Co-Parenting Convos - Child-Focused Communication
In today’s “Co-Parenting Convo,” let’s explore a foundational co-parenting communication tip: “Your communication with the other co-parent should be child focused.” Now, you may be thinking, “this sounds so simple, tell me something I don’t know!” Yet, as family law attorneys, we see what happens when parents do not keep their communication focused on the child. Don’t forget, we review and are privy to LOTS of emails, texts, audio recordings, etc. between parents and caretakers.
First, when we say "child-focused," what we mean is that your communication with the other co-parent only addresses the matters related to your child. On the other hand, "parent-focused" communication usually highlights the parent’s own feelings, emotions, or general distain for the other parent, which is often veiled in situations involving the child. You get the drift. If you've co-parented for more than one day, you know what we’re talking about. We’ve all done it, both right and wrong. While perfection in this area cannot be the goal (you are not a robot), we do believe it is possible to mindfully take steps for you to create a standard of child-focused communication with your co-parent.
Now, let’s do a little exercise. Parent #1, Bobby, is at his child, Freddy’s, soccer game. Parent #2, Sonnie, was supposed to arrive at the beginning of Freddy’s two-hour game. Pretend that Sonnie does not show up until three minutes before the game ends. Further, imagine this is the third time in a row that Sonnie barely makes it. Freddy is visibly confused and anxious wondering where Sonnie is during the entire game. Afterwards, Bobby decides to send Sonnie a text. He has the choice to make this a child-focused communication or a parent-focused communication.
An example of a parent-focused text message may look like the following: “Sonnie, you are the worst parent ever, showing up at the end of Freddy’s game with three minutes to spare for the last three games. Freddy is obviously not your priority. I try so hard to work with you, but you don’t care about anyone but yourself and that is clear!!! This is the same behavior you showed me when we were married, and you never showed up to my softball games to support me. Freaking unbelievable! Don't bother showing up anymore.”
A child-focused message say be something like the following: “Sonnie, after Freddy’s game earlier, he was crying and told me that felt like you forgot about him because you showed up at the end of his game. Freddy told us both a couple of weeks ago how important it was to him for both of us to be at his games. Is there a way that we can touch base the day before Freddy’s games to figure out when you will arrive at his games? This might help Freddy if he knows when you will be there, or if you can't come. Let me know your thoughts?”
The first example attacks Sonnie and is less about Freddy and more about Bobby’s unresolved feelings from their past relationship failings, than it is about the issue at hand. The second example, lays out facts and communicates how Sonnie’s actions affected Freddy directly based on conversations with Freddy. Additionally, the child-focused text message suggests how the parties might address this issue moving forward and opens the door for a conversation between the co-parents to come to a resolution in Freddy's best interest.
Ultimately, there is no formula for how to keep your communication child-focused, since co-parenting communication can be difficult at the best of times. However, we believe that if you filter your communication through the “child-focused” lens, then you’re halfway there. Remember, this is a skill that you will forever improve upon.
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