Dear Dr. Jann: My daughter and I love Taylor Swift. We sing her songs as we drive in the car and it’s been our thing for years. The last time Taylor was in town, I couldn’t afford tickets, so we missed the concert. This time the concert sold out in hours and once again I didn’t get tickets—but her dad did and asked my daughter to go, but told her not to tell me. My daughter didn’t know what to do. It took her two days to tell me and she was in tears as she explained she wanted to go with her dad, but she felt so guilty. I hated to see her like that. How do I handle this?
Dr. Jann says: The first thing you do is comfort your child and do your best to alleviate her guilt. Of course she wants to go, and you have to help her to see that is okay. You might also want to suggest that if this ever happens again that she tell her dad that she doesn’t feel comfortable keeping secrets. Teach her to speak from the heart and not be swayed by unjust parental anger.
The next step is to take this up with your ex. Know that there are two things that fuel this sort of behavior—neither is positive:
And, to defuse those two things, use the child’s welfare as the reason for the discussion—it’s not about how angry you are that this happened, but how your daughter felt being put in the middle. Explain, “I know it may not have been your intent to hurt Darcy, but that’s what happened.” Even if you know the whole thing was a manipulation for your benefit, it does no good to be confrontational at that point. The only way to stop it to take the high road. “For Darcy’s sake, let’s not get in this position again. She is the one who is hurt when this sort of thing happens.”
It is at this point that many lose their temper and accuse the other parent of knowing exactly what they are doing. Think about it, what will that conversation do? Perhaps let the other parent know you are wise to their tactics, but it will not stop the behavior, nor will that sort of confrontation help your child. To nip it in the bud calmly clarify your observation and future intent. “Asking our child to keep secrets puts her right in the middle of the two of us. It asks her to choose you or me–and that’s too much pressure on her. She didn’t ask for this divorce, she loves us both. In the future, let’s work together for Darcy’s sake.”
When in doubt how to handle a subject, the key is to always bring it back to the child. Even though divorced parents who are at odds may not see it at first, it’s not a war, they really do have an ally in their attempt to coParent their child. No matter what has happened, your child’s other parent is the only person who loves your child as much as you do. For your child’s sake, act like it.