In today’s world, there is a wide variety of families with children. In addition to traditional nuclear families (married father and mother, and children who are sharing a household), there are:

  • Cohabiting mothers and fathers raising children.
  • Shared parenting families: Parents in separate households who share custody of their children, with the children alternating between their homes.
  • Single-parent families: One parent has custody and raises the children without the other parent’s involvement.
  • Noncustodial parenting: The nonresident parent is granted scheduled parenting time.
  • Grandparents raising grandchildren.
  • Foster families, adoptive families, blended families, and so many more.
Speak Less Listen More

Each type of family presents potential challenges to effective communication between parents. For example, when the custodial parent is hostile to the noncustodial parent and sometimes withholds access to the children while also demanding child support. I have seen such rage, pain, and bitterness in many cases. Interactions between parents in similar circumstances may become volatile at any time and without warning.

Although space and time prevent us from making suggestions for each scenario, what follows are some general ideas for creating and maintaining an open and understanding atmosphere for effective communication between parents to create and maintain a healthy co-parenting relationship in the children’s best interest.

The Goal: Achieving Understanding

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood” is commonly attributed to Stephen R. Covey, author of the best-selling book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” It’s the fifth habit in his framework and a cornerstone of effective communication in families and other settings.

In the context of communication between parenting partners, seeking first to understand means putting aside your assumptions and biases to truly listen to and comprehend the other person’s perspective, feelings, and needs. It’s about:

Active listening: Give your full attention to the one speaking, make eye contact, and avoid distractions.

Empathy: Try to see things from the other person’s point of view and experience their emotions as if they were your own.

Asking clarifying questions: It’s about not jumping to conclusions or interrupting but gaining a deeper understanding of what the person is trying to communicate.

Resisting the urge to respond immediately: Review what you’ve heard before formulating your response.

By seeking first to understand, you create a safe space for open and honest communication with your co-parent. This can lead to:

  • Stronger co-parenting relationships: When your parenting partner feels heard and understood, they are more likely to feel valued.
  • Reduced conflict: There’s less room for misunderstandings and arguments when everyone is focused on understanding each other for the children’s sake.
  • More effective problem-solving: When you understand the root of a problem, you’re better equipped to find solutions that work for you and your children.
  • Increased trust and respect: Open and honest communication builds trust between parenting partners.

Remember, seeking first to understand is an ongoing process, not a one-time action. It takes practice and patience, but the rewards are well worth it. By consciously listening to each other, you can build a strong parenting relationship despite no romantic relationship.

Here are some additional tips for practicing “seek first to understand” in your family communication:

  • Schedule regular family meetings (when possible and appropriate): This can be a time for everyone to share their thoughts and feelings without distractions.
  • Use “I” statements: This helps you focus on your feelings and experiences without blaming or accusing others.
  • Avoid interrupting: Let the other person finish their thought before you respond.
  • Be mindful of your body language: Make eye contact, nod your head, and lean in to show your engagement.
  • Validate the other person’s feelings: Even if you disagree, let them know you understand them.

Calling a Timeout

Recognizing the heat rising in a co-parenting disagreement can be tough, but stepping back can save the situation. If tempers flare, calmly proposing a “time-out” isn’t a weakness; it’s a strength.

By suggesting a quick breather, you prioritize clear communication over charged words. This pause allows both of you to cool down, regroup, and approach the issue later with calmer minds and a greater focus on finding solutions, not assigning blame.

  • Take an agreed-upon pause.
  • Set a time for continuing the conversation. It’s a time-out, not the end of the game.
  • Then return to the conversation with cooler heads and talk it out.

Remember, you are on the same parenting team. It is okay if you’re momentarily out of sync. A well-timed time-out can preserve your parenting relationship and pave the way for a more productive conversation.

Working Through Conflict

In every human relationship, there will be clashes. I have never seen a perfect couple in my 70+ years of life and nearly 40 years of ministering to parents. That is because there are no perfect individuals. Two imperfect people will have conflicts. It is inevitable. However, those disagreements do not have to harm the relationship permanently. For the sake of their children, parents must work hard to keep the lines of communication open between them.

When conflicts have caused separation or divorce, creating and maintaining a healthy co-parenting relationship is still possible. It requires a willingness to forgive, even after the romantic love has faded.

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is complicated when the pain associated with a broken romantic relationship is deep. To give your children the best life possible, however, the children are better off with both parents’ love and support. This requires cooperation between parents. If you agree with that premise, you might also agree that letting go of bitterness is worth it, for their sake.

The bonus of forgiveness is it is also good for you. It has been said that refusing to forgive is like drinking poison, hoping that the other person dies.  To begin healing, start with forgiving.

What is Forgiveness?

In R.T. Kendall’s “Total Forgiveness,” the definition of forgiveness goes beyond simply letting go of anger or resentment. It’s described as a deliberate and complete release of any offense or hurt, refusing to hold it against the offender and choosing to bless them instead. This goes beyond feelings and involves a conscious decision, an act of will, to release the offender from your bitterness and pain.

Kendall emphasizes that true forgiveness isn’t about condoning the offense or forgetting what happened. It’s about choosing not to let the offense control you or define your relationship with the other person. It’s about setting yourself free from the emotional prison of bitterness and resentment so you can experience inner peace and healing.

Here are some key points of Kendall’s definition:

  • It’s a choice: Forgiveness is not something that happens automatically. It’s a conscious decision you make, even when it’s difficult.
  • It’s complete: True forgiveness doesn’t hold onto any part of the offense. It lets go of everything, even the desire for revenge or justice.
  • It involves blessing: Kendall teaches that forgiveness goes beyond simply not wishing harm on the offender. It involves actively wishing them good and seeking their well-being.
  • It’s an ongoing process: Forgiveness is not a one-time event. It may require repeated decisions and prayers, especially for deep hurts.

Overall, Kendall’s definition of forgiveness challenges the reader to go beyond superficiality and embrace a radical concept of releasing pain and choosing love even in the face of deep hurt.

Remember: Forgiveness is a process. It is not the same as forgetting. Forgiveness is choosing to forgive every time the offense is remembered. With God’s help, eventually, the pain and other negative emotions associated with the offense will fade. That is when forgiveness is complete.

Restoring the relationship to the point where beneficial communication can occur regarding the children is worth the effort. If this is your struggle, I encourage you to seek professional counseling for help working through this.

Guidance from the Holy Scriptures

32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:32

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