If we’ve said it once, we said it multiple times, parenting is hard. Co-parenting after divorce or separation can be even harder. There is no getting around the fact that a co-parenting relationship is one of the few relationships in your life – business or personal – that you can’t dismiss and walk away from. And, if it’s not going well, it’s one of the relationships that can cause you, your children and those around you the most stress and grief.
In our recent post, Give Peace (& gin) A Chance, we commented that giving your Ex a second chance to become a cooperative parent doesn’t mean condoning his or her behaviour. The second chance we talked about was about making a decision to no longer let the Ex’s behaviour consume or control you. In the previous post, we explained why it is worth plucking up the courage to push the reset button on your co-parenting relationship – not least because holding onto anger, resentment and hurt about what may (or may not) have happened in the past only ends up hurting (and your children) in the present.
Whilst pressing the reset button may require courage and a leap of faith, ultimately it can be very liberating. It takes a lot less energy, time and effort to push reset than it does to maintain a negative and angry attitude towards your Ex. Pressing the reset button is a positive step forward for you, your children and your current or future partner.
With this in mind, we’ve listed 8 strategies you can use to successfully push, and keep on pushing, that reset button:
1. It starts and stops with you.
The only person you can control and change is you, not the ex – no matter how much you’d like to. Focussing on what you can control – how YOU choose to react and respond – is the best way forward. Remind yourself often (and that may need to be very, very often depending on the current state of your co-parenting relationship) that you don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to.
2. It’s not who you argue with but what you are arguing about that is important.
Disagreements happen. Even between the best of friends. Even at the best of times. It’s normal for two people to hold differing views about a number of things in any relationship. Don’t let the argument blow out of proportion because of who you are arguing with rather than the what the argument is about. Whenever you find yourself getting worked up over a disagreement with the ex ask yourself why you are so upset. Is it the actual issue under discussion or is it the person you are having the discussion with? If the answer is the person, then that’s the sign that you need to take a different tact and change your response.
3. Treat it as a new relationship not the old one.
Pushing the reset button won’t erase memories. It won’t wipe the slate clean. But it will give you a new place to start from. Rather than thinking of the ex as your ex start visualising him or her as your business partner. You two have continuing contact because you are in the business of raising a child together. That being the only reason you stay in touch is absolutely okay. Despite all the media attention being given to co-parents and stepparents who appear to be the best of friends, friendship is required to raise a kind, loving and healthy child.
Pushing the reset button can be as simple as treating the ex the same way you do or would treat your business partners or work colleagues. It’s unlikely you would scream or yell at co-workers who didn’t pull their weight and that shouldn’t be happening with your ex. Take the intimacy out of this new relationship and provide the ex with the exact same courtesy, respect and boundaries as you do your business relationships.
4. Identify the triggers.
Just because you and the ex are able to push each other’s buttons in all the wrong ways doesn’t mean you should. Think about what triggers each of you. When do things escalate or spin out of control? Does the thought of one more conversation about the importance of your daughter completing all of her homework have you wanting to tear your hair out? Maybe you see red every time the ex forgets to return your son’s school shoes at handovers? Whatever they are, write them down and then make a decision that you will react differently the next time they occur. And, the next time after that. And, – you get the picture.
Use the time you are saving by not engaging in an ongoing back and forth about the importance of being responsible with the ex on thinking outside the box to come up with a solution you can live with. It may be worth the expense to invest in a spare pair of school shoes in order to both keep your sanity and also remove some of the negativity from your co-parenting relationship. If a positive solution just doesn’t seem possible, then strategy 7 is for you.
5. Take a look from a different angle.
The reality is that behaving badly or insensitively doesn’t make a person bad or mean. It’s about choices and the reasons behind those choices may not always be clear to you if you are only looking from one angle. Is the ex late to handover again just to spite you? Or is she having a hard time saying good bye to your son? Did he get so caught up in having fun with your daughter that they truly lost track of time? Make a conscious decision to look at the situations with your ex as they arise from as many angles as possible. Removing yourself from the centre and changing your perspective will help you keep your finger on the reset button.
6. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.
Be careful not to eliminate something good in your efforts to get rid of something bad. Identify what is going well in your co-parenting relationship and keep doing that. In fact, do more of it if you can. If you and the ex discussing and sharing information about the kids by email is adequate and works for you both, then there’s no reason to now try and have those conversations face-to-face. This is one time where settling works in your favour and good enough really is good enough.
7. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
We all have to work and be with people that we don’t like. Hell, in stepfamilies you sometimes even have to live together! The point is that none of us is perfect. So, it’s best to focus on the big picture. When deciding whether to raise a parenting issue with the ex ask yourself if in one, five or ten years it will matter to your child. If the answer is no then it probably isn’t worth raising. Choosing your battles is imperative when it comes to resetting a relationship.
8. Look for the silver lining.
There is always a brighter side to every problem or hurt you are facing. By looking for the positive in difficult circumstances, you can find more inner peace in which to respond. Finding the silver lining allows you to regain your ability to seek solutions if there are any or accept things as they are if there aren’t. If you are struggling to find a silver lining in your co-parenting relationship, look again. It’s there. There is a bit of positive in everything.
9. Yep, a bonus! Instead of 8 strategies we are giving you 9.
This last one may be a bit of a surprise, but believe it or not apologies just aren’t necessary in order to reset a relationship. Pushing the reset button is all about forward focus. You don’t need to give or get an apology to successfully push the reset button. In fact, apologies can sometimes get in the way if they pull you towards the past.
You are working towards a new relationship. A new playing field. Keep your intentions, thoughts and language on the future goal. A positive, working relationship with the ex in order to raise a happy and healthy child. There’s no reason to look back.
If you are like the rest of us, you’re going to make mistakes along the way. Your finger will come off the reset button on occasion for both short and longer periods of time. The good thing, though, is that you can’t fail. Even if you limit your interaction and move towards more parallel parenting with your ex in future, you will have reset the relationship to a better place helping you focus more of your time and energy on a creating a stepfamily and life you love!