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Five Strategies for Effective Co-Parent Communication

September 17, 2020

In this video, GoransonBain Ausley family law attorneys Aimee Pingenot Key and Katie Samler work with clinical psychologist Honey Sheff to describe five tools for constructive co-parenting.

This video is for divorcing or divorced parents who are facing issues related to the pandemic. Dr. Sheff focuses on how parents can exhibit good decision-making for their children and reduce anxiety associated with the changes these children are facing in their schools, their friendships, and their families. For kids, changes that seem small to adults can be extreme. Where is their home going to be? When are they going to see a parent again? Why is this all happening at once? Without answers, these questions can produce fear. The tools in this video can help parents calm those fears.

For decades, Honey Sheff has focused her clinical practice on parenting through and after a divorce. She has assisted families in divorce, collaborative divorce, parenting coordination, and couples counseling. Her experience has given her a perspective on how parents can cope with these stressful situations and keep the focus on the well-being of their children rather than a difficult relationship with the other parent.

Aimee Pingenot Key and Katie Samler are experienced family law attorneys who know that constructive parenting is essential for children and is also the focus of judges and juries.

Parents who show they have the best interest of the children at heart experience a better outcome for themselves and their families.

If you are struggling with co-parenting communication issues, please contact Aimee, Katie, or a GoransonBain Ausley’s family lawyer in Austin, Dallas or Plano to schedule a consultation.


Dr. Sheff’s Article

Video: In-Person versus Virtual Education: What Co-Parents Need to Know

Video: How to Minimize the Impact of Divorce on Children

More Resources


Katie: Hi, I’m Katie Samler. And today, Aimee Key and I are here with Dr. Honey Sheff to talk about co-parenting in the pandemic. Dr. Sheff has been in clinical practice for over 40 years. She focuses most of her practice in the area of divorce, including collaborative law, parenting coordination, and working with parents going through the divorce process and after the divorce process. Dr. Sheff also helps couples…doing couples counseling. So, we are very, very glad to have you here today, Honey, and are really looking forward to you sharing your insight with us and our viewers.

Dr. Sheff: Well, thank you. I appreciate that. And it’s lovely to be here.

Katie: Just to dive right in, what have you seen in your clinical practice that have been challenges for parents during this pandemic?

Dr. Sheff: So, if you think about it, whether you are married or divorced, parents don’t always agree. Parents don’t always have the same values, the same boundaries, the same rules, and so parents get into conflict. This is oftentimes true, especially post-divorce, and then you add in a pandemic with all sorts of variables that have to be managed, and you have a recipe for potential disaster when it comes to parents who are not in agreement. So, some of the things that I’ve seen parents struggle with, especially during the pandemic, the most recent one, which probably doesn’t come as a surprise is around schooling, right? Are the children going to go back to in-person school or are they going to do virtual school? This is simply an extension of the challenges that parents faced in the spring around homeschooling and the conflicts dealing with the rules and the restrictions around the shelter in place, mask-wearing, social distancing. Some parents are very willing to have play dates and parties and other ones don’t want their children leaving the house. Dealing with children’s emotions. Parents are different, and moms and dads don’t always respond in the same way, and so children may be getting mixed messages from their parents around what is going on and how they are managing the environment around them. So, that’s just a handful of items that I’ve been dealing with with couples who were married but primarily couples who are divorced and struggling to co-parent anyway.

Aimee: And, Honey, you’ve put together for our viewers today and previously an article on the five C’s for co-parenting during COVID-19. And you’re going to walk us through each of these and share some of the tips that you’ve developed and seen that really help parents during this time. And we’re going to go through each one individually, but they include communication, compromise, cooperate, connect, and create. And is the idea with these five steps that they can help avoid further conflict?

Dr. Sheff: Right. I call that one the sixth C. So, yes, if parents are engaging in more constructive, like parenting about the Cs, constructive behaviors and interactions, hopefully, it mitigates, decreases, and avoids the conflict that otherwise would be occurring.

Aimee: Well, let’s dive right in with the first one, which is communicate. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Dr. Sheff: So, in general, for parents who are divorced, over-communicating is really the name of the game. This could never be more true than it is during this pandemic that parents need to be sharing information with each other. They need to be using all methods of communicating that are available to them, talking to each other on the phone, FaceTime, texting, email. This is a time to keep each other maximally informed during the things that each of them are struggling with, talking about the concerns, talking about their rules. This isn’t a time to keep score, right? This isn’t the time to hoard information and think that somehow that gives you a leg up. The only ones that hurts are the children. They need to see a unified front that you can achieve by reaching agreements, and the only way you can do that is by communicating.

