In Blogs #1 and #2 of this Series, we explored the importance of being right and winning to human beings. In Blog #2, we also pointed out that being right and winning usually serves people well, but in some cases, can lead to self-defeating choices and persisting in efforts that have no end. In Blog #3, we described the importance of defining what it means to be right and to win in an endeavor that has an endpoint and is truly a win. Often that means that the end point is also a win for the other person involved. Those are the best wins, when both people involved are winners.
A friend of Ken’s, with whom he plays tennis, invented what he called “geezer tennis” (both he and Ken are old). He changed the rules saying that the serve must be easily returned and that a point does not start until the ball has been hit well at least three times. By doing so, they were able to play longer points that were exciting and fun. While the game was still to beat the other player, both players were more interested in having long points and an exciting match. It was a win-win game. When co-parents cooperate to play the game to win-win, they might still have disagreements, but are winning the big game.
The problem with the approach of redefining winning, as presented in Blog #3, is that many readers of these blogs might not have a cooperative co-parent. They might not be able to play a win-win game of co-parenting. In other words, if one parent wants to have a better co-parenting relationship, but has an uncooperative co-parent, they need to fly solo. This means they have to play a game that the other player will not play. Can this work? Can one parent change behaviors, and by doing so, improve the co-parenting relationship, even if the other parent will not cooperate?
The answer is yes; flying solo can work.
However, flying solo is a completely different game and requires a new and different mindset. The goals are different, the rules are different, and the control issues are different. Let’s unpack this a little. The goal is no longer for both parents, and the children, to win the co-parenting game. The goal is for one parent to provide the children with at least one good co-parent.
Assume that in two homes, the children are fed poorly, and so they are overweight and not very healthy. Now assume that the children are fed poorly in one home, but fed very well in the other home. While not perfect, the children still have a much better chance of not getting overweight and of remaining healthy. In addition, there is also a good chance that they will take good food habits into adulthood. In other words, one parent can make a big difference, where the goal is to focus on the children’s experience with just the one parent, but not both parents.
As a general proposition, the rules of any game should be followed by both players for the game to work best. This is as true for co-parenting as any other game. The rules for a good co-parenting relationship have been described in another Blog Series on this site, Healthy Children Outcomes.
By way of summary, there are Five Co-parenting Rules for successful co-parenting: (see Getting Perspective on Co-parenting)
- Sharing information
- Taking action
- Flexibility in the schedule
- Coordinating parenting across homes
- Easy access.
Following these rules, leads to both parents winning the co-parenting game. Needless to say, the children also win. Obviously, when both parents are playing the game, this is better than flying solo.
Even if one player does not follow the rules, the other player (who puts the children first) has no choice but to play the co-parenting game. There is no escaping the fact that the other parent is (and should be) involved with the children. This is why co-parenting with a non-cooperative coparent is so frustrating and why co-parents try very hard to get the other co-parent to cooperate.
Unfortunately, the solution is to give up trying to change the other co-parent, but instead, to play a different game. Flying solo is playing a different game. Co-parents really have no control over the other coparent, but they do have complete control over themselves.
To win the co-parenting game with an uncooperative coparent, the parent must develop rules for him or herself, very different from the rules of a cooperative co-parenting game. Those rules can neutralize the failure to follow the rules by the other person. If the other co-parent will not play by the rules to win at the cooperative co-parenting game, then new rules need to be developed so that the goal of giving the children at least one good coparent can be reached.
There are two steps to doing this:
- The first step is understanding the control issues involved and using control to your advantage, which will be the topic of Blog #5 of this Series.
- The second step is developing the rules for the uncooperative co-parenting game, which will be the topic of Blog #6 of this Series. Stay tuned.
The mindset, and the topic of this blog, is to accept that the cooperative co-parenting game is not working and cannot work if the other coparent will not cooperate. It is therefore time to play a different co-parenting game. This might sound simple, but it means letting go of all arguments and the feelings involved. It means redefining being right and winning. It means accepting that the other co-parent is going to continue to feel superior and think that you are a jerk, no matter what you say or do.
We said in an earlier blog in this Series that “It takes two to tango.” Playing a different game means walking off the dance floor and avoiding the toxic dance. Remember our Tibetan story about the man building the road to nowhere? Even though he had put so much into building that road, when he discovered that it was going nowhere, he had to just walk away and do something else. Flying solo is one serious option.