Communication with your co-parent
Things may not always go smoothly when co-parenting. It helps to be clear about what your most important goals are for the future. Here are two that you might want to consider:
- To commit to supporting your children in having a free and uncomplicated relationship with the other parent.
- To keep whatever feelings you have about each other separate from your co-parenting relationship.
These principles can serve as foundations for everything you do as co-parents. You may want to personalise them and add your own details or use our free online parenting plan template to agree on some shared commitments.
Parents’ communication post-separation
Having blocks of time when you do not see your children means both of you will miss out on some of the things your children are doing. It’s important to remember that children notice if one parent isn’t aware of things that are important to them – things like a school project, a lost toy or a fall from a bike. It’s not realistic to expect to have a full report of everything that happens to the children, but you should try to aim for regular updates to keep everyone involved. When you are co-parenting, communication has to become a more deliberate and thoughtful exercise than it was before.
It’s important for both parents to be a vital link between the children’s day-to-day life and their other parent. The more you pass on, the easier the transition will be for the children going between the two homes. It’s up to you to take an active interest in all aspects of the children’s lives. Don’t leave it all to your co-parent to keep you updated with the children’s news – ask how they are getting on, what they’ve been up to, and when the next parent’s evening is.
Children feel secure and cared for when parents communicate clearly. Don’t leave it to the children to pass on their news and never ask children to communicate with their other parent on your behalf.
You might find it impossible to imagine talking frequently and easily with your co-parent about the children. Some parents fall into conversation quite easily after separation but, for others, it can take years to feel OK. Take small steps and accept that it might take some time to get it right.
Tips: communicating with your co-parent
As a separated parent, one of your biggest challenges will be to put aside your feelings about your co-parent to focus on your child.
This is not an easy thing to do. It can take a long time to adjust to the end of a relationship. When you have children together, you’ll need to renegotiate the terms of your relationship entirely. You’re no longer partners, but you will still need to work together to raise the children.
Although your conversations may be focused more on practicalities, it’s still important to share the positives of being parents. Look for opportunities to talk about your children’s successes and try to appreciate what their other parent does for them – staying positive can help you keep the dialogue open.
If your co-parent is making communication difficult it is easy for bad feelings and behaviour to escalate. While you may not be able to control your co-parent’s behaviour, you do have power over your own, and can at least try to be a positive influence. Your co-parent may just be going through a tough patch. Keep sticking to your goal of focusing on the children’s needs and stay patient, and you’ll stand a better chance of getting through it without doing too much damage to your co-parenting relationship.
Try to agree to keep the co-parenting conversations separate from all other discussions, for example, about the house or money. These are important issues so you will need to make sure they are being dealt with somewhere else.
If face-to-face conversation is too hard, you might find using text or email easier. Just bear in mind that tone of voice and body language can affect how people respond to communication. The absence of these cues means that messages can be misinterpreted, so pay attention to how you phrase things, and give your ex the benefit of the doubt.
If you need to raise something difficult, let the other parent know you would like to talk and then agree a convenient time and place. Set an agenda so there are no surprises and you can both be prepared. Agreeing to meet in a public place can ensure you both behave civilly, and it also takes you out of the children’s environment.
To keep your communication at its most effective, consider having regular meetings to review:
- The children’s successes and achievements.
- Parenting time arrangements.
- Special events.
- Health, education and general welfare.
- Discipline and boundaries.
Why it’s worth the effort
If you don’t find a way of communicating with your ex that works for you both, it’s going to be hard on everyone – the children will miss out and you could end up dreading every conversation with your child’s other parent. Children’s needs change as they grow older; your life will change too – it’s important that you can sit down together and talk about how these changes will affect you. You might find it helpful to complete a Parenting Plan together. Keeping the dialogue open and developing some good will makes the difficult conversations that much easier. Mediation could be helpful in developing a dialogue.
Tips: arguing with your co-parent
When parents separate, exposure of children to rows and disagreements can cause them a lot of emotional harm. Developing a way of working out disagreements can protect your children and keep your stress levels to a minimum.
Disagreements are a part of life
Parents often have different views about what’s best for their children, even when they are together. When you’ve separated, these disagreements can easily get blown out of proportion. Ask yourself how important the disagreement is. Often, the best way to deal with a difference is to look for a compromise or even just to let it go.
When dealing with the more important issues, arrange a time and place where you can talk properly and where the children won’t overhear. Emphasise your desire to work it out and do what’s best for the children and work to understand each other. Don’t try to win the argument, and don’t make assumptions about the other parent’s needs and motives. Ask questions and check the facts.
Language and behaviour
Be respectful. Avoid insults and blame, and don’t get drawn into the past. Focus on the future and what you can do to improve things. Keep reminding yourself that this is about the children, and that the best thing you can do is work together to sort things out.
If you’re struggling to communicate with your ex-partner, you may find mediation helpful. Mediators are skilled at helping parents resolve disagreements. They may help you see things differently, so that you can reach an agreement.