Q: I’m very close to my 13-year-old bonusdaughter. Her dad and I share equal custody with her mother. We all attend the same church and my bonusdaughter has recently gotten very active in the youth group. Her mother has been in a relationship for the past three years and has recently moved in with the guy. We are told that he sleeps on the couch when my bonusdaughter sleeps at her mother’s home – and my bonusdaughter verified that this is true.
Lately my bonusdaughter has been looking for ways to hang out at our house. When her mother texts her, she will not text her back. Her mother tells me that this really upsets her because she immediately texts me back. I suspect I know the reason, but I hesitate to discuss this with her mother because I know she will get angry and after some turbulent years, we all get along quite well. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: Reading between the lines I believe you are telling me that your bonusdaughter is unhappy that her mother moved her boyfriend in and she’s avoiding going to her mom’s home and returning texts. This is somewhat predictable, especially if the child felt like she was not considered when the decision was made. And, considering that she has recently become more active in her church group, she may not morally agree with her mother’s decision. At 13, that’s a difficult one to discuss with your parent. It’s much easier to just avoid interaction and gravitate to the other home.
Rather than speculate, if your bonusdaughter isn’t talking, these red flags indicate it’s time to initiate some sort of dialog with your bonusdaughter. I would suggest you direct her to an unbiased third party – perhaps the youth pastor at your church. I can’t believe mom is completely unconscious to what’s bothering her daughter, but she probably doesn’t want to hear it. Mom may take any information received more openly from a trusted third party (pastor, counselor, teacher) and not accuse you or dad of putting the child up to anything.
Finally, it’s a child’s right to feel comfortable in his or her own home. If anyone moves in – even a woman roommate – it should be discussed prior with everyone who lives in the home, including the children. A parent doesn’t have to ask a child for permission, but discussing it keeps the child in the loop and helps to guard against rejection. It’s not like a conventional two-parent family – this child has some place else to go – so if she feels uncomfortable in one home, mom should not be surprised that her child gravitates to the other home.
For your part, good ex-etiquette is to not make things worse. Don’t talk behind mom’s back. If the child confides in you, listen, give her a soft place to fall, and follow ex-etiquette rule No. 9, “Be honest and straightforward,” if mom confronts you. Remember, tact and timing! Two important components to good communication, especially when the information is a little touchy.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com.