The dreaded evening call from the ex’s house

I don’t know if this is a common issue with recently divorced families, but my ex and I have been wrestling with this issue since we first separated over a year ago: the first night our 8yo son is at her house after being at mine, he’ll call and tell me how he wants to switch and be at my house instead.
It’s fairly regular and I know he’s having a hard time there when he makes the call: it’s serving as his pressure valve, a way to try and wrest control of his life from the chaos that it’s in now, but at the same time, I also know – and have had confirmed from therapists and books – that it’s the parents that have to make the parenting schedule, not the children

Here’s my dilemma: I never want to not be available to my children if they want to talk with me and share their frustrations and problems, even if it’s via phone.
Clearly, though, and this is from long, hard experience, talking with my son on those first transitional evenings when he’s at Mom’s house after spending time with me are more likely to exacerbate the situation, not improve it.
How do I know? This evening he’s called about eight ten times. The first time I answered the phone and he just wanted to tell me that they couldn’t find the kid’s cellphone. The second time, my ex was on the line asking me to explain to him that the kid’s cellphone was going to transition to being our 12yo daughter’s cell phone. My son hung up the phone out of frustration and anger (he wants his own phone, needless to say).
The third time he called he wanted to know “are you home, Daddy?” When I said “yes” he said “good, I’m bicycling over”.
We live about 1.5 miles apart and the kids have bikes and know the route, but at night, without a bike light, it’s clearly a dangerous an unacceptable journey. More importantly, however, my son needs to listen to us, his parents, as we’re responsible for his schedule, not him.
He just called again and I didn’t answer the phone. I just looked at it. Now it could have been someone else at the house, but I’d say that there’s a 97% chance it was him. And now it’s ringing again.
So, do I answer it?
Or do I ignore it?
What do you do, divorced, single or separated parents?
It’s heartbreaking.

5 comments on “The dreaded evening call from the ex’s house

  1. Hi Dave,
    As an adult child of divorced parents, I might be able to offer some insight. Reading your story I’m guessing that your wife is living in the house that used to be occupied by all of you, and you’re the one who “moved out” and lives in a different (i.e. new and exciting) place? I was off to college when my dad moved out, but when I’d go home on weekends, it was fun for me and my siblings to go visit him at his place. He would plan a big dinner and we’d watching a movie, and it was like going to visit some cool relative. It was definitely *not* being “home” under the rule of a parent. Then when we’d head back to Mom’s place (the house we grew up in), it was back to the same old, same old, completely with the old rules and regular everyday life.
    I’m guessing that you plan fun activities when the kids come to your place, and as such to them it’s probably a fun escape from the house they grew up in. Mom has the old place, the old rules, and you have the cool place to escape to. So it’s natural that they would want to run to your place and escape the old rules.
    I’m not sure what the solution is, but that is my initial impression of what might be going on?

  2. Hi Dave,
    Just read this on Twitter. My daughter is now 15, but I’ve never forgotten the night when she was 5, screaming to be allowed to go with me. As I walked away down the dark street she ran after me, arms outstretched, screaming “mommy don’t leave me!”
    It’s haunted me for so long. But, more importantly, it’s caused me to make a lot of bad parenting choices that I’m paying for now. I’ve spent 10 years trying to be everything for her in order to make up for that night. It still brings tears to my eyes.
    The thing is, she doesn’t remember it at all. And my kids adjusted over a relatively short period of time. I’d answer the phone – because having it ring and ring is just stressful on both of you, and suggest something like – can I read a story to you over the phone? I have a friend who is a therapist who does that. Talk until he calms down and just be clear and calm that this is the way it is. And they will adjust over time. I’m just not sure if we ever do.
    BTW, This is Nora’s friend, Elizabeth, once again.
    My heart aches with yours on this tough issue and I am sending you parenting love.

  3. An update: I did answer the phone, we talked, and then my ex and I talked at length and decided that for this night, at least, we’d listen to his voice, listen to his needs, and have him with me. She presented it as “Daddy and I have decided that for tonight only…”
    When he got here, he was sullen and angry, but that dissipated and we had a nice, easy evening.
    WIth some irony, however, he then had an allergy attack when he lay down and it took an hour for him to finally stop sniffling long enough to pass out.
    I think that there’s no easy way, it’s a tough situation, and it *is* disempowering for children when they’re bouncing from one house to another. It’s quite common for the transitional days to be difficult too, and it’s our job as the parents to cut the kids some slack and listen, not just worry about our desire for a consistent schedule. Still, it’s hard.

  4. Well.. I know this advice is too late.. but.. yes.. answer the phone.. no.. don’t give in… say, “I know.. how tough it must be for you.. Let me know how you work things out. I’ll be going to bed at 10pm and the answering machine will pick up.. feel free to leave a message telling me how you worked it out!
    This is followed by begging.. or anger.. either way.. “Oh my! I’ll Love you however you work this out. Good night… can you put Mommy on the phone?”
    or.. “I’m riding over!”.. “Oh my! That sounds unsafe.. and even illegal.. But if the police pick you up, let them know that my answering machine will be on after 10pm.. I love you!… (arguing..) I Love you too much to argue..
    To Mom.. I won’t be answering the phone after 10pm.. etc..
    I fear you’ve just rewarded his behavior .. and it’ll be twice as tough on you next time.. Ain’t parenting fun!

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