Dear Dr. Jann: My ex and I agreed upon a parenting plan for our daughter 15 years ago. She has seen her father each weekend since she was two. Lately, our daughter has been arguing about going to her father’s home. After fighting about it for days I told her it was not up to me, but a court order. She got very angry and threatened to run away. What’s good ex-etiquette?
Dr. Jann: A parenting plan that worked for a two-year-old is often changed as a child gets older. As a matter of fact, I’m surprised this hasn’t come up sooner. Weekend time is very difficult to maneuver when a child hits their teen years. At that age, their primary focus is their friends, and if they are required to leave those friends on a regular basis, you’ll hear about it. Leaving town each weekend to see dad doesn’t let her go to any school activities or have overnights with friends. At this point, that parenting plan is working against dad.
But, here’s the red flag: when faced with all this, you checked out. Rather than tell her that this is her time with her father and that he is looking forward to spending time with her, you gave up your own personal power and blamed everything on the court system. Doing so can make your child feel powerless. No one she loves is taking care of her—an anonymous “court” system has sealed her fate. She can’t control it—you can’t control it. None of that is true.
In truth, your parenting plan is a court order, but the court didn’t make you do it—you and dad did. “The court” merely ruled on your choice and wrote down that choice in the form of a court order. It can be changed any time prior to your child turning 18.
Following the rules of good ex-etiquette for Parents, it all starts with looking for a compromise. (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #10) Best way to do that is to sit down with dad and talk about a more practical parenting plan now that your daughter is in high school.
For example, if dad doesn’t live too far away, changing his weekends to every other and adding a couple dinner visits during the week might actually give both father and daughter more quality time together. They can chat over pizza, just the two of them, plus she will have some time to spend with friends and pursue extra-curricular activities. Mom can even have an occasional weekend, and if dad feels he is losing out, adjust Summer and break visits to longer blocks of time to make up.
Finally, of course it would be understandable if you wanted to ask your daughter what she wanted—but be careful. I always tell parents “a voice is not a choice.” Listen to your daughter. Let her know that you want to work with her to make her life as happy and secure as possible, but the final decision lies with dad and you—because you both love her and she needs time with both of you. That’s good ex-etiquette.