Research conducted by Hofstra University shows that it’s not the divorce that hurts the children, but instead, it’s the ongoing hostility between their parents that is most harmful. Their study found that “children of divorcing parents who stopped fighting were as well adjusted as those raised by parents in successful marriages” (Parenting After Divorce-Denver Handbook, 2002). This raises the question: How do we get the parents to stop fighting?
Getting divorced parents to stop fighting is a daunting task. After all, they got divorced for a reason. But as daunting as the task may be, there are more effective alternatives that put the children first and that help the parents have a more businesslike relationship. One alternative is to use web-based collaboration software designed to improve communication between divorced parents and to help them regain or maintain control of their busy and stressful lives. Use of this type of tool can do three things: it can provide a neutral environment, which can reduce the hostility between the two parents; it can help the parents be more organized, which can lead to more consistency and stability in their children’s lives; and, it can help keep the children out of the middle of a stressful relationship by providing an alternative to using the children as a means of communication between parents.
Collaboration Software Defined
First, what is web-based collaboration software? Collaboration software of any type is software designed to connect people by facilitating and automating communication, the exchange of information and ideas, planning of schedules, etc. Specifically, web-based collaboration software uses the Internet as the medium for establishing the connection. Large corporations typically have their own private systems called Intranets and Extranets, but small businesses and individuals can also benefit from similar systems called hosted services. Whatever the tool or the application of it, years of use have shown collaboration software to be extremely effective at streamlining and improving interactions between people.
How Collaboration Software Can Reduce Hostility
For divorced parents, collaboration software has an added value: it can remove nonverbal behaviors from interactions. Several studies have shown that removing nonverbal behavior from a hostile interaction can reduce contention (Carnevale, Pruitt, & Seilheimer, 1981; S.A. Lewis & Fry, 1977). As a result, cooperative behavior is more often exhibited when nonverbal cues such as negative facial expressions, crossed arms, or encroachment on personal space, are removed. By using collaboration software, people cannot see their former spouses displaying negative behaviors, and tend to be less defensive as a result (Kiesler, 1997).
Collaboration software can also help to reduce hostility by facilitating communication while minimizing the need for interaction. By using collaboration software, divorced parents are able to coordinate and schedule activities for their children from behind the protective shield of their computer screens, diminishing the need for potentially harmful verbal and face-to-face communication. The technological barrier constructed by the software not only alleviates potentially hostile contact between former spouses; it also greatly reduces the uncomfortable interactions between one parent and the other parent’s new spouse or partner.
Collaboration Software Can Help Parents Get and Stay Organized
For divorced parents, collaboration software can also help to provide more organization and, therefore, more consistency and stability in their children’s lives. This type of software frequently consists of tools such as a calendar, message center, address book, tasks, etc. Information contained in these tools can be shared between parents and can improve scheduling and communication by providing a better means of organizing the large volume of data inherent in childrearing. Information such as the time and location of the school play, addresses for the child’s barber, doctor and dentist, the parent responsible for buying the soccer shoes this year, etc., can be stored in one shared location that multiple parents can view whenever and wherever they have access to a computer and the Internet.
While email and telephone conversations can also be effective, and are commonly used for such scheduling activities, the volume of communication and lack of organization can quickly lead to information overload. People who use email as the primary means of communication frequently have an inbox full of emails from work, friends, family, and spam. Many emails are left in the inbox as a sort of “to-do” list and are only filed once the task is complete. Others have such difficulty maintaining the collection of folders that the inbox continues to grow indefinitely. In the end, the vast collection of emails and folders are of little use as a to-do list or for message retrieval (Kiesler, 1997).
A telephone conversation has its own dilemmas. On one hand, it is immediate, and can be used to resolve pressing issues. On the other hand, it can more easily lead to hostile interactions without a concomitant log of what was said. In addition, sticky notes are commonly used as the medium for reminders and can frequently be seen adorning refrigerators, telephones and computer screens both at home and at work.
By using collaboration software instead of sticky notes and email, the information can be logically organized, searched and stored for a historical communication log. This more effective and efficient organizational method can lead to more stability and consistency by decreasing the likelihood that a miscommunication or lost note will leave a child stranded after basketball practice.
Keeping the Children Out of the Middle
Finally, collaboration software can help keep children from feeling trapped between the two people they love the most. Whether parents are married, separated or divorced, children hate being in the middle and they hate choosing sides. Thus, one of the most important things parents can do to protect their children is to communicate directly with one another instead of using their children as messengers (Ricci, 1997). This is where the real value of collaboration software can be seen. Rather than using children as messengers or waiting to discuss issues in front of the children on exchange day in the McDonald’s parking lot, topics can be discussed online as they arise. Instead of exposing children to potential arguments where parents say things they don’t mean and later regret, messages can be composed in a non-hostile setting and pondered before the submit button is pressed, all outside the earshot of their children. And by addressing issues as they arise rather than letting them pile up, parents can help circumvent heated discussions caused by having too many topics to discuss during a limited time period.
Like anything, collaboration software can be used as a weapon by divorced parents if they choose not to put their children first. But by using the software to plan events ahead of time and to communicate about parenting responsibilities, the chance for hostile interactions can be reduced, parents can be better organized, and children can be kept out of the middle. While collaboration software is not the magic elixir that guarantees the fighting will stop between parents, it can help to remove many of the potential opportunities for conflict and it can help the parents to have a more businesslike relationship for the sake of their children’s well being.
Carnevale, P.J., Pruitt, D.G., & Seilheimer, S. (1981). Looking and competing: Accountability and visual access in integrative bargaining. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 40, 111-120.
Lewis, S.A., & Fry, W.R. (1977). Effects of visual access and orientation on the discovery of integrative bargaining alternatives. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 20, 75-92.
Kiesler, S. (1997). Culture of the Internet. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum and Associates, Inc., 239-245, 277-285.
Parenting After Divorce-Denver Handbook, 6th Edition (2002).
Ricci, I. (1997). Mom’s House, Dad’s House. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc. 140-142. divorce, custody