Parenting coordination usually happens in three phases. The first is redefining the family. An important fact to know in this process is that all families change—with or without divorce. Children grow up and move out. A grandmother dies. A father gets a new job and the family moves to another town. Change is a normal part of family life. Every family will look different at different times.
What happens in divorce is that the family may now have a dad, a stepdad and one mom or a mom, a stepmom and a dad. This becomes the new “normal.” To children, normal can come more easily than you think. This is especially true if parents calmly act as if normal really is… normal. I once worked with a ten-year-old girl whose mother had died two years before. When the girl was helping her dad fill out forms for middle school, she noticed a section with check boxes for “Parents: Married, Single, Divorced, or Widowed.” The girl complained that she wanted to mark the form “divorced” rather than “widowed” because divorce was more normal to her. “All my friends have divorced parents. None of them have to check widowed on the form. Why can’t I be like the other kids?”
In this first phase, normalizing divorce is followed by parents setting up goals for their children. These common interests include health, education, and so on—become the destinations to set in the GPS parenting plan. (for more information on GPS, please refer to ). Parents move from thinking of right and wrong ways of parenting to focusing on the best interests of their children. We need to stop right here, because I know what you are thinking. You and your ex can’t agree on anything. Even simple things become big between you. You think she is inflexible. He thinks you are stubborn. You wonder how I can be so positive that you and your ex will be able to effectively plan for your children. It takes two to plan, after all. How in the world will you be able to not only agree, but work on a plan together? The answer is that you really do agree on some things. The problem is in how you both think about what you want for your children.
Consider this: most of the time, you have a position about something. “I know what is right for our children” is a position. When you think of it this way, one person is right… and the other person is wrong. But, if you work from the idea that you and your ex share common interests, right and wrong fade into the background. Common interests are basic ideas of what you both want for your children.
Here are some examples:
• We agree that our children should be healthy.
• We agree that our children should obey the law.
• We agree that our children should have a good education.
From these common interests, you can build a plan that leads to the goals connected to each interest. “We agree that our children should be healthy” becomes “Yearly checkups at the doctor, dentist, and eye doctor” in the parenting plan. I am not saying that it is easy or a quick fix. You would not be reading this book if it were easy. But it is possible. What’s more, it’s probable, if you keep your children as the focus. In the second phase of parenting coordination, parents learn skills to set and maintain boundaries.
One example of a boundary is changing how you interact with your coParent. During and after the divorce, parents stop being lovers or companions and learn to start acting like they are in a cordial, business-type relationship. Setting this type of boundary allows you to keep the children as a focus—even when provoked. Even when the other parent fails or forgets. Even when the other parent says something hurtful or rude. Boundaries keep small things from becoming huge. They can keep a random remark (“You’re unreliable”) from becoming another battle. Boundaries also keep conflict away from the children.
The next time you need to talk about changing plans, such as weekend care, say “I” instead of “you.” Say, for example, “I would really like it if you would think about swapping next weekend with me” instead of “You are never flexible.”
From COPARENTING AFTER DIVORCE: A GPS FOR HEALTHY KIDS by Debra K. Carter, PhD.