5 Tips For Better Communication With A Difficult Co-Parent
It is true that all of us play a role in how we co-parent with someone else and we must reflect upon our role in a difficult dynamic. It is also true that some relationships cannot be the way we hope as we are only one piece of the puzzle. Even when this is the case, you want your child(ren) to grow up happy and healthy to become functional adults of course. Research shows that conflict between parents can result in harm to your child(ren)’s development and ability to maintain intimacy as adults. You can do things differently in order to take care of them and you!
First, remind yourself that whether you chose to separate and divorce, or your co-parent did, there are fundamental reasons your co-parent is no longer your intimate partner. Understanding this is critical to how you create communication and interaction with them as your influence and contact should be much less now. Next, take a deep breath—likely more than one—and remember that your best responses and interactions will not be reactive, ever. In fact, you should have a plan for self-care and de-escalation in place so that you feel more prepared for anything that may come your way. A few simple ideas include a meditation app, like Headspace as it can work wonders for your well-being. A power walk or other daily exercise also provides an outlet to let off steam appropriately. This will help you manage your own emotions better when interacting with any difficult person, including your co-parent.
Next, you must plan for communication and interaction with your co-parent in the same way you will for a difficult business or social colleague and remind yourself this relationship is far more important than any business or social interaction as it involves the health and well-being of your child(ren).
You likely have only one-half of the legal authority to make decisions for your child. You can continue to advocate that you are right, in an unsuccessful way, with someone unlikely to see your perspective, or adopt a new method of giving it your best and letting it go when you can. You will always love and care for your children, and you must recognize that you are only part of a larger team on which there are members who may no longer think highly of you. Think carefully before you “dig in” to any particular viewpoint and allow yourself to imagine if your perspective does not prevail. Will your kids be ok? If so, let it go! If not, give it your best effort, make sure the kids are safe and then let it go!
Do not believe, even for a moment, that you have the ability, with someone who has repeatedly shown you they are not willing to be cooperative, kind or reasonable, that you can change that with explanation, extra kindness or accommodation. It just doesn’t work with someone who has not done their own work and wants to project their own unhappiness onto you. It’s still possible to plan for success, however, if you make the goal your own peace of mind and not justifying, demanding or winning with them. And, role modeling this to your child(ren) will help them cope with a difficult parent too. You don’t have to tell them their other parent is difficult at all! They will simply see how you manage difficult situations and learn volumes from it for their own lifelong relationships. It can truly be a gift that gives for generations if you can create the change now!
First, make a plan for how you interact and always give yourself time to craft a neutral response to even their most escalated one. And remember, their urgency isn’t necessarily your emergency. It takes practice, for sure, and often the behavior of a difficult co-parent escalates when you begin to implement clear and neutral boundaries. In fact, it almost inevitably does. Stay steady and keep doing it.
It is up to you to continue to be consistent and clear and neutral. Remember, even if they never change, and they likely won’t, you are setting yourself up for success for you and your child(ren). Peace of mind is priceless, after all.
Let’s focus on five steps to create your piece of mind communication with a difficult co-parent:
- First, remember that their urgency isn’t your emergency so unless the message involves your child heading to the ER, you likely can decide when a response, if any, is needed. If this is the case, don’t respond immediately and calendar a date by which you should respond so that you have time to craft a clear and concise response. Usually, responding immediately is a bad idea as it sets a clear precedent that you view their communication as urgent even when it isn’t.
- Next, take a deep breath and reflect. If your co-parent has a historical pattern of yammering on about unnecessary or irrelevant topics before getting to the point, throws in jibes that are unrelated to the matter at hand or is generally just mean or pointless, recognize it is more about them than you. It never feels good to get these messages, and you cannot control likely whether they send it, but you can control when you read it and how you respond to it. Create a separate email or folder for their emails and address only once daily or weekly, as needed.
- Draft a response, when necessary, that includes these key elements: be brief, be clear, be neutral and use a friendly tone.
- After drafting the email, put the communication away and come back to it before sending for a final look. Remember, too, that not every email needs a response so, upon reflection, think about whether it is required each and every time.
- Update your response, as needed, based on the important criteria involved and double-check to be certain you are not adding any drama or personal jibes to increase a likely hostile response. If not, hit send and know that you have done your very best to support your children and yourself.
Now, stop brooding/worrying/overthinking about what response you may get and live your life with your children! The communication with a co-parent is about and for the children. You do not need to manipulate, irritate, or trump the other parent of your child even when they are difficult. You need to communicate in a brief, neutral, friendly manner to support your child(ren) even when you have a difficult co-parent. Keep going—you got this!