Katie: So, Honey, the next thing you’ve listed is compromise. Could you tell our viewers a little bit about what you mean by that?

Dr. Sheff: Well, compromise is truly the key to all relationships and makes communication that much easier. There are a lot of rules that the two of you can probably talk about with regard to what parents are supposed to be doing regarding their scheduling, their schooling, their decision-making during the pandemic, right? There are a lot of rules that exist and that are being maintained. However, not all rules are a one-size-fits-all, and the rules, and decisions, and choices that parents made during their divorce process to create their divorce decree in their parenting plan, you know, may not apply right now. This is unprecedented. Life, as we know it, is vastly different. So, it is really important that parents work together to problem-solve. The key to compromise is problem-solve. First, you identify the issue. What is the issue that you are in disagreement about? What are each of the positions…? And I use that in quotes, what are each of the parents’ beliefs and thoughts about how to best solve that problem, that dispute? And when there is agreement, great.

Aimee: The next C that we have on the list is cooperate, which seems to flow from the compromise as well, and we’d like to hear a little bit more about how co-parents can work on cooperating.

Dr. Sheff: My hope in this particular C is that a parent becomes what I call a yes co-parent. “Can you help me out with this?” “Absolutely.” “Can I have an extra night or dinner with the kids because I’m really missing them and I’m just feeling so disconnected?” “Sure, absolutely. What night works best for you?” You know. Our decree says that our transitions should be in the morning. By the way, this one, I actually got from a couple that I was working with. Our transition should be in the morning, right? Drop off at school is the transition. “Well, could we move our transitions to the evening? Could we do that instead because I have to work from home and having the kids here make it almost impossible for me to work from home? And you’re not working at this point and you are at home with the kids.” And so, the other parent goes, “Sure, absolutely,” and there’s no sense of weakness, or giving in, or losing time. That’s not the issue here. The issue is what’s going to work best by the two of you working together to help not only your children but to help each other.

Katie: The word C that you’ve listed is connect. Can you tell our viewers how they can better connect with their co-parent and some tips and suggestions you have?

Dr. Sheff: The first way I think about connecting is during this pandemic, we all feel incredibly isolated, children more so than anyone. They are so socially isolated and disconnected from friends and family, and from the other parent. And so, when I think about connection, my initial reaction, my initial thought about that C was, how can parents facilitate their children connecting with the other parent during times that they’re not with them? Children worry. What if their parent is a physician and that parent is in a hospital and treating patients with COVID? How do you help that child connect more so with that other parent to assuage and relieve some of their anxiety? Because they see their mom or their dad on the screen and they look fine, and they can tell them that they’re fine, and they can show them all the ways that they’re protecting themselves. And so, what are the ways that you can help your children connect with the other parents as well as friends and family members?

Aimee: So, for the final C, you have create. Can you tell us what that looks like for families?

Dr. Sheff: We tend to get stuck in our thinking, and what I’m asking people to do by being creative is to think outside the box. What are possible solutions that we could do that might be different that may not follow the decree exactly that will play to our strengths that we can consider using? What are other people doing? Talk to friends. How are other divorced co-parents working together? What tips can they give you? What ideas are they sharing? I will tell you, I get the best suggestions from the parents that I work with. I get the most creative ideas, things. I don’t have all the answers, but when you work with as many people as I work with, you start to create a toolbox of different options that different couples are using. And so, talk to friends. What are they doing? And then don’t weaponize that. Don’t use that and say, “Well, so and so is doing X and where do…? You know. So and so’s husband is doing what?” That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about finding creative outside the box ways that help your family manage through this pandemic, that allow your children to see the two of you working together for their best interests to meet their needs. And again, we are in unprecedented circumstances, and the demands being placed on all parents, married or divorced, are extraordinary, and so you need to have grace, and you need to be kind. And even though those aren’t C’s, they are tremendously valuable.

Katie: Well, Honey, thank you so much for taking time to visit with us today. We are also going to link your article on the five C’s on our website, and we hope that it is an asset for our clients and viewers. Thanks again.

Dr. Sheff: Great. Thank you for having me. I hope it was helpful.

Aimee: Thanks so much, Honey. We appreciate you, and we appreciate the tips that you have for all of us to hopefully make it through this very strange time to the other side.

Dr. Sheff: Thank you.