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Therapist Corner: Effective Co-Parent Communication

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor with over 17 years of experience working with children and their families. Part of my work has been providing joint-co-parenting counseling to co-parents going through separation/divorce. There are a lot of emotions that go with this process and separating them from the co-parenting relationship can be a challenge. Through joint co-parenting counseling, co-parents can learn effective co-parent communication with each other and put their children’s needs first. 

Positive, assertive communication is extremely helpful in every co-parenting relationship. One tool that can be very helpful in assertive communication is an “I Statement.”  This form of non-confrontational communication allows co-parents to express their feelings, name the behaviors they observe, and then state what they would like to happen moving forward. Here is an example: “I feel frustrated when things from our past are brought up in our conversations. I would like for us to focus on the present issue so we can decide what will be best for our kids.”  

Another thing that can be helpful in communicating with your co-parent is to view the co-parenting relationship as being in the “business” of raising children together. You should always respectfully communicate with your co-parent, just as you would with a co-worker or boss. Sometimes it’s good to take some time before responding to a text or email to your co-parent before reacting from an emotional place that can lead to conflict. Having a trusted friend read over written communication before sending it can also be helpful. If a conflict does arise between co-parents, try not to take it personally. It’s more helpful to focus on the current issue, not bring up the past, and work towards a compromise that will benefit your children. 

If communication remains difficult with a co-parent, it can be helpful to have a shared Google calendar to minimize stressful communication, but keep the co-parent informed of the important events in your children’s lives. Having a set time to respond to messages is also helpful. Co-parents can agree to respond to necessary communication within a 24 -hour time frame for non-emergencies. 

It’s extremely important to keep kids out of adult conflict. Kids need to be kids and keeping adult information away from them will reduce the anxiety they may be feeling about family changes. It’s also essential to stress that the children are not the cause of their parent’s divorce. Remind them that even though parents no longer live together, they both still love them and will work together to ensure the children’s needs are met at both homes. Kids want to feel safe and loved, and you can make them feel this way by validating their feelings and being positive about spending time with co-parent. It’s never okay to say negative things about the co-parent to your children because this is very damaging to children’s self-esteem. Kids need to have a relationship with both parents, despite what has happened between co-parents during the divorce process. 

Divorce is hard, but the better co-parents get along, the better kids will do with adjusting to the changes the family is going through. Doing your best to stay positive with your co-parent and communicating in a neutral, child-centered way will help both of you better navigate the co-parenting relationship.  

Kim McLaughlin, MEd, LPC