Q: My wife and I decided to move from the San Francisco Bay Area to Santa Monica, Calif., five months ago. Our child-custody order states that I see my children from my previous marriage every other weekend, and I am primarily responsible for transportation. There was a meeting place established — I drive two-thirds of the way, their mother, one third. Even with that concession, she's always late by an hour or more. It's frustrating to drive 3½ hours, then wait. I feel like she's late on purpose. What's good ex-etiquette?
A: I wouldn't be surprised if your ex is late on purpose — and if she is, it's because she's angry you moved away. And to add insult to injury, the court ordered her to help with the transportation, so to get back at you, she's late. Being late is a not so subtle reminder of how unhappy she is that the rules were changed midstream without her consent. In other words, this is just another control issue between divorced parents and being late is passive-aggressive payback.
From your perspective, you probably see her being late as just one more aggravating thing she's doing to make your life miserable — and she probably feels the same way about the move. Consider Ex-etiquette for Parents Rule No. 7, "Use empathy when problem-solving." That means you both put yourself in the other parent's shoes to understand the other's perspective and hopefully that will make it easier to problem-solve.
Parents often move away from their children — for work, for school; hopefully, it wasn't just a whim because it puts a huge burden on the children to travel. And don't be surprised if as the kids get older, you see them less and less.
If the kids participate in extracurricular activities, such as Little League or soccer, those activities will be spent near their primary home. There will be practices and games, and they won't be able to leave for two or three days without affecting their ability to play or impacting their teammates. You may not have realized when you decided to move that it could contribute to a substantial decrease in parenting time, but the truth remains, moving was your choice, and it will eventually affect how often you see your children.
At this point, what can both parents do to make this five-hour trip easier on the kids? Get creative. Are there funds for flying occasionally? Can you break up the back and forth by one weekend visiting near the children's primary home? How about decreasing every other weekend to one weekend a month, but increasing the blocks of time during the summer or on school breaks? That may decrease the back-and-forth and allow the kids to settle in and relax during their visit. Plus, it will reduce the number of times you must meet Mom on the road.
The kids didn't ask for the divorce, nor did they ask you to move away. Therefore, the answer lies in what concessions you can make to make it easiest on them — and you will be most successful if you work with Mom, not against her. That's good ex-etiquette.
Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation," and the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com.