After separations, feuding couples can fall into the trap of using electronic devices to continue communications with one another, often with hostility. This is particularly the case in acrimonious separations. A lot of this is to be expected when a relationship breaks down. People need to vent their hurt.
But if the hostility continues, it turns to harassment and abuse. People use their children as an excuse to continue texting their ex, but there’s really no need. Accept the relationship is over, and parent as best you can without your ex’s input.
The following are ten commandments of texting etiquette for separated parents:
1 | Thou shalt never start a text message with ‘once again you…’
If you’ve ever received a text starting with those ominous words ‘once again,’ you understand why this is a definite no. Those three little words hide so much meaning. Whatever follows ‘once again’ is irrelevant; what’s relevant is the intention.
The intention is to have a go at something the other parent has done, not once, but again and again and again. Chances are, texts like these are entirely self-serving, designed to make the sender feel better and annoy the receiver, and not in the slightest child focused.
Remember, by annoying the other parent, you’re not acting in the best interest of the child or children. Quite the opposite. The annoyed ex will get prickly, maybe even mouth off at the sender in front of the children, leaving them to feel bad or as if they were to blame.
Don’t send that text. If you have to, write it down to get it out of your system, and then throw it in the bin shortly thereafter.
2 | Though shalt not send hostile or controversial text messages
Messages of this nature only inflame an already volatile situation. No one responds well to abuse. You don’t like to be abused, and neither does your ex. Whatever has upset or angered you will pass.
Go or a walk, jog, or swim, but do not mouth off at your ex via a text message.
3 | Thou shalt not use text messages to stoke a fight
If your ex keeps sending you messages to insult, annoy, or anger you, don’t respond. As tempting as it is to instantly fire off a suitably irate response, it will serve no purpose other than to keep the fight alive. Responding fuels the fire, and we all know what happens to a fueled fire. It grows, sometimes into giant proportions. Stop now.
Feel free to vent without engaging with your ex. Maybe write a suitably vile and offensive response on a piece of paper and then send that piece of paper through the shredder. Watch with satisfaction as the words are minced into tiny pieces.
Don’t worry if your ex keeps sending you messages. He or she will soon grow tired of the one-sided conversation and eventually stop.
4 | Thou shalt not send text messages, period
Sending more than 10 texts a day is definitely too many. Sending more than 10 texts a week is also too many. Even if you share children, sending any texts at all is too many.
There’s really no need to keep a channel of communication open. As noted above, the messages don’t actually relate to the kids anyway. When you feel the need to text, stop, think, and put the phone away.
5 | Thou shall practice brief and friendly responses
Bill Eddy, a lawyer and psychologist, has developed a method of communicating in writing he calls the BIF response.
In practice, it would go along these lines:
John wants young Tom to come camping with him on a weekend that’s not his typical weekend, which also happens to be the weekend Tom’s maternal grandmother is celebrating her 80th birthday.
Emma, Tom’s mother, has already replied to John’s request, but John keeps sending nasty and abusive text messages, the last one being, ‘Once again, you are denying me time with my son. You are deliberately stopping him from seeing me. The court orders clearly state additional times as agreed between the parties. How can I have additional time if you never agree? If you keep this up, I will take you back to court.’
A BIF response to John would look like this:
I have considered your request to spend extra time with Tom, but since it is grandma’s big birthday, I don’t think it’s in his best interest to miss out on this family occasion.
I’m sure there will be other occasions when the two of you can go camping.
Once the response has been sent, no need to engage in any further correspondence. Remember to be polite in your reply.
6 | Thou shall text the other parent about medical emergencies
If you’re paying attention, you will see that this is a contradiction to Commandment Four. However, courtesy among exes dictates that you inform each other of any medical emergency the child or children may suffer.
A stabbed toe, a bruise on the shin, or a scratch on the arm are not medical emergencies, nor is sunburn or a mosquito bite. If you’re unsure of what constitutes a medical emergency, please consult a doctor.
7 | Thou shall text if a child is on medication and transitioning into the other parent’s care
Again, common sense should prevail. But sometimes, in high stress situations, it pays to spell things out.
If Tom is going to spend the weekend at Dad’s house and is taking antibiotics for an ear infection, make sure you let Dad know. Give specific details about the dose and how many times. Don’t lecture. Stick to the facts. Don’t rely on young Tom to tell Dad about the medication.
Similarly, if Ella returns from spending the weekend with Dad and had to visit the doctor, let Mom know. Include who treated her and what medication was prescribed.
8 | Thou shalt not set ultimatums in text messages
Ultimatums are not a good idea at the best of times. They’re worse when put to the other parent via text. Best to steer clear of them.
Any type of negotiation should be done with the assistance of a professional mediator.
9 | Though shalt not use text messages to make demands
If a parenting plan or set of court orders clearly lays out when the child(ren) will be in each parent’s care, there’s no need to exchange text messages about pick up or drop off times.
If running late, you may send a text message informing the other parent of this. But don’t use that communication as an opportunity to diverge into something else (i.e. the other parent’s perpetual lateness, demands for a change in changeover location, etc.).
10 | Though shall spell check your text messages before sending
Okay, you’ve typed the message and are about to press send. Stop. Re-read your message and make sure there are no spelling mistakes in it.
We’ve all sent or received texts with spelling mistakes. In the context of everyday communication, a spelling error here or there is no problem and sometimes even funny. But in the context of an acrimonious ex exchange, a misspelled word can lead to an increase in abuse leveled at the other person.
Here’s a simple example:
He was sick today.
Now imagine if you misspell sick, replacing the “s” with a “d”. The meaning is vastly different.
A quick read of your message before you send will ensure mistakes and misunderstandings are minimized.
Adhering to one, some, or all of the above Commandments will lead to calmer waters between you and your ex. Eventually, even the most persistent texter grows weary of a one-way conversation.
And if all else fails, change your number, and don’t share it with your ex. Your old number and device can become the dedicated “child phone,” only referenced when said child is in the care of your ex, the texter.