The first three articles in this series emphasize how intense emotions can make co-parenting and moving on with the next stage of your life very difficult. To get your children through this life transition as positively as possible you need to be able to offer support and stability. And to do that, you need to have a functioning relationship with their other parent.
Of course, it would be ideal to have a friendly functioning relationship with them but divorce doesn’t always happen that way. The next best thing is to have a healthy and effective business relationship, since you are in the business of raising your children together. Having a working business relationship models for children that you can get along with someone you had a falling out with, allows them to feel free to love both parents, and lets you transform the negative energy you were wasting on the other parent into positive energy towards your children and creating your new life. Easier said than done, as anyone involved in a contentious divorce would say. It helps to know the characteristics of a good business relationship. Let’s take the example of two business partners who don’t have a personal relationship together and are trying to build, let’s say, a furniture moving company. What are the critical relationship components that would help their business succeed?
- A common goal. To get their business off the ground the two partners need to be on the same page about the goal of their company. If one person’s business goal is to develop a furniture moving empire by targeting affluent companies, and the other person’s goal is to provide moving services for the indigent and underserved for free, it seems obvious they’re not going to move forward. So just as two business partners need to agree upon the goal for their company, two parents need to agree on the goal for their children. (Good news! The general goal of parenting is always the same: to raise children who are physically and emotionally healthy.)
- Win-win. Imagine the furniture moving business partners are not committed to the “partnership” idea and each keeps trying to win every disagreement. They might even start undermining each other to the customers. The company will fail because they won’t be able to effectively work with each other anymore as things get more hostile. Not a huge deal when there’s just a moving company at risk. But when it’s your own child there’s even more reason to have a win-win mindset, because ultimately the child wins when you get along.
- Compromise and other conflict skills. Our two-person moving company should expect change and disagreement in the course of building and maintaining a business together. They might have different ideas on how to handle inclement weather or the influx of customers in the spring. Calm and respectful communication and strong conflict skills are critical to keeping the partners effectively engaged and doing what they need to do for the good of the company. So it is with parenting – kids will have new activities and school demands and responsibilities and privileges that necessitate good communication and compromise on the part of the parents.
- Business courtesies. Even if they don’t like each other, our furniture moving partners can have a thriving business if they do what works: share a calendar about events affecting the business, keep each other apprised of business expenses, discuss important changes you make at your end of the business, communicate at reasonable times and with a reasonable frequency, make requests instead of demands, and keep communication brief, pleasant, and about the topic at hand. All of these business practices work for co-parenting.
- Facts, not feelings. It might be easier for business partners than parents, but strive to carve out emotions that might interfere with your ability to make effective decisions. As described in previous posts, intense emotions can interfere with the ability to make logical decisions and can lead to communicating in ways that will hurt the partnership and ultimately your child. Remember that your parenting partner is not (right now) an emotional support. They are there to problem-solve with you for the good of your child.
It will be impossible to engage in a neutral, practical business relationship if you are stuck in an emotional, adversarial mindset. There are a few types of adversarial mindsets that interfere with businesslike neutrality: victim mindset, control mindset, and revenge mindset. Victim mindset sounds like, “I gave up my career for him and he does this! He ruined my life, this isn’t fair.” A control mindset would sound like this: “I don’t have to let her know about the parent-teacher conference. It’s not my fault if she doesn’t think to ask.” A revenge mindset might be: “At the last exchange he made me wait for 15 minutes; now he can wait while I take my sweet time.” One of these ways of thinking might sound more familiar than the others, or all three might sound familiar to you. They are not abnormal mindsets to have after a divorce but as soon as possible you want to move away from this type of thinking and into partnership mindset, because that is the best way to help your child through this life transition.
Another strategy to jumpstart operating in a business fashion with your parenting partner is STP-A: Stop, Think, Pause, Act. Stop yourself from reacting immediately (which is usually out of emotion) when a situation comes up. Take a breath and stay calm. Think about the long-term goal for your child, not the short-term goal or what you want, and get clear on what is best for your child in this issue. Pause even longer to ensure you are about to enter this issue in a business mindset, as though you’re going to weigh in during a business meeting. Act out of logic, considering long-term goals, and with a business mindset.
This article has used the word “partner” twelve times. The word “ex-spouse” was used zero times. The language you use affects how you believe, think, feel and behave. It affects your self-concept, how you see the world, and colors your interpretations of what you experience. So start making positive change right now by substituting “parenting partner” for whatever word you use for your child’s other parent. Your child will thank you for it.