Daily Press (Sunday)

Common mistake co-parents make

- Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “ExEtiquett­e for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation.” drjannblac­kstone@gmail. com

Dear Dr. Blackstone:

My child returned to my home after his weekend with his mother and while he was getting ready for bed, he mentioned that his mother didn’t come home last night. He’s only 14. What should I do?

What’s good ex-etiquette?

Dear Reader: One of the most common mistakes co-parents make is to believe their children when they tell them something the other parent said or did. I will never forget the time my client’s daughter, a 4-year-old, told her father that “Mom and Billy” were sleeping together. The father said nothing to the mother, just filed for custody believing that his co-parent was frivolousl­y sleeping with her boyfriend when the kids were around. Since they had made an agreement that their dates would not spend the night when the kids were with them, dad filed for custody. No conversati­on, just filed papers.

As a quick sidebar, it’s best that dates do not spend the night when your children are with you until there is a commitment. This doesn’t necessaril­y mean marriage, but a commitment implies longevity and that is what is important to present to the children — your person has made a commitment to be around.

It’s also important to note that someone spending the night in itself is not a reason for the court to change custody. In the story above, it turned out that mom and Billy fell asleep in front of the TV while watching a football game. (Evidently, neither of the Kelce brothers was playing.)

The implicatio­n is that your son was left alone, but I highly suspect that is not the case. You probably don’t have all the informatio­n and your adult mind went into overdrive when your child said, “Mom didn’t come home.”

But consider the following …

Does mom live alone? How close does she live to relatives or friends who may have watched your son when she was out?

Could mom have arranged a sleepover at a friend’s home?

The bigger question is why don’t you know the answer to any of these questions? That’s the red flag. It tells me that you and mom need to improve your ability to co-parent, pronto.

When co-parents need child care, consider reaching out to your co-parent for help. That’s called, “first right of refusal” and it is a standard clause in a custody order. When it is not included, co-parents may live too far away from each other to lend a hand, or they could be looking for a way to not talk to each other. That’s when I hear people ask, “I can’t ask my mom to watch my kids?” Of course, you can, but it’s good practice to reach out to your co-parent first.

That said, first thing you do when you hear something questionab­le from your child is talk to your co-parent — don’t accuse, just ask for clarificat­ion and then work together in the name of your child. That’s good ex-etiquette.

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