In a recent post, I got into the topic of transitions between households, and my thoughts on how to part with your children when it is time for them to go to their other home. My focus was on how to make your goodbyes less toxic, and therefore better for your children. Those ideas were drawn from my own kids’ smooth transitions from house to house, and what I’ve learned from my mistakes in the past.
Another issue blended families deal with is staying in touch with their children when they are away from home. Many parenting plans include a line something like this: When the children are with the other party, each party shall have the right to reasonable telephonic contact, unmonitered and undisturbed by the other party.
Lots of teenagers have cell phones, so your calls to check in on your almost-grown sweetie are natural and hopefully welcome. With younger children, phone communication can be frustrating for several reasons: little kids don’t understand how to use the phone, plus there is another party central to the success of these calls, namely, your ex.
If you wonder where your expectations and desires fall in the realm of phone contact–and if you’re curious about how bad and weird the conflict around phone calls with kids can get, take a look at this article, particularly the list halfway though the story. Please don’t be the person described here!
It’s never too late to catch yourself and make changes to your telephone contact habits. I remember the early days after my divorce, when I was overly invested in those calls and probably annoyed the heck out of my ex. It wouldn’t have done anyone any good had I been stubbornly persistant in my twice-daily calls, or had I continued to chastise my ex for leaving the phone on silent.
A hairstylist I went to recently (you know they like to talk!) told me that when his daughter is staying with him every other weekend, her mother calls incessantly. Since she doesn’t have the good sense to back off, and he is loathe to hit her with the hammer of “the parenting plan rules” for fear of retaliation, he endures it. The daughter doesn’t like it either, but she doesn’t want to hurt mom’s feelings by setting her straight. She’s only seven, and wants to please mom at all costs.
Here are the questions the hairstylist is asking himself: How much is too much? Is one call at bedtime reasonable, or does it have to be constant? Does she really need to add texting into the mix? Would he be right to encourage his daughter to develop boundaries, or would that be meddlesome? Should he let calls go to voicemail if he deems them to be unreasonable? And on the other side of the equation, when he calls his daughter at her mother’s house, is it ok if his new wife and stepson get on the phone to chat with his daughter also?
That last question is the easiest to contemplate because it involves determining his own household’s choices instead of trying to control or influence his ex. As a parent, the best you can do is decide how you want to handle things that are within your scope. When it comes to phone calls, you could consider these approaches:
- Privacy When the phone rings, and it’s your ex, hand the phone to your child and take them to a quiet place where they can talk in private. Young children are still learning about privacy, so they need your help. Also, it is considerate toward the other parent to cut down on background noise. Phone calls with young children are challenging enough without the television blaring.
- Frequency If your ex is calling or texting three times a day, try telling him this: “I know you miss the kids a lot, and they miss you, too. But it’s hard for them to settle in and feel at home here if they are reminded of their other home continuously throughout the day. Would it help if we Skype once in a while before bed so you can see each other?”
- Patience Children are not expert phone conversationalists. If your chats with junior yield mostly grunts and what you guess are inaudible nods, take it in stride. The good thing is that he hears your loving voice and knows you care. It is going to be a few years before you get much back. With children who are a little older, moods can stifle your conversation. They might be chatty one night and distracted another. My opinion: use the time to express your love, but don’t drill them with a zillion questions. If you need to know more about what’s gone on that day, you could ask your ex, or just leave it alone.
- Subterfuge “Are you okay?” is a phrase at once kind and insidious. If you want your child to know that you worry about her and are skeptical of how she’s being taken care of, make sure you ask “Are you okay?” a few times a week. Just a thought.
- Discipline To help your child learn the discipline of checking in (best to teach it now before they’re teenagers), it’s not a bad idea to commit to reminding him to call his dad each night at bedtime if the call from dad doesn’t come first. When 8 p.m. rolls around and your sleepyhead is ready to turn in, you could say, “Time to call daddy to say goodnight.” Dial the number, hand him the phone, and leave the room for a little bit. Depending on his age, explaining what voicemail is and how it works can be helpful, too. When your ex can’t get to the phone, he will appreciate those messages from his son, and will likely store them up and listen to them again and again. I know I do.