We are in an era of people telling us that being vulnerable is being strong, that you need to express your feelings, and that the needs of your children are more important than your needs. Peaceful parenting is not only possible but easy! All you have to do is be perfect. All the time.
Toss in a difficult divorce to these impossible to follow social protocols, and it’s like your entire manhood is being taken away. You’re supposed to play by the rules, let your ex have her way, and still show up as a good dad every day.
But is role modeling being a pushover part of being a good dad? Are you truly expressing all your feelings or just the ones you are being told are socially acceptable? If you’re left angry on the inside, is that genuinely good parenting?
More important than how we should engage in peaceful parenting is why.
Why Peaceful Parenting Is Better Than MMA Parenting
You see your ex get out of the car, and your heart rate increases. You breathe faster. Your pulse quickens. You feel flushed.
It’s not the attraction of when you first met – it’s anger. You’re ready to step into the ring with her and start grappling. It doesn’t matter what she’s about to say, you know she’s never going to admit she’s wrong, she won’t forgive you for stuff that wasn’t even your fault, and she won’t back down.
She’s never going to try to understand you.
Meanwhile, there are your kids, eyes wide, waiting for you both to start shouting. They’re scared. They need holding. And the two people they trust most in the world are in the middle of the fight.
Maybe it’s not that bad for your family, or maybe it’s worse. Regardless, you know this is one of the worst things your kids have to go through. The hardest part of divorce can be trying to be a hero in your kid’s eyes by standing up for what you believe, only to see that they might see you as a monster for the way that you are doing it.
If you really want to keep your kids out of the crossfire, then you need to change the way you interact.
The good news is: it’s possible. Like any worthwhile change, it’s not easy. But peaceful parenting is achievable, and it starts with your willingness. If you think you have what it takes to be a man and get what you want, then consider these tactics to help you in your next confrontation with your ex.
5 Painless and Proven Negotiation Strategies That Work
- Chill. Disconnect yourself from any drama or immediate concerns. Take a deep breath. If you are constantly reacting to situations, you are acting as your distracted self. This is not your best self. Take as much time as you need before responding to your ex, but communicate with her that you are taking some time to process so that when you do respond, it’s with your full attention. This can include telling your ex that you need to leave the physical situation, and you will get back to her later via phone, text, or email.
- Think Big. Be proactive and take control of the steering wheel. If you aren’t actively navigating your life journey, then you are allowing someone else the power of steering you around. Imagine running a marathon, only to find out you went in the wrong direction – you would be twice as far from your goal. If you have already found a way to manage your reactions, great. Now you need to start planning for the long term. What is the big picture life you want to lead? Where does your ex fit into this picture? Where do you see your children fitting into your life? Envisioning the life you want to live is one step closer to actively living it.
- Act Big. No matter how much life planning or self-discovery you have done, nobody will credit you for what you think. You will be judged and acknowledged for the actions you took. Actions speak louder than words, but both actions and words speak much louder than thoughts. While children can pick up on plenty of subtleties of context and intention, actions are primarily what they will be watching and imitating. If you have taken the first few steps to get grounded and plan out what you want, this is the time to make those things happen by doing. This is also a great opportunity to role model integrity when you follow through with what you say you will do, as well as alignment when you act according to what you believe.
- Go Big. It’s time to take some big steps in getting what you want. Start by being who you would want the other person in the conflict to be. If you want her to be accountable for the things she says and does, then take accountability for your own words and your own actions. The next step up from there is to learn how to act better so that you can be proud to be accountable for how you show up during conflict. Remember, your kids are always watching and listening, especially when you think they’re not. How you act right now is in great part how they will act as they grow up.
- Go Home. No matter what the verdict of the negotiation is, you need to go home at the end of the day. And that means more than you and your ex physically going to your separate homes. You need to go back to a positive mental space, feel like you’re a grown man capable of making good decisions, and be so solid in your core beliefs and self-confidence that you can be a pillar of support for your children, who need you now more than ever. For them, you are home.
Sharpen Your Tools
Like any great tools, these will only help you if you learn how and when to use them. You can’t go out and buy a new toolbox at Home Depot and expect to be a master craftsman overnight. You need to watch a tutorial video, get a feel for how they work, then dive in and learn through trial and error.
Additionally, it’s not just you using these tools. It’s like you’re stuck at a construction job with a partner who may or may not be using the same tools or any tools at all! So it’s up to you to share these tools with your ex if you think she could benefit from them – especially if you first ask if she would like to know what tools you are using. If you offer unsolicited advice, it could come off as condescending, and have the opposite effect, making her shy away from the man who never tries to understand her needs.
It’s okay to make mistakes. Failure is our greatest teacher. This is a lesson we constantly learn, and one of the best lessons we can pass on to our kids. Talking things out with an ex and trying to keep your cool is one of the hardest things you will ever have to do, so go easy on yourself.
Take Off The Gloves
Your ex may expect you to continue showing up in the way you always have. If you come at her with a new approach, it could be a surprise. She may change her tactics as you are changing yours. It never hurts to be clear with your intentions. You can tell her you have been doing some research on how the two of you can negotiate a peaceful parenting agreement to help keep your kids safe. Regardless of how she feels about you, she is very likely to also have your children’s best interests at the forefront. If you come to her with their needs sincerely as the focus of why you want to change, she will be more willing to accept this new version of you, and may even want to join you in negotiating a peaceful parenting agreement.
