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Ex-etiquette: Talk to dad about son's mystery bruises

Jann Blackstone, Tribune News Service on

Published in Family Living

Q. My 7-year-son continually comes back from his father’s home with bruises on his knees and shins. I have asked my son where they come from, and he doesn’t seem to know. Although his father was quite conscientious when we were together, I’m still very concerned. I think my son may be covering for his father and I’m wondering if I should call Child Protective Services to check into it. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. Good ex-etiquette is, “good behavior after a breakup.” Part of that good behavior asks us not to be suspicious when there is an obvious answer. Your son is 7. I’ve never met a 7-year-old boy who doesn’t have a bruise or bump. He probably fell while playing. But more important, you have to ask yourself why your first thought was to call CPS and not his dad. This tells me you aren’t working together; you are looking for blame and fault — and that’s not going to get you anywhere.

Parents with a grudge may think if they report the other parent enough, that parent might lose custody and they will have the child to themselves. It’s rare that that tactic works. All it does is keeps things stirred up, makes the children question which parent is telling the truth, makes going back and forth miserable, and produces frustrated, angry children who will have no idea how to have a loving relationship when they get older.

If your son is 7, you have a very long time to share custody. You can either fight, argue and call CPS when there is a question for 11 more years, or you can start working together now in your child’s name. I can tell you working together will be far more beneficial for your son than a CPS worker going to his school, pulling him out of class and asking how he got the bruises on his legs.


This is not to say bruises are not an indicator of abuse or neglect. Of course, they are, and sometimes children are afraid to out the perpetrator and lie about what has happened. Parents must stay vigilant. But if a parent was conscientious when you were together, it’s likely they will remain conscientious now that you are apart. If a parent was abusive when you were together, it’s likely there is a problem, and CPS would be the logical agency to go to for help.

Although I do not know the back story, your situation does not sound abusive or neglectful to me. Start talking to each other. Compare notes. Enjoy talking together about your son’s antics. Then if he gets a bruise or bump, you both know it was a result of playing, or an accident where he will need both of your support.

Working together is good ex-etiquette. Working against each other is not.

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