Emailing is Great for Communicating, If Used Correctly

by Annette Burns on January 7, 2015

This is Part 2 of the discussion about communication between separated/ divorced parents and the tension that develops when one parent wants to have detailed or frequent communication and the other parent doesn’t.

The previous post talked about misuse of texting and why it can’t be a form of communication if one parent objects to it, and a few reasons why email is more efficient. But what if the length, content, or frequency of emails is a problem?

Many writings discuss difficulties with parent emails, including Bill Eddy’s fantastic BIFF writings. BIFF instructs us that emails (or email responses) should be Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm.   To be even more brief, emails between co-parents should be Businesslike!   A parent must learn to write the other parent as if it’s a business communication, when we all have to act like adults and not let emotion take over.

Brief is a problem for some writers/ couples, who have a need to re-hash past problems over and over in current emails. If an email is to be truly Informative, it is Briefly giving important information about the children, or Briefly describing an issue.

A BIFF email example: Would you agree that we exchange the weekends of February 15 and 22? If you agree, then you would have the children for 2 weekends in a row, February 8 and 15, and I would then have them 2 weekends in a row, February 22 and March 1. Please let me know and thank you.

The same email, in non-BIFF form: I need to have the children the weekend of February 22 which is your weekend. Remember that I have often let you have the children for special events with your family. I don’t expect you will want to offer me the same courtesy, but I am asking before I approach the parenting coordinator and court with this issue. Last year you had the children for several additional weekends because you knew that once you told the kids about special plans that I couldn’t be the bad guy and tell them no. I have worked my fingers to the bone to make sure the kids have a good relationship with your family, but I never get the same courtesy from you. And remember that this is an issue between the two of us, so don’t go asking your stupid girlfriend about her opinion on this —she is not a part of this!!!

The first email is Brief. It is Informative, as it specifies the two weeks to be switched, and even defines that each parent would have two weekends in a row as a result. It is Friendly — it says please and thank you. And it’s Firm — it is to the point, states the situation, and then stops.

The second email is, unfortunately more common. It’s not Brief by any means. It’s not Informative, because it throws out the request for the weekend of February 22, but gives no other details and sounds like the parent is simply demanding an additional weekend. It is not Friendly, as it launches into an attack and re-hashing of (apparently) past events between these parents. It might, arguably, be considered Firm, but not in a good way.

Here’s a BIFF response: I can trade so that you have the children the weekend of February 22, but I can only trade for the weekend of March 1. I can’t have the children the weekend of February 15 as I will be gone. So, the resulting trade would be that you have the children the weekends of February 15 and 22, and I then have them for the weekends of March 1 and 8. Please let me know if that works.

and, a non-BIFF response: Your repeated attacks of my character and my girlfriend are ridiculous! You can’t simply demand a weekend and expect to get it. We are going to follow the regular schedule no matter what, because you do nothing but disparage me and my family every chance you get. Remember when I wanted to have the children for my brother’s wedding, and you first said it would be okay and then tried to get Thanksgiving as a ‘swap’ for it. You’re pathetic.

I don’t need to tell you which type of request/ response is more likely to be successful.

But what if you send BIFF emails and continually get non-BIFF responses? Keep sending the Businesslike, straightforward, polite emails. Eventually, it’s likely that some third party, like a parenting coordinator or a judge, is going to see the emails, and will know which parent is trying to be reasonable and which parent is causing problems.

I’ve seen parenting time orders and even legal decision-making (custody) orders that were directly influenced by the way the parents communicated with each other. More importantly, your children will be influenced by which parent is really trying to reduce the conflict. Don’t fool yourself that “the kids will never see our emails so it doesn’t matter what I say.” The way the parents act in their communications with each other affects every aspect of co-parenting, and unquestionably affects the children.    Act like a businesslike adult, for your children’s sake.

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