Helpful Operating Assumptions for Co-Parenting | Shoreview Minnesota

After the divorce, there is often a new role to play – that of co-parent with your former spouse.  One helpful way to think about this shift is that after the marriage has ended, you are now business partners. Why?  You are partners in the business of raising happy, healthy children.  That makes you business partners with enormously valuable assets between you. And it is both a privilege and responsibility to make the most of those assets.  

Here are ten central operating assumptions that can help you be successful in the business of co parenting.

1. This will always be a family.

The marriage has ended, but the family continues when you have children together.  Instead of thinking in terms of the family ending, think in terms of restructuring your family.  Yes, things have irrevocably changed, so grieve the loss and grab on tight to a vision of what your children need from you to have a positive and healthy life.

2. Children deserve the best safe parenting they can get from both parents.

As the stewardess says, “In the event of loss of cabin pressure… oxygen masks will pop out of the ceiling.  Put on YOUR mask first, before attempting to help others.”   After the divorce, seek the help you need and do the work that leads toward emotional healing.  Then you will be able to be the parent your child needs.

3. Effective co-parenting skills are a lifelong benefit for your children.

As one woman reflected on her growing up with divorced parents, “I always knew it would be OK, because I knew my parents were talking about me and my well-being.”

4. Healthy co-parenting relies on the shift from “we” to a different kind of “we”.

It takes a shift of thinking and behavior to take off the spouse hat, and put on the co-parent hat.  To create the distance needed for the “one to become two” and adopt the businesslike demeanor mentioned above.

5. Keep your focus on the present and the future.

There are problems from the past that will never be fully resolved.  There are debts that will never be fully repaid.  Don’t waste your lives focused on the pain of the past, hold on to hope for a better future.

6. Each parent has a role in what is not working and it only takes one to begin to change the pattern.

It is helpful to adopt a systems thinking approach. In a relational system, all parties are interconnected. If you touch one piece of a mobile, the movement of every piece is affected. Choose to move in ways that will affect others positively.

7. We all have a range of choices about how we will think, feel, react, and behave.

The 12-step movement calls for a “fearless moral inventory” because part of the human journey is becoming honest with yourself about yourself.  Then you can discover where you have been telling yourself falsehoods, and learn to tell yourself the truth.  It’s not the people and circumstances around us that determine our lives, it is what we tell ourselves (think) about the people and circumstances around us that determines how we feel, react, and behave.

8. The best decisions and sustainable agreements are made when each person has expressed their true feelings about what is important to them – and been heard.

Step one in mediation is this:  an uninterrupted time for sharing about one’s interests.  Valuable foundations for decision making are laid when we take time to listen and understand what is important to another.  Listening precedes understanding.

9. Words do matter.

One inaccurate childhood saying states that “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never harm me.”  Words may not harm our physical bodies, but they can inflict tremendous damage to the psyche.  And just like you can’t put toothpaste back into the tube once it has been squirted out, once damaging words are uttered – they can’t be erased.  Avoid letting emotional overload tempt you to vent anger, judgment, blame, shame, of name calling toward anyone.

10. Each co-parent has a story about the marriage and their story is not THE TRUTH.

Remember the story about the blind men describing the elephant.  The one who held the tale described it like a snake.  The one touching a leg described it like a tree.  The one touching an ear described it like a pancake… and so forth.   None of them saw the whole animal.  All of them were right about a part of the animal, but no one was right about the whole. 

We would do well to realize that our family members experienced life differently than we did.  Even the same situations are perceived and interpreted differently.   That means that I do not have the corner on THE TRUTH of a situation.  I only know what I perceived at the time and how I felt.  Others will have different perceptions and feelings about the same experience.   That means it is best to lay down rigid dogmatic positions and see what we can learn from others who perceived things differently.

In Conclusion

No one is saying that co-parenting is easy.  In fact, it is usually fraught with challenges. So get all the help you can.  Take classes.  Participate in support groups.  Seek counseling.  Do whatever it takes to be the healthiest co-parent possible.  Your kids are worth it!

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