Dear Dr. Jann: I don’t like dealing with my child’s father. He drives me crazy. I dread the exchanges because that’s when he decides to have conversations about child support or the logistics of Little League and it always turns into a fight. So, we end up in court about three times a year. Each time its for stupid stuff like adding two hours to his Tuesday/Thursday dinner visit. It’s wearing on me and it’s wearing on our son because his dad feels compelled to tell him each time we are going back to court. What can I do? What’s good ex-etiquette?
Dr. Jann: Good ex-etiquette is good behavior after divorce or separation—and neither of you are following it. You, because you withhold information and Dad because he uses the exchanges to discuss matters that should not be discussed in front of your son.
A parent files with the Court when he or she feels backed into a corner. You don’t like talking to Dad, so the only time he has your attention is at exchanges. Therefore, that’s where he tries to discuss problems. The exchanges become heated because you both anticipate a disagreement and are already angry before you get there. That anger and frustration festers to the point that Dad feels he has no other choice than to file with the court. “This will get her attention!”
Truth is, your problem is not the schedule. You would have the same problems with any schedule you choose. Your problem is two-fold: your inability to communicate and there is no plan in place for how you will resolve conflict should problems arise. If you’re sharing custody of your child you must communicate with his father. There’s no “his father bugs me so I’m not talking to him.” Your job is to look for ways to problem solve together in the best interest of your child. (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #1, Put the children first.”)
Having a plan in place for problem solving will make it easier to find solutions. Without one, divorced parents attempt to problem solve the same way they did when they were together-fight, argue, possibly withhold affection or attention. Do you see a pattern here? You need a new plan for problem solving now that you are divorced.
First step, anticipate problems and figure out a strategy for addressing issues on which you don’t agree. For an example, agree to call each other and make an appointment to discuss things when problems arise. My suggestion would be to meet in a public place. People are less likely to lose their temper in public.
Second step, present your problem, but also come to the table with a reasonable solution. You need someplace to start.
Third step, stay open minded and be willing to negotiate. Remember to use your child’s best interest as the criteria for all decisions you make together.
Fourth step, put your agreement in writing and stick to it. You need to rebuild your trust in each other. A good way to do that is to stick to the plan you design together.
Finally, you have control over this. People who want to get along, do—people who don’t want to get along, don’t. Your incentive is your child’s well-being. If you don’t think you can put a problem solving plan in place without help, consider a co-parenting counselor as a neutral third party to help you design a course of action. YOU ARE DOING THIS FOR YOUR CHILD. That’s good ex-etiquette.