Critical Co-Parenting Skill #7: Stay Out Of It

I know, the very first question you have is “dude, what are the first six skills I need to know to do well at the co-parenting thing?” but my answer is, like a Zen master, they will reveal themselves when you need them. Which is to say, I dunno. 🙂

One of the most challenging things about parenting, whether you’re divorced, married or even flying pretty much solo, is triangulation. You know it’s happening when your child comes up to you and asks you a question about getting something, staying up late, going to a friend’s, or similar without mentioning that they’ve already asked the other parent and received an answer they didn’t like.

You innocently answer yes and now they’ve got ya. You’ve said one thing and the other parent has said something else. Easy to progress from here, they just tell the other parent “Dad said it’s okay, so I’ll be back after dinner!” or “Mom said that movie’s fine, so can I get a ride to the theater, please?” I mean, it’s communication, right, just what we want our children to seek to do in situations.

Except, of course, it’s not. So triangulation is the manipulative strategy of basically pitting one parent against the other and in a divorced family, the children become ninja masters at this skill pretty alarmingly quickly. They want to go to that big party on Saturday? Make sure they’re with the more lenient parent. Got bad grades on a school project? Tell the more forgiving parent first and they’ll help explain away why it’s not a big deal to the other parent when the you-know-what hits the fan.

Much of co-parenting seems to be about identifying and learning how to dissipate triangulation, and it’s particularly hard because each parent likely has a well of untapped frustrations and upsets with the other parent anyway. Those little monkeys learn and exploit, so they share little tidbits about what Mom said or what Dad was saying to a friend on the phone, or similar. Are the snippets true? Do we stop, take a deep breath, count to ten and ask ourselves that? Or do we jump to the conclusion that of course the other parent is still criticizing us?

Which brings us to today’s great adventure. Linda and I have spent years trying to figure out this co-parenting thing, working on clear, honest and emotion-free communication between us, coupled with a standard practice of “let me check in with the other parent” to minimize triangulation. Good practice, probably a critical practice to survive long-term co-parenting.

And yet, my daughter texted me after she got into a tiff with Mom about something. I took a deep breath and suggested she calm down and talk to her mother about what’s going on, her perspective on things and what her mom was hoping would transpire. “I’m too wound up” was the basic response, which is entirely legit, except if it’s not followed up by a conversation later, nothing is ever resolved.

I found myself with my fingers literally poised over the screen, ready to tap a question to Linda asking about what was going on when I caught myself. Was that what my child wanted to happen? Was it going to help the situation for me to get involved?

Short answer: No.

I took yet another deep breath and instead channeled my diplomacy energy back at my girl, gently encouraging her to find the time to sit down and talk with her mother, to clear the air and to not just state her case, but listen and really hear the other side of things. I stayed out of the situation other than to be a parent/coach on the sidelines, encouraging a child to step up and try to resolve the situation for themselves.

Now, how often are you able to do something like this when you’re faced with triangulation (or potential triangulation) of this nature? Or do you just jump into Defender mode and attack the other parent for not being psychic and perfectly in sync?

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