Changing the dynamic from “power over” to “power with” is necessary for peaceful co-parenting

Divorce often feels like a power struggle; mediation, negotiations, and a sense of competition among lawyers and over finances all contribute to a desire to “win.” Although that’s common during the actual process of legally ending a marriage, it can be poisonous if it continues into the co-parenting dynamic. Successful co-parenting involves realizing that the relationship you had with your spouse needs to evolve into a relationship you have for your children. Give up the struggle to win power over your ex, and focus on building a life that allows you to have power with your parenting partner.

Intellectually, it’s very likely that you know that almost everything in life – especially parenting – can be more challenging when you’re doing it alone. You also probably understand that your children love and need both of their parents, and that it’s unfair to allow an acrimonious ending to affect that. Think of your new relationship as a gift to them – one that you’re committed to considering carefully, communicating about openly, and working hard to provide.

The power struggle

The exchange of power is a nebulous concept. While we know it exists conceptually, sometimes it can be challenging to recognize that it’s power that we’re struggling to keep. This is particularly true after a separation; you’re suddenly in the unique situation where you make choices solely for yourself, without input from others, and empowerment is an essential part of the healing process.

Conversely, in order to successfully co-parent, you also have to collaborate with a person that you may have a history of conflict with, and working that out now may seem nearly impossible. While it’s true that it’s unlikely to be easy, adopting a change of perspective and demonstrating the type of communication that you’d like to achieve can go a long way toward building a new and more solid foundation for an enduring relationship that will benefit everyone involved.

The first step in shifting the power dynamic involves understanding and recognizing it:

  • “Power over” is what typically comes to mind when thinking about power. It’s when one person has power over another, with a clearly defined hierarchy. As a parent, you have power over your children. Your boss has power over you. The judge who oversaw your divorce had power over both parties. Power over is desirable to have, in almost all cases; however, it’s not always beneficial to the situation in general.
  • “Power with” requires more emotional literacy. Dealing with custody, child support, and the division of parental responsibilities is one of the most emotionally fraught aspects of divorce, and the loyalty you have to your children makes it easy to feel ready for battle, even when there’s no reason to fight. Power with requires an implicit understanding that working together is better for everyone involved. Accomplishing this kind of collaboration is powerful in its own right.

The transition of power

Integrity and accountability are two core components to developing a co-parenting relationship with shared power. Clear communication and no reason for excuses can eliminate a lot of the back and forth, or missteps that make one party feel like they have the right and the need to assume a role of power over the other.

Finding a clear way to track financial exchanges, custody schedules, communication logs, promises made, and upcoming commitments can help ensure that both parties are on the same page and that they each understand the needs and expectations of the other. The Family Plan App helps streamline, organize, and automate the process and acts almost like a faceless and judgment-free mediator when it comes to the division of power.

Regardless of what system you put into place, it’s important to recognize your own intentions when you find yourself in conflict with a co-parent. Is the issue you’re arguing about truly that important, or is your desire to win calling the shots?

If it’s the latter, it’s time to step back and re-center yourself. Co-parenting isn’t a solo sport to be won, and the prize in working together is well-adjusted kids who feel confident and secure with both parents and as a family unit, even though the configuration of that family has evolved with time. Family Plan is committed to empowering parents after divorce or separation by helping with organization, improving collaboration, and simplifying payment obligations to reduce stress and eliminate potential conflict. Download our app to get started.