When Communicating With my Child’s Other Parent, What Should I Always Keep in Mind?
- The cardinal rule of co-parent communication is always keeping the child’s best interest at heart and as your primary focus.
- It’s also important to be mindful not to say anything abusive or threatening to your co-parent, and to refrain from foul language, interrupting, and delivering unreasonable ultimatums. Aside from not facilitating healthy communication, it may be used against you in Court at a later date.
- If you are finding it difficult to communicate with your co-parent, or if your co-parent is prone to conflict, remember to keep your communications focused on your child, as well as respectful and relevant. Set boundaries around communication if necessary. Refrain from taking any “bait” that a conflict-prone co-parent may lay out.
- There are several apps that specifically facilitate communication between co-parents (as well as document and calendar sharing). If you are more analog, you may want to start a notebook that gets passed back and forth between houses where each co-parent can write any pertinent or important information.
There are certain things that it is very helpful to be mindful of when communicating with your co-parent.
When communicating with your co-parent in a way that is recordable, or if you are communicating with them in writing, it is essential to know what can be used against you at a later date.
If you say anything abusive, disrespectful, or accusatory, or anything that shows a lack of trust in the other parent, those things can certainly be used against you in Court by the other co-parent’s counsel or attorney.
This is one of the many reasons why it is important that the co-parents agree on a set of rules for communication or how they’re going to address or speak to one another. This can include rules such as:
- Not using foul language
- Not interrupting
- Not delivering ultimatums
- Not asking the child which home they like better.
The focus of co-parenting communication should be on sharing of information about how the child is doing while in your care, so that the other caregiver knows how to transition the child into their home and vice-versa.
In the end, if your communication remains respectful and focuses on ensuring that all of your child’s educational, emotional, spiritual, and physical needs are being met in both of the homes, then you don’t really need to worry about putting communication rules in place, and you don’t really need to worry about what you say being used against you.
When we say communication being used against you, we are usually referring to communication in which you are attacking your co-parent. Attacking your co-parent means you are generally not focusing on what’s best for your child, which can put you in danger in Court, and can put your child in danger of generally negative outcomes.
You may work with a Parenting Facilitator to practice communication with your co-parent and to craft a set of rules for what written or spoken communication will entail. Creating these boundaries and foundations early will help create a strong, sustainable co-parenting relationship.
We Don’t Yet Have the Skill-Set Necessary to Effectively Communicate. How Can we as Parents Communicate More Effectively For The Sake of Our Kids And Our Own Wellbeing?
For co-parents who are starting from scratch and developing the skills to communicate, I think the most important thing is come up with some guidelines and some rules about how you’re going to communicate with one another.
Some parents limit the number of communications (i.e., texts and calls) between co-parents per day. It’s also helpful to establish a standard of information that needs to be shared. That is, you don’t need to tell your co-parent or ask your co-parent about every single thing the child has done every single minute of the day.
You want to keep communication focused on what your co-parent needs to know. For example, how did the doctor’s appointment go today? How was school today? That is the sort of information I need to know now, and that’s appropriate to ask. Why did you decide to do that last week and when you’re not focusing on the present caregiving, I think those are emails and communications that start to lose focus and aren’t necessarily on what’s putting your child’s needs first.
I also think that it is always best to refer to the co-parent respectfully by their name, and to refrain, for example, from calling your co-parent things like “my child’s sperm donor.” Unfortunately, that’s a common phrase we hear, especially if there’s acrimony between the co-parents.
This standard of remaining polite and respectful extends to using words like please and thank you, or asking things like, “Do you mind sharing with me?” These are the sort of basic communication skills that we learn as young children, but which often get left behind during divorce or separation. Let’s not forget them.
How Do I Work With and Come to an Agreement With a Co-Parent Who Is Geared More Toward Conflict and Fighting?
I always tell my clients that two wrongs don’t make a right. If you’re dealing with a co-parent who insists on doing wrong (i.e., trying to stir up conflict and fights), the best move on your part is to try to redirect and focus all communication to what is important for your child’s wellbeing.
Attempts to start conflicts are rather easy to spot, especially if this is someone you know very well (such as an ex-spouse). Redirect those false starts into conversations about things that are necessary to make sure your child is thriving between your two homes.
If your co-parent insist on talking about your communication style or your interpersonal interactions, simply remain calm, refuse to take the bait, and redirect the conversation to how you can both ensure that the way you relate to each other is in the best interest of your child, and enables communication about the essential and present needs of your child.
It is my experience that in most cases, if you continue to redirect and steer conversations in that direction over time, if you remain unresponsive to any attacks or goading and do not feel the need to defend yourself (since any allegations are designed to cause conflict), communication with your co-parent will improve and become more cooperative.
If someone is attacking you or if you feel attacked, it’s understandable that your first impulse is to feel defensive. That’s perfectly natural. However, for the sake of your co-parenting relationship, you have to resist the urge to act on that impulse. When co-parents get defensive, they tend to get angry, and that’s when communication begins to break down. So, sometimes, the best option is to simply ignore and redirect.
Is it Okay to Set Limits my Co-Parent When it Comes to How They Handle Certain Things Related to Our Child? What is Reasonable as a Limit and What is Unreasonable?
Yes, in certain cases it is acceptable to set these sorts of limits with a co-parent.
In every co-parenting relationship, there are certain things that are agreed upon by both parties. These can be considered “limits” of a sort. For example, if your child has dietary restrictions, those need to be followed in both homes. Insisting that your co-parent follows and is mindful of those restrictions may be considered a reasonable limit.
Another example is corporal punishment. We talked previously in this book about how corporal punishment and discipline decisions need to be consistent between both homes. This, too, is often considered a reasonable limit.
I think that it’s essential to be in continual communication with your co-parent about these guidelines or limits for how you have agreed to construct an environment for your child. Co-parents should be regularly checking in to make sure that they’re communicating and that they’re still on the same page about those limits, and that one party’s perspective on the situation hasn’t changed.
I also think it’s essential that if you are setting a limit for your co-parent, you should also be prepared to follow and respect that limit.
So, for example, if you’re expecting a response to all communication when the co-parent has your child within 24 hours, you should also respond to all communication when you have the child within 24 hours. You need to be agreeable to honoring that same limit when it’s your turn to be responsible for answering questions or providing information. I think as long as both parties are subject to the same limit, it can be reasonable.
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