Our Family Forward Blog

The Power of Pausing: A Simple Tool for Better Outcomes in Challenging Conversations

Have you ever found yourself embroiled in an argument with your co-parent about an emotionally-charged issue and wondered how you got there?  Have you had this same argument before and it did not end well?  You’re not alone.  It’s common for partners to have the same unproductive argument about a challenging issue over and over again.  Why is that?

Communication goes south when we get triggered by our co-parent and are reacting in the moment to lash out, protect or defend ourselves.  In that aroused state we can say things we don’t mean or do things that escalate what’s being said.  In that aroused state we are more likely to hold fast to our beliefs about the other person (however mistaken or incomplete) and less likely to give him or her the benefit of the doubt.  In that aroused state, we can only see our side of the argument and are rarely able to listen.  It’s a dance of give and take that is automatic (i.e. without conscious awareness) and can seem inevitable.  What can be done to improve the outcome?

The critical step is to realize that you are in an aroused state and decide to take a pause. Pausing is a way to slow down that leads to calming down that allows for more conscious choice about what to do next.  It can stop the negative exchange, break the unconscious trance you are in, offer you time to ground yourself and gather your thoughts and maybe even enable you to rejoin the conversation more able to listen.

Pauses can be as short or as long as you need them to be.  They can be brief and internal (e.g. taking a few deep breaths) or they can be longer and obvious (e.g. saying out loud “I need a 20-minute break to clear my head”).

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co parenting

We were such good co-parents, once.

It goes something like this.  You’ve done the hard work of getting unmarried with as much dignity and courage as possible. You’ve both been mindful of keeping the kids out of the middle, and have worked out pretty effective co-parent communication.  You’ve been following your creative, child-centered Parenting Plan for a couple of years with only minor hitches.  Then, either suddenly or with a steady sense of erosion, it’s become much more difficult.  You have begun accusing each other of being unreasonable, demanding, inflexible, incommunicative, selfish, not doing what’s best for the kids.

What’s gone wrong? 
If previously workable co-parent strategies have begun to fail, it usually has to do with change in circumstances for one or more family members.  Change is inevitable and often positive, but it can create anxiety, anger or resentment if it feels too sudden or out of one’s control.  What changes are most likely to lead to co-parenting stress?  Here are some likely candidates:

1.  The teen years.  When kids hit adolescence, parenting itself usually becomes more challenging.  Power struggles and disrespectful attitudes often go with the equation.  Though developmentally normal, this change from “cuddly kid” to “aloof or snarling teen” can be upsetting.  Parents can begin to blame each other’s parenting styles for any difficult behaviors of their adolescent children.  This is especially easy to fall into if a child has learned how to manipulate the situation when parents quit talking to each other out of frustration.

2.  Employment shifts.  A parent loses a job, is required to work different hours, is demoted or is faced with the need to make a geographic transfer to keep a job.  These changes can directly affect economic stability in both homes.  If one parent’s job change necessitates a shift to the parenting time schedule on which the other parent has become dependent for his or her own life balance, this becomes a very stressful co-parenting situation.

3.  Health crises for parents.  A health crisis can be physical, emotional or an addiction.  Depending on the level of trust and transparency in co-parent communication, parental health concerns may or may not be directly shared for fear of reactions and consequences.  Mutually agreed upon Safety Plans for the children can be created, but parents may instinctively react instead by withholding “private” information from their co-parent.  This raises red flags in co-parenting.

4.  Health crises for children.  Co-parents can unite behind their love and concern for a child with a health or developmental crisis, but it also places significant stress on any parenting relationship.  Worry, grief, and fatigue go with the territory, and impact communication.  Parents may also have significant disagreement about treatment modalities and parenting strategies.

4.  New significant others.   When new significant others enter the family system, a lot of things may begin to change.  To normalize the impact, it’s important to acknowledge that this is never a neutral situation, even if both co-parents feel that it is reasonable and an appropriate time for new relationships to evolve. (If the timing or the readiness feels wrong to one or both parents, there will be many other issues to work through.)  Here are just a few of the typical impacts on co-parenting: establishing clear boundaries, bonus parent roles and responsibilities, holiday celebrations, communication patterns, keeping kids out of loyalty binds…,,and the list goes on.

