Ex-Etiquette Column

Articles on dealing with the "ex" in your life--anyone's ex--yours, their's, even "ex"tended family.

Petty Coparent Refuses to Go to Daughter’s Soccer Games

Q. My ex and I have been divorced for 6 years. Our daughter has been playing competitive soccer for the last two years. Her dad was her coach and they traveled all over the state. She excelled, I will admit that, but it just got too much—and it’s very expensive. ( I have two other children with my current husband), so we made the decision as a family to transfer her into Parks and Rec Soccer. Her father was furious and refuses to go to any of her games. I think he’s being petty. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. Well get ready for an eye opener…both of you are guilty of being petty. You just as much as dad. The irony is that you only see dad’s bad behavior and your bad behavior is at the center of the problem.

Here’s your red flag…you made a decision “as a family.” You have one family—a new husband and two more children. Your daughter has two families. She’s one little person living in two different homes trying to juggle her allegiances to two very different parents. Would you want to live that way? Probably not.

In your defense, juggling past and present can be a daunting task, but it’s something you take on when you move on after a break-up, and it makes the need to co-parent successfully even more important. As a co-parent, it’s your responsibility to discuss all desired changes with the child’s other parent prior to any changes being made. An arbitrary decision undermines trust. The other parent will take it very personally, especially if he or she is invested in something specific with the child, like coaching their soccer team. As a result, the two homes break into factions—one house against the other—with the child right in the middle.

Here’s dad’s red flag…he’s so angry that you made an arbitrary decision that in response he’s refusing to go to your daughter’s games. He thinks he’s getting back at you, but his anger has clouded his reason. Rather than hurting you, he’s hurting his child. He’s gone from coach to not even attending the games! This type of situation is the exact reason I included “Don’t be spiteful” as rule #6 of the Ten Rules of Good Ex-etiquette for Parents. Being spiteful, revengeful, or vindictive only perpetuates like behavior, puts your child in the middle and demonstrates firsthand that acting in a spiteful manner is acceptable. It is not.

What could you have done? You always begin by having a conversation with your co-parent. This demonstrates respect—something that you want your child to see. If you had spoken to dad prior to any decision being made, you could have brainstormed together for some solutions. There were lots of things dad might have suggested if given the chance. Since he was so active in the other league, he might have offered to transport the child to games, start a carpool, or even pay for the majority of your daughter’s soccer fees if he wanted her to continue that badly. You don’t know. You never asked.

So, in the future, remember you’re not in this alone. You don’t have to come up with a solution all by yourself. There’s someone else you can consult for help, your child’s other parent. I know this does not come naturally. It must be cultivated in the best interest of the child you share—and when you do, 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.

2 Responses

  1. bill

    I am going to assume a few things here, due to its parallels to my own experience with my son. I will assume that mom has primary custody, and with that, the ability to make those decisions unilaterally as it appears she did in this case.

    My ex wife and I divorced when my son was in third grade. He was already active in sports, as I was in coaching his teams. He was not an “A” player, but did well enough and enjoyed playing.

    For me, the opportunity allowed me to spend a lot of time with my son beyond the standard visitation schedule. That daily time, which included practices and game day, is time that I still treasure. Time that we would not have shared otherwise. That was more important than any wins/losses or any other sport specific awards.

    In this case, it would appear that Dad has a special talent (soccer) that he has used to extend his relationship with his daughter. Travel soccer requires a high level of commitment, for sure, for families as well as the players.

    No where in the article does it mention what the daughter wants. Does she enjoy the higher level of competition? Is the rec team not challenging enough or does she enjoy the lighter commitment of time?

    I dealt with this scenario a number of times as a commissioner of a league, and it was difficult for the player most of all. One side usually made it more difficult that the other, to the detriment of the player.

    If the expense is at the root of mom’s issue, she should have raised that with Dad. Its likely he would pay as much of the cost as necessary, as I did, to keep the time with his daughter, as well as provide the best opportunities for her to be challenged, excel, and most importantly have FUN.

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