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Permission to Parent on the Fly

Getting parents on the same page is a main focus in family therapy and in parent coaching.

For some families this can be about identifying values and for others it is more about finding strategies that help them parent within the already known common value set.

One aspect of this comes from building the habit of slowing down for long enough to communicate with each other, as situations arise, and carving out time in the quiet moments to assess and brainstorm.

All too often we muddy the lines of urgency and importance and everything starts to feel like a fire that needs to get put out “right now.” Especially when you have an emotionally dysregulated or challenging child who is helping to fan the flames.

In order to develop new habits, it is first important to learn to slow reaction time.

However, there are times when parenting on the fly is a must, for various reasons that you each likely know well. This is something for which, as a co-parenting team, you need to be prepared.

This requires:
  • Trust in each other
  • Proactive communication
  • Permission from each other to parent on the fly
  • Awareness that sometimes it will go well, sometimes not, sometimes it will be in line with each parent’s’ perspective and sometimes not.
Two macro tips to help you get there:

Honor each other’s uniqueness. You were individuals with separate opinions prior to parenting and that it likely what brought you together. Honor that you do not need to do things exactly the same way in order to be effective people and parents.

None of us is always right. Different approaches work with different kids at different times and for different reasons.

Discuss Common Themes

One way you can move toward a more comfortable approach to parenting on the fly is to discuss the top 5 common themes that arise as issues that need to be managed with your child (going out on a school night, video games/screen time).

Each parent can take time to write down what he or she sees as these themes and their approach to parenting it in the situation. Parents can then come together to share, hone in on the top 5, and from there work toward a middle ground approach to parenting on the fly in these top 5 areas.

Sometimes a middle ground cannot be reached but each parent can let go of needing it to go a certain way when they are not there as part of the conversation.

Ask yourself:

  • “Why am I so hung up on needing this situation to be parented in this way?”
  • “What value am I basing it on?”
  • “What am I trying to teach?”

So, if you cannot find a middle ground, work toward giving permission to your co-parent to do it their way, unless of course the approach is abusive, and help each other understand questions to the above,.

In order to parent on the fly well, you must:
  • Know that there are multiple paths toward an end
  • Learn from experience
  • Most importantly: Cultivate the habit of genuine curiosity.

An agreement MUST be made that each parent will work to practice genuine curiosity in these parenting on the fly moments. Meaning, when Parent 1 is in charge of a situation, once Parent 2 is back in the picture, Parent 2 will be curious and not judgmental; Parent 1 will fight defenses and work to be open to assessing.

What might this sound like?
Parent 2 says:
  • “How do you think it went? Were their pros and cons?” (helps you both learn)
  • “Would you do something different next time?” (allows parent 1 to use their own insight rather than being disempowered and told what to do differently)
  • “In hindsight, was there a way to buy yourself time?”
  • “How are you doing with it all…it sounded like a crappy situation.” (Empathy…Parenting is hard and I love you and we are in this together)
Parent 2 does not say:
  • “Of course that didn’t work!”
  • “I told you so.”
  • “If you just would have done ___ it would have been better”

Now, all the work of curiosity and grace is not just on Parent 2’s shoulders. It is also Parent 1’s job to show up with curiosity and willingness to learn. Defenses can be easily triggered in these situations, even when presented with even keeled tone from the co-parent. Making a commitment to follow this script or something similar will not keep emotions from arising necessarily. BOTH PARENTS NEED TO UNDERSTAND AND ACCEPT THIS as part of the process.

Parent 1 needs to understand that, even if Parent 2 is asking condescendingly, this is still an opportunity for Parent 1 to develop insight through assessment. You will not ask each other perfectly and you will not answer each other perfectly. Parent 1 might ask for time and space to review questions and then come back to the table.

  • Review the situation in the immediate moment that Parent 2 comes into the picture
  • Review scripted questions together during the height of emotion
  • Expect that the question review will result in either parent conceiting that the other parent’s approach is the “right” one. Getting on the same page is commonly mistaken as one parent getting on the other parent’s page.
  • Expect to find the perfect approach for the next situation. There is no script for that.

In brief conclusion, co-parenting well requires thoughtful, proactive communication; slowing things down and in-the-moment collaboration. It also includes trust, empathy, letting go and parenting on the fly without risking a broken relationship with your co-parent.

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