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Coparenting – Being Captain Of The Titanic

Ken Pierce is a board-certified clinical psychologist and CEO of The Pierce Institute of Psychology Inc. He has authored many psychological works including seven books and 400 case study web-posts. Ken is considered a human behaviour expert having worked in business, education and private practice for over 40 years.

 
Executive Contributor Ken Pierce

Raul was an experienced physiotherapist. He had been in practice for over 18 years. He loved his work, was good at it and devoted to his patients. He was a fit, friendly man of Jamaican extraction with a dry wit and ability to get people to relax quickly.


Child hands holding paper family.

“Your children need your presence more than your presents.”– Jesse Jackson, politician

“This was wreaking havoc with Raul’s work and his life!”


But, then he divorced Raven, his wife of 10 years over infidelity and started co-parenting on a half-time basis, his two children, Reese aged four and Reed, aged seven. Since Raven was still angry at him over the financial aspects of the divorce settlement, she was enforcing the letter of the law regarding the co-parenting plan.


The kids were exchanged every Sunday and Wednesday at 4 PM…no exceptions or exemptions. This was wreaking havoc with Raul’s work and his life! It had been going on for over a year and he had already switched employers and reduced his hours.


What made it so interesting was Raul was not upset at Raven for her strict enforcement of the co-parenting agreement. Rather, he was struggling with the dilemma he faced between his values for his children and his work. He seemed to spend most of his time generating guilt that he was a lousy father… especially to his daughter Reese, who had Down’s Syndrome, and so attended specialized programs to enhance her learning.


Reese’s special schedule threw all kinds of additional kinks into his parenting. All he had to do with Reed was make sure he caught the school bus each day. However, Reese needs to be dropped off and picked up at specific times which made it difficult for Raul to maintain a regular work schedule.

 

“Divorces and marriages are just human learning tools.”


As Raul outlined his situation and the guilt and confusion it was creating for him, I asked him what was his biggest challenge at this moment in time that had brought him to my office.


Raul said,

“Ken, I have just put my kids through a messy divorce and they seem to have come through it OK. But, co-parenting is really demanding and I’m struggling with my priorities.”


I replied,

“Half of all marriages will evolve to a divorce, either a legal one, an emotional one or both. It is natural and OK. Divorces and marriages are just human learning tools. And, the same applies to the kids involved.”


He responded,

“I have lots of friends who have gone through it and I know some who are emotionally divorced but not legally…and the opposite as well…living common law but very married. So, I can see the first part. But, how does the same apply to the kids?”


“In my experience, Raul, children have fewer illusions about life and so adapt more quickly than their parents to divorce. It is still challenging for them, but they adjust more readily, as long as, they know both parents will be OK.”


Santa Claus and a kid.

“Children are educated by what the grown-up is and not by their talk.”– Carl Jung, psychiatrist

“…Santa Claus is an illusion about giving…”


“Are you saying kids are more flexible than adults?”


“You have probably noticed in your work, they are more physically flexible. Have you ever asked an adult or a child, for example, to do a specific stretch to help their body’s recovery?”


“Sure, probably thousands of times over the years!”


“Have you noticed, with probably a few exceptions, that kids are more open to the challenge, more open in their thinking than the adults to stretching their body? This applies mentally, as well.”


“What do you mean kids have fewer illusions? Aren’t they the ones who still believe in Santa Claus?” he said, smiling.


“Believing in Santa Claus is an illusion about giving, I’m referring to similar illusions about relationships and family! They are actually all connected.” I offered.


“Would you run that by me again Ken… with examples…I think I got lost somewhere?” he said.

“…there are no freebees in life…their parent(s) did the shopping!”


“Raul, I suspect one of the key principles in your work as a physiotherapist is helping your clients restore some form of balance to a muscle, a group of muscles or perhaps their entire body. Is that true?”


“Actually, Yes! One of the most important things we do is strive to restore biological homeostasis, kind of a physical balance needed for movement,” he replied.


