ne of the things I value above everything in my life is my children. My kids are awesome, and I’m sure that you think your kids are awesome too.
Kids provide a level of self-awareness and deep love that is unmatched by any relationship, job, money or value created in the world. Children are unique in that perspective and if you are listening to this Podcast, chances are you are a Parent. There is also a good chance that you can relate to the way I feel about my kids, in that they are the most amazing thing to ever happen to me.
And just because things didn’t work out between you and your previous partner, it doesn’t mean that your children have to grow up with pain in their lives. As adults, we know that life is hard enough to deal with even without the added stress of bickering Parents or uncomfortable situations. Quite contrary to that, even with divorced parents, or parents who share custody of children, the kids can still thrive on love, understanding and an environment of security and comfort.
It’s my mission in doing this Podcast to create a culture of safety for both parents, yes, you and your ex-partner and your children. In this Podcast I’m going to be talking about a number of things to foster that culture and really just sharing what worked for me.
Speaking of me, this might be as good of time as any to not only thank you for listening, but to set the context that I’m not an expert. I only know what has worked for me in my situation, but I do have enough self-awareness to know that if I can do something, you can too.
In this age, we don’t rely on a single book or even a single method, like Parents did in the 70’s or 80’s. Information is virtually free and all around us. We take bits from articles we read online, books that are recommended by therapists, suggestions from friends and even from Podcasts.
So, take what I say and use what works for you. Each situation is going to be slightly different, but it’s important to realize that no matter how bad it gets, you’ve got a friend in me.
But before I go further, I want you to examine your eco-system. Each story that I’ve encountered has been different. Sure, there are pain as a commonality, but there doesn’t need to be suffering.
Life is painful in many regards, but suffering isn’t a requirement of pain. We don’t need to prolong our discomfort with misery. And I’m here to tell you that it’s entirely possible to not only get along with your previous partner but to be able to raise some pretty amazing kids in the process.
I’ve done it. I’ve done it with both bio-kids and adopted kids and I’m excited for you to share your story with me so that I can know more about you.
But, let’s shy away from the term “ex”. We all get it, they were an ex-husband or an ex-wife. It doesn’t matter, really, because that was the past. What I’d like to do is create something new with you, mostly because Previous Parent sounds so historical because, well, they are the other half of your kids parents.
Let’s call them the “partarent” - That’s a combination of the words “Parent” and “Partner”. Of course, this also has the full word “part” in it, because they are also the Part-time Parent.
This isn’t meant to be mutually exclusive. If my ex-Partner, the mother of my child, was creating this Podcast, she’d refer to me as a “partarent” too. So, the intention with creating this term isn’t to have a negative connotation or be malicious, rather it’s to create something together that you and I understand as being your Previous Partner and Current Co-Parent to your child... see, it’s just easier to say “partarent”.
Also, for the sake of everyone’s sanity, make a pact - even if it’s just with yourself - to never say anything negative about your partarent in front of your kids. Even if you kids are teenagers and totally cognizant to keeping secrets and being tactful. The reason this is important is because it sets a negative context. It might feel fun or even bonding to “snarky” in the moment, that feeling is fleeting and does not one any good. So, thank you for honoring that.
Don't Make It Complex
Relationships are funny things because in many contexts we have a series of unspoken rules to follow. You know, we don’t spit when we’re on the school playground, we don’t cuss at church and we don’t typically take our shoes and socks off in a restaurant. I say that in jest, but I’m actually serious about the unspoken rules we have with each other.
Unfortunately many of these unspoken rules occur in the context of relationships, especially when it comes to romantic ones. And like most things, they start off where we don’t care about the unspoken rules, we’re just happy to be with another human being that feels the same way we do. But as time goes by, those rules become more and more important to us.
I’ve found in my experience that those unspoken rules can either strengthen a relationship or erode it, and both can happen painfully slow. The key to using those rules to bolster a relationship is to communicate them as directly as possible.
Those “unspoken” rules might even be one of the potentially many reasons you and your partarent aren’t together any longer - an unspoken rule was broken. Then you talked about it and maybe it got broken again… or one of you’d just had enough and it was over. It doesn’t matter because, well, you aren’t together anymore.
Let’s do our best to not make this complex. You see, when you start to share custody, the unspoken rules suddenly become relevant. Not only do they become relevant, but they become a focus. And that’s just the first step. The real difficulty comes in sticking to the integrity of your situation and providing a space that is flexible, but yet honors our words and communication.
