Hey healthy mamas!

Happy New Year!

Welcome to the 29th episode of the Healthy Mom After Divorce Podcast!

What would you say is one of the hardest parts of any relationship? Not just a co-parenting one but any relationship?

If you’re like me, what comes to mind is communication.

Communication is hard no matter what.

Let’s start with communication at beginner level difficulty.

Here you’re communicating with someone you get along with. Someone you like. It’s not always easy to get your respective points across but you trust that they’ll give you the benefit of the doubt if you don’t say something quite right. You believe they’ll be honest with you and will discuss things with you in good faith. These are probably the people you are around most of the time.

Now let’s step up to intermediate.

Here you’re communicating with someone who you don’t completely trust. This person sometimes lies to you, reneges on agreements, confuses you and maybe even criticizes you in your conversations with them. These are the people most of us would only communicate with when necessary. They’re probably not our friends and we avoid them whenever possible.

But alas, you’re listening to this podcast so that means, it’s unlikely you’re at intermediate level. You are a lucky participant in the advanced class.

Here, not only is communication hard to begin with (like at beginner level) and you’re communicating with someone you don’t like, don’t trust and can’t depend on to do what they say they will (like at intermediate level) but to top it all off, you can’t avoid them and walk away because you have kids with them.

This is a tough spot to be in. And you can’t go around, you can’t go back… the only way out is through.

When it comes to communicating with a high-conflict co-parent, questions I regularly hear are:

“How do I get my co-parent to communicate with me when they refuse?”
“How do I get my co-parent to stop criticizing me in his communication?”
“How can I get our two households on the same page for the kids?”

And I have an answer to all these – but it has nothing to do with your co-parent.

For most of us, that’s good and bad news.

Good because it means there are things well in our control that we can do to improve the conflict-ridden situation.

But, also bad because it really would make things a lot easier if your co-parent would stop being so difficult – but we don’t get a say in that part.

Let’s start at the beginning.

1. Define what improving communication between co-parents means to you – then, if necessary, redefine it.

If you think about communication between co-parents as a collaborative process where the parents share what’s important to them and come to agreements that consider the best interests of the children, you’re not wrong. That’s a great way to define it.

But it’s not the only definition. And if you’re trying to fit your high-conflict co-parenting situation into this box, you’re spinning your wheels.

If getting on the same page as your high-conflict co-parent seems impossible, it’s because it is.

They enjoy the conflict so even if they actually agree with you on something, there’s a good chance they’ll still disagree with you for the sake of it.

So let’s start by redefining what improved communication is like in a high-conflict co-parenting situation.

Think of communication, not as a collaborative process, but as (a) the steps you take to relay important information to your co-parent without adding to the conflict and (b) the systems you put in place on your end to protect your mental health.

This is about what you do, not what you and your ex do together. It’s a system you implement that’s entirely in your control that is unwavering despite anything your co-parent says or does.

If you can start by changing what communication means you, you’ll find yourself less frustrated because it’ll be about a system you’re putting into play, not a system that requires your co-parent’s agreeable and honest participation.

2. Stick to the basics – important and relevant information only.

This relates to the content of your communication.

You’re relaying important information that they need to know as it relates to the children.

Dates and times of extracurriculars or events they should know about, health information about medical visits or the last time the kids had medication, school-related information like about homework, grades or field trips, upcoming travel you’re taking with the kids, those sorts of things.

The key to remember is information only. Avoid context, reasons, requests and criticisms.

So, if you’re letting them know about a field trip form that came home from school that day, it can be as simple and snapping a picture and sending it by email letting them know you’ll return it the next day with the fee paid.

You don’t need to add anything about why you want your kid to go or how it’s their turn to sign and return the form or why you think this field trip will be good for them. None of that.

Just a simple ‘FYI and here are the steps I’ve taken’.

There may be cases where you need to ask for agreement and you can do that too. But keep those expectations in check and try to stick to the basics as much as possible.

And basic content is only part of it. It’s not just about what you write but also how you write.

In episode 18, I referenced a Bill Eddy book called BIFF For Coparent Communication: Your Guide To Difficult Coparent Texts, Emails and Social Media Posts.

