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

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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?

“I miss my son/daughter when they’re with their dad.”

Do you talk to your kids every day when they are with their dad? Why?

If you’re having a hard time getting over your divorce, and over-relying on your kids for emotional support, I feel you! But you need to sort that out rather than stalk your kids.

Therapy can be a great option, including online therapy. Connect with a certified mental health professional through Read our review.

Being separated from your child: What do you do when you miss your son or daughter?

First, remember that the time with the other parent is really what is best for your child. Second, find ways to grow your own life and wellbeing. Stay busy! Ideas include:

General no-nos in co-parenting include constantly texting or calling your child while he or she is with the other parent (or any other time for that matter!), assuming that the child misses you constantly, or needs you, or you try to get information about your co-parent or otherwise control that parenting time.

Keep reading for more about healthy communication with your kid while co-parenting.

Communication guidelines for different co-parenting schedules

A divorced friend shares equal 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.

Co-parenting apps can be helpful in keeping track of communication and schedules — including pre-agreed-upon FaceTime.

Our Family Wizard is a Better Business Bureau accredited app and site used by tens of thousands of divorced and separated families. 30-day free trial, plus step-parents, grandparents and kids can be added for free. Read our review of Our Family Wizard.

Child custody and phone calls

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.

How often should a non-custodial parent call? How often should the custodial parent call when the kids are with their dad?

If you're wondering how often a non-custodial or custodial parent should call, a general rule of thumb that kids are perfectly fine away from their parents for extended periods of time — even weeks or months, assuming that they trust those parents are committed to them.

If parenting is 50-50 or close to it, a good rule of thumb is that contact can be more frequent when kids are very young, about once per week for kids ages 5-12 and never or whenever when they're teens. A kid who is sick, or going through a rough period, or has a milestone you want to celebrate of course comes with a call or text or unscheduled visit that both parents agree to.

Keep in mind that children have forever attended summer camp for a FULL SUMMER starting at age 7 without so much as a text message from their parents, and many of these kids grow up to cherish this parent-free time as their most precious childhood memories.

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. You also get to spend less time with your kids. Remember how wonderful it is when children go back to school at the end of summer, or winter break? That. Keep that in mind.

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.

[Why you don’t have to tell your ex that your kids met your new boyfriend]

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.

Co-parenting tips and successful co-parenting strategies

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 en masse. 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.

Instead of impulsively jumping on text or a call to your kids or their other parent when you are apart, here are some rules for healthy co-parenting — and parenting!

Why so many dads are better parents after divorce

Co-parenting schedules

Set a time sharing or custody schedule and stick to it. Whether you are on a 50-50 shared parenting schedule, or the old-fashioned every-other-weekend-with-dad routine, get it in writing, submit it to the courts if you must, create a shared Google calendar, print out that calendar so everyone in your household can see and follow it — then stick to it! 

Co-parenting agreement

Create a co-parenting agreement, which outlines not just the schedule, but how to manage schedule changes, medical, education and religious decisions, modes of communication, and financial matters.

Include a clause about contact with the other parent during parenting time. Limit this to once daily for very young children, and less frequently as children get older.

This should also include a clause that each parent makes the day-to-day decisions for the child during their parenting time.

Co-parenting apps

If Google Calendar does not work for you, consider one of the many co-parenting apps. These include:

  • Our Family Wizard
  • 2Houses
  • Coparently
  • Cozi
  • TalkingParents

Co-parenting classes

Many judges now require both parenting and co-parenting classes for families making their way through the court system. Almost all local courts will connect you with a local, in-person co-parenting class, or you can find an online co-parenting course to take by yourself, or in collaboration with your kids’ other parent.

Typically these classes are affordable and last a few hours.

Co-parenting therapy

Just as there is couples therapy, many divorced or separated parents chose to go to ongoing therapy to ensure open communication about the children and the whole family’s wellbeing. You may chose to go to co-parenting counseling weekly for six months during and after a breakup, or ongoing monthly until the children are grown.

A local therapist may be found through your attorney, or a referral from a trusted friend or health care worker. Or, online therapy may be more convenient, affordable, and allow you to enjoy the benefits of counseling by conducting the text, phone or video sessions in a different location from your ex!

Time apart as a divorced family makes for better conversations and stories

I pick my kids up at the airport in a few days after three weeks apart — them in Crete with their dad, me in Copenhagen where I’ve been hanging out, working and having a pretty amazing time. I was so sad for the first days apart, and have missed them so much. As I wrote here, their dad and I agreed that I wouldn’t speak to them often since I realized last year that constant communication only makes us all miss each other, and prevents them and their dad from getting into their own groove.

We did chat on the phone a couple of times, and I was struck by what interested, curious children I have. When I told Lucas, 5, that I had spent the day touring my city by bike, exploring the neighborhoods and many canals, he asked: “Did you go over any draw bridges?” Is that a great question or what?

