A final question to the candidates during a recent presidential debate reminded me of a topic that often comes up in the context of co-parenting work in high-conflict cases, interviews by custody evaluators, questioning at depositions in custody disputes, documents submitted to a judge, and oral arguments at custody hearings or trials.
The Big Question was basically: Could either of you name one positive thing that you respect in one another?
The specific answer to that question, or even just the ability to answer the question in the first place and engage in some positive dialogue about your co-parent, reveals a great deal about your aptitude in effective co-parenting. It indicates to some extent how well the family unit will navigate through a particular parenting plan, and what type of “gate-keeper” one parent might turn out to be in relation to providing access and ongoing information to the other parent post-separation or divorce.
In my experience, the more positive things each parent can point out about their co-parent, the more likely each parent will be able to collaborate with the other parent in making major life decisions for a child; and the more likely it is that day-to-day decision-making will not be micromanaged or scrutinized with distrust. An ability to compliment your co-parent, and recognize the dedication her or she has to your child’s well-being, may make it less likely you will engage in alienating behaviors that will not only have a negative impact on your child’s relationship with the other parent, but also on your child’s overall well-being. Trust-building is key in effective co-parenting. Being able to say something nice about your co-parent is a great first step to mutual trust. It seems nearly impossible for a parent to have that necessary level of trust in a co-parent to be assured that their child is in a safe, healthy and nurturing environment when being parenting by their co-parent if that parent cannot even articulate one redeeming quality about their co-parent.
Also, an inability to identify positive qualities and attributes of a co-parent could also cause a parent to become frustrated by the particular personality characteristics, mannerisms, expressions, etc., of their child that serve as an ongoing reminder of their co-parent. This can be very harmful to a child, who is likely modeling behaviors of each parent while he or she is developing his or her own sense of self – only to then be the subject of displaced anger and frustration from a parent who basically becomes unavailable to parent at that particular moment as a result of the distraction of unresolved feelings related to the co-parent.
Bottom-line: if you want to engage in functional co-parenting and strive for a shared parenting plan that works for your child and your family in particular, a good place to start is being able to provide a thoughtful answer to the Big Question.