Be Flexible – Excerpt from the A-Z guide to Cooperative Parenting


During my first year at Virginia Military Institute, I was required to take a boxing class. During the three-to-four month class, we would have boxing matches with various classmates. The first lesson that I learned was to move side-to-side when dealing with a boxer swinging at me head-on. By moving and changing course, it was easier to handle the fighter who was focused on coming at me head-on to cause me bodily harm. Moving from side to side gave me the ability to control how and when I would handle the conflict, and then, I could dictate how the match would proceed. Taking a moving position gave me additional time to think about what I was doing and what I wanted to accomplish.

Parental disputes over children require much of the same mental skill set that you take when you enter the ring in a boxing match. Like boxing, you will suffer needless injury if you do not understand that you can avoid an all-out slugfest if you simply move from side to side and flexible. Many disputes with your ex can be avoided easily if you learn to avoid direct confrontation with him or her over a single issue.

Let me provide an example to further explain how you can be flexible in handling any dispute that arises between you and your ex. Imagine a husband and wife are in the middle of a heated divorce. At the issue of their dispute is how to handle the educational needs of their special needs child. The issue in controversy is who will be making the educational decisions for the children. The husband believes that he alone should make the educational decisions for the child.

Rather than engage in a direct confrontation over who will make the educational decisions for the child, the wife is flexible in her approach. She asks that the husband agree that the child attend a particular school district and attend the following schools inside the area for elementary, middle, and high school. The mother also asks that they both follow the recommendations made by the child’s teachers when an issue arises regarding how to help further meet the child’s educational needs. Should the teachers not make timely recommendations, the mother requests that the parents be bound by the recommendations made during each of the child’s ARD meetings. In the event the ARD meetings do not specifically address the controversy, the wife contends that the parties should abide by the recommendations of the child’s therapist.

By being flexible, the wife guarantees an approach that will ensure the needs of the child are met. The wife has redirected the focus onto the needs of the child and not on her ex’s needs or demands. By not engaging in direct confrontation, the wife has the best chance for success in negotiating a settlement in this type of situation; she has developed a logical suggestion to how to resolve the disputed issue.

By not fighting over who should have the right to decide the educational decisions for the child, the wife takes control over where the child will attend school, now and in the future. Being flexible gave the wife the educational structure her child needed without engaging in direct confrontation with her ex-husband. Many conflicts like this can be resolved by looking at the needs of the child and addressing them in a way that avoids direct confrontation with your ex. By adopting a “Child First, Parent Second” strategy, you identify the needs of the child and how they must be met, and you can create a plan of action that guarantees these needs are met. Many times, you will find that you come out better overall by sacrificing your position on one item and gaining ground on other points. Being flexible provides you with a successful approach to ensure the needs of your child are met.

Flexibility is an effective tool to resolve conflict. Being flexible creates an atmosphere that fosters mutual respect and the thought that working together on issues concerning the child can actually produce positive results. Remember to put your child’s needs before your needs and the needs of your child’s other parent.

Matt Sossi

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