Three-legged races were a staple in my childhood. You got paired up with another kid and an adult strapped your right leg to the left leg of your partner. When the whistle blew, it was time to take off running to beat the other tied up pairs across the finish line. That’s when the craziness ensued.
The pairs of kids at my school generally fell into one of three types of relationships:
Combative. You had the pair where both kids had their own differing ideas about how the race should go. One kid is yelling do it my way, the other insists on their way. They blame each other for their difficulties all the way to the finish line. Their competitive spirit is alive and well, they look clumsy and fall down a lot, and whether or not they win matters a whole lot to both of them.
Uninspired. These are the kids who know they won’t win before they even start. Sure, they might talk a little about their strategy, but mostly they bumble along. Neither kid feels compelled to lead. They see other teams ahead of them and want to simply get to the finish line without drawing a lot of attention to themselves.
Swift. These pairs were always ahead of me! Sometimes two kids would work together so swiftly, so surprisingly, and they would run fairly smoothly to beat everyone. In most cases, one kid deferred to the other. There weren’t two bosses, there was one. You knew who it was from the outset.
We all remember this childhood game, but you may not know that a world record was set in 2013 by two men, Mark Howlett and Rab Lee, who ran three-legged for 24 hours covering more than 68 miles along their path. Their secret to achieving this feat? Their technique. They coined it “The Maverick” where one person in the pair leans a little bit more forward than the other. When they worked together from this position, they learned that they could run a lot faster and a lot longer.
What does all of this have to do with your three-legged divorce race with your former partner? It means you may need to be the one who leans forward to go faster. I watch some of my clients desperately hoping that their kids’ other parent will show up, remember the time, book the trip, call the doctor, text the kid. These co-parents end up in the combative three-legged co-parenting race, where they keep a laundry list of ways that the other parent is contributing to the pair losing the race. Sometimes I’ll see a client with no real intention around their co-parenting effort. They don’t have a future vision in mind for themselves, and so their steps toward their goals are anything but intentional. That’s an uninspiring co-parenting race at best. As for the swift co-parenting couples, they’ve worked hard. You only get to swift when both parents are able to participate – that’s not usually the case in divorce. It’s not impossible, but don’t keep waiting for the other person to start showing up to take positive action.
So how do you endure the three-legged co-parenting race that goes on far longer than the 24 hour one put in by Howlett and Lee? You start to use their Maverick technique. You, just you, lean forward. You take the actions that you know need to be taken on behalf of your kids. You lean forward to make the calls, field the emails, coordinate the troops. You don’t start up with a combative style or phone it in with the uninspired style. You lean forward, and you start making your part of the race a great one for your kids. Will you work harder? Probably. Will this let the other parent off the hook? Quite possibly. But it was never about them. It was, and always will be, about your kids. The whistle is blowing – lean in and start running.