The Co-parenting Tango: Communicating with Respect and Compassion
My son got braces. Yeah, he hates them.
He hates them a lot.
The weekend after the orthodontist meticulously placed the franken-brackets and wires on his teenaged teeth, he took a dodgeball to the face at a lock-in, resulting in the loss of one bracket. Periodically, he has mentioned additional problems or general complaints regarding the silver contraptions, to which I respond that he should let his dad know.
Now, before you go thinking I should be more hands-on in this situation, teeth are the only thing NOT on my list of parenting responsibilities. I mean, I ask them if they brushed their teeth and remind them that dogs love to use retainers as chew toys on a regular basis, but their dad remarried into the teeth business, so I happily let them take that one on.
Because I feel like I do everything else.
It’s not a contest. It’s not keeping score. It is what it is. The kids spend the very large majority of their time living under my roof, so homework, lunches, cleaning up the bathroom, logistical time travel to get them to different events at the same time in completely different parts of town falls on my list. No one says “Thank you,” or “Way to go!”, or “Gee, I appreciate that you didn’t sign up to raise two kids alone and generally do a first-rate job.” I manage homework, lunches, dinner, birthdays, laundry, ADHD, campouts, teenage girls, maxi pads, deodorant, dress code, driving permits, and screen time. And today was not the day to ask me why I didn’t stay on top of braces.
Bing. (incoming text message notification)
HE HAS 5 MISSING BRACKETS! WTH? HOW DID YOU LET THIS HAPPEN?
Response: Yes, he told me he had some missing and that the wire had come out of the thingy in the back. I told him to let you know.
Response: 5! And did he cut the wire? IT LOOKS LIKE HE CUT THE WIRE! (Insert picture of the inside of my son’s mouth, which I have seen multiple times sans metal aftermarket parts.)
I’ll spare you the rest, not that it was ugly. It was more annoying and frustrating. While I get that he was just expressing the incredulousness (exact word) of both himself and the orthodontist–and for valid reason–I think the communication here could have, should have, gone down differently.
This isn’t a post about braces and keeping score of who’s winning the We’ve Got Spirit Yea We Do We’ve Got Spirit How Bout You in the co-parenting pep rally. It’s about coming together as a team and communicating in a way that activates positive support rather than delivering an unintentional beat down.
The Teacher’s 10 Suggestions for Respectful and Positive Communication in Co-parenting Teaming
- Texting is a bad idea. Sure, it’s easy and you have a record of the communication and verdict, but texting leaves the bulk of authentic communication to the imagination of the recipient. When it’s important, it’s important enough to make a phone call or actually speak in person.
- Don’t initiate communication with an accusation of failure. So not any single parent I have ever run into woke up one morning and decided it would be a great idea to fail their child to get at their ex-partner in crime. Not a one. Particularly when a less than warm, fuzzy conversation is in order, this is the time to lead with something so far from sounding like an accusation. Level the playing field at all costs because the goal here involves supporting your child.
- Hashing through the past doesn’t improve the future. No one cares about that one time when one of you forgot the diaper bag and the largest blowout in the history of babies occurred on a road trip in a small vehicle. Or the time the two-year-old decided to use make-up to decorate the stairway while the football game was on. Sing the song and Let it Go. Pave the road that’s easiest to maneuver because the intended destination is the same either way.
- Find something–anything–nice to say. Take a moment to remember that this person is the parent of a child you’d probably protect in any way possible including acts that could earn you jail time. Parenting. Is. Hard. There’s no real manual for it because each child’s unique personality and make-up constitute understanding that kid. Your kid. This person is all in too, so remember they are most likely just as frustrated as you with the situation. Don’t create an additional situation.
- Remember that you weren’t there. Ask for the adult perspective on the situation. With teenagers, the story tends to omit all details that paint both an accurate picture and one that might put the culprit in a less than angelic light. You weren’t there. No matter how much time has passed, this rips off the scab. Watch where you go pouring salt.
- Parenting with a full bench is hard. Parenting without one is really hard. Chances are decent that single parenthood also means outnumbered. With just one voice of reason running the show, there’s no opportunity for backup. I remember often being furious at one of my parents only to receive a visit from the other one to reassure me that I was loved, that they wouldn’t hold me accountable if they didn’t love me, and that my other parent was right. Single parents do not have that luxury, and I firmly believe kids suffer the absence of observing what respect looks like in tough situations. So give them a break– there are no subs and it’s the end of the game.
- Kids are going to be kids, and they are going to be very good at it. As long as eyeballs can roll and a simple exhale can communicate utter and complete disgust, parents and teenagers will clash. Since Romeo and Juliet, bad decisions with no thought of consequences plague the frontal lobes of teenagers. This isn’t new. It just hasn’t happened to you before. Everyone will survive.
- What’s gonna work? Teamwork! (In the words of the wise Wonder Pets) You can go it alone, take your ball and go home, or realize the best move you can make in the interest of your child is to work with their parent to create a strong sense of consistency, stepping up, and security in their knowledge that even when they make mistakes, their parents are in their corner, on their team, willing to put aside selfishness to support them. It totally matters.
- Form a plan, ask how you can help, and follow through. Well, that about covers it.
- Engage yourself with your child. No one else can do that but you. Do you make a point to reach out to your child every day? Do they know they can always contact you and that you are available to them? Do you show them how to shave or parallel park or know who their friends are? Kids have one momma and one daddy, and nothing can change that or replace it. That relationship remains critical, particularly for teenagers, when their complicated world overwhelms and confuses them, and no one can step into that sacred space in quite the same way as a mom or dad. It’s never too late to show up, cheer them on, or just listen to what they have to say. It will pay off and mean the world to them.
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