Recently, I had two parents sitting in my office disgusted with one another. The mother walked in with a laundry list that the father was doing wrong -- starting with not cleaning their 8-month-old twins properly.
"They are going to get UTI's if he's not more careful. I think he needs supervised visits!" The current parenting plan included two-day visits and one overnight night a week with the father. Now, mom wanted supervised visits.
The father was floored. "Supervised visits?" he whined. "These are my babies, too!"
The mother continued with her laundry list. "And, he doesn't know how to put the girls in their car seats properly! I take pictures when I pick them up. "Look," she said with exasperation. "I can put my entire fist under the straps!"
I looked at his hands and I looked at hers. "Look at his hands. I'm sure he can't put his fist under the straps."
The father agreed, "I thought it was tight enough, but, why didn't you say anything? You held all this in and took pictures to show the mediator a month later?"
The list continued. "I try to co-parent," the mother said. "I really do."
"Really?" I asked. "Because nothing you just told me had anything to do with co-parenting."
Now she was floored." What? "I'm telling you everything that's wrong. I'm being honest!"
I let that sink in for a second. "That's true, but you're telling the wrong person." I don't change the children. I don't put them in the car seat. Dad does."
Getting more frustrated by the minute the mother finally blurted. "I think he should make a doctor's appointment and have the doctor show him how to properly clean a little girl!"
"Why didn't you just show him?" I asked.
"What?!" she said. "It's not my place. We were never really together. I barely know him."
"Well," I said, "It's time to get to know him. "Mom, meet Dad, your new friend for life."
Mom huffed, dad snickered and I continued...
"Many think breaking up now is just like breaking up in high school. It was fun -- or it wasn't -- it's over. Bye. You don't have children in high school -- at least most don't –and so you have the luxury of moving on with few repercussions other than a broken heart which hopefully mends quickly. You can't do that when you have children. Your children need both of you -- no matter how you feel about each other--they love and depend on you both. Thank God. Don't you realize you have built-in help?
Here two people share something as miraculous as a child. They could band together in that child's name and realize that in this world where people are struggling for connection, they have this mutual responsibility to raise and teach another human being. Doesn't matter if they love each other. They are partners in another human. And, hopefully, they will move on to someone who loves that child and helps them raise the child, too -- and the child has four people who love and care for them -- two are biologically connected and two are heart connected. Actually, all four are heart connected."
I continued, "So, the next time Dad picks up the girls may I suggest you set aside about a half hour and you show him the proper way to clean a little girl?"
"Of course," the mother said. "I guess I have to change my attitude. I sincerely didn't realize."
She turned to the father. "I am sincerely sorry."
"Thank you," the father said with tears in his eyes.
"Welcome to the wonderful world of what co-parenting really means," I said. "That's good ex-etiquette."
(Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation," and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website www.exetiquette.com at email@example.com.)
(c)2019 Jann Blackstone
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