“Raul, this is the same process going on mentally…no different…the same natural law of our body and indeed, our life. Getting back to Santa Claus for a second, kids learn about the give and take of life, and especially relationships, by learning, in their own way, that there are no freebies in life…their parent(s) did the shopping!”


“And, this connects to divorce, how…?”


“Kids pick up pretty quickly how the divorce is beneficial to them, as well as, painful,” I said.


“Divorce is beneficial to kids? How could that be, Ken?”


“Raul, just ask your kids and they will tell you. But, you will need to listen carefully.”

“…even bad things have benefits…and even for children…”


“Can you give me one example that would make sense to me, Ken?”


“I can suggest several that might apply. It will ultimately depend on the individual child’s highest values.”


“Their highest values! What are we talking about here?” he asked.


“Values define what is most important. Here are some samples from my work. The child experiences less parental conflict; the child feels more valued by each parent; the child realizes each parent can be OK without the other; the child finds out it is a common childhood occurrence and OK; the child learns more independence; the child gets closer to siblings, grandparents, friends; and the list goes on.”


“Ken, as I hear your examples, I can see several of them in my kids. But, that says even bad things have benefits… and even for children…am I getting this?”

“Go to the most upsetting time, most challenging time…”


“Raul, you are getting it! And, it applies to what is happening to you right now as you struggle to co-parent. Let’s focus on that for a while.”


“You mean feeling caught all the time between being a father and being a physiotherapist has benefits for me? Wow! That’s a stretch in my mind!” he said, grimacing.


“Let’s take your biggest source of pain with the current situation you’re in, Raul. What is it?”


He paused briefly before replying, his frustration appearing over his entire being from head to toe,


“Reese needs to be picked up from her music program every Monday at 2:30 in the afternoon. Monday is usually my busiest day and the busiest time of the day. It throws off my whole week. I am continually playing ‘catch up’ for the rest of the week.”


“Raul, I would guess you have been doing Reese’s pick-up for about a year now. Go to the most upsetting time, most challenging time, you have had, picking her up on Mondays.”


Troubled cars in the middle of the road.

“… how did you cope at that very moment…”


Another short pause, then,


“I had a one o’clock consult with a client which ran overtime due to the client needing some extra assistance with an injury. I got away at 2:20 met a traffic accident and didn’t arrive to get Reese until 2:45! She was upset, crying and being comforted by her provider, an early childhood educator, Reese is really fond of.”


“Raul, go to the worst moment of that experience and go inside your mind to that very moment,” I said to him.


Raul’s eyes dropped to the floor and he leaned back into his chair as he went back in time. Finally, he said,


“I was stuck in a traffic jam watching two police officers dealing with a three-car collision, a firetruck, an ambulance and the wind blowing the snow around everything and everybody…it was organized chaos!”


“And, how did you cope at that very moment, Raul?”


“I just sat there ‘stewing’ and waiting until I could get by the accident scene. And, I called Reese’s program to tell them I would be late. And, I started thinking about what we should have for supper that day…because I hadn’t taken anything from the freezer that morning in advance, which I usually do.”

 

“The more upset you were, the more benefits you received…”


“So, since you’re sitting here telling me this, whatever you did to cope with that challenge served you well…you survived…got through it… and went on with your day… you life. True, Raul or not?” I asked him to encourage him to chunk higher in his thinking.


“Yes, I guess that’s true…I did get through it! But, was I ever pissed off, Ken!”


“The more upset you were, the more benefits you received, to ensure the natural law of equilibrium of each moment of life. So, let’s find them, Raul! In that moment in your mind, what were the most obvious benefits, looking back now?”


Then, I added for clarity,


“Remember there are at least several areas of life you can consider: spiritual, mental, vocational, financial, social, familial and physical. They are all just aspects of you, but every benefit and cost impacts all seven areas, …we just notice some, and not others!”


