The Ups and Downs of Co-Parenting
with Parent Expert Jay Skibbens
When Father’s Day comes around, the stresses of co-parenting are bound to come out. Lucky for you, Jessica and T.H. had the opportunity to chat with Jay Skibbens, co-parenting coach, on the Divorce Etc… podcast about how to de-stress from situations like this. All of Jay’s tips, no matter where you are in the divorce or co-parenting process, can help guide you through whatever stressors you may be dealing with, especially during a holiday.
The Raw Hamburger
Jay’s main goal is to help co-parents not be stressed out while working to process what everybody wants and needs as a co-parent. One of his best tips comes from the “raw hamburger idea,” an analogy he created.
“To me,” he says, “it’s the simple fact that your co-parent, believe it or not, is also going through a divorce or going through co-parenting. They will have emotions too.” Now, they might not tell you how they’re feeling directly, but you can assume they’re feeling scared, and unhappy, and are probably reacting by guilt-tripping you or blaming you for the situation. “That is them giving you a raw hamburger,” Jay explains. “It’s all their raw emotions being handed to you. You can either just look at it, say oh, this is raw, but what typically happens is that you’ll take a bite, swallow it, and take their comments in personally.”
“You’re making their emotions about you,” Jay explains. “Then you get sick, or you spiral, or you doubt yourself, or you worry that you’re ruining the kids, and then you blame them.” But you’re the one who took that bite. Being able to instead give them those emotions back, and separate yourself from what they’re projecting, is going to set the boundary you need to help you focus on what you need to focus on. It’s a difficult process, but it’s what’s needed to help you relearn how to live life as a co-parent.
Navigating Mother’s Day
“Jessica and I are strong believers that Father’s Day is actually really Mother’s Day in disguise,” T.H. jokes. Moms get to pass off the kids to the dad, who then handle the kids the whole day or even maybe a night or two.
But what about actual Mother’s Day? How do you handle that if you’re feeling uncomfortable?
Jay’s number one piece of advice is to remember, nothing fun you or your co-parent do on the holiday takes away from you at all. If their dad does something fun with the kids or takes them to Disneyland, that doesn’t affect your relationship with the kids or how they see each of you. “People operate out of a deficit because they think that if something good happens at Dad’s house, or something good happens with Dad, that somehow there’s less good for me,” Jay says.
If you’re a mom and aren’t in a place where you can hear the good things happening at your co-parent’s house, then that gives Jay as a coach something to examine. Why is it still a struggle to accept that good things are happening for your kids and it’s hard on you? Feelings like that can be explored and viewed as an opportunity for personal growth.
Tips for Dads
One thing that Jessica and T.H. have seen is that women don’t necessarily consider that one of a man’s biggest fears when it comes to divorce is how it’s going to affect his relationship with his kids. Will the kids grow more attached to their mom, or worse, will they lose the kids altogether?
Jay’s got three main tips for dads, good reminders for when they’re navigating co-parenting.
- Be willing to make mistakes. One of the biggest things that happens toward the end of a relationship is that a man may repeatedly ask, “What can I do to fix this? What can I do to get you to trust me?” What they end up doing without realizing is that they’re pinning more of the emotional labor on the woman. So when a man is asking, “What can I do to get you to trust me? What can I do to fix this?”, Jay advises them to stop waiting, stop asking, and lead with action. Sure, you’ll get some things wrong, but that’s part of the learning curve.
- “Don’t deviate because of the emotions.” Yes, there are going to be times when the woman is going to be emotional, that’s a given, but dads, it’s your job to continue going in the direction that you feel is right. It’s important to lead by example, continue making mistakes, and own up to mistakes when they happen.
If you’re constantly doubting your actions, then you’ll wear yourself out and end up being resentful and stop trying. What that does is creates distrust, and that’s not good. You want her to know she can trust you, that she can come to you. Remember, don’t eat the raw hamburger.
- Lead by example. “There’s a big difference between telling my kids how to throw a football and just throwing the football with them,” Jay sums up. “If I overcorrect, then they don’t learn, and then they don’t want to do it anymore.”
To lead by example means making adjustments in how to teach your kids. If Jay wants the kids to get to school on time in the mornings, then he doesn’t focus on what they need to do. He focuses on what he needs to do. “If I say breakfast is going to be on the table at eight o’clock, I’m not fussing with them at 7:50am. I’m cooking breakfast at 7:50am.” If he wants to be in better shape, he doesn’t say, “Oh, I don’t know what to do.” He’ll go to the park, and go running up and down the hill.
“It’s going to be leading by example, because that’s how you create a legacy.”
It’s Not Just Co-Parenting, It’s Life
With all that being said, co-parenting is undoubtedly going to be challenging to navigate. As Jessica has learned, “So many people get so caught up in all of the negativity and all of the anger and the resentment. It’s hard to see through it, to be able to successfully co-parent and not be blaming the other person all the time.” It’s crucial to focus on yourself, do what you need to do, and that’s what’s going to set you up for success.
Everybody is unique, and everyone handles things differently. But people just want to be heard. “That’s the secret,” Jay explains. “I just figured out how to box it up in co-parenting, but this is just human stuff.”