Q: I bought a cellphone for my oldest son about a year ago. I pay the bill. When my kids go to their dad’s, he takes away the phone and tightly controls how often the kids can call me. The kids are supposed to have “unlimited and unrestricted phone access” to each parent. My ex tells my son that I don’t pay for the phone, HE does because he pays me child support so my son gets very indignant when he comes home and I try to ground him by taking the phone away. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: There are so many red flags waving here that they’re distracting you from the primary problem — and that is that both you and dad have lost sight of what’s really important — your children — and put them right in the middle. By disagreeing in this manner you force them to take sides and check their allegiance every time they leave each parent’s home. Both of you are breaking just about every rule of good ex-etiquette, which starts with Ex-Etiquette rule No. 1 “Put the children first” and ends with Ex-etiquette rule No. 10, “Look for the compromise.” Not to mention every other rule in between! (Find the 10 rules of Good Ex-etiquette at www.bonusfamilies.com)
There are lots of good reasons why kids should have cellphones, but it sounds like this one was purchased with the express purpose of talking to the kids when they are not with you. That may not have been done as a way to improve communication with the children as much as it is a way to avoid dealing with their other parent. When supplying a phone only complicates the issue, the parent who bought the phone starts getting territorial — I pay for this phone and you can’t control its use — and that’s when you have kids sneaking into the back bedroom to call mom or dad. You just want to touch base, but dad sees it as an invasion of his privacy — or even a forum for tattling when things are not done the same at both homes — so he starts to control its use when the kids are with him, which in turn, infuriates you.
Your court order probably does say “unlimited and unrestricted phone access,” however, most parents and children find that one or two calls a day is enough. More than that often feels intrusive to the other parent. Decide among yourselves (the parents) the time that the non-custodial parent should call and stick by it. And, when the phone call comes through, answer it and let the child have their privacy.
No parent should talk to their children about court orders, and telling a child that anything you buy for them is paid for by the child support is a self-serving power play and is not said in the best interest of the child. Using your kid as a pawn is very bad ex-etiquette! Both of you need to knock it off.
Jann Blackstone-Ford and her husband’s ex-wife, Sharyl Jupe, authors of “Ex-Etiquette for Parents,” are the founders of Bonus Families (www.bonusfamilies.com). Reach them at: