Q. I’m having a problem with my child’s mother and I’m not sure how to handle it. She continually undermines my plans, but this last time took the cake. I’m a huge baseball fan and have been wanting to take my son to a baseball game all his life. His mother knows this. He’s been too young, but this year, for his 6th birthday, I got tickets for a game a week after his birthday. I was very excited about it and told his mother—I even discussed the possibility of her joining us. She then secretly purchased tickets for the day prior to the game and presented them to our son a week before his birthday. How do I co-parent with someone who continually undermines plans with my child?
A. There’s more going on than simply an issue with co-parenting. What you describe took planning and preparation to undermine your plans, and aside from bad ex-etiquette, it’s an indicator that mom may be locked in a secret battle where she sees your child’s love and devotion as the prize. Manipulation to this degree certainly does not put your child’s best interest first (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #1, “Put the children first.”) and I always hope when I hear this kind of thing that it’s done out of ignorance and not by design because if it’s by design, there may be a mental health component—and that makes things twice as difficult.
So, how can you compete when a co-parent acts so underhandedly?
Start by setting appropriate boundaries. I know you hear this all the time, but what does that really mean in this particular case?
Boundaries can be both physical and emotional. Physical boundaries are making things very clear about the other parent’s interaction when your child is with you. This may include things like adhering to the schedule, regulating the times for phone calls, or stating that all changes in schedule shall be documented by email.
Emotional boundaries are about you and what you will tolerate in your relationship with the other parent. It’s about getting clear in your head how YOU want to act and curbing feelings that put you in a reactive rather than a proactive state of mind. This may include not getting caught up in a tit for tat war between homes or staying stuck in the past and allowing that to control your responses. Make sure you make your decisions in the best interest of your child—including how you interact with his mother. Learn to walk away from the conflict, especially if your child is watching.
On a practical level that means you see what your child’s mother did, tell her you will not engage in the tit for tat behavior, and take your child to the baseball game. Make you own memories. If your child talks about what a great time he had with mom, see that as wonderful, not as competition. Hopefully, you will get to the point where no explanation to her is necessary and you automatically don’t engage her bad behavior. It simply becomes more important to be a positive role model for your child than win the battle with your ex. That’s good ex-etiquette.
Ex-Etiquette®, runs in countless newspapers and websites all over the world. It is written by Dr. Jann Blackstone, who specializes in child custody, divorce, and stepfamily mediation. Dr. Jann is the author of seven books on divorce, remarriage, and co-parenting, specifically, Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce and Separation, and other Ex-etiquette books. Dr. Blackstone is also the founder of Bonus Families,501 c3 non-profit organization dedicated to peaceful coexistence between divorced or separated parents and their combined families.