Q. I have been divorced for 8 years and we have a 15 year old daughter. My daughter is supposed to see her father every other weekend, but she is very busy with volleyball and Leadership and has no free time. Her father is the bus driver on the bus she uses to get to school—he texts her during the ride, texts her after school, texts her before his weekend to check in to see if she would like to visit. My daughter is a polite child and so she talks to him, but it’s just too much. How do you handle when a parent texts their child too much? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. First, when a child prefers one parent over the other, that’s a huge red flag. The imbalance is a signal it’s time to regroup.
That said, you may find my response a little surprising. I think it’s great that your daughter’s father tries to touch base with his daughter, and rather than identify with your daughter’s frustration and undermine him, consider supporting his attempts to stay in contact. If you did, he may not text all the time. As it is, it sounds like desperation.
In response to that position, I often hear, “I don’t undermine my daughter’s father (or mother). I never say a bad word about him. He’s done this to himself.” That could be true, but do you ever find yourself saying, “I know he keeps bugging you, honey. Just tell him you can’t make it.”? That’s undermining dad. It’s diminishing his importance. I doubt you would take that stance if dad and you were still together. When a child complains to the other parent and the parents are still together, there is usually a response of support like, “That’s your dad. Don’t talk about him that way.”
But, that sort of support goes right out the window when there is a break-up—and when it does, kids feel the need to choose. It puts them right in the middle, constantly weighing their allegiance.
Instead, consider a response like, “Honey, it’s your time with your father. We both love you and he looks forward to seeing you.” And then if your daughter doesn’t have a lot of free time you give dad all the contact information about her volleyball games so he can follow-up on his own. When he is openly active in her life and not fighting an uphill battle, my guess is he will relax and the texting will slow down—or may increase because your daughter feels his support rather than his desperation.
Finally, co-parenting is tough—it isn’t a natural state of affairs to stay supportive of an ex, especially if there has been betrayal or violence or something that has really hurt you as an ex-partner. It’s human nature to want to be liked best and if you are in that position, it’s definitely an ego builder—but it’s not in your child’s best interest. (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #1, “Put the children first.”) Nothing changes in your combined responsibility to your child after a break-up and as difficult as it may be, it’s not only our job to maintain a positive relationship with our children, but also support the same type of positive relationship with their other parent. 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.