Stop calling your kids all the time when they’re with their dad

 

I wrote this last year, and am republishing it now in light that this summer season has many of us spending long stretches away from our kids, including me. What do you think? Do you talk to your kids every day when they are with their dad? Why? Or why not? Share in the comments! 

My kids are halfway through a 2.5 week trip to Europe with their dad, visiting his family there. This is by far the longest we’ve been away from each other, and I was worried they would miss me — and me them. So far, so good. It sounds like a lot of days at the beach with their little cousins and family dinners of chicken, potatoes and other Greek food. I can easily envision them in the home I visited many times during my marriage, eating the awesome home Greek cooking of my ex’s stepmom and enjoying the Mediterranean sun.

Despite my initial plans to call every few days, we have spoken only twice. On Thursday I had fun telling them that our cat caught a mouse (and laid it at the foot of my chair in the dining room), hearing from Lucas about the airplane ride, and getting silly with Helena, surmising what kind of bathing suit our cat would wear at the beach (Would it be a bikini, or a tankini? Duh – a CATkini!). But — true parenting confession here — I only really started to miss them when I hung up the phone. Until then — and mostly since — I have been enjoying my kid-free time, meeting up with friends, accomplishing work and household tasks that otherwise went unattended to, and spending time with someone new I’m dating (more on that later this week, ladies).

I realized: If frequent calls and check-ins make me miss my kids, it probably makes them miss me and home. So if they’re having a great time focused on their environs in Greece, why would I want to refocus them to their mom and New York life — especially if they’re not asking for me?

Which, I will admit, they are not. And that hurts. But that is my problem. So I told my ex that unless they ask to call, we will keep calls infrequent.

As with any relationship, it is healthy that the kids and I get a break from each other and miss one another. Missing and longing are a healthy part of life. If we deny our kids that, we rob them of the ability to learn patience, memory (which studies find is collectively challenged thanks to Google), story telling and the satisfaction of seeing someone after missing them.

A divorced friend shares 50-50 custody with her ex who expects pictures and  updates every few hours when the kids are with her — and nightly Facetime. She enjoys the occasional cute pic in return, but sees no point in the dozens of mundane images of her offspring the dad sends every week — especially since there is rarely a time when the kids go more than two or three days without seeing either parent. “It feels intrusive and controlling, but he says he misses them so much — so how can I deny him?” she complained. That’s the thing: he misses them. No one asked what is good for the kids. These parents make it about them, and what they are missing out on. The kids just want to live their lives, be engaged in the people and activities around them and not be interrupted by forced reportage to the absent parent – especially if they can get that parent up-to-date on their shenanigans within 48 hours.

I understand that a lot is lost when you do not see your kids every day. But that is the price that is paid for the luxury of divorce. You don’t have to be married to the other party, but you also get to spend less time with your children. But I do not think that loss is so horrific. If it were, people would stop getting divorced in such high numbers. In fact, the idea that you do not know your kids or otherwise are an inferior parent because they do not hear your voice every single day before they turn 18 is a product of the over-parenting trend that stems from the elevation of mother to saint-like status. It puts too much pressure on parents to be intimately involved in every aspect of their kids’ lives. Every day.

Which is where a caveat is in order: In instances when one parent lives afar, or is on an extended trip that requires they be apart from the kid for weeks on end, well then of course calls and video chats are wonderful tools for staying connected. In fact, we rely on video chat to stay close some family and friends who live in other parts of the country.

The pitfalls of social media apply to divorced families

While the amazing technology that allows us connect with the world via stream-of-conscious sharing of tweets and posts, researchers increasingly find that technology that connects us also makes us anxious and depressed. In fact, I suggest that the same mentality that compels us to share our every thought on Facebook and Twitter is the same one that drives us to be in constant contact with our kids. All this connectivity has proven to shorten our attention spans, heighten anxiety and weaken relationships. Even a few years ago phone calls were expensive (who remembers a mass of relatives piling on a single phone line to talk over each other to a far-away relative in effort to save on long distant charges?) and the idea of instant sharing of pictures and video chats was the stuff of fantasy.

And yet we survived. Even thrived. And kids of divorce still bonded with both parents, and divorce wasn’t so bad that it deterred people from divorcing (and divorcing). Not to romanticize divorce of years of yore, but we stand to learn from ways our parents messed that up, but also see what worked. Which is that kids don’t need their parents as much as we may think they do.

And before instituting any communication policy pare ts must first examine their own motivations.

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11 thoughts on “Stop calling your kids all the time when they’re with their dad

  1. I will add that every week or two my ex will call to say hi to the kids – or they ask to speak with him. I don’t find this intrusive or weird (he’s very respectful about it), and we share occasional pics that are especially cute or special (I recently sent him images of Helena meeting her new cousin). I’m talking about parents who seem to want to replicate the intimacy with our kids that comes with daily care. That simply does not happen with divorce.

