Ex-etiquette: Even if visitation is spotty, remember to put children first
Question: My ex and I have a 3-year-old daughter. He was awarded three supervised visits per week, two hours each visit, that he uses only occasionally.
Last week, he asked if he could see her on Halloween and on his birthday, which is on Nov. 1. These are not court-ordered times. Is it good ex-etiquette to say no?
I eventually want a good relationship with him, but he hardly ever comes when he is supposed to, and I really think he's just asking because he wants to see me — not our daughter.
Answer: Sounds like you're pretty skeptical, and that's understandable if Dad rarely uses his court-ordered visitation. However, looking for a way to support Dad's visitation on any level is good ex-etiquette. This is not to say that you stop your life in order to make Dad's visitation happen — especially because he's not standing up to the plate and visiting when he's supposed to, but if Dad asks for time and you have no plans with your daughter, how would saying “no” be in your daughter's best interest?
That said, a huge red flag in your case is that your child's father's visitation is supervised. This is usually based on the fact that the child is not safe alone with the parent and supervised visitation is ordered so that the relationship can continue, but monitored by someone to keep the child safe.
Supervised visits might be ordered for various reasons — like a parent may be mentally ill and not med compliant, or convicted of a violent crime, or has a history of alcohol or drug abuse or it could even be that the parent has no history with the child and the court thinks that a supervisor will serve as a buffer until parent and child feel comfortable with each other. For whatever reason, your ex received supervised visits, so if you do say yes to additional time, consider the additional visits are supervised as well until determined by the courts that supervision should be lifted.
Finally, you say your ex has ulterior motives and really wants to see you and not the child. That could be true if you are the supervisor and present during visitation, but if you are not, then you are concerned about nothing. And, you have to ask yourself, what's the difference? If your ultimate goal is to get along, the best way to do it is to start — and that begins by following the rules of good ex-etiquette. Things like: Put the children first (rule No. 1), and Don't hold grudges (rule No. 5), Don't be spiteful (rule No. 6), use empathy when problem solving (rule No. 7) respect each other's turf (rule No. 9) and look for the compromise (rule No. 10) are perfect reference guides to start getting along.
You can read more about applying the rules of good ex-etiquette on the Bonus Families website, www.bonusfamilies.com Key word: ex-etiquette. Key word: ten rules.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.