A common complaint from divorcing/ divorced/ never married co-parents goes like this: “She texts, calls and emails me constantly about the kids. Every moment I have the kids, she is telling me what to do with them, when they need to go to bed, and what they should eat. She is micro-managing every moment of my parenting time. Help!” Or: “He constantly wants to get together to ‘talk about the kids’, but I think he’s using that excuse to interact with me. When there are things we really need to discuss about the kids, we can email, and we each get all of the children’s day-to-day information from emails from the school and their coaches/ teachers/ scout leaders. So why should he and I be meeting or talking all the time?”
There are variations, but the common theme in most of these stories is: “We are no longer together. I am moving on and it’s better for me to not have consistent, daily contact with this person. I want to parent on my time, and he should parent on his time, and we don’t need to interact all that much.” The response from the other parent also has a common theme: “He’s not cooperating and co-parenting unless he will talk to me.”
So which is true? Should parents interact frequently, or not at all? The answer, of course, depends on the family and how each parent feels about the interactions. There are plenty of cases where both parents have reached some mutually agreeable level of communication with each other. Sometimes that’s one weekly email about the children, or it could be multiple daily emails (especially when a child is ill). If the parents agree on the amount of contact they have, then there’s no issue and no one, particularly a parenting coordinator, is going to tell them that their type or frequency of contact is wrong.
This post is Part 1 of at least 3 (probably more) about parent interactions, and an attempt to explain why reducing and changing contact is often the best way to co-parent.
In parenting coordination cases, the problem for the PC arises when one parent sees the type or frequency of contact as a problem. (As mentioned above, if the parents have a mutual agreement that communicating 45 times a day is okay for them, I’m not going to stop them.) A frequent complaint is overuse of texting between the parents. Texting can be a useful tool, but unfortunately, PCs get used to seeing abuse by text. Long, narrative texts (voice texting has run amok!), usually a diatribe against a parent for some actual or perceived wrongdoing, tend to be the rule rather than the exception. When a parent shows me an offending text, I often have to scroll — and scroll and scroll and scroll — to read the whole thing. And there’s not much a PC can do about the abuse of texting, when it happens. The best way to handle receipt of an abusive text is to do nothing, and definitely not respond. But few people seem capable of doing that, so the response text triggers a new text, and on and on. This is why, after hearing of texting used in an abusive way between parents, the first recommendation of many parenting coordinators is “no more texting”.
Another issue with texting is that, although it’s an instantaneous and fleeting type of communication (a whole conversation can be deleted with one swipe, and it’s gone), some people use it to send important information that deserves more formality. Texting the other parent with your vacation dates for next summer is wrong. Texting the date and time of the child’s next doctor’s appointment is wrong (unless the appointment is this afternoon, and you truly believe texting is the only way to get the message to them). Those communications which include important, specific scheduling or dates, need to be done with the formality of email, copied to the PC if one is involved. No parent can be expected to scroll back through months of texts to try and find the other parent’s vacation dates or schedule.
Email has several benefits that aid parents, including the ability to search; the ability to organize emails into a folder specifically about the children; the ability to copy the PC; the ability to promptly forward an email (or your response) to your attorney if necessary; the ability to easily print; and, with most email services, it’s relatively difficult to accidentally delete an email forever.
Email has its faults but in general is a great way for co-parents, particularly those with some difficulties between them, to communicate about the children. When properly thought-out and edited before sending (an upcoming post will cover this), an email can send important and timely information about the children in an easily retrievable form. Emails are even more effective when copied to a neutral third party such as the parenting coordinator. When the writer knows the email will be read by the PC, the emails tend to be more businesslike and less personal.