Guest Post by Michele Kambolis
A family is more than the sum of its parts; it’s an emotional and psychological ecosystem whose healthy functioning depends on the harmony among its elements, especially parents. But so often, we act in the same ways as the adults we’ve witnessed in our own childhood, and these patterns can interfere with our ability to embody the qualities that a healthy partnership requires when co-parenting.
After all, it’s hard to be mindful and emotionally open when alarm bells from our past are ringing loudly. But, consciously moving into intentional and collaborative parenting can be made so much easier with a plan for change.
8 Tips For Co-Parenting As A Team:
1) When co-parenting, expect conflict now and then.
A clash in parenting styles is unavoidable from time to time, but that doesn’t mean that the relationship is in trouble. When you notice your emotions (or those of your partner) rising, take a moment to determine where the issue fits into your parenting priorities before continuing. There’s a wide divide between your ideal solution and the unacceptable, with a lot of room in between for compromise.
2) Aim for a speedy resolution.
One of the best predictors of a happy family is swift conflict resolution, even if that means agreeing to disagree. Children (especially those with a sensitive temperament) are highly attuned to parent-to-parent interactions – their survival relies on it. When you resolve issues quickly without allowing your ego to get in the way, you teach your children the art of acceptance and compromise. This is a gift for any child. If necessary, put a time limit on the discussion and agree to revisit it later to safeguard your child’s sense of stability.
3) Help children make sense of your disagreement.
I’m always amazed when I realize just how much my children are absorbing. Even wearing headphones and sitting in another room, they will readily pick up that something’s up, even from a whisper. When we all do our best to avoid arguing within earshot of our children, they inevitably notice our transgressions. Instead of ignoring the hot-button moment, use it as an opportunity to build understanding. Children often blame themselves for their parents’ quarrels – especially when they are the subject of the conflict.
Children need to know that disagreements are a normal part of any relationship, and that as long as there is mutual respect and healthy ground rules for communication, they don’t have to be scary. It’s reassuring for your kids to see that while you may not always like what someone says or does, you are always ready to make amends.
4) Give priority to family routine.
Researchers at Syracuse University have confirmed something my grandmother has been saying for years: families that remain connected, thrive. After reviewing a multitude of studies, Spagnola and Fiese reported that when families eat breakfast and dinner together, and maintain some kind of family routine, everyone gains. Children in these families are healthier overall, parents feel more satisfied with their marriage, and both parents and children are less stressed.
When you routinely cuddle up with your child to read at the end of the day or spend every Sunday hiking together, your special family activities provide more than fun – they provide security as everyone inherently senses the unity and connection deepening.
5) Co-parenting means moving from auto-pilot to co-pilot.
The role of parenting can often fall on the shoulders of one parent in particular, which can naturally lead to resentment or feelings of alienation on either end of the partnership. When it comes to major parenting decisions, try to press the pause button before jumping in to take care of it yourself. Instead, take a minute or two to sneak away to another room and have a quick conversation with your partner about how you’d like to address the tough issue together. Then, schedule in regular times to consciously discuss both parenting hurdles and how you’d like to better balance your parenting roles and responsibilities.
6) Present a united front.
Children develop many strategies for getting what they want, including exploiting weak spots in their parents’ relationship. When your children complain to you about your partner, use that opportunity to teach them how to address issues directly. Encourage them to share their frustration with the person they are angry with so they learn to take responsibility for their feelings rather than simply blowing off steam.
When children see that their attempt to have you overrule your partner (or vice versa) isn’t working, they experience firsthand that while you may empathize with their feelings, you are united in your parenting.
7) It’s important to stay connected when co-parenting.
According to relationship specialist and researcher John Gottman, almost 70 percent of couples describe feeling less satisfied with their marriage after having their first child. With the many demands of parenting leaving little time for intimacy, it can be difficult for parents to remain connected to themselves, let alone to each other. Committing to kid-free time together sends the message that you value your partnership and the foundation it provides for the whole family.
8) Look for new solutions.
One of the most important things to remember when problem solving together is this: “the problem” isn’t the real problem; the old solution is the problem. By looking at what hasn’t worked, you can avoid making the same mistakes and finding yourselves in exactly the same position again and again. Instead, brainstorm together, talk to friends, take an attachment-focused parenting course, or try couples’ counselling. Do whatever it takes to keep the conversation open while co-parenting, and you’re sure to find success in working together.