How to have a quality co-parenting relationship? Communication tips

This entry is a continuation of the post on April 30, 2014, regarding both parents having a quality co-parenting relationship.

Let’s discuss communication options. In co-parent relationships where there is high conflict, I recommend a simple formula for communication. Brief. Informative. Friendly. Firm. BIFF. This model is from Bill Eddy ( This formula applies to both verbal and written communication. Long, defensive, and accusatory emails will not likely get you what you want nor will they help your children. Expecting the other person to know what you need or want also does not usually work. Here’s an example of a non-BIFF email.
“I can’t believe that you sent our daughter to school without her homework done AGAIN. Can’t you ever get this right? What is so hard about sitting down with her to go through her homework from that day and ensuring she does it? Clearly you need to improve your parenting or she is going to fail grade three! This reminds me of all the times you shirked your duties with our older son as well. I’m sure you’ve got lots of time to spend with your new spouse and step-children, how about giving the same attention to your own daughter…[this goes on for a page of venting]”

Now, here’s the BIFF version.
“I’m concerned about our daughter’s school performance. Her last report card said that she was frequently missing assignments and the teacher called me last week to say she missed another two assignments. I’d like to talk about how we can support her together to get her homework done. I know you’re also interested in her doing well at school. I’d like to share the responsibility for helping her with her homework with you. What do you think about that?”

Why negotiate?

This is Conflict Resolution week in BC and I will be posting several blogs over the week highlighting some conflict resolution themes from my work as a mediator.  Here is my first entry.

In any dispute, there are alternatives to negotiating.  According to Fisher an d Ury (1991) there are best (BATNA) and worst (WATNA) alternatives to negotiating an agreement.  Before deciding to negotiate, it is helpful to be clear on one’s BATNA and WATNA.

In divorce mediation, going to court is often identified by people as the worst alternative due to high costs, time delays, and stress.  Other WATNAs could be not having a close relationship with the children, or emotional harm to the children due to the parental conflict.  A best alternative may be family law arbitration due to less time delays, and potentially lower costs.  In this case, neither the BATNA or WATNAs are ideal, which may mean that negotiating an agreement has a lot of benefit for the parents and children.  Additional benefits to negotiating are increased compliance with negotiated agreements and developing an ongoing productive co-parenting relationship.

So when you have a dispute, consider what you have to gain from negotiating.  For more information on negotiation and mediation, see The Benefits of Mediation for Separating Couples.  and Collaborative Communication Tips.


Trust in Conflict Resolution

In my work as a conflict resolution practitioner and mediator, lack of trust is often present at the time I get involved.  My colleague, Gordon White, has some thought-provoking words about what trust within conflict means.  Gordon explains trust as having “five faces”: predictability, integrity, competence, caring, and vulnerability.  I encourage you to read the full article at


How can both parents have quality parenting relationships with their children?

During and after your divorce, you may be wondering if it will ever be possible for both you and your spouse to have a productive co-parenting relationship.  Many parents struggle with this.  Your lack of hope may be based on your beliefs about your former spouse, negative incidents that happened, or behaviour challenges you are experiencing with your kids.  This can be a scary phase for both parents and children.  The good news is that there are many things you can do to work towards making things better.  When it comes to conflict between you and your former spouse, there are process options and communication options.  Let’s start with the process options.  If you want to negotiate a stronger parenting plan for the benefit of the children, mediation can be beneficial.  Mediation may include only a couple of issues which are difficult to negotiate, or if necessary, it can include the entire parenting plan.   What issues are included will be determined by both parents, together with the mediator and any lawyers involved.  If there are certain important points which you cannot negotiate, consider involving a neutral professional who can assess the best interests of the children.  Social Workers, Psychologists, and  Counsellors are professionals who can assist you with this.  These reports are referred to in Section 211 of the Family Law Act.  This report can then be used to guide both of you in mediation or it may be used to help a judge to decide what is in the best interests of your children. 

If the divorce is final and parents are now continuing to have high conflict about co-parenting decisions, consider hiring a parenting coordinator.  A Parenting Coordinator (PC) is hired jointly by both of you and an agreement is made for the PC to work with you for up to two years.  Once you sign an agreement with a PC or if you have an agreement or court order requiring a PC, you must commit to continuing to work with this person, with few exceptions.  Having a PC means you don’t have to go to court to have decisions made about your children.  When the parents can’t agree on significant decisions, the PC works with you first to build consensus and if necessary, the PC will make a binding decision regarding the issue(s) in dispute.  Although this time can be scary and emotionally draining for everyone, in most situations, the conflict does go down over time.  If you’re having trouble staying hopeful or being strong for your kids, make sure you take care of yourself including seeing a counsellor for emotional support and getting enough sleep, nutrition, and exercise.

