31 January 2005

Single...With Children: "Can You Hear Me Now?"

Single With Children: Take out middleman in parental communication

By: Susie Parker

Publication Date: 05/12/04

Have you ever played that game where everyone gets in a circle and one person whispers something into the ear of the next person who, in turn, repeats the same message to the person next to him and so on? As the phrase makes its way around the circle, more times than not, it doesn't come close to resembling the original collection of words that started the game. If you're playing this game at a party, it can be great fun to discover how easily a simple phrase can become completely mangled.

Unfortunately, that very same game is often "played" between parents and children of divorced families. The real life manifestation of this game can leave anger, resentment and deeply hurt feelings in its wake. Nothing too funny there.

As we swiftly make our way toward summer, plans are being set in place for parental visits and everyone seems to have a schedule that allows for very little flexibility.

And to make scheduling vacations with each parent just a little more challenging, children 6 years of age and older make no secret of letting you know what works best for them, and there usually exists scant room for compromise. Keep in mind bad planning may get you charged with possibly ruining your kids lives or, at the very least, a good portion of their summer vacation.

How do parents keep everyone informed on when and where they can expect to be during those carefree, summer months? There are a number of options and each of them offer ample opportunities for creating even more confusion.

Cell phones. Just as the "circle game" is most interesting when there are more folks participating, misunderstandings appear to rise proportionately to the number of cell phones that are in the possession of geographically displaced family members. Try to remember Officer Friday on "Dragnet;" "Just the facts" and please don't leave ANY of them out. Stay on message.

When this "reality version" of the circle game takes off, and because each family member is having a different conversation with another involved relative, imaginations have the potential to run rampant. It's quite possible certain family members will no longer be speaking to other family members. What seemed like a reasonable and sound "suggestion" before the retelling, suddenly turned dreadful and downright inhumane. Somebody didn't stick to the facts or omitted some really pertinent details.

You could try a "family chat" on the computer, but be forewarned; with more than two people posing and answering questions, and factoring in that kids type at least 7.5 times faster than their parents, you could be setting yourself up for a virtual communication disaster that can actually be saved to a file and printed, thereby lending itself to be entered as "Exhibit A." Don't risk a paper trail. You just don't want to go there.

Now, if all the family members still happen to live in the same town, the chances for miscommunication are drastically reduced but not entirely eliminated. The good news is that summer planning meetings are easier to arrange; however, this option only works if everyone involved is speaking to each other.

Speaking as the mom of a very socially active teenager, I've witnessed the conflict my son feels as he tries to grapple with his natural desire to spend summer hanging out with his friends, sleeping in every chance he gets and working at his part-time job. I've also seen him try to figure out a way to balance this with his equally sincere desire to spend time with his father, who lives on the other side of the continent.

Pre-vacation planning can help ensure summer remains something to be savored and enjoyed. Maybe it's easier if we, as parents, step back and remember what it felt like on that most highly anticipated last day of school. Lots of things have changed since most of us were kids, but I have a feeling the last day of school probably still retains a lot of magic.

I'm not sure if "What I Did on My Summer Vacation" is still a required, back-to-school assignment. I don't know about you, but I'd certainly hate to be the subject of a writing assignment with the dubious title of "How My Parents Ruined My Summer Vacation with Their Inability to Agree on Anything!"

Surely that's reason enough to communicate AND cooperate.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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