3 Tips to Picking Your Co-Parenting Battles Wisely

We often want to win, just for the sake of winning. I think it’s a natural human tendency. But at what cost?

Have you ever gotten into a heated argument with someone, only to later realize that the thing you were arguing about was silly and not that serious?

He frustratingly explained that his child’s mother wants to change their custody schedule for a couple of months

As a mediator and co-parent coach, I get to work with my clients every day. I help them learn how to peacefully and cohesively raise a child with their co-parent, although they live separate lives, in separate homes.

One of my clients called me one day, completely livid! When I asked him what was wrong, he frustratingly explained that his child’s mother wants to change their custody schedule for a couple of months. Instead of her getting the child on Wednesday, she wants to get the child on Thursday due to recent enrollment in a college night class.

I then asked him, “Okay, so what’s wrong with changing?” “Does it interfere with something you have going on?” “Is it going to cost you anything?” “Will it negatively impact your child?”

He admitted that changing the schedule wouldn’t interfere with anything he has going on. It wouldn’t cost him anything, and, in fact, might even work out better for his child because he could enroll him in swim lessons on Wednesdays.

When he called me, he was ready to go to war about a minor change in their son’s custody schedule, just because he was used to the schedule that was in place. However, after thinking about it more clearly, he later realized that it essentially wouldn’t hurt to be open to the change, and it wasn’t a “war worthy” Issue.

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Parents commonly go to war for all kinds of trivial issues:

  • Who’s going to take the child to the sporting event?
  • Can the child go on vacation out of state?
  • Who’s going to attend the field trip?
  • He/she was five minutes late to the custody exchange.
  • He/she said this or that about me.
  • She wants to take the child to Disneyland when it’s not her parenting time, and so on and so forth.

But, one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned as a co-parent myself–and through coaching clients–is to peacefully do the same. The majority of the time, it’s not that serious–it’s not “war worthy.”

As parents, we have a lot going on. Co-parenting adds even more complexity to our already demanding lives because it requires us to operate in one accord with our child’s other parent. And they may have a completely different life, lifestyle, etc. than we do. Disagreements are inevitable. The key is being able to discern which issues and disagreements are war worthy, and which ones will be better served through compromise.

So how do you know when to go to war and when to let it go? Here are four things to consider before going to war.

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First: Ask yourself: Is it that serious?

And answer honestly…

Next, if you initially think that it is “that serious”–follow the three-hour rule.

Take three hours to calm down and self-reflect before making a decision about the issue or even discussing it further with the other parent.

Many of us, most of the time, even after a heated argument or rain of emotions, will calm down within three hours. Once the initial sting has passed, you can think more clearly and consider the “why” to determine whether the issue is war worthy.

Think about the “why”: Why are you upset? Why are you ready to go off? Why aren’t you willing to compromise?

  • Is it going to hurt you or your child if their mom transports them to the event instead of you?
  • She was five minutes late, is that five minutes going to ruin your life? Have YOU ever been late before? Maybe you should just give her a pass this time and let it go
  • Will it hurt if you give up one of your parenting days so your child can go to Disneyland? Or are you going to make your child miss out on what is surely to be a fun opportunity just because it’s not “her day.”

There are likely several bigger issues that we are most passionate about.

It’s important to focus on the “why” because oftentimes, we get upset and combative simply because things don’t go our way or because what’s proposed is not something we had in mind, not necessarily because it was “war worthy.” The problem with this is that often, these trivial issues may not be the ones we care about. There are likely several bigger issues that we are most passionate about, and no matter what… we will not waver on them. So, rather than wrangling about things that don’t matter, it’s wise to save our time, energy, and resources on the significant issues and concede on the others when possible.

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Focus on results

We often want to win, just for the sake of winning… I think it’s a natural human tendency.

But at what cost? Will your children have to go through the results of the battle for the Wednesday vs. Thursday night? How will they feel if they have to miss out on Disneyland?  What kind of stress will you experience fighting over five-minute tardiness?

Is it war worthy? If you win, what will be the results? And will those results be worth the war that you had to go through to get them? Is war the only way to achieve those results?

What’s the point of “winning” if it doesn’t yield results?

– This article originally appeared on The Good Men Project

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