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How to Negotiate Parenting with Someone Who Is Not Rational

Posted by Penn A. Dodson | Aug 07, 2020 | 0 Comments

There are some people who can negotiate things with fairness and a level-head.

Then there are…. the others.

When it comes to parenting time disputes, negotiating can be fraught with all kinds of dangers above and beyond the ones in other kinds of negotiations. After all, if you go to buy a used car and the used car salesman tries to get one over on you:

  • you can get mad;
  • you can demand to see a manager;
  • you can refuse to buy the car and go shop elsewhere.

and it won't hurt the car one bit.

With your kids, however, it's a whole different story. You want what's actually best in terms of a workable arrangement for everybody and you want the children not to be damaged by the process!  No matter how reasonable you may be … no matter how much you try to make it work for your ex and yourself, it can feel futile if your ex isn't coming to the table as a rational counterpart.


Before we get into why your ex is so irrational though…. first let's take a second to focus on something you are likely to have a bit more control over – yourself.  Can you be objective here for a sec?  Maybe you're irrational too. (Just a little?) Maybe you're too “rational.” Maybe you're a horrible negotiator. Maybe from an objective point of view it would actually be better for the kids to have more (or less) time with your ex, even though it's not what you would ideally want.

The point is if you want to be able to negotiate parenting time effectively, you must be self-aware. You should know about your strengths – and your weaknesses.

For example, if you were go to the used car lot, maybe you're the kind who sees the $9,000 price-tag on the 1984 Sentra and just strokes a check without trying to negotiate it. Not to be too blunt but…. you're a push-over. For present purposes, don't feel bad about that – just acknowledge that it's a weakness, so you can figure out how to adjust for it.  If, in your objective assessment, you truly believe that the kids would be better off being with you more than your ex, but you're a push-over in negotiations, or they make you feel sick, or you frequently regret the outcomes later …. well then perhaps you need to get some help with that, like a parenting coordinator or a lawyer. 

If you're not a bad negotiator but the emotions of the whole situation take hold of you (often very understandably), then maybe you adjust by doing all of your negotiations by email, and when things get tense you make yourself cool off and re-read before pressing Send.

You get the point. Know thyself. Take a self-assessment. Figure out what feel solid and what needs some shoring up, then get the resources you need.

Your Irrational Ex

When it comes to matters of parenting time and having to interact with someone you've split with, rationality often flies out the window.  For starters, what would happen if you just kind of acknowledge that rationality and reason and logic and the cold calculus of “what makes sense” isn't always what makes sense in these situations.

You can't make your ex be any particular way. It may be useful to jut simply accept his/her emotional state as it is rather than feeling like it needs to change before anything can be decided. That does not mean that you need to say that your ex's temper tantrums or outbursts are okay.  You absolutely do not.Rather, you may find it easier to negotiate if you acknowledge that your ex is where he/she is in life, and that's who you need to negotiate with … for now.

Sometimes, for example, that might mean that if your ex is acting “crazy” and you are acting stone cold, that you would get farther in a negotiation by play-acting at a bit of emotionality yourself (if that feels okay to you to do so ).  Think of it not so much as sinking to their level, but rather trying to speak their language, so that they can understand what it is you're saying.

Focus On The Outcome

Before you get into the negotiation, be extremely clear in your mind of what it is you want to happen as an outcome. It doesn't mean that you'll necessarily end up with it going 100% your way, and if that's the case you should not think of that as a failure.

If you don't go into it with a vision of where you'd ideally like to end up, then all that's likely to happen is that you'll be like debris in a shifting tide – battered this way and that. If you come to the table just saying, “So I kind of think that maybe we should do it this way. What do you want?” then don't be surprised if the result is something very different from what you want.

Create a clear vision of what you'd like – and let that serve as a distant North Star to guide you. It's ok to take your ex's ideas into account. It's ok to compromise and shift where it is indeed that – a fair, mutual, and good-for-the-kids compromise. But go into it with a solid vision, and adjust from that perspective as warranted.

By having a clear vision of your outcome, seeing your ex where s/he is emotionally or otherwise, negotiating by use of your best strengths, and shoring up or filling in gaps where you have weaknesses, you absolutely can achieve a positive outcome for yourself and your children.

If you need help getting clear on your vision, or on what you should reasonably hold firm to, and where you can give a little … or if you want to find out what a Parenting Coordinator can do for you, just Contact Us

We're glad to help.

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