042: The Challenges of Co-Parenting

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Welcome back to Tuff Love, with Rob Kandell. This episode is about co-parenting, which is a concept near and dear to Rob’s life. These days Rob is co-parenting with Morgan and it’s been a journey of learning and growth. In this show Rob shares some of the back-story to this co-parenting and also what he’s learned through research about blended families.

Rob shares his history in terms of children and parenting:

  • Rob was raised to produce grandchildren. The concept of continuing the family line was so important and such a huge part of his psyche that he didn’t think he had a choice. On some level, part of being a man and successful included producing an heir to the family name.
  • In retrospect that’s a lot of pressure and a lot of feelings to be had around the concept of wanting to be a man in today’s society.
  • In the 70s and 80s, marriages were falling apart. The concept of marriage itself was falling apart. It was the 70s where women started to take back the power through the sexual revolution and not get married or stay married if they didn’t want to.
  • Some reports show that up to 60% of marriages in America end up dissolving and people are remarrying. There is a higher chance of being successful in the 2nd marriage because you learn from your 1st
  • Rob was married at 26, following this process that was handed to him. He loved her and they had a good relationship but in hindsight it wasn’t a very mature relationship.
  • They just assumed they’d have kids. Rob remembers a moment in the Landmark Advance course where Rob realized he was ready to become a father. But as a couple they had the great sense to realize they weren’t ready for kids.
  • After another four years of raucous self-development, that marriage ended in 2003. Rob was grateful that they didn’t have kids because the relationship wasn’t strong enough.
  • Then Rob got involved in OneTaste and in that 10-12 year relationship of building OneTaste there was no opportunity or option to have kids. It didn’t bother Rob, he wasn’t yearning for kids and it just wasn’t on the cards there.
  • When Rob left OneTaste at the age of 44, his whole life was open, and raising kids was not on his want list. Instead what happened was Rob started dating, and along the way he met his muse, Morgan. Along with Morgan came a 5- and 7-year old.
  • In retrospect, when Rob decided to be with Morgan with kids, he never questioned it. It wasn’t a thought process, which is weird for him. For whatever reason, he just said yes.
  • Rob met them and was drawn by them, thought they were super cute, but didn’t get the weight of what it was going to be like to be with Morgan with kids.
  • Over the next 4 – 5 months of being in relationship with Morgan, Rob was very intrigued by the children and their minds. Kids do things that are so different from adults, and they’re so raw and honest and it shocked Rob on some level. He was a science experiment in relationship with them.
  • Rob got to do things with them, like creating legos, and also sharing his viewpoints and teach them. It has been an amazing learning experience for Rob, but also there have been challenges.
  • One was the Legoland experience. Rob visibly lost his cool, which is unusual. He was feeling the angst of the driving, traffic, kids screaming, weather, calling for business. Rob realized he had limits to his patience.
  • The kids have pushed him to his limits more than his entire relationships with hundreds of adults.
  • The core of this episode is the concept of anger that the kids have towards Rob. Adults don’t process anger well, but kids have a very interesting relationship to anger.
  • For the last 4 or 5 months, Rob has been integrating and living with Morgan. There have been ups and downs, but there’s been a switch in the last 2 weeks in terms of their anger towards him. They’ve been punching and kicking Rob, telling Morgan they don’t want him to live with them anymore and saying that when Rob is around, Morgan doesn’t pay attention to them.
  • This really affected Rob and on some level he had a breakdown around it. Morgan talked to the kids and shifted things. The kids are now expressing their love again.
  • Rob realized the kids are going to be kids and he can’t control any piece of that. The thing he can control is his relationship to them. He can change how he interacts with them. That’s the thing he wants to do, become a better man, a better step-parent, a better co-parent. Until he works on himself and his relationship to them, that’s not going to happen, but that’s what needs to happen.

Rob did some research and apparently what he’s going through with the kids is completely normal. This is what Rob found about blended families:

  • They say that blended families can take 1 – 5 years to integrate. It takes a long time, so Rob needs to have patience with this process.
  • There is a difference between Rob and Morgan in his perception of the kids’ feelings. This relates to his upbringing. The way they talk to Morgan would not have been acceptable for Rob growing up. Rob gets upset when he sees them behave that way with Morgan.
  • Morgan has Hand In Hand Parenting, which allows the kids feelings, which is very different from when Rob was raised in the 70s. The difference and depth of that difference is to be celebrated, but Rob finds himself often getting arrogant about this.
  • The challenge is to celebrate the difference, discuss it and learn because Morgan is a far more experienced, trained and better parent than Rob. But his male ego is still learning that it has to learn and grow to become a better co-parent.
  • Kids fears and their method to express it is very different to adults. This was very important for Rob to figure out. There has to be an ego-less flow to expand himself so he can pay attention to the kids feelings and what’s going on.
  • There is also a navigation with Morgan’s ex-husband, he kids’ father. The father doesn’t want Rob around. The kids know that even though it hasn’t been spoken directly to them. The kids want to be loyal to the father and their anger can be a translation of that.
  • Rob’s hope is that in the near future he can get in relationship and coordination with the ex so they can be in connection instead of isolated, for the sanity of all.

