She Said/She Said, Part 1

Last week I wrote about the importance of empathy and compassion during a divorce.  As families evolve, it’s important to extend that empathy, compassion and communication across new channels to different people… like your ex’s new partner.

When quality communication isn’t freely flowing, it’s harder to reach an understanding and maintain a sense of inner peace.  In many cases, this results in heated emotions: anger, hurt, frustration… and a tendency to dig in one’s heels.

In an effort to gain perspective from The Other Side, I’ve teamed up with Meredith from Now Is Good.  Throughout the month of February, we’ll be cross-posting our own feelings and reactions to common issues which arise in many of today’s modern families.  Meredith is a divorced mother of 3 and her ex is now integrating his girlfriend into the lives of their children.  I’m the integrated girlfriend of a divorced dad.  Together, we can learn from each other and hopefully these lessons will help us (and you) in our personal journeys.

Our first topic of discussion involves the emergency contact info that one parent leaves for a caregiver of the children.  I’ll let Meredith tell her story here and you can read my perspective on her blog.  We welcome your comments on either page…


My ex husband and I share custody of our three young children.  I have greater possession of them time-wise, but we share decision-making and responsibility pretty equally—both legally and in practice.  We also share babysitters; depending on where the kids are at any given time, the same caregivers simply keep them at my house or at the ex’s.  Recently, right before she walked out of the door, one of our regular sitters pulled me aside and asked to speak with me.  She had been babysitting our youngest at my ex’s house and when he left for work he handed her a piece of paper with a phone number on it … his girlfriend’s phone number.  And he told our sitter to call his girlfriend in case of any emergency.

I, like our babysitter, was bothered by that.  I’m of the opinion that if there’s an emergency, you call the parent.  Always.  If something happens to my kids while they were in my ex’s custody and my ex isn’t available, then I should be the next phone call.  Always.  Particularly when this sitter knows me, sees me regularly, already has all of my contact information.  You know why?  Because I am the parent.  In the 18 months since our divorce, I have never put down anyone other than my ex as first emergency contact—on school forms, doctor forms, babysitter notes.  Not because I have any desire to have him receive a phone call about a problem and know that I was unavailable to handle it (because really—in a post-divorce relationship that is already rife with mistrust and accusations and fear of getting one-upped somehow in the parenting arena, that is a situation I would dearly love to avoid), but because he is their father.  And if something qualifies as an “emergency,” he has the right to know about it.  Immediately.  Before anyone else.

I told our sitter that when she kept the kids at the ex’s house, she needed to follow his rules.  If he wants her to call the girlfriend, then I guess call the girlfriend.  But please, call me also.  I haven’t mentioned any of this to my ex yet: first, because I’m not really looking for a fight; and second, because I’m trying to assess the situation objectively and determine if there is any rational reason for his actions before I go all Harpy Ex Wife on him.  My hope is that he wants to appear capable of complete parenting when the children are in his possession.  He doesn’t want a babysitter calling me to say, “we’re out of milk” or “where are the diapers”—and quite honestly, I don’t want that, either.  My hope is that he wants to show he has a Plan B … that he has back-up (because it really *does* take a village, and my ex doesn’t have any extended family or friends living nearby).  If that’s the case, then I can cut him some slack.

BUT.  For me it boils down to this: I am the parent.  I have the right to know about and decide how to handle any emergency involving my child … certainly a superior right to that of my ex’s girlfriend.  If my child spikes a fever or has an accident and my ex isn’t reachable by phone, I need to be the one to decide whether that fever requires a trip to the ER.  My ex’s girlfriend isn’t a mom, and even if she were, she isn’t my kids’ mom.  Putting anyone’s name down but mine in that first spot on the “In Case of Emergency” list seems like a failure of co-parenting.


22 comments on “She Said/She Said, Part 1

  1. This is a wonderful post…I love the perspective that both of you bring to the table.

    I was wondering if you both would like to be guest experts as part of my FREE teleclass series? we would pick a weekday evening and I would host an interview/conversation around this topic?

    Shoot me an email at

    My audience of amazing women going through the transition of divorce3 would LOVE you both!

    Thank you for your wonderful posts!

