In my job, emotions are the biggest part of our daily discussion. Frustration, anger, hate, freedom, relief, anxiety, denial, hope, acceptance and the list goes on and on. The strongest human emotion is hope. It can overcome all of those on the list above and more. The emotion that rivals hope is fear. Fear drives anger. Fear drives anxiety. Fear drives so much of what makes co-parenting difficult. This makes it an important emotion to understand and manage.
Despite what the title of this post says, fear isn't exactly "What are you afraid of?" Fear is a deeply-rooted emotion that is based in what you're afraid of, but goes so much farther than that. For now, think about what it is you're afraid of. Is it something you'd lose? Something you'd gain, but you're afraid of the consequences of gaining it? Something you wouldn't gain, but want to? Think about what your deepest fear is and keep that handy.
If you've ever worked with me in emotion, I've likely told you that all emotion starts with a thought. In the co-parenting world, thoughts that create fear can include:
- I'm not as good of a parent.
- My kids will love the other parent more than me.
- I'll lose my kids.
- Everything my co-parent says is true.
- I can't do this on my own.
Of course there are so many more than this list, but as soon as your mind goes to one of those places; those thoughts turn into fear. I get it, too. I've certainly thought some pretty scary things.
While each of these fears are completely normal to have, it's what we do with that fear that matters. This is where co-parenting can become difficult. One parent or the other or both of the parents will let fear drive every interaction with their co-parent and with their children.
When you get a text from your co-parent telling you that they're going to file for custody and placement, do you worry a little? When your child comes home and excitedly tells you how much fun they had with their other parent, does your heart sink or soar? What about your co-parent? Do you think they feel fear in those scenarios? There's no wrong answer to either of these. Simply know that if you did feel a pang of fear, it can lead you into the next stage.
When you feel fear, that fear can make you feel as though you're being attacked. If your children come home from time with their other parent and they're smiling, laughing, and telling you everything they did, does your mind think, "My co-parent only did those things to upset me."? If so, you're in the next stage. In that stage, when you feel attacked, you may either get defensive or you'll go on the offense and attack. The same goes with your co-parent. If they're feeling fear that's making them feel attacked, they will get defensive or go on the offense.
This is when fear starts driving interactions instead of hope.
I know that you cannot control what your co-parent does, but you can work to understand it. I know that you CAN control what YOUR reactions are and I hope you take a step back to ask yourself if fear has turned into feeling attacked. If so, the easiest thing to do is to ignore the fear. Do what your kids need you to do and laugh with them, smile with them, try not to take things personally, and simply be the best parent you can be because they love both of their parents.
When you notice it happening with your co-parent, you can be softer. You can understand instead of attacking back. When attack leads to attack, it's a never-ending cycle, I call it the angry cycle in the Co-Parenting Course. It only takes one of you to stop the cycle.
Today. Ask yourself what fears you have. Be honest with yourself. Then notice it when fear starts to drive your interactions and put some change in place.