Co-parent Lifeline

QUESTION: My stepson’s mom asked if she could take him on her birthday which just happens to be our weekend. My husband gave her two options, both of which she didn’t like. After not hearing anything for 13 hours, my husband told her that, “if I don’t hear anything, I’ll assume that you aren’t planning to take him.” She responded that she needed to talk to her husband – my husband to her that’s fine, but he’s not going to sit on it for 2 days. She hasn’t bothered to let us know what she’s decided. Question is… do we bring it back up to her – or just go on with our plans?

RESPONSE: I encourage my parents to view the parenting agreement as a “fallback plan”… what we’re gonna do when we are unable to be flexible. A big part of successful coparenting is about respect… for each other’s parenting time, your shared child’s activity schedule and opportunities to enjoy their other parent… this requires flexibility. Many times – the structure and consistency are needed to get to the point where flexibility comes naturally. Because respect and the ability to be flexible “gene” is often missing in the D.N.A. of most NEW coparent relationships – when it comes to extra parenting time – I suggest that parents establish and “offer and response timeframe”. It should be spelled out in the parenting plan. In your scenario, you’ve given mom a timeframe to respond. She indicated that she understood. You did a “check in”. She hasn’t met the deadline. If it’s convenient for you to allow more time and it’s what you desire to do, I’d encourage you to do so.

If your generous timeframe for a decision isn’t met, you’d be well within your right to proceed with you plans. In the spirit of generosity and respect, send the “haven’t heard from you.. hope all is well… we’re planning to….hope you are able to celebrate during your next parenting time…I’m sure Josh is looking forward to that time.

QUESTION: The clothes I buy for my kids seem to never make it back to my house. Does anyone else have that problem? I’m at the point where I’m going to start sending them back in the same clothes I picked them up in. Clean of course. Money is scarce and I hate having to buy clothes and stuff every time they come over.

RESPONSE: I’ve actually had parents write this clause in to their parenting agreement. The times when it’s necessary are unfortunate, but I get it.

I’d consider the age of the child – if old enough to be teased by other kids for their appearance (school aged kids can be such bullies these days), I’d allow some of the newer (not the most expensive) things to go with the child. After all, you want them to look nice and have self-confidence wherever they go. I’d save the really nice things for when they’re with you. To keep the good clothes out of spite is an attempt to teach mom a lesson. The bottom line is this: you can only PARENT the child… not the mom.

Another thing – all time spent with your child is a “teachable moment”… however young… when wiping the face or wiping the juice from a shirt… verbalize… “this is how we stay clean… this is how we take care of our things.” It teaches good grooming… which is you want for them.

QUESTION: My ex-husband and I have a four year old daughter. We have shared custody, as a result, we alternate picking her up from daycare. Lately, she seemed confused over whose picking up from school…

her teacher says she’s noticed that my daughter becomes agitated close to pick up time…asking the teacher, “whose picking me up today?” What can we do to reduce her anxiety over afterschool pickups?

RESPONSE: As more parents adopt shared parenting arrangements, it’s common that the yransitions will take place during the school week – I understand her frustration, after all learning the ABCs is hard enough – keeping up with an adult schedule can be too much for a pretty little girl to handle.

Try this, have dad gift her with tshirts, socks, shoestrings, etc of her favorite color or character. On the day she’s picked up by dad, allow her to wear one of these items. She’ll associate wearing these items with daddy’s day. For example, I had a dad who called his little girl “Princess.” He purchased several Princess items. On the day that dad would pick her up from school, mom made sure she was wearing a Princess item. Abby knew that whenever she wore her princess clothing, that would be the day dad would pick her up. After a few months, whenever Abby missed dad, she’s ask to put on her princess shirt… letting mom know that she wanted to see her dad.

QUESTION: What is the best way to introduce girlfriend to 5year old daughter in a positive neutral way so she doesn’t feel like I’m replacing her mother? We had thought about dong it while ex is there but I’m afraid she may try to make it seem like a bad thing in front of my daughter resulting in my daughter associating girlfriend with something that makes my ex angry.

RESPONSE: These situations are always awkward. Kids are typically not nearly as excited by our new partner as we are. But, I believe the first question should always be, “Is it even necessary to introduce your daughter to your new girlfriend?” Is it for the benefit of your daughter or the girlfriend?”

If you feel it’s necessary, I’d suggest doing so while at a child centered activity… Like the McDonald’s playland. Being with a group of other kids sorta takes the pressure off the child to help everyone feel comfortable with the situation.

Avoid “checking in” with your child with such questions as, “Did you like Abby?”… This tends to make the visit more about Abby and less about your daughter.

QUESTION: Feeling a little anxious… my soon to be ex and our boys went to the movies and his girlfriend is bringing them home (my stbx lost his license). This girl talks so much trash. I’ve not met her face/face yet, nor am I sure I want to just yet… anyway, I’m not sure if I should just stay in the house or go outside to greet the kids when she pulls up… ugh!!! Advice needed… thanks

RESPONSE: Go greet your babies if that’s what they’re used to. Kids love to see your excitement to see them. You don’t get to be a different parent, just because dad brings some other person in their life. Heck! Don’t just go out there… let the kids see you greet her eagerly. Five years from now, they’ll remember how nice you were to dad’s friend. Everything that’s going on is a “teachable moment” for you and the kids. Just ask yourself… how do you want them to be able to describe this night… five years from now?

