Personally I would have put up with anything rather than be separated from my daughter. And indeed, for many years I did. The idea of not being there for her every day was unimaginable. I do wonder how often divorcing couples take that into account? Or perhaps they don’t all feel the same?
Regardless, when couples separate the reality is that both of them are going to see their children less than before, and in many instances one is going to see them a lot less. In this modern age of Facetime and social media, some of the pain of that separation can be eased a little. But these technological advances come with their own complications – for both the custodial and absent parent.
Furthermore, in situations where there is ill-will, it’s entirely possible that an absent parent can be doing more harm than good in their communications. Striking a balance between affording the necessary privacy and protecting your children can be extremely difficult. Whilst I do not have all the answers, I found the following guidelines useful.
KIDS HAVE THE RIGHT TO HAVE A RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR EX
You may be angry and furious toward your ex – perhaps even your kid is, too – but regardless of what may have happened in the past, your child has the right to a relationship with both of their parents. You must remember, though, that it is the health and needs of the kids that are most important here, not the ex. An absent partner may want to speak to kids every day and text them all day long, but if that’s not what the child wants, then that isn’t what should be happening. By the same token, if that is what the child wants, then you have to accept it, as bad as it may make you feel.
RELATIONSHIPS NEED AN ELEMENT OF PRIVACY
For your child to be able to talk freely and meaningfully with an absent parent, they have to be able to do that privately. Having you looking over their shoulder can cause all sorts of emotional complications that simply aren’t fair, in just the same way you would not want a third party listening in to your private conversations.
HOWEVER, SAFETY REMAINS PARAMOUNT
The caveat, to all of this of course, is that nothing is more important than your child’s wellbeing. Personally I would recommend listening in to the first few conversations your child has with your ex. This isn’t a means of spying (indeed, it must never be that) but instead to ensure that no-one is being bad-mouthed or fishing for personal information, that your child isn’t being unfairly critiqued or pressured and that everyone is being honest and above board. If the first few calls go alright and your child is showing no obvious signs of distress, however, then you have to step away and respect the need for privacy.
At the same time, if damaging things are being said then that cannot be permitted. Should an ex continue to behave incorrectly having been warned, then you may have to either supervise communication on an ongoing basis or, if things do not improve, limit or stop communication altogether. A good solicitor will be able to advise you on what is and is not acceptable, and at what stage you are able to rightly put your foot down.
THE SAME RULES APPLY TO THE EXTENDED FAMILY
Even if your ex is conducting themselves properly, there is every chance that their extended family may not. This is an issue that I faced, when a grandparent wrote some disparaging comments about me in a Christmas card to my daughter. I did not hesitate to highlight this to my ex and, while things were still very difficult at the time, I believe she understood and took steps to ensure it would not happen again. It was even something that I raised in court. Take the same precautions toward contact with your child’s extended family as you would with your ex-partner, but always be working toward the goal of showing those relationships the same respect, too.
A FIXED COMMUNICATION SCHEDULE CAN HELP
Whether your ex or child wants more or less communication than they’re getting, agreeing upon a schedule can be an excellent way of calming any tensions. If all parties know that they’re going to get a text, say, every other day, and then maybe a Facetime or Skype call once or twice a week, the nervousness surrounding other communications can be significantly alleviated. Try and make sure all parties stick to it, too, as a missed appointment can cause upset for everyone.
PROPER CO-PARENTING WILL ALWAYS HELP
If you’re able to find a way to properly co-parent with your ex and ensure that they feel involved and up to date, then any urge they have to unfairly infringe upon yours and your child’s time will be significantly reduced. Isolation and alienation will only ever need to increased desperation, so do all you can to avoid that.
NEVER USE YOUR CHILD’S COMMUNICATION AS A TOOL
It is never OK to pressure your child to try and extract specific information from your ex in their chats with them. Their lines of communication with your ex exist solely for your child’s benefit. Any pressure put on them to be duplicitous – even if dressed up in such a way as to appear innocent – can only ever lead to harm.
RESPECT YOUR EX’S TIME AND THEY WILL BE MORE LIKELY TO RESPECT YOURS
You may feel nervous about the times when your child is with your ex-partner, especially in the early days, but it’s important to try and respect it. If your uncertainties manifest in repeated calls and messages to check that everything’s OK, then it becomes harder for you to complain if that behaviour is reciprocated. While separated partners should always do everything they can to maintain a line of dialogue about co-parenting, you also have to accept that the hours they spend together with their kids are theirs alone.
LET YOUR KIDS TAKE THE LEAD
Forcing your children to stick to a rigid schedule that they are not comfortable with can potentially do harm. It’s easy to become upset when you realise that your children don’t spend their every waking moment away from you craving your attention, but that’s probably a good thing. They need to start becoming comfortable with time spent away from each of their parents. Furthermore, sometimes it’s healthier to put everything out of mind. A child may only start missing their parent when they speak to them, so do consider how necessary it is to remind them of their loss when they’re not actively thinking about it.
Ultimately, let your child decide whether they want more or less communication with your ex. While some kids will require a gentle nudge to pick up the phone or respond to messages from time to time, if it’s something they’re not showing need for, that has to be respected, regardless of the need of any parents.