It’s in the best interest of our children to have a civil, if not cooperative, relationship with their other parent(s), but it is also important to build effective communication between both sides.
So how do communicate effectively as co-parents?
1. ALWAYS put the children first
When we are make any decisions, have any discussions or even simply exchange belongings, it is easier to overlook the bitterness or frustration if we always think about our kid’s best interests first and foremost.
This also means that you never ask your child to keep something from the other parent, no matter how big or small it might seem. By all means, don’t ask your kids to relay messages. Not only does it put the children in the middle, but it gives an opportunity for the message to be misconstrued.
2. Establish consistency and clarity
Keep the messages between parents (and children) clear. If at all possible, establish consistent rules and follow-through between the households. Spell things out. Put them in writing if necessary. I find a follow-up email with a summary of the plans made and a request for confirmation can be very helpful. There is no room for forgetfulness or “misunderstanding”.
Do not surmise what the other parent’s thoughts, feelings or motives are – speak the facts. There is no point in saying “When you didn’t bother to pick up Joey because you were too busy with your new girlfriend, I had to pick up the pieces”. To surmise that the other parent just didn’t bother or that I know the reason was anything to do with the new girlfriend, will only anger my ex and NOT facilitate a civil discussion. When bringing up concerns, I simply state the facts, which he is much more receptive to. “Joey was very sad when plans for your date to the hockey game fell through”.
The best way to promote clarity and consistency is to be forthcoming with information. Be open and honest. If there is someone new in your life, say so.
3. Do not speak poorly of your ex
As difficult as it may be to bite my tongue, I never speak poorly of my girls’ dad. I may state facts that allow them to come to their own conclusions, in time. But I don’t speak ill of him. The only one who looks bad when I do, is me.
The girls love their dad and it hurts them to hear bad things about him, especially coming from the other parent that they love.
Okay, perhaps we’ll never see eye to eye. I mean there’s a reason we split up, right? But we CAN come to a middle ground on a LOT of the issues. Trying to do so will minimize the number of really big head butting issues.
5. Never argue/fight in front of the kids (including on the phone)
This should not require any explanation. We all know how it feels to listen to people that we care about fight, especially if it has anything to do with us. The kids will believe it is their fault if the fight stems from something that has to do with them.
Along the same lines, if there are difficult topics to discuss or you just can’t seem to have a discussion that does not get heated, then do not accept calls from the other parent when children answer the phone – they may believe it’s their fault for handing over the phone.
Here are a few tough ones:
6. Let go of the little things
Just like with our children, pick your battles. By not fighting over the little things, it may become easier to deal with the big stuff more rationally.
7. Ask for opinions!
It is amazing how differently a conversation may unfold if it is presented from a united front. “What is your opinion about Joey going to the hockey game with his friend’s older sister?”
We all make mistakes. It could be a slip of the tongue, an overreaction to a late drop-off or picking up the children late from the other parents’ house. A simple, “I’m sorry for being late” or “I apologize for losing my temper” can go a long long way to bridge the gap and create a positive environment for cooperative parenting.
Resources in Halifax for divorced parents:
DivorceCare Support Groups
Legal Info Society of NS
Canadian Mental Health Association, Halifax-Dartmouth Branch (CMHA)
Canadian Mental Health Association, Nova Scotia Division (CMHA)
Family Service Association
Healthy Minds Cooperative (HMCo-op)
Halifax & Region Military Family Resource Centre