You get a crummy, snarky email from your co-parent.  You respond with an email the size of a small novel, which details all the ways that your co-parent has failed to be a reasonable, rational human in the last ten years.  The next day you send an email asking whether your co-parent has the permission slip for this week’s field trip, and you get no reply.  What now?

Communication is tough for many co-parents.  Ending a marriage or romantic relationship but remaining connected through your children provides many opportunities to exercise your hurt and anger against the other person, but at what cost?  Your kids deserve a childhood where their activities, health care decisions and field trip permission slips are not held hostage in the war between their parents.

Following a few simple communication guidelines can help.  First and foremost, find a place to exercise your hurt and anger, which are normal and natural parts of the end of a relationship.  Your best friend, your sister, a therapist or a divorce support group can all be terrific places to get the support you need to move forward into the next steps of your future beyond the relationship that has ended.  It’s unlikely that you have the intention to hurt your child as revenge on your ex.  Don’t unintentionally start doing it because you have no self-care plan to heal your own heart after a split.

Second, take a deep breath when initiating or responding to communication with your co-parent.  Getting the upper hand on your emotions will require you to act with intention.  If you want peace, begin practicing it today even if you get a lack of peace in response.  How do you practice peace?  Try following these simple rules:

  1. Begin all communication with a pleasantry. Examples include “Hi Bob”; “I hope your week is going well” or “Hope you’re staying warm in this cold weather”.
  2. Communicate your message in short and businesslike language. If you need the answer to the question, ask it simply and directly.  If you need to share information share it in the same straightforward terms you would use to write an email to a colleague in a business situation.  Try not to pack communication with lots of different topics as it is hard to respond comprehensively to a message that contains too many topics.
  3. End with a pleasantry. Examples include: “Have a good rest of your week”; “Please let me know if you have questions or need more information”; “Thanks”.
  4. Follow the “no scrolling” rule. Your message should be short and succinct and should never require scrolling to read the whole thing.  Messages which require scrolling are generally either packed with too many topics or should be a phone call.

Some things to avoid in your communication:

  1. Shaming language. If any sentence or phrase in your message is designed to or has the effect of suggesting that your co-parent is a bad person, bad parent, is irresponsible or is someone you don’t like, delete it.  How often have you read a message intended to shame you and thought, “Gee, thanks. That’s great feedback”?   Your message is likely being deleted when the first shaming statement is seen, and you have accomplished nothing.
  2. Blaming language. If any sentence or phrase in your message is designed to or has the effect of suggesting that your co-parent is to blame for a child’s behavior, is to blame for the end of the relationship between the two of you, is the reason for a child’s undesirable actions or is the cause of anything bad, delete it.  How well do you take being blamed for things . . .even if you caused a problem?!  Most people are not great at being judged and tune out this communication.
  3. Topics unrelated to your child. Don’t let important child related discussions or decisions get lost in an email that meanders into non child related areas.  These areas are danger zones anyway as they tend to circle back to old relationship wounds and wrongs between former romantic partners.  Stick to the business of co-parenting.

Your child has one childhood.  You must decide and act with intention if you are to make that childhood a peaceful one.  If you engage in peaceful and constructive communication, not only will your message get through more easily, but you will begin to unravel the ugly communication by not adding to the nastiness.  You are responsible for what you say and do, and while you can’t control the tone and content of your co-parent’s communication, you can control yours.

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Holly Wanzer Attorney
Ms. Wanzer is a founding attorney of Wanzer Edwards, P.C. where she focuses her practice in family law and divorce, including collaborative law, family mediation, parenting coordination, appeals and representation of children as a guardian ad litem. Ms. Wanzer earned her Juris Doctor summa cum laude from the Indiana University Robert McKinney School of Law. She graduated magna cum laude from Ball State University, earning her Bachelor of Science degree in English and advertising.