The Peaceful Co-Parenting Strategy — That You Already Know!
"How dare he…" — "She did that, so I got her by…"
We hear these type of statements when we ask step-couples to describe their challenges with co-parenting. The frustration they experience comes when they feel offended or hurt by their Ex or maybe even their Ex's new partner or extended family.
The offense is very real and painful; maybe it was an sneaky attempt to manipulate the situation or an offhand comment that struck a nerve. Often, we see the natural reaction of retaliation and the thought process is, "They were insensitive and hostile toward me…so I got 'em back!"
Opponents at War
We experienced a painful season of opposition with my Ex throughout a three year legal battle. We were forced to defend my parental rights as my Ex launched an attack of false accusations against me. I was devastated by his underhanded tactics and toxic words and I wanted to lash out to make him hurt too — and sometimes I did.
In time, I came to realize that lashing back and stooping to his level was really ugly and unproductive. It felt good for a minute, but that feeling faded fast. I knew that I wasn't setting a good example of how to resolve conflict for my daughter and my unhealthy response just created more contention.
I also discovered that my Ex's methods of slander and his attempts to dismantle my character didn't hold up in the long run. Eventually, the truth rose above the lies — especially when I chose to take the high road and didn't add unnecessary drama.
The Cycle of Opposition
It's natural for Ex's to dislike or distrust each other, especially when they're still working through issues. Leftover hurts from the past and unresolved pain seems to be ever-present, even years following their divorce. This feeds a cycle of opposition where revenge and payback can take over at center stage. And unfortunately the well-being of their kids slips into the backdrop.
The worst part is that kid's simply aren't equipped to handle hostility between their parents — it causes stress and it weighs them down emotionally (this was evident for my daughter). What kids need most is for their parents to work together — as allies.
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Aligning as Allies
When you're facing challenging circumstances with the members of the other household, taking the high road isn't easy — but it is possible. Rather than feeding into opposition, choose to try a different approach.
It's true that you can't change your Ex's character or control them, but you can influence their behavior. How you choose to react and treat them - even when they're lashing out - can make a difference!
Apply "The Golden Rule"
One way to move closer to becoming allies is to "treat your ex the way you want to be treated". Applying "The Golden Rule" does not mean being "nice" at all cost or disregarding appropriate boundaries — not at all. It's about doing what you can to promote effective communication and break toxic cycles of opposition.
I believe that to live in a way that treats others the way I want to be treated, first I need to define how I truly want to be treated by them.
You would probably like to be treated with respect and courtesy…or you'd like your Ex to address parenting issues in a calm, reasonable manner. You likely want to set a positive example for your kids in resolving conflict in a peaceful and cooperative way. Take some time to think about how else you would like to be treated.
Once you've identified how you want to be treated by your Ex, then you've discovered how you should be consistently treating them. The real challenge to truly living "The Golden Rule" is that we must hold ourselves accountable for our own behavior — despite what others do.
Over time, living out "The Golden Rule" can make a difference in how your Ex responds to you — it's not as much fun being mean and nasty to someone when they're treating you with kindness and respect. Honestly ask yourself this question: How can I expect the members of the other household to treat me the way I want to be treated, if I am not intentional about my own behavior toward them?
Practice Makes Perfect — or at least Better!
Something as simple as 'The Golden Rule" just isn't that simple within complex stepfamily dynamics. But don't lose hope and don't give up! Decide to be a healthy example for your kids and put their need for peace first.
Continue to develop communication and negotiation skills and learn helpful strategies to create a 'meaningful system of cooperation' in your parenting coalition. You'll be glad you chose to take the high road as your intentional actions start to make a real difference!
QUESTION: What is one change you can make today to better live out "The Golden Rule"? Leave a comment below…