

Common Ground

Finding common ground is key to working together as co-parents. Wouldn’t it be great if you and your co-parent were on the same page about everything? Unfortunately, every parent has different ideas, opinions, and values in real life based on their learning and life experience. The good news is that even if you have a different approach, chances are you have some of the same goals. On the surface, you can argue all day about your different beliefs and approaches to parenting. However, by learning to “get below the surface” of your co-parent’s approach, you will discover that they have legitimate underlying reasons that lead them to parent the way they do.

Seeking To Understand

Instead of judging yourself or your co-parent, seek to understand why they are the way they are. Asking good questions and giving grace helps your co-parent learn and grow. On the other hand, judging will keep your co-parent stuck in their problematic ways, or what we will call “ditches.” With this in mind, when you come across a situation where the two of you cannot agree, take a moment to press pause and ask your co-parent the goal or motivation behind their preferred approach. Since children often want an answer now, co-parents often find it challenging to be on the same page in the moment. Therefore, the best thing you can do for yourself, your co-parent, and your family is to communicate to your children that you will not provide an answer to their request until both parents have discussed it and come to a mutual agreement. Communicate as a united front to your children.

Parenting is not about being perfect

There is no formula. Trying to be the best parent or develop the perfect parent playbook may lead to more frustration if you can’t give yourself and your family members grace. The best parenting approach balances moderate expectations with a high level of grace. This approach teaches children that growing and learning from mistakes is essential to learn. Learning and growing are part of parenting. Football coaches are constantly adding new plays to the playbook to make their team more successful. Parenting is not about finding the perfect manual. It’s about working together to continually build a playbook that works for your family. Building your playbook requires communicating about your ditches and finding ways to get out of them together. Don’t worry about hitting the ditch. We all do it from time to time. Your success or failure as a parent is not measured by how often you hit the ditch. Success is determined by what you do when you hit the ditch. Ignoring the issue or getting introspective and internally spinning your mind’s tires will worsen the situation. Communicating and working together as a team to find ways to get unstuck will help you move forward together.

If your co-parent has frequently made decisions without you, it’s important to forgive and start fresh. In
the judgment lens, I see my co-parent for all their faults and issues. For example, he is too controlling with the kids, or
she never gives consequences and always makes me the “bad cop.” The grace lens shifts away from their flaws and
celebrates the strengths of my co-parent. Awareness is the first step to change.

● Before you get ahead of yourself and try to change your co-parent, you need to find out where they
are at and better understand why they are where they are. 

● Try empowering them. Affirmations are the foundation of empowerment. Affirmations
communicate to your partner that you see them through the grace lens. Even in their
shortcomings, you appreciate where they are coming from. Affirmations disarm our defenses and
draw us out of self-protect mode, creating a safe space for productive conversation. 

● Pair affirmations with asks (“how can I help” questions). This has the potential to draw even the
most defensive individuals out of hiding and into collaboratively working together as a team.

Neutral Ground

As co-parents, there is no neutral ground. We are either working together or against each other. I meet
very few parents who want to work against each other. Unfortunately, we all do things as parents that work against
our co-parents without realizing it.

● Be honest about your own shortcomings, it’s impossible to learn and grow if you don’t. I can only be a better teammate by honestly assessing the areas where I might not be playing on the same team as my co-parent. Being unified and working as a team is essential to parenting well. If two people are trying to drive the same car in two different directions, chaos is the only possible outcome. One parent swerves towards the ditch of control. Then the other parent feels like their children are losing out on the relationship and overcompensates by swerving into the ditch of permissiveness. 

● It’s frustrating for both parents but even more so to the child. It’s hard for children to learn how to manage themselves when parents constantly switch their parenting approaches. Mom is permissive and gives the child too much responsibility, and in the next moment, Dad is controlling and takes away all responsibility. It’s hard for children to adjust from complete freedom to zero freedom moment to moment. Once a child has been given the freedom to drive, they are less willing to give up their freedom. 

● Parents who vacillate in their approach create disorder and confusion for their children. For the children, it feels like parents are on two different teams and the rules change depending on who is home or in charge. Most parents want to be on the same team and are not trying to play against each other. However, if one of you is permissive and the other is in control, you create two different cultures in your home that can’t work together. Without a shared vision, it’s impossible to be a team. 

● A natural reaction to a parent being too one-sided is for the other parent to overcompensate in the other direction. This should balance things out in theory, but it accomplishes the opposite. Overcompensating in the other direction makes things less consistent for the children creating more chaos instead of cohesion. The more parents compensate, the more it feels like you are playing on two opposing teams.

Communication

When your co-parent falls into a ditch, choose to
communicate instead of compensating. Compensating
moves you further away from playing on the same team, while
communicating helps identify an area of concern and work
together to a more empowered solution.

● Affirmations, Asks, and Apologies provide a playbook for parent communication to get unstuck
and move towards a shared vision. 

● Openly acknowledging my ditches helps my co-parent be more open to exploring their ditches
too. Until I own my 50% of the problem, how can I expect my co-parent to own their 50%? Even if
my co-parent is 98% at fault, I have no right to point a finger until I own my 2%. 

● On the surface, your co-parent may have ideas of parenting that you completely disagree with.
Avoid the urge to judge or criticize them. 

● Instead, ASK your partner what is going on below the surface. What are the underlying reasons –
contributing factors, beliefs, and experiences – leading them to want to parent this way. In a
non-judgmental way, explore the ditches. For example, you might say, “it sounds like your
relationship with your children is important to you right now, and I agree. I’m wondering, is there a
way to make both relationship and responsibility equally important so we can stay on the road of
connection-based parenting instead of getting stuck in a ditch?” 

● Seek to understand and appreciate your co-parent’s underlying wants and needs instead of
judging or criticizing. Judgment focuses on the problem. It’s easy to do and does not help the
situation. Discernment sees the problem and invites the other person into a conversation that
moves towards a solution. 

● Taking time to communicate and decide how to work as a team to get out of the ditch brings a
simple solution to complicated problems.

Communicating about your weaknesses is not easy, but it’s the only way to get out of the ditch without making more of a mess.

 

Books on Co-Parenting – all available on Amazon


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