Three Critical Agreements for Co-Parents
I recently read an article on co-parenting that blew me away. It has three bumper-sticker agreements that separating couples can make to protect their kids from the pain of the divorce or separation. I wish I’d written it, but I didn’t, so I’m writing about it and posting it here.
The article is by Aurisha Smolarski and published on the blog of the PACT institute (an organization around relationship building that I’d highly recommend for anyone working on their relationship instead of working on ending it, by the way).
Here’s the original article: Collaboration in the Co-Parenting Partnership
The Three Agreements
"We tell each other first.”
Co-parenting means you are partners in parenting your children, and you are willing to do the work of talking through issues with each other BEFORE talking about them with your kids.
This is super important! I see well-meaning parents, who would NEVER purposefully put their kids in the middle of an argument with the other parent, who talk to a child about plans before talking with the other parent. Obviously, we are talking about big plans – vacations, moves, a new partner, new school, new schedule – before talking it through and making sure there aren’t going to be any major problems with the other parent first.
Why is this so important? Because inevitably you are going to assume something is fine when it is a bigger issue than you think and then your child is going to be prepared for something that doesn’t happen because of the other parent. Now, you are either going to have to lie to your child about why the vacation isn’t going to happen after all, or you are going to tell your child that the other parent made you change your plans. Either way, your child is caught squarely in the middle of this disagreement. And kids have very good antennae for this sort of thing, and they will feel that they are a burden or need to take care of your disappointment. Neither is healthy.
So make a solemn promise to each other that you will tell the other parent first. This means you are going to have to have regular check-ins around changes in your child’s life, and important conversations. Do you have a teenager who needs guidance on college, sex, dating, driving, drinking and drugs? Will you? Have a plan with the other parent around how this conversation will happen, who will be there, and are you able to do it together.
Being a team as parents, even if you aren’t a team in other areas, will set your children up to focus on what your children need to focus on: growing up, developing healthy relationships of their own, and feeling secure and safe enough to do those things.
“We do not throw each other under the bus.“
When you’ve been disappointed by your relationship it is incredibly hard to maintain a positive view of the other parent. Here’s the worst part: especially if you’re trying to co-parent collaboratively! Really, think about it: communication is hard (maybe that’s why you’re not together anymore) and disappointment is common. Your kids are going to be disappointed by the other parent sometimes, and so are you. It is almost too sweet and easy to comment on your disappointment to or around your children. Don’t!
Again, don’t comment on your disappointment to your children. Doing that just forces them to take a side – your side or their side – and again, catches the kids in a cul-de-sac of impossibility.
Don’t make the other parent the bad cop, either. If you say, “playing football is fine with me, but you’ll have to check with your dad” or “I don’t care if you drop Algebra II, but your mom is not going to like it” causes problems. Now your child has to navigate the disagreement between you. You need to be the one navigating that!
“We create consistent routines across the two households.”
Communication again! This one is really hard. But there is a great benefit to your child if you are able to set routines that are the same in both homes. If you can do this, even some of the time, you have achieved an astonishing thing for your children. What are some routines that can be the same?
- Screen time
- Food rules (“eat two vegetables at dinner”)
- Homework time
Can you imagine how great it will be for your children (and this is true of young kids and teenagers though it’s harder as they get older) to know that the basic ground rules are the same at either parent’s house?
It’s going to be worth it for you, too, if you aren’t needing to deal with your child telling you why life is better at the other parent’s house. “But Mommy lets me…” makes it hard for any parent to set good rules, and it encourages your children to play you off of one another. That means – you guessed it – your kids are caught in the middle between you.
How the Three Agreements Help
A collaborative relationship between co-parents means constantly reminding the children that you are adults, which means your kids don’t have to be. That’s really the whole foundation of collaborative co-parenting. By working together and being the adults in the room, you can make a space where your children feel safe and secure, and free to be kids and grow naturally and in time. It means your children don’t feel that they have to parent you.
The hard realization is that the way you handle the aftermath of your divorce or separation is how your children are going to learn how to have relationships themselves. That’s tough.
Finally, every single one of us who has parented with a partner fails on three agreements, even if we have committed to them and even if we are trying our best. You will be tired, you will be overwhelmed, and you will say something that shows your child how far apart you and the other parent are. Be kind to yourself. Talk to the other parent about it – remember, one of the agreements is that you talk to each other first! Let the other parent know that you told your child about your plans for a holiday before checking, and that was a mistake, and you need to talk about the holiday. You should be the one to tell your children if there is a change of your plan. That way your child knows that you and her other parent are working together in the background on behalf of the kids in your life.