With a divorce rate that hovers around 50% and half of the pregnancies in the United States being unplanned, many parents have to learn how to actively parent with someone else with whom they are no longer involved in a romantic relationship. A good co-parenting relationship can make your children feel more secure, ensure that your children’s needs are met and positively impact their emotional well-being.
While you may recognize all of these benefits, it can still be hard to work together with someone you don’t agree with or who mistreated you. Although this can be a challenging experience, you and your children will be better off if you can make your co-parenting relationship more positive and improve communication with the other parent. The potential benefits of achieving these goals can be tremendous and life-altering.
Get Help for the Emotional Issues
Few people leave a marriage or long-term relationship completely unscathed. Your spouse may have cheated on you, or your boyfriend may have refused to take your relationship seriously. Your girlfriend might have shut you out of your child’s life and has a new boyfriend who takes over daddy duty.
These situations can cause you to suffer resentment, anger, jealousy, bitterness or other negative emotions. These can be difficult emotions to work through, especially if you have to constantly be around the source of these negative emotions. They may be triggered during drop-offs or conversations with your ex.
However, having a successful co-parenting relationship requires that you put your own emotions behind the emotional needs of your children. This often is not easy to do, so you may need help processing these feelings in an appropriate forum, such as meeting with a therapist or talking to a trusted friend. By not dealing with these feelings, it is likely that these negative emotions will affect the communication you and your ex have.
Commit to Open Dialogue
Effective communication is the key to most successful relationships. Commit to having an open dialogue with your ex. Constant communication can help avoid confusion or surprises. Today, you have many methods of communication. Talk to your ex about the best way to share information. Some options include:
- Face-to-face meetings
- Co-parenting websites where you can upload schedules and share information
By making this commitment early on in your co-parenting relationship, you can avoid some common pitfalls that occur during the co-parenting relationship.
Make Important Decisions Together
Many co-parenting plans require parents to try to make decisions together, even if one of the parents has the final decision-making authority. It is important that you do not just give this concept lip service. Making important decisions as a team can help you lay the foundation toward the future of your co-parenting relationship. Some decisions to make together include:
- Medical decisions – If your child will require an important treatment, has a medical appointment or has factors that need to be considered in order to make treatment decisions, communicate this information with the other parent.
- Educational decisions – Work with the other parent regarding the selection of school or daycare. Both parents should have a strong understanding about class schedules, educational progress and parental expectations regarding assisting the children with academic work. Both parents should have access to grades and other information about the child’s school.
- Extracurricular activities – You and your ex may have different opinions about what type of extracurricular activities will benefit your child. Talk to each other respectfully and also get your child’s input to make good decisions about how your child will spend recreational time. Work through any interferences with the parenting schedule when making these decisions. Be kind to each other at sporting events and other shared activities.
- Financial issues – One of the most common things that people argue about is money. This issue can be even more contentious when confronted by people who no longer live in the same household and may have different values when it comes to money. However, parents can establish a budget together and discuss financial needs in an objective manner.
Strategically Problem Solve
One effective form of communication is strategic problem-solving. This form of communication involves the exchange of information about needs and priorities, building upon shared concerns and searching for solutions together. Parents focus on a solution to a problem instead of having an emotional reaction to it or believing the other parent is the problem.
When parents act consistently, there may be less need to actually communicate on some of these matters. Even better, children thrive on having routine and structure as part of their daily life. It is important that children are able to have a sense of predictability. Having consistency also helps children avoid confusion.
Some important topics for parents to be consistent on include:
- Rules – Children benefit when the parents have the same basic set of rules and expectations in both households. Chores, homework, curfews and prohibited activities are a few areas that parents can communicate about to make a consistent routine.
- Schedules – Children, especially young children, benefit when they have structured time and routines involving meal time, bedtime, homework time and other times during the day. These events should follow the same basic structure.
- Discipline – Co-parents should avoid having one parent be the permissive parent and the other parent the disciplinarian. Setting up this type of system actually sets your children up for resentment and hostility in the future. Also, parents should have the same basic types of consequences for breaking the rules. Children benefit the most with a united front.
Parents should strive to look for other areas where they have agreement to provide greater consistency.
Make Transitions Smoother
Picking up or dropping off your children can create triggers and derail your communication plan. It can also create insecurity with your child as he or she leaves to go spend time with the other parent. It is important to try to stay positive when your children are about to leave to see their other parent. Provide a matter-of-fact reminder to your children so that they will be prepared when the day arrives.
Have everything ready for your child and arrive to the drop-off location on time. You may want to have doubles of favorite items so that you don’t have to pack as much each time and children will feel more secure. Parents should also keep things low-key and avoid lingering too long when dropping off the child.
Don’t Put Your Child in the Middle
One of the worst ways to affect your relationship with the other parent is to put your child in the middle. This can also cause substantial harm to your children. Avoid using your kids as messengers. There are more effective ways to communicate (see above) that are less likely to cause mistakes in translation.
Do not say negative things about your ex or allow anyone else to when your child is around. Remember that no matter how you feel about your ex, that person is still your child’s parent.
Incorporate Effective Communication Tactics
After limiting what you and the ex need to talk about, it is important that you know how to approach those conversations that are truly necessary. Use effective communication tactics during these exchanges, such as:
- Ask questions – Asking your ex’s opinion can improve communication because it shows that you are interested in the other parent’s point of view.
- Actively listen – Actively listening ensures that you hear the important information so that you can form a knowledgeable response.
- Repeat – Show the other parent that you are listening by repeating back what they said or reframing it.
- Show empathy – If you know that the other parent may not be receptive to the information that you deliver, demonstrate empathy by explaining that you are aware of how they might feel. This can help soften them before learning the unwanted information.
- Request feedback – Asking how the other person feels about what you said or their opinion on the matter can help them open up about their feelings.
- Use open-ended questions – Open-ended questions avoid mono-syllabic responses and make the other person think and communicate. They also show that you are interested in the other person’s point of view, so they can be a powerful communication tool.
- Act professional – Sometimes people may struggle with having a positive relationship with a co-parent due to unhealthy dynamics in the relationship. Reframing your relationship so that you treat your ex like a colleague or a client may help you act in a more respectful manner.
- Offer a sincere apology – If you did something wrong that you think warrants an apology, offer a genuine one. This communication tactic can sometimes stop an argument in its tracks.
These strategies can help you more clearly communicate and gather important information without confrontation.
Seek Help from a Professional
No one ever claimed co-parenting is easy. You may realize that you need some additional help from a professional who is trained in effective communication methods. Family law mediators understand unique family dynamics and can help bridge communication gaps between parents.