Updated: Nov 17, 2019
On Instagram this week, I have been talking a little bit about Communication - the Hows, Whys, Whens, Wheres and Whats of making communication work with your co-parent.
Check out this new video about the BEST way for separated and divorced parents to communicate and stay tuned for what you didn't know about sending a Communication Book in your child's backpack (on Friday)!
But this one is a bit meaty ... I might make a video about it later on, but for now I want you to get all the details so that you can take it away and work it into your own preparation, mediation and agreement.
As a Family Mediator, when I help parents make Parenting Plans, Communication often features heavily in the discussion.
Even if the parents are sure that their problems lie elsewhere, their communication is almost always preventing them from making (and following) good parenting arrangements, and contributing to the ongoing conflict that has brought them to my office.
So, we talk about communication from every angle.
I talk with them about the words that they might use moving forward. I try to always use their own words in their agreement, but for parents who haven't been on speaking terms for a long time, agreeing on and setting up a new pattern around communication can be difficult.
To be honest, they don't always know where to start, so here are some examples of what we might cover and some of the phrases that can help parents like you get past the tricky "obstacles" that inevitably pop up!
1. When do you want to talk?
Is it a regular catch up, or do you only want to talk as things arise that you haven't already sorted out in your Parenting Plan?
Is there a good time for each of you?
Do you want to talk during the work-day, or do you want to leave it until the evening or the weekend?
And where will the children be at the time (in bed, watching tv)?
Can you make sure that both parents are able to speak for a few minutes without interruption?
We agree that we will catch up by phone each Friday night at 7.45pm.
We agree that the parent who has the children that night will make the phone call, so that they can make sure the children are settled in bed.
We agree that we will greet each other politely at handovers ("Hi, how are you doing?"), because we want our children to see us getting along.
We agree that we will leave any discussion of children's issues until our Friday night call.
We agree that if anything urgent (or an emergency) comes up during the week that can't wait until Friday, we will either text or call to advise each other.
2. What if you call (even at your previously-arranged time), and it's not a good time?
Things do come up:
Sometimes you have an unexpected visitor, or the dog got out of the yard, or one of you is tired or sick.
What are you going to do?
How will you let each other know if you're not able to talk?
We often discuss this down to a specific phrase, and write it into the parenting plan like this:
If one of us is not able to talk for some reason, we will let the other parent know by saying "I'm sorry, I can't talk right now, can I please call you back?"
... in 20 minutes (if it's just something quick)? Or tomorrow (if it's because of sickness etc)?
We agree that we will call the other parent back within 24 hours.
3. What if you ask a question and the other parent just can't answer it yet?
Your Parenting Plan might say:
If one of us is unable to answer at that time, we will say "I'm not sure about that yet, I will get back to you tomorrow", and then follow up with the other parent within 24 hours.
If it is something that will take longer to arrange, we will say "I'm not sure, I will need to [eg. find out from my boss], and I should be able to get back to you by ... ".
4. How do you want to speak with each other about parenting?
And what is your goal, or your purpose behind this?
If you have a common desire to model respect to your children, or you want to protect your children from conflict, it can be helpful to include this in your plan. Then, when it gets tough, your purpose (ultimately, your love for your little ones) can give you the strength and motivation to push through.
We agree that we will speak respectfully (or politely, or civilly) TO each other, because we want to set a good example for our children in our communication with each other.
We agree that we will listen without interrupting and stay calm.
We agree that we will speak respectfully ABOUT each other to our children and other family members.
We agree that if our conversation is getting heated, or we feel that we may be about to overstep these boundaries, we will let each other know by saying "I really think we should talk about this later, I'd like to take a break."
The other parent will respect this, and the parent who asked for the break will be responsible for contacting the other parent within 24 hours to continue the conversation.
5. What do you want to speak about?
There might be particular topics that relate to your family that absolutely need to be addressed on a regular basis. Maybe weekend sports, birthday parties, school projects, or ongoing medical issues - these are just a few examples of things to make sure you're across in your weekly/fortnightly/monthly chats.
At the same time, if you're having trouble staying in your Parenting lane and often find yourself straying into "Ex-Partner Talk", you may want to be specific about how you're going to deal with this when it comes up. For example:
We agree that our conversation will be focused on the needs of our children.
We agree that we will discuss up-coming school events, any illness or medical needs, and belongings which might be required for the week.
We agree that if topics arise that are not related to the children's needs, we may discuss them if we feel comfortable, or we may let the other parent know, and redirect our conversation, by saying "I hear what you're saying, and I think we should focus our discussion on the children - let's talk about ... ".
Not all of these things will apply to your case.
Sometimes, parents have no problem with sharing information, but if one parent doesn't pick up the phone, everything falls apart.
Some parents have regular catch-up times, but one parent is gets anxious about decision-making, and they want to put the brakes on - and the other parent gets confused and upset about not getting an answer straight away.
So, we talk through how to deal with the individual circumstances that they feel they get tripped up on the most.
Maybe one of these is rising to the top for you.
Maybe some of these examples will help you, as you think about your own patterns of communication and how you would like things to be moving forward.
That's my hope xx
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