Supporting Your Co-Parent

We all have different triggers and blind spots, things we are still processing from our own childhood that lead us to act on our conditioning rather than from our ideals. So how do we approach a situation, where we can see the other parent doing so? How do we help them navigate back to where they want to be for both them and the child/ren’s benefit?

In the past, a situation may have played out like this….

We are swimming but it’s time for that to end so we can eat, everybody is hungry. But the kids are stalling, this is not unusual even when they are ready to leave, they are not keen on the process of becoming dry when they’re already feeling cold.

Parent one gets impatient “c’mon, just hop out, it’s time for lunch”

Parent two jumps in to defend “they’re worried about how cold it will be hopping out” and starts empathising with the child “I’ve got your towel ready to bundle you straight up and we can hug until you feel warm enough to get dry and dressed”

Parent one feels dismissed and ganged up on “you’re always on their side” but parent two counters “well, I’m trying to protect your relationship, this is being on everyone’s side” not realising they are further dismissing parent ones feelings, something that is very painful due to their childhood experiences and difficult to see past in the moment.

People end up dry and dressed and eating yet nothing feels genuinely resolved. Parent one is hurt, parent two is frustrated.

Parent two obviously didn’t have malicious intentions. They wanted parent one to be able to recognize the child’s needs, they wanted to be a mediator, a bridge between them…. but they were only building on one side. It is an erroneous assumption that adult’s are able to recongize the needs triggering their emotions and communicate them clearly when this process has often been interrupted within most people again and again as children. Adults can need just as much if not more help in this process. Parent two thought by advocating for the children they were making the message more clear but instead it made it that much more difficult to hear because parent one became defensive. They needed a new approach.

Let’s play out that situation again…

We are swimming but it’s time for that to end so we can eat, everybody is hungry. But the kids are stalling, this is not unusual even when they are ready to leave, they are not keen on the process of becoming dry when they’re already feeling cold.

Parent one gets impatient “c’mon, just hop out, it’s time for lunch”

Parent two addresses parent one’s needs and feelings “you really want to eat right now, you’re hungry and this is taking longer than you were expecting it to, that’s frustrating” and parent one feeling heard can now recognize that it is not the children’s behaviour that is triggering their emotions but their own unmet need. Hopefully they feel reassured that parent two understanding their need also wants to find a way for that need to be met. They can work towards that solution together.

Parent one and two now acknowledge and empathise with the children “you’re feeling worried about being cold, we have your towels open and ready for you to jump into, we can hug until you feel warm enough to get dry and dressed”.

People end up dry and dressed and eating. Everybody feels heard and as though their needs are important.

This shift of course doesn’t happen in isolation. If a person has experienced a lot of shame, belittling and dismissal during their childhood then it will be very difficult for them to trust your intentions and care without that being something you invest in outside of these moments too and initially, it might require more than one exchange for them to feel understood and as though their needs will not be ignored before they can move through to acknowledging the needs of others. Kindness too can be triggering in it’s own way, it can be very painful as a person comes to realise that which was absent from their childhood and that they actually are and were deserving of it. In order to process this, adults need to be treated with the same patience we seek to offer our children, they need lots of connected space to feel their grief and appreciate their worth.

Empathy is powerful not just in our relationship with our children but in our relationships with everyone.

“No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care” ― Theodore Roosevelt

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3 Comments

  1. This is so good to read! I often feel frustrated with this, not with my husband but with my mum! It often feels like, when she has a dispute with my oldest (which is often as he is a “difficult” child and definitely doesn’t conform to her expectations), that I have to mediate between them as if it were two kids. I’ve even snapped at her in the past that I can’t be responsible for soothing all her feelings. Your post is a real eye-opener! In future, even though I’m not responsible for her feelings I can still make her feel heard. Thank you!

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