Why effective listening skills matter in divorce and co-parenting

Parents who are divorcing and/or co-parenting could benefit from developing their listening skills, if they have not done so already.

For many people in California, divorce is among the most painful things they will go through in life. Just as painful may be having to spend less time with their children due to visitation or joint custody. The process of splitting up is often emotional, which is why it is helpful for parents to make a conscious effort to practice listening skills.

A better co-parenting relationship

The best co-parenting relationships can come from the worst of situations. The key is that both parents truly put their children's interests first. They try to withhold judgment of the other parent's ideas and opinions, for example, listening to a suggestion and its rationale and thinking on it for a day before offering feedback. Similarly, if parents think they have been accused of something, they acknowledge they may have heard or interpreted wrong, and ask for clarification.

The bottom line is that effective listening helps open the way to good communication. That benefits everyone in a family.

Children who feel heard

Few things are more frustrating than feeling like one's contributions are unheard, squashed or dismissed. Children whose parents are divorcing may have many anxieties and questions but may lack the tools or courage to talk about them. Active listening can help parents identify things their children are struggling with. Furthermore, children whose parents live apart often have two times the communication to do, and active listening helps ensure everyone remains on the same page.

Foundations of effective listening

But what exactly is effective listening? In general, it entails giving entire focus to the other person. If distractions are inevitable, the active listener says something such as, "I want to give you the attention you deserve, but X is something I need to deal with right now. Can we talk again in an hour?" It also includes withholding judgment until the speaker has delivered the message and there has been time to process it.

Effective listening, if done in person, also means positive body language. Eye contact is present, as is an open posture. Whether it is done on the phone, through email or in person, effective listening incorporates a technique called reflecting the message. For instance, suppose Parent A says, "I don't appreciate that you let our child watch that movie." The other parent could reply, "It sounds to me like you are saying that movie was inappropriate. Can you explain why?" Reading self-help books can help parents improve their listening skills. Meditation and counseling are other options.

Divorce and co-parenting are often stressful for California families. Parents going through such times may benefit from the assistance of an attorney.