How to Get on the Same Page as Your Co-Parent
Kids adjusting to two homes can be hard. Co-parents who learn to set aside and prioritize time for family business meetings can significantly reduce the negative impacts divorce has on your kids and positively impact your co-parenting relationship.
Compartmentalizing – or setting time aside from your typical weekly check-ins or communications– to discuss issues, challenges, growth, scheduling needs, vacations, concerns, etc. about your children – in a business-like meeting helps parents stay on track and avoid messy or unhelpful past relationship emotions or issues between themselves.
What does a “family business meeting” mean? It means you have an agenda and you stay within those boundaries so you remain focused on your children’s needs. It also means you set aside specific/structured time and agenda items proactively so bigger concerns or needs are not brought up on the fly – or unexpectedly in a 10 min weekly check-in, or through text or email. Setting aside sacred time to discuss your children’s needs and upcoming events or activities helps everyone feel less anxious or “on guard” – because things are not “sprung” on them without notice. If you need more help – check out our online co-parenting course, Parenting From Two Homes as we walk you through all the ins and out’s of weekly check-ins and other ways to help you get on the same page with your co-parent.
We all do better with preparation and planning ahead – so here is a helpful guide!
Step 1: Are you both in a good headspace?
Check in before you even start the conversation. This can be done verbally, or by reading the non-verbal cues and energy of your co-parent and asking clarifying questions to understand where they are. If you sense and confirm with the other parent that one of you is on edge or just not emotionally available to have this conversation, respect those emotions. It may have nothing to do with you – maybe they had a rough week, someone is sick, etc. Check-in and try not to assume.
You will likely want to set a plan to revisit this conversation when you are both available mentally and emotionally. It’s not helpful to either of you to try to have a potentially difficult conversation when either of you is feeling a heightened amount of stress, anxiety, are sick, or you’re just pissed at each other. It’s important that you both honor your headspace and the mental stability of your co-parent. If you or your co-parent are struggling with your mental or emotional wellbeing and having trouble navigating the feelings you are having around all the change, please check out our Online co-parenting course, Parenting From Two Homes. Our first module in that course is all about getting you in a grounded place mentally and emotionally. We provide you with ways to find support and help you identify what sorts of things and people will be helpful to you in this really vulnerable, stressful, and sometimes overwhelming process. Please do us a favor and check the course out if you are feeling any of those emotions.
Step 2: Set a scheduled day and time to discuss.
Be intentional about not springing things on your co-parent. When there is something that needs to be discussed, acknowledge the topic and then set a time to talk about it. This is important for a few reasons. It allows both parties to collect their thoughts and constructively consider the topic at hand. This lessens the likelihood of one of the parties feeling “attacked.”
The shift from communicating as spouses or partners to a shift of communicating solely as parents -and leaving the “ex” out of parenting meetings, can be a hard shift. With a plan and some support, you are bound to feel more equipped.
Tip: Immediately after or during separation or divorce – parents may need more frequent business meetings – this may look like “every third Thursday of the month from 7-8 PM we will meet via phone call or zoom”. As families adjust and transition into new patterns and routines, these business meetings may evolve into quarterly or even just twice per year meetings. If they are twice a year – consider setting these up in the summer – to plan for the school year, and in the winter – to plan for the spring and summer transitions. Being proactive and in-front-of scheduling issues is a HUGE help.
Step 3: Set Communication Guidelines.
It’s important to have communication guidelines or boundaries before you begin your family business meetings. Think of these guidelines as “guardrails” on a highway – they keep you on track and in your lane – rather than veering off into dangerous, unhelpful, or harmful territory. Your kids need you to talk and plan for THEM, not get stuck in past, historical wounds, and challenges from your partnered relationship. Stay in the present.
When creating these guidelines consider stating what you WANT each of you to respect and honor in your co-parenting relationship and stay away from telling each other what you DON’T want. Our brains work better when we are told what TO do, instead of what NOT to do. For example: instead of framing a guideline as: “we agree not to go overtime in our meetings”. Frame this as: “We agree to honor our time for meetings and stick with it.” We typically recommend each parent come up with 2-3 guidelines that are important for them and then share them with each other.
Step 4: Set an agenda.
Setting an agenda can feel a little transactional but it allows for both parties to know what topics to expect will be discussed. Setting an agenda it is a great way to limit getting stuck – when you have a proactive approach and goals for the meetings – you are more focused and effective in communication. These meetings are likely some of the most important opportunities you will have to discuss needs and concerns about your children. Staying on track and redirecting each other if one or both of you veer off the agenda (or outside your guidelines) is important – do this with respect. Remember – being clear is kind.
Step 5: Lead with logic.
When it comes to finances, lead with facts and recognize that the topic of money involves emotions – so navigate this with respect and empathy. Co-parents that lead with the numbers and stay in the logic are better able to stay within their agenda. When emotions come up – TRY to tap into where the emotions are coming from – how do they affect you and from where in your past could they be coming from? For example: “would you be willing to purchase winter clothes too? It’s hard for me when the kids don’t have winter clothes at both of our houses. When I was a kid I remember being cold all the time at school because my parents wouldn’t buy us winter coats. I just don’t want the kids to be cold – it makes me feel awful – thinking of them being cold and I feel better if I can have my own set at the house for them.”
Step 6: Make sure that each party is heard.
Each party needs the opportunity to be heard and to feel respected. There is typically one parent with more financial education or more parenting education or understanding and that is okay! We are not all experts in every aspect of life. Maternal or paternal “gatekeeping” is when one parent believes they are the only one who can meet the needs of their children and oftentimes tries to limit the engagement of their child’s other parent. “Financial gate-keeping” is when one co-parent feels they know all the information and “should” be the one to educate the other parent and make the final decisions. Just because one parent has more financial education or understanding does not mean their parenting partner does not have an equitable opportunity to understand and make choices.
At a family business meeting, each co-parent should have a goal when it comes to the topic being discussed.
For example: the cost for extra-curricular activities: maybe one of you wants to do year-round extracurriculars and one of you supports only doing these activities in the summer to lessen the financial and schedule strains. You both need to share your logic, listen to the other’s perspective, consider each of your backgrounds and why this issue is significant – and then it’s important to come to an agreement. It is necessary that both parties feel heard and respected and that their reasoning is considered. If you still can’t reach an agreement, then be sure to check out our Tips: When You and Your Co-parent don’t Agree blog post or check out our Online Course, Parenting From Two Homes. In module 6 we talk all about some go-to methods for helping resolve conflict when you and your co-parent just can’t see eye to eye.
TIP: “Instead of YOU – Try I” Consider using “I statements.” When we use “I feel” – instead of “You did ____” – people are less likely to be on the defensive and more likely to hear you. When using “I,” you are taking responsibility, oftentimes taking people off of the defense and keeping them present and able to engage in a productive conversation.
TIP: Reward yourselves. Money and kid topics within your “business meeting” can be tough, so recognize that every conversation is not going to be easy. That is why setting a reward or incentive after your agenda is wrapped up is important. Set your incentive ahead of time so you have something to look forward to. Some parents head out with a good friend, get outside for a break, go out to a favorite eatery, take their kids to the park – or even just recognize and “name it” (“that was really hard and we got through it, We stuck with it for our kids”) and recognize these conversations take courage, persistence, dedication, and grit.
If you need more help check out our Parenting from Two Homes Course!