QUESTION: I need some advice. My 10 year old daughter doesn’t want to go visit her dad a lot of the time. He says I have to make her or he will hold me in contempt. What can he really do and is she old enough to choose? Please help! I feel horrible for sending her crying and I think it’s causing emotional trauma.

RESPONSE: In my experience working with divorcing parents is that it’s not at all uncommon for kids to

resist visiting the “non custodial” parent. Most of the time, it has nothing to do with trauma. Even if they have a good/normal relationship with the other parent prior to living apart.

One suggestion for getting her to go with dad is a “progressive” visitation schedule. Initially, dad will have his parenting time away from his home… play dates out with dad may be more acceptable to her at this time… transitioning to daytime parenting time at his home.. transitioning to overnights at his home. Of course, dad has to agree with a progressive schedule.

The goal of progressive parenting time schedule is to 1) acclimate children to the new normal (i.e. my life looks different now)… 2) acclimate them to the new living arrangement (i.e. I have two homes now and I won’t see both parents in the same space anymore); and 3) to acclimate them to dad’s new space (i.e. my personal space is different than what I’m used to).

QUESTION: Looking for some advice on helping my almost three year old transition to having two homes. She and I are still living in the house where she was born and my ex lives in an apartment nearby. My daughter is having a hard time understanding that he doesn’t live here anymore.

RESPONSE: The more time she spends with you separatedly, the sooner she’ll begin to see you as separate. I’d encourage – to the extent possible – that dad make her living space with him as full as possible… familiar colors and toys (not necessarily duplicates). Allow her to leave some of her favorite things at dad’s house… during dad’s parenting time, she can go visit the toys! She may want both parents in the same home… until she realizes that she gets 2 bedrooms, 2 birthdays and 2 Christmases.

QUESTIONS: My 4 year old always assumes that when she doesn’t see her dad for long stretches, it’s because he’s at work. How do people in similar situations handle explaining things like this to the kids. I never want to hurt my girls, and I would never go out of my way to tell them he’s in town and chooses not to see them. But, I also don’t want to outright lie to her and say he’s out of town when he’s not. I thing as the girls get older, that will hurt my relationship with them if/when they realize I’ve been lying. I try not to lie to them in general ever.

RESPONSE: at that age, allow (even encourage) them to believe the best of father – even if he doesn’t deserve it. It’s a childhood right to believe in things that aren’t real. And, at whatever point he wants to be involved/see them, support it enthusiastically. Kids love to see our excitement for them. As young adults (a long time from now), they will thank you. Trust me, as a parent you will likely to find effort to be the gift that keeps on giving.

QUESTION: Often on “my” evenings and weekends, I invite my ex to do things with me and our three year old daughter (ex. Go to the local parade, come over for dinner, etc.) he usually doesn’t even reply, and when he does he says, “no I’m busy”. SO, what do I tell my 3yr old when she asks why daddy isn’t doing an activity with us? I want to be truthful with her, but I don’t want to say “daddy didn’t want to spend time with us.”

RESPONSE: I think it’s important for kids (especially those who tend to have reuniting fantasies), to learn (not that they would comprehend) that they will have separate time with mommy and daddy. I do have parents who continue to do things as a family, but I believe that this works best where – again – the kids already see and understand that the parents have separate lives… typically later in the

separation/divorce. Even then, I encourage that the joint time occur outside of the home… unless we’re talking about a special event being held in the home, i.e. child’s birthday. The time spent together should be child focused – designed to strengthen the parent/child relationship… not the parent’s relationship.

To help her adjust to the separate parenting time(her new norm), try this: “I love your smile/giggles/blue eyes/dimples/goldilocks/button nose (you pick), so much that sometimes I wanna keep it all for myself”. Dad – or you on his behalf – can communicate the same message about his time with her. What your child hears you saying is, “more for me.” (in your mommy voice).

QUESTION: How do you transition your kids to overnights at the other parent’s house? She’s 7, he’s getting a two bedroom apartment in February. She’s never even been to the place he has now. She also doesn’t do well with change (she’s just started therapy) and doesn’t even do well with sleepovers with the grandparents. I think it needs to be slow, he things we need to just cold turkey it.

RESPONSE: As a divorce/family mediator, I sometimes have parents looking for options when the children are having difficulty with overnights at the non-residential parent’s home. This usually happens with kids who have a really tough time with change/new settings or those who aren’t familiar with the non-residential parent.

For these parents I recommend a progressive schedule designed to ease the child into overnight stays.

The schedule looks something like this:

DAY visits outside of dad’s home

DAY visits at dad’s home

EVENING visits at dad’s home (no overnights)

Overnights at dad’s home

If the child has a room at dad’s, it’s great if they can leave an item at there…something related to their bedroom routine, I.e. PJs, teddybear, favorite blankets, etc. Of course, this works best when both parents agree at what point your child is ready to move up to the next level. Your therapist would be a tremendous resource in deciding when to move on.