In the co-parenting world, it's easy to get caught up in the negativity. Since the two parents involved were together at one point, likely married, they know each other well. This means they know exactly how to push each others buttons. During a relationship, the parents respected each other and didn't try to push buttons (most of the time), but now that the relationship is over, all bets are off. What we need to remember is to put the children first. There are several reasons for this:
- Children don't need to feel like they're in the middle of an on-going battle between Mom and Dad. Even if you two decide not talking is the best answer around your child/ren, imagine how that feels for the kids. When have you ever felt comfortable entering a room when two people were purposely not talking to each other?
- Children learn how to argue from their parents. What do you want to teach them?
- Chances are good that what you're currently arguing about will either a) resolve itself or b) doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things.
Take this example. There's a child who is involved in an activity at Dad's house. That activity goes on for 2 hours in a day. The court agreement says that drop-off at Mom's house on her day (one day of the activity) is right when this activity starts. Mom didn't sign the child up for this activity. In your head, as a divorced person, what are you thinking? Every co-parent I've worked with has a similar scenario and immediately takes a side. Some say, "Why did Dad sign her up for an activity without Mom's consent?" I have some parents who say, "Why isn't Mom going to this activity?" I have yet to work with a parent who says, "What about the child?"
Let's add to this story. The child absolutely loves this activity and asks Dad to talk to Mom if she can be dropped off after the activity instead of before. Dad relays the message in exactly that way. Mom tells Dad that she does not want her daughter going on her day because she misses her. Dad reminds Mom that she is working during this activity and won't get to see her anyway. Mom tells Dad that he should drop it because "he's not going to get his way." Dad tells his daughter that Mom said no and drops his daughter off at Mom's. Obviously now both Mom and Dad are upset.
Now, is it really the end of the world that this child is missing out on an activity? Probably not, but tell me what you think. Was Mom trying to punish Dad? If so, who was the one who actually suffered? Do you think Dad should have had his daughter ask Mom if she can go to the activity or does this depend on age? Do you think that Mom will assume anytime her daughter asks anything, it's because Dad put it in her head to ask? Do you think Dad will assume the same? Is Mom upset because Dad signed her up for an activity she loves? Is she jealous that their daughter loves an activity that Dad helped pick out?
This is the hardest part of co-parenting, letting go of the hurt. Both parents are hurt in this situation. Obviously Mom misses her daughter just as Dad misses her when she's with Mom. Parents should miss their children. Is that a reason to prevent your child from getting involved in something they love? Isn't an activity a great thing for a child whose parents have divorced? It keeps them occupied and gives both parents an opportunity to show how much they love and support their child. Should Dad have set the expectation that his daughter can go to this activity every other day of the week expect Mom's day? If he set this expectation, should he stick to it or still allow his daughter to ask Mom if she can go to Mom's house after the activity?
For today, before reacting to a situation with your ex, let's first ask the question: How does this affect my child/ren? Then when you have an answer, ask this: Was my previous answer based on my feelings or the feelings of my child/ren? Then ask yourself again: How does this affect my child/ren? If you're unsure, ask yourself the question of 5's: Will this matter in 5 days? Will this matter in 5 weeks? Will this matter in 5 months? Will this matter in 5 years?
For tips on letting go, see my blog post. For help with your co-parenting relationship and tips for things you can do to make things better, contact me via the site. I offer discounted rates for co-parents who come to me together.
Karen Becker is an author, speaker and personal growth coach. She has a Master's Degree in Counseling and applies these skills when coaching clients. She has years of experience coaching clients in all areas of life: parenting, co-parenting after divorce and in personal growth/wellness. She can be reached at email@example.com.