I remember feeling super frustrated when a time for a drop-off was overlooked or when my daughter showed up for school late.
But that’s just life.
I certainly am not suggesting that it was okay, that’s not what I’m saying.
I’m saying that “what is so” is that my kid was late to school and it was out of my control. It doesn’t mean that it wasn’t stressful for me at the time, it certainly was, but rather than thinking about it as a challenge, I chose to think about it as an opportunity.
Recreating Your "Partarent"
My wife was a two-family kid growing up and she tells stories of her Father pulling up in his car and honking the horn to get her out of the house. She also told me stories of getting left at school when communication got crossed as to whom was going to pick her up. It was a little different without texting and instant messaging I guess.
Now, I’m not going to blame my in-laws or come down on them for the way they behaved in the past. One thing that I quickly came to realize as a parent was that there is no manual - no “how to” guide when it comes to rearing children.
One thing that really helped me was re-creating my partarent every time I saw her I pretended she was a “new person”. What I really mean by this is that I purposely pushed out the negativity and sorrow that was associated with seeing her and replaced it with someone who loved my child and cared for my kids welfare. The hardest part was extracting any sort of romantic notion, which I’ll talk about in a moment.
Since you don’t know my story yet, I can totally admit to you that this took over a year to actually work. Yes, it works, but it’s not instant by any stretch of the imagination.
And it wasn’t always perfect either, so for example, she would come by the house and be angry about my daughter’s attitude or about a paper she brought home from school. I could tell, just based off of her body language and tone of voice that she was ready for a fight.
At that point, when someone approaches you already in a mood or on a malicious mission, the chemicals are already squirting around in their brain and there is little you are going to do to calm them down in the moment. This is a critical sign that you should temporarily back off.
When I had a negative thought cross my mind I replaced it with a different one.
This was incredibly difficult to do at first, and really took some serious effort on my part, but just like the pain of a breakup it eventually dissipated until it was all gone. And what I had left was “choice”.
I was left with the power to choose her as she was.
And I was left with the capacity to choose her in that moment.
This is very powerful on many levels and it’s something that I want to share with you.
There is a really great exercise in Neuro Linguistic Programming that I used after the fact. This isn’t necessarily a thing you can do in the moment, but I have to say that in the times I was attempting to quiet my mind, especially right after the break-up, it was very helpful.
The exercise goes like this:
Choose a moment that happened where you had an interaction with your partarent. I had a tendency to choose “bad” moments, mostly because there weren’t many good moments during our breakup.
Take the moment when you feel the most intense, like the moment you want to do damage to another person just because you are frustrated or you feel unheard.
Then freeze it.
Just like a snapshot or a screenshot from a video, take the movement and literally stop it.
Slowly extract the color from it so that it become black and white and you are left with just a “vintage” looking image of the situation you chose.
Then, in your mind, crinkle up that picture into a ball of photo paper and throw it into the river. Like, actually see yourself at the edge of a river or on a bridge throwing that paper into the water below.
This might sound relatively simple, and it is. But it’s also a really powerful exercise that helps you re-frame situations and see them for what they are. It puts you in control of something you don’t have control over. It gives you the mental wherewithal to know that ultimately you are responsible for your emotions and thoughts.
After all those thoughts are just moments and something in that moment just happened. The moment might temporarily make you sad or happy, or you might feel nothing, but the important takeaway is that it’s just a thought.
I choose her and by choosing her, I chose her actions. I chose my daughter being late for school, I chose having to buy school uniforms for my daughter and all that comes with it.
I know it’s easy for me to sit behind this microphone and tell you to “choose” someone whom you probably disagree with and someone who probably pushes your buttons.
But it’s you who is going to take a high-road and it’s you who is in the bigger person. You see, when you choose someone for whom they are, you are the one that is in control. It’s powerful and it might even sound counter-intuitive to play a hero in your mind, but it works. And once you see the full potential of this, you’ll be glad you took this exercise on.So, let’s review:
And remember to think about your eco-system. Think about the way that you want things to be, not what you don’t like or what you don’t want to happen. I don’t mean this in a woo-woo, law-of-attraction kind of way, it’s important to know what you want rather than what you don’t.
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The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds, and the pessimist fears this is true– James Branch