Dear Dr. Jann: My ex got angry with me for hiring a babysitter for our 3 children (ages 5, 7, 9) last Saturday night. He feels that I should have asked him to watch them. Is this fair or even reasonable?

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Dr. Jann Says: This is called, “First right of refusal” and is reasonable if:
1. You get along well enough that you can easily reach out to each other for help.

2. You live close enough to make this a practical alternative.

3. You are not thrown by last minute changes.

When parents don’t’ get along and include first right of refusal in their parenting plan, it becomes one more bone of contention–one more, “You said you would do something, but never follow through.” “First right of refusal” only works when parents are truly coParenting in the best interest of their children. If your motivation is that only the parents supply day care, then this is a great way to achieve that goal. If your motivation is trying to keep tabs on each other and control the other parent’s world, it’s a terrible idea.

“First right of refusal” is also only practical if you live close enough to make last minute changes feasible. It’s a great way to offer a parent some extra time with their child, but will become a pain if you have to drive an hour to supply the child care. That’s when parents secretly ask a friend or family member to help and “first right of refusal” becomes one more thing to fight about.

Finally, most often the requests for help come at the last minute. If you are the kind of person who has a problem changing plans, “first right of refusal” will simply add to your stress and to your children’s stress going back and forth between parents. That’s when both parents should be required to supply their own child care and call it a day.

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About Jann Blackstone

Dr. Jann Blackstone specializes in divorce, child custody, co-parenting, and stepfamily mediation and is often called the “Relationship Expert for Today’s Relationships” because of her “real life, down-to-earth” approach to relationship problem solving. She is the author of six books on divorce and parenting, the most popular, the Ex-etiquette series featuring Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation. She is also the author of the Ex-etiquette syndicated column and a frequent guest or consultant on television and radio talk shows, including Good Morning America (ABC), The Today Show (NBC), Keeping Kids Healthy (PBS), the Early Show (CBS), and The Oprah Winfrey Show. She has been the featured expert in many magazines, including, Child, Parents, Parenting, Newsweek, Family Circle, More, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, BRIDES, Woman’s Day, and Working Mother Magazine.

In 1999, Dr. Jann founded and became the first Director of Bonus Families®, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization working to change the way society views stepfamilies by supplying up-to-date co-parenting information via its Web site, counseling, mediation, and a worldwide support group network. They prefer to use the word “bonus” to the word step. Step implies negative things; however, a “bonus” is a reward for a job well done. “Bonus…a step in the right direction.”