collaborative co-parenting negotiation

How To Negotiate Successfully After Parental Separation

By Shirley Emmett

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

The song says – “breaking up is hard to do”.  We know that separation can hurt….however we also know that ‘we’ and ‘our children’ can recover, especially when the right protective factors are in place.  The following shares a brief snapshot of practical tasks which support recovery, collaborative co-parenting and negotiating the care of children.

While there are many variables in relationship separation, researchers and practitioners all agree that it is the conflict, and in particular ongoing conflict, that does the damage to our children. Negotiating care plans after separation can reduce or eliminate parental conflict and support children .

Separation and divorce is ranked as one of the most stressful, life changing events.  Adults find themselves on an emotional rollercoaster as they grieve multiple losses, while at the same time they are needing to make life defining decisions that impact their children.

Revisioning the future and collaborative co-parenting

After separation the task of ‘re-visioning’ the future becomes key to how parents manage to take stock of their situation and move forward. In order to re-vision the future it is essential for parents to separate out what is the old relationship and embark on a new partnership of co-parenting with the other parent.  A line in the sand must be drawn, acknowledging what is old and what is new.  The past relationship is never minimised, and will need to be processed in order to make some level of sense of the past.   However, for the purpose of collaborative co-parenting and negotiating a way forward,  parents quickly learn how to master separating out what responses belong to the old relationship and forge a way forward. For the sake of their children the focus of the co-parent partnership is only about the needs of the children and no longer a place for relationship discussions.

When parents feel overtaken by their current state of relationship trauma, anger or betrayal, it may feel unconceivable to think of working with the other parent. It is helpful to assist the parent to cast their eye down the track.  What do they want their children’s story to be in five years’ time? What do they want to role model to their children or what do they want their children to remember from this period of their life?  What do they believe the best practice of co-parenting may look like? What do they want it to look like?

Seven simple steps to aid collaborative meetings

When parents enter negotiation meetings with the other parent, the following may be useful –

1. Reframe

Those parents who go into a meeting saying “I am meeting with my ex” usually drag subconsciously every painful argument and memory with them.  They set themselves up to respond how they have done in the past.  Remember, this old thinking needs to be identified and put to one side.  Parents need to reframe, ”I am meeting with the co-parent to talk about the children.”

2. Hold your stance

It is usual for parents to feel insecure, to experience self-doubt or feel disenfranchised in times of change or when they don’t see their children as often as they used too. Parents may need coaching to reaffirm their personal strengths and their role as a parent. Holding onto these realisations and the feelings attached to them as they enter a meeting will help parents to stay focussed on the real issues of what is best for their child/ren. A good All Black holds their position regardless of what is happening on the field and regardless of the weather.  They hold firm, keeping their focus and integrity.

3. Create New Language

Break old communication habits by being intentional about what kind of language is used to communicate.  Adopting a slightly more formal approach to communication may help keep things civil and focussed.

4. Remain Solution focussed

Parents often know what they ‘don’t want’.  Encourage them to make a list.  E.g.  “I don’t want him to drink when he has the children” or “I don’t want her to be talking down about me in front of the children”.  Then help parents to take each statement and transpose the statement into what they ‘do want’.  E.g. I wonder if we can agree that we will not drink (or drink above the legal driving limit) when we are in care of the children”.  “I wonder if we can agree that we will support the children’s relationship with the other parent.” This will help parents enter negotiations with solutions rather than just a list of negative issues.

5. Name the team

It’s helpful to use mostly plural terms in negotiation meetings –  “We are the parents”, “they are our children”, “they count on us!”  When parents talk in singular terms – “I have a right…”  “You don’t know what it is like for me ..”  they are often honestly reflecting their situation, but this is simply, less useful in a negotiation.  Usually the other parent receives these statements defensively and it tends to lead to argument.

6. Suggestions rather than demands

When parents present their proposals, it’s helpful to present them as suggestions or requests.  A parent’s top priority proposals should be carefully packaged to achieve the optimal response from the other parent. Demands are usually met with resistance.  It’s useful for parents to know what they are open to discussing and to know what their non-negotiable items are (these are usually to do with the conditions of care).

7. Be mindful

Meetings can feel intense and this is normal when parents both feel strongly about their children.  Parents are often at different stages of recovery.  Coaching can help parents to be mindful of their feelings and responses in meetings. For example, why am I feeling this way?  Is this something from the past?  Remind myself who I am, that I am safe, and I am here for the children.

Preparation for negotiation meetings should include a brainstorm of strategies to cope if a parent feels like they are getting lost or stuck in the conversation.

Ultimately the best co-parent agreements are achieved when there is a sense of shared responsibility between parents regardless of how many ‘bed’ nights the children are with one parent.  When parents manage to step over their own issues and put their children first in all of their decision making, then improved collaborative co-parenting is realised. It may feel like a dance or a careful management plan through negotiations .but at the end of the day the best outcomes for children and young people are accomplished through the willingness and ability of parents to negotiate collaborative plans.

This disclaimer informs readers that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual.

Shirley EmmetShirley is an experienced Social Service Practitioner with over 30 years of working with individuals, families, staff and organisations. Her profile includes group facilitator, counsellor, parent educator, team leadership, mediation, coaching, management,  and clinical social service supervision.

Shirley has a successful history in working with a wide range of people in a variety of settings and issues. She has a particular interest in those who seek to resolve personal challenges, parenting issues, change or transitions and those with relationship challenges, including separation and divorce.

 Shirley is a mother of two amazing young adults and is a grandmother of one adorable little red headed girl. 

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