Ok. When you hear about blended families that get along and even vacation together, you think "well, that is their story! Her husband must like his ex because my ex and I can't be in the same room together without them making a scene!" Or "Well, her step-wife must be nice because my husband's ex is always sabotaging us!" None of this was true for us . . . in the beginning!
Now I'm not suggesting that you take road trips together like we just did, BUT I am saying that when you, as the parents, find ways to get along in the presence of your children, you are giving them a gift. And when you don't work it out, you are actually taking away from their experiences and sending an underlying message that says "My anger, frustration and/or hurt is more important than you and your special occasion."
I know you don't want your children to feel that way, but when you do these things, you are letting your fears and insecurities take precedence over your child's needs. Whether it is a parent-teacher meeting because you kiddo had been acting bad in school, or a football banquet, these are special events that the focus is on your child and their life!
By now you are probably asking "How do I do it when the other side won't cooperate??" Recently I told one of my clients who served in the military: "Can you imagine us saying to the enemy, ‘Will you please stand still while I shoot??’" Often we approach conflict in this manner - crazy, huh? W can only “win” a battle when we first analyze the other side and accept how they think and what is predictable. I have outlined for you a five step process you can use NOW to diffuse the conflict that occurs when you and your ex need to be in each other’s “space” for the sake of the kids. This does take some practice, however, you might be pleasantly surprised how easily and quickly things can turn around!
• Acceptance. You must accept things for how they are, not for how you wish them to be. So you wish your ex was friendlier. You wish your spouse's ex would take more responsibility. Guess what? That is not what you have! What do you have? Someone who is sporadic with responsibility? Someone who is nasty to you when you see each other? Whatever it is, you must identify what you CAN count on, even if it is negative behavior!
• Desired Outcome. Pre-determine how you want things to be - with you 100% in control. If I said I wanted all of my followers to read this entire article right now, how successful would I be in getting my desired outcome? If you are reading this now, then I am lucky! But I surely can't make you do that, can I? However, if my goal was to send out informative and compelling articles that attract blended families looking for help, I would know my success based on how many people actually read this. Now I'm in control! How many of your desired outcomes are contingent upon the other person doing or not doing something? Write down how you want things to go, then "tweak" the goal until you are the one to take action - not the other person! Instead of your goal being "I want my ex to show up on time to pick up the kids." Instead it might be "I want to establish boundaries that honor the importance of my time and schedule."
• Responsibility. You must take responsibility for your part in the interaction. What are you doing - or not doing - that contributes to the undesired circumstances you are experiencing now? Remember - doing nothing is doing something! Are you getting defensive? Are you approaching every interaction expecting the worst? Are you so attached to the outcome that you are forcing your hand in some way? Be honest with yourself and get clear on what your behaviors are that "add fuel to the fire".
• Interruption. Interrupt the usual patterns and do the opposite! Remember what I told the veteran? Once you know what you can count on, you need to be UN predictable! Why? Because you have developed a predictable pattern with your ex and you both are behaving based on what might happen, not what IS going to happen. When you do something different, this throws the other person off guard and they have to do something different too.
I share this example in my life often with my clients: When Tom and I were first dating Madison (the birthday girl!), had lots of anger issues and would use it to control the family when things weren't going her way - she was really powerful for a 9 year old! By the time I came along, everyone was pretty used to walking on eggshells around her when she was "that way".
Everyone agreed that getting her involved in a sport would be good for her and she was quickly enrolled in soccer - which she hated! Well, one cold and rainy day, she did not want to play and was exhibiting a really bad attitude on the field. Everyone was yelling at her to get back in the game and she zeroed in on me and with clenched fists started walking towards me (she was prone to throwing things...). Under everyone's breath, I heard "Oh no. Here she comes." Immediately I though about interrupt and opened my arms out really wide, leaned forward and said "Madison, are you coming to give me a big hug?!?" She slowed and looked confused for a minute, then let out a big sigh, rolled her eyes and said, "Lisa!” She turned around and got back in the game!
What I did was so outrageously different from what she was used to that she actually didn't know what to say!
• Effectiveness. Don't give up if your first efforts don't work. Use the results you receive as a gauge. Consider it an experiment. I mean, really, what do you have to lose? If things are bad anyway, then any effort to improve will be better! Think "opposite" and keep your focus on the outcome you are trying to achieve – That your kids begin to feel that what they are going through is as important to you as what you are going through.
Try this out. You might just be telling YOUR story for years to come!!