Whether you are divorcing or separating, when you have children, everyone involved must learn the importance of good communication. Children are the victims of bad communication in a divorce situation the last thing we want to do is make them feel like they are split in two because of our own issues of anger, frustration and/or loss. Not only will that cause our children to experience the same feelings it can open a door to a very upsetting future. Children need both parents in their lives, to provide a foundation of love and support.
Here are a 6 ways to effectively communicate after divorce:
- Focus on Positive Language
How we refer to our child’s parent is essential. The relationship between you and your child’s parent is now a co-parenting relationship, therefore respect one another. Focus on Positive language, and remind others to do the same. Children should only hear sincere positive language regarding their parents do not bad mouth or use name calling. Use the term co-parent, or child’s parent when referring to your former spouse.
- Focus on the Present and the Future
Conversations between separated Moms and Dads about the past easily get heated, stressed and even dangerous. Ideally, you want to get to a point where your communication is calm and actively contributes to a positive future. It is not always about being right or wrong. If you have unresolved issues relating to your past relationship, you must find a way to process these independently from your conversations with your co-parent. Find a good mediator, parenting coordinator, a qualified friend or family member (i.e. they know how to keep you moving forward and are not going to spend time just agreeing with you), or a counselor – whoever it is, work through your feelings about your co-parent in a constructive and forward-focused way in your own time. Besides, the past is over and it is time to move on.
- Focus on the Children’s Wellbeing
Remember regardless of what you think about your child’s other parent; your child loves you both and is full person deserving of having both parents respected. Your child is not your pawn in whatever game you may be angrily playing with your former spouse. Try to encourage a good relationship with their mom or dad after the separation and build up the time your children spend with them in order to a level where everyone’s happy. Initially it may be that the children just want to be in familiar surroundings for the majority of the time. Encourage and equip them to talk about how they feel and be aware not to manipulate or sway their thinking. Asking what they want is a good start, however sometimes they will have to be stretched out of their comfort zone (like they may just have to go and spend the weekend) for the long-term benefit of all their relationships.
- Give Yourself a Time Limit for Conversations
If you find that your tolerance level for being civil to your co-parent is limited, then make sure you only talk in short blocks of time. Practice conversations in under 10 minutes. If you feel yourself start to get anxious, then suggest that ‘we look at this again next week’. If you find you simply cannot communicate without anger and hostility, consult a professional Mediator or Divorce Coach.
- Get Comfortable With Not Finishing
Not all conversations about our children have to be determined right now. Try to plan ahead when negotiating access, holidays, saving for gifts, having your children be at their friend’s, parties, etc. Mention ahead of time that you’d like to take the children on a vacation, or you want to have them visit their Granny on her birthday. This will allow time for both parties to consider the benefits for the children and to consider what a compromise or re-negotiation might look like.
- Be Respectful
Challenging though it might be, talking to your co-parent with respect is the best way to begin to change things for the better. I know how hard this can be – especially in the early days; but it will get easier with practice and determination. You owe it to yourself and to your children and ultimately it will reduce anxiety and increase happiness all round.
How do you want to be remembered by your children? Think long and hard how you are going to communicate with your co-parent, because each and every day as a parent you are giving your child the foundation and example of how they should learn to communicate with others.
Summary: It’s all about the “Golden Rule.” Communicate with your co-parent as you would like that person to communicate with you. This does not mean to retaliate because you are treating them as they have treated you. Rather, be proactive and model for your co-parent they way you would like to be treated.
As I work with individuals that are learning to co-parent after a divorce or separation, I am often approached by parents asking “How do I learn to survive co-parenting with a person that I really do not like and clearly does not like me?” Any one that has been faced with a similar situation knows there is not a simple answer to that question. I personally believe, and many professions would agree, the smartest strategy for cooperative co-parenting is learning how to remove anger, hostility and or vindictiveness from your interactions with your child’s other parent. We all know that is not always easy to do. The benefits you develop will more than make up for the sense of satisfaction or ego gratification you get when you hold on to damaging emotions. This is important for everyone that is involved in the life of the child, including both parents, as well as all spouses, grandparents, friends–the list can go on. Basically, all individuals involved in raising the child have a responsibility to empower the child for success in life.
If you are dedicated on creating a child-centered co-parenting relationship that strives for harmony between you and your co-parent and empowers your child, you need to practice initiating conversation and model win-win solutions. If your co-parent does not want to cooperate, that is when your patience will certainly be tested. Look for moments to clarify why working together as co-parents as often as possible will create far better outcomes for your children. Over time, hopefully, your co-parent will see how much more peaceful the family interactions become when you are not focused on “winning.” If your co-parent is not willing to make this a vital component while co-parenting, the part you play will be significant and noticed as your child becomes an adult. We cannot make people communicate positively, that is a choice, however we can do our best, show a good example to our children to help them be good communicators as he or she finds their place in society. In other words, you can only control your own choices, but how you chose to interact with your child’s other parent will dramatically impact how well you empower your child for future success.
It is most important that everyone involved with the child’s family to remember, respect the child’s parent(s), and for who he or she is in your child’s life. Children have one Mother and one Father. Other individuals can hold a very valuable place in a child’s life as well, even providing a valuable supporting role for the parent, but should never try to take the place of the child’s mother or father.
