Please join me in welcoming Ariella Shuster, life coach, author, and collaborative law expert, today for a guest post. As a family law attorney, she supports those who need it as they move through separation and divorce. Her new book Divorce with Dignity provides ways to mitigate and prevent the damage that occurs all too often to families following the decision to end the marriage. Below, Ariella outlines three communication mindset tools to make healthy co-parenting easier.
Guest post from Ariella Shuster, Esq.
In my work as a divorce attorney and life coach, and from my personal experience as a co-parent, I discovered that having an underlying conceptual framework regarding the co-parenting relationship is critical. This framework is so vital that I devote a chapter of my book, Divorce with Dignity: How to End Your Marriage and Not Ruin Your Life or the Lives of Your Children to discussing the skill of remaining in high integrity during your divorce process and into the future.
Developing a philosophical or conceptual foundation regarding the co-parenting relationship itself and how you want to “be” in it and relate to it enhances your ability to implement the boots-on-the-ground communication techniques that I will share below. In my work, I encourage co-parents to think about their “what for” for effectively communicating with their co-parent.
I pointedly ask parents to identify the benefits they foresee that they might experience from communicating well with their co-parent. Common responses include healthier kids, reduced family, individual and relational stress, more general life satisfaction, decreased conflict, and an overall sense of well-being.
Three communication mindset tools for co-parents
Below are 3 mindset tools and concepts that I teach to my co-parent clients and that I use personally in my co-parenting relationship:
1. The Bridge
Children benefit from stability across households. When children know that their parents communicate with each other about them, it increases their sense of safety and trust. Envision that you and your co-parent are pillars holding up either end of the bridge and that your children are standing on the center of the bridge.
They rely on your steadiness to keep the bridge stable and protect them from fluctuations in the environment. Your children’s ability to trust that you are communicating information to each other about them increases their feeling of safety, decreases their ability to potentially manipulate information between houses, and creates security that both households are on the same page.
Nothing can rattle you like things that impact your kids and working with your ex! Because of this, it’s important to learn skills that allow you to remain grounded in your conversations.
One such tool is to glean your “essence,” meaning to identify your unique core characteristics that can be called on to support you in effectively communicating. Essence traits include peace, humility, compassion, respect, and joy.
When communicating, use these words as anchors to keep you from getting caught up in the waves of conflict. Practice tip: When challenged in a conversation, choose an anchor word, such as peace – ask yourself, coming from a place of peace within me, what would I say right now?
Visualize two sets of bubbles, one on top of the other. One bubble in each set represents you, the other your co-parent. The top bubbles represent your prior marital relationship, the bottom bubbles your current co-parenting relationship.
When ineffective patterns of communication emerge, ask yourself, which set of bubbles does this stem from? If it is coming from your old romantic relationship dynamic, notice that and shift gears. Old resentments and anything that comes out of your past marital relationship do not pertain to your current co-parenting relationship.
You have the opportunity to shift old habits of relating and reframe your relationship to the co-parenting realm. This shift affords you freedom to move forward in a new way, with a hopefully upgraded communication dynamic that supports your healthy co-parenting relationship.
When the above mindset tools and co-parenting frameworks are firmly in place, they serve as a strong foundation on which to practice the boots-on-the-ground communication techniques that support smooth co-parenting.
Communication mindset guidelines
Here are some time-tested co-parenting communication guidelines:
- Set clear and consistent communication boundaries
- Communicate openly and honestly
- Focus on your children’s needs
- Communicate respectfully
- Refrain from personal attacks and negative language
- Try not to get grounded in a particular position and outcome, leaving room for compromise
- Do not use your children as messengers
- Clear protocols, such as preferred method of communication– text, phone, email?
- Specify the amount of communication desired – daily, weekly?
- Share an online family calendar
- Set a regular meeting to discuss kids, updates, potential changes to the calendar
The above communication tips are useful in both amicable and conflicted co-parenting relationships. For co-parents wanting clearer communication protocols and possibly less direct engagement, here are a few popular apps that facilitate communication:
- Talking Parents
- Our Family Wizard
All two family households benefit from having a plan in place for when disagreements inevitably arise, and conversations become heated. I am a strong advocate of having what I call the pressure release valve mechanism of a coach or therapist in place that you and your co-parent agree to consult while putting a conflict on hold. I have found that just having this resource in place often results in an abatement of the conflict and allows you to reach resolution without outside assistance.
Effective peaceful communication and cooperation between parents is beneficial in creating a safe and stable growing environment for kids. It can be hard work, but reaps big benefits in both the health of your kids and in your own personal journey after divorce into co-parenting.
About today’s guest writer, Ariella Shuster
Ariella Shuster, Esq., is a practicing family law attorney on a mission to support people in keeping their dignity and respect intact as they move through separation and divorce. She’s a professional life coach, with special expertise in divorce coaching, a mediator, a yoga instructor, a speaker, and mom to a rapidly growing teenage son.
Before her roles as a mother and life coach, she was an intrepid world traveler and spent over a decade working in the criminal court system as a public defender in New York City and Seattle, Washington. She remains an avid cook, enthusiastic wine taster, and dabbler in random athletic pursuits.
Ariella lives in Seattle, and she primarily represents people dedicated to divorcing with dignity through Collaborative or other out-of-court divorce processes. She is also available for legal and life coaching and represents compelling clients who would prefer to divorce amicably but don’t have a partner in peace.