Q: I would appreciate your guidance on whether I need to advise my ex of our children’s extracurricular activities if they are done on my day. I would like us to both attend their events, but when there is high conflict and tension between the parents I believe it may not be in the best interest of the children if we are at the kids’ events together. Would it be better to both go and sit on the opposite ends of the field or not go at all? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: I’m sure you don’t realize how often you ask your son to choose between you and his other parent, but it sounds as if it’s quite often. That’s breaking the cardinal rule of good ex-etiquette: Put the child first.
Ideally, you both should go to your child’s extracurricular activities and it doesn’t matter whose “day” it is. I have told this story many times because I witnessed it firsthand. It’s a perfect example of how parents put their children in the middle, some without even knowing it.
Joey was 6 years old and in Little League. His parents fought all the time, sometimes even at his Little League games. At this particular game, Mom was on one side of the field, Dad was on the other. Joey hit a home run and was the star of the game. At the end of the game, I watched as this little 6-year-old tried to decide which parent to go to first. He looked at Mom. Then he looked at Dad. Then he looked at Mom. You could see the wheels turning. He decided to go to Mom who hugged him and patted him on the back. Then he ran to Dad, and the first thing he said to his son was, “Why did you run to her first? She doesn’t care about baseball!”
So my answer to you is this: Good ex-etiquette is for both of you to keep your anger in check and both support your children at their extracurricular activities. Granted, it’s not in the children’s best interest to be around when their parents fight and argue, but you are going to THEIR activities. If you can’t sit next to each other, at least sit in the same vicinity so your child doesn’t have to openly choose between you.
Finally, to be honest I don’t like either of the choices you gave me – both go and sit on the opposite ends of the field or not go at all. I’ve already given you an example of what happens when angry parents sit on opposite sides of the field and expect a child to choose. If you don’t go at all, I suppose you could tell your child, “I didn’t see you hit that home run because I can’t get along with your father (or mother).” I can guarantee that your child won’t understand what that has to do with you not going to his Little League game. Quite frankly, I don’t get it either.
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.