What happens when you stop being a couple and you still have children together? The short answer: You get to choose.
While you may stop living under the same roof, the relationship continues. It simply evolves into a different type of relationship. This new relationship as co-parents, co-workers, co-team members may be even better than your relationship as a couple. How do you do that?
Here are some tips for creating child-focused co-parenting conversations:
1. During the conversation, be aware of your child’s needs, and stay focused on those. Before engaging in any conversation, also check in with yourself about your needs. Pay attention. When you have unmet needs, it proves more challenging to help or stay focused on someone else. (See Noticing Needs Self-Assessment).
2. Notice what you are each making moments mean. Your co-parent may be making a situation a bigger or lesser deal than it is. You may also be making a situation mean more or less than it does. Do not assume you see things the same way. Even folks who love spending time together, do not always see things the same way.
3. Remember your personal values and the child’s needs, and filter what you think, do, and say through those values. The behavior you model tells your child what you think is appropriate behavior. Know that your child may likely behave that same way with you, at a friend’s home, in the neighborhood, at school, or out in public. Are you modeling what you wish to see?
1. Reflect back the words of the co-parent to show what you hear and understand.
2. Acknowledge feelings. (For example, “It sounds like you are frustrated, disappointed…” or “that sounds frustrating, disappointing …..”) Feelings tell you whether needs are met or unmet. (See Feelings Inventory). Remember, your feelings are your feelings, and state them as such. (Say, “I feel ….” rather than “You make me…”).
3. When you find the conversation going awry, pay attention to what your co-parent might really be needing in the moment. It does not mean you are responsible for meeting it. It helps you provide a little empathy and understanding though. (See Naming Needs List).
Seek to better understand the co-parent through open-ended questions, such as:
1. What would you like to see happen?
2. What other possible options may meet our child’s needs, your needs, and my needs?
3. What ideas might be acceptable to you?
Divorce, marriage dissolution, or breaking up gives you a unique opportunity to show children how to communicate with people who may think differently than you. You may talk with consideration and respect. You may choose to fill your child’s life security and comfort that both of you love the child and you support the child in loving each of you. Does this mean that you must deny the myriad of emotions you feel? No, it does not. You get to feel whatever you feel. Feeling an emotion and acting from it are two different things. Feelings and emotions may take time to heal. What responsibility are you placing on your child while you heal? Who else are you impacting? In what ways?
Whether or not a couple stays together, the nature of most relationships change and evolve over time. Each member of a couple may fluctuate from couple-focused, child-focused, career-focused, hobby-focused, faith-focused to a myriad of other focuses depending on what demands time and attention and how each person chooses to spend that time. In some circumstances the changes in focus lead to divorce or separation. It rarely completely ends the relationship. It does change the nature of the relationship. Things may never be exactly the same again. No longer sharing living space means adjustments. These may be positive ones. You may find that you work better as a co-parenting team than a couple. All those school conferences, extracurricular activities, holidays, parenting time exchanges, weddings, funerals, graduations, and birthday celebrations may be healthy, happy experiences for everyone involved.
If you need help talking as co-parents, consider parenting mediation. A mediator serves as a neutral person who helps you engage in a more constructive conversation.
How will you manage conversations when relationships change? What will you choose?