Q. I don’t really know my son’s father. We met at a party and I don’t remember much else. Fast forward, our son, Ian, is 4. (We had a DNA test.) Both of our lives are now very different — he is married with another child. I am a single mother. You always talk about problem-solving and co-parenting. How do you problem-solve and co-parent with someone you don’t really know? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. Although not knowing your co-parent seems like a huge obstacle, knowing someone prior to having a child does not guarantee smooth sailing.
The biggest red flag I see is that you and your son’s father have had four years to improve your communication, and you’ve done nothing about it. It is probably based on a combination of things, beginning with simply not knowing where to start. When you have no commonalities, no history, don’t know each other’s likes or dislikes or temperament, how do you reach out?
There’s a practical model for problem-solving when you can’t get along with someone. You approach it like a business relationship.
Here’s an example:
Pretend you and your son’s dad are both CEOs of the same company and you have to make a decision or else the company will go bankrupt. You have an idea to keep the company afloat and you need your co-CEO on board.
You start out by calling a meeting. You do your research so if there are any questions, you can answer with facts, not emotion. You sit down together and discuss the pros and cons with the goal being an agreement to keep the company healthy. You keep the welfare of the company in the forefront during your discussions and make your decisions accordingly. As you work together, it gets easier. You start to look to each other for support because you both want your company to flourish.
While you’re problem-solving you both must agree on some basic behaviors or ground rules. Remember those Ten Rules of Good Ex-etiquette? Let’s see them in action here.
For example, you agree that the first person you reach out to for help will be your co-CEO. They care about the company as much as you do. (Notice the similarity to Good ex-etiquette rule #2?)
You never badmouth each other (Good ex-etiquette rule #3). Company employees may hear the fighting and it will hurt morale.
You are never spiteful or hold grudges because that will interfere with negotiations (Good ex-etiquette rules #5, 6).
It may help to be empathetic when discussing a difference of opinion and put yourself in the other parent’s shoes (Good ex-etiquette rule #7).
You are honest when interacting with each other. (Good ex-etiquette rule #8).
You remain respectful (Good ex-etiquette rule #9).
And if you can’t completely agree, you look for the compromise. (Good ex-etiquette rule #10).
Notice nothing in this problem-solving model mentions anything about the need for a prior relationship. It is dependent on a mutual interest — a healthy company. Your mutual interest is 4 years old. His name is Ian. Get to work. That’s good ex-etiquette.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com.