Q. It’s very difficult to get along with my child’s mother. I try, but she is constantly putting up road blocks that prevent us from calmly interacting. From not returning my phone calls to making plans on my weekends—it’s always a fight, even though we share our daughter’s time equally. I think if I have full custody I won’t have to deal with her anymore. But, this can’t be good ex-etiquette.
A. Fighting is not good ex-etiquette—and doing it in front of your child is even worse. But, I’m afraid you think changing your child’s schedule is going to make a difference, and it won’t. The parenting plan, or the schedule by which you share your child’s time, does not affect the problems you describe. It’s not the amount of time your child spends with each parent that is making things difficult. It’s how you and her mother are navigating the plan—and you would have the same problem if the child spent all her time with you and every other weekend with mom. It’s you and mom—not the custody arrangement.
I hear complaints like yours often—and misunderstanding is often at the root of it. Of course, the other parent may be manipulative—anger and revenge after a break-up brings out the worse in all of us–but more often than not, when these discussions come up in my office, there’s a reason why.
People don’t return phone calls or texts as a control mechanism, true, but not returning texts or phone calls is also a way to avoid confrontation. So, check yourself—because that’s the only one you can change.
What is your approach when you call your child’s mother? Is your frustration evident? Are you accusatory? Are you angry? Put yourself in her shoes (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #7, “Use empathy when problem solving.”) Is she not returning phone calls because she anticipates a fight? Even if you don’t feel it’s your fault, is there anything you can do to set a more positive stage for interaction?
Let’s address the making plans on your weekends…That can be incredibly irritating, and it’s insensitive, but, again, there may be an explanation. It’s not uncommon for parents to explain that plans were made because there was a family reunion or a wedding or a funeral—something that was out of their control– and a weekend switch was requested, but the other parent declined. So, therefore, the next time there was a conflict, they didn’t consult the other parent, they just steam rolled them. Granted, it’s terrible ex-etiquette, but true all the same.
With this in mind, did mom ever request a change and you declined? And, each time you requested a weekend of hers, did you offer to switch? Are you sure you haven’t been contributing to this communication breakdown without even knowing it?
When things get as bad as you describe, many parents think returning to court to change the parenting plan is the answer. You need co-parenting help, not court. Find a good therapist or co-parenting coach who will help you re-establish your co-parenting boundaries. That will help your child flourish. (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #1, “Put your children first.”) 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.