Walking Away From A Message

Father stares at a message on his phone while drinking a coffee in a cafe.

Events thrown into chaos, conflict sprouting from everyday conversations, children being used as messengers—these are all symptoms of when parents lose sight of the true purpose of co-parenting communication: raising happy children in a healthy environment.

Despite that true purpose, parents will occasionally place conflict before their children’s well-being, often unconsciously. Stress, disappointment, and frustration are just a few factors that can lead to these momentary deviations into conflict. To prevent bad habits from becoming the norm,  co-parents must learn how to break the cycle of unproductive or hostile communication.

Often, messaging will be the first place to start the process, as it can be one of the deepest sources of communication conflict. Being freeform, it’s easy to insert negative emotions into a message. So if you’re dreading hitting the reply button to intense messages from your co-parent, consider these three questions you can ask yourself before hitting send.

Is the message civil?

Messaging doesn’t have to be warm between co-parents. Being polite is sometimes the best that parents can hope for when communicating with their child’s other parent. But even if your messaging could be interpreted as distant, it should still always be respectful. That's for the good of your co-parenting relationship as much as your mental health.

When reading a message from your co-parent during a communication rough patch, assessing a baseline of civility can help when trying to decide how to respond. Messages between co-parents should never contain swearing, nor should co-parents take messaging as an opportunity to sling insults at each other. The conflict created between two parents in this way will simply serve as a distraction from the needs of their children.

If you receive a message that contains hostile or inflammatory language, it can be wise to pause before responding. You’re likely going to have an emotional reaction to such a message, which is understandable. The key is to not simply react to your co-parent but to give yourself the time to calm down so you can respond thoughtfully. 

Does the message relate to your children?

To keep co-parenting communication on track, it needs to be laser-focused on the children. Yet some parents still send hostile messages that have little or nothing to do with their children. If your co-parent is dredging up topics from the archives that no longer relate to the issues you face while co-parenting, the best course of action may be to simply disengage.

However, before deciding to disengage, be honest with yourself about the topic being addressed. If a point of contention does pertain to co-parenting, feelings of guilt or regret should not prevent you from hearing your co-parent’s concerns. As long as it’s productive, a conversation that makes you uncomfortable, possibly because it means addressing behavior that’s negatively affecting your co-parenting, should not be avoided.

What’s the question?

Determining if a message requires a response is sometimes as simple as determining if it contains a question. Responding to a message that doesn’t have a clear request for your input, when it is also laden with harsh language, can end up prolonging animosity.

But sometimes, a message will contain both: a question about the kids and hostile language. Try to overcome the hostile language that surrounds the actual question and focus on providing only the necessary details. This will be difficult, as it requires the recipient of harsh messages to have a higher level of self-control, and may require practice. Don’t give up if you don’t get it perfect 100% of the time.

Refusing to engage with antagonizing language is a useful skill to hone. By refusing to carry the negativity of your co-parent’s message into your own, you’re saying “no” to being an active participant in the conflict.

Additional steps you can take

Messaging platforms can be far from ideal for co-parenting relationships that experience any kind of conflict. Relying on messaging alone can often exacerbate communication issues. When encountering messages that do more to antagonize than inspire cooperation, asking yourself the preceding three questions can help you determine if responding to the message is the best course of action.

If messaging your co-parent becomes a serious source of anxiety and strife, do not hesitate to get the support of legal or mental health professionals if you are able. They may be able to provide you with advice for protecting yourself from emotionally abusive or manipulative communication from your co-parent.

Relying on messaging to communicate every detail about your children means that every point of contact has the potential to transform into a long discussion. If you find yourself opening an inbox every morning that’s stuffed with hostile messages from your co-parent, consider switching your communication to a platform that offers tools beyond email.

Utilizing a shared calendar, an expense management system, and other specialized features can take the emotion out of your communication. OurFamilyWizard’s suite of tools helps co-parents keep the focus on their kids by reducing many of the opportunities for adding extra details that can incite arguments. Find out for yourself how OurFamilyWizard could transform your co-parenting communication.