Eddy’s BIFF acronym is a really good place to start for how you communicate. It stands for brief, informative, friendly and firm.

The reason you want to keep this in mind when you’re communicating is because you will be subject to what he calls ‘Blamespeak’ from your high-conflict co-parent.

The term ‘Blamespeak’ is pretty self-explanatory. Basically, your high-conflict co-parent communicates in a way that blames everyone else in the world for their problems. And you are no exception. In fact, you may be to blame for most of them.

To drive this point home, Eddy lists 4 primary characteristics of high-conflict people.

Does this sound like someone you know?

1. A preoccupation with blaming others.
2. All-or-nothing thinking.
3. Unmanaged emotions (out of proportion to events).
4. Extreme behaviour, like yelling, hitting, spreading rumours, impulsive actions.

I’m guessing you’re nodding your head yes.

High-conflict people use Blamespeak as a regular pattern in their communication. You need to be prepared for it and frankly, expect it regularly. But don’t let it shake you off your game.

Brief. Informative. Friendly. Firm.

And stick to the basics. What do they need to know? What information do you have that should be relayed to them? That’s it.

No context. No opinion. No tips. No criticisms.

It won’t be easy, but it will help decrease the conflict and protect your health, both of which are always in the best interests of your kids.

3. Radically accept that you don’t get a say in your co-parent’s choices.

This might be the hardest one of all. I say it over and over but there’s a reason for that.

If you remember back to my first point, improving communication between the two of you is about what you can do to improve your (and by extension, your kids’) experience, not what you can make your co-parent do or not do.

You can’t make them respond.
You can’t make them communicate information.
You can’t stop them from saying nasty things.

And that’s just when it comes to communicating with you.

What about when it comes to raising your kids?

When they’re with them, they get to decide everything when it comes to the day-to-day life of your kids.

If you have a parenting agreement in place, there’s a good chance that big decisions, like medical issues or where to go to school, are still joint.

But what clothes your kids wear, when they do their homework, what snacks they get, when they go to bed, how much fast food they eat, what movies they watch, what video games they play, whether or not they can curse, how late they stay up, all of that is up to them.

Their house. Their rules.

Your house. Your rules.

In a high-conflict co-parenting situation, the parties will not be able to agree on much. Some of the time, the two of you just fundamentally disagree. It really isn’t much of a stretch that the two of you have very different parenting styles.

But even more than that, although you’re trying to decrease the conflict and come to agreements between the two of you, your high-conflict co-parent is looking to create and maintain conflict.

They will intentionally not agree to things just for the intrinsic pleasure of not agreeing with you.

And if you send them a list of things that you expect them to do at their house (bedtime at 8, no juice or pop, no video games before homework), all you’ve done is given them the list of things to do the opposite of.

A high-conflict person is always looking for ways to push your buttons and get a reaction from you, just like in your relationship. It’s simply another way to control you.

I know it’s hard to think that your kids aren’t getting consistent messaging, but they will adapt. Just like they adapt to the rules from different teachers at school or from their coaches or at daycare.

Your job is to keep the ship steady on your end.

Play your part, be consistent and reliable for your kids, communicate the necessary information to your co-parent, play by the rules and above all, manage your expectations.

You may get a response, you may not.

They may agree, they may not.

They may be reasonable, they may not.

But what they do on their end is not your focus. Your mind is set on what you do in your house, how and what you communicate to them and the system you put in place to protect you.

Living in a constant state of anxiety and stress because your kids eat chicken nuggets 3 times a week with their other parent is far worse on your health and your kids’ health than those nuggets will ever be.

Don’t let the lifestyle choices of your high-conflict co-parent disrupt the peace and safety of your relationship with your kids.

Your kids really will be ok. And so will you.

Redefine what communication means for your family.
Build your system and set your boundaries.
Shift your focus to your home, stick to the plan and be the safe, unwavering rock your kids need.

If you could use some help building your system and reclaiming your peace at home, I can help.

If you’d like to find out more about how I can help, why not schedule a free 45-minute Discovery Call with me here because healthy moms raise healthy kids.