Stop Preparing for Court and Start Organizing Goals for Your Kids
Have you been told you need to keep notes on things that go wrong? Are you printing out emails and saving text messages? Sometimes that is absolutely necessary but it can also damage your relationship with your Ex and keep you from co-parenting the way you want.
Preparing for litigation means you have to actively try to prove that you are a “good” parent and your Ex is a “bad” parent. It puts your brain in a different place when you see your Ex as the enemy of you, and maybe even the enemy of your child. It keeps you hyper-aware of all of your Ex’s faults and when conflict arises, you jot everything down hoping that you’ll get justice or retribution in court. It keeps your stress level extra high because you are always on your guard and in a defensive state looking for wrong-doing.
One of the reasons that keeping track of what your Ex says and does feels necessary is because everything is in such chaos – emotions coming from your kids, your Ex, and yourself are never the same two days in a row. You never know when something is going to be easy and when it is going to be a fight. It’s hard to tell if something happened because someone is having a bad day or if this is part of the new normal. Taking notes helps you feel empowered that you can start to make sense of things but often times it just adds to the noise.
You can gain some control and start to focus on what you really want by creating topics you think are important for you and your kids. These aren’t necessarily just goals, these are issues you may like, you may not like, you are concerned over or things you think are going really well. You don’t give up your ‘note taking’ if problems do arise, but it’s an organized and effective way to present your thoughts and arguments to yourself, your Ex, your attorney and mediator.
A Topics List Helps In Multiple Ways
1) You can stay focused on what you think is important for your kids. A topics list lets you keep your short-term and long-term goals at the forefront. You can have clear in your mind the big picture of what you think is important for your kids and how daily decisions fit in with the bigger picture. It helps you put things in perspective and be able to decide if this is a big deal or just something annoying that your Ex does. It lets you organize conflicts and issues you do think are important within a bigger context, which really helps you when explaining things to your attorney or if you do have to go to court. Examples of big-picture goals that you care about in the short-term include :
Helping your kids have a ‘normal’ childhood. Things to consider would be school activities, sports, interacting with friends, going on vacations, support by both parents, contact with extended families, and a smooth schedule for holidays.
Making the adjustment between two homes as easy as possible. This may include deciding the best way to make exchanges, how the parenting plan is working on a day-to-day basis, what the child needs at both homes to feel comfortable, what kind of communication your child needs to understand the schedule, and how your child handles their new routine.
Making sure your child feels loved. What is happening in everyday life that makes your child feel loved and safe? Decisions regarding mutual rules at both houses, financial support for your child’s basic needs and extras, regularity of parenting time, keeping commitments and limiting conflict.
Examples of big picture goals in the long-term:
Emotional health and well-being as your child becomes an adult. How do the different environments your child encounters foster healthy personal development? Factors to consider would be parenting choices, values, physical security, nurturing and development, and how your child is doing at school.
2) A Topics List is a SUPER aid for your attorney and will save you time and money!
Even the best attorney doesn’t always listen. If you have a list that outlines the things that are important to you, you can make sure your attorney is addressing every issue. Giving them a copy of your priorities will do wonders for the progress you achieve!
If you do have a problem which needs legal intervention you don’t just have a laundry list of complaints, but you have examples specifically tied to an issue that goes to the health and welfare of your children. It’s clear, it’s organized and presented in a logical way – you just saved yourself hundreds of dollars in attorney fees and you’ve given your attorney a tool to make a better argument on your behalf. If you keep track of things on your list as they happen, you may be able to use the list if you testify in court.
Likewise, it will help you get much more out of any mediation! When you go into mediation you will know exactly what you want to talk about and what behavior and goals you want to address. You don’t ever have to worry about forgetting something, your topics are well-defined and are phrased in a way that there can be a resolution if the issue is in dispute.
3) It lets you see your separation from a more objective view. As you fill out your list, you are forced to really think about the issue from both sides and how different scenarios would affect your kids. This helps you start to remove the emotions around the conflict and helps you to think about things calmly and rationally. When you review your topics list later you’re not just reliving a heated conflict or going back to a specific stressful situation, like what happens when you re-read old emails or texts. You can look back through your list and see how things are going for your kids. When you look at what was a concern two months ago, you can now understand if that had an impact or if it was something that just went away without any problem. This allows things to be child-focused instead of conflict or parent-focused so you can be more confident that the decisions you are making are the best decisions for your kids.
Characteristics of a useful Topics List
✓ When you have a fight with your co-parent, a Topics List lets you categorize that fight over how it affects your kids and why the fight is (or isn’t) important. This lets you start thinking about how the conflict can be resolved.
✓ A Topics List is specific and direct, not just a complaint or a general wish of how you would like things to be.
✓ A Topics List shows how actions both parents take are directly tied to making what’s on your list (the goals for your kids) better or worse.
✓ Topics on your list are actionable and do not require a change of values, feelings, or belief. Thus, “Be a good parent” or “Take better care of the kids” is not a topic. “How can we support our children more?” might be.
✓ Your list must be reasonable and realistic. ‘Providing the kids with what they want’ might not be realistic. ‘Provide the kids with what’s reasonable for their ages’ may give you a better view of what is possible.
Contact us for a brainstorming session to personalize a Topics List for you. We can help you take your individual concerns and the issues causing conflict and put them in perspective as to how they are really affecting your children. We can help you organize your thoughts, goals and make sense of what you are seeing and feeling when your own words may not flow so smoothly. Also check out our FREE Mediation Guide for a list of questions to think about when preparing your topics list (located in the Appendix of the guide).