In the first Blog in this Series, we wrote that there are two purposes of communication in a co-parenting relationship: sharing information and taking action. In the second Blog in this Series, we introduced Sharing Information Procedures, including the four types of information to share. In this Blog, we present the Sharing Information Rules of conduct for information sharing.
As we wrote in the prior Blog, the procedures for sharing information come down to two questions: one, what information needs to be shared? and two, how that information will be shared? Because there are four types of information to be shared, there are four lists of what information should be shared.
- Weekly general information. Parents need to make a list of what they each want to know. The following are some typical types of information listed:
The next step is to decide on a regular time to talk by telephone. This is an important “business meeting”, so treat it like an important appointment. If one of you cannot make the meeting, contact the other parent before the appointment and reschedule. Parenting meetings can last just a few minutes when there is not much to report or sometimes 20-30 minutes when there is much to report.
Never try to make a decision or resolve a problem at this meeting. This meeting is for sharing information only. If there is a decision to make or a problem to solve, make an appointment at a different time for that, and follow the Six Step Procedures in the “Becoming an Expert Problem Solver” Series of Blogs.
- Emergency Information. Make a list of what you consider emergencies, that is, what types of situations you would like to hear about immediately or as soon as possible. The following are typical situations, but you can add additional situations to the list:
- A medical emergency that requires an office or hospital visit
- Illness that is keeping the child out of school or extracurricular activities
- An unexpected contact from the school about an occurrence there
- A family emergency that might affect the children
Then decide on a means of contacting one another.
- Transition information. When children go from one house to the other, the parent that they are leaving might have some important information to share so that the other parent knows what is going on. A text message can be efficient, or spending a few minutes parents speaking at a transition can be even better. Decide on a method of communication, and before the child or children leave a parent, that parent should think about whether there is any information about the child(ren) that would be beneficial for the other parent to know (e.g., “Jimmy didn’t sleep well last night and might be tired and cranky.”).
- Paperwork. Both parents should have paperwork from the school, schedules for activities, medical records and so on. There are many options, but one that is pretty efficient is to have a parents’ folder in the child’s backpack into which copies of the paperwork can be placed and exchanged. Make a list of the paperwork that you would each like to see and design a method for that to happen.
Rules of Conduct
Rules of Conduct keep information sharing emotionally safe. This is critical because if contact between co-parents is not emotionally safe on a regular basis, people will quit and the children will suffer. Parents will be working in the dark, only able to guess what the other part of their children’s lives are like.
There is a trick to making good Rules of Conduct. To make negative rules, such as never calling each other names, and then listing the offensive names, or “don’t yell at me” and so on, can be extremely cumbersome and generally ineffective. A good rule is a positive one because one positive rule covers many negative rules. The following are some suggestions:
- Always be courteous.
- Always apologize immediately if you are not courteous.
- Pay attention to what the other parent is saying and don’t interrupt until he or she has finished.
- Make polite requests, not demands.
- Share information only, not criticisms or opinions about the other parent.
- If a situation is becoming too emotional to be safe, either parent can call it off, but the parent who calls it off needs to reschedule to finish the conversation.
Add to the list of Rules of Conduct whatever would make contact with one another emotionally safe in your situation. You can add a negative rule if there is something particular that the other parent does that is offensive. For example, if your CPP walks away when you are in the middle of a sentence, a rule could be: if one parent leaves a conversation prematurely, for whatever reason, rather than just walk away, he or she must interrupt and announce that he or needs to go. If the information sharing is unfinished, the parent who must leave must make an appointment to finish the conversation.
Summary. Having agreed upon Procedures and Rules of Conduct can accomplish important communication goals between separated parents, regardless of how those parents initially feel about each other. Our experience is that by sharing information with one another on a regular basis, and in an emotionally safe manner, this helps parents get over some of the anger they once had. Technically, this is called “An Open Information System,” and one which is self-correcting. What that means in practical terms is that by sharing information, many problems in co-parenting never come up. Having good information prevents them from becoming problems.
We also want to offer words of encouragement. Initially, these procedures might feel at least awkward, if not frightening. In our experience, once parents do this regularly and see the benefits to themselves and their children, they enjoy the process of sharing information and are proud of providing their children with this type of family.
In the next set of Blogs, “Becoming Expert Problem Solvers,” we discuss the second purpose of communication: making decisions, solving problems and resolving concerns. While this is often more challenging that sharing information, Procedures and Rules of Conduct can make that work too.