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.
When parents determine they can no longer live together due to problems, one or both make the decision to divorce or separate. This can be very challenging and frustrating because for one reason or another the parents cannot seem to be able to communicate.
Separated parents may take issue with each other if there are any differences in parenting style, expectations or structure. It is important for parents to establish some guidelines in areas of concern for their child, to prevent conflict, but with the understanding neither parent has the right to micromanage the other –This is what creates conflict. Areas that are often a concern between two home are bedtimes, curfews, social media, cell phones, discipline just to name a few.
Consistency in parenting styles, expectations and structure are helpful for children, but they are not strictly required. Even among families that are living together, there are often remarkable differences between the parents, yet the children are not harmed by the experience. Other evidence that children are not necessarily harmed by differences in style, expectations or structure comes by looking at the normal course of children’s lives in areas other than home life.
Over the course of life, especially in today’s world, a child will be subject to the care of alternate care providers, school teachers, baby sitters, daycares, coaches and instructors. A child learns to differentiate the styles, expectations and structures placed by all these different people and situations and thrive. Children learn to run during soccer, yet walk on the deck at the swimming pool. Whereas in one class he or she may be required to sit quietly, in another they may be allowed to ask questions directly of the teacher. Therefore, different teachers will impose a variety of expectations and children learn to differentiate between them and manage accordingly.
As parental differences become known, some parents may seek to use these differences as cause for limiting the other parent’s relationship, influence or time with the child or may seek to impose their style, expectations and structure, or way of doing things on the other parent. At times, one parent may inappropriately speak ill of the other parent to their child in regards to the differences, which is very unsuitable and does not teach a child anything positive.
Parents need to appreciate they can have different styles, expectations and structure, as does virtually every teacher have their own way of managing a classroom. As long as a parent’s behavior is not unruly or abusive and the child progresses developmentally appropriately. Different parental styles, expectations and structure can actually benefit the child as the child learns to adapt and manage a variety of situations.
With regard to child development, it is usually not parental differences that is harmful to children, but rather conflict between parents over their differences. Children can adapt to their parents’ differences but being drawn into their conflict is distressing and distracting.
Parents who are distressed over their differences are advised to determine if the differences are truly significant, or just annoying to themselves before raising objections. He or she should ask themselves a question “Is your concern child-focused or self-focused?”
If the child is distressed by parental differences and brings issue from one parent to the other, it can be advisable to redirect the child back to the other parent to discuss the issue directly, and not put yourself in the middle. In this process, the child will learn to communicate his or her concerns directly and the parents maintain a more appropriate boundary between themselves. This is in much the same way as one teacher wouldn’t take on the issues of another teacher, but would redirect the student to deal directly with the other teacher.
Given the opportunity most parents appreciate being able to manage their own relationship with their children without intrusion. If one parent looks unreasonable, it may be that they are just annoyed for having their style, expectations and structure dictated by the other parent.
Parents are advised to be certain parental differences are truly problematic, before discussing the issue with the other parent, do not assume anything. If difficulties continue, seek professional guidance from a life coach, a parenting coordinator or someone that has experience working with individuals raising a child in two separate homes, he or she can guide you through the process, help you identify what your concerns are and assist you in creating a plan to help alleviate the stress you are experiencing.
Kimberly S. Rogge-Rogers, is a Certified Divorce Coach and Parenting Coordinator. She specializes in Divorce mediation and Child-Centered Parenting Coordination for more information please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.