Q. My ex-husband allows our kids to do things I don't approve of, like staying up late on the weekends, playing video games, and eating junk. How do I express my objections without angering him?
A. First, ask yourself if the issues are really worth an argument. It's unlikely, after all, that you and your ex will agree on everything. "If the behavior isn't unhealthy or dangerous, it may be better to put up with it," says Neuman. But if you feel the situation is intolerable, discuss it but stay on message -- don't bring up past transgressions, and avoid placing blame. "You can e-mail him and say something like, 'I know we might have our differences, but let's try to keep a consistent bedtime,'" advises Neuman. If this doesn't resolve the issues, consider seeing a coparenting mediator for counseling or to help create a coparenting agreement -- a list of rules, either legal or informal, that can cover everything from curfews to acceptable clothing to family values, suggests Dr. Lofas.
Q. My ex's father says negative things about me to my kids when they visit him. How can I stop this?
A. What your father-in-law may not realize is that his comments aren't just hurtful to you; they're harming his grandchildren. Ask your ex to speak to him and explain that whatever his personal feelings, he needs to keep them to himself. If your ex won't do the talking you could write a note and very nicely explain the situation. "Grandparents are often kept out of the loop in a divorce," says Neuman. "So they've got anger and hostility but often can't figure out how to help." In reality, grandparents can be an invaluable resource for kids during a divorce, with the power to provide a consistent source of love and support. "They need to understand that their relationship to the grandchildren is too important to be tainted with tension or conflict," says Neuman.
Q. My kids stay with their father two days each week. What do I say when he tells me that his time with them is too valuable to "waste" on things like doctors' appointments and homework?
A. Even though it's maddening, try to give him the benefit of the doubt. He might not really get what you, as the primary caregiver, already know: that the routine responsibilities of raising a child offer some of the most valuable interactions. "The best conversations with kids happen when you're doing regular things like housework, grocery shopping, or merely riding in the car. These are the times when you can pass along your values and your outlook on life," says Blackstone-Ford. So try selling him on the importance of being involved in the mundane aspects of the kids' lives, as well as how important it is for both of you to play the role of caretaker. If that doesn't work, you may have to take a harder-line approach: Look into changing the visitation schedule so that the kids don't have to suffer the consequences of not getting their stuff done.
Copyright © 2007. Used with permission from the November 2007 issue of Parents magazine.