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.

21 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.

      1. As the wife of a divorced dad who only sees his kids every other weekend, I can tell you that my stepchildren find it disruptive when their mother insists on talking to them on the weekends they are with their dad. They feel bad because she misses them and sometimes feel like they can’t do what they want with dad because she is constantly weighing in on what they should and shouldn’t be doing when they are with their dad. I think divorced parents do need to realize that they don’t control everything in their children’s lives anymore and should consider if their actions are really for the benefit of their kids or just for the benefit of themselves. It’s easy to argue that everything you do is for the benefit of the children, but that’s rarely the reality.

        1. dead on! i checked my kids ipod touches this weekend and my 10 year old is getting I Love You Hunny Bunny from his mom, which is fine, but it ends up being a 20 minute text conversation of “are you having fun” “are you bored” “where’s your brother” and my youngest replied “mom, don’t text me, he’s beside me” ..pisses me off, he?

          1. not too mention that they are with me not her, and i have them on extended visitation, and every single day there is a chain message from her. I get it, you miss them, but let them be kids and enjoy themselves with their dad. Get a life too!

            She blocks them from talking to me and getting messages when they are with her.

    2. Actually even psychologists have said that calling during a routine time like bedtime isnt ideal for children. They do not NEED to talk to you, you are disrupting time with their other parent, they are being taken care of so not hearing you say goodnight is not the end of the world. They are with their parent they don’t need to be checked up on, if their is a problem or emergency the other parent will contact you.

  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!

  8. Guilty! I share 50/50 and I miss them so much when they leave with dad. I wish I could talk to the. Everyday but dad restricts it and I feel it makes my need and want to speak to them even more. It’s been 7 years and I still cry at times From missing them so much, I don’t know what to do. Dad limits and controls when I can speak to them as he’s still bitter from the divorce. I do find solace in the fact that I know the kids dont need to speak to me or want to make the effort, but it’s me. I’m going through this now which is why I came across this website.

    1. You need to let go. You can’t put your emotional needs into your children. Find something you enjoy doing and take care of yourself

  9. I am in the divorce process with my ex, our son is 3 and he is just getting used to being away from us. My ex called 3 times a day at first then once now its once a week and my son is so sad that he doesn’t hear from him every day. I let him know he can call anytime he wants but he wants his daddy to call him. When my ex has our son, I message once a day for him to let me know if there is a good time for me and my daughter to say hi or good night. I try to always make it short not to invade on the time. Usually just saying good night I love you and have soo much fun with daddy. Then i leave it at that. It never bothers me that my ex called 1-3 times a day. This is new for our son and he enjoys knowing that we both love him and are always there for him. Being from a divorced family myself I would have much rather my dad called daily rather than weekly. Now as he gets older and more used to the situation or becomes a pre-teen/teen I understand the constant talking is not as important but for young children they are still trying to figure out where they belong and the best answer to me is in both parents lives.

    1. 100% agree! This is exactly what I aim to do, but we often met with discord because dad doesn’t ever call when my son is at our house and he gets upset if we try to set up a call when my son is st his house. When so was growing up my dad infrequently and eventually I grew to not want a relationship because it became overwhelming to continually update him on lengthy periods between calls. I think parents need to remember that the adults divorced each other, not the children.

  10. I am the parent that prefers a 5 minute call at the end of the day to say goodnight and go over what my child did for the day. I also encourage dad to do the same (which he doesn’t). It’s absurd to me that just because we live in an age when divorce and 50/50 custody are common that you have to expect the kids to only communicate with the parent they are currently with. I gave birth to my child with the parenting intention of being in their life every day, not just half the week. I didn’t sign on for (and neither did my child) being separated for lengthy periods of time. It’s not the sign of an overbearing parent to want to say goodnight, it’s quite the opposite. The parent the refuses communication or expects none should be considered the overbearing one. If you married and had a child with someone, you clearly didn’t find it overbearing for both parents to say their nightly “I love you” each night. If you sat in your study and avoided the bed time routine when you live with a child, you’d be considered a bad parent. And yet we ask parents to bow out and wait their turn until your own visitation when two parents live separately. We expect our kids to fit their parents in nice smooth little boxes and god forbid those boxes mix. Well I’m not of that camp. I think parents need to put their boxes aside and show the child that was made by these two adult humans that they can be adults and create a routine where kids don’t feel pressured to choose. If a 5 minute call at the end of the day “disrupts” your routine, perhaps need to put your big kid panties on and build a routine that shows they child they are thought of daily by parents on both houses. It’s not disruptive and it can be done successfully without either parent feeling like an jerk for loving or missing their child.

  11. I completely disagree. These days all the power is mistakenly given to the children to decide whats best. Children are children and don’t always know what they want. It is a parents job to decide what is best for the child. In a normal relationship kids would get to see both parents at bedtime. Just because you are divorced, doesn’t mean that parents shouldn’t talk to their kids every night and should stay out of their childs lives when they are at the other parents. I do not have a problem with my ex calling at a suitable time before bed. It’s about being reasonable and rationale. A 5 min call once a day b4 bedtime is acceptable or a longer phone call every 3 days makes sense to me too. Whatever you choose to do, show respect to the other party and be reasonable as to the frequency, duration and time you call.

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