Even though you are no longer in a romantic relationship with your ex, it is still important for the two of you to communicate when co-parenting your children. Many people may think they are doing a good job of communicating with the other parent, not realizing that there may be room for improvement. The following are the top five communication errors in co-parenting I see between separated parents:
1. Using Your Children as Messengers for Co-Parenting.
The biggest mistake I see separated parents make in their communication with each other is communicating through their children. Most people know that they should not use their children to pass messages to the other parent about adult topics, such as money and litigation. Involving children in these issues is stressful for the children and can sometimes make children feel like they have to choose sides.
However, many people don’t realize that using their children to pass any sort of message, even topics like pickup times or sports schedules, can be harmful. First, it sends the message to the children that their parents cannot bear to even speak to each other about the most simple things. This is upsetting to children. Second, children can feel stressed by having to remember the message and get the details correct. They may feel like they will get in trouble or disappoint a parent if they forget a detail.
Finally, it is important for successful co-parenting that you are the one to talk to your ex about all matters regarding your children. Having open communication between parents is the only way for co-parenting to work. Children could forget to pass along the message or they could somehow miss a detail. This could cause problems down the road for your children and your ex. So, call the other parent, send a text, or find a time to talk in person when your children are not listening.
2. Hoping the Other Parent Will Guess What You Need.
I have had clients who have called the other parent, saying they have a busy week at work coming up and then they are upset when the other parent doesn’t offer to pick up the children from daycare or offer to take the children for extra time that week. Never assume the other parent understands what you need, or what you’re asking of them. Chances are that communication was one of the problems when you were still in a relationship with your ex.
Communication only becomes more challenging after separation. If you want help with childcare, say what days and times you would like the other parent to care for the children. Instead of saying at the exchange that you are worried your child has congestion, ask the other parent to schedule a sick visit for your child the next afternoon if he does not show signs of improvement. If you make these requests politely with a nice tone, then chances are your ex will appreciate knowing exactly what you want to see happen. If your ex refuses to help even after making these specific requests, it might be time to reach out to a coparenting counselor or a lawyer for help.
3. Not Offering the Other Parent Time (sometimes) When You’re Gone.
If you will be gone for an extended period of time, regardless of whether it’s for work, family, or some other obligation, your first call should be to your ex to see if he or she is available to take care of the children during this time. Many parents ask their new spouse, a friend, or a family member to care for their children during this time. These relationships are important for your children and for shorter periods of time, visiting grandma or going next door to play with a friend is perfectly fine. However, unless your ex lives far away, or there is some reason he or she should not be with the children for extended periods of time, the other parent needs to be offered this time first.
What counts as an extended period of time depends on your individual circumstances. When co-parenting works well and parents live close to each other, children can go back and forth between the two houses easily for shorter periods of time. In cases where the parents are struggling to work together, or where they live farther apart, offering the other parent time may not make sense unless you will be out of town overnight or longer.
4. Not Working With the Other Parent to Make Schedule Changes as Needed.
Many people assume that once they have signed an agreement or gotten a court order that their parenting time is written in stone and cannot be changed for any reason. This is not true. Courts and lawyers always prefer when parents work together to reach an agreement for co-parenting. No schedule is going to work for you and your children forever. Sports, illness, special events, and work schedules are all reasons why it may make sense to talk the other parent about changing your children’s schedule either temporarily or permanently.
However, keep in mind that both parents and the children need to be able to plan their schedules. Suggesting frequent changes can be disruptive and frustrating to everyone. When suggesting to an ex that a schedule be changed, be sure to explain why you think the change would be a good idea and then listen to what your ex has to say about the way this would impact his or her schedule. Most likely a compromise will need to be reached that is not perfect for anyone but is the best that can be arranged given everyone’s schedules.
5. Not Updating the Other Parent About Issues Involving School, Healthcare, and Activities.
If a teacher has called for a parent teacher conference or a doctor has requested that you schedule a medical test for a child, you need to reach out to the other parent. You cannot assume that your ex also got the email from the school, or that he or she is too busy at work to come to the doctor’s office. Sometimes schools or sports coaches forget to copy both parents on emails or group texts.
Unless one parent has sole legal custody, it is expected that both parents are involved in all decisions regarding health and education. Even if you feel like your ex could have just as easily pulled up the calendar from the school website, go ahead and send it to your ex. Keep in mind, you’re not doing this for your ex; you are doing it for your children so that they can see both of their parents fully involved in their lives.
If you feel that you need help talking to your ex about co-parenting or need guidance in your specific situation, contact us today.