Do your children talk to you about their other parent? Do you feel like your have open communication with your children about everything - including your co-parent? Do you feel like there’s too much communication between your children and your co-parent or between you and your children? Communication about your co-parent is a tricky subject and I hope to tackle the questions I’ve had with this list of 10 tips:
Keep it positive. You don’t have to like your co-parent, but your children do. Keep it positive, all of the time. This means no snide comments, jokes about your co-parent, or comments about how much “better” it is at your house.
Know that when you listen with the intent of hearing instead of listening with the intention of gaining information, you’re opening communication up between you and your kids. This means they’re more likely to talk to you about the big things like drugs, sex, and dating when the time comes.
Respect their love for their other parent. In high-conflict situations, and even in basic co-parenting situations, frustration, resentment and bitterness can cloud the image you have of your co-parent. Your children don’t have the frustration, resentment and bitterness, however, so when you respect their pure love of BOTH of their parents, it opens communication doors.
Ask questions. There’s a difference between being engaged in your children’s lives and interrogating your children. Here’s a quick gauge: if you would ask the question about their school day or playdate with a friend, then it’s generally safe for you to ask about time with their other parent. (Keep tip #2 in mind.)
Be appropriately honest. My stepdaughter is struggling with her relationship with her Mom. She actually has more placement time with Mom, but says she never sees her Mom because she’s working all the time, even at home. It’s so bad, she started waking up in the night scared her Mom would forget to pick her up after school. My husband and I could have handled this a lot of ways. We chose to handle it by empowering her to talk to her Mom and ask her to put work away and spend time together, by always letting her try to Facetime or call her Mom, and then being appropriately honest with her. We told her that it’s important for both Mom and Dad to work and that one of the ways Mom is showing she loves her is by providing a house for her through her job. We could easily go down a negative path, but my stepdaughter’s emotions are the ones at stake here.
Have a phrase to use when you are feeling nothing but frustration from the stories you hear. Like in the situation above, when my stepdaughter is in tears saying she misses her Mom after a 2 day placement time with Mom because her Mom did not spend time with her, we’re just as heartbroken as my stepdaughter. Rather than showing her this, we have a couple go-to phrases that we can use to remain positive for her sake. Those include, “What fun things did you do with (whomever she was with)?”, “I’m sorry Mom was busy, would you like to draw her a picture or write her a letter?”, and “Is there anything you were hoping to do that we can do together?”
Don’t force it. Remember tip #4? You may be asking questions, but your children are giving the standard kid answers - “I don’t know”, “I don’t remember”, and/or “Nothing”. This is where asking questions can cross a line, so after answers like this, keep it short and sweet, but open with a phrase like, “Well, I love hearing about the fun you had together, if you think of something, I’m all ears!” Then move on. The point is to keep ALL communication open between you and your kids, so reminding them often that you’re ready to listen about anything goes farther than you may believe.
Know that you won’t have all the answers. Sometimes it’s ok for you to say, “I don’t know how to respond to that” or “I’m not sure how to answer that”. Being a parent doesn’t mean you need to have all the answers. There are tough questions like, “why did you get divorced?” and if you don’t know how to answer at that time, it’s ok to use a phrase above and get back to them at a later time.
Give the benefit of the doubt. When it comes to situations like my stepdaughter, we know that her Mom is there with her. We also know that her Mom does spend time with her. When my stepdaughter says, “Mom doesn’t see me” after a weekend with Mom, that may mean that Mom worked all weekend, it may mean that my stepdaughter wanted to participate in an activity that Mom didn’t want to, or it may mean something completely different. Hearing the stories from your kids can invoke a lot of fear and frustration when it comes to your co-parent, the same as the stories they hear about your house can do to them. How much better is it for everyone to give the benefit of the doubt than jump to conclusions?
Make conversation a part of your everyday. This tip isn’t related to communication about your co-parent, but it is a tip that I am passionate about when it comes to children. Simply having dinner together once/week can open communication between parents and children in such a positive way. When communication is open, children will thrive and will feel more comfortable talking about the important things.
I’d love to hear from you. How do you keep conversation open with your children when it’s related to the divorce? Comment below.
Learn more about communicating with your children with the Communication Toolkit Video Series. Everything from telling them about the divorce to how to handle a new partner is included. Best of all, it's super affordable, learned on your time and in your own home, and private.