For some, the thought of co-parenting with their ex is the most frightening part of the divorce. Regardless of the details of the schedule itself, the idea of having to interact with the ex can be overwhelming. I have good news for you; You get to create the co-parenting style that works for you. I'm here to tell you that there are as many styles as there are parents; so take a deep breath, and know that you decide how your family is going to function after divorce. It is true that most states have standard visitation schedules to help complete the divorce process. Yet it is in the execution of the schedule where individual family dynamics take over and where you have a huge impact on how your life and your kids lives will function. This is also where your connection to your personal values will be critical to creating harmony in your home.
Conventional wisdom says you need to learn to get along with your ex, you need to communicate effectively and politely with your ex and you need to be kind and cooperative with your ex. I don't disagree with any of those things unless you are the only one cooperating, communicating, and being polite. Now I'm not advocating being uncooperative or impolite, but having been faced with a challenging ex (and his new wife) I realized early on that being an effective co-parent and creating harmony in my home meant I needed to be very clear about what worked for me, and I needed to stay true to my values and beliefs. My first step was to create mantras to help me respond instead of react to challenging situations. My mantras tended to have humorous undertones because humor helps me break tension. For others, sports, food or art undertones may work. One humorous image that I'm comfortable sharing is one I borrowed from the three little pigs bedtime story. The wolf is outside huffing and puffing but can't blow the brick house down. I would say to myself, "He huffed and he puffed, he huffed and he puffed." The image in my head was of the wolf's desperate face and my family warm and safe inside the brick house. It still brings a smile to my face every time.
Humor and mantras helped me a great deal, but I have an underlying strength that I was allowing to work against me in the early days of my co-parenting journey. You see, my personal style and values make me far more likely to continue to work to fix a situation than to back away. I fix things, professionally and personally. I'm the one people come to when a process is broken. For example, if someone gets into a tough spot and needs to talk it out and find a way though, I'm the one who believes every problem has a solution. Co-parenting reminded me that find a way through doesn't always mean fixing the broken thing; it often means finding what is most important in the overall situation and focusing on it. I began to realize that I had a choice about where to focus and where to put my energy. I stopped trying to fix the relationship and communication with my ex and began focusing on fixing my reaction to challenging situations. I also put more energy into focusing on my children and their needs. Far more impactful to my family dynamic than what my ex said to me or what his wife said to me or to my girls, was whether or not I noticed my girls needs and what I said to them. With a focus on my girls and myself, the door to possibilities for a happy family flew open. I could be me, and I could have a lot of fun. The road to recovery started the day I realized that my co-parenting style was mine to decide and that the options were endless.
Think about how many friends you have who are divorced. Now think about the relationship they have with their ex and the way they communicate. Whether it's effective or not, I'm betting you have at least 10 examples of different family dynamics in your head — maybe as many as 20 examples. Families define their own co-parenting style by simply being themselves. My point here is that when you focus how you want your immediate family to function (independent of your ex) you open the door to your heart and your future. The key is to define your values and your goals for your family.
The next step is to define what you want your immediate family to look like 1 year from now. Day to day personal interactions, your personal relationship with each child, relationships between siblings, etc. Define your values (the essence of who you are, what matters most to you, what can you not live without, how your friends would describe you) Now, with a vision of your family and a list of 15 or so values, you have what you need to create your personal roadmap for your co-parenting.
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