It is very common for co-parents to feel disrespected by their co-parents. Co-parents complain that their disrespectful co-parent thinks they’re too strict, too lenient, too cheap, too extravagant, too nurturing or not nurturing enough. Their co-parents don’t like who they date or who they marry. They think their co-parents are Disneyland parents. They think they don’t pay enough attention to the kids’ school performance, or they pay too much attention to it. Bottom line, they think that the other parent doesn’t do what’s in the best interest of the children. When people complain about feeling disrespected, I don’t discount it. Often their perceptions are absolutely correct. Many co-parents really are critical and don’t respect the other parent’s parenting.
Unfortunately, this lack of respect perpetuates a never-ending dynamic of conflict and distress. I tell you, there is something really really triggering about not feeling respected. It wounds us to our core. We want to be seen for who we feel we are. If we care deeply about our children, we don’t want to be told that what we do is not in their best interest. If we throw our hearts and souls into parenting, being told that what we do it all wrong is extremely hard to take.
A disrespect co-parent also can evoke a lot of fear. If they think we’re not fit parents, what does that mean? Are they going to try to get custody? Are they going to make a case for what a terrible parent I am? Could they get anywhere? Will people believe them?
Feeling disrespected, and the fear that it triggers, catapults us into emotional reactivity. We might get angry or anxious or resentful or all of the above. When we get in these states, we defend ourselves, and often go on the offensive. Well you think I’m a bad parent? What about when you did blah blah blah. And here we are, off and running in a dynamic of conflict that is so bad for the children.
Oh the children! Remember them? When we get in emotionally reactive states, we lose our ability to think of things from another person’s perspective, even our children. We get into these conflicts and battles because we care so deeply for them, but when we’re in the battle, we don’t see that what we are doing is harming them.
So here’s the hard truth. We can’t control what our disrespectful co-parent thinks of us, or whether they have respect for us. But we can control how we react to their disrespect. We can learn to not react to it. We can learn not to care.
“How can I not care?” you might think. “Don’t I have to defend my honor?” Well, it depends on what your goal is. If your goal is make sure that your ex sees that you’re a good parent, then have at it. If your goal is actually to be a good parent, then you have to figure out how not to care.
You see, when we’re in the throws of emotional reactivity we are not “present.” We are NOT in the moment. We are in a swirling tornado of focus on ourselves. We are defending and we are battling. And what we’re NOT doing is paying attention to the children. We can’t be present when we are in emotionally reactive states, and the one thing that helps children grow and develop in a healthy manner, more than anything, is having parents be present to them.
Presence is about paying attention, looking and actually seeing them, being tuned into them. We can’t do that when we’re in emotionally reactive states. We have to learn to get out of these reactions so we can be present to our children.
In other words, we have to learn to not care. Or more to the point, we have to learn to get ourselves out of the states we get hurled into when our ex disrespects us. We have to learn to move out of it, and into a grounded state where we can be present to our children. There are ways to do this, even thought it’s not easy. The first step is recognizing what we’re doing and how it’s not helping our children.
Whether your disrespectful co-parent thinks you are a good parent honestly doesn’t matter. It only matters if by thinking this they are able to push you into an emotionally reactive state in which you actually become a not-so-good parent. What your ex thinks of you REALLY DOESN’T MATTER. What matters is that you are working with yourself to be present with your children. What matters is what you think of yourself, and developing the confidence to stand in the knowing that you are a good parent no matter what they say or think. And by the way, I am not talking about perfection. I am talking about being good enough.
Obsessing about what your ex thinks of you is a waste of energy. It doesn’t change anything. It certainly doesn’t change your disrespectful co-parent. It distracts you away from what is important. It keeps you from focusing on what will really help you create what you want in your life.
Learning to turn away from these feelings and thoughts isn’t easy. Being aware of it, and setting an intention to do it is the first step. Learning about how emotional reactivity works and learning skills like mindfulness, give you the tools to make the changes you want to make for your children’s sake. (Check out these skills in my online class)
In addition to “being present,” working on yourself, learning to get out of emotionally reactive states, is also a great gift you can give your children. If you stay stuck in anger, anxiety, resentment, hatred, you are role modeling for your children how to stay stuck in anger, anxiety, resentment and hatred. If you learn to manage difficult emotional states, you are role modeling for your children how to be courageous and mature. You are modeling for them that you are willing to do the hard human work of self-growth for their sake.
Like Dan Siegel the renowned psychiatrist said: “As children develop, their brains “mirror” their parent’s brain. In other words, the parent’s own growth and development, or lack of those, impact the child’s brain. As parents become more aware and emotionally healthy, their children reap the rewards and move toward health as well.” The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, Survive Everyday Parenting Struggles, and Help Your Family Thrive”
Don’t give your disrespectful co-parent the power to knock you off balance. You are a good enough parent. Work on your confidence. Grow. Find your power. Your life will be so much better, and you will be giving your children what they REALLY need.