Have you ever felt a little uncomfortable around an ex? What if you have children together? While it may seem challenging to talk with with former spouse or partner, the child will be watching and listening as the relationship evolves from couple to co-parents.
Learning to communicate in a new child-focused way may take time. One parent may want to stay connected as friends, and the other parent desire to keep the conversation as single-issue focused. Be gentle with each other. A child looks to both parents for guidance, support, and love, and usually mirrors how the parents communicate.
As a couple, one parent may have assumed more responsibility for medical appointments, educational issues, extra-curricular activities. This may or may not stay the same. One parent may now want to play a bigger or smaller role in these matters. Ask questions. Listen patiently. Respond respectfully.
Conversations about health, education, and other issues and who will take responsibility for what parts may take more time. Based upon my experience as both a family lawyer and family mediator, I created five tips for resolving issues with a co-parent:
1) Clarify. Clarify the needs of, and issues concerning, the child. The child’s health and well-being and needs for emotional support and nurturing may be a more of a priority at various times, while education, activity schedules, and connection with family and friends may top the list at other times. Also clarify what role each parent wishes to take. If both parents want the role, or do not want the responsibility, it may require creativity.
2) Create. Create a list of ideas for addressing each of the child’s needs and co-parenting issues. Be creative. Think of at least three ways to meet the need or address an issue. Depending on the child’s age, ask the child for ideas as well. Remember, when creating the list not to judge whether it is a good or bad idea. Create the list first. You will have time to evaluate it later.
3) Consider. Consider the ideas thoroughly. Notice how a particular way of meeting the child’s needs might affect each parent. Take a full look at each choice. Think about out how that idea might play out in both the short and long-term for the child and each parent.
4) Choose. Choose a plan. Be clear about what will happen and when. Know what flexibility looks like to each person. A parent may have more flexibility at various times. Each parent tends to have many other commitments and obligations. Discuss the backup plan if an unforeseen event (severe weather, illness) occurs. Remember, doing what you say you will do builds trust.
5) Correct. Correct any misunderstandings through conversation. Pick a regular weekly or monthly time to check in about the child. If you really do not like each other, consider it a mandatory meeting or connect via text, email or another means. Keep in mind the long-term interests of the child. Discuss what works or requires adjustment. Remember, your child will learn problem solving skills by watching you.
For some parents, it helps to think of co-parents as the coaches for Team _____(insert child’s name). If you prefer the business analysis, two parents have been assigned to the same project: to lovingly support the growth of a healthy, happy child. No matter what, the child will have an opinion at age 15 and 25 about how well the parents communicated with each other and supported the relationship with both parents. What will your child honestly say?
A child’s relationship is typically a little different with each parent. This is neither good nor bad. Co-parenting may be a happy and rewarding experience for everyone by investing time and energy to create it. What will you do to create a positive co-parenting relationship?