It’s possible, but is it in the best interest of your kids?
If divorce were only about you and your ex, you could go your silent, separate ways. No more having to compromise, negotiate, or listen to stories that have bored you for years. No more arguing, fuming, or fighting to be heard. No more “talking about it” when you just want to go ahead and do things your own way. But if you have children, co-parenting without talking won’t be so convenient.
Compared to custody and parenting arrangements from only a few decades ago, co-parenting is like a ‘180.’ No single parent is in charge, and focus is on the highest good of the children.
The key component to co-parenting is healthy communication. And, considering you may have divorced because of unhealthy communication, it may sound crazy to expect the two of you rise to the occasion now.
There can be a number of reasons that parents stop talking after a divorce. Jobs, personal schedules, new partners, shame, jealousy, incompatible communication styles, and even outright dislike for one another can cut the communication lines.
There are additional parenting options to co-parenting. Without talking to one another, you and your ex will have extra challenges if you choose to go the co-parenting route. And no matter which model you choose, you will both have to rise to the task of putting your children first.
Why is co-parenting without talking such an oxymoron? Because co-parenting is built around the assumption of healthy communication. In fact, the twelve characteristics of healthy co-parenting all tie back to this essential.
Here are a few key components to healthy co-parenting.
- Open dialogue between parents.
Schedule and rule changes don’t go through the kids. They are handled between the parents first. (Sounds like being married, doesn’t it?)
- No bad-mouthing of the other parent.
That goes for the kids as well as for you. Your kids are still evolving into their identities, and both of their parents contribute to that lasting sense of self. Remind them of what’s good in the other parent, and save your personal issues for your support group.
- Consistency with rules in both households.
This is one of the most distinguishing characteristics of co-parenting compared to parallel parenting.
You are trying to make your kids’ lives consistent, dependable, and at least somewhat predictable. Your goal isn’t to trump your ex’s rules on homework, but to give your kids a sense of a unified homefront, despite two households.
- Amicable interactions at school and in public.
Don’t embarrass your kids. Don’t make them dread having both parents present at their sporting events and birthday parties. Be the adult you are trying to raise your kids to be.
So, if raising kids demands so much communication from parents who have no interest in speaking with one another, is co-parenting without talking possible? And if it is, what can you expect in the way of pros and cons?
The key to healthy co-parenting may be communication. But communication can be packaged in a variety of ways.
If you and your ex are truly committed to co-parenting vs. sole guardianship or parallel parenting, then you have to rise to the occasion. You may not feel warm and fuzzy about chatting on the phone or making nice in person. But you do have to choose how you will communicate – text, email, online schedulers – and commit to doing so in a healthy way.
What are some pros to co-parenting without talking?
- You can focus only on your kids.
As long as you are committed to the happiness and welfare of your kids, you can make co-parenting work with some detachment.
If you are still stewing over marital hurts, you may not be ready to enter into conversation with your ex. But make sure your interactions are respectful, non-sarcastic, and completely focused on what’s best for the kids.
- You don’t risk provoking or being provoked.
It can take years to process a divorce, even with the greatest intention to do so. And during that time, the mere sound of an ex’s voice – his/her, word choice, innuendos – can be a trigger. It doesn’t take much to “go back there” when talking with an ex you still resent or don’t fully trust, let alone like.
If you choose co-parenting without talking, you can keep matters businesslike and child-focused. No emotion. No squabbling. No escalations.
- You have greater distance and emotional detachment from your ex.
Talking connects people. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be so integral to creating intimacy.
Even negative talking is a connector in that it attaches you to the energy of what is said and how it is said. Verbal abuse wouldn’t be so damaging if that weren’t the case.
By not having to talk with your ex by phone or in person, you can detach from that verbal energy. And hopefully, with time and self-examination, you can both heal from the negative emotions connected to your relationship.
- You have a plan to live by…in writing.
If you aren’t going to talk, you’re going to have to write. And that means documentation. Texts, emails, written notes, online schedulers, shared correspondence with teachers and doctors – you have information in black-and-white.
“I will be picking Lucy up from school at 2:00 to go to Dr. Caldwell’s.” “Today’s soccer practice has been cancelled due to rain.” “I will be overseas on business Tuesday. Will you send notes from the PTA meeting?” It’s all about the kids.
Obviously there are also cons to co-parenting without talking. After all, the ideal arrangement involves open communication between both parents.
Even with the above positives, there are going to be some negatives. Here are a few.
- You risk not presenting a unified front.
The benefit of a text is that it tends to be to-the-point and lacking in emotion (excluding multiple exclamation points and orange-faced emojis).
The drawback of a text is that it tends to be to-the-point and lacking in emotion. It also lacks details that are more easily expressed in verbal communication.
A key element of co-parenting is consistency between households. And that means that, even without being married, parents have to present a unified front.
This is especially important as kids enter their teens and become more independent. They will inevitably test and push boundaries. And both parents will have to stand together as one in establishing rules and doling out discipline. Again, focus on the kids.
- You risk using your kids as a channel for communication.
You are still responsible for communicating with your ex first on all matters regarding rules and schedules for your kids.
Talking takes less time than sending emails or logging into an online account. And it can be tempting to tell your kid, “Tell your dad we need to rearrange our weeks because of the upcoming trip to Grandma’s.”
This becomes a slippery slope into using your children as a go-between in your relationship with your ex.
- It’s more difficult to maintain consistency between homes.
If you were still married, you would most likely verbalize the little things that make a big difference. Now that you need to uphold rules and make consistent changes across two households, not talking can pose a big challenge.
- It’s more difficult to resolve issues involving your kids’ behavior.
Your pre-pubescent 12-year-old isn’t a toddler anymore. And, while his behavior as a pre-teen may make you wonder, he needs different parenting now than he did then. And that includes (especially) direction and discipline regarding behavior and choices.
If you were still married, do you think you would be able to accomplish this effectively by leaving Post-It notes for your spouse? Co-parenting without talking doesn’t make it any easier.
- Your kids don’t get to watch their parents model healthy conflict resolution and civil behavior.
Ideally, co-parented children get to observe their divorced parents resolving differences in a healthy, effective way. They get to experience a sense of family in public without being embarrassed, ashamed, or afraid.
They grow up knowing that their parents love, support, and prioritize them. And they learn how to become healthy, communicative adults themselves in the process of growing up.
When you are co-parenting without talking, your children lose this experiential learning. They see little to no communication between their parents, and therefore have to learn those essential relationship and parenting skills elsewhere.
Parenting is the most demanding, important job in the world. And those demands and importance don’t dwindle after a divorce.
While co-parenting may be the ideal arrangement for children, the parents have to be prepared and committed to what is required of it. Co-parenting without talking, while not ideal, is definitely possible. But it does require mutual commitment, diligence, and respect.
For parents who can’t get past their mutual animosity and can’t make co-parenting work, alternatives like parallel parenting may be worth considering.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help people figure out how they can best co-parent post-divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re ready to take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach, you can schedule a private first session.