“You want me to WHAT?!!” My client looked at me in shock. And, a bit of horror. She had called to ask advice on how to better co-parent with her recent ex-husband. She spent a good 10 minutes venting over their struggles and his behavior. Rather than giving a legal response, I suggested she take a page from Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages book to affirm him. Hence, the horror.
I quickly assured her that she didn’t need to “love” her former spouse. She didn’t even need to like him. What she needed to do was craft a working relationship with him for the endeavor of caring for their children.
Chapman’s book defines the five core traits that nurture relationships–all relationships. Applying his wisdom to the co-parenting relationship opens opportunity for a whole new realm of respect and cooperation.
Chapman notes that people receive love in five basic “languages”–words of affirmation, acts of service, time, gifts, and physical touch. Of course, the deepest expressions of these are for very intimate relationships. Yet, they work because the behaviors provide concrete expressions of respect and admiration that minister to the core of people.
When co-parents take a cue from Chapman’s insights, they find ways to affirm the other parent. That affirmation strengthens parents’ ability to work together for their children.
Affirm through Words of Affirmation
Nothing gets on another person’s good side quite like praising them. When parents openly praise the other parent’s efforts–to the parent, to the children, or to others–they build goodwill. Some examples could include:
- Thank the other parent. Thank the other parent for the routine work they do in making two homes work. Thank them when they’ve gone above and beyond to do something extra. Genuine gratitude speaks volumes and builds connection. In a text, a note, or to their face–saying “thanks” can do a world of good.
- Praise specific traits of the other parent to children and friends. The world is small. When we talk about others, it usually gets back to them. When one parent hears of the other speaking well of them, they feel safer. That security builds a better co-parenting relationship.
- Take control of personal thoughts about the other. It’s easy to dwell on the negative. Purposely replacing critical thoughts with recognition of the good changes our own mindset. As we focus on what is true, good, and admirable about the other parent–we are more likely to engage well.
Choosing to affirm doesn’t mean being Pollyanna or ignoring real issues. Nor, does it mean manipulating through false praise. It does mean intentionally and proactively affirming what is good.
Affirm through Acts of Service
Single parenting is hard. Co-parents ease the load when they find ways to help each other. Especially when they take on tasks they know mean the most to the other parent.
- Help with the logistics. Whether covering for parenting time, adjusting schedules, or working with transition timing–taking on extra parenting loads when the other parent is sqeezed builds goodwill.
- Help with difficult behaviors. Whether it’s responding to a toddler meltdown in the grocery or holding the line on a teenager’s demand for video time, correcting misbehavior is exhausting. When parents back each other up, they provide reservoirs of strength to keep going.
- Help with transitions. As parents change jobs, start new romantic relationships, or cope with aging parents–the transitions of life affect not only the other parent but the children. When co-parents work together to ease the children through the transitions (rather than blaming), they relieve potential guilt feelings and offer a safe space for life to unfold.
Affirm through Time
Time is the most limited, most precious resource most people have. People appreciate gifts of time because they realize the investment. When co-parents take time to ease the slack for the other parent, they affirm the value of both the children and the other parent’s efforts for the children. Co-parents can show appreciation by:
- Taking time to sit and talk with the child about an ongoing concern of the other parent
- Helping ease the load for the other parent–i.e. mowing grass or fixing a leaky faucet when the other parent is strapped
- Showing up on time for transitions to honor the schedule of the other parent
Affirm through Gifts
“Give a gift to my ex? Really?!” While most couples don’t engage in gift giving (though some do still recognize birthdays and other special holidays), understanding how gifts affirm may open consideration of giving a gift.
Chapman explains that, for those who feel most appreciated through receiving gifts, it’s not about the object itself. The appreciation comes from what the object represents. Gifts convey that one person truly values the other person when they capture concretely a passion or goal of the other. Co-parents can show appreciation for each other through small tokens that say, “I see your efforts on behalf of our children. Thank you.” These can be:
- A remembrance on Mother’s/Father’s day
- Something that makes their parenting a bit easier–i.e. a new stroller, a comfortable bag chair for watching children’s sporting events, or a planner for the upcoming graduation
- Helping a child get a gift they can’t give on their own. This combines gifts with acts of service and time.
This is one former spouses will likely pass on. Though, an occasional “high-five” for combined efforts may not hurt.
People divorce because they couldn’t make their own relationship work. Sometimes the divorce is amicable. Often the divisions that wrecked the marriage come through in the co-parenting. Nothing magically erases these.
Yet, intentionally, regularly affirming the other parent in meaningful ways can’t hurt. The investment will, at minimum, demonstrate to children their parent’s willingness to value their other parent, which speaks volumes. More, the other parent will always deserve some appreciation–the children wouldn’t be here without them. Showing that appreciation may make all the difference in successfully co-parenting.
If you are facing divorce and would like information on how to proceed, The Resolution Center would like to help. You can call 317-344-9740 or email us at info@TheResolutionCenterIndy.com. We look forward to talking with you.