Q: My husband’s ex will not allow their 2-year-old child to meet me because, she says, the child is too young. She thinks it will confuse the child and she will not know who her mother is. According to their court order, my husband is supposed to have equal custody, but since I moved in and we got married, his ex will only let him see their daughter for the day, and she is not allowed to come to our home if I am there. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: Are you kidding me? Not this. To begin, neither parent can legally withhold a child from the other parent if there is a court order in place (unless the police or child protective services have intervened). If reason has not worked, dad might want to consider making an appointment with a therapist who specializes in parenting after a breakup and child development, and inviting mom to the appointment. Both parents can then pose the appropriate questions to a knowledgeable professional, and many of their questions and misunderstandings can be cleared up. If mom refuses, that’s when dad may want to take legal action. Mom should be careful. All things equal (no drugs, alcohol or violence in anyone’s background), some courts make their final determination about primary custody based on “the parent who is most likely to share.” If what you are saying is true, mom is definitely not sharing the child’s time with dad and as a result, if she goes to court, a judge may not assign primary custody to her.
Research tells us that children of this age do best with frequent and ongoing contact with both parents. What you describe is more about mom’s insecurity than in the best interest of the child. Sounds to me like mom needs some education to help her understand everyone’s role in co-parenting this child. These are perfect questions to pose to a therapist. Or, the parents may want to sign up for a co-parenting class that will help them learn to establish proper boundaries.
For the record, children know who their parents are and this child will not forget her mommy or daddy based on an equal custody schedule. If the primary concern is truly not to confuse the child, supporting the other parent’s parenting time and making the transition from house to house as stress-free as possible is the answer. And, if we are following Ex-Etiquette Rule No.1, “Put the child first,” you are a successful parent after a breakup if your child looks forward to spending time at both parents’ homes. This does not mean you fight over time. It means you support the other parent’s parenting time, and give the child permission to love and respect the people at both homes – including bonusparents. After all is said and done, the more people to love a child, the better. If this child loves all the parent figures in her life, that means you have all done it right. Put her in the position where she has to choose and as she gets older she will choose anywhere else but home.
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. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.