A communication book can be a device for separated parents to keep communication between them short and to the point. Parents can choose to use a communication book or a court may order them to use it, particularly if the parents seem unable to communicate with each other.

Being a separated parent is not easy and it can be downright impossible if you and your ex are still feuding. Harsh words and criticism can continue long after parties have separated, with the kids stuck in the middle. Acrimonious separations come with low levels of trust and high levels of criticism and abuse. No one likes to be criticized and so communication from both sides usually involves mud slinging. What should be a civil exchange of information about the children from one parent to the other can become an accusation of poor parenting or a criticism about the other parent’s life, from what they watch on television to the types of friends they have.

Communication is not only about actual words said, it includes body language, tone of voice, and facial expression. An exchange like this can lead to a barrage of verbal abuse:

Parent one: “The kids were really tired last time I picked them up. Make sure they go to bed on time.”

Parent two: “Why should I listen to you when you don’t send them to bed on time at your house. What’s more, Sophie tells me you let Josh watch M-rated movies, he’s only eight for crying out loud.”

Looking at this dispute from an emotionally detached position, it is clear that parent one might not have meant to convey anything other than that the kids were tired and might need to go to bed a bit earlier. The emotionally-attached parent, however, reads veiled criticism into the comment.

Using a communication book reduces the need for face-to-face communication. (If used inappropriately, it can lead to more problems.) Remember when using a communication book, less is best.

Stick to the following five rules to avoid the communication book failing in its purpose.

Keep it Short and Simple

It’s a communication book to communicate important things about the children. It is not an invitation to express your opinion about the other parent or their parenting practice.

For example, enter the date (and time if appropriate): Vicki vomited after lunch. Kept an eye on her for the rest of the afternoon but she seemed fine. Not taken to the doctor.

Keep it short and simple, don’t veer off track.

Avoid a Lecture

If Emma and Oscar are with you for the weekend and you notice they have nits, don’t use the communication book to lecture your ex about hygiene.

Or if George has come for his weekend stay and doesn’t have his sneakers, don’t go on a tirade in the communication book. It will serve no purpose to start your entry (if you actually make a note of it in the book) with “once again you have failed to pack George’s bag properly. This is not acceptable.”

Stop and think. Perhaps you could take the opportunity to buy George a second-hand pair of sneakers, which you might keep at your house.

Nothing but the Facts

Making an entry about giving Isabella some panadol/neurofen (or another type of pain medication) because of a headache should be written like this: Date – at about three o’clock today I gave Isabella some panadol as she complained of a severe headache. About an hour later she felt much better.

This is a precise account of what transpired.

While it may be tempting, the entry should not follow along these lines:

Date – at about 3 this afternoon I gave Isabella some panadol. She complained of a severe headache, probably brought on by the fact you fill her up with sugar before sending her to spend time with me and when it wears off she suffers withdrawal symptoms in the form of a headache. How many times do I have to tell you to feed her properly?

This entry serves no purpose. At best you will experience short-lived satisfaction at having vented. Then you too will feel worse, anger spreading through your body like a cancer as you recall all the other things your ex does that annoy you.

Accept that your child has a headache, treat it, and move on.

Keep it About the Children

Let’s face it, your ex does not want to open the communication book and read what you got up to during the week, or what you think of him/her having gone to the movies and left Granny in charge of Eva. Remember, the two of you have separated and there is no need for you to comment, abuse, or harass your ex about any personal or parenting matter. The communication book is purely there for important issues relating to the children.

It may be that on some visits there is no need to make any entries into the book. It is not a diary for each parent to describe in minute detail what they did with the child (or children) when in their care.

Offer No Opinion

If you stick to the facts, you will not fall into the trap of offering an opinion. If you find nits in your child’s hair, treat them, tell the facts, and don’t tell the other parent how they should treat nits. Nits are one of those creatures kids will bring home from school no matter how clean a child is or what preventative strategies are taken, hence there’s no point in you making things worse by offering your opinion.

Or, if you have to treat Sophie for a cold, tell the facts of how you treated her before sending her back home but don’t tell the other parent why you think Sophie keeps getting colds. It will fall on deaf ears. Everyone tries to be the best parent they can be and some things are out of a parent’s control, like how many colds a child catches.

Before pulling the communication book out of your child’s bag to make an entry, stop, think, and wait. Does the other parent really need to know what you are about to write in the book? If, after some thought, you think they do, make your entry with the above points in mind.

A general rule of thumb is an entry should only be a few lines in length, not several pages. You are making an entry about some aspect relating to your child, not writing a novel.

Do you have suggestions on how to better communicate with a co-parent? If so, please leave them in the comments section below.