Communicating with a co-parent can be challenging in even the best of circumstances. Further complicating this are circumstances such as co-parents who dislike one another, communication style differences, or co-parents who are differently abled. Aside from the foundational communication components, these co-parent communication tactics can be used to alleviate co-parent communication pain points.
General Communication Reset
If communication has been a challenge, going back to basics and setting boundaries and rules of engagement can be helpful. First determine what your pain points are and try to think of solutions that would work for you. Once you have that nailed down, sit down with your co-parent and talk through it.
The following ideas are things that have worked for me in challenging communication situations. Whether you choose to adopt some of these or come up with your own ideas, it’s important to work out with your co-parent how it will work. If you are not both on the same page, it’s all the more challenging.
When you communicate your needs to your co-parent, they might object. Consider asking them for ideas or coming up with compromises that work for both of you.
Neither Co-Parent is ‘On-Call’
Children sometimes must be available to the other parent at certain times or maybe even always. However, it is not a requirement of any parenting arrangement that both parents must be always available to each other. The constant pressure of always being available to the other parent can be exhausting.
Short of child related emergencies, both parents deserve some space. Coming up with reasonable boundaries for co-parent communication can be helpful in easing frustration.
Determine what qualifies as ‘Urgent’
Believe it or not, not everyone has the same idea of what urgent means, in context with co-parenting. This doesn’t mean they are dumb or are being obtuse. It just might mean that in their worldview, different things are urgent.
If your challenge is that you are getting ‘urgent’ phone calls that aren’t urgent, resetting this expectation might fix it. Have a conversation with your co-parent about what constitutes ‘urgent’ and come to an agreement.
Set Meeting Times
The set meeting time approach is great for people who need time to process things or for people who have an anxious attachment style. It’s good for co-parent pairs that have a mismatch in organizational styles. It is also just generally helpful for busy people.
One approach to these challenges might be to schedule regular times to meet to talk through anything that has come up since the last chat. These might be monthly, bi-weekly or even weekly, in hectic times. Each person keeps a list of anything they need to talk about and when the scheduled time comes around, you talk through them. If neither parent has anything to talk about, you skip the meeting.
This approach ensures that both co-parents know that they will have their co-parent’s ear for the things that they feel are important to them. It also gives both parents a predictable schedule that they know they need to be prepared for.
Communicate in Writing
One common co-parenting communications challenge is a mismatch in communication that turns into arguments over he-said she-said. Another common challenge in co-parent communication is mistrust between co-parents.
For long distance parents, these sorts of disagreements can put access to and time with their child at risk. Additionally, when it comes time for a court hearing, without a written record, sometimes it’s hard to accurately reconstruct the current state or what lead us here.
Written communication not only creates an ongoing record of who said what but also gives both parties the ability to control when and how they address the communication. This creates the space that both co-parents need to make the best decisions and communicate as clearly as possible.
Written communication can be via email or through a co-parenting web portal. Some court systems have a preferred web portal that their judicial system can access.
Communicate via text message instead of phone calls
Text messages offer a kind of in between. They can be more real-time than emails but not as real-time as phone calls and still offer the security of a conversation log, while allowing the recipient to create the space they need in replying.
If you are having set regular meetings (above), an expectation can be set that text messages will be discussed during that time unless they are urgent.
Text to speech and Speech to text
When one or the other co-parent doesn’t process written information well, one option might be text to speech. There are phone and computer apps that can read text messages and emails aloud. Conversely, if you are a person that finds speaking easier than writing, phones and computers have tools and apps that allow you to speak and have that speech translated into text.
Additionally, there are apps that, and many phone services offer the ability to, dictate voice mail messages into text. So if one co-parent prefers to call and the other to text, allowing the call to go to voice mail and reading the resulting voice mail via text is an option.
A way of communicating by which both people feel heard and understood and no one feels triggered sounds fantastic, right? It is, and its possible to learn. Better, it works even if only one of the co-parents knows how to do it.
If communication has been historically difficult or combative, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships by Marshall B. Rosenberg might be just the thing.
It’s one of those things that is easy to pick up and takes a while to master – but if you learn the basics and then practice consistently, you’ll notice communication getting easier. Even doing it sort of well will give you way better results than continuing to hit your head up against the same walls.
My experience is that internalizing this style of communicating almost immediately diffuses kneejerk emotional responses. It focuses the conversation on the true underlying needs of the people involved, which are often the unexpressed things that cause anger. When both people are getting their needs met and feel heard in a conversation, it’s hard to leave the conversation feeling resentful.
Communication between co-parents about children and their care is vital. There can be a very fine line between managing communication in a healthy way and being obstructionist by ignoring communication. The former is necessary and the latter should never happen. It is important that co-parents are able to communicate about their kids.
However, there are cases in which limiting how and when you read communication from a co-parent is healthy. Sometimes, an agreement is made to communicate in a certain way – say via web portal or only during set times and one co-parent or the other is consistently going around that. Communication may even be abusive or toxic. In many cases, a person just needs to be able to tackle each communication at the time and in the mindset that is most conducive to being able to address it properly.
If your co-parent is not willing or able to adhere to agreed upon boundaries, you may need to meter the conversation yourself. This may look like filtering messages into a place that you can read all at once when you are prepared to address them. It might look like adjusting notifications or simply doing an internal reset so that you don’t feel like you HAVE to address messages right away.
Keep Your Eye on the Long Game
Although sometimes it’s tempting to just throw your hands up and say “I tried, this is on them”, that won’t lead to better cooperation, and instead will lead to more resentment. That resentment will unfold later in the way of less cooperation from the other side.
As a long distance parent, we are at a disadvantage if the custodial co-parent decides not to engage, so although it feels unfair, often we are the one that needs to lead by example, so that we retain regular connection with our child.