Apologies come in a variety of shapes and sizes—and some of them aren’t the right shape, nor the right size. If you want to make a sincere apology, here are some helpful tips.

There’s one supreme skill in successful co-parenting, and that’s communication. Collaboration simply can’t exist without it. The Internet and cell phones have made it easier than ever to stay in touch, but they’ve also provided faster ways to screw up when we’re angry.

We’re only human and co-parenting gives the other party a lot of power in our lives. Few people know us better or how to push our buttons more effectively. Maybe you were the first to send a harsh email you now regret. Or perhaps you were calm, received an inflammatory message, and just couldn’t stop yourself from firing back. Either way, it’s not helping anyone to keep things in an aggressive place, and an apology may be necessary.

How to write a powerful apology

An effective apology is structured to relate sincere regret and acceptance of responsibility, with no hint of anything else. Clear accountability is required, especially if you’re apologizing via an email which can be read ambiguously at the best of times.

The first step is to use “I” language – I am sorry that … I regret saying … and so forth. Keeping the apology about you shows that you’re focused on your part in things. If you add “you” into it, make sure it’s to acknowledge the other person as the attacked party and not the provocateur. Empathize with the effects of your angry response by showing that you’ve imagined how it would have upset them. This affirms them; a very positive effect, since anger often delegitimizes the other person’s feelings.

Perhaps your anger was defensive because you broke some agreement of the co-parenting relationship. If you did, admit to it and reassure the other parent that you’re committed to better performance in the future. If the other party was the one who broke the rules, admit that your anger was driven by the need to collaborate, but you also understand that anger won’t make that happen.

You’re better able to apologize when you clarify your reasons but don’t lean on them as excuses. Ask the co-parent if there’s anything they’d like you to do to rectify the situation or reassure them further. An apology is great, but it may be a bad move to assume giving one closes the matter. Showing you’re open to feedback is a big step toward making up for a mistake.

Take a breather before hitting send

Think you’ve written the best apology you can? Walk away and return to it in 15 minutes or, better yet, sleep on it. Passive aggression and negative insinuations have a way of inserting themselves into communications at these times. Read it over again with calmer eyes to make sure you haven’t sabotaged everything you’re working for.

Writing it all down first is a good idea even if you choose to apologize in person or by phone. The “delete” button is something we all wish we had in real life and really do have on our keyboards! Let it work for you until you’ve erased any potentially damaging words when trying to say you’re sorry.

Angry slip-ups are lessons for the future

Now, how about some preventative advice? If you’re ready to start a fight or just got an email that’s provoking a negative reaction, try these tips:

  • If you need to blow off steam, let it out vocally in private or to a member of your support circle.
  • Write out a response in pen and paper, then trash it. Better still, burn it! This ritual can help clear your head, release negative energy, lift your spirits, and increase your resilience to stressful situations. You still get the release of writing an angry letter if you must, but it doesn’t go further than your table.
  • Keep in mind that choosing to vent against someone can hurt you more than it helps you. It only feels like relief. You could be making a tough situation worse for everyone involved, including your children.
  • Distract yourself. Exercise, go see a movie, or do anything that exposes you to positive stimuli. A break helps you draw a clear line between emotion and action. This guide will give you more skills to manage and understand the anger.

There are two takeaways here. The first is not to beat yourself up for making a mistake and not to waste any time owning up to it. The second is to remember this rule of co-parenting, even in the heat of the moment: effective communication is the key to collaboration.

Will your next email bait and berate, or communicate? The power is in your hands.

Browse the other entries in our blog for more insight, advice, and perspectives on every aspect of the co-parenting journey, or get in touch with us at the link below to find out more about what we do. Family Plan is committed to empowering parents after divorce or separation and creating harmony by improving collaboration, helping with organization, and simplifying payment obligations to reduce stress and eliminate potential conflict. Download our app to get started.