Words Matter

Some helpful words between co-parents.

Many separated and divorced parents prove just how right our friend Dr. Tim Onkka is when he says, “Never forget that there’s a lot of heroic parenting going on out there.”

Below you’ll find some things one often hears between co-parents struggling to do the right thing for their children. We hope you’ll read these with an open mind and heart. Instead of grading your co-parent’s level of heroism, consider what you can say and do today to make life better for your children.

1. "I'm interested in your ideas on this.  Can we talk sometime soon?"

How much difference it might make if we all felt we were being heard!

Zig Ziglar is famous for saying (and teaching), “You can get anything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” And communication has to be the beginning of this process of cooperation.

Let your co-parent know that you’re genuinely open to his/her ideas.

2. "Please." "Thanks!" "You're welcome."  "You did that so well, and it meant a lot to the kids."

Such simple statements of courtesy between parents often spell the difference between hurting kids and literally saving them.

Resolve that your children are worth fifteen seconds of decent interaction between their parents whenever they see you together or hear you in conversation. Those fifteen seconds may define the quality of their lives for the next week—and long, long thereafter.

3. "I just found out tonight's game starts an hour early."  "Jessica needs to see the doctor next week."

We can’t say this often enough:

Keep your co-parent informed.

Whatever your custody label, you and your co-parent are a partnership in carrying out the most important job in your lives: giving your children a safe place to live their one and only childhood.

Co-parenting is not a guessing game.

Over the years your children will give you enough to guess about. Team up with your co-parent, trade information, and give your children what other kids have—the chance to succeed.

4. "I want to help your plans work out if I possibly can."

Stephen Covey speaks of the “emotional bank account” (the reservoir of goodwill between people). Your children need you and their other parent to have a supremely well-endowed emotional bank account.

Think often of what accommodations you can make for your children’s sake. Certainly you shouldn’t obliterate reasonable boundaries (a divorce is, after all, an untangling), so here’s a rule of thumb: if the accommodation you could offer your co-parent seems like the sort that cooperative people in a business relationship would offer each other, why not do so here?

If there is no emergency and if it would be a safe course, you may wish to use counseling and other resources to see if your relationship can be redefined and your marriage saved.

And remember, you’re doing this for your children.

5. "I'm cocerned about something and would really like your ideas on it.  Could we talk when you have some time?"

When problems come up, many couples find it’s helpful to give each other some advance warning that a difficult discussion may be on the way. This breathing room and preparation time can help each parent remember that they aren’t under personal attack because a challenge has arisen, only that something requires their discussion and joint efforts.

6. "Maybe we should talk about this later.  Can we set aside some time?"

Many couples are helped by a “release word”—some agreed word or phrase that lets them both know that their emotional baskets are full for the moment.

Remember that you’re carrying out this heroic co-parenting work against the backdrop of your own pain. Things will be better in the future, but for the moment you’re trying to save your children while you’re also running on a pretty low emotional tank yourself. 

Give your co-parent and yourself the gift of this escape hatch for when things get difficult.

Final Thought

Words matter.  

Make sure that yours support the true dedication you feel to your children.

All of you will be better off for it.

Let your hero loose.