Yes, You’re Stuck With Your Co-Parent.
Representing divorcing parents steeped in conflict reminds me of a line from the Eagles’ song, Hotel California: “you can check out any time you like but you can never leave.” After the adult relationship ends, parents remain bound to each other forever, through the joys of parenthood like graduations, weddings and perhaps grandchildren, as well as heartache, because sometimes life is unkind. Navigation through the choppy waters of co-parenting is filled with challenges. Charged emotions from the adult relationship inhibits positive co-parenting communication. Finalizing legal documents doesn’t automatically transform the relationship to one devoid of conflict.
For children to emerge healthily from their parents’ divorce, parents must learn to shift into the “business of co-parenting” and assume their role as co-CEOs of their new business, “Their Child, Inc.” For a business to be profitable, all departments must operate at the highest level of efficiency. That means sharing information in a healthy and productive way. Imagine a child with a chronic medical condition, like diabetes. Hurling insults at the other parent will not solve the problem of ensuring that the child receives the best medical care in both homes. It is vital to address how medical supplies will be allocated between homes. How will the child’s blood sugar information be shared with the other parent? Since most children transition between homes, parents should be aware of what is going on with their child when the child is in the care of the other parent.
Shifting to all business is not an easy task. Begin with an understanding of your contribution to the ongoing conflict. Remember who your audience is: your co-parent. The very same person you are divorcing. If the “old way” of communicating with your co-parent wasn’t working before, you may need to choose different language so that your co-parent can hear your concerns. Expecting immediate results is unrealistic. This work takes time and practice.
Below are some skills to assist parents with improving communication:
- Set aside sufficient time to have a discussion with your co-parent when your child is not present.
- Separate your disagreement about a present issue from your history with your co-parent.
- Be open to understanding that your co-parent has a different perspective, which may not be wrong, just different than yours.
- Move away from positions. Positions aren’t negotiable. They are like a line drawn in the sand: you either stand in front of it or behind it. Rather, invite creativity of options into your discussion to solve the problem.
- If you find that your conversation is spiraling out of control, you and your co- parent should establish a “buzzword” that either of you can announce during your conversation to signal that you need to politely end the conversation and start again when both of you are more calm.
- Use a shared calendar to keep track of child related scheduling.
When you speak with your co-parent, set an agenda for your discussion, whether you meet face-to-face in a coffee shop, speak over the phone or through email. Invite dialogue with phrases like “Help me understand…” not questions like “Are you crazy? What the heck are you talking about?” Ask questions that begin with What and How? Do not eye roll. You are not teenagers. Model good behavior. Your co-parent will notice, and your child will benefit from your example of positive problem solving.