Dear Dr. Jann– Help! My children’s mother is always late to exchange the kids-especially on Fridays for our weekend exchange! Since neither of us wants the other at our home, we’ve set up the exchanges at a local drive-through restaurant, but sometimes I have to wait 45 minutes and she never apologizes! The kids and I just sit there and wait. What can I do?
Sincerely– Dad’s Time Wasted
Dear Dad’s Time Wasted,
It seems “control” is a huge factor for parents in the beginning stages of coParenting and being chronically late to an exchange is a sure fire way to make sure the other parent sits up and listens. In actuality, being late is often regarded as a passive-aggressive way to pay an ex back for cheating, domestic violence, or even just feeling like the underdog for years. Passive aggressive behavior is best explained as “indirect resistance to others’ demands by avoiding direct confrontation.” Of course, sometimes being late can’t be helped, but if the other parent is chronically late, it’s probably by design.
Before we do any psychological analysis as to why the ex is behaving like this, let’s consider some practical things that might be contributing to the problem:
- If this is happening on a work day, specifically, is the chosen exchange time a reasonable time after a long day at work? In other words, if mom gets off work at 5 pm, it is impossible for her to make a 5 pm exchange time?
- Is traffic a consideration at the time she gets off work?
- Is she required to work overtime without warning?
Don’t set each other up for failure. Make sure you can both abide by the exchange time and location chosen.
Taking these things into account, you can:
- Make the exchange time later to enable mom to be on time.
- Change the exchange location to your home, even if you both do not want the other parent there. This is about the kids, not the parents, and it would be much easier on the kids if they could wait in the privacy of their own home rather than wait in a car in a parking lot at the local drive-through.
That said, that drive-through might be an agreed upon half-way point and stopping might give the kids some time to get out of the car and stretch their legs if both parents must drive a distance to make the exchange. But, even under those circumstances, a window–say 15 minutes– can be added to the custody order as an incentive for parents to be on time. The order could formally state whoever has the children with them at the time of exchange shall wait only 15 minutes without notification from the other parent that he or she will be late before the visit is terminated. I would suggest that notification be in writing –a text is perfect– so there is written proof of the attempted communication. I would also suggest that both parties get a receipt from the restaurant noting the time of arrival and the time of departure so neither parent can say, “Wait a minute! I was there. You weren’t!”
Finally, you may ask, “How can I stop this cycle?”
Start by having an honest conversation with your coParent using your kids’ welfare as the criteria for any decision made. Then, examine your expectations. Is what you are asking of your coParent something you would consider doing yourself?
Better explained, if you wouldn’t drive two hours to drop your child off at the exchange location, don’t ask your child’s other parent to do it. If you hate the other parent being late, don’t be late when it’s your turn. Treat the other parent how you would like to be treated, and don’t wait for him or her to be first to make the necessary changes in the way you interact with each other. Your kids are watching everything you do. If you don’t want them to grow up doing the exact same things, don’t offer it to them as an example.