If all goes according to plan, your future could include grandparenthood together. In the routine course of your children’s lives, there will be special moments (and probably some scary moments) that you’ll share with your parenting partner, including but not limited to: bar mitzvahs, confirmations or first communions, little league games, graduations, and perhaps the occasional wisdom tooth extraction or ER visit.
These special moments create indelible memories of childhood, and your children have a front row seat to the Mommy and Daddy Show. They hear not only what you say to each other, but watch (with eagle eyes) how you treat each other. That is why you owe your children nothing less than paying attention, at all times, not only to what you say to your parenting partner, but also how you say it, especially when your children are watching. Whether you know it or not, they are keen observers, and are constantly “taking notes.”
There are some words and body language that almost reek of disregard, and it would be a gift to your children if you eliminate these from your vocabulary and repertoire. A good first step is to lose the word “whatever” when dealing with your parenting counterpart. “Whatever!” sends a message to the listener that says: “I completely discount anything you say. It doesn’t matter to me. I’m not listening to what is important to you; watch me as I tune you out.”
“Whatever” is not alone in the (mis-)communication “kit” of people who are going through divorce. Sarcasm is another behavior that should be avoided. Though they may plead the opposite, people often say what they really mean through sarcasm. It’s an indirect expression of anger or hostility. Dressing up a hostile comment as a sarcastic joke can still be hurtful to someone else, no matter how funny or brilliant it seems at the time.
Just like the words you say, body language can also reveal your emotions. Body language is particularly important when in a conflictual situation with another person. It adds meaning—sometimes instantly betraying the words coming out of a person’s mouth. For example, arms crossed across a chest create the impression of a defensive barrier, and rolling eyes are usually interpreted as dismissive toward somebody or something.
Another common phrase in any conflict is “You’re overreacting.” When your goal is to build a well functioning parenting communication, and your children’s other parent opens up to you about something they’re feeling, don’t dismiss it. Take it seriously and make an attempt to view it from a perspective other than your own. In a divorce, and often years after, emotions are so much more heightened, “overreacting” may be par for the course depending on the situation.
The communication skillset of divorcing parents may contain unhelpful words, phrases, and body language, but you can create your own positive tools through the practice of mindfulness. When one is mindful, one is living totally in the present moment, with much greater awareness of one’s own actions. Mindfulness has helped many people in highly conflictual, post-divorce parenting relationships be aware that their precious children are closely witnessing their behavior and learning how to cope with conflict in healthy or unhealthy ways.
Perhaps the most transformative aspect of being mindful is that you will never find yourself living in the past. We all learn from our experiences, but continually reliving old conflicts sets up obstacles that can get in the way of creating the type of post-divorce alliance between you and your spouse that your children need.
Divorcing parents have process choices, some of which set the stage for mindful post-divorce co-parenting and offer communication skills for a lifetime. The collaborative process is really an opportunity to rise to the occasion and show the grace that you are capable of—for the sake of your children, yourself, and even your spouse. By utilizing the targeted skills of mental health, legal, and financial professionals, it lends itself to almost any family’s unique circumstances. If you would like more information about how I can help, contact me here. Even if you are already divorced and didn’t have the advantage of the collaborative divorce process, your children can still benefit from your learning the skills of mindful co-parenting.
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My Divorce Recovery
Lauren Behrman, Ph.D.
Jeffrey Zimmerman, Ph.D., ABPP