“OK! The first one was, I was thankful I wasn’t part of the pile-up of cars, because I had been careful driving that day… but hurrying,” he said first.


“That protected your physical health by driving safely. OK, what else?”


“Well, I called Reese’s program and they told me they understood and would wait with her for me which reminded me there are other people who can and do take care of her besides me…I forget that sometimes in my rush to be her Dad.”


“That sounds like it is a mental advantage by freeing you from all the responsibility of Reese! Excellent, what else?”


“I waited patiently…I guess I could have told the police officers I had a family emergency and needed to get going right away to get Reese,” he added next.

 

“I can already see, and feel, the changes in me…”


“That could be the mental self-control you demonstrated by empowering yourself in a tense situation and also, socially, the respect you showed to and received from others who were involved in the collision who needed priority at that moment.”


“When I think about that event from those three perspectives I feel better about myself and how I handled that day, Ken.”


“So, you are starting to uncover some of the benefits that came with the costs. That is the work we need to do Raul with, not just that event, but other moments that are sticking in your mind as being only painful, only losses or only costs. Are you prepared to go on that journey?”


“Yes, I am, Ken! I can already see, and feel, the changes in me and how I see, not just my job as a parent, but also, my job as a physiotherapist. Let’s do it!”


“When we’re done, you will be able to take any moment from your past and find the two sides, the duality and so appreciate it. It shifts how you see yourself, your children and your life…it is a game changer!”


“I’m starting to believe it, Ken! Let’s get at it!”


“Let parents bequeath to their children not riches, but the spirit of reverence.”– Plato, philosopher

Points to Ponder and Remember:


  1. Children tend to be more flexible, not just physically, but mentally as well.

  2. Children are more flexible because they still believe from birth they can be, do and have anything they work for.

  3. Children are more flexible because they have not yet developed the fantasies and nightmares…the illusions which will characterize their future.

  4. Whatever the parents repress, the children express, unconsciously, to serve the parents evolution.

  5. Each child is a unique lesson in love for each parent.

  6. Every moment in each person’s life is an equal balance of pleasure and pain so as to promote the individual’s learning and survival.

  7. Parenting is an equal balance of pleasure and pain at every moment to promote that parent’s learning and survival.

  8. Love is is an equal balance of pleasure and pain at all times and all places to ensure the individual’s learning and survival.

  9. This universe, the natural world, nature, our family and our friends are always an equal balance of pleasure and pain, so as to promote our well being.

  10. True freedom is knowing this universe, the natural world, nature, our family and our friends are always an equal balance of pleasure and pain, which promotes gratitude for our well being.

 

Ken Pierce, Psychologist, Human Behaviour Expert

Ken Pierce is a board-certified clinical psychologist and CEO of The Pierce Institute of Psychology Inc. He has authored many psychological works including seven books and 400 case study web-posts. Ken is considered a human behaviour expert having worked in business, education and private practice for over 40 years. He has served thousands of people of all ages from a diverse spectrum of life challenges. This group include executives, teams, organizations, individuals, couples and families. He has served on the faculty of two post-secondary institutions, Holland College and the University of Prince Edward Island.


Ken was also the first psychologist globally to achieve Master Facilitator credentials with the renowned Demartini Institute and is a Senior Faculty of the Glasser Institute. He has spoken at many regional, national and international events. As head of the The Pierce Institute of Psychology Inc. (TPI), a community service facility, he is a leader in moving clinical psychology forward by transforming a labelling and medicating focus to appreciating human adaptions as tools for empowerment. This is demonstrated in the latest research in evolutionary anthropology, biology, neurology, psychiatry and psychology. This scientific approach is found in the work of Drs. William Glasser and John Demartini and the services of TPI.


Ken resides in Stratford, Prince Edward Island with Anna, his partner of 50 years. They have three daughters and three grandsons. Ken's interests vary widely from quantum theory to energy efficiency to building stone walls.

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