Can You Control It? A Critical Question in Divorced Co-Parenting

Critical Question

Power in divorced co-parenting comes from differentiating between what you can and can't control

Excerpt from "An Unexpected Journey: The Road to Power and Wisdom in Divorced Co-Parenting" By Alisa Jaffe Holleron

Imagine that we have a given amount of energy to expend in a day--let’s say 1000 units of energy. Knowing that we have a finite amount, we would want to make sure we spend our precious units on actions to help ourselves move forward in our lives and help our children move forward in theirs. In other words, we would want to engage in actions that had value and effectiveness, actions that “packed a punch.” Right?

To be sure we expend our energy on actions or thoughts that have value and will be effective, we have to look at what we do and do not have control over.  If we continually put energy into what we cannot control, we waste precious energy.  Even worse, it also keeps that energy from going into productive action. When it comes to acting in a way that will contribute to our own well-being and the well-being of our children, why would we want to waste that energy?

It is critical to recognize that we absolutely cannot control another person.  We can INFLUENCE others, but we CANNOT CONTROL them.  When it comes to our ex, we must accept that we cannot control her.  We especially cannot control  her if we are telling her or even just thinking about  how bad and wrong she is, or if we are telling her or thinking about how she SHOULD be.  Think about it. Do you respond well to someone who tells you that you are wrong or bad, or how you SHOULD be? Do you respond well to people who you know are thinking you are bad and wrong, even if they are not voicing it?

There is an exercise that I call “The Table.” Go to a table in your home and look at it for a minute. Now, describe the table in terms of its physical attributes, such as, it is made of wood, it is square or rectangular, it is three feet high, etc. Now ask yourself what you would and wouldn’t expect this table to do. For instance, you would expect this table to stay in the same place unless you move it, right? You would expect that if you put a plate on this table, the table would hold it up. But you would not expect the table to say “Good morning” to you and you would not expect the table to walk into another room.

You may laugh and say how silly, but what is really silly is that in spite of the fact that our ex has never behaved in some certain way, we continually expect her to behave in that certain way, and then get disappointed when she doesn’t.

Example: Your ex has never been a good listener and does not try to understand your point of view. But, when you talk to him on the phone, you get upset and disappointed that he isn’t listening and understanding your point of view.

Why do we expect people to do what they’ve never done?  That’s like looking at the table and being surprised when you say good morning to it and it doesn’t say good morning back. 

When we accept what we cannot control, it may feel like losing power. But in reality, we gain power, because we now have energy to expend on productive actions.

For instance, a parent spends time on the phone with his ex engaged in an argument that goes nowhere. During this argument, the children are in the background, ignored and feeling the stress that this argument is creating.  Even though this same parent has the desire to raise a happy and fulfilled child, by engaging in this argument, the parent is working against his own desires. If the parent accepted the fact he cannot change his ex and decided not to engage in the argument, instead turning his attention toward his children, he would be doing much more in the moment to contribute to his children’s overall well-being and happiness

The fact that we cannot control people means that we cannot make them do what we think they SHOULD do. Let me introduce you to what I call the “Energy Wasting Should Dance.”  We humans have a lot of ideas about what others should and should not do.  We say things like, “but my ex SHOULD pay more child support because it’s the right thing to do. It’s not OK that she doesn’t do that! She SHOULD!” OK, maybe she should, but she doesn’t and you can say that she should to yourself, to her, to your friends, to your child/ren, but repeating it over and over is not going to make her do it, so you are wasting your precious time and energy. If you are saying it over and over to people so that they will see how bad your ex is, you are also wasting your precious time and energy. Does it help anything for others to know how victimized you are or how wrong your ex is?

Be aware of the “Energy Wasting Should Dance.” When you hear yourself using the S word, stop.  Remind yourself that your ex is The Table, and that it doesn’t matter what you think he should or should not do. Accept that he does exactly what he does, and ask yourself how you could better use your energy in this moment to achieve your deeply desired goals.

The idea of accepting what we can and cannot control may seem simple, but it is not easy. We can have a difficult time accepting what we cannot control because it may mean accepting something that is very painful, or that we think may have a negative effect on our children. Acceptance is often accompanied by sadness and grief.  It makes us sad when we realize that we do not have control over the things that are nearest and dearest to us. It saddens us deeply when we realize that we cannot create the kinds of lives for our children that we imagined we would.

It is natural to try to turn away from grief, but ultimately, turning away from grief keeps us in a very stuck place.  Allowing ourselves to feel and move through grief moves us toward a calmer, more grounded place. From this place we can make decisions that are smarter and work more effectively, toward achieving our desires.

Alisa Jaffe Holleron is a therapist, teacher and author that provides co-parents with real help with a realistic approach. Learn how to focus on and get what you really want. Visit her at or contact her at to feel better now.

This article was originally published at Alisa Jaffe Holleron. Reprinted with permission from the author.