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Ex-etiquette: Other parent listening in on phone calls

Jann Blackstone, Tribune News Service on

Published in Family Living

Q. Is it OK for the other parent to listen in on my phone calls with our child? My daughter can go to her room for privacy at my house, but when she is with her other parent she says the her other parent comes in to listen and it makes her feel uncomfortable, but she's too scared to ask for her privacy. It's uncomfortable for me as well. What's good ex-etiquette?

A. Just want to say, your question is completely gender free -- and that is rare. The only way I knew which gender you were talking about is because of the return email address. Although no one has ever called to my attention that more questions are asked by one gender over another, I do my best to address ex-etiquette questions using a gender-free approach because, you see, co-parents, no matter their gender, display the same behaviors.

They are usually fear-based if they are negative behaviors -- afraid that their child will like the other parent better or the other parent has more money, a nicer house, less discipline, better this or that, and if the child realizes it, the child will want to spend more time with that parent.

Therefore, they react to the other parent's approach by doing things like listening in on phone calls or fishing about what the other parent is doing on their leisure time. It sets the stage for an anxiety ridden life and creates a "them or me" atmosphere. With that comes the self-proclaimed prophecy: Your child will eventually want to pick a side.

The truth is, there WILL be differences. Parents who live apart don't always approach life the same way. Even if they do share the same philosophy in life, their lifestyle or house rules may be different. Different does not have to have a negative value judgment placed on it. Our children can be taught that different is simply different.

Mom doesn't eat meat. Dad does. They can both make tacos for dinner.

So that lays the groundwork for my answer to your question. Obvious hovering when the child is talking to the other parent openly displays your insecurity and distrust of the other parent. It puts your child in the middle and if a child must constantly weigh who is right, who is wrong, who has more, who has less, the child will gravitate to where it's easiest to live comfortably.


I'm taking for granted that this child is an adolescent or teen. At this age, kids crave privacy and if you don't give it to them they will sneak around behind your back, be afraid to confide in you--and eventually do exactly what you are afraid of: prefer to be with the other parent.

If co-parents do their best to cultivate trust, they won't have to eavesdrop while their children are talking. They will already know what's going on because they confide in each other in the best interest of their child. You are not the winner here because your child trusts you more. It means there is an imbalance in your co-parenting strategy and both parents need to work together to fix it for your child's sake.

So, get to work. 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, Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website at

(c)2020 Jann Blackstone

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.




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