10 Ways To Achieve Good Co-Parenting Communication
The Angry Email
I’m so fed up with your crap! Once again, you failed to make sure Johnny’s winter jacket was returned. As you well know since you love following the weather, it was absolutely nasty today, cold and rainy. I imagine if you were here, you would have had a coat to wear when you went outside. Johnny didn’t. It was a lot of fun to explain to Johnny how his DAD screwed up and why he’d have to go to school with just a sweatshirt. This is the second time this has happened, and you’ve also not bothered returning other clothing. I shouldn’t be surprised, nothing ever changes, you’re just as unreliable as ever, and so wrapped up in your new marriage you can’t even bother to care for your CHILD!!! Consider yourself on warning that should this EVER happen again, I will be purchasing another winter jacket and I will charge YOU for it. And I expect that you will bring Johnny’s coat to my house as soon as you get back from your trip. It’s the least you could do. And you’d better hope the weather gets better.
The email above is based on a real-life example of an email one of my co-parenting coaching clients received (while he was on his honeymoon, in another country, no joke). He elected to not send a reply to further enflame the situation and later came to me for advice on how to handle situations like this in the future.
I’m sure you could guess there are issues beyond communication with Tammy and John. Review of other emails showed a trend of Tammy making similar demands, while admitting to belittling John to Johnny, and more. And John was having his share of mess-ups too (like forgetting clothing exchanges at parenting time transitions). But sticking to the topic at hand, we discussed that getting Tammy to change her communication style would be a tough task. The best he could do was not lower himself to her level, and to model what he would like to see in their communication exchanges. Here’s what we discussed:
How to Craft a Rational Co-Parenting Communication:
1. Stick to written communication whenever possible.
Written communication instills greater accountability and provides a record of the discussion. With this in mind, you should consider that what’s written could be used as evidence in a case and made part of a public case file.
2. Don’t send a communication without carefully thinking it through.
If you’ve drafted a heated email or have received one, wait 24 hours before hitting “send” or “reply” and get control of your emotions; and then make adjustments as needed.
3. Keep communications brief and to the point.
If you can’t say what you need to say in a concise manner (around 5 sentences or so), stop and think about what it is you’re trying to communicate. High emotions tend to make ramblers out of even the most articulate of folks. If the message is truly complex, consider making a phone call (and then following up with an email to recap the discussion).
4. Watch for heavy use of descriptive words, and capital letters or other forms of emphasis.
If you find a lot of adjectives, adverbs, underlining, excess exclamation points, or bold font in your communication, it’s another sign of high emotion. Review your message and take out the unnecessary descriptive terms and emphasis.
5. Treat communication with your co-parent as you would communication with a business associate.
Your relationship is much like a business, requiring information exchange to keep the business of co-parenting running with minimal issues. Stay information-based and child(ren)-centered.
6. Get rid of speculation or assumptions of negative intent.
Admittedly, this is a tough one for most. It’s hard not to assume negative intent from someone with whom you may have consistent conflict. Best to set those speculative thoughts aside.
7. Stay focused on the present and the future.
If you are dredging up old arguments or issues, it’s time to bury the proverbial hatchet. Talk to a friend or counselor about old hurts if they keep coming up.
8. Do not use profanity, insults, or inflammatory comments.
Seriously, just don’t go there. Even if you’ve received communications of this nature, do not reply in kind.
9. Be reasonable about deadlines or due dates for a response or action from the other parent.
You’re not likely to get a favorable response to a request if you demand an immediate reply. On the other side, if you’ve been given a reasonable due date, don’t withhold a response or avoid action out of spite. Doing so only serves to aggravate the situation further.
10. Remember that communication is a two-way street.
If you need additional information or clarification, ask for it. If you can accept that neither you nor your co-parent are perfect communicators, then you’ll likely be frustrated less often.
The Rational Email
As an exercise, John re-wrote Tammy’s email in the fashion he would have written it, if he’d been in Tammy’s position. Here’s what he came up with:
I didn’t get Johnny’s winter coat at the last exchange, and totally forgot to check for it when you were dropping him off. The weather was bad today, so he was a little uncomfortable with just a sweatshirt to wear to school. Since you’re traveling and it seems to be a challenge exchanging his coat each time, I’m planning to buy another coat for Johnny and hope you’ll share the cost with me. I think it will be easier with us each having a coat at our homes. When you’re able, let me know your thoughts.