Dear Dr. Jann: I’m stay-at-home dad and my ex is a police officer. She has crazy hours, and sometimes takes extra shifts to make extra money. It wasn’t a problem when we were together, but now it’s very difficult and extremely disruptive to our kid’s schedules. I want consistency — days I know she will see the kids and they can expect her. We are constantly fighting and that’s affecting the kids as well. What’s good ex-etiquette?
Dr. Jann: Professionals always say consistency is primary, but consistency in one home may not be consistency in another. Most people feel consistency is a set schedule—the kids see dad on these days and mom on those days, but your home was never like that, so to expect it to be different now is futile. What’s disruptive is not mom’s long hours, it’s the break-up and how you’re both handling the change. Be careful you’re your personal frustrations with mom aren’t interfering with your ability to look for possible solutions. Keep it about the kids, not about mom’s schedule.
So what’s the answer? If you don’t want to fight it out in court, you may both have to do something you don’t want to do. Mom may have look for a more flexible visitation schedule—if possible, try to work less overtime or trade shifts to allow her to spend more time with the kids. It may mean you may have to become more flexible, which you probably don’t see as your responsibility, but if you are truly “putting the kids first,” (Ex-etiquette for parents rule #1) then you do what you must do because you know the kids need to spend time with their mother.
It’s times like this that I suggest parents consider ex-etiquette for parents rule #7, “Use empathy when problem solving.” Put yourself in your ex’s shoes. What would you want to hear from her if the roles were reversed? Would it be, “You selfish jerk, you’re never around and you missed the kids’ concert?” Or, would it be, “Can you trade shifts next Friday? The kids’ have a concert at 7pm and I know they would love you to be there.” In other words, look for ways to help mom be a success—in this case, give her a head’s up far enough in advance that she can make the necessary shift adjustments to see the kids’ concert. Don’t set her up for failure by not saying something or react out of frustration—that’s not good ex-etiquette and it only hurts the kids.
This is when really angry parents say, “I’m not going to do anything to make her look good. She’s the one who is choosing to do this or that. The kids will soon see who the best parent is.”
The “best parent” is the parent who doesn’t set up road blocks, but looks for solutions. The best parent is the one who does his or her best to keep resentment and anger to a minimum and shares as much information as possible so the children have easy access to both parents and flourish. Wouldn’t it be great if your kids had two best parents? That’s good ex-etiquette.