Ex-Etiquette: Stick to the facts in conflict


By Jann Blackstone - Tribune News Service



Rarely do estranged parents understand how their behavior toward each other impacts their child.

Rarely do estranged parents understand how their behavior toward each other impacts their child.


Q. My 6-year-old son came home after his time with his mother and confided that each time I called, a “bad word” came up on his mother’s caller ID. This really upset him and now he doesn’t want to see her next weekend. Things are so volatile, I’m afraid to say something. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. Rarely do estranged parents understand how their behavior toward each other impacts their child. They think they are keeping it all away from him/her. “Oh, he doesn’t know. We never fight in front of him.”

Well, your situation is a perfect example of how a parent’s feelings are not so secret. Just because you aren’t yelling at each other doesn’t mean your children aren’t impacted by your actions. Some 6-year-olds can read well enough to sound out a “bad word.” Mom’s private joke is not that private.

Good ex-etiquette for parents rule #3, “No badmouthing,” was chosen for a very specific reason. It protects the children from their parents’ or extended family members’ negative interactions. And it lays the groundwork for better communication.

See, a child has dual allegiances. They love both parents. When one parent badmouths the other, a child really doesn’t know what to do with the information. They personalize it, push it down and try to avoid the perpetrator so they don’t have to decide which parent is right or wrong.

“I don’t want to go to mom’s this weekend” is a completely logical response. Your child doesn’t want to tell on his mom because he identifies with both mom and dad. So he takes the responsibility upon himself and asks to stay home. That way he doesn’t have to acknowledge that Mommy did something wrong — or figure out if he should tell dad that she did. He’s trying to take himself out of the middle.

Do you think Mom realized that using a “bad word” to describe you on her caller ID would hurt your son so badly? Doubtful. She’s angry, cynical, probably a little sarcastic by nature and most likely thought it was funny. It was her way of privately regaining some personal power.

Now your son has read it and it hurt him so badly that he wants a break. She should know that. But how you tell her if things are so volatile?

Conflict does not have to be a “fight.” It can also be a lesson, an opportunity to grow in empathy and respect for your co-parent (Ex-etiquette for Parents rules #7 and 9) — as well as an opportunity for Mom to regain her son’s respect.

When you talk to her, explain the situation with just the facts. Don’t blame or openly judge the act. Don’t yell or scream. Calmly talk about how reading that name affected your son. How it made HIM feel. Talk about the consequences and then allow her to make amends by taking responsibility for her actions and apologizing to your son. The apology is important. The more respect for the other parent you can demonstrate, the easier it will be for your son to go back and forth between homes. That’s good ex-etiquette.

https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2021/06/web1_blackstone-3.jpg
Rarely do estranged parents understand how their behavior toward each other impacts their child.
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2021/06/web1_LIFE-FAM-EXETIQUETTE-DMT-7-.jpgRarely do estranged parents understand how their behavior toward each other impacts their child.

By Jann Blackstone

Tribune News Service

Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com.

Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com.

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