And after I told Helena, 7, about my day full of museums, food shopping and dinner with a new friend, she asked: “But what are you doing TECHNICALLY?” which, it turns out, meant, What kind of coffee pot did I use to make my morning brew? What did the restaurant look like? What did I wear that day? What do Danish people wear? What did my friend do for work? What did we eat?

Don’t be a helicopter mom: Overprotective parents can hurt their kids

I am so proud at what the curious minds of my kids, and appreciate how this time apart can bring us closer, since we will have so much to talk about when we see each other Friday, and how good it will feel to squeeze the crap out of them when I see them, and wake up in the morning when they will cuddle into me in the bed, and we fall into our old routines again.

But in the long view of divorced families, we are constantly re-discovering each other and stitching together two lives that our kids must straddle. It is often an exhausting exercise to re-acquaint ourselves with our children (and vice versa) and constantly re-establish routines — one of the struggles of single motherhood.

The upside is that I see this creating children who are fantastic conversationalists. Through the details of my life outside of mothering them, my kids see me as a person with a full life, and not just a mom. While there is indeed a sweet and deep intimacy that comes with the constant (unrelenting, grinding) care of children, a life of fulltime motherhood simply is not mine. This is my life, and it is your life too. And the details of it can be pretty sweet.

What to do when a parent cancels visits last-minute

Bottom line: Limit those calls when your kids are with their dad

Healthy co-parenting means accepting that 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), storytelling and the satisfaction of seeing someone after missing them.

Learn more co-parenting tips.

Originally published in 2015.

How often should a non-custodial parent call?

If parenting is 50-50 or close to it, a good rule of thumb is that contact can be more frequent when kids are very young, about once per week for kids ages 5-12 and never or whenever when they're teens.


Stop calling your kids all the time when they’re with their OTHER PARENT.

There, I fixed your faux pas for you. You’re welcome.

I’m dealing with a narcissistic ex who is a father and who is using our kids as pawns. It’s been 10+ YEARS and the psychopath cannot let go… Phone calls and demanding constant communication with the kids during my visitation time is only one way he legally stalks and harasses me. When he calls he’s not calling to talk to them, he’s calling and asking them personal questions about my marriage, my finances, my home, my whereabouts, my husband, our three children we have together, my youngest children’s education and what they eat and whether I’m working and where do I work, how long, what do I cook, what do I eat, where do I eat out, how much money do I make etc. And adult topics such as if my husband buys me gifts, gives me cards, kisses me, whether he and I fight or have marital issues etc. He even asked kids if we have conforms in our bedroom.

I agree with you, my kids are now in their teens and I always kept it separate as you described. My needs didn’t need to come first.
I have a boyfriend and he has kids to with the emotional needy ex attached, they have a 50/50 plan, when his kids are with him or us the don’t ask for a call or anything they enjoy themselves, when they are with their mother it feels like a push to call their father, even on a trip of a couple of hours, ‘say where you are and tell how much fun’ the kids are very busy doing other stuff at such times and don’t say anything….
There was a timeframe for about a year(2 years after divorce) that his son of 7 called him multiple times a day to only ask, ‘what are you doing, who are you with and what are you going to do and can I see(video)’ further he had nothing to mention…. We were already together and the new me and they new I was going to be there….
My boyfriend said they never tell what they did or talk about it when they came home even after a holiday, I said, ‘why do you ask, they called you almost every day or multiple times a day and told everything with their mother in the background telling them ‘say what you did…. There’s nothing left to tell…..
Give your children their own time with the other parent, don’t push, if they want to call the ask for it or do it.
Your emotional needs are not your children’s feed.

My ex lies about me to the kids, telling them I’m selfish and don’t care about them or that we’d all be together but for me. He loves them a lot which is good. But he goes overboard in our son’s face repeating that dads his best mate, and that he misses the girls so much when I take them away from him. We had them 50/50, but they weren’t dealing with it well. I have them through the week now but he does come over every Wednesday to have them. He only takes them when his girlfriend, Mum, or sister-in-law can mind them. And he doesn’t care what they see on social media if they’re not bugging him and tells them they should lie to me and call him on social media each night and morning. It’s tough for everyone when parents split up. But I know it’s much better than if we had stayed together!