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You want to be a cool dad, but things get heated with your ex when she doesn’t respect your parenting style. When your kids return to your house, it’s like starting all over again. The most frustrating part is that she knows what your rules are with the kids, and still disregards them.
Ultimately, this is not about policies and procedures. All kids need healthy boundaries to feel safe, especially when the stability of having two parents together is no longer an option. Clear rules that are well thought out and followed through with will be their strongest asset in the long run.
But how can you help them right now, if your hard work is constantly being sabotaged?
Here are five tried and true methods of ensuring that your children feel supported by your method, even when you’re not around.
FIVE TIPS TO ENFORCE YOUR HEALTHY PARENTING STYLE
1. Resolve the Personal Conflict:
We all let our primal brains take over and do the thinking sometimes. In the right situation, that works out great. Unfortunately, when we’re still ticked off over stuff that’s not about the kids, it influences our decision-making abilities when we need that big brain to be calm and rational.
Your first instincts might include: raising your voice, talking over her, and bringing up issues totally unrelated to what you are supposed to be discussing. Using these tricks might make it seem like you won the fight, but did you really? If she’s mad (and trust me, if you just did these things, she’s mad!), there’s no way she will cooperate with you.
Take a deep breath. You don’t need to be a Zen master, but breathing calms your nervous system. Tell your ex you want to talk about the conflict between you before you talk about your differences in parenting style. While this probably won’t resolve your conflict right off the bat, I guarantee that this change in how you are addressing her will start a healthier conversation that will end up more in your favor than just plain old shouting would have.
2. Get Her On Your Team.
Transparency is essential for good communication. If you can explain what rules the kids have at your house and why they have them, your ex will at least know you have put some thought into it. Ask her what rules she has at her house and see if the two of you have any overlap. Point out that you want to honor her rules when the kids are at your house. Now instead of asking if she can have the kids follow your rules at her house (asking her for a favor,) tell her you would like for both of you to honor each other’s parenting styles wherever the kids may be (allowing her to be a better mom and do what’s best for the kids.
3. Join Her Team:
Even better than having her on your team is you being on hers – as long as her team is your team. It’s a lot less tricky than it sounds. You want to plant the seeds of your parenting style by presenting your ex with tough parenting questions that lead to answers you have already thought of. Discuss her answers, and when she comes to your ideas, tell her that you agree and support her. If she does not draw the conclusion you were trying to suggest, see if she does have valid points you agree with. You can always double back to trying to get her on your team by letting her know what your answers are. The trick to making this work is listening, not talking. Try listening to her fully and then ask if she feels heard. If she says no, then ask her to clarify because you want to understand. When she says she feels like you hear her, then thank her for the opportunity to help you understand her better. Add that you would like to feel heard too. If she feels like you listened to her, she will be more likely to listen, and actually hear you.
4. Scratch Her Back (and Let Her Scratch Yours):
If you’re striking out with the first three tips, or just need some extra ammunition, try some kindness. You’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar (not literally, but in this scenario use the honey.) Is there anything your ex has been asking you to do, that up until now you have not been doing? Now is the time to step over the ‘meeting someone halfway’ line and go all the way in. Does she want to spend the entire Christmas break with the kids and her side of the family? Great! Tell her to book the tickets. It is always a good time to give. Even better, if you can give without asking for anything in exchange, you can build up a fund of goodwill. At some point, when you need to cash in on that fund, it will likely be given in return.
If your ex refuses to acknowledge your constant and potentially selfless giving, then take a step back and try to turn giving into mutually beneficial exchanges.
5. Teach By Example.
Whether or not your ex is on board for anything you set out to do with the kids, you have a personal relationship with her. You can set your own clear, firm yet kind boundaries with her. Your kids will inevitably always be watching and scrutinizing how both you and your ex act in your co-parenting relationship. Role modeling your own kindness, problem-solving skills, and how you treat other human beings respectfully is always the best option. While this may be initially for the benefit of your and your children, your ex may grow wise to what you are doing and start cooperating.
If none of the above works for you, don’t panic. When you can’t change your circumstances, you can always change your mind about them.
Let your kids know that they must follow your rules at your house. You would also prefer they follow your rules at their mother’s house, but they are only obligated to follow her rules there. A reward system for their diligence and honesty may go a long way to further your cause here. Taking responsibility away from your ex eliminates any chance that they can meddle. It also sets your children up for the real world scenario that there are different rules for different environments.
One last thing to remember is that your ex is entitled to her parenting style as well. Even (especially) if you don’t agree with it, respecting that she has a different method than you do will go a long way in her respecting you, as well as your children feeling like both of their parents are supportive.
Sabotaging her rules and ideas, undermining, or mocking your ex in front of your children will only reflect badly on you, as well as exacerbate any conflict already in motion. While you want your children to obey your rules when they are at your house, it’s good to remember that they are people. They make mistakes, they are entitled to have feelings, and nobody follows the rules one hundred percent of the time, no matter whose house they’re at.
Have you tried any of these tips? Let us know how they worked for your family in the comments below.
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(c) Can Stock Photo / 4774344sean
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