At the breakdown of a relationship, many parents experience difficulty attempting to communicate with each other. In hostile situations, parents are usually instructed to only communicate with each other in writing and limited to specific topics. Parents may be forced to communicate to make arrangements to spend time with the child or to exchange information about the child. While communicating in writing is a great strategy to reduce conflict, it can lead to an added set of challenges if either parent has poor writing skills, refuse to respond or is unwilling to be flexible and put the child first.
These are four (4) of the common mistakes people make when communicating with the other parent in writing:
(1) Making Demands Instead of Requests
Parents often run into issues when one parent dictates terms instead of attempting to work with the other parent. A parent may want to see the child for a specified period of time. Instead of asking the other parent for the specified time, the parent dictates the plan to the other parent.
- Demand: “I am taking [the child] next week for [whatever the plan is]. Have [the child] ready for pick up at [date and time].”
The other parent is likely to become defensive of the above demand. On the other hand, the other parent may be more receptive to a request.
- Request: “Can I take [the child] next week to [whatever the plan is]? I would like to pick him up [date and time].”
By rephrasing the demand to sound like a question, it gives the other parent an opportunity to participate in a discussion instead of being expected to follow instructions dictated by the other parent. If the other parent refuses a request without a discussion, then communication is probably not the root of the issue. The actual problem might be that one parent feels more entitled than the other parent or there is some other underlying issue that needs to be resolved.
(2) Poor Management of Information
A parent may struggle to manage information that was provided by the other parent. The other parent may have voluntarily provided information multiple times and become frustrated when faced with allegations that information was withheld.
- Case study #1: the parent was provided with the other parent’s health and dental coverage information for the child. A scanned copy was emailed to the parent and an original copy went home with the child in the child’s backpack. The other parent send an email confirming that the card was placed in the backpack. The parent claimed via counsel that this information was never provided.
- Case study #2: the parent received an email with information regarding the child’s upcoming doctors and dentist appointments. Shortly after, the parent claimed to have no knowledge of the appointments and accused the other parent of hiding information.
In these situations, the parent providing information is forced to keep records confirming the information was actually provided to the other parent. The best solution would be for the parents to work together and create a shared calendar or download a co-parenting app. Unfortunately, both parents must agree for this to work. An unreasonable parent may refuse claiming they don’t want another app on their phone or they will only download an app after everything is settled.
(3) Lack of Communication
In other situations, a parent may ignore emails or only respond to bits an pieces of correspondence. The other parent attempting to communicate is left frustrated because it seems nearly impossible to get a simple answer to a direct question.
- Case study #1: A parent requests to take the child to a party in two months. The other parent sends an email declining the request. The parent offers to trade weekends to allow the child to participate in the party. The other parent refuses to respond to the request to trade weekends.
- Case study #2: A parent is struggling to provide healthy school lunches for a child that is a picky eater. The parent emails the other parent to ask what types of items the parent packs the child. The other parent ignores the email.
In the above situations, it would be in the child’s best interest for the parents to communicate with each other. The child would enjoy the opportunity to participate in the party despite the regular parenting schedule. The other parent had prior notice and should have been flexible and willing to accommodate the request. If the other parent had a legitimate reason to deny the request, this should have been communicated to the parent. On the other hand, there is no legitimate reason for the other parent to ignore correspondence from the parent trying to find meal options for the child. It is undoubtably best for the child to have similar meal items that will actually be eaten.
(4) Poor Communication Skills
Poorly written messages often create conflict despite any good intentions of the sender. A parent may send an email but the other parent is unable to understand the point of the message. A recipient of a poorly written email may become caught up in the choice of words instead of the intended underlying message.
- Case study #1: the parent sends an email providing two options and asks the other parent to pick the option they would prefer. The other parent writes back “yes.” The parent that asked the question is not sure which option the parent wants.
- Case study #2: the parent has concerns with the child’s school attendance in the other parents care. Instead of asking the other parent why the child is late or absent, the parent immediately accuses the other parent of inadequate parenting. The parent may have valid concerns, but the other parent is likely to feel attacked and become defensive instead of participating in a discussion regarding the child’s attendance.
In the above scenarios, the poor communication of one parent creates frustration for the other parent. The parent with poor communication skills forces the other parent to repeat and rephrase requests multiple times and likely does not receive adequate information in return. The parent that does not ask for information, jumps to conclusions and offers unsolicited opinions forces the other parent to defend themselves instead of participating in a child-orientated discussion.
If you are attempting to co-parent with someone with poor communication skills, speak with a professional to learn your options to improve the communication problems. It may be possible to establish ground rules for written communication with the other parent. Our team can refer you to a professional to help you navigate your situation.