How can Our Family Forward help?
Co-parenting is hard work, and it doesn’t come with a manual.  Clear and detailed Parenting Plans and Relationship Plans can be invaluable, but can’t anticipate all the day-to-day challenges as well as the major impact of the changes described above. Our Family Forward is designed provide you with skills and strategies for finding a path to effective and respectful problem solving and co-parenting communication.  We have been there for many families in similar circumstances to yours.  Though each family is unique, we believe there are time-tested tools to be learned.  We would love to teach you!

Children’s Issues

Children are always affected by their parents’ decision to divorce.  The question is, how?  Depending on a myriad of factors, including a child’s age, stage and temperament, and the amount of conflict and tension in the parents’ relationship, a child’s reaction can range from devastation to relief.  Here is a sampling of what I have heard from kids when asked how hard it was to learn that parents were getting unmarried:

“I was so, so, so sad.  I cried a long time and so did my brother.”
“It felt like a really bad dream to hear the words.”
“I wasn’t surprised.  I’ve seen this coming for a long time.”
“To tell you the truth, it was a relief.  Our house is so much more peaceful now.”
“At first I couldn’t believe it, but I’m getting used to it.  I just want everyone to be
happy.”

Children ARE resilient, but they can’t do it in a vacuum.  They need adults to remain attuned to their needs in order to have a healthy recovery from a life crisis.  It is so important to keep the crisis of divorce from becoming a trauma for a child

Experience, research and common sense tell us that the most negative impacts on a child’s resilience after a divorce are ongoing, unresolved high conflict between parents, and feeling abandoned if a parent moves away or significantly reduces his or her involvement in the child’s life.  These painful outcomes are preventable, when separating and divorcing parents recognize their children’s needs and make a commitment to respectful and effective co-parenting.  Our Family Forward can help!

How to Prepare for a Child-Centered Divorce

We often get asked by divorcing parents, “How will our divorce affect our kids?”  This is such a powerful question.  Our Family Forward is based on the belief that how parents choose to move forward during and after their divorce will profoundly shape the outcome for themselves and their children.  We encourage parents right away to focus on the future they want with and for their children.

We know that divorce is a major stressor for everyone involved as a family restructures to living in two households instead of one.  It is a time of crisis for all family members, as changes are made and losses are felt, but it does not have to become a lasting trauma for children.

When we meet with divorcing parents we ask, “Down the road, what is the story you want your children to tell about your divorce?”  You have control over many aspects of this story.  Behaving with courtesy and respect toward each other during and after your divorce will have a lasting, positive impact on your children.   This becomes the cornerstone of effective co-parenting.

Children do best during and after a divorce when they are never asked to take sides between their parents, when parents can work as a team on their children’s behalf and when children are not exposed to parental conflict.  We believe children should be kept at the center and out of the middle.

But this is hard work, so it’s important to take care of your own emotional needs.  It’s only human to feel the urge to lash out at your spouse or partner during a divorce, especially if you feel hurt or betrayed by the many losses you now must experience.  If this happens in the presence of your children, it will hurt them.  We encourage you as soon as possible to get the emotional support you need and deserve from other trusted adults who honor and respect your wish to protect and nurture your children during the divorce.  This will help provide you with resources and strength to stay as centered as possible while grieving and working through the strong feelings that arise during a divorce.  The added benefit is creating safety for your children.

The Power of Pausing: A Simple Tool for Better Outcomes in Challenging Conversations

Have you ever found yourself embroiled in an argument with your co-parent about an emotionally-charged issue and wondered …

co parenting

We were such good co-parents, once.

It goes something like this.  You’ve done the hard work of getting unmarried with as much dignity and courage as possible. …

Children’s Issues

Children are always affected by their parents’ decision to divorce.  The question is, how?  Depending on a myriad …