Co-parenting problem-solving: 7 questions to ask yourself when emotions are running high.
From the minute that blue line appears on the pregnancy test you find yourself thrown into a world of never-ending decisions. Some may be less significant (which range of prenatal vitamin should you choose?), and some may be life-changing (should baby be brought up with Mom's religious beliefs or Dad's?) but while you're going through them, they can all feel totally overwhelming.
And that's just when you're part of a loving relationship — when you're both working on the same side, ready and willing to listen to each other with respect, and prepared to compromise.
So what happens when that love and respect breaks down? How do you handle tough parenting decisions when it feels like you're both playing for different teams?
Here's the thing — you only think you're playing for different teams.
Before your relationship broke down, even difficult decisions seemed easier because you knew that deep down you were on the same side: your child's side. Their wellbeing was the common goal. That was the endgame.
When emotions are running high, as they so often are after a separation, thoughts are scattered and logic goes out the window. But if you can break through the background noise of your breakup, you'll realize that you still share that common goal: your child's best interests. The endgame hasn't changed.
Of course, it's easy for me to say from a bystander's position. It's not always an easy truth to remember when you're still coming to terms with the breakdown of a serious relationship.
When working with a co-parenting team, when there is little to no trust between the parents, it can be hard to bring logic and reason back into the decision-making dynamic but it's a vital part of productive co-parenting, particularly when there's an important issue to be decided upon, such as medical care or schooling.
To help make this process as peaceful and productive as possible, there are 7 questions I like to focus on in these situations:
1. How do you want your child to feel — what do you want for your child?
This is the most important question. It serves as a potent reminder of why you're both there; your common goal, your endgame, is to do the very best for your child. You'll notice though that the question is a two-parter. The outcome you think you want for your child — perhaps their attendance at a certain church or a specific school — may turn out to be in direct conflict with how you want your child to feel if they themselves are opposed to the idea.
Even if your answers to both parts are in perfect harmony, it's worth considering whether it's worth potentially inflicting emotional damage on your child as you fight their other parent over the decision. Will your child feel just as happy/healthy/fulfilled by following another path from the one you'd like them to follow? Is your desire more about what you want than what is truly right for your child?
In short, is it a battle worth fighting when you consider how you want your child to feel?
2. How do you want to feel —what do you want for yourself?
Notice the question focuses on how you want to feel, not how you actually feel right now.
3. What do you want for your family? What's happening now and what do you want to have happen instead?
No one actually wants a family characterized by fighting and bitterness. What do you want your family life to look like as you move further into co-parenting territory? What does your ideal future look like and where does each family member fit into that picture?
4. How do you want to feel when you interact with your children's father/mother?
Again, note that the question is how do you want to feel, not how do you feel right now.
It may be that right now you feel nothing but anger or bitterness and you crave feelings of peace, or indifference at the very least. Is there a compromise that you can make in the decision-making process that would help your reach that emotional point more quickly without compromising your child's wellbeing?
5. What do you need to know that you don't already know?
Perhaps your co-parent actually has a valid reason for wanting to make this decision about your child's future…there may be factors you haven't considered or things you've overlooked due to your personal feelings about your ex-spouse. Yes, decisions are generally driven by emotion but bringing cold hard facts back into the equation can help dissipate some of the more heated emotions that may have been getting in the way of reason.
6. What will the other party need to know in order to be able to say "yes" to your idea or come up with an idea that you can both agree on?
This is the flip side of the previous question. It's time to argue your own case by presenting the cold hard facts. Show them that a lot of rational thought has gone into your decision-making and that you aren't just trying to be awkward or arguing that black is white just to get back at your ex!
7. What needs to happen first, second, third in order for your ultimate goal to have a chance of succeeding.
Maybe you're trying to run a marathon when really you need to take a few baby steps to begin with. Rather than jumping ahead to your end goal, there are a few smaller things that should be dealt with first — and once they've been accomplished your ex may feel much more comfortable with what you want to happen or you may both realize that there's a compromise that might suit everyone better.
The wonderful thing about working out your goals, interests, and concerns in this way, by writing everything down with the help targeted worksheets, is that it actually takes you out of that mental space where you're led purely by the emotions that fueled your divorce. It allows logic and reason to edge back into the decision-making process, while encouraging you to remember that you do, despite everything, have one very important common goal. Your child's happiness.
There is a peaceful, productive way out of almost every conflict and when you have your child's best interests at heart, you'll realize that although the goal posts have changed, you really are still playing for the same side.
If you need any additional help in finding a peaceful way to resolve your trickier co-parenting decisions, I'd be happy to help. Schedule a consultation today.