In this Series on getting perspective on your co-parenting relationship, we introduced not only the need to use imagination but also the need to get information from others (Blog 2). We asked you to imagine your grown children as adults and imagine their perspective on growing up in your family (Blog 3). We also asked you to imagine what you would like to hear them say. We then asked you to get the perspective of friends and family about your family situation (Blog 4). We then, in Blog 5, suggested that you learn more about your children’s current perspective by speaking with them.
In this Blog in the Series on getting a perspective, we ask you to get your CPP’s perspective. This can be emotionally challenging. The obstacle is that your CPP’s perspective might be distorted by negative beliefs about you that are not true or are only partially true. The task of getting perspective is to have an objective understanding of the situation, but your CPP might not be completely objective. This will mean filtering the information received from your CPP, but not defensively.
For example, assume that your CPP has more than once said that you are so controlling that he/she says “I can’t stand” talking to you. Is there useful information in this comment? Perhaps. Assume that you think about the reality of your interactions with your CPP and acknowledge (to yourself) that when you do want your CPP to do something, you make sharp demands. Assume you sent a note to your CPP stating, “See if you can get the children to bed on time for once. They need their sleep.” Understanding your CPP’s perspective might mean that the way you make requests is counter-productive. This can lead to your making a simple change in approach- one that might make a big difference: making polite requests, not critical demands.
We will treat this issue by suggesting Three Steps to Get a CPP Perspective.
Step One: Use Your Imagination
We start by assuming you likely have a good deal of information about your CPP’s perspective. Remember, the first step in getting an objective perspective is to use your imagination. Sit down and make a written list of what you currently think your CPP’s perspective is on you and on the children’s lives. Be honest with yourself. Why does he/she refuse to speak with you? Why does he/she roll his/her eyes when you say something? Why does he/she never even greet you at events or sits a great distance away from you? What does he/she think goes on in your home when you have the children? Does he/she think that you are too strict or too permissive? What does he/she believe about you that is not true?
The goal of this step is, by using what information you already have and your imagination, to try to get a clear understanding of your CPP’s perspective. Filter out the distortions and look hard for useful information.
Step Two: Get More Information
From the above list, now make a list of questions to ask your CPP. For example, he/she rolls his/her eyes when you bring up a concern about the children. You imagine that he/she thinks that you are always over-reacting, but you are not really sure. Your question might be: “Do you think that I over-react to concerns about the children?” or be more direct, “I would like to know, really honestly, why you roll your eyes when I bring up a concern about the children?”
When the list of questions is complete, or you get as far as you can go, decide how best to ask your CPP those questions. You could ask to meet in person, arrange to speak on the phone or introduce the questions in an email. The important part is making your purpose clear.
If you start an email, for example, you might write something like:
“I know we have had our difficulties, but I would really like to improve the situation. I am trying to get a real perspective on my role with you and the children. I am trying to get your perspective too. My goal is to see what I can do or can change to improve the situation. I have some guesses from things that you have said, but I have some questions, so I can really understand your point of view. I am requesting that you answer the following questions. Please be honest. I appreciate your efforts when you do this….”
Step Three: Be Ready for Disappointment
We do not know your CPP. However, we can predict that you might be ignored or something worse. Caveat: You are making yourself vulnerable by doing this exercise. You might find that your worst thoughts about your CPP get confirmed. You might get a lot of criticism with little or no useful information. He/she might mock you or even use what you are trying to do to mock you to your children. You might have a long history of trying to figure out what you can do to stop your CPP from being a jerk. However, once again, you may make an effort and find that he/she still is a jerk. At least you tried!
However, these actions are a good first start. You took the Three Steps to broaden your perspective on you and your family situation. This might have provided you with a list of additional steps you can take to improve your CPP experience and those of your children. Even re-learning that your CPP is really a jerk is part of that broader perspective. That might even suggest that one of your tasks will be to give your children healthy skills when dealing with jerks.
Another benefit of developing a broader perspective, by using imagination and getting more information, is that you can teach this skill to your children. This is a life skill that can reap many rewards, both in their personal life, careers and public roles. So, don’t just get your CPP’s perspective occasionally, do it regularly and tell your children what you are doing. They can learn from telling them what you are doing and why, and witnessing you do that with the other parent.
Be ready for success, also.
Better yet, your CPP might be wishing as much as you do for a better co-parenting experience. You can suggest that he/she read this series of blogs as a starting place and then work together to improve your and your children’s experience of their family.