Any #CoParent who has visited with their kids at a McDonald’s knows that an hour or more is a long time to sit at a fast food restaurant. So if your visits or custody with your child have been impared by everything going on, it can’t be easy engaging on a video- or phone-call during these strange days.
Here are 5 conversational tips to remember…
1. Don’t talk about the case.
I’m not gonna make the “ivory tower” remark that this should be obvious. It might be obvious but to say something like that would be to diminish how hard it really is. Not talking about the case is like eating more vegetables or not having that third glass of wine. Everyone knows the right thing to do but it’s harder than it sounds. You want to reassure your child when you get questions like “[w]hen am I going to get to see you? [w]hen am I going to get to come home?” It’s heartbreaking, but if your answer is not something along the lines of “I don’t know, but enjoy your time with [the Other Side] in the meantime and know that I love you,” you can bet the Other Side or DHR or whoever is listening (and they are) is gonna construe that as you (a) talking about the case and (b) potentially misleading or confusing the child.
2. Ask questions.
We struggle to hold a child’s attention in person, much less over social and geographical distance. Give them the floor, for the most part. BUT, be a little more specific than you think. “How was your day?” is too broad and you’re just gonna get “fine,” followed by awkward silence. “Which shoes are you wearing today?” is much better. “Are those velcro or laces?” “Did you tie them or did someone help you?” “That’s nice.” “Did you thank Jane for helping you tie your shoes?” “Have you helped anyone do anything today?” “Like what?” And you’re off to the races…
This is a logical next step after #2, above. Ask questions then really, really listen to the response. “Is there anything else you want to say about that?” Is a great follow up question that helps and reflects real engagement here. You can even make a listening observation to circle back around, “[i]t seems like you’re really interested in [that thing you just talked about]. What do you like about it?”
4. Be present.
Especially with younger children, don’t feel like you have to fill the aural space. Some of the sweetest moments are just holding a child and holding each other’s gaze. As gut-wrenching as it is not to be able to hold a child, the wonders of modern technology do enable us to engage on the utterly intimate level of deep, steady eye contact.
5. Consistency is more important than length.
If possible, arrange shorter, more frequent calls. This brings our discussion full circle because, like we said, an hour is a long time to be at McDonald’s and even 30 minutes is a long time to be on a video- or phone- call. This might be an easier compromise with the Other Side than you think, BUT really make an effort for the call to be at the same time each day that it occurs. That will allow both you and the Other Side to attend to everything else in our lives that allows for and supports our efforts to be the best #CoParents and #CaringRelatives we can be.
Bottom line, your job is to be there. You guys can sit on a video- or phone-call and play “quiet mouse” for an entire 15-minute call and it would mean something. You and your children are in this together, and you’re there for each other as much as you possibly can be. And that’s good enough for now.