There is no question that children and parents should remain in contact when they are apart, especially if the time extends over several days or a week. When it comes to co-parenting, however, there is a delicate dance between pestering your children to the point of preventing them from enjoying time with the other parent and staying appropriately in touch.
Parents complain that they don’t want their children to feel abandoned when they are out of contact. Children often miss the parent they are not with, too.
But when is a phone call or FaceTime a boon for children and when does it become a burden?
I’ve worked with families who wanted to establish a routine for staying in touch during the other parent’s time. We negotiate compromises, like one call in the midst of a five-day stretch.
It is important for parents to connect with their kids while apart – important for the parent AND for the child.
However, parents can have unrealistic expectations that harm their children. For instance, if one parent takes the children to the zoo, a park or out for dinner, and does not return home in time for the call, is it fair for the other parent to get upset? Isn’t it better to remain flexible and respectful of these opportunities to engage in activity with the children?
Some parents can’t allow for such flexibility, unfortunately. And when that happens and the parent in charge proceeds with the call from beside the fountain at the zoo, it’s not fair for the other parent to complain that the child is distracted. Of course he will be! Why intrude on his time at the zoo?
Likewise, parents often want to stay on the phone with children far beyond the amount of time that a child has focus. Children have short attention spans until at least middle school, if not later, so parents must remember what is reasonable at every stage and age and not foist their own desires for prolonged connection.
Realistic expectations are a welcome gift at every level. Not just regarding staying in touch with your children, but also to give room and respect to the other parent during their time.
After all, co-parenting is about cooperation to allow for prime parenting on both sides. That’s when children benefit most.
With that in mind, the nature of FaceTime or video chat is sufficiently revealing that parents would be wise to heed the all-showing nature of such calls.
Stash the alcohol. Clean up the mess. Don’t give fodder for the other parent to file a motion. (And don’t go looking for reasons to trip up the other parent!)
I shake my head when I hear of one parent involving a new significant other in a video chat with their children. Or exclaiming how much fun they’re having, showing friends and family members who are visiting (and whom the child may be missing).
And by all means, do not call to tell them their new PS3 arrived from Amazon. They’ll be excited when they discover it upon returning home.
Our goal as parents is to help our children have the healthiest, most harmonious childhood possible. That means focusing your conversation and information sharing on what is best for the child – even if it means withholding information or not introducing people who are newly important to you.
I’ve worked with families who went to court to fight for a scheduled phone call, or daily FaceTime, not realizing how that might be burdensome for the children.
I often wonder, when parents go to court to mandate frequent contact, who is it for?
Is it for the benefit of the child?
Or is it to comfort the parent?
We all miss our children when we are away from them. But if we take parenting seriously, then we want to do everything possible to help the child be ok at all times. That builds coping skills, independence, and a will to figure out solutions to problems on their own.
The best situation is when contact happens organically, and both parents encourage spontaneous moments of connection with the other parent.
When a tooth falls out, absolutely the child should call the other parent, even if it’s not scheduled!
If the child is missing the other parent, encourage them to call and be reassured. Don’t feel threatened. Think of your child.
Children of divorce survive by compartmentalizing. We all behave differently in different settings. Allow for adjustment time when the child transitions from your house to the other parent and back again. Don’t call right away. Let them ease into the change.
It’s not the child’s job to comfort the parent. No matter what you feel or desire about staying in touch with your child, a parent must learn to cope with emotions without piling it on their child.
Finally, when you determine your child is old enough to have her own phone to stay in touch with both parents, buy a low-tech version like a flip phone. I’ve heard too many stories of young children stumbling onto pornographic sites or other inappropriate material because they were given a smart phone too early.
If you must, relegate the phone to a safe box in a public space and reserve it for those times when they want to reach out to the other parent.
And do yourself (and your children) a favor by pre-empting any call-to-complain incidents by texting or calling the other parent to keep them in the loop.
At every angle, co-parenting works best when the parents stay respectfully in touch and share a perspective of encouraging their children to remain close with both parents. To do any less is to do a disservice to your children – and ultimately, yourself.