Remember when you were in middle school or high school and you got put in a group for a group project? It was the worst thing ever because there were always the same personalities in the group: the leader, the follower, the fighter, the one who wanted the good grade, and the one who didn't care. At least when I was in a group, there were always some combination close to this. I've always fallen into either the leader category or the one who wanted the good grade. This meant, I've always dealt with the fighter.
Many times, co-parenting feels exactly the same as a group project in high school.
Here's the cycle:
- Someone has a vision or an idea meant to make the best of the project (in this case, it's raising happy, healthy, successful adults).
- That vision is communicated to ensure all participants are on the same page.
- The fighter either responds with anger, frustration, bitterness or doesn't respond at all.
- The one with the vision adjusts communication, the vision, and works to see what he/she can do to make it happen for the kids.
- This is met with either more arguments, no communication, or the fighter takes full credit when it goes well.
- Original participant hangs head in exhaustion before the next vision/project comes.
Does this ever happen to you? It certainly happens to many of the clients I've worked with and has happened to me - for 11 years (and counting).
It's frustrating. It's hard to understand. It's sad to watch and to be a part of.
But you have a vision and you know it's the right thing for the kids, now what? Here are my tips for working with the co-parent who refuses to work with you.
- Make sure you're not missing something. When I talked about the different personalities in a group project, I almost called the leader an 'overachieving know-it-all'. That's me. I know, I know. It's annoying. I get annoyed with it, too, but God has created me Type A and I've learned to embrace the positives. That means that though I have many visions for my kids and what is the best for them, sometimes I can't see the forest through the trees and I am (gasp) wrong. Or I miss something in my vision. This has taken practice, but if I get an argument about the vision, I do go back to see whether or not I've missed something. I put my ideas aside and try to see things from my co-parent's point of view. There's more than one view from the parenting ledge and all views matter.
- Decide what requires your co-parent and, subsequently, what's most important. Sometimes my visions are small: starting a new tradition with my daughter to cook a meal from another country every Sunday we're together. Sometimes my visions are bigger: knowing they need a new orthodontist because the one originally chosen has decided to make poor decisions with their patient's mouths. One of those visions requires the collaboration of my co-parent, one does not. When it requires my co-parent's collaboration, I need to decide what's most important. Is it worth the fight to find a new orthodontist knowing I'll be fighting the whole way? What's most important here? In other words, pick your battles.
- Ask yourself what YOU can do to make it easier. Actual words used by people I know and people I've worked with: "Why not just work together?" "Why does it always have to be so hard?" "Why does every single thing have to be an argument?" "Why?" You get the idea. You've probably said something similar, too. After asking something like this, there is usually a quick (or sometimes not-so-quick) vent about what's wrong with the other person and why they make things so difficult all the time. Let's switch that up, though. What about you? What about me? What can we do to make it easier? Is there anything we can do? Who cares if that means we are always going more than halfway. Who cares if we work harder to make things happen? No one is keeping score and remember, we've already decided what's most important - the goal of raising happy, healthy, successful adults.
- Move on to do the best you can without breaking the rules and celebrate the wins. I couldn't change the orthodontist without agreement from my co-parent, so I had to keep moving forward to make that happen. After a mediation session and multiple emails, we've narrowed it down. Should it have been easier? Without question. Was it? Not even a little, but there are some wins. When you focus on what went well instead of all the ways it didn't go well, it's a heck of a lot easier to move on. Were there frustrating parts? Goodness yes, but they're over and we're moving onto a new orthodontist smiling instead of angry because of how difficult it was.
How are you handling the difficult collaboration? When you work with someone who refuses to communicate altogether, there's a whole other way of moving on without breaking rules. I go through the step-by-step ways of handling this with someone who refuses to collaborate or with someone who refuses to collaborate.
The co-parenting course is 10 lessons designed to take you from managing your own emotions so you can put everything you have into co-parenting through what happens if co-parenting just isn't in the cards for you and your ex.