If you want to bring up a problem or special issue with the other parent, we suggest the following:

Timing is everything

Pick a time to discuss serious issues, and don’t try to have meaningful talks as you exchange children. This is the wrong setting (in front of the kids), the wrong time (too hectic, too rushed), and it also tends to make the other parent feel like they’re being ambushed. Instead, say something like, “I need to talk with you about something regarding the kids. When is a good time for me to call?” Then pick a time when the kids can’t overhear, such as when they are at school – to conduct your conversation.

Open on a positive note

Start the conversation with a courtesy statement: “I appreciate you finding time to talk with me on this; I know you’re busy.” Then move on to your goals. To avoid sounding like you’re nagging or nitpicking, you should focus the conversation around what you hope to happen rather than what you don’t like or are irritated about.

Stay on topic

Don’t try to discuss multiple issues in one setting. Stay with the topic you wanted to discuss, without going into past gripes or other subjects. When you introduce the topic, start with neutral facts: “Robert’s teacher called me last night and said he’s been having trouble turning in his homework. I don’t know if he’s not getting it done or simply forgetting it, but I wanted to talk about how we could address this”; “Jenny has been telling me she wants to take gymnastics…I’d like to talk to you about it and see if you’ll be able to pay for half.” Then share the child’s feelings or statements as they expressed them to you. State your opinions on the matter, and ask for theirs.

Find common ground and compromise

Emphasize the areas you can agree on, and build on those: “I know we both agree that extra-curricular activities are good for Jenny, but I know you’re not enthusiastic about gymnastic lessons. Perhaps if you can help me out this time, I’ll return the favor down the road.” Try to be open to other options, especially those your former spouse might suggest. Decide beforehand what you believe is negotiable and what isn’t.

Be patient, and allow time

Don’t demand a resolution immediately. Allow the other parent time to process the information and reflect on the issue. If you’re bringing up something new or voicing a concern for the first time, your ex will feel backed into a wall if you expect to work something out right away. Allow time for them to process your request and reflect on their feelings about it.

Take a break if things escalate

If either of you starts to get agitated or it seems the conversation is digressing into a debate about past gripes, call a time out: “We both seem to be getting pretty upset about this now, so let’s take a break and discuss it again later.”

Additional tips for resolving parental disputes:

A) Never air your frustrations via e-mail. If this is absolutely the only practical way of communicating, be sure to wait a day and read it over again before sending it.

B) Utilize outside opinions. If you want to bring something up, accompany it with a parenting article or other piece of literature from a trusted source for your ex to read, and explain that “this is what concerns me” or “I thought this might be good for Kayla.” They are less likely to shoot down the idea when it’s not just you who is pushing it.

C) For every problem you bring up, try to have at least two different acceptable solutions. People are more likely to go along when they feel they are making a choice.