‘Parenting Apart’ by Christina McGhee is a practical and positive guide for separated and divorced parents on how to raise a happy and secure child. In this blog I’ve extracted the key points from Chapter 4 of the book which focuses on how to change your relationship with the other parent so it becomes less acrimonious and more constructive, in particular, taking a business-like approach to make pragmatic decisions.
‘The truth is, two good people don’t always make a good couple together; however, it doesn’t mean that two good people can’t be good parents apart. No matter who else comes into your child’s life, you will be your child’s mother and father for ever.’ The role of parent is a lifetime commitment. Even when parents have separated, a child still needs the same level of love, nurturing, support and guidance, and just because an ex was a lousy partner it doesn’t mean they can’t be a great parent.
Park the history
Making the transition from couple to co-parents and finding new ways to work together for the benefit of your child ‘can feel about as easy as nailing jelly to the wall’. You know each other’s weaknesses, less-than-desirable qualities, and which buttons to push if you really want to aggravate your ex. Rehashing past issues to retaliate, or make a point are not helpful and side-track discussions. Staying focused on the issue rather than the person can help avoid this.
Change in Attitude
Setting aside this knowledge and history can be difficult, but McGhee emphasises the ‘power of attitude, hope and optimistic thinking’ regardless of the circumstances or situation. ‘Your attitude about your relationship with your child’s other parent has the ability to make or break you.’ More importantly, it can make or break your child’s future. While you may not respect your ex-partner as a person, you can respect them as the other parent of your child. No matter what they do or don’t do ‘you always have the ability to choose how you view the situation, how much energy you give it and how you respond to it.’ This means using your head over your heart; logic over emotion.
To enable this, McGhee suggests carrying a photo of your child in your wallet or purse with an inspirational quote or thought on the back, for example:
‘The love I have for my child is greater than the upset, anger or frustration I am
feeling at the moment.’
‘I am committed to putting William in the middle of my problems with my ex.’
Become Business Partners
The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘pragmatic’ as ‘treating things in a sensible and realistic way; concerned with practical results’. Taking a business-like approach to co-parenting can make it easier to be pragmatic.
Good business people:
* stay focused on the task at hand – in this case, raising a happy, successful child.
* treat each other with respect and minimise the opportunity for conflict, by listening to the other’s opinions and ideas first. If your buttons are pushed, stirring up strong emotions, ‘ask to continue the discussion later’ giving yourself ‘time to calm down, think things over and then respond’.
* make compromises when possible. When making particularly difficult arrangements it may be useful to ‘ask yourself how you would want the other parent to manage the problem with you if the situation were reversed’.
* consider decisions, rather than make knee-jerk reactions to a situation.
* set aside strong emotions, personal feelings and opinions, to enable pragmatic, business-like decisions to be made.
* use neutral communication. For example, rather than statements such as ‘you always’ and ‘you never’ which can increase tension and put the listener on the defensive, they may say:
• I understand your point, but I have a different perspective
• When this happens I feel …
• This situation is frustrating to me because …
* schedule mutually convenient times and places to discuss important matters, rather than springing them on each other unexpectedly. This means pick-up or drop-off times when emotions run high for parents and children are not appropriate times to discuss important matters. Likewise, a neutral space (like a mediator’s meeting room!) rather than over a kitchen table, can assist a business-like approach.
* put important decisions in writing, to ensure clarity and minimise the risk of misunderstandings. Similarly, any decisions to change child arrangements should be followed up with a text or email.
Regarding texts and emails, McGhee makes the obvious observations: not to respond when you’re angry, ‘It is very difficult to have a constructive discussion when you’re feeling angry’. Cool down, sleep on it, wait 24 hours and re-read your response before sending it. Edit out everything that does not relate to the child. At the very least ask yourself the following questions:
• ’Do I need to respond to this email or text?
• What is the issue? Is it an issue I need to resolve?
• How does this affect my child now?
• How will it affect him in six months’ time? A year?’
Perhaps, most importantly, imagine what your child would think about what you wrote if they read it as an adult.