Q: My ex is far more tenacious in her approach to what’s going on in our nation. While I, of course sympathize with the Black Lives Matter movement, I believe change starts at home and that’s how I choose to take my stand. She is quite vocal, participates in protests and wants to take our 6-year-old son with her “to educate” him. I say no, I’m afraid it’s not safe, but I think she will take him anyway. What’s good ex-etiquette ?
A: Resolving conflict positively in the name of your child is at the very core of proper co-parenting and good ex-etiquette. But, rather than get stuck on issues on which you disagree, the positive here is that you do both morally agree. You just choose to express yourselves differently. That does not have to be presented negatively. It can be an opportunity to demonstrate compromise firsthand.
Unrest is all over the news, in the streets, and now possibly in your home. Going back and forth between homes can be disconcerting in itself. The uncertainty associated with the COVID-19 virus where a child’s normal routine is turned upside-down coupled with the obvious social unrest we are experiencing has been, quite simply, very unnerving for children and their parents.
This is a very personal question and I will do my best to offer some suggestions on how you might handle it.
Start by doing your best to get on the same page with your child’s other parent in how you will explain why there are protests in the first place. I realize emotions are running high, but do your best to stay calm and respectful of the other parent’s position. Some believe that it is their right as parents to keep all the social unrest we are facing from their children; however, change starts by educating our children about their responsibility to change what they feel is unjust. It is important to remember that our country was founded on the right to peaceful assembly.
So, mom and dad don’t agree on how to approach this. Compromise is at the root of resolving any conflict, and rather than saying, “I’m taking him, it’s my right!” “Look for the compromise,” (Good ex-etiquette for parents rule No. 10) and establish acceptable boundaries on which you both can agree.
For example, you agree the child can go if certain safeguards are put in place.
First, transmission of the COVID virus in large groups is still a real concern. Therefore, the agreement might be that both must wear masks and do their best to social distance.
Next, agree about the length of time and time of day mom and child might attend. (Young children do best for short durations of time, so perhaps a maximum of two hours in the morning or afternoon.)
Share your location, and if it changes, share it again.
Make periodic phone calls and send pictures.
Don’t deviate from the agreed upon safeguards and always keep the other parent in the loop.
Just remember, enthusiasm is positive. Name calling, badmouthing, and openly disrespecting the other parent’s point of view is not.
This is your chance as co-parents to model positive problem solving so that your child can continue to respect both of you and not feel as if he or she must choose a side. (Good Ex-etiquette for parents rule #9). Now your child can stand back and learn from the process and hopefully form a well-informed opinion (as he grows) and not get caught up in the emotion of it all.
Finally, let’s talk about the elephant in the room — the unpredictability associated with some of the protests and is it safe to take your child. That is something that must be decided by the parents — together. And, both must trust the other to use their good judgment as a parent to keep themselves and their child safe. 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.