You can spend buckets of money on lawyers and hours and hours in mediation to create the most comprehensive and detailed parenting plan in the world. But if you can’t find a way to effectively communicate with the other parent, the whole exercise has zero chance of success.
Communication is the X factor in the parenting plan
Let’s start with reality. You don’t have to be best friends with the other co-parent – you don’t even have to like them. But to meet the needs of your child, you do have to communicate with them. And odds are, if you can keep the communication regular and a reflection of the agreed-to terms, it will over time get easier no matter how much you really don’t want the other person in your life. The reality is, you have a child – or children – with this person so you are going to have a dotted line between yourself and them for as long as your kids require it. Once the kids reach an age of independence, you’ll find yourself needing to communicate less, which is light at the end of the tunnel for many co-parents, but it doesn’t end there. There will be marriages and births and plenty of other life occasions that may require you to come face to face with the other parent. And it makes a big deal of difference to your child if you can acknowledge the other party without drama.
Good communication doesn’t mean talking to your ex about the kids every day
We all know of Gwyneth/Chris co-parents who set a gold-plated and mostly unrealistic communication standard we’re meant to aspire to. Most co-parents are not of the Gwyneth and Chris mould. As mediators, we work with hundreds of separated parents trying to get to a place of regular, respectful communication – and we understand just how challenging and difficult it can be. A good place to start is with a benchmark grounded in reality. Begin by thinking about what you need to communicate about, how often and what format is the best (formats are an important consideration when there are safety concerns that need to be managed).
Choose a style and format that is best suited to the state of the relationship
Choose a way of communicating that makes sense by limiting the scope for escalation of conflict.
Co-parenting app with built-in calendar: Parenting apps are highly effective communication tools for high conflict co-parents because they offer a suite of practical tools (ie calendar for scheduling the child’s appointments etc) that offer simple and effective ways to communicate important matters between parents. Some apps offer filters to prevent swearing/name calling and prevent messages from being deleted so a record can be kept of all communication. There are some great free ones available offering a wide range of features. We reviewed a selection for you, here.
Email: A long-form option that works well in conjunction with a short-form format like text. Email can be a good format to send calendar reminders that can sync with phone calendars and attach documents. It’s good to use the subject line to keep things business-like, ie: parent teacher interview. One good thing with the writing exercise required with email is that you can write your first draft (that can sometimes be emotionally driven) which is the one you probably want to send, then save it as a draft and go back to it, edit the language to soften or simplify it, then press send. In other words, you have time to think about what your saying – and you can give yourself time to reflect before sending.
Text: This is a solid format for matter of fact and simple communication. Using text for long messages is not a great idea and that kind of message might be better for email or an app. Text is good for short-form questions requiring a quick answer. Many texters tend to go back and forth with each other in rapid fire format – and when communication gets heated it can escalate quickly via text. Some co-parents want to keep communication with their ex as far from their post separation life as possible – which is why it might be a good idea to use an app. We all get distracted by text and you can have a perfectly nice time ruined because you have been triggered by receiving a text from your ex. If it’s a high conflict co-parenting relationship, then it may make sense to create boundaries around how and when you receive communication – and keep it separate from text if that’s a 24/7 communication format you use.
Phone calls: Most co-parents agree that in the event of an emergency relating to their child an urgent phone call between parties is essential. On occasions such as these, most co-parents instinctively focus on the immediate needs of the child, and who is relaying the information is secondary. Sometimes, when the pain of the separation has faded into the past, separated parents can once again talk to each other without the conversation taking an emotional toll on them. This is not always the way things pan out, but for some people, the anger and hurt has subsided, and life goes on.
Do not use social media to communicate
In the interests of self-preservation, stay away from your ex on social media. Tempting as it may be to use a social media messenger platform to contact them, in a way this is stepping back into their world. Nobody should trust a social media algorithm to understand or determine the type of relationship you should have or want to have with your ex. And in most scenarios the algorithm gets it very, very wrong.
You can’t avoid communication, so think about it carefully
If you can’t communicate effectively with your ex, the ones who carry the burden are the kids as parents tend to communicate through the children. There’s not enough space on the page for all the reasons why this is detrimental to the kids, suffice to say it is nowhere near being in their best interest and has the potential to impact their emotional wellbeing long into adulthood. Communication is the cornerstone of the parenting agreement and avoiding it will make the situation much harder than it already is. Some forethought into what you will communicate about and when you’ll communicate will help in deciding how. And a final and critically important thing to remember: always take the heat out of the message. Never attempt to communicate when you’ve been drinking and think carefully before you type or speak. At least try and take the emotion out of the message to minimise the potential for conflict to flare up and destroy everything in its path.
Conflict is a reality of many family separations, and within reason, most kids can cope – if the burden on them is managed carefully.
Separating couples often turn to mediation to reach agreement on how to divide their property, other assets and finances without going through the court process.
Mediation works because it replaces blame and punishment with problem-solving. And the effects of this approach can produce real and lasting behavioural change (rather than the antiquated notion of being caught and punished in an ongoing cycle that can continue into adulthood).
Parents who find the ability and willingness to move from being an adult couple in a conflict relationship to new roles as co-parents of their children, demonstrate their capability to make decisions in the best interests of the children, helping them to cope and move forward in their young lives, too.
While it’s true what really throws one person may not touch the sides of another, there are some commonly used phrases that when used in mediation have the potential to initiate a negative reaction in the other party - and in the interests of trying to resolve the dispute in mediation, are best avoided at all costs together.