Email, texting, instant messaging, Facebook–modern technology makes delivering messages quick, painless, and completely avoidant of personal contact with a former spouse. While that can sometimes be a blessing, it can also be a curse. How can couples use technology to serve their ongoing parenting. . .and also avoid the pitfalls?
Texting/Instant Messaging–Use for quick, clear, non-emotional messages:
- “Can you please bring an extra outfit for Jamie’s skating party?”
- “Confirming that I’m picking up Jack at the school at 5:00.”
- “Can I get the number for the pediatrician?”
In these contexts, texting offers an easy way for parents to get on the same page or confirm an understanding without interrupting the other’s day.
–Don’t use for:
- Raising a new topic. If the request for the pediatrician’s number is the first indication that a child is ill, call instead. A personal conversation to answer concerns and questions about a child’s condition avoids the confusion that often leads to conflict.
- Delivering bad news. If you can’t pick up a child as agreed, sending a text is cowardly and sure to cause conflict. The same conflict you were trying to protect yourself from by sending the text. Be an adult. Make a phone call and work with your ex to resolve the situation you are now creating–even if your inability to follow through is totally out of your control. Try something like, “I’m so sorry–my car won’t start, and I won’t make it to the school on time. Can you get the kids, or do I need to find a friend to grab them?”
- An ongoing conversation. The more texts go back and forth, the greater the likelihood for miscommunication. If you are on your third text, pick up the phone to finish the conversation.
Email–Use for more detailed, thoughtful, written communication. Treat like a business letter and think carefully about your message. Reread and modify to ensure clarity and to avoid misunderstanding.
- Do word choices and examples clearly communicate what you want to say? Is there the chance for miscommunication?
- Write the email without filling in the “to” address. This avoids sending an email before you are ready.
- If the subject-matter is sensitive–wait two hours and reread. The time offers a fresh perspective on how the message comes across–allowing you to modify if needed. You might even decide the venting helped you calm down, and it’s best to not send after all.
- Keep in mind the public nature of email. Write as if others will also read–even your children. If the other parent leaves the email open while stepping away from the computer or on their phone, children may unintentionally see. Word your message accordingly.
- Remember the 7-38-55 rule. Communication is 7% words, 38% tone of voice, and 55% body language. The softening of a message through a kind tone of voice or open body posture gets lost in emails. Though written communication seems easier when emotions run high, the lack of a context for the words often leads to more conflict–not less. A personal conversation is more likely to create a working resolution.
Facebook–Use only if you and your former partner enjoy a healthy relationship with few misunderstandings. Reasons to avoid contact on Facebook include:
- Pictures and posts of your ex having a great time on vacation with a new person can exacerbate a tough period for you. You don’t need the stress.
- Posts taken out of context can blow up at a moment’s notice. A mom’s post that she is “having a terrible day and needs to vent” may be confused by ex-husband who reads it and assumes she’s talking about his switch of the parenting time. He angrily posts that “his out-of-control wife is complaining about him to all her friends” when she was really talking about the car accident she had on the way to work.
- The assumption rule also operates for pictures. When wife sees husband’s post of a picture of the kiddos with a new, big-screen television in the background, she erupts because he just asked for more money. What she didn’t know was that it was an early birthday gift from his parents.
Finally, remember–any email, any text, any Facebook post can be saved and used later. If your words aren’t fit for the front page of the newspaper for everyone to see, don’t write or post it anywhere. Technology makes quick, clear messages easy to send. Use it for those. For more complex interactions–make time to meet face-to-face or speak over the phone. You avoid confusion and ensure clarity.