Q: My ex never does what he says. He’s late five to seven minutes to pick up the kids every time. He never returns my texts. Just to prove a point, I even bet our son his dad wouldn’t show up to a doctor’s appointment because he didn’t confirm he received the message. He was there, but still. He even forgot to wish our youngest son happy birthday. My oldest son had to sneak off at football practice to text his dad and remind him to call his brother. It’s been going on for years. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: Tons of red flags – and they are not on Dad! First red flag: possibly the biggest complaint concerning sharing custody of kids? Punctuality. However, after listening to thousands of parents complain that the other parent is an hour or two late or rarely shows, a parent being five to seven minutes late seems like a very small problem. If we are using the best interest of the children as the criteria for our decisions – or complaints – although irritating to you, it’s doubtful your son will be emotionally affected by dad being five minutes late. Pick your fights.
Second red flag: Not returning a text is a sign of avoidance. This could have been created by a classic situation: A parent texts or calls the other parent, the other parent is not available, so parent No. 1 blows up the phone with, Text No. 1: “Where are you?” (no answer) Text No. 2: “Why aren’t your answering me?” (no answer) Text No. 3: “Answer me!” (no answer) Text No. 4: I have something important to tell you about YOUR child.” (no answer) Text No. 5: “Obviously you don’t care! You’re a terrible parent! $%$#@#$!”
He’s avoiding you because of your communication style. Make an agreement of how you will pass on important events or schedule changes and then stick to it. For example, “Our son has a doctor appointment on Thursday at 3 p.m. Please confirm you received this by this evening.” No editorials. No cryptic, “I’ve got something to tell you.” Just one text – to the point. End of story.
Third red flag: Betting your child that his other parent will fail to support him in any way is bad ex-etiquette and terrible parenting. You began that complaint with, “Just to prove a point …” Never use your son to prove a point to dad! That puts your child right in the middle. Good ex-etiquette and co-parenting would be to empower dad to be a success by making sure he has all the information. If you supply the information and then dad doesn’t show, that’s on him, but never make a special effort to point out the other parent’s inadequacies. Ex-Etiquette Rule No. 3: “Don’t badmouth.”
Fourth red flag: Your son sneaking off to remind dad that it’s his brother’s birthday is an indicator that he has been placed right in the middle of his parents. You don’t know that dad forgot. He just didn’t do it on your time frame. Ex-etiquette Rule No. 9: Respect each other’s turf. That means you be the best parent you can be and let dad do the same.
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.