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 (www.highconflictinstitute.org). 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?”

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…