Knowing what I do for a living, an acquaintance at the gym, Naomi, told me the following story: A 9-year-old boy she knows with divorced parents -- let's call him Brian -- was asked by his mother to pick up his clothes. He responded, "Why should I? I'm just passing through." What does a co-parent do with a comment like that from a kid? Without any other information about Brian, let's think about what's going on.
He's in the latency stage for a school-aged child, which is commonly known as the golden age of childhood; not a baby or toddler and not yet a teen. It's a time when kids tend to be industrious, agreeable and look for approval from their elders who they still want to please for another few years. Maybe all Brian needs is a nudge in the right direction to be cooperative. Try to get him started by asking him to pick up and you fold garments, or visa-versa. In any event, what he said shouldn't go unaddressed. Engaging in a wardrobe organizing activity together might spur a much-needed conversation to better understand what is going on with him.
A comment like this may reveal a concern that there is too much or too little moving between his parental homes. If it's the former, rather than growing resilience in your kid, the back and forth is creating a child for whom life is a blur. If it's the latter and he's not spending enough time in your home, or doesn't have a clear sense that there's a place for him to call his own, then his investment in your world and by extension in himself goes lacking.
Brian is at the age where he understands that if he doesn't see his other parent for four to five days -- though he may miss that parent and be sad -- he and the other parent will do fine in his/her absence, especially if allowed to have adequate and private telephone conversations with the longed-for parent. There may also be opportunities for the non-custodial parent to volunteer at school during their off-times or in after school activities as coaches and in other child-focused leadership roles. If Brian rarely settles into one parent's place for four to five days on a regular basis, long enough to have a full experience or work through up and down times, a comment like this might mean you need to re-evaluate your parenting plan.
You might consider what is called in the custody world a 2-2-5. In this arrangement, a child aged 6-12 (depending on the details of your child's temperament and the history of co-parenting) spends Mondays and Tuesdays at one parent's home, Wednesdays and Thursdays at the other parent's home and then alternates weekends. Wednesday after school is the day to switch periods of parental responsibility and then again on Sunday evenings or Mondays after school. After age 12, you might consider a week on/week off schedule if your child needs it or has asked for it.
Some readers are quick to tell me in the comments section that I'm naïve and over-state the obvious when it comes to cultivating good co-parenting protocols and etiquette. To them I say, what looks easy is a very delicate dance that is tough to pull off well. Don't kid yourself -- good communication requires buckets of patience and the ability to step back, suspend criticism and listen deeply to what your child is telling you so that you can make the necessary fixes. You must stay true and focused on the one good thing -- your child -- as he or she is the only reason you stay in touch with your ex, and it's rarely easy.
All break-ups are traumatic when they involve children even for the most agreeable among you, because separations and divorces seem particularly senseless when couples who appear to have so much going for them part ways. So if I'm preaching to the proverbial choir, chances are you've already stopped reading. If you're still listening, take these suggestions as cues from the playbook of co-parents who do work things out and make adjustments as they go along. Whatever you do, don't be guilty of letting Brian down.