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?
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.