Every divorcing parent has heard the same thing: You have to learn to get along with your ex… for the sake of the kids. Of course, that’s easy for them to say. They don’t have to deal with your crazy/spiteful/narcissistic ex.
In these days of shared child custody, also known as co-parenting, parents often end up having to communicate more about their kids after divorce than they ever did while they were married. Both parents need to know what is going on with children emotionally, academically, socially, and in terms of their extracurricular activity schedules.
For effective co-parenting, your goals will need to be clear, child-focused, and even friendly conversation (or written communication if you really cannot talk with one another) Here is how to do it even if your ex is a jerk.
- Polite greeting: Always start with a friendly “How are you?” or “I hope you are doing well” or even just a text that starts with “Hi!”
- Ask their opinion: Instead of telling your ex what he or she needs to do (even if it is obvious to you), ask what her or she thinks should be done in a particular situation. This shows respect for them as a parent and keeps them off the defense.
- Always keep the conversation focused on the kids: For good co-parenting relations, do not engage in discourse about you or your ex’s personal life until things are super-smooth between the two of you. Be firm, but kind, if your ex keeps trying to engage you in non-kid related topics.
- Don’t threaten legal action: If things are so bad that you feel you need a lawyer to do the talking for you, or if the children’s safety and well-being is truly threatened by your ex, consider just hiring an attorney straight away and skipping the “Keep that up and I’ll hire a lawyer” threats. Threats usually do not work and just end up escalating the trouble between co-parents.
- Compliment: When your ex does something that is extra special for your kids – or even if he or she is starting to act like the parent you always wanted him or her to be – be thankful on behalf of your kids. Acknowledge the other co-parent’s efforts with a compliment. Compliments are almost always well received and garner goodwill in a co-parenting relationship.
- Be consistent: If your ex knows that you will always be respectful, that you won’t allow him or her to push your buttons, that you won’t yell or curse at him or her, and that you always bring the conversation back to the kids, you will pave the way toward clean and effective communication between you and your co-parent.
Co-parenting is hard work for most of us, but well worth it. Sometimes it will feel like a one-way street, with you doing all the giving. You can only control your own behavior, though, and your ex will not be able to fight with just him or herself!