Parenting is messy business. It reveals our own insecurities as well as wounds about childhood. With such a high investment in our own children, and how personal this investment seems, it is difficult to acknowledge the fact that the other parent and "their way" is as important in our children’s lives as ours.
Approaching parenting with a mutuality mindset means that whatever else is or is not going on in your adult relationship, you are jointly committed to putting your children’s well-being and happiness first and to helping each other to do so. Even if you’ve lost a spouse or partner through separation or divorce, your children have not lost either parent.
Most parents like to consider themselves good parents who love their children, which is a major part of who they are, their identity. So, if you undermine or restrict a parent’s ability to parent, you undermine who they are to their children and you limit their ability to join you in the task of raising children.
A large part of parent counseling and coaching is helping parents understand this and the importance (to their children’s physical and psychological development) of the two most important adults in their lives being able to communicate, cooperate and support each other. This is true regardless of whether the parents are in a romantic partnership with one another, or not. Out of understanding, acknowledgement and empathy, arises mutual decision-making and support. This provides the environment in which children can thrive.
How do you start to shift your mindset with you coparent?
1. Discover mutual interest. For parents, this might seem like a no brainer. Duh, we both care about the kids. That's not enough. Get detailed. We both worry about their safety. We both care about their health. We both want them to have opportunities to explore interests. We are both committed to their future learning.
2. Be helpful. Modeling a mutuality mindset doesn't mean you cultivate relationships by quid pro quo. I got to go play golf, now you get to go play golf. Still, it helps to encourage an ebb and flow of mutual support over time with acknowledgement, appreciation and reciprocation.
If you are in a committed relationship with your coparent:
Write down your top 5 daily needs to set you up for a positive perspective. Having trouble? Check this out. Keep these needs under 20 minutes to make them reasonable to achieve. Do you need a shower, a walk, some snuggle time, to leave the home, to have silence, to watch a sitcom, to read an article, to call a friend, to eat a whole sandwich, to finish a cup of tea?
Share them with your partner. The fridge always has a little extra space.
See how many of those you can gift yourself and your partner each day.
Write down your "tells" for when you feel overwhelmed.
Write down five things that help ground you or reset you when you are overwhelmed.
Make sure your coparent has these cheat sheets so they can support you without asking what to do in a moment where you are flooded.
If you are/are not in a committed relationship with your coparent:
Write down what you need to be the most effective coparent.
Write down what you need from your coparent to work as a coparent team.
Write down your top goals for your time together (visitation) with your child(ren).
Write down your longterm concerns/goals for raising your kid(s) to adulthood.
Share these with your coparent/partner.
Instead of my-way-or-the-highway parenting, consider adopting a parenting approach, class, book you can agree to follow. I like Triple P and Parenting with Love and Logic, Gottman Parenting to name a few.
3. Notice talents and include them. Is one parent better at bedtime... more crafty... a natural coach... able to build a treehouse... effective with the school principal... not squeamish with blood? Defer to this parent when appropriate and when they are available.
The reward? The joy and achievement you experience individually and together increases with each successful collaboration. Just look at the look on those little faces.