Dear Dr. Jann: My child lives with his mother three hours away. Since I don’t particularly get along with his mother, I talk to my son every day on his cell phone. That way I can stay up on his likes and dislikes, but I don’t have to talk to her. It appears he is grounded and his cell phone has been taken away. I pay for the phone and I’m really angry that here I’m paying for a phone, but I can’t talk to my kid. I have no idea why he’s grounded or for how long. This is just like her. It’s been a week and I get no answer!

Dr. Jann says: Correct me if I am wrong. I hear you saying that you are a long distance parent and you parent by cell phone. You have limited interaction in your child’s life—only the life he tells you. This is because you don’t want to talk to his mother. And, it appears that his mother is as guilty of this behavior as you are because she allows the child to use the phone, grounds him, takes it away, and doesn’t call you to discuss this parenting strategy. I understand who pays for your child’s phone. Who is paying for his counseling bills?
Sometimes it’s difficult for a parent to see how they contribute to their own problems—and to their children’s problems. I hope my very limited analysis of the issue has shown you that both you and the mother are contributing to the problem you describe and it’s time to stop it. Divorced or separated parents cannot properly co-parent without talking to each other. I realized many absolutely hate each other and don’t want to speak, but if you have kids and they are going back and forth between homes, walking away and never speaking is not an option. You must put your children first—even if there was betrayal or dishonesty or whatever has made you so angry that you do not want to talk to your ex. (This is taking into consideration that abuse, violence, etc. wasn’t an issue. In those cases safety is the primary importance.)

So, get on the phone and start talking to his mother. Mother, when the phone rings, pick it up—it’s your child’s father on the line.

That said, what should have happened IN THE FIRST PLACE was that the father should have discussed the purchase of a cell phone with the mother. Upon agreement, when disciplining the child, you ground the child from the phone, not from the parent. If the child cannot use the phone, assign a time dad will call until the child is no longer grounded. It’s time FOR MOM AND DAD to get on the same page—for the sake of your child. You are his role models.