Communicating with your ex

In one of the immense ironies of life, the very thing that causes many relationship break-downs in the first place – the loss of open and honest communication between you and your partner – is the one thing you need to re-establish after separation for the sake of your children.

No matter the feelings you may have for your ex as a partner, they need to be set to the side so that you can both find a positive method of dealing with the day-to-day care of your children. It certainly isn’t easy. Even if your separation is reasonably amicable, there are often issues around payment for childcare, what happens during school holidays and how to cope with those ‘but I don’t want to stay you tonight’ cries form the seven year old for the third time this month.

One of the reasons sometimes given for leaving a marriage is to avoid children having to cope with negative relationship patterns in the home. That benefit is lost if they then have to endure round after round of conflict between their parents after the separation. If negotiation with your ex often turns into quarreling, set some ground rules so your children won’t witness it. Set up firm boundaries, right from the beginning, around what you will and won’t say in front of your children. While it is best that both parents agree on this, even one parent doing so is better than none. Avoid telephone calls that could be overheard, or trying to arrange things during custody changeovers. If it is impossible to have any interaction with your ex-partner without conflict, find an independent person to help with changeovers until tempers have cooled.

You will probably find speaking with an ex easier if you:

  • schedule regular times to speak together instead of relying on impromptu meetings
  • hold meetings that you expect could be tense in a cafe instead of in your home
  • separate the issues and deal with them one by one – a meeting arranged to discuss custody arrangements is not the time to bring up unresolved hurts on other matters
  • avoid statements that begin with, “You”, instead us less inflammatory “I’, “when” and “because” sentence starters

Before the meeting, find someone to talk to, such as a counsellor or mediator, to check whether your requests are reasonable and fair. Above all, resist the temptation to sway your child’s loyalty and love for their other parent. This can be really hard! Children shouldn’t hear your ‘letting go of steam’ moments with other adults, neither should they be given the responsibility of passing on difficult messages to your ex. They may offer themselves as mediators, but it isn’t a job you should allow them to hold.

Talking with your children

Time has to be one of the hardest things to find when you are a single parent. If you are working and also responsible for the running of a household with children, you are effectively holding down a lot more than just one full-time job. Time becomes one of your most precious commodities.

Right from the beginning, carve out regular times for one-on-one interaction with your children. This could be allowing each child, independently, to stay up a bit later with you, once a week, or picking up one child a little earlier from school or childcare, or getting someone to take care of the others while you take one out. Find ways to talk together. Walk to school with them, or turn the music off in the car and talk.

Doing it completely solo

Many single parents have little or no contact with their child’s parent, and take all the responsibility for their child’s welfare on their own. It can feel very isolating. You have no one to talk to about your child and little time away to recharge your batteries. Single parenting is intense and draining. If you have sole care, arranging time out is even more essential.

It can be tempting to denigrate your child’s other parent, but this has a huge impact on your child’s sense of identity. The preferable option is to speak truthfully but pleasantly. Long term, your child will need to make their own decisions about the other parent. Your job is to provide a healthy, positive impression of their parent, even if everything in you would rather not speak well of your ex! Probably one of the biggest advantages in keeping all conversation about the other parent positive is that your child will be happier to go to them occasionally and you will get some time to recharge.

Shared parenting

The goal for two parents living apart is to work towards a shared parenting model. research shows that children with parents living apart do best if they have free and continuous relationships with both parents. This might mean you:

  • maintain schooling, activities and all their friendships and connections they had before the split
  • teach your child the other parent’s phone number and say they are always welcome to call
  • choose to have houses geographically close together so children find it easier to move from one to the other
  • share the purchasing of all clothes and toys over Christmas and birthdays
  • have regular family nights together, particularly on swap-over nights
  • share family birthdays and special events
  • share the pick-ups and drop-offs for children

Remember – the end result of good communication with an ex-partner is happier children. Kids are like sponges – they soak up the toxic interactions, and later on, the negativity can all come spilling out again.