Texting might be the best and the worst thing that has happened to co-parenting
Texting has great potential and can be a brilliant way to exchange information. It can also go sideways in a hot swipe.
Keeping your texting within the blue bubble of brilliance is not easy but it is possible. With a clear view of the lurking pitfalls, you can type your to co-parenting bliss.
Painting your bigger picture and your longer term parenting goals is key. I don’t have to tell you, it’s going deeply tempting to answer snark with snark, short with short, and offensive with defense. And you’re human, so sometimes you’re gonna slip. Goals, growth, compassion, and course correction, is progress and value. Your kids are your goal and their wellbeing is your magical WHY. A more peaceful co-parent relationship is undeniably better for them andalso better for you.
Real time reminders
Set your phone to nudge your truest intentions to the top of your mind — before you hit send. Get creative here. An adorable picture of your kiddos or maybe the Chariots of Fire as your ring tone for example. Link some concrete cue to your ex’s contact information to remind your brain what this is really about.
It’s not just you. To say this all probably hasn’t been easy, isn’t what you imagined for your kids (or self), and is frustrating as f@#$ would be putting it lightly. So yeah, your brain lurchs into a safety fight/flight mode at the thought of your ex. Common and understandable, absolutely. Helpful? Not so much. So remind your brain, loud and often, why this extra grace and energy is worth it.
Arrow pointing out
Texting lacks Tone. Unless it is purposefully wedged in, the tone can easily be read or misread by the receiver. Don’t leave this to your ex to guess. (their brain may similarly go to a fight/flight place for you.) Add that little extra that makes your goodwill unmistakable. Yup, i’m talking about emojis, smiley faces, !, extra words of social lubricant, or a generous assumption.
(Pick up the kids at 5) vs (Hey pops, Hope your days going well, will picking the kids up at 5 still work for you?)
Yes, you’re going to have to mean it. Yes, it’s harder, inconvenient, and maybe annoying. It will get easier with practice (or less necessary) with practice. Look at the darling picture of your kiddos to get it going. Getting your brain to this space is 90% of the battle. The more your message holds something your ex may prickle at, the more key it is to set the tone and build in the generous assumption from the start.
Arrow pointing in
Getting a text. Your ex probably didn’t get my memo to set the tone of goodwill. This means you are going to have to do your own mental gymnastics to find those generous assumptions that help you regroup your brain to a state of grace BEFORE you do ANYTHING.
This is why texting is brilliant. You do not have to respond right away.
Again for the people in the back.
“Hold your horses,” as my dad would say.
If you find yourself triggered, I have nothing but compassion.
Responding from here, even though it feels so right, is just plain not helpful to your cause. Cue smiling kiddo picture.
Slow your roll, breath, and dig up some generous assumptions.
These are my favorite. I think you are going to hate them and then maybe love them. They are really hard, almost impossibly hard at first. Don’t be surprised if your brain refuses until it settles back from that fight/flight place. Breathing, a quick walk, and a mantra like “I’m safe and I can do this,” “my kids are worth this work and so am I” will help you create the space to get there.
You want to respond from a place of calm and you know you’re there when you can make a generous assumption.
No, it is not a lie. It probably not “my ex is the greatest person ever who only wants the best for me.” You are looking for that core of truth, even if you have to be generous to get there, that you can build from.
(In text bubbles?)
(It’s my night to have the kids and you can talk to the lawyers if you can’t stick to the agreement)
(I understand that your relationship and time with kids is really important to you. It is important to them too and I also value your relationship with them. I don’t want to take that from you. Is there a way we can…)
And now for setting boundaries
When you feel yourself triggered into fight or flight this is unpleasant but useful information. Your brain is signaling danger and it is in your best interest to sort through it. When the fire alarm in your house goes off. You don’t spray a hose everywhere and you don’t just turn it off. You check it out. The information you find should guide your next steps. In our lives it gets really tempting to do the equivalent of spray water alternating or pulling out the batteries.
Sometimes you have to act immediately without thinking and that is the best option. Other times you act without thinking and that was not the best option. When this happens, as it does for all people, what is important is the after the fact sorting of the information. Take a slow look at the event, how you felt, and what you thought (self talk) and whether what happened next was in service of your parenting goals or not.
Many texts from your ex can be redirected with tone and generous assumptions. Sometimes though, you may find yourself triggered and when you sort it out, your fight/flight alarm is in fact alerting you to danger or a serious boundary violation.
Out of bounds means crossing the line into what is rightfully your personal space. So a text that is cursing you out, talking about your love life (unrelated to the kids) or a long list of other issues that are some flavor of; not their business, abusive, unrelated to the kids, and out of line.
Texting is helpful here too. Your alarm is rightfully sounding and that information is valuable. You still are aiming for a more healthy co-parenting relationship and want to thoughtfully and calmly respond. You may set your boundary or remind (once) that this doesn’t relate to co-parenting, or establish that you are happy to talk about parenting but are unwilling to engage in a thread with foul language. Short, to the point, assertive and clear. You are unwilling to engage in this conversation.
It may take time for your ex to believe that you cannot be derailed from your goals. Though the goal is improved co-parenting, there are circumstances where the hostility is abusive,unsafe, and damaging. In such situations, you are unlikely to shift the dynamic. I would strongly suggest you obtain professional support and legal counsel to work to secure your and your children’s safety.