Q: My child’s mother and I share custody of our 6-year-old son. I don’t like my ex knowing my business, so our rule is, “What happens here, stays here,” but my son still tells his mother everything and also tells me things I’m sure she would prefer I not know. What is a good way to stop the flow of information from one house to another? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: Good ex-etiquette starts with putting the child first and using the best interest of the child as the basis for your co-parenting decisions. Telling your child not to tell mom is putting you first, not him. When he passes on information he’s just telling mom about his life when he’s not with her, and he’s doing the same thing when he shares what’s going on at mom’s with you. Because joint custody now gives him two homes, talking about his life at each home is the natural order of things.
Right now you feel as if your privacy is being invaded and the source of the traveling info is a 6-year-old child. Logic would say, tell the child to keep his mouth shut — which is what you have done. However, when you do that, you are putting your child right in the middle of the two people he loves most. You are asking him to take sides. Sometimes it might come with a threat: “If you tell your mother or father, you will get (consequence)…”
Abusers threaten their victims with consequences if their secret is told. So, ask yourself, is this really the approach you want to take?
This is when I hear, “I’m not abusive! I just don’t want her to know my business!”
Well, the life you have adopted does not lend well to secrets. If you have a child going back and forth, they are going to talk — and they should. That your son is sharing is to be congratulated. You want him to talk about everything and anything that’s on his mind. He’s not doing anything wrong — you are.
So, how do you stop the flow of information?
I’m not sure you do.
If you hear something questionable, always check with the other parent first — not to get angry and put them in their place, but to clarify, so both of you will know the right approach to take with your child.
If you hear something that is incorrect, politely correct the statement with the truth. I like to use the word “mistaken” in my explanation. Not, “Your mother is a flippin’ liar! I did not do that!” More, “Your mother is mistaken, honey. I met my girlfriend a long time after Mommy and I broke up.”
What if it’s the truth? What if you did start seeing someone while living with his mother and she is of the mind that her baby deserves to know the truth? I can tell you, 6 year-old-kids won’t understand an explanation about a parent being unfaithful. He loves you both. Good Ex-etiquette Parents rule #1 is, “Put the children first.” Make your decisions accordingly. That’s good ex-etiquette.
Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com. ©2020 Jann Blackstone Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.