From dueling partners to communicating co-parents.
It's not always the case, but separation of romantic relationships often comes after a period of extended verbal conflict and a breakdown in communication between partners.
While your ex might be the last person you'd like to speak with personally, your roles and relationship with one another have changed. You are no longer romantic partners -- you are co-parents. And from now on your most important job from here on out is to act as a team who, together, will be support and nourish your kids and help them thrive.
Conflict, not divorce, is what harms our children.
Children from divorced families tend to experience greater behavioral symptoms and academic problems than their peers in non-divorced two parent homes. Yet as clinical psychologists Joan Kelly, Ph.D. and Robert Emery, Ph.D found, separation does not have to be a death sentence for your children. Post-divorce conflict has a strong influence on children's adjustment, meaning that even if your kids experienced conflict when you and your co-partner were together, if you can create a cooperative post-divorce relationship and reduce conflict, your kids will fare far better.*
Whether your previous conversations were tense, mostly amicable or argument-filled, below are are three clear ways to improve communication with your co-parent for the good of your kids.
3 Crucial Tools for Communicating as a Co-Parent That Will Make Your Whole Family Happy:
1) Clarity. Much tension and disagreement in communication arises from a lack of clearly stating your request / timeline / needs. If you need to change your schedule or have another request for your co-parent, focus on clearly outlining your exact ask. Don't say, "Things are crazy at work, can you help out Tuesday?" Instead say, "I have a work project that will go late on Tuesday. The kids finish baseball practice at 4:30. Would you be able to pick them up and get them started on homework until I can get them at 5:45?" This clear request prevents confusion and makes it easy for your co-parent to respond.
2) Consistency. This is a time of a lot of change for everyone. What will make your kids feel more secure and your ex feel like you are on a team is simple: do what you say you're going to do, at the time you said you were going to do it. If clarity is about saying exactly what you mean, then consistency is about having your actions follow your words. When you follow-through on your promises and are reliable in your communication, it reassures your children and fortifies your co-parenting relationship.
3) Compassion. Navigating the new world as a part-time single parent is not easy for anyone. There will be times when you make a mistake, when you feel overwhelmed, when you need help. This is precisely true of your co-parent as well. If they make a small error or need additional support from you, one of the best things you can do is respond with compassion. It sets a positive tone for your communication with you co-parent and is kind behavior to model for your children.
*Kelly, J. B., & Emery, R. E. (2003). Children’s adjustment following divorce: Risk and resiliency perspectives. Family Relations, 52, 352-362.