This article is from Carol Mapp, LCSW, an Arlington-based therapist with Integrated Healthworks.
Respectful communication is the cornerstone of a successful co-parenting relationship.
Respect entails relating to others the way you want to be related to – with attention, kindheartedness and thoughtfulness. When you are respectful, you are mindful, courteous and patient.
Email can be a useful tool when parenting children in two homes. However, it has the potential to negatively affect this relationship when used unwisely.
Respecting each other means to value each other’s differences – the different ways we learn, the different ways we relate and interact with each other, our different personalities, temperaments, capabilities and competencies. Different genders, cultures, faith and language should mean diversity and distinction, not division and dissension.
Respect recognizes that a person has as much right to the way he or she thinks and feels as you do.
Respect does not embarrass, disgrace or hurt. When you are respectful, you esteem and honor. You
hold others in high regard, valuing them for whom and what they are.
Respect entails being considerate of others’ principles, beliefs and values. It is valuing rather than denigrating others for what or who they are.
With those principles in mind, here are some tips for using email to communicate in co-parenting situations.
• Do take time out to think about the problem and to clarify your thoughts. If an email is inappropriate to be read out loud to your children, do not send it. Instead, rewrite it in a more conciliatory tone.
• Be respectful of the length of your email communications. Keep it simple and ask yourself is it wiser to have a live conversation given the nature of your message. When writing an email, limit the characters per line and its length. It is harder to read emails on a computer screen than on a sheet of paper, so keep them short and to the point.
• See conflicting interests as a shared challenge. Individuals are well served to recognize that there are as many ways of seeing the world, as there are people in it. Different perspectives and ways of reacting do not necessarily mean that their interest is not valid. Strive for solutions to which both parents can commit.
• Keep the doors of communication open. Don’t tell the other parent what she or he thinks or feels. Remember that every person has the right to have feelings or differences of opinion. Realize that everyone is responsible for his or her own behavior/thoughts, and feelings.
• Don’t participate in “intelligent” arguments that go nowhere. Do not spin your wheels trying to convince the other parent of the “rightness” of your position. If the other parent is not “hearing” you, simply write, “I understand that you disagree. I just see the problem differently.”
• Remind yourself that once you hit the send button and your email is sent, you have no control as to its journey and destination(s) thereafter; being thoughtful and respectful is your best defense against regretting a message after it’s sent.
• Be clear and specific in your communications. Ensure the other parent knows if you are providing information, seeking information, collaborating, making a decision, etc.
• Write an informative subject line such as “extracurricular activities” or “vacation information”) – don’t just leave it blank.
• Bottom-line your message at every opportunity while ensuring that you are using effective, tone, and language in your comments. Don’t try to make vague requests. Let the other person know specifically what you want. Do not anticipate the expect people to anticipate your needs or do things that that you have not requested.
• Remember your opening comments are as critical as your closing comments, so keep them clear, tight and specific.
• Refrain from criticizing, discriminating, blaming, and shaming. Do not intimidate or discount the other parent’s feelings. Be courteous in all your communications – it doesn’t take any extra time to do so!
• Change occurs slowly so do not get discouraged if you have difficulty initially in your electronic communications. This is just part of the process, so be patient with yourself. You will have many opportunities to get back on track.