Saturday, April 24, 2010

Co-Parenting in Divorce: Sometimes We Get it Right

Co-Parenting in Divorce: Sometimes We Get it Right

By Kirsten

Co-parenting is not always easy, even in the most ideal circumstances. Kids try to play one parent against the other, and unless the mom and the dad have spent a lot of time working out their joint parenting strategy, often the kids end up running the show. Well, for those of you who are divorced and parenting, you well know the many complications that divorce heaps on the already-challenging job of parenting. In this entry I’ll be sharing a recent success story, but rest assured that we don’t think we have all the answers. In the coming months we will also be sharing many of our less stellar parenting moments (in fact, they would probably qualify as flops). Our philosophy is that if we get more moves right than we get wrong, then we’re doing okay. And okay is fine with us.

This past Tuesday I had a date. I asked John if he would be willing to have the kids so that I could cook dinner at home, and – being the nice guy he is – John said sure. Even though he had had the kids for almost 2 weeks while I was away on business earlier in the month. The kids normally go to John’s after school on Tuesday while I work anyway, so we just planned for them to stay through dinner with him this week. So far, so good.

The trouble began when I was at work. I received a text from Jordan (13) that said, “CAN U TELL DAD TO COOL IT?!”

Since I was in the middle of tutoring, I ignored the text, intending to respond when I was finished work. But after about 2 minutes I received another text from Jordan that said, simply, “MOM!!”

At this point I was getting a little distracted from what I was doing, wondering what in the world was going on, but I knew that if I responded to the texts the floodgates would open and I would get sucked into a conversation that I wasn’t ready to have yet. So I maintained my no-response posture, and I didn’t receive any more texts until I was leaving my tutoring job at 5:15. At this point I got another text that said, “Mom.”

Good, I thought to myself, He seems to have calmed down a bit.

I decided I needed to know what was going on from John’s perspective before responding to Jordan, so I gave John a quick call on my way home. What’s important to keep in mind is that I was feeling guilty for having asked John to have the kids, wondering if he needed more of a break after my long absence. And I was also feeling anxious about my upcoming date, wanting things to go well on that front.

John was clearly frustrated, explaining to me that Jordan had brought home a failed open book history test. We have been trying to help Jordan to become a better student this year. He has the ability to do very well, but often lets things slide. This seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for John. John had written a diatribe on the note he was supposed to return to Jordan’s homeroom teacher, indicating that he had seen the failing grade. His rant expressed his frustration with Jordan and with the teacher, and John invited Jordan’s teacher to give Jordan a detention for the failing grade. Needless to say, when Jordan saw this note he was not motivated to dig in to his homework. L

Knowing that the way I phrased my next comments could mean the difference between escalating or defusing the situation, I spoke slowly and deliberately. I first acknowledged John’s frustration, and then I reminded him that he should be careful in his phrasing to the teacher (who would take very seriously the irritation expressed by John). I then reminded him that the problem we are facing with Jordan is a motivational issue, and my guess is that he isn’t likely to be motivated by a tongue-lashing. I knew I was on the right track when John chuckled at that. My parting comments to him were to remind him to take several deep breaths (he practices rhythmic breathing and gets a lot out of it), and to paint the big picture: Jordan will be fine, and as much as we need to take this overall issue seriously, one failed history test is not going to be the end of Jordan’s academic career. John thanked me for the perspective. I hung up from the call feeling greatly relieved that all would be well.

At this point I texted Jordan back. In the next few lines I will quote, verbatim, the entire text conversation I had with Jordan.

Me: Yes?

Jordan: Can u take me home or get me away from dad or something? Please!

Me: I have faith that you two will work it out…

Jordan: There is no flippin way! I cant take it anymore, hes basically asking mr **** to give me a detention, u HAVE to do something… This is what happens when HE signs my test!

Me: Take some deep breaths and know that you’ll figure it out. You really will. I have faith in you both. Talk to him from your heart.

Jordan: No fricken way! Hell litteraly freak out at me!! Ugh!! U really need to do something NOW before he starts like hitting me (Kirsten’s note here: I have no worry that John will actually hit Jordan)… I mean from my heart? Really mom? Thatl get me killed… Dont leave mom

I decided that my continued involvement in this discussion was probably counterproductive, so, although it was difficult to do, I ignored his final plea, knowing that the best thing I could do was to display my confidence in their ability to work things out.

After getting out of the shower I received this text from Jordan: Thank u so much

Me: Are you guys in a better place?

Jordan: Haha yeah kinda

Me: Good. I love you.

Jordan: I love u too

Win, win, win. John and Jordan were able to move on with a productive and enjoyable evening, their relationship intact, and I was able to turn my attention to my date without the worry that there was strife occurring in my children’s other home.

One final note: I really did have faith that John and Jordan would work out their issues, and so I didn’t feel the need to follow up with detail about what occurred between the two of them. I did check in briefly with each of them the following day, and they both reported a positive outcome. It was wonderful to see them be able to work through their difficulties. The role I provided, as I see it, was simply to be a nonanxious presence – to listen with empathy to each position and to offer the perspective that the problem was manageable. John has certainly provided this same perspective for me at times, and, as long as you don’t have good reason to fear that your ex-spouse will hurt the kids, providing that vote of confidence and the empathy goes a very long way.

John had a few things to add to this which you can read here: johns-reply-to-co-parenting-in-divorce

6 comments:

  1. I was waiting to hear how the date turned out! Seriously, this was a very rich post, as was John's response. I am still married with 3 kids, but my wife and I have very different styles and personalities, and the kids will often play one against the other. Your wisdom is of great use for all persons with children, whatever their relationship status. And the avatars are really cool!

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  2. Thanks, Dan, for your thoughts. Yes, parenting is complicated in any situation. John and I certainly faced that when we were married. Not surprisingly, the parenting dynamics that we encountered when we were married have followed us into our divorce. So, in some ways, no surprises; and yet, we have to keep on our toes not to let the complications of two separate households derail our good parenting.

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  3. Kirsten, this was a beautiful telling of the story of an emotionally charged situation and how you navigated it with grace. I love your philosophy of "okay is fine with us." When a situation is so difficult that there can be no "ideal" outcome, sometimes it's important to just do the best you can and know that "good enough" sometimes really is good enough.

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  4. Yeah... we might call that satisficing. Right, Jeremy? :-)

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