im sorry but i completley disagree with u im no proffessional at this stuff but i know my child better then anyone knows my child and whats good for one.kid isnt always nessaccarily good for another …my daughter has had a rough upbringing i found.out i was pregnant at 17 and marrige was.forced by my parents due to them not wanting mw to have the bwby out.of wedlocked it was doomed from the start i had no choice in the matter ir was.eaither.i agree to the marrige or id have to give my child up so please do not presume to know what the LUXURY of divorce is!!! this man has stolen my child on numerous occassions and the last time she had to be be forcefully removed by child protective services due to him have her live in squalor sleeping on q hardwood floor with no bedding your judgemental comment that thats the LUXURY of divorce is harsh and does not pretain to all situations so to generalize that in this artcle is extremly presumptious and.just plain unfair some times marriges where not right from the start the marrige breaks down and its healthier for the children to seperate then be exposed to the break down of the relationship. no matter what we do as parents our children love us both and.i.wouldnt dream of changing her opinion of her father she still thinks the world.of him and while now a days he has cleaned his.lufe up a bit he still has horrible anger issues and just today lashed out on me because i messaged my 16 year old daughter and asked her how she like the midevil fair i havent heard from her in 3 days and i was told to leave them the hell alone till they reach out to me… now when she is here at home i NEVER EVER denied him the ability to speak to her whenever he wanted to so it caught me off guard when he snapped at me then over a voice clip encouraged my daughter to he disrespectful to me and completley dimissive of how i felt…. so please before u post stuff like this do not generalize ur own experience into someone elses experiences it judgemental hurtful and.plain out right unfair these things are on by case situation on how there handled and whats the best course of action, divorce happens its sad but true i was just a lid and my marrige was forced i didnt have a choice so please if you cannot be open and sympathetic to other peoples experiences and situations then u in my opinon are not qualified enough to write a article like this! judge not lest ye ve judged!! let he who is without sin cast the first stone!

My ex and I have a signed court ordered agreement in which he has phone calls on his two nights that he works at 7 pm with the kids and I the 2nd night at 7 pm that the kids are with him. He is requesting to change this to different nights that the kids are with me and adding FaceTime. The phone calls work for the kids. He is saying that he does not want to eventually be talking to the kids while he is at work or to them while company is over or they are out. It can happen on any given day, minus the him being at work. We agreed to try the 4pm and it works for the kids. No activities and pretty much just home from school. I do not want to change it. He wants to follow the dispute resolution in the agreement. I am confused with it as I really do not want to change it as it works for the kids. Not sure how to respond to him.

My step daughter’s mother AND grandmother both text her up to four times a day and expect a phone call each day. Not to mention, her mom can tell when she is using her phone, which is usually when the texts start rolling in. Because of this, we have had to purchase a second phone for to use that isn’t directly/remotely controlled by her mother so that we can all have privacy. The child is under ten years of age and doesn’t want to text or call until she starts feeling sad. So most of the texts they send go un answered and just warrants for them to keep pushing for a response. It feels like harassment, but I don’t want to bother my step daughter about it since she seems to be coping well with using both phones.

Terrible advice. Things should be about the kids. Coparenting is just that. Adults getting along for the benefit of their kids. Not once do you say in any scenario that you should check what your kids want. You say kids can go weeks and moths without talking to another parent? Kids feel neglected by parents who live with them and are married. For a patent who sees the kids for less time they should be calling kids regardless of age. Kids don’t always give up information. You need to know your child and if a situation makes them uncomfortable. You’re happy for your mom to date? Good for you. Most kids are unacceptable of new relationships. And they won’t voice opinions to patents who do not communicate on a regular basis. You should stop giving advice. It is terrifying and confusing for patents and kids. Mabe you were ok with your mom dating multiple men. That is not all kids. Especially when break ups are fresh and kids are young. Adult business is adult business. Not telling your ex you have a new partner meeting g your kids is alarming and not ok. How shpuld the other parent feel when the kids explain the them they don’t like the new person or keep asking why you’re not with dad or mom? Who is thos person. A 3 or 4 year old even a 10 year old or adults who have patents break up, it is always hard. Even if we understand the situation. It is a loss. Losses are mourned. It takes time for each kid to understand the situation. Some kids are more sensitive. Doing what is best for your kids is priority. And if they are uncomfortable but can’t tell a parent since they see the 4 days a month and dad wants his girlfriend to sleep over in his bed without yelling the other parent. Now that other parent has to deal with the child’s emotions and feelings but you have no information to help the child accept and transition through parents together, patents break up and parents see new partner. Narcissistic parents will do this to try hurt another parent by making them feel replaced. The kids feel you’re replacing a father or.mother figure. Upsets in parental relationships, mistrust and failed communication are a result. Everybody’s situation is different. Malicious I tent breeds badness for all involved. If parents are coparenting comuninicstion is key. Keeping g relationships from the other parent and pushing g new partners on children who are not ready is damaging. This is proven on psychology over and over and evident in the worst humans to live on this earth. Not all intentions are good. Manipulation is toxic. If you’re dating and don’t tell your ex they sleep over and your son is upset how do you assure him the situation is just fine? You’re ok to undermine children’s feelings. You suppress them? Who cares if it hurts your kids put on you best shoes and lipstick, don’t forget the perfume! And you’re kids just have to be ok with it. 25 years later your kids are I. Therapy relaying this memory to a psychiatrist because they have sever trust issues and no idea where they came from. You give horrible advice.

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