Now that I’ve described process options, let’s move on to communication options.  In co-parent relationships where there is high conflict, I recommend a simple formula for communication.  Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm.  Stay tuned for more on this way of communicating soon…

Top Ten Traps to Avoid when Planning for Aging Family Members – #2

Continuing on the avoidance theme, many families have certain topics or feelings which are hard to talk about.  Some family members may have trouble being openly sad or talking about sadness and grief.  Think about what topics and feelings are not talked about in your family as a guide to the emotions which may be difficult for certain members to express.  If you are someone who has trouble saying something like “I’m going to miss you when you’re gone” or “I’m sad thinking about when you’re no longer with us”, consider other ways to express this.  There are many losses other than someone passing on.  These include leaving the family home, losing independence, or poor health.  You can help the elder or family members to talk about these emotions more easily by trying some of the following:

“My best memory of us is…What are some of your memories about _______?”

“What I appreciate most about you is….”

“ I want to tell you about ____________      before it’s too late.

 “What I appreciate most about you is…”

 “What I’m scared about is…”

“I remember when ____________ happened, I felt ________________.  How did you feel?”

Some people will express anger or frustration to cover up sad feelings that they are uncomfortable sharing.  If someone close to you often gets angry or frustrated when things related to loss come up, this may be a sign of sadness.

If having the conversation is too much, try writing down comments in a card, letter, or email, to help start the conversation.

Top Ten Traps to Avoid when Planning for Aging Family Members: Number 1

The first trap to avoid is avoidance itself.  Avoiding difficult or uncomfortable discussions can make relationships and situations worse in the long term. 

—Ensure that you talk about finances (estate planning, inheritance, care costs) and if possible, involve several close family members so everyone is “on the same page.”  Remember to talk about the “what ifs” such as What will happen if the aging person becomes critically ill, or is dependent on machines.
There are often differences of opinion among adult siblings and other family members about what should happen.  Find ways to have open conversations about these differences and also look for similarities.  If you keep talking and trying to understand each other you may be surprised at what you can agree on.
Here’s an article with more information about communication when family members are aging.


Bullying and Harassment: What are the duties of Employers in BC?

According to WorksafeBC, “Bullying and Harassment includes any inappropriate conduct or comment by a person towards a worker that the person knew or reasonably ought to have known would cause that worker to be humiliated or intimidated, but excludes any reasonable action taken by an employer or supervisor relating to the management and direction of workers or the place of employment.”

As of Nov. 1, 2013, employers have a legal responsibility to prevent or minimize bullying and harassment in the workplace and to ensure their are policies and procedures for workers to report incidents of bullying and harassment as well as policies and procedures for dealing with incidents and complaints.  See for more detailed information.

There are several ways that an employer can minimize or prevent bullying and harassment. Here are a few:

1) Have clear policies and procedures about respectful workplace communication as well as how bullying and harassment will be dealt with;

2) Provide regular training for employees about respectful workplace communication, conflict resolution, and the employer’s policies and procedures;

3) Respond to reports of bullying and harassment in a fair, objective, consistent, and thorough manner.  This includes:

a) gathering all relevant information, not just what is easy or convenient;

b) provide informal resolution opportunities such as mediation, and/or coaching;

c) ensure those following up on the reports do not have a conflict of interest with one or more of the people involved.  For example, if the person gathering information is also a friend outside of work of one of the involved employees, this can be a real or perceived conflict of interest.  If necessary, hire an independent professional e.g. (mediator, harassment investigator) to ensure objectivity and fairness;

d) if informal resolution options haven’t worked, the parties are not willing to participate, or the report has serious safety concerns, the criteria for an investigation may be met.  Workplace mediation can also be helpful in building back effective workplace relationships after a harassment investigation is complete.

If you’d like to learn more about how to be an effective workplace harassment investigator, check out this course by Ounce of Prevention Solutions Inc.

For a free consultation on conflict in your workplace, contact me at or 604.764.6433.


