‘He doesn’t really want to share the care of the kids; he just wants to get at me!’
‘She doesn’t see what this is doing to the kids; we don’t communicate any more…’
‘We were doing fine with sharing the kids’ care till I re-partnered…’
Familiar words from separated or divorced parents – as a family dispute resolution practitioner, I hear stories of bitter disputes over shared care, child support and post-separation parenting issues. Parents may be caught up in their own pain, and anger with each other, when the separation is still raw and recent. Or perhaps parents made relatively amicable parenting arrangements, which worked well for years until one parent began a new relationship. Suddenly all hell broke loose and now the separated parents can’t seem to ‘go along to get along’ any more.
Reframe the picture
If this picture looks all too familiar to you as a separated parent, it might help if you reframe it. Instead of grappling with the idea of managing a personal relationship gone sour, picture this: your post-separation parenting is a business, in which you and your former partner are job-sharing the manager’s position.
Assets or liabilities on a balance sheet may not seem to have much in common with your toddler’s tantrums, or your teenager’s demands to go to that all-night party. How can a business model help you with the emotional highs and lows of day-to-day life as a separated parent? Lynn Grodzki, a business coach for therapists in private practice, talks about ‘nurturing’ your business like a parent. Well, I’m suggesting that you nurture your parenting like a business. To do that, you have to do some forward planning!
The importance of planning
It is often said that when we fail to plan, we plan to fail — and in an economic downturn, businesses must plan carefully to manage risk. Lynn Grodzki describes ‘risk reduction’ as the process of evaluating the dangers and then taking steps to minimise the losses or potential losses to your business. As a separated parent, you can do the same, and here’s how to set about it. (The following tips are loosely based on Lynn Grodzki’s advice to business owners.)
Six Top Tips to Reduce Your Parenting Risks after Separation
1. A written ‘business plan’ – having a written parenting plan or agreement can help you to co-manage the business of parenting after a separation. A business plan allows you to review your business practices and goals. A parenting plan allows you to track what you have both agreed to do as parents.
2. Maintain a cash reserve for operating expenses – this is often easier said than done in difficult economic times, both for businesses and for parents. However, in both cases it pays to save when you can. And just as ‘goodwill’ is important in business, it is also important in parenting. Business owners can put a dollar value on ‘goodwill’, and know how important it is for long-term sustainability. As co-managers of parenting, both parents can build up shared reserves of ‘goodwill’ in how they co-operate as parents. That may give you both some ’emotional capital’ to draw on in the tough times (see Tip 4).
3. Good record keeping – many a business has come to grief through poor record-keeping. Your co-parenting business will benefit from good written records. Many parents find it useful to use a communication book that passes back and forth as children move from one household to the other. (This avoids the risk of passing messages via your children. Remember, the children are not the managers in this business!)
4. Contingency planning: average your profit and loss over time – you may have heard of amortizing or depreciating a business cost. That happens when the cost of an actual or intangible asset is averaged, or written off, over a period of time. As co-managers of parenting, you and the other parent may have many years of co-parenting ahead of you, until your children are independent adults. It takes stamina to sit with the discomfort of the difficult times, when you may feel that you are ‘trading’ in a hostile environment. It is worth remembering that times can and will change.
5. Self care when the business depends on you – the business of co-parenting relies on the ability of each parent to give time and energy to their responsibilities. To do that, and to take care of others, you must take care of yourself. A healthy diet, appropriate exercise, enough sleep, and keeping in touch with your doctor for regular check-ups as required; these steps will help you to manage the risks of ill health.
6. Keep up your insurance – some business partners maintain ‘key person’ life insurance on each other, if the loss of a business partner could affect the financial security of the business. You can also view your ability to co-operate as parents as ‘insurance’ for your business. The more effectively you can co-parent, the less risk there is of your co-parenting business ceasing to trade.
Of course, you should also take legal and financial advice on your individual situation, as necessary. However, these business tips might help you to keep your co-parenting business afloat in troubled times, and protect your children from exposure to conflict between their parents.
How to make these tips work for you!
*Family dispute resolution is a mediation process that can assist you and the other parent to talk about your parenting issues and to make a written parenting agreement. A family dispute resolution practitioner can help you both to identify the issues and to focus on the best interests of your children.
*A parenting agreement might include issues such as the time spent with the children by each parent; communication; transport arrangements; school holiday arrangements; special days such as Christmas, Easter and other significant family or religious occasions.
*Emails and text messages are useful as written records. If you make verbal arrangements with the other parent, confirm them in a polite text message or email, just as you would do in a business setting. It all helps to avoid costly last-minute misunderstandings.
*’Write off’ some emotional costs over time. If you could enter all the ‘intangible assets’ of co-parenting over the next five years, as your children grow, your parenting balance sheet might show a profit for your children over time. Try keeping a journal, or use the expressive writing exercises described by Dr James W. Pennebaker in his book ‘Opening up: The healing power of expressing emotions’.
*Self care: enroll in a new activity group, or take an adult education class. The ‘down time’ from parenting may replenish your spirits and give you more energy. If you are feeling depressed, anxious or angry, talk to your doctor, who may recommend other supports such as counseling or medication.