If a person wishes to make joint co-parenting decisions, there should be a pretty thorough to-do list. The list is always a work-in-progress, thorough, and you can always add decisions to your co-parenting list down the road. When a joint decision comes up, contact the other parent and follow the following steps:
1. Make an appointment.
When one parent becomes aware, or realizes, that a joint decision is in the offing, the first step, before getting any information, is to contact the other parent and make an appointment. When setting the appointment, it may be helpful to describe the proposed joint decision, any time-lines involved, and estimate the amount of time involved. It is essential, however, that parents do not gather information independent of one another before the appointment. It is also essential that parents not arrive at a personal decision before meeting. This will invite conflict and failure.
Example: A teacher mentions to mother that Sarah should go to a special program for gifted children run by the local college. The program meets on Saturdays for 10 weeks. Mother knows that this is on the list of joint decisions (both for extracurricular activities that run across placement time in both homes and for special education programming). She calls up father and makes an appointment and then does nothing else about this decision until the appointment.
2. Discuss the information needed to make an intelligent decision.
Share what each parent may already know. Decide what additional information will be helpful. Make a plan to get the additional information. Make an appointment to get back together to discuss the information gathered. Note: the information can be gathered independently by each parent, or the parents can go together and gather the information.
Example: Mother shares what the teacher said. Each parent shares initial reactions to the idea to see if it is worth further investigation. They decide it is. They make a list of additional information needed (e.g. the cost; the schedule; what happens if Sarah misses one of the sessions; talk to other parents whose children have been in the program; find out specifically how the program might increase Sarah’s abilities or chances for college; etc.). Mother and father divide up the information to be gathered and set a second appointment in a week to go over it all.
3. Share the information.
At the next appointment, talk about what is known. It may be that additional information is required. Do the same thing as Step 2. Once there appears to be sufficient information, go on to the next step.
Example: Mother and father share information. They are leaning in the direction of doing it, but decide that they need more information – they decide they need to ask Sarah about her interest level in the program. They decide to meet with Sarah together, share the information, and get her input. Father also wants to check into other programs that might accomplish the same things, but might be better, less expensive, etc. They set a time for another meeting.
4. Brainstorm options.
This might include expressing opinions, but most important, the values, interests, and resistance parents feel need to be expressed (e.g., I like the idea, but I don’t know if it is really necessary – and it is expensive). By discussing the decision on the level of interests, values, and concerns, options might be thought of which better encompass what both parents think is important.
Example: Father did some checking and this looks like the best program. Both parents are leaning in the direction of sending Sarah to the program. She seems a little reluctant, but interested. Father mentions, though, that he cannot get her to the program on one of the Saturdays; mother says she could pick her up and take her.
5. Choose an option.
In most instances, when parents follow these steps, they will agree on an option without much difficulty.
Example: Parents decide to enroll Sarah. They work out the details of transportation and cost. They agree that father will get the enrollment papers, fill them out, show them to mother, and then submit them.
Note: When the underlying emotional issues are respected, the best option is usually obvious. However sometimes parents get stuck. This can occur for several reasons:
Not enough information. If arguing options, it may be helpful to stop and think, “Is there any information which would help us get over the hump here?” Perhaps getting an expert opinion might help.
Have different values or goals for your children. Try not to compromise. Rather, try to think of other options which include both of your goals and values. If out of ideas, ask someone else you both trust. Describe the issue to that person, what each of your goals and values are, and see if they can think of some options that would include both. As a last resort, compromise.
Example: Mother says that Sarah is college bound whether she goes to the program, and she just does not want to make the financial sacrifice, which would mean not going on vacation. Father says that he really thinks it will be worth it and is willing to pay 2/3’s of the cost. Mother agrees.
After the option has been chosen, it is important to decide how the decision will be enacted, including who will be responsible for which part and when everything will be done. Remember, a businesslike attitude will help make this work.
Take these steps, and you should be successful most of the time making decisions together. There is always going to be a decision or two where you just cannot agree and have to make do; that is true for even happily married parents. However, most of your decisions will be successful, if you work at it with this recommended method.
From COPARENTING TRAINING WORKBOOK For Separating or Separated Parents by Kenneth H. Waldron, PhD and Allan R. Koritzinsky, Esq.