The Best Interests of the Child

The new Family Law Act in BC refers to the “best interests of the child” as the ONLY consideration when the courts and parents are making plans for children.  Section 37 (2) defines the child’s best interests as:

(a) the child’s health and emotional well-being;

(b) the child’s views, unless it would be inappropriate to consider them;

(c) the nature and strength of the relationships between the child and significant persons in the child’s life;

(d) the history of the child’s care;

(e) the child’s need for stability, given the child’s age and stage of development;

(f) the ability of each person who is a guardian or seeks guardianship of the child, or who has or seeks parental responsibilities, parenting time or contact with the child, to exercise his or her responsibilities;

(g) the impact of any family violence on the child’s safety, security or well-being, whether the family violence is directed toward the child or another family member;

(h) whether the actions of a person responsible for family violence indicate that the person may be impaired in his or her ability to care for the child and meet the child’s needs;

(i) the appropriateness of an arrangement that would require the child’s guardians to cooperate on issues affecting the child, including whether requiring cooperation would increase any risks to the safety, security or well-being of the child or other family members;

(j) any civil or criminal proceeding relevant to the child’s safety, security or well-being.”

Click on the link below for more information regarding what the court will consider when determining the best interests of children.

As a mediator, when I am working with parents, I support them to look at their children’s needs and find ways where both of them can be involved and ensure their children’s best interests are met.  This is possible even if parents have different views about what is in their child’s best interest.  All children want a close, positive relationship with their parents (even if sometimes it doesn’t seem like it).  Mediation can assist parents to develop a productive co-parenting relationship for the sake of their kids.


Conflict about Estate Division

I recently attended the memorial service of my father-in-law, while this event and the ensuing estate division went smoothly, I was reminded of how this often does not happen.  When an elderly family member dies, previous family conflicts can reoccur or new ones can begin.  Many families have ongoing conflicts between siblings due to personality differences, traumatic events, and family dynamics.  Here’s an example.  Margaret was the mother of three children who are now in their fifties.  She passed away after a long battle with cancer.  During her illness, her oldest daughter, June, was her primary caregiver and missed a lot of work, due to her caregiving responsibilities.  As a result, her mother changed her will two months prior to her death to give June 50% of her financial assets.  The remaining 50% was split evenly between the two youngest siblings, John and Julie.  Julie and John were very upset about this and felt that their mother was not aware of the support they provide “behind the scenes” to Margaret.  They also felt the division of assets was unfair, since June lived in the same home as Margaret for three years and Margaret covered the mortgage, so June’s living expenses were significantly reduced for this period.  In a situation like this, the parties can choose to hire a mediator to assist in resolving this dispute.  A mediator can help the siblings to discuss the situation in a safe and productive manner.  It is not uncommon that the dynamics between them for most of their lives will also be reflected in this situation.  If John and Julie feel like June was always favored by her mother, then they are likely to interpret this situation in the same way.  If June has always felt like she priorized her mother’s well-being more than her siblings did, then she will likely interpret John and Julie’s frustration as unjustified.  A mediator can help all of the siblings to understand each other better and figure out a plan for moving forward and preserving or improving sibling relationships.  I also recommend that all involved get legal advice so they are aware of their legal rights and responsibilities.

Back to School Doesn’t Have to be Complicated or Conflictual

A new school year is starting and this often means new parenting plans for divorced parents who are co-parenting.  This is an opportunity to build on what has worked for both of you in the past and let go of arrangements that haven’t worked.  Take a moment to consider how last year worked.  What did you like?  What did you wish was different?  How did your children respond to the plan?  What did they say they wish was different?  Use the new school year as a chance to become more collaborative in your relationship with the other parent.

Here are some questions for both of you to consider.

1)      Are there other easier ways to increase the parenting time that each of you spends with your children? 

This could include attend school or extracurricular events together if you haven’t in the past.  Maybe a change in the transportation arrangements would allow each of you more valuable conversation with the children.

Try alternating roles.  If one of you typically manages the medical and dental appointments, try switching this arrangement for one year and see how it works.

2)      What is your favorite activity to do with your children?  What are your children’s favorite activities with each of you?

Ensure that both of you have an opportunity to spend time with your kids doing these activities on a regular basis.  Remember, that your kids need both of you.  They will be happy and healthy if each of you can support them to have a close relationship with the other parent.

3) What has changed this year?  Are the school schedules different?  Is someone attending a new school?  Maybe one parent has a different job and can now pick up the children earlier?

 Take advantage of any changes to improve the parenting plan to increase the benefit to your children.

3)      Evaluate the number of structured activities that your children have.  Consider if you can reduce these to allow for more unstructured play and time with each of you.

Check out this link for more info.

As adults, we often forget how to play.  If you have forgotten, redevelop this skill by sitting on the floor with your children, and/or joining their favorite game.  Letting a child direct his or her play with you will help build a strong connection between you.  If you start with 30-60 minutes a few times a week, you may be surprised at how much this improves your child’s openness to you.

4)      If you and the other parent aren’t ready to have this kind of conversation alone, consider hiring a family mediator to help you tweak or improve the current parenting plan for the benefit of your kids and yourselves.

See The Benefits of Mediation on this website.