Q: I have two boys. Their dad and I are divorced and we have both remarried – their dad first, and me a couple of months ago. Their father has always had VERY inconsistent work hours and works a lot of overtime, and I think his schedule really affects the boys. As they get older they’re becoming more disorganized and not doing as well in school. I’m thinking about going back to court to change the custody agreement, but before I do, I’d like to know what’s more important? Their dad having them when he can, or the stability of knowing where they’re going to be during the week?
A: Actually both, and because that’s the answer, it just reinforces the need to use good ex-etiquette when problem solving with dad. You may think that’s exactly what you’re doing by considering what’s best for the boys, but looking to change the children’s scheduled time with the other parent is often the first place divorced parents look when facing a problem with the kids, and that may not be the right answer. In this case, unless dad just changed employment – which you say he has not – he’s always had inconsistent hours. That means if the boys’ behavior has recently changed, there’s probably more to this than an inconsistent work schedule. More likely the additional changes, like your divorce, their dad’s remarriage and your remarriage just a couple of months ago impacted things as well. Remember, with remarriage comes a shift in household balance of power – another adult in the home, possibly a move, the addition of bonus siblings – lots of things that could distract young children and as a result they become disorganized, distracted, and possibly depressed.
What does all this mean to you specifically? If you don’t want to fight it out in court, it means both you and dad may have to make concessions to help the boys adjust. Dad may have to admit that his inconsistent hours make it difficult on the boys and look for ways to adjust his work schedule. Could he possibly cut back on overtime? You may have to be more flexible. This could mean that you may have to become more cordial with his new wife so that you can better coordinate efforts when scheduling time for dad with the boys. (Good Ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 2, “Ask for help if you need it.”) Bottom line, it means you may all have to do some things that you don’t want to do to make it easier on the kids. (Good Ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 10, “Compromise whenever possible.”) You have the solutions already. You just have to decide to cooperate and put them into practice.
Bottom line, although good ex-etiquette always starts with the biological parents, it doesn’t end there. It’s not you against the boys’ dad. It’s all of you for the kids. If you all put the kids first, (Good Ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 1), between four unselfish adults you’ll be able to find a solution. 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, bonusfamilies.com. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website exetiquette.com at firstname.lastname@example.org.