Mantras are not what most people think. Westerners tend to oversimplify rituals and philosophies to suit their own needs; mantras are no exception. A mantra is not a slogan to haul out when you are stressed. Yet many a divorced or divorcing (or simply splitting) dad could benefit from learning five guiding words to regain his calm when co-parenting seems to overwhelm him.
Concentrate on What She Said
Too many dads dwell on things the other parent says, does, implies, or even just hints. Rid yourself of negative thinking. Start with things “she said.”
You may be prone to deliberately misinterpret things your ex says, seeking to draw fresh blood from old wounds. Recall, though, no matter how she says it, your ex has your kids’ best interests at heart, the same as you.
The cure for your bristly attitude , say Jocelyn Block and Melinda Smith at HelpGuide, is to focus on the reason you two are communicating at all: those children you share. Concentrate on communicating clearly and succinctly to benefit your children, not to soothe yourselves:
- Keep conversations focused on your children, not each other
- Set a business-like atmosphere, using a neutral, cordial, respectful tone
- Make requests, not demands
- Listen to listen, rather than to be ready with an answer
- Show restraint toward the other parent
- Agree to meet, talk, or exchange ideas consistently, through good times and bad
Need a way to relieve stress during the exchanges? Ask for a break. Avoid being boxed in, having to select from a false choice, and falling for artificially imposed urgency:
- “I’m feeling anxious about this. I want to take a few minutes to cool off for the good of our kids. I will call you back.”
- “You are asking for an either/or decision when we haven’t even explored other options yet or talked about alternatives to help our children.”
- “You’re talking about a vacation five months in the future, so we don’t need to have all the answers this minute; a hasty decision doesn’t help our kids.”
- “I can’t give you an immediate answer because I need to step back and think this through. To give the best opportunities to our babies, I just need a little time.”
Give your ex the psychological room to use the same techniques. You may be pleasantly surprised by improvements in the things “she said.”
Look Past … The Past
Whatever else she did, your ex carried and mothered your kids. Never overlook that amazing feat of love and selflessness.
At one time you two loved each other enough to create your child or children, to bring into the world someone unique and very nearly magical in your eyes. Keep that love in mind (and in your heart) as you co-parent.
By training yourself to look past what she may have done to hurt you, and instead getting into the habit of remembering the gift of your children, you can find new ways to get along with her.
Remember the Best Interests of the Children
Co-parenting means putting aside both parents’ wants for the best interests of the child. If you gently remind your ex of that, you are not only helping to re-center yourselves, you are backed by state law, Code of Virginia, § 20-124.3.
She may want to zip off with the kids for the summer or make you pay additional child support. Simply because she wants it does not make her a better or worse parent, does not compel you to fulfill her wish, and does not make her desire feasible.
Is she wanting something as a way to relieve her stress and pain, perhaps? You both may still be wounded, but you can help each other heal. Remind her that everything the two of you intend to do by co-parenting is to benefit your children, not each other:
- She wants to talk you down to your kids? Remind her that you would not do that about her and she needs to stop, for the mental health of your children
- She wants to contradict everything you say or do? Remind her that the anger she feels toward you does nothing productive for your children; you two need to work on that mutual anger elsewhere, at another time
It’s Not About Her
Co–parenting is not about her. It’s not about you, either. It is about your kids, those little gremlins who changed you from “husband” to “parent.” We began by talking about misunderstood mantras. A mantra is an utterance that fortifies your mind against negative energy.
Through happy and challenging times with your ex, you already know the mantra best suited to building harmony and positive energy as you co-parent: “best interests of the child.”
At The Firm For Men we are here to help you get your head together. Contact us online or telephone our Virginia Beach offices at (757) 383-9184. We focus on in assisting Virginia’s men deal with all aspects of family law, from separation to divorce to child custody and more.