There is a well known principle and coaching tool known as the Be-Do-Have coparenting model. The Be-Do-Have model is a powerful framework that references an orientation someone has to their future success or a desired outcome. In essence, each of the three orientations describes someone as either a victim, worker, or creator of their success. It’s obvious which one is more empowering and, as such, I have attempted to apply this same principle to co-parenting, or communication with an ex in general, with the desired outcome being a peaceful and collaborative dynamic between you and your children’s other parent that benefits all.
Everything You Need to Know About the Be-Do-Have Coparenting Model
Have-Do-Be: The Victim
“When I have more, then I’ll do more, and then I’ll be happier”
Sound familiar? This is undoubtedly my default mindset, that, if left unchecked can infect all areas of life, including being a single parent and coparent.
“When he agrees to let me have the kids for Christmas, then I’ll agree to their ski trip and we will get along.” Guilty as charged! I see pettiness and scorekeeping in divorced couples all the time. It’s no wonder there are so many people out there that suffered through a divorce, only to find themselves in perpetual turmoil with the very same person they tried to rid their life of. If I showed up as a victim to every fight between my ex and I, it would be total mayhem, with the children in a boxing ring over the ski slopes. It’s like they say, sometimes it’s better to be happy than to be right. And it’s better for the children too.
Do-Be-Have: The Worker
“The more I do, the more I’ll have, and the happier I’ll be”
This one is a little less common but one many primary caregivers struggle with, and that is relinquishing control. If you were the stay-at-home parent, it can feel excruciating to know that the other parent is now having to take care of the daily duties that you so lovingly and painstakingly perfected.
“I’ll do all the homework with the kids on my time, then I know it will be done right and he will not accuse me of micromanaging during his parenting time.” It sounds noble and selfless, but you can guess where it ends up – you continuously being the “default” parent and never giving your ex an opportunity to learn and step up, which is ultimately what is best for the children involved. No one benefits when dad (or mom) hasn’t had enough practice to know that the toddler has started stripping off her diaper no matter what state it is in.
Another way I see do-be-have potentially playing out is with people pleasing and conflict avoidance. Someone with poor boundaries may allow themselves to be taken advantage of as the other parent violates terms of the parental agreement or parenting schedule. Rather than learning to self-advocate and develop tools to communicate their needs, they allow themselves to be manipulated over and over again. This could lead to overwhelm, resentment, and burn out none of which are particularly helpful when it comes to raising children and co-parenting.
Be-Do-Have: The Creator
“Who do I need to be? As that person, what would I need to do in order to have happiness?”
Arriving at this state is where you may have your best shot, but italso requires a very clear picture of the desired outcome. What kind of coparent do you want to be so that you can have peace in your life and thriving, well-adjusted children? The question then becomes not, what do I need to do, but rather, who do I need to be?
Diving a Little Deeper into Be-Do-Have
The question “Who do I need to be?” is very abstract. My brain certainly has a hard time making heads or tails of it. It helps me to profile how this person would think, behave, make decisions, etc. It helps even more to find a role model, someone that seems to have a great relationship with their ex-spouse where the child/ren are at the center, not in the middle. I have the perfect example that comes to mind.
One of my closest friends has been divorced since her son was a toddler, yet the relationship she has with her ex is more supportive and collaborative than many married couples I know. Despite their marriage not working out, they seem to have fallen into an easy friendship with their son at the center. Both having moved on with their respective lives, they truly care about each other’s well being, from the big issues such as living situations, to more trivial matters such as beauty regimes. During COVID when hair salons were closed, my friend’s ex learned how to adjust her hair extensions and reapply them for her! The last time I spoke to her, she said he had a new goal – lashes. On the flip side, realizing that being close to both parents was best for their son, she followed him (with his new wife and their child) across the country when he fled Manhattan during COVID. As I write this there is a higher likelihood of me turning into a bird and flying away, than my ex-husband coming over to paint my toenails or either of us moving to be closer to the other. Obviously, this is an extreme example, but the point is, there are divorced or separated couples out there that seem to have struck the right balance in service of their children.
Research has shown that coparenting is a vital mechanism in predicting the mental health of children and adolescents (1). Coparental support, cooperation, and agreement are positively associated with overall mental health, self-esteem, and academic performance. While we cannot control the behavior of our ex-spouse, we can control our own thoughts, feelings, and reactions to situations as they come up. So what do you do if your ex is high-conflict, combative, narcissistic, and completely deficient in seeing the benefit in joining forces for the sake of your kids? Well, you continue to use the be-do-have coparenting model, because one emotionally mature parent is better than none. Your ex may not respond in kind, but your children will notice and build trust in you, all of which increases your influence and place in their lives.
Will I take a leaf from my friend’s book and ask my ex-husband to go to a Turkish bath with me? Absolutely not, one of us would very likely end up drowned. But I can use the be-do-have coparenting model as a helpful north star to periodically keep me in check. Where am I being a victim, engaging in draining and useless tit for tat? Where am I a worker, demanding control and not allowing my ex to parent on his own terms or not asserting boundaries? And where can I be a creator in helping avert conflict and be the role model my children will look to in the future?