Rob found an article by Dustin Wax on becoming a great step-dad. (http://www.lifehack.org/articles/featured/becoming-a-great-step-dad.html) and here are the key points:

  • You love knows no bounds, but your authority does. In other words, you can love, but those kids are only going to listen to you to a certain point because you’re not the Dad. Don’t forget your position.
  • Don’t try to be Dad. But do be a father figure. Be connected.
  • Have one-on-one time with them. This is also part of Morgan’s Hand-In-Hand Parenting special time. Be willing to be connected to them deeply.
  • Don’t talk down to them. Remember that even though they’re shorter than you, treat them like the intricate human beings that they are.
  • Listen!
  • Take cues from Mom. Learn and listen because she’s been handling them for years and you’re the new guy.
  • You can’t buy their love. Don’t try to bribe them with gifts.
  • Forgive when they are kids and not to your liking. Be willing to expand yourself to be really strong and forgive them.

Rob coaches Vivian, who has a fear about doing things she wants and looking after herself for fear it will have an impact on her son’s wellbeing.

  • Vivian has been a single mom since 2010, her son’s a little over 16. A lot of her life has been around him growing up. Then she discovered OneTaste and desire and started setting aside some time for herself and developing as a human being.
  • Her son developed very severe obsessive compulsive disorder. She is kind of an atheist, but Vivian remembers thinking she was being punished for doing those things for herself. Rob says it sounds like Jewish guilt.
  • Vivian says, “I have to nourish myself, I’ll be a better parent if I take care of myself. But there’s a fear alongside it that it will hurt my son.” He’s gotten a lot better but she’s still terrified.
  • Rob acknowledges the work Vivian has done. The greatest gift you give your kids is you taking care of yourself. The worst thing you can do is be an empty Mom, without energy or resources.
  • Rob watches Morgan’s energy rise and fall, up and down. He watches when she’s spent by the kids and life, and how it affects her and how she interacts with her kids. It’s little subtle differences, the tone of voice, the lack of patience, the tightness she feels, and Rob watches the kids recoil a little bit.
  • He explains that the greatest gift Vivian can teach him is to take care of herself and continue to be nurtured by herself. It’s important.
  • Rob has a feeling that it isn’t the going for what she wanted, but the guilt around it that is the piece here. It’s not the action, it’s the reaction to it. Rob’s sure the son picked upon that.
  • For Vivian, a piece of the guilt is that maybe she wasn’t paying close enough attention and didn’t take her son to the doctor when she first noticed things. She let it slide and he’s been hurt as a result. Rob and Vivian explore what she was feeling at the time it happened.
  • There was anger for Vivian than her son was developing these symptoms right when she was finding time for herself. Rob perceives that is where the guilt piece is. Those feelings, of finally getting what you want and then having this happen, and being pissed off with him for it, is completely human and right.
  • Rob says, “your path for self-love and self-care was right. The methodology to go from not taking care of yourself to taking care of yourself may have not been 100% on the mark…but the core motivation was 100% right. Get back to that place where you know you did it right, forgive him for his response and mostly forgive yourself for having that pure human desire to be taken care of.”
  • Rob suggests that the more Vivian feels right about her choices, the happier he’s going to be.
  • Vivian and her son have an incredibly close and loving relationship, and she’s been learning about loving detachment recently. She’s grateful that that has come out of the OCD. She also recognizes there’s a piece around her asking him for permission in a way that is actually inappropriate of a parent to a child, but she has a fear of stating things.
  • She acknowledges she has taken into consideration a huge amount and sometimes she will do things that he doesn’t get to give permission for. That’s being an adult, and Rob suggests that Vivian wants to teach her son that so that he doesn’t learn to be a man that needs to ask permission to be himself.
  • We live in a society of disapproval, where every single thing you’re doing is wrong. Your hair is wrong, your glasses are wrong, you’re too fat, you’re too thin, you work too much, you work too little. The more Vivian can teach him to believe his viewpoints are right, by her believing her own viewpoints are right, the more freedom he is going to have in this world. It’s teaching him an important lesson.
  • His OCD could be a request for a different kind of attention. Maybe there’s a new level of asking for what he needs without sacrificing her wants and desires.
  • It’s hard. Kids are tricky teaching and ever changing and then you have your interactions with them and you’re ever changing. Keep coming back to your desires are right, you fulfilling yourself is right. Keep going on the path to have what you want for yourself but also teach the kid to have that.