Reducing Conflict While Making the Parenting Agreement Part 1
A meeting between divorced and separated parents to talk about the parenting agreement typically goes like this. The parents begin by talking about an issue, let’s say the holiday schedule. One parent makes a suggestion and the other parent doesn’t quite agree. Pretty soon, they are heatedly arguing about things that happened to cause the divorce. There are insults, yelling, and high emotion. The meeting ends abruptly as one parent storms out of the room.
Is there any hope for parents who simply cannot get along to make a parenting agreement that works? Or are these parents doomed to go to court and let a judge determine the agreement?
Fortunately, even with high conflict couples, there are ways to manage conflict and work through the necessary issues. It isn’t always easy, but the end result can be an agreement that both parents support and that meets the needs of the child. In this and the following post, we’ll discuss some strategies for reducing conflict so you can make your custody agreement.
Set up a meeting place. It is best if both parents can approach the meeting like they would a business meeting. The mother and father should choose a comfortable place to meet where they can freely talk about the necessary issues. Parents should both agree to the place, and they should agree on a time frame for the meetings. You will most likely have to meet multiple times with the other parent, so it is wise to set smaller meetings more frequently so that you don’t get exhausted at the end of each meeting. Pick a neutral environment that doesn’t make you feel rushed.
Have a plan for each meeting. One or both of the parents should make an agenda for the meeting. This can be done at the end of the previous meeting by the parents deciding what they will discuss in the next meeting, or one parent can make the agenda if they other parent is willing to follow it. The parents should go over the list of topics they are discussing and should diligently stick to the list. If one parent starts to argue or bring up something from the past, the other parent can gently remind them about the topic at hand.
Start with subjects that will be easier to work out. You don’t want to sit down in your meeting and immediately declare “We’re going to decide who gets full custody of the children, and I think it should be me.” This is an explosive issue and will not be easily worked out. It is best to start with smaller issues that you know you can come to some kind of agreement on. If there is very little you agree on, then you want to start by agreeing that you both want what is best for the child. Outline some general principles you want to follow to make things good for the child, like “We want to make a plan that encourages the child to participate in many activities at school.” When things get heated, you can go back to this foundation to give both you and the other parent some perspective.
Focus on what you really want. It is good to remember that you want a custody agreement that works for your child, not just custody of the child. Too often when emotion takes over people forget about what they really want. Instead of remembering the child, a parent will suddenly want to win the argument at any cost and get their way. This is a surefire way to end communication. You can begin each meeting by verbalizing what you want out of the meeting. You can say something like “I want an agreement that really benefits our child and allows both of us to be involved with him. When we discuss the following issues I want to focus on how all of our decisions benefit the child.” If an argument begins, think about your child and what you really want for her. Then verbalize it again. You can say something like, “We both want what is best for the child, even though we see things differently. Let’s both calmly explain how what we’ve suggested helps the child and make our decision based on that.”