Dear Jann– In an effort to effectively co-parent with my ex I am looking to alternatives to taking my 15-year-old daughter’s phone away. Her report card was atrocious and it’s because she never gets off the phone. But, her father bought her the phone so he can keep in touch, and I don’t want to prevent them from communicating nor disrespect the fact that he is paying for it. What’s good ex-etiquette?
Sincerely, Phone Dilemma
Dear Phone Dilemma,
Good for you! You can see that a unilateral decision will affect your co-parenting relationship and are looking for alternative solutions—but you’re doing it with the wrong person. Although it’s the right idea to come to the table with a solution when you see a problem–you shouldn’t be asking me for help, you should be asking dad.
Years ago I constructed a list I call, “The 10 rules of Good Ex-etiquette for Parents” as a guide for parents who wish to coParent. Your issue is the exact reason I included, “Ask for help if you need it,” as Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #2. You aren’t in this alone. There’s someone else in the world other than you that loves (or is driven crazy by…) this child. If you can’t brainstorm together you aren’t utilizing all your resources. Put the junk aside and figure it out together. Since he’s paying for the phone, how would he like to see this handled? And, I would include exactly what you told me in your appeal…
“I respect the fact that you’re paying for the phone, but “our daughter is abusing the privilege and it’s our job as her parents to set some boundaries.”
We had a very similar problem at my house with phones while kids were in high school–and we had to brainstorm for a tactic that worked. Grounding was always a possibility, but most parents will tell you, you ground your kid, you’re grounded, too. Therefore, grounding at our house became, you can’t go to your friend’s homes. You can’t go out on the weekends. And…drum roll…the phone goes to the phone place. That meant when they came home from school the phone was sitting in a basket on the counter. Their other parent was the only one they could talk to. I never stopped the kids’ friends from coming over when they were grounded—but their friend’s phone went to the phone place, too. It made the point very quickly.
This approach was what we came up with as co-parents. And, it was based on the fact that our kids were not belligerent unruly kids, they were just trying to get away with anything they could. Like you, I didn’t want to interfere with their communication with their dad—I just wanted them to do what they were supposed to do. So, if you’re truly the co-parent it sounds like you are, sit down with dad and develop a plan together that’s approved by both. Then present it to your child as a united front. If you have re-coupled, or he has, it helps to have the new partner on board as well. Sound too good to be true? You can do it—if you put your child’s needs first. That’s good ex-etiquette.