Smart Parenting During and After Divorce: How to Communicate with a Reasonable Co-Parent (page 2)
Parents often say they cannot "communicate" with their co-parent. Reasonable communication is always possible as long as everyone's main goal is to communicate reasonably. This is often overlooked because parents forget the reason why co-parenting communication is important: it is the basis for solving problems concerning children.
Instead, parents get sidetracked into using communication about the children to hurt or punish the co-parent. Reasonable communication often produces reasonable communication, but when it is impossible you might want to go to page 34 and read about communicating with an unreasonable co-parent. This advice applies to parents who can communicate reasonably or who see that there is potential for reasonable communication.
In every communication there is a message and there is "noise." Think about trying to listen to a good song on a radio that has static or background noise behind it. Together, the message and the noise represents a "package" of communication. Effective co-parenting communications seek to make that package as effective as possible by increasing the quality of the "song" and decreasing the presence of the "noise."
Reasonable communication is:
Direct and to the point
Without barbs or surprises
Reasonable Versus Unreasonable Communication
The following communication is a great example of reasonable communication: "Can we please set aside some time so that you can give me some information on how our son is doing in school?" This is a direct communication. It asks a single question. It has an element of polite speech in it ("please"). It is considerate of the fact that the co-parent who is being asked for information might not be able to talk at that moment. It does not imply anything about the competence of the co-parent who has the information. It uses the respectful characterization "our son," so that no one's sense of belongingness regarding the child is threatened. It is an effective "package."
Now let's take the same subject of communication and wrap it in a very different package: "Your new job is obviously interfering with your ability to manage my son's schoolwork. He told me he failed a spelling test this week. Since you do not care whether I'm involved in this process I am going to have to get my lawyer to write a letter to the school so that I can have access to his grades."
This is a complicated and negative communication. It may seem that the main goal is to inquire about a child's schoolwork, but it is actually to harass the co-parent on the other end of the communication, express the belief that he is incompetent, and threaten future communication through lawyers.
How the "Package" Makes a Difference
There is communication, and there is the "package," or the way you deliver the communication. Whenever we push buttons in the co-parent we are communicating with, we lessen the chance that she will hear what we want to tell her because we are greasing up the communication with other agendas. When people are reasonable, they try to solve problems. In the second, hostile, communication just discussed, checking on the child's schoolwork seems to be the last thing on the communicator's agenda.
Reasonable communication requires that you concentrate on the topic and that you review what you are saying to make sure there are no barbs, thorns, or other pokers mixed into your message. Use elements of polite communication.
1. Use polite terms like "please," "thank you," and "you're welcome." These are lessons you learned when you were three years old. An added benefit of this habit is to provide a positive role model for your child.
2. Be considerate when asking a time-sensitive question. When a response is time sensitive, apologize for the pressure but specify a time when you need an answer. Here is an example:
My mother is coming in from out of town unexpectedly, and even though it is not my weekend I would like to know if it is possible to have Billy on Sunday for the day. I'm sorry this is short notice, but if you could let me know by tomorrow evening, I will have time to make some plans.
3. When the question is not time sensitive, suggest that your co-parent think about it and get back to you when she has an opportunity. Obviously this is effective only when the other co-parent is responsible enough to remember to get back with an answer.
4. Communicate effectively without making attacks. This is definitely possible to do. Here is an example:
It has been difficult making arrangements for summer camp because you have not returned my last three phone calls or replied to my last note. Soon we will miss the deadlines for registration, which will create an even bigger problem. Summer camp is important, and I do not want to miss the deadline for registration. I would like to speak with you directly about it and would hate to have to settle this through attorneys. Please call me by the day after tomorrow so that we can straighten the issue out before it becomes a mess. Thank you.
This letter is strong. It records the difficulties that have occurred in the past. It identifies the goal of not making the problem worse. It also notes that communicating through attorneys is objectionable but may be necessary as a last resort.
5. Don't use barbs. Avoid communications that start out reasonably but throw in a zinger at the end. Consider the following example.
Thank you for sending me the medical insurance cards I asked for last week. The name of Jamie's new pediatrician is Dr. Beller. His office number is 555-6545.
By the way, when you send next week's check, could you include the $55 you have owed me for the last four months to cover the money I laid out for eyeglasses?
The last paragraph is an example of a little zinger—not a big deal, mildly to moderately annoying if it is unexpected. A co-parent absolutely has the right to ask for money owed, but there might be ways of asking that are more effective. Compare that communication to this one:
I have two things I need to communicate to you in this letter. The first is to thank you for sending me the medical insurance cards I asked you for. The second is to ask if you could send along the $55 I laid out for Jamie's eyeglasses.
Regarding the medical insurance cards, these make my life a lot easier, so thank you. If you would like to speak with Dr. Beller about Jamie, his number is 555-6545. I know that money is tight for everyone, but we did have an agreement about paying for the glasses, and I really need reimbursement for them. If you can't send a check right away, can we talk about when we can straighten this out? Thanks in advance.
The second communication is more up-front and more persuasive. The goal in the first letter seems to be to shoot a dart at the receiver. The goal of the second letter is to solve the problem. In the second letter there is empathy shown for the fact that "money is tight." Some people might see this as giving the receiver of the letter an excuse to not pay. The fact of the matter is that for $55, you cannot go rushing into court. Success is more likely when you are polite, direct, and respectful.
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