Positive Co-Parenting: How to Avoid Toxic Texts with your Ex
In my work as an adult therapist and parenting consultant and coach at The Sibley Group, I work with a lot of couples who are going through a divorce. This is an extraordinarily stressful time as there can be a lot of conflict between the two adults. When the conflict is high it is difficult to co-parent without the tensions getting in the way. Despite conflict, co-parenting must occur and communication is unavoidable. Oftentimes when parents are communicating via text to exchange information about a child, other tensions arise. Here are some helpful ways to exchange texts about the children without allowing the conflict of the divorce to get in the way of healthy co-parenting.
- Start the text referencing the child. For example, “This text will be about Johnny’s doctor visit.” By starting off by referencing the child and including the subject about the child, it helps set up the goal of the text exchange. If the other parent tries to turn the text exchange into addressing other issues or becoming toxic in the exchange, simply refer the parent to the original topic. “This text exchange is about Johnny’s visit to the doctor.” Once the subject pertaining to parenting has concluded, end the text exchange.
- Write your texts as though they will be read in court. When you are going to begin a text exchange with your ex regarding a parenting issue, think to yourself: “How will it look if my ex saves these texts and read them in court?” It is difficult to keep parenting matters separate in a high conflict divorce, so write parenting texts with this in mind. It sets a precedent that parenting is a separate issue from the marriage/adult issues. If the two parents start off by keeping the parenting texts separate from other texts and write them carefully, it also paves that path for healthier co-parenting following the divorce.
- Keep in mind “respond vs. react.” One can easily be triggered by an ex and quickly react emotionally to a toxic text. When one reacts impulsively or emotionally versus responding calmly and thoughtfully to a text, tensions are usually worse and the conflict will get in the way of effective parenting. If a toxic text comes through, you do not need to respond right away. Take a moment to take a deep breath. Wait for the length of time it takes for you to respond in a thoughtful/helpful way. When you respond instead of reacting, you can remind the ex to stay focused on the parenting subject and your communication will be more productive.
Parenting has many challenges even when two parents are happily married. If parents are involved in a high conflict divorce, it is tough to separate parenting issues from the divorce conflict. Despite the conflict in a divorce, it really is possible (with support and coaching if needed) to exchange texts and co-parent effectively.