    By the way…I am also the mother of two boys who have a stepmother (with whom I don’t have a relationship for many reasons) but who parents them half a week. I relate personally to all of your posts and believe strongly that we all need to learn and grow from our experience of divorce so we can move forward in our own journey!!!


  2. ChopperPapa says:

    I think you made the proper decision in regards to instructing the sitter to follow dad’s orders but asking that you be informed also. Now, I am not certain by what is defined as “emergency” in his home I am going to made some assumptions.

    As a single father myself, there seems to be the perception that we have barely the parenting aptitude to warm a bottle of milk. And that during the time our children are with us everybody else is on pins and needles until their safe return to mom. In some cases this may be true in others it isn’t.

    In reference to your current situation, having a conversation with the ex about this will likely build resentment in his eyes as he may take it as a personal attack on his parenting skills. If he has set the precedent that the girlfriend is willing to step up to the plate in those emergency cases then I feel that his judgement should be allowed to move forward. In addition, this may be his way of incorporating his girlfriend more into the parenting role if he feels the relationship is heading towards the next level, a test if you will. Or he may just want to handle it on his own.

    I feel that you have a legitimate concern if your child has a significant emergency involving medical assistance, etc. and you are not notified or consulted. But if the little one falls on his bike and scratches up his knee maybe that is something that doesn’t need your involvement. I would think that expectations between the two of you are warranted in this case.

    From experience, too often, these situations are cause for alarm for all of the wrong reasons, primarily the parent is threatened by the new girlfriend/boyfriend assuming a role that should be theirs, ( as you stated, I am the parent). Unfortunately, while I am the parent/father of my children I also know that I am not their only father. The faster I came to peace with that understanding the happier I became. You, personally, will not be replaced and you will always be their mom, but their make come a time where you are not their only mom. That is part of the divorce process which isn’t enjoyable.

    • Thanks for bringing the Dad Perspective- this is great insight!

    • I totally agree with you that most folks (particularly ex-wives) seem to think that dads are incapable of sufficiently caring for the children in mom’s absence. From stories that I’ve heard, sometimes those concerns are justified. In my situation, however, my ex has proven himself very willing and able to care for the kids in these emergency situations. He takes care of them when they are sick, he can make the ER runs, he feeds them and dresses them and gets them where they need to be. But just because he CAN do those things by himself, doesn’t mean that I should be excluded from that process if I (or the kids) want both parents involved.

      I am not yet at a point where I am willing to concede to anyone else being my children’s mother .. or anyone else being their father. They have one of each, and as long as that parent is a good one, I don’t believe a stepparent has a need or a right to step in and assume a parental role. Maybe it’s a matter of semantics or maybe I’m just way too new at this gig to have the right perspective, but I don’t foresee it being appropriate for my ex to position this or any other girlfriend or future wife as my kids’ mother–any more than I feel it would be appropriate for me to position a boyfriend or future husband as my kids’ father. As a friend? Mentor? Caregiver? You bet. But I really feel that when they are with me, I give first response and dad should give second. And when they are with him, dad gives first response and I should give second. Either of our significant others or grandparents or whomever can bat third. For me, that makes the best co-parenting situation.

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Divorce Encouragist, Divorce Encouragist. Divorce Encouragist said: New post- new project! Mom vs. Dad’s girlfriend: who should be the emergency contact? […]

