Updated: Nov 30, 2022
Negotiating significant relationships in one’s life is always an ongoing task, a work in progress, that impacts one’s self-esteem. When things are not going well in one or more of our relationships, this can often activate our seriously judgmental inner critic, letting us know in no uncertain terms, exactly how we are “messing up”. Our inner critic also has the ability, to turn on the other person, putting all the blame on them, also in no uncertain terms. These experiences make it very difficult, if not impossible, to have a rational conversation aimed at resolving the difficulties, particularly in the context of co-parenting. To achieve a sense of balance in this relationship requires both parents to agree that the focus of their interactions will be on what is in the best interest of the child(ren) and not on their differences and struggles with each other. Most parents would agree that having both parents on “the same page” in terms of rules, routines, boundaries, and appropriate behaviour, is the desired goal, but this is always easier said than done – even with parents in the same home! The problem is that each parent often clings onto what they view as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, when often right or wrong are subjective interpretations and parents need to agree to consider the varying degrees of the “positive” impact different choices could have on the child(ren) – staying focused on “I’m right and you’re wrong” will have them making different choices which will confuse and upset the child(ren), potentially having long lasting negative effects. Parenting is a strategic adventure and parents will always benefit from establishing routine strategy sessions, to share experiences of connecting with, setting limits and consequences that work, so, although they behave and interact differently, they decide how to move forward on the same page. For example, they agree that an adolescent must complete high school in the public education system, but which school can be negotiable, or they can decide to offer the youth a choice between 2 or 3 schools. Parents being on the same page about key decisions, rules, and boundaries, will help the child(ren) feel safer and more settled – the differences in personality between parents will be managed in a healthier manner. Children, regardless of age, need to feel “safe” in sharing any issues or struggles with both parents – separated or together – and both parents need to “validate” the children’s emotional experiences, or they will not share, which can lead to an increase in anxiety and stress. Validation is not about “agreeing with” or “approving of” an experience, it is about showing that you “understand” what they are sharing. For example, I can see that you are really hurt by what they said about you, I am so sorry you had to go through that, how can I help…do you want to tell me more about that or would you like to do something together? This shows your child(ren) that it makes sense that they feel the way they do, that parents ‘get’ what happened and how they feel and want to comfort and offer support – this will go a long way to maintain open communication. Parents validating each other’s experiences is also a key component in establishing and maintaining their co-parenting relationship – they will experience a feeling of being balanced in this relationship!