Jann Blackstone-Ford and Sharyl Jupe: Bonus familiesGetting along as co-parents is your job
Q: My ex and I can’t talk to each other. Our breakup was really nasty and someone suggested we only communicate by e-mail or text. But her text messages are really awful, which makes it difficult when we exchange the kids. What can we do?
A: When a divorced couple comes into my office telling me they can’t talk to each other, I hesitate suggesting text messages or e-mail. Sometimes, e-mail is the lesser of the two evils and necessary when couples think they can’t communicate, but relying on text messages is really asking for trouble. First, they are short and can sound argumentative even though they are not intended to be. Consider the question, “Where are you?” If you are in love and dating, “Where are you?” can mean, “I miss you. Please hurry.” When you are at odds, “Where are you?” can mean, “You’re late again and I’m really sick of it.” Ultimately, the best way to communicate is to talk — where someone can hear the inflections in your voice and understand your true meaning.
When communicating with an ex, it’s best keep the discussion about the kids and not about the past or who did what to whom. I always suggest that battling parents approach each other in a businesslike manner. In other words, if you were at work and you had to interact with a co-worker you didn’t like, you wouldn’t openly fight with him or her because you might lose your job. You would look for ways to cooperate. You would try not to push their buttons. You would just do your job and then go home. It’s the same premise when communicating with an ex who gets under your skin. Just talk about what is necessary — the kids. Look for ways to cooperate — for the kids’ sake. Do your job and move on.
That’s when angry divorced parents really turn up the heat. “You don’t understand,” they say. “My ex was the worst ex anyone could ever have and I never want to speak to him (or her) again.” And, there lies the key to why you can’t talk to each other. You don’t want to. You are stuck in the anger, revenge, or jealousy and can’t get past it. Meanwhile the kids are going back and forth between houses. Try to remember this: You are now forging a new relationship as co-parents. It is not an extension of the relationship that didn’t work. Because you were not good at being partners does not mean you cannot be good co-parents. You can. Just do your job.
JANN BLACKSTONE-FORD and SHARYL JUPE are co-founders of Bonus Families (www.bonusfamilies.com) and authors of “Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After a Divorce or Separation.” Blackstone-Ford is married to Jupe’s ex-husband. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.