Q. Four years ago I had a serious drug problem and decided to let my daughter live with her dad with the understanding that when I got my life together I would take her back. She’s 12 now, and I’ve been clean and sober for two years. I am ready to be her mom again. I’m happy to say she’s doing well—great grades and lots of friends. I’ve asked my daughter if she wants to live with me and she says yes, but her father won’t hear of it. I Want Custody Back! What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. I want to begin by saying that you did the right thing by stepping out of the picture to get sober. I hope you stayed in touch with your daughter during that time, but the fact that you had the presence of mind to ask dad to step in was commendable. The goal is always to offer our children as much security and balance as possible and stepping away put your daughter first. (Ex-etiquette for parents rule #1)
However, it may not be in your child’s best interest to completely change the parenting plan at this juncture. She’s been with dad for four years. You say she is flourishing and has friends and to upset her normal routine could be quite confusing. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put together a parenting plan that offers her regular time with you. It simply means to completely change custody at this point may not offer the stability I’m sure you want for her.
That said, asking her directly if she wants to live with you put her right in the middle of the two people she loves the most. She probably misses you and wants to spend time with you—and dad has been there and has given her a stable upbringing. So, put together a parenting plan that offers the best of both worlds. But, if you’re looking for an either/or answer—either she lives with you or lives with dad, you’re making her chose and that’s terrible ex-etiquette.
What child wants to look at one parent and admit that he or she wants to live with the other? Whenever I’ve asked a child if they have discussed living with the other parent with the custodial parent, almost all have said, “No, I don’t want to hurt his (or her) feelings,” or “I’m afraid he (or she) will get mad.” Children don’t want to choose—and they shouldn’t have to.
Whenever you want to present something to your daughter, good ex-etiquette suggests you and dad talk, compare notes, compromise whenever possible, and present your decision to your child as a united front. Granted, many parents who are no longer together think that’s a pipe dream, but the truth is, you do what you have to do to raise healthy children—including getting along with your ex. People who want to get along do. People who don’t want to get along, don’t. Put yourself and your drama first and everyone loses. Use the welfare of your kids as your guide and your kids will win every time—and 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.