Post-divorce or post-separation communications with your former spouse or the other parent may be awkward at first. During your divorce, you may have relied upon your attorney to handle most of the communication between you and the other parent. The litigation is over. The attorneys are gone. How do you effectively communicate with your former spouse? How can you become a successful co-parent?
Even though you may have some unresolved anger or ill feelings towards the other parent, you must remember that he or she is your child’s parent and family as well and will remain a part of your child’s life and your life. Your child will be looking to you for guidance and support during this tough time of transition from living in one household to two households. Your child will be observing your interactions with the other parent and how you and the other parent manage and resolve conflict and make decisions about him or her. Seeing you and the other parent bicker and speak disrespectfully to each other will only complicate and confuse matters for your child and will model poor conflict resolution for your child that may carry over into your child’s life and relationships, such as conflicts with other children or teachers at school.
The idea of co-parenting may seem daunting at first, but know that it can be done by establishing appropriate boundaries and engaging in healthy conflict resolution with the other parent. Becoming a successful co-parent will take time and effort from both parents. It is also a life-long commitment. You may someday share grandchildren with the other parent or plan a wedding for your child together. Working on a healthy relationship with the other parent from the outset will ease the transition for your child and for you.
The following tips may help you begin to develop a positive co-parenting relationship with the other parent.
Tip #1: Treat interactions and communications with the other parent like a business relationship.
When interacting with the other parent, remove your emotions from the interaction or communication and treat your relationship with the other parent like a business relationship. Business relationships tend to be more courteous, arms-length, professional, and respectful – despite conflicts that may arise in that relationship. Business-like communications, as opposed to interpersonal communications between ex-spouses or even spouses, are more direct, short, efficient, and factual. The vast majority of your communications with the other parent should contain only factual and logistical communications about your child (who, what, when and where) – i.e. who is picking up and dropping off, what assignments does the child need to complete that evening, or what time is the soccer game on Saturday. By establishing clear, business-like communication boundaries with the other parent, over time it is more likely that communications with the other parent will become easier, less contentious and combative, and more positive.
Tip #2: Put the child first.
Although you may still be hurt or angry with the other parent, putting your child’s best interests above your own hurt or angry feelings will improve the communications and interactions with the other parent and will keep your child out of the middle of any potential conflict between you and the other parent. If you receive a negative or accusatory email from the other parent, do not respond right away. Process and think about how to respond in a factual, non-accusatory and short manner. If you do not reciprocate in throwing accusations or making insinuations of misconduct or blame, the other parent may eventually begin to change how he or she communicates with you. The important part of the communication is the factual information you need to share with the other parent and not the insinuation of blame. A child benefits from seeing you and the other parent communicate and interact in a respectful manner and a child will eventually mirror the respect shown by one parent to the other. It is not necessary to like the other parent, but showing respect to the other parent is putting your child first and protects your child from needless conflict.
Tip #3: Create consistent rules and guidelines to be followed at both households.
Creating consistent rules, guidelines, and expectations between the two households regarding school, school work, homework, curfews, screen time, extracurricular activities, and how a child spends time with friends makes co-parenting more effective and your child will benefit from a more cohesive parenting approach. Although you and the other parent may have different approaches to parenting, a child that receives consistent messages from both parents will feel more stable, less loyalty binds, more assured, and more confident about how to conduct him or herself and the result will be healthier behaviors from that child.
Tip #4: Make important decisions about your children in person, if possible.
It may become necessary for you and the other parent to make an important decision about your child together, and, at first, you and the other parent may not see eye to eye on that decision. Before meeting in person to discuss the decision that needs to be made, ensure that you and the other parent have all the necessary information to process the issue and make a decision. Prior to a face-to-face meeting with the other parent, request or exchange information with the other parent and obtain information from third party source such as a teacher, doctor, or therapist, if necessary. For example, the needed information could consist of medical records, a discussion with a doctor or therapist to obtain that doctor or therapist’s recommendations, school records, copies of tests and report cards, or a parent teacher conference to obtain information from a teacher. Share information you have with the other parent in a factual manner.
It is important that both parents have the same information before having a discussion. Then schedule a time to meet outside of the residence of either parent and set a start and end time to the meeting. Having a face-to-face discussion allows for more effective listening and understanding of the parent’s point of view and allows you to pick up on nonverbal cues from the other parent. Frequently, words and meaning are lost in translation in texts and emails and that miscommunication will lead to a break down in effective communication. You may need to schedule a series of face-to-face meetings to reach a joint decision; sticking to the start and end time of a meeting is key in keeping emotions under control and keeping focused on the best interest of your child. It may also help to have a photo of your child at the meeting to remind both parents that the focus of the discussion is the best interest of your child. If face to face discussions are negative and not productive in reaching a joint decision, then consider employing a parenting coordinator or parenting facilitator to help facilitate those difficult discussions with the other parent.
If positive co-parenting is difficult for you and the other parent, contact Goranson Bain, PLLC to learn more about different co-parenting strategies and ways to keep your child out of the middle of the conflict.