Q: My ex and I broke up two years ago and we share our 5-year-old’s time. My problem is my ex will not allow me to talk to our child when he is with him. It drives me crazy. I want to buy a cellphone for my child so I can talk to him at his father’s, but his father says that’s a stupid idea. I don’t know what to do. Sometimes he’s at his father for three days straight and I miss him. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: Good Ex-Etiquette Rule No. 1 is, “Put the children first,” but it doesn’t sound like that’s what either of you is doing if you are arguing about phone calls. Allow me to read between the lines a little: If dad is stonewalling phone calls it may be because he feels you’re interfering with your child’s time with him. Your child may miss you as much as you miss him. Constant phone calls to dad’s home when your child is there may actually upset your child – and that upsets dad – so he doesn’t let you speak to him when he’s there.
Meanwhile, you get frustrated with not talking to your child, so you actually call more, which frustrates dad even further. He probably sees it as you being a little neurotic, digs in his heels and you don’t talk to your child for three days. This is particularly common when parents allow their communication to get so bad that they look for anything other than talking to the other parent to pass on information – so they consider absurd things like buying a 5-year-old a cellphone, which won’t solve the problem. The cellphone will be at dad’s when the child is there. Who will keep it charged? Where will the phone be kept? Bottom line, your child is too young for a phone and if you buy him one it will just make things worse.
The ultimate goal is for your son to feel secure and loved in both homes and that’s up to both of you to stop the nonsense and take care of him – together. Ex-Etiquette Rule No. 9 is “Respect each other’s turf.” He has the right to speak to either of you when he is with the other parent and both of you have the right to have uninterrupted time with him.
Hopefully your parenting agreement addresses communication with Mom when the child is with Dad and vice versa.
When parents can’t communicate, and it sounds like you and Dad fall into this category, a time for the call is assigned, say 7 p.m. each night, so the child can be ready. If he misses the call, a message should be left, and many agreements state something like, “the call will be returned before the child’s bedtime that night.”
This eliminates the pressure of constant calls and allows the custodial parent to have free time with the child and the noncustodial parent to touch base. Check out www.bonusfamilies.com. Key word: coparenting!
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. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.