Divorced with kids, but still playing the “who’s-right, who’s-wrong” game? Are your attempts to co-parent plagued by leftover anger and unsettled arguments from the past? If you’re angry, confused, or just wondering how in the world you will ever be able to share the responsibility of raising your kids with your Ex, then read on.
Five Steps to Co-parenting for Happy, Healthy Kids
Here are five simple steps you can follow to cultivate a co-parenting relationship that will help you, your children, and your Ex-Spouse to flourish – even after divorce. While the steps are simple, using them successfully still requires both commitment and follow-through. But anything worth doing is worth doing well. And isn’t having happy, healthy kids worth it to you?
Step One: Clarify Your Intention
Are you clear about your co-parenting intentions? But first, do you know the difference between an intention and a strategy? Knowing this difference is essential.
Your intention can be described as your values expressed as a vision for a particular situation in an area of your life. Your strategies are specific plans or results that will give you what you value.
If you don’t understand this, you’ll tend to get stuck on whether or not other people agree with your strategies. This can leave people feeling defensive and closed-minded. Even worse, being attached to a particular strategy dramatically limits your opportunities to be satisfied.
One strategy = One opportunity
You might have adopted the strategy to hold a family meeting every week that everyone must attend. But what is your intention that had you pick this strategy? You intention may have been to create a peaceful, supportive atmosphere for your kids to grow up in.
But there are many strategies for creating this intention. And when you’re clear about the intention, it remains possible even if your specific strategy fails.
A critical first step is to create a detailed vision, or clear mental image, describing what you value that you would like to experience in your co-parenting relationship, for you, your kids, and your Ex.
Step Two: Get On The Same Page
Do you share the same vision and want the same results? After you get clear about your values and what you would like to experience, get together with your co-parent and explore what they want. It’s critical that you keep at this dialog until you’re just as sure that you each understand what the other person wants as you are about what you want yourself.
And remember to keep all strategies out of this part of the discussion. They are important, but they come later.
After you each clearly understand what you both value about co-parenting your children, then co-create a shared intention about what you want. Start small but build big.
To begin with, it shouldn’t be difficult for you and your Ex to agree that you value your kids happiness, security, education, etc. List all the things you both can easily agree that you value for your children.
Then you can start tossing out strategies like family meetings, but just use these as opportunities to get to what you value. Keep adding to the list of values that you can be on the same page about until you have a WOW experience, like this: “Wow! If we could create that for our kids I’d be overjoyed!” Then you know you’ve co-created a powerful intention for your kid’s future.
When you begin by getting on the same page, you pave the way for easy agreements, successful results, and greater satisfaction for everyone along the way.
Step Three: Negotiate
Will you take your own and your co-parent’s needs into consideration? Will you keep negotiating until both of you are satisfied? Do you know the difference between negotiation and compromise? It’s another difference that is essential to understand for success in your co-parenting relationship.
Compromise begins when you identify what everyone wants. Then you see who’s willing to give up part of what they want until everyone can live with what’s left. It is a lose-lose solution.
Compromise is based in scarcity thinking: the belief that there isn’t enough to go around, so you have to settle for whatever you can get in order to get anything at all.
Negotiation, on the other hand, begins when you identify what everyone values and then determine what’s missing in the situation. Why don’t you have what you value now? Then you keep your attention focused on what you value while you co-create strategies that will satisfy everyone.
Negotiation is based in abundance thinking: the belief that if we truly understand the problem the perfect solution will present itself.
When you believe it’s possible for everyone to be satisfied – no compromise necessary – you’ll have the confidence to stick with the process until it works. Never give up on the values you hold for your kids: that they continue to learn, grow, and know that they are safe and loved.
Step Four: Create Powerful Agreements.
Now that you’ve negotiated a plan, what needs to happen and who’s willing to do which parts? Often when people think they’ve made agreements, in reality they’ve only expressed vague understandings of what they want and how they would like that to happen. This is wishful thinking – not agreeing.
Powerful agreements are specific about who, what, when, and how. They require positive confirmation of each person’s willingness and commitment to co-operate with the plan.
If anyone is unwilling to clearly commit to an action it only means that there is something they value that hasn’t been considered in the plan. It’s simply an opportunity to revisit your shared intention and renegotiate your strategies.
Powerful agreements are made joyfully because you clearly see how they support your vision and values.
Step Five: Set Up Accountability
Will your agreements continue to work for everyone in the family? Will they create the results you want? Without accountability you can’t know if your agreements are actually working. By the time you finally find out that they aren’t, you may have already built up dangerous levels of frustration, resentment and resignation.
You create accountability by setting specific times to follow up on your agreements. Then discuss how things are working and see what changes might be needed. If you practice accountability with your co-parent it will build trust and confidence.
Accountability meetings allow you to practice all 5 Steps of Successful Co-parenting.
1. Do you still have a clear Intention?
2. Are you still On the Same Page?
3. Do you need more Negotiation?
4. Is it time to make new Agreements?
5. How will you ensure ongoing Accountability?
Co-parenting is challenging enough when you’re married. When you throw in the upset and stress of divorce, the likelihood of difficulty and disappointment skyrockets, because you and your Ex bring old baggage into this new relationship, habitual patterns and unresolved issues are guaranteed to come up.
Remember that clarifying your intention focuses you on what you want, and understanding what everyone values in the situation creates the possibility of everyone being satisfied.
With your commitment and focused attention, you can build a successful co-parenting relationship and open the way to raising happy, healthy kids together.