“She never shows up when she’s supposed to. Why can’t she be on time??”
“He bails all the time – why won’t he just spend time with his son??”
“How can I get my child’s father to be more involved?”
“My ex is always badmouthing me to the kids! How do I make her stop??”
“I can’t believe he gave her a bath today. I already gave her one this morning!”
“Why does he keep giving them junk food???”
How do I make my child’s other parent do what I want?
These kinds of questions pop up a lot on co-parenting group feeds. Your co-parent is not behaving or parenting the way you believe they should, so you ask advice from others on how to change things. But I’m here to tell you…
Have you heard of the “circle of control” theory? It comes from the 3 circles concept – something my husband took from a business class and explained to me in order to illustrate how ridiculous it was that I worried so much about things out of my control. He explained it in a way that applied perfectly to co-parenting, and it really helped me see the things I was doing wrong. (I even included it in The Co-parenting Challenge emails – Day 5!)
Your circle of control includes everything in your life you have complete control over. This is you – your thoughts, your feelings, your words, actions, and behavior.
Your circle of influence contains all the things in your life you have influence over, but no immediate control. This is where your children, your family, and your co-parents fall – you can influence their behavior, but you can’t fully control it.
Outside of these two circles is everything else – all of the events and people you have no control and no influence over.
The truth that many co-parents don’t want to face:
You can’t – you shouldn’t – control your child’s other parents.
You cannot control the behavior of anyone but yourself. It’s a hard fact that everyone has to learn sometime in their lives. Even I have trouble with it, to this day. I worry and stress about things I have absolutely no control over. Working through this theory has helped me realize I was only stressing myself out by constantly worrying about my daughter while she was at her dad’s house. It wasn’t that my co-parents were doing anything wrong, and I trusted that they were taking good care of her. But never knowing where they were going or what they were doing was, honestly, a co-parenting barrier for me.
When it comes to co-parenting, you have complete control over everything you do: your rules, your actions, your disciplining techniques, your parenting style, etc. In your circle of influence, you have your children. You can influence them to behave the way you want, but you don’t have complete control over their actions (although you do have control over disciplining them when they misbehave). All of your child’s other parents also fall into the “circle of influence” category, but not to the extent of influence you have over your child.
When you’re co-parenting together, you can influence each other when approaching parenting topics, how to handle after school activities, how you choose to discipline, etc. But ultimately, you cannot (and should not) control everything they do.
Understanding and accepting what is (or isn’t) in your circle of control, are two very different things. I started out with the understanding that I shouldn’t worry about my daughter at her dad’s, but it took time before I truly accepted it. Kristen was a big help in this department – she began sharing pictures of K with me whenever they would do something fun. I loved it! Seeing K having fun with her dad and stepmom really helped ease my worry when she wasn’t with me.
While it may take time to fully accept your lack of control in your child’s life after a separation, it is an important lesson to learn – especially in a co-parenting family. Trust that your co-parents will care for your child. Understand that while they may do things differently than you, there’s more than one “right” way to parent. Unless one of your co-parents is hurting, abusing, or putting your child in danger, loosen up the reigns a little.
If Dad gives your child a bath the same day you did, is that so bad? They’re extra squeaky clean!
If Mom allows your child to stay up 30 minutes past their bedtime, is that going to hurt your child? Not likely.
If Stepmom gives the kids donuts for Saturday morning breakfast, is that putting your child in danger? Unless they have an insulin problem that would be exacerbated by sugary donuts, then let it go. They’ll be fine.
You can’t control other people, and worrying about it is only adding undue stress. Let it go! For your sanity’s sake.
Believe me, I get it.
I remember how hard it was for me to learn to share my daughter. And with that, comes the lesson that after a divorce, you don’t have control over everything in your child’s life anymore. You have the ability to influence them while they are with you, but you have to let that go when they’re at their other parent’s house. Accept what you cannot control. Trust that your child’s other parents have your son/daughter’s best interests at heart. That may be easier said than done, but as my ex-MIL used to say “Fake it ’til you make it.”
Best of luck!
PS: If you liked this, you’ll love Kristen’s post Tell Me Stepmom: Would You Rather be Right or Happy?