In my daily work life as a therapist in the Washington, DC area, I work with co-parents who are divorcing or have divorced. When parents divorce, the children usually begin to split their time between two households. These living arrangements can vary greatly. Sometimes a parent will no longer live in the same state as the children. Other times, a child may only go a couple of days without seeing one of his/her parents. Regardless of the agreed living arrangements, children and parents like to talk on the phone or Facetime with one another when the child is not with them. These calls can be enjoyable and helpful in keeping your kids connected to your ex-spouse. However, in my experience, sometimes difficulties can arise with these calls. Here are some helpful considerations when deciding how to go about calls and Facetime with the non-custodial parent.
To schedule or not schedule: Some parents like to come up with a predictable schedule for these calls. For example, a family might like to set up a 6pm phone call every night with the non-custodial parent. This tends to work well if there is low conflict between both parents as life is busy and often unpredictable. If there is a scheduled call and the other parent is late calling due to life circumstances, more blaming/tension could be added to an already high conflict divorce. If the parents are flexible and understanding, this will not create more tension.
Another consideration as to whether or not to have a set schedule for calling is the child’s desire to speak to the parent at the exact scheduled time. Again, let’s take the 6pm example. If the child is older and has a lot of homework, it may not be advantageous for the child/teen to speak at that exact time, or if the child is very young, he/she may be engrossed in play and not want to leave it to talk to the other parent at the scheduled time. You don’t want to create tension and a power struggle between your co-parent and child. Again, the more flexible the parent is the higher the success.
How does the call affect your child? It is hard for parents to be away from their children, and it is difficult for children to be away from their parents. One might think that touching base every day will make this easier on both, but that might not always be the case. Some children find it more difficult to touch base with the other parent when they are with the other adult. One gauge to use is to monitor the child’s behavior post phone call. If the child is functioning well and then the child’s behavior or enjoyment greatly deteriorates after the call, halt the calls for a short time and try again.
Parental behavior during calls: Over the years, I have heard complaints from children about parents’ behavior before, during, and after conversations with the non-custodial parent. Here are some do’s and don’ts:
- Do not make the child feel badly for wanting to talk with the other parent.
- Do not instruct the child as to what to say or what not to say.
- Do not question the child as to why he/she wants to talk with the other parent.
- Unless there is a true safety concern, allow the child to have a private conversation.
- Do not ask your child to seek specific information from the other parent.
Remember, it was not your child’s choice for his/her parents to live apart. The less stress a child feels about calling and Facetiming the other parent, the happier the child will be. If you are separated or divorced, consider these ideas when determining the best calling plan for your family.