You thought that getting divorced was going to make parenting easier. You thought your communication was going to improve because you weren’t living together anymore. You had high hopes that things would settle down and all the hurt, disappointments and anger would melt into the background. If you could just make decisions on your own without having to argue about everything you think is right and your ex thinks is wrong, you could have a much happier life. Instead, you find yourself feeling frustrated that you’re still dealing with the same communication problems you had while married, you still disagree about the same things, and the stakes seem to have gotten higher. Meanwhile, your life has not gotten easier.
However, whether you and your ex have very young children (0-5 years old), not-so-very-young children (6-10 years old), tweens (11-13 years old) or teenagers (14-18 years old), you need to keep up about your kids’ activities, their school needs, their health, and their friends. Perhaps you have a special needs child who requires a fair amount of attention. When you are the custodial parent, you need to know where your children are at any particular time of the day, who they are with, and how they are getting from one place to another. It takes some amount of coordination to manage these schedules in addition to organizing when kids go back and forth between you and the other parent. Maintaining an open line of communication that is not filled with conflict can take time and effort.
During these needed conversations, you might experience sadness when your children are with the other parent, resentment if you were not the one who wanted to end the marriage, fear about what is going on at the other parent’s home, or anxiety about not having as much control over your and your children’s lives as you might want. Any of these thoughts and feelings can lead you to enter into a conversation that is doomed to fail even before it has started.
How can you communicate with the other parent in a way that is least detrimental to your children, your ex, and yourself? If there is conflict, it is entirely possible it will emerge in any form of conversation. For example, when you are on the telephone, you generally need to respond in the moment. It is more difficult to take the time to think through what you want to say while you are feeling overwhelmed with your emotions. This is also true when you have conversations during the exchanges. Trying to make decisions or provide information at those times is often difficult with someone you do not talk with easily. It may also be a time that is challenging for children who fear the fighting that occurs when their parents are in the same place. Some parents use a log or diary to record things that are going on with the children. While this does not demand an immediate response, it can place children in the middle of parental conflict as they become the couriers of information. This is especially true if the exchanges occur during times when both parents are not present, such as at school. The children might be present when the receiving parent is reading and reacting to what has been written, feelings which may be negative. This sometimes happens when the writing appears to be telling the parent what to do, a problem often held over from the marriage. A medium that can take care of some of these issues is email. Although it’s certainly is not perfect and can be abused, it can help in the following ways:
- You can think about what you want to say before you say it, either as an initiator of a conversation or in response to the other parent.
- The children are not couriers in any way.
- It allows a dialogue.
- It creates a record of the conversation and any decisions made.
- It has the possibility of helping to keep things civil because all words will be permanently housed in your inbox.
Try to remember to:
- Agree to a turn-round time for answering emails to minimize frustration in making decisions.
- Limit the number of issues in each email. Long emails can be overwhelming and contribute to heightened emotions. For some, one issue per email is best. For others, too many emails is irksome. Find a happy medium you can both live with.
- Convey the content you wish to convey and leave out your feelings. Haranguing through email is not productive.
- Keep a folder on your computer dedicated to inter-parental communications.
- Make sure your children have no way to access these emails. Password-protect them if necessary.
Again, email can’t assure clean communication, but it can minimize conflict while still giving each other needed information about your children. Use it responsibly.