Dear Dr. Jann: I have tried for years to coParent with my child’s mother, but we simply can’t get along. Each year it gets worse to the point that my child is starting to refuse to go see her. She says he’s doing the same when it’s time to see me. I believe her. It’s something we are doing, but I simply don’t know what to do. She gets on my last nerve. Have any tips to help us coParent?
Dr. Jann: You have heard me say it many times—people who want to get along, do. People who don’t want to get along, don’t. It’s all up to you and your behavior is controlled by what you think about the situation.
For example, have you ever driven in a car in the midst of traffic and been so irritated that you want to scream, but the person next to you (your passenger) is just rocking to the music on the radio? They look at you like your nuts. “What’s the big deal?” they ask. “We knew there would be traffic. We’re not in a hurry. Just relax.” Yet you are ready to spit fire because the person in front of you is going so slow.
It’s all how you both look at the situation. One of you is reactive, the other proactive. You are responding to the lack of control over the situation, whereas your friend’s thought process gives him control. He has the option to react or enjoy the music. Who is happier?
Bottom line, it’s not the traffic that is making you angry. It’s what you think about the traffic that is putting you in that state.
Use the same thought process when dealing with your ex. Your mindset tells you that she drives you nuts—that’s the way you have always dealt with her and each time you anticipate seeing her you get worked up. By the time you see her the sound of her voice mimics nails on a chalk board—and your child also anticipates your interaction and balks at returning to either of your homes. It’s not that he doesn’t love both of you, it’s that he can’t stand the angry exchanges between the two people he loves the most.
So, in his name, are there other ways to look at dealing with her?
1. Correct your distorted beliefs prior to the next meeting. Not, “The bitch only cares about herself,” but “She’s my child’s mother and will be part of my life forever.” Not just until he’s 18, but she will be grandma, even great grandma, if you are lucky. Think of her as your child’s mother, not your ex that drives you crazy.
2. You child loves her and he deserves both of you in his life. Anything you do to frustrate that, from scream and yell to refuse to cooperate, does not affect her as much as it hurts your child.
3. Consider the source of your anger. Will you ever be able to pay her back for whatever you believe she has done? Will there ever be enough revenge? Enough anger? Doubtful.
So, with that in mind, everything you and mom do teaches your child something. Right now all he has as a reference for a relationship is an inability to get along and no problem solving skills. If that is the legacy you want to pass on, keep it up. If not, change your perception of his mother and set the stage positive interaction. That’s good ex-etiquette.