Social Media can be a wonderful way to keep up with your child and an avenue to communicate with your co-parent if parents are cooperatively working together. However it should never be used as an opportunity to interfere, undermine, or spy on the other parent—rebuilding trust is vital to successfully co-parenting. When individuals use social media as a way to “stalk” the other parent this can be very detrimental to a child. Because social media is not always well thought out, and impulsive, the real truth can be blurred very easily.
There are no magical solutions when a co-parent is out to spite or hurt the other through the child. However, behaving in the same hurtful way is rarely a viable solution. Focus your energies on discussing the well-being of your child in the short–and long–term. Demonstrate patience and determination while containing feelings of anger.
Do not hesitate to consult professional counselors, mediators, parenting coordinators, divorce or parenting coaches, clergy or others who can provide objective guidance on how to restore or create harmony for the sake of your children. These individuals can offer perspectives you had not thought of or wanted to consider which can lead to new options for all concerned. The more open and flexible you are, the better the possibility of turning a difficult situation into a more cooperative one.
Remember, your goal is always what is in the best interest of your children–even when it is not the ideal choice for you. When your children are at peace, everyone wins.
- If possible draw up your own separation agreement before you see an attorney, and attend mediation if you are experiencing difficulty creating an agreement. Remember lawyers are not relationship counselors.
- Organize your divorce so that both of YOU can continue to be parents to your children–EVERYONE deserves that.
- Keep the communication channels open between you and your co-parent. IF things are really tense, treat the situation like a business relationship, make a real effort not to demonize him or her. In a divorce most of the time both parents are hurting and often act out in a way that is strange or destructive because he/she is frightened of losing everything. In terms of behavior remember we get what we put out…if you are petty and uncompromising, that is what you will get back.
- It is time to detach from one another. Learning how to do this can be very difficult, however it can be very beneficial in the long run. The fact is you are no longer married, therefore the relationship is different. You need to forget that you were once were a couple. Your new relationship is now as co-parents. Many individuals continue to fight the same fight after the divorce. The destruction that occurred when you were married and during your divorce needs to be put behind you, and everyone must learn to move forward.
- Seek assistance from a Parenting Coordinator, these professionals are trained to understand and acknowledge what parents are experiencing through and after a divorce. A Parenting Coordinator can be a great asset to help parents work through the difficulties of establishing a new co-parenting relationship through the eyes of a child.
- Keep things amicable and don’t be afraid of letting your children know that you are upset, as long as it is appropriately conveyed. You do not want your children to be traumatized by your distress, but you also do not want them to grow up thinking it is wrong to show their emotions, or that you do not care.
- Make as much time for your children as you can, to make sure they feel loved and so you can pick up on any concerns they have. Too many parents reduce the time they spend with their children after a divorce. Most professionals agree this can immediately cause huge problems. Parents often make assumptions about what is upsetting their children about their divorce and get it very wrong.
- Treat everyone (and I mean EVERYONE in your CHILD’s family-friends and relatives) with consideration and respect, no matter how much you dislike them. Remember that your child almost certainly loves your former spouse, and feels a strong sense of loyalty to him or her (WHATEVER crime you think he/she has committed against you or your family). Never be rude about your former spouse in front of them, however if this has happened or does, immediately you apologize to them right away.
Divorce vs. Death
Why is it when we separate from those we love, whether it is by choice, or not the pain is so significant? One might be in a relationship that is abusive, either physical, verbal, sexual, and/or mental, even those that are very difficult each and every day to live with are painful to separate from. A divorce or a breakup is painful because it represents a significant loss, much like death. The dreams one once shared with another human being are no longer there. When relationships fail, the commitment has been broken and we feel profound disappointment stress and grief. When death occurs there is a sense of no turning back.
Whether one is dealing with separation, divorce or death it brings individuals into new territory. Everything is disrupted: your routine and responsibilities, your home, your relationships with extended family and friends, and even your identity. A separation, divorce and even death bring uncertainty about the future. What will life be like without your partner? Will you find someone else? Will you end up alone? These unknowns often seem worse than an unhappy relationship.
Recovering from these types of situations is often very difficult. However, it’s important to know (and to keep reminding yourself) that you can and will move on. But healing takes time, so be patient with yourself and the process.
- It is ok to have different feelings. It is normal to go through a series of feelings that include sadness, anger, exhaustion, frustration and confusion, all which can be very overwhelming. You may feel anxious about the future. Accepting these reactions is very important and learning to understand what you are going through is normal although at times very frightening.
- Give yourself permission to feel and to function at different level for a period of time. You may not be able to be as productive on the job or care for others exactly the way you are accustomed to for a little while. Give yourself the time to heal and re-energize. For those of you that have children or loved ones to care for, remember in order to effectively care for others, we must learn to take care of ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually, so take time for You!
- Do not feel like you must go through this alone. Sharing your feelings with friends and family can help you get through this period. Consider contacting a life coach or joining a support group where you can talk to others in similar situations. Separating yourself from individuals that are supportive can raise your stress levels, reduce your concentration, and get in the way of your work, relationships, and overall health.
- While your friends and family are essential for support, it is very important to select your confidant carefully as many individuals even though are supportive may actually make matters worse or lead you down the wrong path by fueling feelings of anger or rage that are unhealthy or share information that only hurts. Choosing a divorce or a life coach can be a healthier and stable choice.