Q: My ex tells me that he does not have to tell me where he lives, and that what he does on his time with our girls is none of my business. The girls come home afraid to tell me anything about when they are with their dad. They say that daddy tells them that if they say anything to me they will get in trouble. Now they don’t want to go see their dad and he thinks it’s me. If I don’t send them, he threatens to call the police. I don’t know what to do. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: This is so far past an ex-etiquette concern it’s difficult to know where to start. Ex-etiquette, in concept, is simply what is or is not good behavior after a breakup. It’s designed to help everyone — friends, family, or the people breaking up — navigate the emotionally turbulent times after a breakup. Your question implies something far more serious. To put children so far in the middle of their parents that the kids are afraid to discuss what they did with the other parent is emotionally detrimental to the child. No child should be afraid to talk to either parent about their time away. If they are, it’s a big red flag that there is something wrong. One of the first things abusers do to their victims is threaten that something will happen if they say anything about the abuse.
Unfortunately, some parents don’t understand what they do to their kids when they put them in this position. They don’t see it as “abuse,” they think, “We’ve broken up; he/she doesn’t need to know anything about me or what I do with the kids on my time. It’s none of their business.”
On the contrary, you are not obliged to talk about your new love life once you break up, but nothing much changes in regards to your responsibility as a parent. You still should cooperate with each other in the best interest of the children. You are still obliged to tell the other parent your address and where the children sleep when they are with you, and allow the child to speak to the other parent when they are away. That’s basic parenting 101.
I’m not surprised the kids are balking at visiting dad if he really is telling them that they will get in trouble if they talk about their time with him. I’ve heard parents go as far as telling the kids that they (the parent) will get in trouble if the kids say anything! Both tactics are equally abusive. You are essentially holding your child hostage, threatening them that something bad will happen to them or the other parent if they feel comfortable in both homes. No one wins in this situation. Just know the kids will naturally gravitate to the parent who is easiest to be around, who lets them be themselves, the one in whom they can confide and with whom they feel safe. If that’s not you, then don’t be surprised when they make excuses not to return. This does not mean bribe the kids to like you best. It means, do your best to support the other’s parenting time for the sake of the children and hope that they love and feel comfortable with both parents.