Even if you don't recall "the olden days," your divorced parents might remember the introduction of the fax and how thrilled they were to be able to use this new technology instead of calling to squabble over who would pay the electric bill. Faxing was perfect. "Pay this today!" was all that was needed. No please, no thank you. Not even a "To" and "From" was necessary.
Well, as they say, we've come a long way. One of the most radical and recent changes in our world and, consequently, in the world of divorced parenting, is digital technology. Before, divorcing, separated and divorced parents were forced to meet face-to-face or pick up the phone to communicate about the well-being of their child or children. Now, everything from play date arrangements to insult hurling is done with the flick of a thumb or the click of a mouse.
But is texting or using other technology to communicate with your ex really as beneficial as it might at first seem? As a divorced parent, before you communicate with your ex, it's your job to ask yourself one question: Is how I'm about to handle this going to hurt my children in any way if they were to find out about it. If you answer "yes, it will," then you need to think again about both the communication itself as well as the means of delivery. If your answer is, "well, they won't find out about it," you're wrong. Always assume that they can and will. Always. No exceptions. Especially with anything you've put in writing.
One of the most important jobs you have as a divorced parent is to keep your children physically and emotionally healthy. Children who are exposed to anger when their parents fight in front of them or when they discover a text or e-mail filled with rage or other negative emotions often put themselves in the middle, wondering, "Which side should I take or parent should I choose?" The resulting conflict of loyalties is extremely painful, causing feelings of guilt, remorse, and even anger.
That's not to say, however, that the new technology is all bad. In fact, it does have some distinct benefits if used properly. Let's take a look at the pros and cons:
First, the Drawbacks
Communication is comprised of several things, mainly words, body language and tone of voice. In a face-to-face conversation, we listen, but we also watch. We assess the meaning and often, the truthfulness, of what the other person is saying by hearing his or her words, interpreting body language, and judging tone of voice. Then we make decisions about how we want to respond, based upon our interpretation.
The tricky part of texting or emailing is that only one component of communication exists--the other person's words. Our imagination then fills in the tone of voice and the body language and often causes us to misinterpret what we're reading, primarily because we project our own feelings into the other person's communication.
Text and e-mail, while fast and often efficient, are sometimes too quick. It's easy to type the first thing that comes into your head and press "send" before you have a chance to assess how your words might be interpreted by your ex. Additionally, it's easy to send four or five texts or emails in quick succession, causing you to come across as a bully and overwhelming and angering your ex in the process.
On the other hand, because text and email rely only on words, you can use this to your advantage if you carefully craft your message. For example, if you feel angry with your ex about a particular subject, you can remove the anger from your communication if you text or email rather than call. This is beneficial because when we converse in an angry way, we contribute to a cycle of anger and defensiveness, getting caught up in our emotions rather than keeping the children's well-being at the center of our interaction.
Any communication between parents should be aimed at civility, even if only on your side. Yeah, the high-road stinks at times, but it's a better route in the long run. If you keep your text or emails short and polite, they can be an efficient way to communicate factual information. For example texting, "I'll pick Lori up at 2," or "Stuck in traffic, be there in 10 minutes," are appropriate and keep your ex informed with minimal potential for conflict. But do beware, texting, "Sorry, can't pick up Lori," may create a bigger problem than if you called to deliver that bad news.
Here are ten tips on texting and emailing that reduce the cyclical rage that most divorce parents know belongs away from the kids. Remember, the goal here is to keep your children healthy and to get through the mire of daily divorced parenting.
• If find yourself going back and forth via text or IM, that's a sign that an actual conversation is warranted. Stop typing and pick up the phone.
• Be clear. Sometimes in a word-saving effort people become so cryptic that needless misunderstandings occur.
• Unless you're absolutely positive your text or IM has been received, don't assume that it has.
• Don't assume that your ex is the only person who will see your text. If he or she is driving, you child may be asked to read it aloud.
• If you are driving and you get a text from your ex that you expect to be explosive, pull over or read it later.
• Go ahead, spend six hours drafting a 500-word email to your ex, explaining everything, but don't get annoyed if you don't get a reply, or if you get one that says, "So?"
• Your phone has an off button. You are allowed to use it at places other than at the movies.
• Don't feel you have to reply to a text, email or voicemail immediately. Take your time. Breathe.
• Don't drink and text, click or dial.
• Remember that a text, email and IM can be printed, kept, forwarded and used in court.