Q. It’s a new year and I’d really like to put my best foot forward with my co-parent. This Christmas, my holiday backed up to her weekend and we had to return my son to her the day after Christmas just to sleep, only to return to my home in the morning. To eliminate all the back-and-forth, I proposed he stay with me and that we lengthen the time with her when he returned, but she wouldn’t even consider it. It was an automatic no. It always is. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. I find many co-parents are so used to saying no that they don’t even listen to the rationale when a change is proposed. “No!” comes out of their mouth and that’s it. And you can bet if that happens, that parent has not weighed what is best for the child. They are either concerned about things like revenge or fear that the child might like the other parent’s home more, or who has more time, not what’s easier on the child.
I had one parent tell me, “If we did what she proposed, I’d lose two hours! At the end of the month, that would mean she had two hours more than me! That’s time I will never get back!”
That’s when I asked the parent, “So you think your son is keeping score? You think he will know he was with Mom for two hours more this month?”
The parent said, “Well, no, but it’s not fair.”
Fair to whom? Time to take a look at your reasoning.
Here’s the thing to remember: It’s not your time with your child. It’s not the other parent’s time. It’s the child’s time with both of you. Your child is only one little person who is trying to split his life between the two people he loves. You can make his life easier or make it more difficult. There is no other time when it is more important to “Put the child first” (Good ex-etiquette for parent rule #1) than when you negotiate with your child’s other parent.
In the co-parenting classes I teach, since so many co-parents are inclined to say no first, we practice saying yes. In the Yes Exercise, someone requests a change. Before a parent answers, they are instructed to ask themselves, “Is this for me or for my child?” And then we explore the answer. If it’s a legitimate “no,” why? That way the parent making the request can hear the parent’s rationale to saying no. (Most of the time, the reason is never explained.) Often the requirement to stop and think about it is enough to allow the parent to say yes.
The more you say yes, the more inclined your co-parent is to say yes. You start to realize, “I bet Justin would love to go to a football game. We have no plans this weekend. Of course it’s OK if he goes with his dad.” That’s putting the child first. “No, it’s my time” is not.