The simple trick that makes parenting with your ex MUCH easier

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

Co-parenting effectively can be a challenge after a break-up, especially is you still have a difficult relationship with your ex, or you have trouble communicating effectively. (That's code for one of you gives the silent treatment and the other shouts their head off about stuff the other did wrong five years ago.)

We all know the good of our children is paramount in any parenting situation, but it can still be hard to act in the spirit of co-parenting when everyone is still having feelings. 

That's why I was thrilled to learn this trick that makes emails about soccer practice and text messages about running late for changeover so much easier and less emotional.

Jennifer Franklin of Franklin Family Law has seen hundreds of couples go through separation and divorce, and she says she's seen lots of mistakes made when it comes to parental communication.

"Common mistakes I see all the time include inability to put their feelings aside for the sake of the children," she says. "And continuing the same relationship angst many years post-separation and being unable to disengaged previous methods of communications."

Franklin says some parents also use their children to deliver messages to the other parent, which is harmful to the child, placing them between the two warring parties. And some also involve new partners in parenting matters and communication, which is inappropriate.

"I also see ex-partners speaking to the other co-parent in a way they would never speak to another human being," says Franklin. "It's important to think about what that is teaching their children."

Think of them as your co-worker

The solution to removing emotions from communications with your ex, says Franklin, is to think of them not as your ex, but as a co-worker. And the project that you're both working on is raising your children.

That way, it removes your feelings of disappointment and hurt over what may have happened during your relationship, and allows you to focus on the task at hand. 

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"We have all had the experience of working with someone who may not have been our preference for a work colleague," says Franklin. "Perhaps they approached tasks differently to you, communicated in a different style, or you may have just simply had a personality conflict.  

"As co-workers we have to find a way to get the job done despite these differences or challenges – and it can be useful to apply the same approach to the role of co-parenting." 

One example Franklin shares is that of keeping communications and expectations clear. 

"Email communication is good because you take time to think clearly and slowly about what it is you want to say," she says. "Your communication with a co-worker is (usually) respectful and measured, and you make sure to make the other person aware when you require a response."

Franklin says that with colleagues you also accept that your expectations and standards are not always met, so if your ex runs late occasionally, or makes a parenting decision you don't love, it can be wise to let it slide.

"It's not the end of the world," she says, "move on like you would at work."

Co-parenting with an ex can be one of the hardest parts about life after divorce. This article gives some great insights into making it easier.

Posted by Franklin Family Law on  Tuesday, 24 September 2019

A common project 

It's also important to remember that the 'project' you're both working on — i.e. your children — is one you're both invested in.

"Understand that at the end of the day you are both working on the same team wanting the same outcome," says Franklin, "the very best for your kids."

If putting your feelings aside sounds hard, that's understandable, especially when the other party is hostile or disinterested in communicating effectively with you. But Franklin says the benefits are worth sucking it up.

"Lots of research suggests that separation itself does not damage kids – it's the conflict around separation and the ongoing relationship," she says. 

"It's important for children to see positive behaviour modelled by the significant people in their life – to learn that relationships are tricky but with mutual respect a path forward can be walked together."

And if the other parent is making effective and respectful communication difficult, Franklin suggests emailing them your "rules of engagement" to set expectations and resolve any differences, away from the ears of your children. And if need be, bring in some outside help.

"Invite the assistance of professionals: counsellors, mediators, broader family, health professionals – or solicitors if really necessary," she says.

"Set your own boundaries," she says, "and keep looking for ways to work together."