Communicating with your co-parent and building a healthy co-parenting relationship can be challenging as you navigate life as a newly single person.
Simply seeing one another can trigger emotions that lead to challenging conversations that can quickly escalate. You can begin to develop a healthy co-parenting relationship by practicing positive communication, no matter how you have communicated in the past.
The following positive communication tips will help you remain mindful during conversations and focus on what is best for your kids.
The Aurit Center For Divorce Mediation believes co-parents can develop and maintain healthier relationships that lead to more peaceful lives and support their children’s well-being.
#1 – Communicate Professionally
Channel the professionalism you display at work to ensure that communication with your co-parent is polite, effective, and respectful. Part of professionalism is listening carefully without interrupting.
Envision separating your emotional personal relationship from your relationship as parents. For many separating parents, conflict stems from issues unrelated to parenting. When parents can begin to differentiate their personal relationship from their parenting relationship, it becomes possible to communicate as co-parents.
Professional communication with your co-parent can feel strange at first, but it will become more natural with practice.
You may begin to feel defensive when you don’t understand your co-parents’ motivations. Being professional allows you to replace defensiveness with genuine curiosity. Thoughtfully consider why your co-parent feels the way they do so you can better understand the logic behind their requests. What may have seemed like an ‘unreasonable’ request may be much more readily accepted when you discover your co-parent is trying to do what they feel is best for the kids.
This approach will result in more productive conversations and a deeper understanding of why conversations move in a negative direction. It will also significantly benefit your kids. And, remember, as in any professional relationship, choose your words thoughtfully, and whenever possible, offer support willingly.
#2 – Make Requests, Not Demands
Making demands of your co-parent is guaranteed to cause conflict and will lower the chances of getting what you need. Even minor disagreements can explode when you make demands.
Make “requests” or “proposals” instead of demands.
“I suggest what we do here is X. What do you think?”
“We could handle this by doing X. Would that work for you?”
“Would you consider that we do X instead of Y?”
Our mediators guide parents to make strategic requests and proposals that the other parent will likely find acceptable. This process focuses on collaboratively finding a solution. Demands set you up for conflict.
You want to pick up the kids from your co-parent’s house at 8 am on Saturday mornings, but you know your co-parent enjoys making breakfast for the kids on Saturday.
“I’m picking up the kids at 7:30!”
This is a demand, and it is leveraged and directly contradicts the other parents’ interest.
“I would like to pick up the kids at 8 AM, but I know that making breakfast with them is important to you. I could pick them up at 9 AM. Would that work for you?”
Making requests and offering acceptable suggestions is a powerful technique in fostering healthy co-parenting.
#3 – Use Your Knowledge
Given your history, you are likely an expert on your co-parent’s patterns of behavior and communication. Although these things may frustrate you, you can use this knowledge to communicate in a healthier way.
For example, if you know your spouse is cranky right after work, avoid conversations right after work whenever possible. If your spouse is a morning person, you might send an early text asking them to contact you when they are available and give them a heads-up about what you would like to discuss, in a friendly, non-threatening way.
On Superbowl Sunday, you might decide to wait until Monday to text your die-hard-NFL- fan-co-parent about parent-teacher conferences happening the following week.
“Hi, I hope you enjoyed the Super Bowl. I got an email about parent-teacher conferences yesterday, but waited until today to text you so you could focus on the game. I’m forwarding you the email now. LMK if you would like to talk beforehand and if you are available to attend. Thank you 👍”
Extending this type of courtesy to your co-parent, helps them to see you and your co-parenting relationship in a positive light.
#4 Give the Benefit of the Doubt
‘Giving the benefit of the doubt’ relates to the Golden Rule…‘treat others as you would like to be treated’.
It’s common to “think the worst” or “react” when your co-parent says or does something you feel is negative. A healthier way to respond is to acknowledge your reaction and be kind to yourself. Release any knee-jerk reactions so you can make a conscious choice about how to respond. Ask yourself, “Am I giving my co-parent the benefit of the doubt?”
It may take some time, but when used for everyday challenges, your co-parent may begin to sense your willingness to frame things in the best light, and they may be more likely to do the same for you. Notably, this technique does not apply to any intentional or extreme bad behavior.
In the spirit of the Golden Rule, bringing a sense of forgiveness to challenging situations as they arise can be extremely helpful as well. Giving your co-parent the benefit of the doubt will move you both toward a healthier co-parenting relationship.
#5 Center Communication around the Kids
Make sure to share all child-centered information with your co-parent. Keeping your co-parent up-to-date will better prepare you both to take on your parenting roles. Take responsibility for ensuring that your co-parent is not left in the dark. By doing so, you support your children’s need to have you both actively involved in their lives. Children feel safe and secure when they experience their parents cooperating.
Define the specific topic you need to address prior to the conversation to avoid unnecessary conflict. Consider what acceptable proposals you can make. This can be very challenging when negative emotions are triggered, but it can make or break a healthy co-parenting relationship.
During the conversation, stay on topic. If your co-parent begins to discuss other topics, gently bring them back to the matter at hand. If necessary, you can even write the topic on a small piece of paper to keep in your pocket. If you feel the conversation moving in the wrong direction, reach in your pocket and hold that piece of paper as a reminder to ensure all of your communication is positive and solution-focused.
Mastering the art of staying on the topic will allow you and your co-parent to create healthy, structured, collaborative co-parenting to meet your children’s needs.
The Aurit Center For Divorce Mediation is here to help parents, whether they are divorcing, separating, or never married. We will help you build a parenting plan that sets you up for success now and into the future. We encourage co-parents to use positive communication techniques in the best interest of themselves and their children. We provide parenting mediation services and guide discussions that allow you to reach agreements for any parenting issues. Children benefit when their parents have a healthy relationship and avoid conflict.