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Ex-etiquette: Don't make kids choose a side

Jann Blackstone, Tribune News Service on

Published in Family Living

Q. Mother’s Day was interesting at our house this year. I’ve been married to the kids’ dad for most of their lives. They are now 15 and 17 and were scheduled to be with us but decided to be with their mother for most of the day. This was a little weird because normally they spend more time here with us even though the custody agreement states they are to stay a week with their mother and a week with their father. I don’t want to upset the family dynamic, but if the custody agreement says they are to be with us, shouldn’t they be? What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. It has been my experience that once children hit their late teens, the courts will intercede if there are safety issues, but they usually don’t get involved when a child is 17. Legally, of course, the child should be where the custody agreement says, but for all practical purposes, by the time you go to court, hear the case and implement the findings, the child is often 18 and then it’s a moot point. 15 is a gray area and often a very troublesome age if child and parents don’t agree.

I’m surprised you said that the kids are scheduled to be with their father on Mother’s Day. Working for the court system and thousands of families over the years, the first order of business was always to schedule the kids with mom on Mother’s Day and dad on Father’s Day unless the parents lived so far away from each other that travel was impossible. Not sure what happened there unless the parents wrote their own custody agreement when the kids were little and simply forgot about Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. It happens, but that small oversight often causes a lot of hurt feelings.

That said, if the kids are at your house most of the time, are you really surprised they opted to be with their mom on Mother’s Day? If they know their mom is feeling bad by their choice to hang at your house, spending time with her on Mother’s Day is a perfect opportunity to remind her they love and appreciate her.

Remember, Good Ex-etiquette for Parents Rule #4 is, “Parents make the rules; bonusparents uphold them.” That means, if the parents agree about something for their children, try not to interfere. (Unless, of course, you have children as well and are trying to coordinate efforts. Then working together is a must.)

 

Sounds like your family has worked through a lot of the issues families must face when the kids go back and forth. But even in the best of cases, the kids can feel put in the middle and as if they must choose a side.

Don’t make them do that. It’s something that will stick with them and become a bone of contention at each milestone. I’ve seen kids get so frustrated that after high school they go away to school and opt not to go home for holidays because they absolutely do not want to deal with the drama.

Your best bet is to continue to do exactly what it sounds like you have been doing: Support the parents in their efforts to co-parent and be there for the kids. That’s good ex-etiquette.

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