Good Communication Is The Key To Effective Co-Parenting
Communication is very important. It’s reasonable for parents to use communication to set boundaries regarding how they deal with each other. When it comes to the child, the reasonableness of setting boundaries is dependent upon the topic. For instance, what religion the child is taught is much different than what the child eats for breakfast.
That said, inconsistency can be really hard on a child; when parents ensure a greater level of consistency, it can help the child feel secure. To foster a sense of consistency and security, it’s important for co-parents to live in the same school district, as this not only allows for each parent to attend school functions, but helps the court establish a parenting plan whereby each parent is equally involved in the children’s lives. Furthermore, this can allow children to establish and maintain one set of friends, rather than having a split group of friends depending on each parent’s schedule.
It is difficult when parents don’t agree, but there are certain issues that one parent will just have to let go of. If parents were granted joint legal custody, then each parent will have to accept that they cannot dictate everything in their child’s life, because the other parent will have just as much a role in the child’s life.
Some decisions will be beyond a parent’s reach, and unreasonable to try to control. If a parent can’t be around their child all day to enforce small rules and boundaries, yet they want to get hung up on them, that would be unreasonable. It’s important for parents to understand that even if they believe strongly about something, they will not be with their child all day every day, and both the child and the other parents will be making their own decisions.
There are certain lessons that parents will need to teach children regarding setting boundaries, loving themselves, and making good choices. Parents simply can’t be with their child every moment of every day, and that’s actually necessary in order for children to grow up and learn how to interact with this world.
To be clear, it is okay for parents to not agree on certain issues, but they need to discuss them (preferably, such conversations will be had while not in the presence of the child). It’s not healthy for parents to ruminate over smaller disagreements that the court will not weigh in on.
The bottom line is this: it’s very important for parents to keep the lines of communication open with each other, especially if it is about the child’s well-being. For example, if the child is non-verbal or has special needs, or if one sibling is beating up another, both parents should be aware of this and come to an agreement about what the child needs.
As an example I dealt with years ago, a client whose teenage daughter stole her credit card and bought an iPod and several other items; if asked, she would lie by telling the other parent that the items were gifts. When it comes to teenagers, it’s especially important for parents to maintain open communication and keep the rules at each house as consistent as possible.
Modes Of Communication
Understandably, some couples have a difficult time communicating via the phone, whether because it is just ineffective or leads to misunderstandings and intense emotions. This can be mitigated by having a plan for communication. For instance, parents could agree to allow the child to contact the other parent via a landline or Wi-Fi, and to reserve direct communication between the parents for emergencies only.
Email can also be a very good tool for communication between parents, especially in the event that one parent’s phone dies, and the other parent does not know why they cannot reach them.In Minnesota, there is a special email tool called Our Family Wizard, which disallows either parent from deleting past messages. This is helpful in the case of litigation, where the court needs to rely on an accurate record of communication between the parties. Using this tool, each parent has the obligation to reply within 24 hours. In essence, it is an email tool with a built-in referee. Email is always a good tool, especially with regards to things like school activities or other topics to which the parents want to be able to refer.
Alternatively, parents could use a notebook to write down day-to-day observations, such as that the child is sad because of a recent argument with a friend. This is a good way for parents to discuss details related to the schedule each of them is trying to maintain with their child, and a good way to build trust. If the child has a babysitter, it may even be helpful to have the babysitter add details to the notebook so that everyone is on the same page.
Furthermore, the simple act of writing in a notebook as opposed to texting or talking on the phone will encourage the parents to think more carefully about what they are trying to convey to the other parent, as well as create a record that both parents can refer to at any time. Human memory certainly isn’t perfect, and having a written record of communication allows parents to reread whatever was said at any time.
If one parent wants to change a past agreement, they should discuss it—not just change it without talking to the other parent. Everyone’s life changes over the years, but if one party decides to completely change everything and leave many things out, it won’t likely result in a good outcome for the other parent or the child.
Communication is the foundation of a consistent support system for the child. In the absence of communication between parents, the parent who has the child with them for the least amount of time will be unaware of what’s going on in the day-to-day life of the child. This can create a sense of chaos for the child, rather than a sense of stability, support, and love from both parents.
Friendship Isn’t Necessary
Parents do not necessarily have to be friends with each other in order to provide stability in the co-parenting relationship, but the parents should have a baseline level of respect for one another, even if their viewpoints differ on a lot of issues.
In traditional situations, most parents at one point cared very deeply about each other, so differences in opinion can usually be put aside for the purposes of being good parents, and prioritizing their children.
It’s especially important that parents are on the same team during an emergency situation, such as the breaking of a bone, a high fever, predatory situation involving an outside adult, or anything that involves the criminal justice system.
It’s important to show respect toward the other parent, even during disagreements. It’s important to avoid name calling and blaming, and instead explain points of view. For instance, rather than telling one parent that the brand of juice they give their child is stupid, a parent could mention that the juice has a lot of sugar in it, and explain why a lot of sugar is not healthy for the child.
In most situations, parents knew each other prior to conceiving the child, so they will know certain things about each other, such as whether one is a night owl and the other a morning bird. These details, although small, should be accepted and respected.
Everyone has different boundaries; just because two people have a child doesn’t mean they are suddenly expected to be the same person or live the same type of life. The key is to respect those boundaries and try to work with them. For example, if parents have opposite or very different schedules, they might agree that email communication is best, since phone calls and texts can be intrusive depending on a person’s sleep and work schedule.
In general, having multiple modes of communication, seeking a lot of discussions through emails or non-intrusive types of communication, and trying to initiate conversations only when neither parent is feeling overly-emotional are excellent and important rules of thumb.
Additionally, being able to trust the other parent’s word—sometimes even over the child’s—is important. If a child learns that they can play their parents against each other and manipulate them, it can lead to serious problems that get out of hand. Parents need to learn to band together, even if it’s contrary to what the child is trying to encourage between them.
Final Words Of Advice
The best advice I can give to parents who are struggling in a co-parenting relationship is to keep trying, and to try to stay calm even during the difficult times, without dumping their feelings onto the other parent. If one tool or tactic isn’t working, try another. And if the two parents are still struggling, they can try to reach out to aunts, uncles, and grandparents; it takes a village to raise a child.
For more information on Good Communication For Good Co-Parenting, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (651) 337-8804 today.
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