Effective Co-Parenting Communication
Divorce has become a common experience, about 40-50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce. When families go through a major change event, such as divorce, everyone involved experiences transition. The amount of time it takes to successfully form a parenting partnership with your child’s other parent can have a lasting impact on your child. Therefore it is critical to explore co-parenting skills that will enable healthier communication patterns between you and your co-parent.
Approaches to Co-Parenting
Approaches to co-parenting vary from highly conflictual to cooperative; developing a co-parenting relationship centered on the needs of the child has a huge impact on the overall well-being of your child. Common approaches to co-parenting include:
- Conflictual Co-Parenting: This is the worst approach to co-parenting and can lead to parents placing children in the center of their disputes. It can lead one parent departing from the parenting relationship. Conflictual co-parenting remains very hostile and introduces barriers to communication for both parents and children.
- Disengaged Co-Parenting: When one parent disengages or withdrawals from the relationship with their children it can lead to high conflict. It often happens as a result of geographical moves, court ordered restraining orders, etc. This approach may cause short term disengagement or long term abandonment. Disengagement can factor into parental allocation determination by courts.
- Parallel Co-Parenting: This approach can be an effective way to reduce conflict and still sustain a relationship with their children. This approach is a reflection of the inability for co-parents to parent together. Parents remain supportive of each other’s parental role with the children. Although this approach can be successful in the short term, it can lead to long term miscommunication and confusion for children.
- Cooperative Co-Parenting: This is the ideal approach with very low conflict. Both parents actively participate in joint decision-making, communicate regularly about their children. They practice flexibility to fit their children’s needs.
Understandably, cooperative co-parenting is the best approach to parenting. However, this may not be feasible in all scenarios, including those relationships with domestic violence or abandonment. Chose the best parenting option for your family based upon the commitment to your child and meeting their needs.
Good communication is essential to a healthy and productive co-parenting relationship. Effective communication begins with respectful non-verbal communication; facial expressions, gestures, tone, space, anything besides the use of words.
- Style of Voice: Volume, pitch and tone do matter. They can easily be misinterpreted. Avoid loud, quick, high pitched, and sharp tones.
- Body Language: This includes your stance, eyes, head, hands and even the tenseness in your muscles. Remain calm and relaxed. Avoid eye rolling, inappropriate hand gestures, or a disrespectful space between you and your co-parent.
- Be a good listener: Engage in active listening. This means not interrupting, removing distractions, such as cell phones, and be interested in what the other person is saying. Maintain eye contact and a relaxed posture. Concentrate on the words not the delivery, be patient and ask for clarification or repeat what you heard.
- Use “I” Statements: Avoid using statements that include “you,” as this can be perceived as blame. Using statements that begin with “I” allow you to express your needs and feelings, which shows that you are taking responsibility. I statements can effectively reduce conflict.
Not all parenting scenarios allow for face to face communication. Some electronic communication, such as emails or text messages may be needed. Electronic communication poses many challenges, such as misinterpretation. For more information on electronic communication review guidelines by Association of Family and Conciliation Courts Communication Guidelines handbook.
For more information on co-parenting after divorce or a major family transition and how to enroll in a parenting class visit your local judiciary center or family resource center. Information adapted from Parents Forever curriculum, education for families in transition authored by the University of Minnesota Extension.