Q. My ex moved out nine months ago. He has no furniture in his apartment — nothing but a TV in the living room and a bed in his room. I told him maybe he should take a break and postpone his weekends with our daughters, 6 and 8, until he gets some furniture. He refuses! If I called Child Protective Services, would they intervene? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. Good ex-etiquette is working with your children’s father so he can continue to see the girls on a regular basis, not try to penalize him for not having a lifestyle of which you approve. If we are basing the decision on what is best for the kids, it’s being with dad — having a couch around while you are doing that doesn’t really make a difference.
When things like this happen, it forces parents to get creative to maintain a relationship with their children. Here are some examples of my clients thinking out of the box …
One dad who had no furniture turned the weekend into movie night with the kids. They would rent a movie, buy a pizza, pop popcorn and camp out in front of the TV, all crashing together with pillows and blankets. It was every Saturday to Sunday. The kids loved it. They didn’t care if they had a bed to sleep on. They had their dad.
Another parent lost his job and lived in his camper while looking for employment. His son just thought he went camping with dad every other weekend. They would go to different places, have adventures and camp and fish. They did this until dad got a new job and rented an apartment. The main goal, which I have always respected, was to not disrupt the time dad and son spent together because dad had fallen on hard times. And what was even better was the child’s mother supported dad in continuing to see their child. A young child doesn’t really understand what it means to “lose a job.” They do understand when they don’t see you. Mother and father felt that consistency was the most important.
We all want our children to have their own room, bed and lots of toys, but sometimes it’s just not possible. Would CPS intervene in either of the cases above? Doubtful. It is my experience that CPS would intervene if there was no water, electricity or food. But if the kids are safe, clean and have adequate sustenance, I don’t think CPS would get involved. A parent who doesn’t approve of the other parent’s lifestyle when the kids are safe, clean and well-fed? We are talking one night a week on the weekends. It didn’t even disrupt their schooling.
Finally, that you are contemplating calling CPS is a red flag to me. Call your ex instead. Talk to him about his plans while putting your children first (Good Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #1), especially if this is only temporary. That’s good ex-etiquette.
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.