Communication will be the hardest thing you have to do as a co-parent. Let’s face it, if you and your co-parent were both great communicators, your relationship might not have broken down. OK, so you might be in the top five percentile of relationships that broke down and are still best friends, but you wouldn’t be reading this article if you were, as communication wouldn’t be an issue!
Before we share our top co-parenting tips for communicating about the kids, let’s accept three facts.
You don’t like your co-parent. Severity can range from mild dislike to extreme dislike but in all cases, it will cloud how well you communicate.
You will prefer to communicate digitally compared to over the phone or face-to-face. Primarily it’s so you can control when you communicate and have everything documented for future reference. Secondly, it reduces the chance of emotions getting in the way.
Emailing and messaging will take longer to communicate than in person. Imagine only being able to communicate with work colleagues in a meeting via text messages or emails. It would be infuriating, as trying to explain something clearly and without using other visual cues can lead to multiple misunderstandings.
Based on these facts, you have to accept some leeway in your co-parenting communication.
Here are Divvito’s top co-parenting tips for communicating about the kids. To make it easier to understand, we’re going to relate it to a game of football. To play the game, you need four things – two teams, rules, referees and a place to play. Without these, there is no game.
1. Pick your team
You have a choice. One will see you succeed at co-parenting, the other will see you fail.
Opposing teams – You and your co-parent are the teams, opposing each other and prepared to do anything to win. Your children are the ball, tossed in every direction and at the centre of every tackle.
Same team – You and your co-parent are on the same team, with the opposing team being life in general. Your sole focus is to win against all the challenges life throws at you and you’ll pass the ball (your children) to each other with care and precision, protecting it from the big hits and possible intercepts. You’re a team prepared to do anything to win for your kids. Sometimes you don’t agree with your team member, but you’re both prepared to compromise if it means you can get the ball (your kids) over the winning line.
So, which team are you on? Please be on the same team!
2. Confirm the rules
Can you play a game of football with no rules? No! If you asked football players to come up with the rules as they go along, there would be chaos! It’s no different with co-parenting communication. Since you’re on the same team, think of these as the rules enforced by your coach. If you break the team rules on a football team, how long do you think you’d be on the team? No different to your co-parenting team. So let’s set some communication rules.
Our communication will be courteous and respectful. We will not take cheap jabs at each other and if we believe a message is inappropriate, we will not react but return to the facts at hand and ask for clarification.
We will not discuss issues in front of our children relating to the separation. We will only talk when they are not in our presence (and not just out of ear’s reach). If discussions get heated, we agree to take a break and digitally communicate our questions, concerns and requests instead.
We will not discuss our separation with friends or family in front of our children. If we are asked a question while they are in our presence, we agree to say, ’It’s moving along and our priority is the children’.
While transitioning to two homes, we will share current details with each other relating to their care, i.e. food likes/dislikes, extra-curricular activities, medications, routines and current interests.
If we can't make a decision about any changes in care of our children, we will ask our referees to assist.
We will communicate with each other any new child-related care requirements, events or activities prior to the changeover of children.
If we have questions or requests for our co-parent, we will accept a fair timeframe for the response. Suitable response times:
– For 1-2 day request: 4 hours
– For same week request: 1 day
– For request 2 weeks away or more: 3 days
We will not pass messages to each other via our children. We will use tools like Divvito Messenger to communicate and collaborate around their shared care.
If the children's school or extra-curricular organisations fail to include both of us in all communication about the children, we will pass it on to our co-parent and remind the organisation to include our co-parent so they aren't missing out.
If you want to expand your rules to all aspects of co-parenting, check out Divvito’s Parenting Guidelines Plan.
3. Select your referees
There will be constant requirements to make changes to your parenting arrangements, whether small or large, and sometimes you will want to challenge co-parenting, so you need a referee. That referee could be a professional, like a mediator, but that can be expensive. The other option is one referee you mutually have agreed on, like an older family acquaintance you both respect, or two referees, one representing both of you. The referees have to be impartial, not emotionally biased and know they are there to represent the children’s interests. You might have different referees depending on the importance of the decision that has to be made, such as:
Minor differences of opinion
If it’s a minor thing that needs to be decided but you both have differing opinions, i.e. you want to buy black sneakers and your co-parent wants to buy white, then flip a coin. Accept its fate!
Major differences of opinion
These usually relate to differences in parenting style or change to care arrangements.
Parenting style – If your co-parent has raised something about your parenting style that you don’t agree with, or vise versa, first determine if that concern is based on fact not opinion. Respond by advising that you accept they have a different parenting style and share with them the facts behind your decision, or ask them to share the facts behind their concern. Here is an example around diet.
Your co-parent raises a concern about what you’re feeding the kids. if you think giving your kids soft drink, juice or cordial several times a week is ok, or feeding them sugared cereals daily, or dining out on junk food several times a week, then find a scientific article or government guidelines that backs up your reasoning. You won’t find any. You can do whatever you like while on your own, but when you have your children, you have a responsibility to nourish them correctly. Instead of getting upset at your co-parent for raising this (and taking it personally), google ‘healthy quick meals to feed the family’ or ‘healthy lunchbox treats’ and use a weekend you don’t have the kids to make some meals/treats in advance and place them in the freezer.
Alternatively, if you’re asking your co-parent never to feed your kids a treat occasionally, that’s not based on fact, that’s your own belief. Again, look on government websites on healthy eating (not media websites or blogs) for the actual facts of a balanced lifestyle. It’s ok to have treats!
Change of care – If you or your co-parent has asked for a change in care, a change to medical services, education or extra-curricular activities, make sure you cover four considerations:
Benefits to the kids
Potential impact to your coparent and how you are amiable to help alleviate impact
Costs and if you are prepared to cover more if it’s something you initiate (ie not school etc)
Sufficient time for their consideration
Accept that it is a big decision and that you’d be keen to bring in your referee if they’re needed. For the co-parent on the receiving end of the request. just make sure you’re not disagreeing for the sake of not allowing your co-parent to have ‘a win’!
4. Determine where to play
Determine from the outset what medium you will use to communicate. You can choose instant messaging and emails or use alternate tools like Divvito Messenger that have been designed specifically for co-parenting communication.
If you need examples of messages, read Four Rules for Keeping Communication on Track.
This is not going to be easy, but the reward for getting it right will be worth it! Just think, when your kids are asked when they’re older, ‘how were your parents at co-parenting’, ensure their answer is ‘AWESOME!!!!’
Do you have other suggestions for communicating about the kids? Email the Divvito team so they can update this article.