Helping Separated Parents Communicate
Helping Separated Parents Communicate…
By Gary Direnfeld, MSW
Communication between separated or divorced parents can be problematic.
Depending on the age, health and circumstances of the child, these parents may
find it necessary to communicate with each other anywhere from several times
daily to at least weekly. The ties and demands of parenthood require parents to
maintain a connection and communicate.
For some parents, unresolved or ongoing conflict cause communications to
degenerate which only leads to more difficulties. With this in mind several
strategies are often suggested such as telephone contact or written notes via a
communication book. Both of these strategies can be problematic.
The telephone requires hearing the emotional tone of the conversation and
because of the immediacy of the message, can easily lead to the conversation
degenerating. Sometimes one or other parent will tape the conversations for use
in court, but then it becomes questionable if this party goaded the other to
increase conflict for the taped conversation. Further, clandestine taping
inflames the already bad feelings of the other parent who may seek retribution.
Communication books or notes have the benefit of providing a permanent record
and keeps the parents apart, but poses two other concerns. The first is that
parents usually rely on the child to act as courier. This places the child
directly in the middle of the parental conflict and often subjects the child to
the immediate emotional response of the parent as they read the message. Second,
if the message is only delivered at the time of access, this makes planning
difficult. Quite often, communication requires a back and forth dialogue to
accomplish agreements as simple as access arrangements. When using notes or a
communication book, the messages often take the form of directives from one
parent to the other with the alternate parent feeling either controlled of
lacking input into decisions. So as a solution, this too can contribute to
ongoing conflict between parents.
Enter Email. Email provides an alternative communication tool to help parents
transmit a message. It allows thinking or a cooling off period prior to replying
and provides for a permanent record. The use of email keeps the communication
away from the child and removes some of the emotional impact carried by voice.
Because parents can respond back and forth, it also allows for discussion and
dialogue and so reduces the risk of one parent just providing directives as in
the case of the communication book. The email trail can be reviewed if one or
other parent has missed a point and also serves as a clear reference if a parent
forgets the content of an agreement. The electronic record, known to both, can
easily be printed by either and as such, both are more likely to remain on good
behavior knowing the record can be used in court or otherwise be made public.
Next time separated parents in conflict need to chat about their child where
conflict exists try email, but consider these guidelines:
1. Stick to the issues.
2. Keep the language clean and appropriate. No insults and no name-calling.
3. Prepare and save your message. Wait 1 - 24 hours to review and edit before
sending or replying. Upon reflection, you may want to make changes.
4. Keep a record and back-up these files.
5. Password-protect these files to keep them out of view of your child.
6. Remember, these emails can be used in court and your child may still gain
access. Do not act in a way that can be used against yourself.
Emails are not the same as therapy. As a communication strategy this is not
recommended to necessarily make a poor situation better, but it is suggested as
a potential solution to keep a poor situation from getting worse. In the event
that there is court ordered restrictions on face-to-face or voice contact, email
may provide a reasonable solution for parents to still communicate.