Giving Your Co-parent a Break

WHOLE-fatherdaughter

Hitting delete instead of send can make all the difference.

I had another one of those moments this morning. An email from the mother of my children saying some passive-aggressive things that got my blood boiling. Just as I was getting ready to respond in kind—I stopped. That’s the key. Don’t. Ever. Send. The. Angry. Email. Ever.

One of the risks in both active relationships and co-parenting is that we think we have an idea of what’s going on in the other person’s life.

One of the risks in both active relationships and co-parenting is that we think we have an idea of what’s going on in the other person’s life. We read an email and we think, “Wow, that’s really messed up.” Then we have a choice.

  1. We can take the other person’s inventory (a 12-step concept) and tell them what we think
  2. We can pay attention to our own business and feelings alone and manage those.

You can tell which choice is the high road, right?

I never need to respond to a snarky email from my ex-wife. If I stay focused on the goal of parenting and supporting my kids, I can see that sending off a little jab to my ex at 7:00 in the morning would be detrimental to everyone’s lives. Why give her more stress? She, obviously, is dealing with more than she can handle, and in those circumstances things come out sideways. They come out sideways not just at me but at everyone around her. I can do my part to support her and my kids in whatever form necessary, or I can be a jerk.

♦◊♦

This morning I had the calm awareness that the issue was not about her email. The issue was my continued attachment to her as my kid’s mom and custodial parent. I don’t get to remove that relationship, and thus it is important for me to remember that every single interaction has a consequence. If I let a few zingers blow past me and simply say, “Thank you” when the actual result is a YES to my request, I am giving both her and my kids a break.

I’m not trying to take the high road here, either. My anger and frustration at her response is mine and mine alone. Together we have raised resilient and intelligent kids. She is doing the best she can, and she’s doing a fine job. I cannot know what else is going on in her life. I’m no longer married to her, so unless it affects our kids directly, it’s none of my business. My business is taking input, making requests, and responding with love, or at the very least balanced compassion, to her requests.

When I’m feeling frustrated, I find this reminder helpful. My ex and I only need to talk about:

  1. Money
  2. School
  3. Extracurricular Activities
  4. Parenting

Everything else is off the table. This morning, I didn’t need to respond to her jab, I merely needed to thank her for accepting my request. The tone of her reply and acceptance was not relevant to any of the four topics.

♦◊♦

When I can do something for my ex-wife (such as be flexible with a schedule, run an extra errand, even bring soup to her when she’s sick and her boyfriend is unavailable), I’m doing it for my kids first.

Clean up your relationship with your ex, and you will clean up a lot of the drama and emotional baggage of the divorce. Take care of what you *can* take care of and then let the rest flow like water under a bridge. And always, always, always take the high road. Your kids deserve the happiest parents they can get, because they’ve been through enough. When I can do something for my ex-wife (such as be flexible with a schedule, run an extra errand, even bring soup to her when she’s sick and her boyfriend is unavailable), I’m doing it for my kids first.

By considering my kids in every interaction with my ex, I begin to let go of all of the friction between us. It’s no longer about the two of us. The clearer I can get that in my head, the better I get at responding in a business-like and neutral way. This morning it was about scheduling, nothing more. The undertone was angry and exhausted. While married I might have tried to interact with her on an emotional level, to see if there was more that I could do to make her life easier. But that’s the hook. When you are divorced, the entire relationship is about scheduling, school, parenting, and money. Nothing else.

It’s hard to hear a person in anguish and not want to help. The best help I can provide is a clean interaction and honoring her ability to deal with whatever she’s going through on her own. She no longer needs or wants help or love from me; she needs simple and clear answers. Even when she’s not able to rise above the noise floor of the stress in her life, today I can remain detached from my own desire to *fix* and simply be positive. The best I can do is to take care of myself in the best way I can, and give her the support she asks for, nothing more. And when her ask crosses my boundaries, I speak up for myself and reframe my request until we reach an agreement.

Remember this: Nothing is about US any more—it’s about THEM. Detach from the emotional strings between you and your ex, and you can be more available to listen and respond with balance and caring. Caring for your kids by being simple and clear with your co-parent is the path to simpler lives for all of you.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: father daughter, john mcelhenney, creative commons usage

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2 thoughts on “Giving Your Co-parent a Break

  1. John, you have nailed this, while my new love does not understand. a gentle approach soothes the beast & allows me to focus on the main game, my kids.

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