The Family Project: When is shared-custody concern snooping?
Q. My wife and I are divorced, and we have shared custody of our children, ages 10 and 7. I am trying to figure out how much I should ask my children about their time spent with their mother. I am concerned that I if I don’t ask them what they did, it looks like I don’t care. On the other hand, I don’t want it to look like I am interrogating them every time they come home from being with her. What do you think?
The panel agreed that not asking the children anything about their visits with their mother might indicate a lack of interest and caring.
The panel also indicated that there is a difference between showing an interest in the children’s time spent with their mother and an interrogation.
“It’s OK to ask in general, ‘How was your weekend?’” panelist Pam Wallace said, adding, “Open-ended questions are fine, but asking very specific questions is interrogation.”
Dealing with children in custody and co-parenting situations can be very difficult. panelist Mike Daniels said.
“If the children say something about the other parent or an experience during their visit, it is likely that the parent will bring it up with the other parent. If it causes a rift,” Daniels continued, “the kids will be in the middle and may stop talking about their visits.”
On the other hand, panelist Denise Continenza said, “Asking open-ended, non-judgmental questions like, ‘How was your weekend?’ gives the children permission to talk about their time with mom.”
Cautioning against jumping to conclusions over what children might say about their experiences, Continenza said, “Children talk about their lives in snapshots. They don’t deal in details or present the whole picture. Things can easily be taken out of context.”
Panelist Erin Stalsitz also said that in the situation involved in this week’s question, there are two different households and lifestyles involved: “There are going to be differences in how things are done. That doesn’t need to be a point of contention.”
Summing up the discussion, Daniels said, “Each parent is going to have to trust that the other parent is going to do his or her best to keep the children safe and help them grow.”
This week’s panel: Pam Wallace, program coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Erin Stalsitz, Lehigh Children & Youth; Mike Daniels, LCSW, Psychotherapist, and Denise Continenza, extension educator.
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The Family Project is a collaboration of the Lehigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child.
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