In a different Blog Series, “Making the Right Choices for Children of Divorce and Factors Affecting Outcomes for Children,” we listed the seven factors identified in research that predict outcomes for children. The most important factor, the co-parenting relationship, was the subject of the last two Blogs in that Series. We also listed Five Tasks for Co-parenting successfully, each one requiring Procedures and Rules in order to work well:
- Sharing information
- Child friendly transitions
- A flexible schedule
- Coordinating parenting in the two homes
- Problem solving and joint decision-making
Because problem solving and making joint decisions tend to be the most challenging to separated parents, we added this Series to flesh out Rules and Procedures for the six types of problems typically faced by co-parents.
- A problem that one parent is having with the other parent
- A problem that a child is facing that can be best solved if both parents participate
- A problem with others (e.g., extended family members) that is disrupting the co-parenting relationship or hurting the children
- Scheduling conflicts
- A decision that has to be made on behalf of the children and about which the parents disagree
- A concern about something that is happening in the other home
We also outlined a Six Step Procedure for solving the first four types of problems and then two Procedure modifications for the fifth and sixth type of problems. Each procedure has rules specific to that procedure, and we have also described the mindset necessary to be an effective problem-solver. As a reminder, that mindset has six ingredients:
- Being respectful
- Taking responsibility for one’s own emotions
- Addressing the needs and wants of the other person too
- Rigorous honesty
- Never taking anything personally
- Never making assumptions
We also stressed the importance of defining problems in a way that can lead to solutions and also gave examples that we hope will make the procedures and rules clearer.
Looking at the rules and examples, note that the expert problem solver behaves respectfully, takes into consideration the information and opinions of the other parent and strives for solutions that meet the goals of both parents. These are not just suggestions to be “nice.” Research on effective problem solvers makes clear that being respectful, taking the interests and goals of the other person and striving for solutions that serve both people well is much more likely to lead to satisfying solutions. Even the first Step in the procedure for all six types of problems, making an appointment, demonstrates respect for the other parent.
Solving co-parenting problems and making joint decisions is not about controlling the other parent and persuading them, or even bullying them, into doing what you think he or she should do. Solving problems recognizes that people can differ at times, can hold different opinions and can both be right. While they might have different short-term objectives, they can often have similar if not the identical long-term goals.
Looking for the value in the other parent’s perspective can produce important information relevant to solving problems and yield successful solutions, rather than power struggles that end in frustration and even litigation.
Understanding this message might encourage your co-parent to participate in this effort. In addition, you might consider letting him or her know about these series of Blogs. However, even one parent can make a big difference! If the other parent brings up a problem in an ineffective manner, you can help coach the other parent into a more effective style. By walking the other parent through the process, the problem-solving atmosphere can change to a focus on getting to an effective solution.
In a co-parenting relationship that has a bad history of working together on solving problems, the procedures that we are suggesting can seem tedious and lots of work. Also, if you have had a difficult co-parenting relationship with emotional pain and frustration, you might think that will happen again if you try to engage. The question to ask is: “Why should I go through this?”
We suggest a few answers:
- The procedures and rules can help you become more confident and prouder of yourself. You can be insulated from emotional pain by learning to be honest, never to take anything personally, avoid making assumptions and always do your best.
- These rules and procedures can be taught to your children, but for them to adopt them, they need to see their parents model the rules and procedures too. This can have a very positive impact on their lives. Imagine a future for your children that includes their being expert problem solvers!
- Succeeding in this effort will not only lessen the frustration and pain for you, but also will lessen the pain your children experience. When children report on their experiences of their family with separated parents, how well their parents got along is their most important wish, if they did not have it, and gratitude if they did. Because having unresolved problems is the biggest cause of parents not getting along, having a method for solving problems successfully removes the barriers to a relatively amicable co-parenting relationship.
- As tedious and potentially frustrating as employing these procedures might seem, when people practice and get good results using following these procedures and rules, they will work very quickly. Your authors have seen people who had been arguing for years about a problem actually solve it in a half-hour following these procedures and rules!
- These procedures and rules help break the dependencies that separated parents continue to have on one another, often with painful and frustrating results. The procedures and rules also empower each parent to be able to get solutions, rather than waiting for the other parent to change.
- You might actually experience much less pain and frustration than in the past and be able to engage in a satisfying and effective manner. When your authors have encountered parents, who were reluctant because of past experiences, we often encouraged them with the following: “Give it a shot. There are two possible outcomes: it might work, and you will be on the road to a functioning co-parenting relationship, or it might not work, and you can always go back to not talking.”
If you feel that you need more information and guidance, consider purchasing our Co-Parenting Training Workbook from www.unhookedbooks.com. Not only does the Workbook include the Steps and Procedures and Rules for solving problems, making joint decisions and resolving concerns, with more detail and examples, but also the other Five Co-Parenting Tasks are detailed with examples. The price is very modest, as our goal was to provide useful information and guidance to separated parents who love their children and would like to provide themselves a healthy co-parenting relationship and their children a healthy start to life.