Unlike choosing to start a company with a business partner, parents are thrust into the business of coParenting under some of the most personally painful and stressful circumstances.
Whatever skills we might have on a good day may be temporarily lost until stress resolves, hearts heal, and acceptance steps in. coParents often find that they build new skills through their transition from partners or spouses to coParents. This list can help guide you through.
- Respect: An attitude of civility should underlie all communication and child-related business. You may not always respect your former spouse/partner, but you can respect the coParent role and maintain civility toward your coParent as they execute the business of coParenting—even when he/she doesn’t.
- Tolerance of differences: The coParent who can operate from the “80/20 rule” demonstrates a much-needed skill in learning to tolerate the inevitable differences that occur in a two-home family. Have easy conversation about differences if your coParent is open. If not, let go of 80 percent of the differences, and only draw attention to the 20 percent that really have a significant impact on your children’s well-being. If none of the differences rise to the level of really having a significant impact, then let them go. If you’re uncertain which are significant enough to confront your coParent about, talk with a trusted advisor or your child’s healthcare provider to help you discern whether it’s worth the potential conflict to bring up the issue.
- Boundaries/appropriate privacy: You two adults are separate now. Your lives and homes are separate and deserve all the same healthy boundaries. Just because your children reside in the house with your coParent does not afford you special privileges to intrude on, have access to, or secure information about your former spouse/partner or his/her home life.
- Integrity/trustworthiness: As with any constructive relationship, the more you say what you mean and follow through on what you say, the greater the trust you’ll earn. Making and following through on agreements, keeping to schedules, handling financial agreements impeccably, all contribute to a positive coParenting relationship.
- Child-centered: Your relationship with your coParent business partner is focused on your children: their lives, activities, growth and development, and overall well-being. Focusing on your coParent’s parenting style or personal life is not helpful. Feedback is useful only when the other person is open and interested in what you have to say.
- Skillful communication: Every relationship benefits from competent listening skills and responsible communication, which means, “I’m responsible for what I say and how I say it.” When you take responsibility for how you communicate, you’re not blaming or judging or making excuses for whether your communication is skillful or hurtful. Stay on the skillful side of the line, both verbally and in writing.
- Transparency regarding kid-information: Learning to share a useful amount of information back and forth with your coParent is a skill and practice. Seeing your coParent up for a successful residential time can be dependent on the quality of your communication about the kids; do the right thing and provide through voice mail or email useful information for your coParent as he/she takes over for the next shift with the children.
- Healthy coping: This refers to being able to manage triggers, step away from invitations to be in conflict, and to stay separate from any drama while responding constructively. When we react to negativity, it’s like putting kindling on a fire, which of course only fuels the fire. Learning to hold back, respond skillfully, or ignore negativity are strong skills. Similarly, when we pay attention to positive change, constructive attempts to coParent in a more productive way, and other signs of acceptance and settling down, we will get more of what we’re paying a attention to! This is the best part of human nature: given a bit of light, most of us will grow toward it.
- Optimism about creating a positive future: Your own conviction about how you’ll create the future you want will lay the foundation for that future to arrive—one day at a time. Similar to healthy coping, optimism is a skill of the heart and spirit to trust in a better tomorrow even when today is complicated by challenges. Our sense of personal power to learn what we need to learn, gain the skills, understand the territory, and navigate the trouble spots leads us out of the struggle and into a positive future.
- Practices and protocols that work: All the right attitude, communication skills and strong psychological health doesn’t substitute for knowing what to do. When you and your coParent take the time to use practices and protocols that strengthen your two-home family, kids benefit.
Editor’s Note: This piece has been taken from Karen Bonnell’s book, THE CO-PARENTS’ HANDBOOK For more information on Karen or her books, you’re invited to visit http://coachmediateconsult.com/coParents-handbook/