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.
- 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.
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.