Ex-etiquette: Putting the children first

Calm down and forget about your own self-interests.

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Jann Blackstone

Q: My children's mother and I are breaking up. We are trying to figure out what's best for our two young children โ€” should they both go back and forth between our homes or one live with each of us? How do we decide? What's good ex-etiquette?

A: Good ex-etiquette is that you continue to look for ways to positively interact with their other parent even though you will no longer live together. In terms of a parenting plan, the correct answer is individual and dependent on the children's age and emotional and psychological development. Most would opt for the kids to go back and forth between parents, but that kind of parenting plan can be very difficult for some children, particularly when they are very young, and those children fair better living primarily with one parent. It's a wise and unselfish parent that sees that and doesn't take it personally. As your children get older and more settled, a new parenting plan can be adopted that divides the children's time more equally.

How do you decide exactly what to do now? There are people you can consult to help you make the right decision. If your children are of school age, their teachers may be able to offer additional insight. If they are in counseling, of course their therapist would be a great resource. Last, but certainly not least, having a heart-to-heart with their other parent may offer the most insight of all.

You may wonder why I didn't say consult the children about where they want to live. Asking a child which parent they want to live with really puts them on the spot and that just adds to the trauma they may be facing during their parents' break-up. Of course, they may tell you without you asking, especially if they have been at odds with one parent or the other during the break-up, but no matter what they tell you, most children want to feel as if their parents can take care of them.


In other words, make the decision with their other parent and then tell the children what you have decided and why. Listen to their reaction and be as sensitive as possible, but beware. Most younger kids simply don't have the tools or emotional maturity to make an informed decision, however, it may be appropriate for older children to weigh in. If you must go to court, judges will generally consult children over 16 (by the time their parents get finished arguing about custody, the child will be 18 and it will be a moot point.)

Personally, I am not an advocate of splitting up children โ€” one living with each parent. There are times when it may be appropriate for older children, but because younger children usually go back and forth between parents on the same schedule, they are often each other's primary constant and look to each other for a feeling of stability and security. Take that away, and you may be doing more damage than good.

All in all, if you are asking the question that means you are trying to put the children first. (Good ex-etiquette for parents rule #1) and that's great ex-etiquette.

Jann Blackstone is the author of โ€œEx-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,โ€ and the founder of Bonus Families, . ยฉ2020 Jann Blackstone Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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