Q: My ex and I have been divorced for a year, but she is completely inflexible when it comes to occasionally changing our visitation schedule. There are times when I would like to take my son to a baseball game, but if the game does not fall on my scheduled visitation day, we are out of luck. Give me some tips so that I can spend some quality time doing the things my son and I enjoy.
A: After a couple has been divorced for only a year, anger and resentment usually guide decisionmaking. You're both still dancing around each other, jockeying for position.
Divorce can make you feel powerless, and your ex saying, "no" is an easy way for her to regain her own personal power. Problem is, unless she already has plans for your son, denying you a little extra time is very bad ex-etiquette. It's being spiteful, and the decision is not based on the best interest of the child.
The first rule of good ex-etiquette is, "Put the children first." Staying flexible with your child's parenting plan is a great way to do just that. Being flexible can help relieve your child's stress about going back and forth between parents, not to mention your and mom's stress because you can't yet cooperate while co-parenting.
To approach your ex with a positive result, have a specific request in mind, say the baseball game you mentioned.
Next, ask for what you want and be specific. "I have special tickets for a baseball game on Wednesday night, and I would really like to take Billy, but I know it's his time with you." Now, put the ball in her court, "Do you have a suggestion how we can rearrange visitation days so that Billy can go to the game? He loves baseball and you know it will make him very happy." That's it. No editorializing.
By saying those few simple words you have acknowledged that she has control of the situation without losing your dignity, and you have explained that it would make your son happy if she could be flexible. You also allowed her to come up with the solution and thereby regain her power and self-esteem. By saying yes, she isn't necessarily doing you a favor, she's putting your son first, which is the primary goal, married or divorced.
Just as it took time to work up to your divorce, it will also take time to build a new working relationship after your divorce. Don't lose your temper if she says "no" the first couple of times. Agreeing with each other takes practice after a messy divorce. Listen, stay calm, and set the stage for a positive result by saying "yes" when she asks.
E-mail Dr. Jann Blackstone at email@example.com.