Lifelines for Co-Parenting: Be the Wise One in Your Next Argument

March 25, 2010 by  

lifelines_book_thumbWe really love Lifelines: The Book of Black Proverbs, a treasure of wisdom from African peoples across the globe.  The book offers short but potent advice, warnings, and witticisms that apply to every area of life…including co-parenting.  So, keep your eyes open for our new regular feature where we share a proverb and apply it to the art of co-parenting.  And, now for the debut of “Lifelines for Co-Parenting.”

When two quarrel, it is the first
to stop who is the wisest.

–South Africa

Conflict happens. That’s a given. Too, often that conflict shows up as incessant arguing between parents. Everybody’s in it to win it and only willing to stop if the other one does. We all know just how effective that strategy is.

Yes, it’s true, we can’t change the fact that conflict will rear it’s head.  What we can control, though, is how we respond to it. So, if the argue-them-into-submission strategy isn’t really working for you, here are a few others that might serve your co-parenting relationship better.

1. Figure out why you’re arguing…and then check yourself. Just stop! We argue for different reasons. Some people think arguing is healthy. They like to play devil’s advocate, even though the conversation is clearly going to hell. Sometimes, loud talking is just a reflection of our belief that we aren’t being heard. Of course, yelling at or over the other parent doesn’t get us the listening ear we think we’re missing. But, no one said any of this had to make sense. Then, there are those of us who use arguing as a way to stay connected by any means necessary. Knowing that we can get a rise out of the other parent gives us some sick sense of still mattering to him or her. And, then, there are the verbal batterers. They don’t hit, but they seek to execute a verbal beatdown that may be as damaging.  Figure out your angle, and then seek to make a shift by asking yourself what you really want from the other parent if things were ideal.  If your angle isn’t getting you that, then hush, breathe and take a time out.

2. Shift perspective by putting yourself in the other parent’s shoes. We all bring different values, judgments, motivations and objectives to this party. And guess what? The other parent is just as sure and certain and passionate about the “fact” that s/he is right, as you are. So, focusing your efforts on proving your right-ness is an uphill, if not losing, battle. Instead, role play a little. Look at the issue from the perspective of the other parent. Consider what she or he might be feeling. What does s/he care about? What objections might s/he have? What solutions or alternatives might be workable for him or her? Just like a room looks different if you’re in a headstand, turning your co-parenting conflict upside down may help you see something you couldn’t see when you were “right”-side up.

3. Establish rules of engagement. You already know that your time-for-battle muscles start to tingle when you feel a disagreement coming on. Try a preemptive strike by setting some ground rules up front. Try agreeing that neither parent will interrupt the other for a specified amount of time…and then use a kitchen timer to keep yourselves honest. Take notes if you just have to, but better yet…listen. You just might hear something that enlightens you. The worst case scenario is that you earn some good will by allowing the other parent to feel heard. Pinky swear that neither parent will call the other one names or make sweeping, generalized comments about the other. And, finally, promise to focus on the issues and the solutions and not who should take all the blame for initiative the problem. That is a waste of time and energy that just won’t move you forward. And, in the end, it does nothing for your children.

Like the proverb suggests, it takes two to quarrel; but only one to end it. Hopefully, these strategies will help you be the wiser of the two.

What tips can you share for managing disagreements with your co-parent?