The Struggle Of Communicating With Parents Who Don’t Communicate

This blog was originally posted on Carolina Parent Magazine’s website.

It’s that time of year again… the time when most parents rejoice and most kids moan. Back to school! After about 10 weeks of no bedtimes, sodas with dinner, and phones kept in bedrooms at night, the dreaded (or welcomed, depending on whom you ask) routine returns. The past couple of weeks have been tough in our house because the kids are fighting us tooth and nail regarding rules that they followed just fine only a couple of months ago. It’s also a tough time because with new schedules and routines, there is a lot of information that must be shared between parents. This sharing of information can often be a struggle for many divorced families.

I write a lot about the importance of communication in the co-parenting situation. Everyone knows it is best for the kids for their parents to do what they can to get along. Keeping secrets from the other parent and/or keeping them out of the loop when it comes to school performances or doctor’s visits puts the children in the middle. I have said a million times that forcing children to choose a side is very harmful and will have lasting effects on them.

While the struggle may be real for the children and parents, people often fail to realize that it’s a tough time for teachers and principals as well. Last weekend I was sitting out at a practice for one of my kids and someone asked me what I was doing. I told her that I was working on a blog for back to school in divorced families, but I couldn’t think of what to write about that was not already done. I had a principal on one side of me and a teacher on the other side and they shared with me how hard it is to deal with parents who don’t communicate with each other. That is a point of view I had not considered. Here are some of the points they made:

MISPLACED ANGER The parents are often so angry with each other, that if they are left off of an email or left out of a meeting, then they immediately attack the teacher or principal. If you are in a blended or divorced family, help the teachers out by always copying your ex on emails regarding the children. If you get a response and see that the teacher inadvertently left off the other parent, forward the message to the other parent. You may not like that person, but they have a right to be completely involved. It’s what is best for the children.

MORE WORK FOR TEACHERS Parents who can’t communicate are the ones who insist that the teacher make two copies of everything to be sent home or they require two separate meetings because they don’t want to sit at the same table with each other… even though it’s about the kids and not about them. The teacher I spoke to said it requires so much more work to make sure everyone stays informed. There are ways that you can help make things easier on the teachers. What my ex and I do is whoever signs the syllabus or report card scans a copy and sends it to the other immediately. That way we are kept informed and the teacher doesn’t have to do extra work. We also make sure that if one of us attends an Open House and the other one doesn’t, then we are sure to put both of our names and email addresses on all lists. Another thing we do is if one of us fills out a permission form, we always put the other parent as the emergency contact. It’s common courtesy to include the other parent whenever you complete any form for your child.

THE PAIN OF BEING PUT IN THE MIDDLE When a parent emails a teacher and shares information but does not copy the other parent, it puts the teacher in a very uncomfortable situation of not knowing what he/she can share with the other parent if then contacted separately. From what they told me, many parents will get angry with the teacher for sharing something with the other parent. It’s often much simpler for the teacher is everyone is copied on all emails and everyone attends all meetings. It eliminates the possibility of misinterpretation.

While all of these ideas are good in an ideal situation, they did acknowledge that sometimes if the parents are extremely difficult and are absolutely unable to put their own issues aside for the best interest of their child, then it can actually be better to have separate meetings because it keeps the conflict down and eliminates any he said/she said. However, you should do whatever you can do to not be one of those high conflict divorces. Try to help the teachers and school administrators by putting your differences aside to communicate for the kids. If you can’t do it for the teachers, then just focus on doing it for your children. Never forget that studies show that it is always best for your children for you to keep controversy to a minimum. The kids are not the only ones who will benefit.