Not too long ago, I wrote about moves that would make people think that your co-parenting game was on point. When it wasn’t. Fake moves. In the long run, though, you want to drop the fake moves and create a genuine relationship built on trust, respect, and of course mutual love for your children. Where do you start? For some people, it comes rather easy. They just decide, enough with the drama, and they work it out.
But for people like me, there are a few more stages to the “why can’t we all get along” process. I know what it’s like to not want to breathe the same air as the other parent after things go south. Those times when your kids are looking out the window at 10 pm for the 6 pm Friday night weekend with Dad, and you have to tell them that they’re going to bed. Then you become the bad guy. You try to explain why you’re not letting your babies go anywhere at 10 when they were scheduled to go at 6. And then Dad calls with another never-ending excuse and when he comes in the morning, he’s still the good guy. Because, after all, he came.
I was that co-parent. Even I realized things couldn’t continue the way they were going. My favorite married-while-angry move back in the day was to drive to Tysons Corner, VA, spend the night at the new Embassy Suites with my baby, hit the mall on Saturday, and come home dragging packages and daring folks to say anything to me. (Obviously, I needed some Christian marriage classes but
that’s another post).
But the marriage moves don’t work when you’re single again. I had to come home. What? I was lucky if I left home. I had to come up with another plan. But then with some therapy and prayer, I realized I had to be the change I wanted to see. Sounds corny, but yep, there it was. Self, I said, this may take a while to get us to conscious co-parenting, but at least we can be PALS!
PLAN. Plan. Plan.
Rather than just talking off-the- cuff, and phoning the other co-parent to shoot the breeze or to run something by him, I realized I needed a plan. Planned communication, in the initial stages of positive co-parenting, means to know why you’re communicating and stick to that. If you and the other parent are still in the middle of the drama and the anger, going free-form will not work. You need 3 things in place:
- Be clear on why you are calling, texting, emailing, whatever, and reach out for that purpose only;
- Create a script or outline to keep you focused and then follow the script (even if it’s just a few words, which I’ll reference in a minute); and
- Pray before you call, or type
When you’re getting your script together, and including the specific words that you need to use in your planned communication, don’t forget the triggers. Some words have a negative meaning within your relationship; don’t use those words. Some words may take the other parent back to a sad or negative part of their life; don’t use those words. Some words may hurt or inflict verbal wounds. Don’t use those words. Use positive, neutral words. If you can’t be nice, then strive for ‘not nasty’. Words
are important, so use them wisely.
LISTEN more than you speak.
What you say or write may not be what he or she hears or reads. When getting my Master’s in Adult Education, one of the concepts I had to ‘master’ is the fact that adults learn new things while processing them against the things they already know. (That’s the short version, but the point is that unlike children, adult learning is largely impacted by past experiences). Listen to make sure that what you communicate has been received. If not, calmly correct your approach – it means that you need to do a better job of conveying what you mean. You aren’t wrong, you just need to be a little clearer.
SILENCE means never having to apologize.
Or taking words back. Or asking for forgiveness. If the communication gets fuzzy, or your requests are misunderstood, or you forgot a trigger word and things got messy real quickly, breathe and be quiet. (If you are texting or emailing, just stop). If you must say or write something, try “You know what, let’s come back to this a little later” or “I pray that you’ll receive this better tomorrow”. Worst case, you can always go with, “oh, look at the time, gotta’ go”. You get the point. Don’t talk the two of you into even greater confusion.
Remind yourself that your short-term goal is to model the behavior you want to see. The long-term goal is to work together to support your children and to do so without negativity, anger, or blame. You know, those things that create an unhealthy environment for children and can even cause them to lose their self-esteem and sense-of- self.
Practice using the PALS method. Keep working until it becomes second nature. If you’re struggling with this, I suggest you schedule a Discovery Call so we can talk about what’s in your way. But if PALS is working for you, what comes next? How to Improve Co-parenting Communication: Part 2 is coming soon.
About the Author: Alexis Dobbins is a co-parenting expert. Through KidsNeed2, she serves as a Mediation, Counseling and Coaching practitioner who specializes in supporting co-parents with the strategies needed to maintain a peaceful environment for their children.