Q. My ex is always making plans for our child on my time, particularly when there is a holiday that requires some creativity to navigate. He looks for loopholes in the custody order to keep our son longer than he is supposed to. When I tell him to bring our son home, he gets angry and says, “He is home!,” then calls law enforcement, hoping the police will read the custody order as he does.
My ex treats this like a game. He wins, I lose. It’s exhausting and scaring our son. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. Well, it’s certainly not a game, and disagreements can be exhausting if not handled constructively. Unfortunately, the only one who loses is your son.
“Time” often becomes a co-parenting bone of contention. But it’s not your time or dad’s time with your son, it’s your son’s time with both of you. He is only one little boy who has to split his time between his misguided parents. Arguing over “time” and then calling the police to decide who is right is not putting your child first (Good Ex-etiquette for Parents Rule No. 1). It’s putting you first.
As wild as it sounds, a dispute can be a teachable moment. Calmly disagreeing and working through the dispute teaches your children how to positively problem-solve. It teaches them respect. It teaches them to be creative and think outside the box.
Granted, if your relationship has evolved into chaos, calling law enforcement is always an option, particularly if there is domestic violence and someone is not safe.
But in cases where you simply disagree, calling the police is like telling Mom when you don’t get your way. It doesn’t teach your child how to solve a dispute. It doesn’t make your child feel safer. It takes law enforcement out of the field and scares your son. Better to head to co-parenting counseling and learn how to stop a disagreement spiral all by yourselves.
This is when readers send me specific situations that counteract this advice. They say, “We can’t work together,” and offer all sorts of situations where co-parenting is impossible. But after all is said and done, if parents are granted joint custody, some sort of co-parenting will be expected. The degree, and how successful you are, is up to you.
My advice is to be proactive. As in your situation, know that the calendar can influence your parenting plan, especially the holiday schedule. Reread your order before the big holidays and anticipate problems ahead of time. If you don’t agree, look for the compromise (Good Ex-etiquette for Parents Rule No. 10).
Consider what would be easiest on your son. Trade days, trade holidays and make it work. Digging in your heels and arguing about a day here and there will not ensure that your son feels safe and secure. He will feel like Mom and Dad are not in control, and who is taking care of him?
It’s time for you and Dad to change your approach — and fast. That’s good ex-etiquette.