Parenting coach Christina Cline Schneider shares 5 ways to tame your triggers and establish boundaries in line with your truth—even without the cooperation of the other parent.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a parenting coach at your beck and call every time you have a conflict with your ex? She would be on your side, hear you out, and offer novel solutions you’d never even considered.
It turns out that’s exactly what I have in Christina Cline Schneider. While we had planned another interview about co-parenting, I got more than expected. In our conversation, Christina offered supportive examples of how coaching works in my own life and demonstrated just how insightful and effective she is in her profession.
I started our most recent conversation with the intent to dive into a discussion of boundaries. But before we could get there, Christina wanted an update on my co-parenting progress.
My work in the coparenting arena revolves around time sharing. My ex and his wife just moved to town, and, as anticipated, they asked for more time with the boys. Instead of seeing the boys every other weekend, they said they want every other Wednesday through Sunday plus every Wednesday on their off weeks. In my opinion, this is too much for the boys and for me.
I responded to the request with a solid no and a visit to my lawyer. These were the initial boundaries I needed to set in order to protect my family and feel safe.
“Boundaries are a simple line drawn in the sand that represents what you’re willing to do and what you’re not willing to do,” says Christina. “And we all have our limits.”
My next goals are to communicate the why behind my no, work towards a mutually satisfying parenting arrangement, and avoid a legal battle. But before I can move forward in addressing the situation, I have to acknowledge something that is complicating my ability to respond effectively.
My brain perceived the events leading up to my divorce as trauma. A lot of healing has taken place, but I still get triggered. The reality is that if you perceive your divorce and what happened to you as traumatic, you have to deal with your brain’s response.
In the past I’ve been able to interact with my ex and have relatively smooth child drop offs. But the new time-sharing situation threw me back a step in my healing process. I started having dreams that revolve around losing my kids—a car accident and miscarriage. At a recent kid drop off, the physical presence of my ex and his wife became a trigger for me, and I drove away on the verge of a panic attack.
Write Your Way Out
When she heard where I’m at, Christina recommended an exercise to get those feelings out of my body.
“Write out all your anger,” she said. “Get it all out.”
I’ve composed a goodbye letter to my ex before, but I had yet to write out everything that I’m angry about. It’s a space I let myself hang out in for just a little while in the past because it didn’t take long to realize that the anger, however justified, would eat me alive.
After my recent post on trauma and art therapy, this new writing exercise made sense to me. It’s a way to complete the trauma response by taking the feelings out of the body and into a physical space—in this case pen to paper.
Christina continued her instructions. “Next I want you to burn it. Tear it. Do whatever you need to do to connect yourself emotionally to letting it go,” she said. “Then go cleanse yourself. Take a shower or a bath when the kids are down.”
I tried Christina’s recommendations May 6—the day I got married to my ex, which is also the day he married his new wife. My most intense anger spots were areas I hadn’t yet fully acknowledged—the new wife’s role in the situation and my inability to shake the damaging patterns I’ve adopted over the past couple years to compensate for my pain. The most healing part was the burning, the letting go.
I know this isn’t the end of my anger. The fire pit was still smoking the morning after. I may need to do the exercise again in the future. But it’s a big step forward in acknowledging and releasing.
Tame Your Triggers
Christina gave me these additional tips for getting through situations where I find myself triggered.
1. Become aware. Is your heart rate up? Do you feel dizzy? Are you fearful? This is the time to acknowledge that you’re triggered and notice what’s happening in your body.
2. Breathe. It sounds simple, but it’s so important. Take long deep belly breathes in and out.
3. Cross your midline. Draw an imaginary line from your head to your feet, and move your right arm across the midline to your left side and vice versa. This process can help with emotional regulation.
4. Delay your response. Even though it may feel urgent, you don’t have to respond or do something right away. Hold off and take an hour to give yourself a chance to calm down and regulate. Don’t respond out of fear.
5. Practice dialogue. It can help to create prepared statements for the intense situations, like when your ex swears at you on the phone or court-ordered visits are not being followed. Practice ahead of time with another group of moms or a close friend.
When you’re still at a point where you’re experiencing triggers, it’s even more important to establish boundaries.
Christina explains, “Depending on where you’re at in your journey, you need to set your boundaries appropriate to where your truth is.”
My truth is that I have one foot edging out of the anger over my past, but I can still get triggered. And when it comes to my kids, I’m committed to protecting the new normal we’ve established over the past two years.
Christina suggested that I start setting boundaries by taking ownership of establishing a parenting plan. Last week I met with my ex and made it a point to verbalize my position using Christina’s guide to empowered conversations. “We worked very hard to establish our new normal,” I said. “I’d like to be able to go slow and see how the boys do.”
Christina also helped me identify two things that are close to my heart as we move forward—health care and discipline. Those are areas where my ex and his wife seem to have different values than what I’ve raised the boys with so far.
As in so many other areas of my life, the reality is that I don’t trust my ex and his wife with the boys. I want to operate in a manner that is direct and above board, but I don’t yet trust that I am being afforded the same courtesy in return. I feel like I could be deceived very easily.
“Pay attention to that,” advises Christina. “Feel when you feel like something isn’t true, because your body is always telling you. We think my head needs to tell me right from wrong and good from bad, but our body gives us signals too, and we forget that it can be a trusted navigation system.”
My ex has a history of dishonesty and I don’t know his wife, so going slow is another boundary I’m putting in place. If trust is going to develop, it will take time.
“You get boundaries, no matter what,” Christina reminded me. “Keep leaning towards your truth.”
Christina and I first connected when I heard about a new co-parenting course she was creating. Her 4-week course is now up and running here and includes content around creating healthy boundaries, learning your core strengths, self-care, avoiding/resolving conflict, keeping your children out of the middle of your divorce, effective communication skills, and keeping the other parent from pushing your “buttons.”
It may sound impossible, but she can show you how these skills and much more can be accomplished without the cooperation of the other parent.
Co-parenting does not have to be so hard. You do not have to do it alone. You deserve a supportive and non-judgmental environment where you can begin to open up to the real possibilities of a new normal.
“It’s not always easy, and that’s okay,” says Christina. “That’s where the growth and expansion happens. And it will become easier with time.”