Q: My daughter is grounded for a month because of her lying and missing school work. Should she be able to go to her biological father's house over the weekend? He only sees her every few months and he is what I call a Disneyland Dad. What should I do? What's good ex-etiquette?
A: My first reaction to your question was, "Is she serious?" and I said it out loud as I read your email. Then I had to reconsider because if you asked, you don't realize how you have contributed to the problem.
Now, for all my readers, please understand I know nothing about dad's contribution to all this, and he may be a flake. However, it takes two and mom has played a roll.
When a parent feels it is appropriate to "ground" a child from their other parent, that's a huge red flag. You ground children from video games or going out with friends. You ground children from watching their favorite TV show. You don't ground children from time with their other parent, "Disneyland" or not. It's an indicator the parents don't communicate, and a "Boss" power structure has been created. Not good ex-etiquette.
I'm going to offer you another way to look at all this. It may not pertain exactly to your situation, but I would like to use your question as food for thought to other parents.
If a parenting plan designates every other weekend to a parent, how are they to be anything other than Disneyland? A child gets bored sitting around, especially teens, and if there's nothing to do, you hear the dreaded, "I don't want to go, it's boring." So, the every-other-weekend-parent figures out something to do when they see their child. "Let's go to the movies, or paint balling or water skiing," or if you can afford it, "Disneyland!" The other parent resents it – it's not real life. But, I've seen more times than I can mention, those same parents labeled as "Disneyland," petition the courts for additional time with their children and the other parent refuses. "You're only around every other weekend, if that. What do you know?" It's a catch 22.
From a practical standpoint, it's difficult to ground a child and expect the other parent to support your rules if you have not been co-parenting all along.
Good ex-etiquette for this situation would be to make sure you are setting the stage for good co-parenting and not automatically writing Dad off because of past interactions. Does Dad knows your daughter is lying and not doing her work? If he's a "Disneyland Dad" that implies he just pops in and out. Does he understand what lead up to the grounding? If he doesn't respond, that's on him – your daughter will eventually see it – but don't you be the reason behind Dad not playing a more active role.
Finally, when a child goes back and forth between their parent's homes it requires more creative disciplinary tactics. Grounding for a month may be impractical in the environment that has been created. Consider grounding her for shorter periods of time, but with more extreme measures. No phone usually hits home – but again, never ground a child from talking to their other parent – and the other side of that coin is never undermine the other parent if they are reaching out to you for help with YOUR child. That's good ex-etiquette.
(Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation," and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website www.exetiquette.com at email@example.com.)