When it comes to talks between parents who no longer live together, words impact more than the adults. Children listen and learn. While a family mediator may help parents communicate, it helps have tools to resolve issues on your own as well.
With the relationship change, it may feel more uncomfortable to engage in conversations of any length. One parent may just want to instruct or inform the parent about a situation with a child. It is important, however, to be aware of how this may be perceived by both the other parent and the child.
A parent may already feel left out of the child’s life and feel like they have “no say.” The quick sharing of information may only serve to reiterate this feeling of being left out in parenting decisions. Consider what this says to the child about each parent’s role.
Seeking input, rather than just instructing, demonstrates consideration and respect, and reminds the child of the importance of both parents. And offering child-focused input, shows the child that both parents really care and the other parent that you are willing to be a true co-parent.
Would it feel better to hear, “I signed Abby up for hockey yesterday, you owe me $500 for half the equipment” or “Abby really wants to play hockey and will need some new equipment this year. If she plays hockey, how will you be able to support her?” Keep in mind, support may include getting a child to and from practice, games, tournaments, and offering encouragement and emotional support, as well as financial support that goes beyond the equipment. Extra-curricular activities often involve extra meal costs, hotel stays, special clothing, etc.
When responding to requests, be mindful of words as well. Saying “absolutely no hockey,” or “well, I’m not paying for that” may meet your need for clarity and simultaneously not meet another’s need for connection, support, or understanding.
Pause and remember to focus on the child. If there are real concerns about safety, express those. “I want Abby to enjoy extra-curricular activities, and I will gladly fully support her and pay half; however, I wonder if hockey is best for her long-term health because of the concussions she has suffered.”
If there are current financial struggles, say so. “I definitely want to her play hockey, she loves it so much. Unfortunately, I do not have the resources to pitch in half right now. Is there any way you can pay, and I will pay you over the next three months?” Know that if say this, while showing off your new motorcycle or some other new purchase, it may raise an eyebrow or two.
Children learn how to talk with other people by observing the adults around them. Parents tend to be the most influential adults in a child’s life.
Parents, whether together or apart, are an example of compassion, clarity, and consideration by how they communicate with each other. Parents may demonstrate a low-level of these characteristics or a very high-level.
What level of compassion, clarity, and consideration are you demonstrating?