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 professional’s advice 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 had in parenting coach Christina Cline Schneider when I was struggling with co-parenting the most. I had planned to interview Christina for an article about boundaries in co-parenting, but I got way more than expected from our conversation.
Draw Your Line
My challenge at the time revolved around time sharing. My ex and his wife had just moved to town and asked for more time with the boys. Instead of seeing the boys every other weekend, they asked for every other Wednesday through Sunday plus every Wednesday on their off weeks. In my opinion, that was 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 were to communicate the why behind my no, work towards a mutually satisfying parenting arrangement, and avoid a legal battle. But before I could move forward in addressing the situation, I had to acknowledge something that was complicating my ability to respond effectively.
My brain perceived the events surrounding my divorce as trauma. A lot of healing had taken place, but I was still getting triggered. The reality is that if you perceive your divorce and the events around it as traumatic, you have to deal with your brain’s response.
Up until that point, I had been able to interact with my ex and have relatively smooth child drop-offs. But the new proposed time-sharing schedule threw me back a step in my healing process. I started having dreams that revolved around losing my kids—a car accident and a miscarriage. At a kid drop off during that time, just the physical presence of my ex and his wife became a trigger for me, and I drove away drowning in anxiety.
Write Your Way Out
When she heard where I was 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 had done a lot of writing through my healing journey, but I had yet to write out everything that I was angry about. It was a space I didn’t let myself hang out in for long because I quickly realized that the anger, however justified, would do more damage to myself than anyone else.
After researching an article 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.
“Next I want you to burn it. Tear it,” she said. “Do whatever you need to do to connect yourself emotionally to letting it go.”
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 breaths 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, for example, if 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.
If you’re still experiencing triggers on your path to healing, 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 was that I had one foot edging out of the anger over my past, but I was still getting triggered occasionally. And when it came to my kids, I was committed to protecting the new normal we had established over the past two years.
Christina suggested that I start setting boundaries by taking ownership of establishing a parenting plan. She also helped me identify two things that are close to my heart as we moved forward—health care and discipline. Those are areas where my ex and his wife seemed to have different values than mine.
The reality was that I didn’t yet trust my ex and his wife to be direct with me. I felt like I could be deceived very easily and lose financial support or time with my boys.
“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. Our body gives us signals too, and we forget that it can be a trusted navigation system.”
Going slow is another boundary I put in place. My ex had a history of dishonesty and I didn’t know his wife. If trust was going to develop, it would take time.
“You get boundaries, no matter what,” Christina reminded me. “Keep leaning towards your truth.”
What is your greatest co-parenting challenge at the moment? Which of Christina’s suggestions do you think might be most useful?