For so many a divorce does not mean the end of a relationship. For those couples with children, there will always be a bond and a need to have a continued relationship. Children of divorce, or parents who are not together, do not necessarily suffer – but they are at the mercy of their parents decisions and efforts to positively co-parent. Children have no say in how their parents relate to one another, although they are clearly affected by the decisions and actions of the parents.
At times the emotions connected to the ended relationship can overwhelm even the most well-meaning parents. Cordial communication can be elusive. At these times divorced or separated parents may rely more and more on alternative communication methods.
The Internet has given us an excellent alternative communication tool – especially for those who find that they are unable to speak without yelling at one another. Email and instant messaging lets people remotely communicate things that otherwise would have required a phone call or face-to-face conversation.
Sometimes email or IM is the only way parents can even attempt to co-parent. Unfortunately at times the hostility that is felt between the parents can spill over into the communication and end up reinforcing the negative feelings that prohibit any rationale relationship between parents.
Children only get one chance at being children – and so often they are the ones that end up being the victims of the hostility. As a result it is an excellent idea to take measures to ensure that the email/IM communication does not passively contribute to the problem.
- Use Names as Addressee. The name attached to the email address should be each parent’s name – not “The Ex”, “Former Wife”, or worse. Using even a slightly derogatory title does nothing to promote a conciliatory relationship focusing on the children. Instead such titles shout out the hurt and anger that resulted in the breakup in the first place.
- Respect Privacy. Do not randomly copy others on emails. Consider email communication as private. Randomly copying others is similar to having a public spat, asking others to comment and take sides, and recording it for future analysis. Copying others rarely accomplishes what is hoped for and tends to make the person broadcasting the email look bad.
- Edit (edit twice for good measure). Edit emails and IM messages before sending them – especially when upset or talking about sensitive matters. It important to make sure that any correspondence is purposeful and does not make a difficult situation worse. Try to read your correspondence from the other person’s perspective. Triggering anger and defensiveness in the first few words (or subject) is not going to increase your point, in fact it will more likely decrease the effectiveness of your email.
- Take A Breathe or a Time Out. Fight the urge to respond immediately and with your first emotional response. Written communication is great, but can also be very difficult to take back or explain that any negative expression was not meant. Giving yourself a few minutes or a day to respond generally makes sense – if you feel a sense of urgency to respond, perhaps it best to stop and ask if this is really an emergency.
Communicating with someone who seems to automatically trigger emotion is almost always difficult. Focusing on the children and establishing some simple rules is an important step. Perhaps a good rule of thumb is would you want your children, boss, best customer, and others whose opinion you respect to see your email or text?
Determining communication strategies and methods is something that can be addressed through mediation. Creating a framework and clarifying expectations at the beginning of a co-parenting arrangement is the best gift that parents can give their children.