Long Distance Parenting

People who follow this blog know that my kids are on an extended three week vacation overseas with their Mom. I miss ’em as it’s a long time to be apart, but so far, as is typical, all I seem to get are glimpses of what’s not going well rather than updates from my kids about what they’re doing that’s fun.

My son is the one pushing the envelope, as is often the case, and given how he is too often surrounded by girls, girls, girls without any masculine presence at all (the unstated downside of divorced, single parents when you have two sisters and no brothers) I’m never surprised that he acts out and is hard to rein in.
Updates, however, have come from their Mom, starting with this email:

“I just deleted a bunch of songs off G’s iPod… He had two explicit songs, plus Metallica, and a bunch of other metal songs. Ugh. I really don’t know what to do with him. He’s just going behind our backs doing all this stuff he’s not supposed to do. I’m not sure what the best approach is… The more limits I put on him, the more he just sneaks around me and does it anyway…”

This is upsetting for a lot of reasons, but the biggest is that it’s an obvious sign that he isn’t working well with his Mom and for better or worse, that’s a relationship that really has to work well: he spends half his life with her and will for the foreseeable future. There’s also a question of parenting, consequences and enforcement, and I’ve always been the “heavy” in our parenting constellation, more able to create meaningful consequences and make ’em stick and be effective. But I want to support their Mom, not criticize her.

My response:

“I’d just take away his iPod for a long time. He knows better and he needs meaningful consequences.”

… and her reply:

“Yeah — that’s what I did. I actually tried to just reset his iPod but wasn’t able to, so I just made it disappear. He was all huffy, but then it all blew over and he’s actually been better. Need to sort this all out when we return.”

It’s nice to know what’s going on, but I have to admit to being a bit confused by this out of character request for suggestions from his Mom. Was my best response to simply say “I know you’ll come up with a logical and appropriate response” and not suggest a specific course of action? Or say “Sounds tough. Hope you come up with a good solution”? (I would label this the empathizing [Venus] approach rather than the problem solving [Mars] approach)

It also highlights a challenge for divorced parents that have less than stellar communications: if you have the kids for any sort of extended period in an environment where they can’t easily be in touch with the other parent (overseas, a camp w/out Internet or cell service), you really have to be extra thoughtful to ensure you convey an accurate picture of what’s transpiring, be it mostly good or mostly bad.

Meanwhile, what do you think? How would you have responded to the message?

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