by Alexis Dobbins
We all know there are times when you and that other parent must be in the same place at the same time. Same place, space.
For couples who had an argument before they left the house that morning, faking it is no big thing. They know that at some point they will get it together, whether it’s over a late-night snack, or at the breakfast table. If it was a big issue, perhaps one or the other parent may be the late-night snack…but some kinda way, they worked it out. They’re married.
But for co-parents who have a difficult time going beyond, “Hey, how are you?”, what happens when you HAVE to be seen together? What happens when the expectation is 2 happy parents, laughing and smiling? Weddings. Graduations. Birthday parties. You know.
No child wants to sit in the middle of mom and dad during Back-to-School night to prevent the drama that may start up at any minute. There are just some events when you have to fake it until you make it.
Before my breakthrough, I was bomb at this game. I learned how to get past those “public parenting” moments – before we learned that positive co-parenting worked so much better for everybody. If you aren’t ready for prime-time yet, these six tips will get you through those rough moments. For sure, they’ll get you to smile a little bit.
There is nothing like being prepared. So, before you get there:
Spend some time practicing the appropriate facial posture
In the mirror, so if any adjustments need to be made, you can see them. Remember that different occasions call for a different facial gesture. Back-to-school night? Work on that focused, attentive gaze. Subtle head-nodding to indicate understanding or agreement.
Family picnic? Practice a wide, ‘I’m-so-happy-to-be-with all-of-you’ expression. You don’t want overdone, but you want happy. Pleased. Delighted.
Graduation? Little sad yet proud look. You want to look as if you’re going down memory lane, but if that’s counter-productive, don’t. Props are good. Tissues are a must, Tissues can cover tears of sadness, tears of joy, I’m so over-the-moon with excitement I’m crying, whatever. Of course, if you have tissues nobody knows whether you’re really crying or not. They also give you a break from looking at the other parent. Don’t leave home without the tissues.
Create a list of safe topics
I always remind clients that triggers are real. They may not make any sense to you, but nonetheless they are real. If the other parent, say, has a hard time with the word ‘responsibility’ don’t try to make idle chatter about homework and parental responsibility. Not in public, anyway. You always want to have something that you can say when the silence gets silly, and you realize people are wondering why those parents are chewing so hard while not looking at or talking to each other. (Chewing is number 3).
The list can be short – you aren’t going to do that much talking – but have something that will work. Sports, if that’s his thing. Makeup if that her thing; “Oh, did you have a chance to grab a free lipstick during that MAC giveaway a few weeks ago?”. The trick to this is to stay safe. Be short. If it gets ugly, you can always have some trouble with your chewing.
Pack some gum and chewy candy or similar items
I can’t tell you how many times I have made a facial gesture indicating I had something to say, but gee, I can’t, because my mouth is full. This one can get addictive, resulting in weight gain. No problem; pack sugarless candy and sugar-free gum. And it also works for the other parent, especially one with a tendency to say foolish things in public. “You really need this gum” will get him or her every time. Then, you get to say, “Sorry, I can’t understand you, finish chewing”. Repeat as often as needed.
Dress based on prior knowledge.
I know this one is hard. If you and the other parent are struggling with the positive co-parenting process, the last thing you want to do is choose your attire based on their feelings. But it’s about the children, not you. If he ever made a comment like, “that dress is slick” or “I like that skirt”, use it to your public advantage. Put it on.
If she told you that suit made you look like “a responsible adult” or “a boss”, work with it. Think of it as a job interview. Once it’s over, you can put on whatever you desire but play to the audience. Why is this important? It’s proven that people are less likely to say something ridiculous to someone while admiring their appearance. He or she may even smile. Minutes count when you’re doing this public thing. When the shine of your look starts to wear off, then you start chewing and move to the tissues. Trust me.
After your prep, you arrive at the venue. No problem, you also have on-site strategies:
Stage and/or stagger your arrival
What does that look like? If he/she is always late, try to get there a little early, or vice-versa. You saunter – or sashay – into the venue looking very relaxed while scanning. (Like you’re driving – good peripheral vision, always ready to change direction or move to a different lane, uh, row). If its crowded, go for just enough seats for you and the babies; then text, “you won’t believe how crowded it is, I was lucky to grab seats for me and the kids. I think I saw a seat (somewhere else)”.
This is great because now you come across as looking out for that other parent, plus you can stop chewing. If there are plenty of seats available, try and grab the one on the end. You know, for easy exit in case you have to use the restroom, spit out your gum, reapply lipstick, answer that critical phone call (although that smells of rudeness so that is always the last resort). Give yourself options and know that you are prepared whatever the seating. You’ve got it covered.
Hum or chant softly to yourself
What song do you use to create calm all around you? What song reminds you of waves lapping up to the shore, summer breezes blowing, peace all around? Whatever that is, hum it. Softly. Of course, you can’t sing out loud but keep those lyrics going in your head.
Transport your mind to that last amazing vacation in Puerto Rico. The trick with this strategy is that your facial expression remains on point. Still. Chanting quietly is even more difficult, but you can do it. Mentally. Affirm that you can do this for your child. Thank God for improving your co-parenting relationship in the future and for allowing you to fake it right now. That usually gives you a little divine glow and you can smile briefly at him or her. Before you grab a tissue.
These strategies are not clinically proven. They are not based on any specific counseling techniques. They do, however, work. And that’s the goal. The appearance of positive co-parenting until it becomes real. If you have any tips for co-parenting public moves, let us know!
Alexis Dobbins is a co-parenting expert. She is a Mediation, Counseling and Coaching practitioner who specializes in supporting co-parents with the strategies needed to maintain a peaceful environment for their children. If you need co-parenting help click here to schedule a free discovery call with Alexis.