Q: How do I stop the flow of information between homes? My stepdaughter, whom I like very much, is constantly telling her mother things that go on in our home. While we do not have anything to hide, it is very frustrating.
Sometimes the information gets completely blown out of proportion. For example, we have a glass of wine with dinner and all of the sudden we’re drunks! I need more privacy! What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: The truth is, when the kids go back and forth, privacy goes right out the window.
Many believe you should say, “What happens in our house stays here,” but that could make the kids feel as if they can’t share things about their life at the other parent’s home. That’s half of their life they can’t talk about. What if something funny happens and they want to share it with their other parent? What if there really is a problem, like abuse, and they have been prepped with a “Don’t talk about your mom when you are with us.” Then the child has to weigh whose side they are on — Mom’s or Dad’s — and that puts them in a terrible position. Plus, if they are in trouble and need help, being afraid to talk about one parent to the other just fuels the child’s anxiety.
The key here is for you and the kids’ mother to get to know each other better. Doesn’t mean you have to go shopping together, but if you know each other she will be able to make her own judgments about the information she hears and won’t be dependent on her child’s perception of a glass of wine with dinner. She’ll know you don’t have a drinking problem, and if the kids offer misinformation she can correct them with a simple, “I think you misunderstood, honey,” and, then offer the proper explanation.
Think that’s a silly suggestion? It’s following good ex-etiquette rule No. 1, “Put the children first” and good ex-etiquette rule No. 2, “Ask for help if you need it.”
Because she doesn’t know you and she may be jealous and angry, she’s looking for ammunition to justify the misinformation. She hears something from her child that sounds a little questionable, and “Yep, she’s the witch I thought she was. And an alcoholic witch at that!” All because you had a glass of wine with dinner.
These kids go back and forth between both of your homes. New custody arrangements need a new attitude to make them work. Unfortunately, it sounds like it’s up to you to set the example.
Why? Because you wrote me first. If she had written me, I would have said the same thing to her. When you hear something questionable, call each other, explain what you heard, and then listen. Notice I didn’t say text each other. Too much is misunderstood through texting. Start the communication ball rolling. Your common ground? “For the sake of the child.”
Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation” and founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com.