Q. Is it OK to put a limit of one 10-minute phone call on my 11-year-old son to his mother on my every other weekend visits? They call each other morning, noon, and night and stay on the phone for 20-60 minutes each time. When he gets off the phone with her his mood has soured.
A. Sometimes in situations like this, a parent will say it's because their child has told them they hate going to visit the other parent, so they're trying to make it easier by reminding him or her the time away will be over soon. In other cases, the parent is afraid their child will forget them or like it more with the other parent - so they call to remind the child how much they're loved, often talking about what the child left behind when he or she is away with comments like, "Don't worry, I fed your puppy," or, even more underhandedly, "Your puppy misses you when you are gone!" In yet other cases, constant phone calls are simply a tool to alienate the child from the other parent. Parents who use this tact must understand the lasting psychological impact this behavior has on their child. For more information, type in Parental Alienation Syndrome, in the Bonus Families Web site search engine.
While each case should be examined individually, it's not uncommon for a child to tell an anxious parent exactly what he or she thinks the parent wants to hear - even if it's untrue. "I hate going to Dad's! It's boring" even if the truth is that Dad just bought him a new X-box and he's dying to get over there. That's when the parents end up in a counselor's office looking for a custody change because they think they are doing exactly what their child wants. In actuality, neither knows the truth.
To eliminate this issue, phone calls should be limited to one a day - a "Hi ya son, good to hear your voice" phone call is all that's needed. Also, the parents must improve their communication with each other. The more the parents talk directly to each other, the less room there is for the child to interpret by himself. Help him to cope by supporting the other parent's visitation. It is in his best interest.
(East Jann Blackstone-Ford, Ph.D., and her husband's ex-wife, Sharyl Jupe, authors of "Ex-Etiquette for Parents," are the founders of Bonus Families (www.bonusfamilies.com). Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.)