Former Etiquette: Stick to conflicting facts

Q. My 6-year-old son returned home after spending time with his mother and confessed that every time he made a call, his mother’s caller ID displayed “bad words.” This really upset him, and now he doesn’t want to see her next weekend. Things are so volatile that I’m afraid to say something. What is good etiquette?

A. estranged parents rarely understand how their behavior towards each other affects their children. I think they keep it all away from him / her. “Oh, he doesn’t know. We never fight in front of him.”

Now, your situation is a perfect example of how parents’ feelings are not so secret. Just because you aren’t yelling at each other doesn’t mean that your child isn’t affected by your actions. Some 6-year-olds can read well enough to say “bad words.” Mom’s private jokes aren’t that private.

For a very special reason, Good Etiquette Rule # 3 “Don’t Speak” for Parents was chosen. It protects children from the negative interactions of their parents or extended families. And it lays the foundation for better communication.

You see, children have double loyalty. They love their parents. When one parent speaks badly about the other, the child doesn’t really know what to do with that information. They personalize it, push it down, and try to avoid the perpetrators. That way, you don’t have to decide which parent is right or wrong.

“I don’t want to go to my mom this weekend” is a completely logical reaction. Your child doesn’t want to talk to his mom because he equates him with both mom and dad. So he takes responsibility for himself and asks him to stay home. That way, he doesn’t have to admit that Mom did something wrong. Or you don’t have to figure out if you should tell your father what she did. He is trying to get out of the middle.

Do you think your mom noticed that her son was badly hurt when he described you with a caller ID using “bad words”? I doubt it. She was angry, cynical, and perhaps a little ironic in nature, and probably thought it was funny. It was her way of personally regaining personal strength.

Now your son has read it, and it has hurt him so badly that he wants a break. She should know it. But how do you tell her if things are very volatile?

Conflicts do not have to be “battles.” It’s also a lesson, an opportunity to foster empathy and respect for your co-parents (Etiquette Rules # 7 and 9 for Parents), and an opportunity for moms to regain their son’s respect.

When talking to her, explain the situation with facts alone. Do not blame or openly judge the act. Do not yell or scream. Calmly talk about how reading that name affected your son. How it made him feel. Allow her to make amends by talking about the consequences, then taking responsibility for her actions and apologizing to your son. Apologies are important. The higher the respect you can show for other parents, the easier it will be for your son to move back and forth between homes. That’s good etiquette.

Separated parents rarely understand how their behavior towards each other affects their children.

Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation” and the founder of the Bonus Family at

Former Etiquette: Stick to conflicting facts

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