Hearing you; Hearing me: The Art of Positive Parenting Requests
Many separated couples have the best of intentions, but just seem to get stuck in conflict every time they try to communicate. It is very normal [and incredibly frustrating] to feel that your attempts to communicate with the other parent are met with hostility and anger. This can make simple parenting requests, like organising holidays and making weekend arrangements, or any changes to routine feel impossible. However, just remember, as with learning any new skill, the art of “business like” communication with your ex-partner will become easier over time AND there are things you can do to improve your communication.
An ability to convey messages clearly and listen carefully are both required for open communication. Often, the way we approach a request of the other parent, and how we react to their response, habitually predicts the outcome. For example, when we make a parenting request, in an emotionally charged way (such as, with passive aggression, with criticism and/or blame), conflict often escalates and open communication “flies out the window”. Our original requests are forgotten, and we may spiral into a cycle of blame, defensiveness, and criticism. This rarely solves the original issue at hand and nor does it convey our message clearly. One technique that can alter this cycle is called making a positive parenting request, or as we call it “positive proposals”.
So, what is a positive proposal? A proposal is a possible solution to address an issue. For any difficult, or conflict inducing issue, try writing down three positive proposals that may solve or improve the issue- as if you are writing a business proposal from a seller to a buyer, a sales pitch. This should be neutral, direct and to the point outlining the problem or need and providing context if necessary.
Let’s have a look at how this might work in practice:
Imagine your child is always forgetting their swimming/ sports items when they are with the other parent. You could fire off an angry, blaming email:
You never remember his swimming things. I am always having to deal with this issue. Why can’t you just be more responsible and get yourself organised? This is so typical of you.
Well, although you may momentarily feel better, such an email is likely to lead to an angry and defensive response and the issue won’t get addressed. Instead, let’s look at how a positive proposal would work:
Step 1: Outline the problem and why this is important to your child:
James seems to be forgetting his swimming things when he comes from your place. It means he is disorganised and I seem to be doing all the picking up for him. I would like to improve his organisation.
Step 2: Suggest some possible options to improve the situation:
I was thinking that we could try one of the following ideas:
1. I will put a reminder on his phone so he remembers to pack his bag the night before.
2. You could double check his things before he leaves in the morning.
3. We could both make sure he unpacks straight after school and has his swimming things at the front door.
So why do we suggest 3 proposals? Having a few options ensures that you will not get stuck in a rigid mindset. Providing three positive proposals will lessen the probability of you appearing to know the “right” or “better” way to solve the issue than your ex-partner or that you are blaming or lecturing . It also assists you to keep on track, retaining focus and stay in control of your tone, sensitivity and overall emotions whilst decreasing chances of your ex-partner responding defensively.
Tune in next week for advice on different ways of making positive proposals, and what to do when your ex-partner “just won’t budge”.
Dr Catherine Boland