When things are tense, finding ways to communicate successfully can be problematic. In the early days, especially, it can be difficult to talk and discussions can easily become arguments.
Nevertheless, it's vital that you find a way of sharing important information about your children. Failure to communicate around their needs can make life more difficult for them, make it harder
for them to adjust and, in the worst situations, can put them at risk. One solution to difficult communications is to agree to structure your communications.
The Parenting Phone call (sometimes referred to as a Scripted Phone Call) or the Parenting Information Exchange (where you substitute oral communication for written communication) are ways of having a business like exchange of information that keeps firm boundaries in place.
Over time, as things begin to improve, this can form a solid foundation for exchanging important information about your children and can even set the standard for a new parenting relationship between the two of you. It can also help to build trust between you and will demonstrate to your children that you are working together around their needs.
The Parenting Phone Call works by placing strict rules around what can and what can't be talked about. As relations between you become less tense, it's possible to relax these rules. But, at the
beginning, it's important to stick to them. The four basic rules are:
Talk only about things that are relevant to the children
If you want to talk about your relationship, ask for a separate phone call.
Stick to the agenda
Talk only about pre-agreed items, if something else comes up book another call.
Don't ask each other what you've been doing or how you are; this is about the children.
Seek clarification if necessary but comments will sound like judgements.
Try to keep your PPCs time limited. You're trying to achieve a business like transaction that produces the maximum amount of information sharing with the minimum amount of fuss. It can also be a good idea to agree in advance what you will do if the call descends into an argument. Find a phrase or word that signals you are uncomfortable with the way the call is going. Warn your children’s other parent that you aren't happy and that you will end the call unless it gets back on track. Only then hang up.
If either of you is finding it too difficult to manage talking on the phone, you could try turning your Parenting Phone Call into a Parenting Information Exchange Sheet. Simply use the same
structure but, instead of trying to discuss things on the phone, write the information down. The same basic rules apply – what you're trying to do is pass important information between you. Try
to make your communications short, clear and precise.
If you’re not able to hand over your Parenting Information Exchange Sheet by meeting face-to-face, post it, email it or get a friend or relative to pass it on. Never ask your children to take responsibility for handing over your Parenting Information Exchange Sheet. It makes them feel responsible for your relationship, puts them psychologically in the middle of the uncomfortable space between you and, on a very practical level, they will forget to hand it over.
You can download a form to use as a template, here. If you agreed to try a Parenting Phone Call, you can use it to make notes so that your call stays on track. If you have agreed to try a Parenting Information Exchange, simply fill in the appropriate information.