  2. As for your divorced friend whose ex “expects pictures and updates every few hours when the kids are with her — and nightly Facetime.” whom she can’t seem to set boundaries with, good luck with a serious relationship. If she’s dating, and hoping for something serious, good effin’ luck. Only the most beta of “Poindexters” in a serious relationship with a single mom would be OK with that BALONEY. If her ex needs that much communication “about the kids” my suspicion would be that the ex still gets into mommy’s pants during her in between relationship times, or even more – not that he’s that interested in the kiddos. And the fact that single mommy fails to set boundaries with him is a huge red flag to begin with.

    In my “nice guy” days I was understanding that chatting about the kids periodically is expected with a single mom and their ex. Too much contact with exes whilst the kids are with them is absolutely not healthy for a single mom’s ongoing relationship with Poindexter. Gets the new beau wondering if it’s “just the kids” that she’s calling/texting/twittering so much, and in my experience too much communication is seldom regarding just the kids.

    And women are even worse with the jealousy, so it goes both ways.

    Thank the stars I don’t deal with that anymore, but a Poindexter reading this might find the info helpful.

  3. As both a divorced kid and now parent this makes so much sense. The kids call when they need and want to. I did have to get my oldest a cell phone before I would have preferred so that they could keep in touch. (Ex isn’t very good with money and is often with out a phone.) As a kid it was easier for me to compartmentalize my time and not really contact the other parent.

  4. Sounds like someone is enjoying her “single mom” status a little too much!
    Since when are nightly phone calls with your child misconstrued as invasive and poorly motivated?
    Of course it’s hard to hear that your child is missing you. There is no denying that. But, does that mean we should silence their voices by not allowing them a platform (the telephone) to express their emotions to us?
    My hunch is that *single wealthy mommy* has a hard time hearing those words from her child (as any parent does!) and would much rather adopt an “out of sight out of mind” mentality. This not only makes *her life* easier, but less guilt ridden to boot! Just some food for thought.

    1. This is what I was thinking too. I call my kids everyday, if the are playing and don’t want to talk then i tell them i love them and let them play. If they ask me to call later i do. If they dont ill call the next day.

  5. I am a new step-mom of a wonderful 14 year old step-daughter. Thanks to the horrible court system we have, my husband and I only get visitation every other weekend (recently we added Tuesday nights after soccer practice). Her mother is very insecure and a total control freak. She constantly texts our step-daughter during OUR visitation and she calls 10 times a day wanting to know what we are doing and freaks out if we are at movies or when our daughter doesn’t immediately respond. This has to stop! On top of that this woman doesn’t allow the daughter to even speak with me (she calls her a backstabber and a traitor), my husband rarely gets a response when he calls or texts – likely due to restrictions placed on the daughter and mom has Family Base track every single text and call our 14 year old engages in. I am afraid our daughter is going to rebel. She is a really good kid and mature, but she’s already complaining about her mom’s craziness. It’s not my place to deal with this situation but does anyone have a tip?

  6. Im going through the same thing. I lead by actions. I call my kids once a week , if they call me great but I let them live and be kids. Mom on other hand calls at 6am to make sure up for school. Like I’m a flake. Plus she’s 15. Every thought question that pops into my ex’s head is immediately texted or she calls. Its bottom so bad the my daughter says mom stresses her out, constantly reminds her over and over, and my daughter loves soccer well soccer mom it is. My ex is so involved and opinionated that it will be 10 days haven’t spoken to my daughter and I pick her up and say hey hows soccer… . she snaps my head off and says in sick of talking soccer. Im like hold up here. Now my daughter tunes me out and others she feels their just babbling and I figured out every aspect of her life is Q and A by mom that my daughter is on edge of cliff on ever aspect of life that there’s no room for me and her to chill and talk she’s had shits of every and any topic. It shows cause she snaps quick and like acts like I and her have talked about many times and we never spoke about once. The last thing is her fear. She literally will cry and turn ghost white if she thinks mom will get upset or mom won’t like that. Im really scared and definitely starting her in counciling(she is scared mom will find out and went tell her and went let me tell . its weird but since divorce she dies whatever she needs to appease her mom. Me I don’t get call in ten days she freaks if she knows she was supposed to call or ?? Her mom. She never disappoints.
    One thing never ever bad mouth the mom or dad to your kids. Always speak nicely about. If you do badmouth your slicing your own throat. They will love you for not adding to stress .
    Ive thought of all this over xmas break and I’m trying to figure out my next move and how to go about.
    Ps. Mom is a yeller, screamer and when she’s not happy kniwone in house is either. Her energy vampiring and yelling is what I couldn’t take and dissolved marriage. Im sure they are going through hell. Lastly. Most things they talk about are done in a Q and A fashion and it like interrogation style. My ex never just has fun on phone or goofy. Its all about what ya got to do where ya got to go and sew of 10 millionth reminders.
    Im pissed scared and I see the changes in my daughter and can feel her energy. And its not good vibes any more.

  7. Great article.
    You show great judgment and rationality. Kids don’t need their mom every second of every day. Dad’s are super parents too and time alone with either parents is very important.

    thanks for sharing!

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