Saturday, November 12, 2011

Talking to the other parent, Part II

Okay, I realize that I have strongly encouraged parents to talk to each other about their children.  I know that good co-parenting happens when there is open communication.

However, the other day I witnessed a very sad situation.

We were out to eat at an Arby's after watching our Hartley Hawks win the semifinals for the State Championship in volleyball.  We were elated but tired, wanted a quick meal and then planned to head home.  After placing our order, we headed to a booth away from the crowd.  When I sat down, I noticed a young man, about 13 years old, very tall and slim, sitting next to his dad in another booth.  He was looking longingly at his father, who was on the cell phone having a very intense conversation.  It was not angry or hostile, just intense.  It seemed to involve a scheduling issue.  Eventually it became clear that he was on the phone with the child's mother, discussing scheduling issues for the next week.  It was the usual scheduling things that most parents deal with when you have teenagers who are very involved in activities but can't drive yet.  I know, from listening to his side of the conversation, that the son had to be picked up from school at a different time every day and these two parents were trying to juggle a somewhat difficult schedule.  Okay, hurray!  They were actually communicating and figuring things out.  And then little things, little angry things, got sprinkled into the conversation.  He said, "I can't just take off from work like that," and "she works full-time, too," and "next time, try to give me more notice."  Okay, these are legitimate concerns.  After nearly 30 minutes on the phone, he flipped the phone shut and turned to his son to say, "We have to go.  I have to have you home in a half hour."  Ah, ha!  My suspicions were confirmed.  This was that famous mid-week three hour visitation in the flesh!  And then I thought, how sad this is.  Yes, the parents are talking.  Yes, they seem to be working things out.  But this was the son's time to talk to his dad, not to listen to his parents talking about his schedule.  Fortunately the slight show of anger did not escalate (probably because the son was sitting right there) but it was clear that it could.  So, why did they have to have this conversation right now?  Why not drop off the son, and then call after mom has had time to talk to him a little bit and send him off to bed?  I don't know who initiated the call, but if it was the mom, shame on her for imposing on her son's time to visit with his father.  If it was the dad, shame on him for wasting his precious time with his son on this conversation.  Was the conversation urgent?  Of course it was, but not so urgent that it couldn't be handled later in the evening.

And maybe this is the problem with cell phones.  Everyone is so accessible, it is ridiculous.  You just push a button on your phone, and you are able to rouse up a friend instantly. Why wait until later to find out something when you can call right now?  And people feel so compelled to answer the phone when it rings.  Very few people are able to ignore a call.  I am sure that everyone has experienced having someone tell you to hold that thought while they respond to the phone.  Even if they decide to not respond, it is still an annoying distraction.

So, yes, please talk to the other parent.  But when you are having a special time with your son (or parent or sibling or friend) seriously consider turning the phone off so that it does not distract you and you are not distracted by the compulsion to call someone.  If your child brings up something that raises some questions for you, and you want to talk to the other parent about it, good for you, but make a mental note to call later.  Believe me, without distractions, your time with your child will probably result in learning more about him or her than you will ever learn with the constant interruptions.  After all, this may be your parenting time, but for your child it is time to spend with a parent, and maybe the child has something on her or his mind that needs to be communcated without interruption.  So, keep talking to the other parent, but do so when it is not trampling on your special parent-child time.