  4. Julie says:

    I think I’m agreeing with Meredith here. I’ve read both her and Tara’s posts, and I think what it comes down to is the definition of “emergency” as Tara pointed out. The situations described above and by Tara on Meredith’s site are not truly emergencies that an experienced babysitter would be contacting anyone via phone – vomiting on the couch is unfortunate, but this particular babysitter would probably clean it up and then report the incident once someone came home. It would not warrant a phone call to anyone to cut short their plans and rush home. Same thing with a skinned knee, or a cut finger. An emergency means just that – an emergency warranting a trip to the emergency room, an immediate visit to the doctor, a phone call to poison control, a phone call to the police. And in any of those situations, the father needs to be called first because he is the custodial parent on duty, and then the mother needs to be called because she is one of the legal guardians of that child. The girlfriend – regardless of her feelings for the children, or her involvement in the parenting of them while they are with their father – is not a part of the equation. She does not have the authority to make medical or legal decisions for the children. I think if NEITHER parent were available, she would be a great third option until one of them did become available. She is someone who (hopefully) cares about the kids, who has their best interests at heart, and someone who can be relied upon. But she is not their parent. And in a true emergency that would actually warrant a phone call….it needs to be the parents who are called first. Knowing what little I know about Meredith’s particular situation, it seems like her ex does not really think that far ahead to what is a “true” emergency, and handing the babysitter (whom he knows is shared with Meredith) the girlfriend’s phone number as the emergency contact and not Meredith’s is a passive aggressive way of him communicating again that the girlfriend is a Very Important Person. And I think this is a situation unique to Meredith and her ex and his girlfriend and not at all typical of how most men behave post-divorce who are in relationships. Meredith’s particular ex seems to have the need – or his girlfriend does – to establish legitimacy. So I think that’s what this situation is about, and I can completely understand Meredith’s reaction to it. I think it’s exactly the reaction her ex wanted her to have. (And again, I’m commenting about Meredith’s ex, not any other divorced father out there who is currently in a new or established relationship, I’m not commenting on Tara or her boyfriend or her relationship with his children.)

  5. […] She Said/She Said, Part 1 ( […]

  6. Jack Adams says:

    From a father’s perspective…
    It’s a matter of perspective. We may have far too little information to correctly apply any sort of motive on the father’s part.
    This exact scenario has come up with me in the past and it was my son’s mother who insisted that my new girlfriend be the first to be contacted in case of emergency when he was at my house. The reason being, the babysitter had no car and my GF was only a minute away. His mother was 30 minutes out and the nearest hospital was 15 minutes away. If anything drastic had happened, she was to skip even trying to call me or my son’s mother and go directly to my GF. She could make an informed decision as to what to do next and who should be called, if anyone at all. If a trip anywhere was needed, she was closer than anyone else to deal with it rapidly.
    That really only applied in THIS situation. In most cases, the Emergency Contact on school, summer camp, doctors or dentists forms, the mother is primary contact since she is the custodial parent, and the father is the Emergency Contact.
    So, unless there is more information surrounding the actual reasons behind why the father had instructed the babysitter in such a way, it is unlikely that the mother is the secondary contact anywhere else in the child’s life.
    I can see how this would cause a sense of concern on the mother’s part and I applaud her for not jumping to conclusions and for seeking a reasonable resolution to the matter.
    From my perspective only… I think the mother has the correct inclination. the father simply wants to manage any and all problems, concerns, or emergencies in-house. It does not sound as though he is doing anything manipulative or deceitful. At most he may be attempting to avoid minor conflicts that may arise by having the babysitter call the mother, as this is a sign that dad was unreachable and that alone can sometimes lead to unwanted turmoil.

    I am enjoying reading your stuff. I hope my perspective was helpful.


    • Thanks so much! And it’s encouraging to know that, in your situation, your ex trusts your GF to act appropriately in case of an emergency. It sounds like the two of you have a fairly cooperative relationship 🙂

    • Jack–I completely agree with DE–It is impressive that you and your girlfriend and your ex have such a cooperative relationship. I’d love to be able to get there one day.

  7. Mandy says:

    This is an excellent discussion. My first caution though would be about forming a judgment as to why Meredith’s ex did this – it would be much better to have a conversation, along the lines of that the babysitter had told you about the girlfriend as an emergency contact and you would like to talk about the circumstances under which you would like to be notified. Don’t jump to conclusions.

    I think it’s important to separate out the discussion about emergency contacts from the emotional reaction to your ex putting his girlfriend as an emergency contact. They really are two separate issues.

    I would recommend any parenting agreement as detailed as possible but inevitably there’s situations not covered and situations change as children grow older. Learning to talk to each other about this is an important skill. Again, though this is best resolved by asking what is the best solution for the child. Like Jack Adams said, a new partner maybe in a better position to respond quickly and isn’t that what we would all want in a true emergency?

  8. […] far, I’m really enjoying my project with Meredith.  Our initial posts have generated some valuable conversation and highlighted many perspectives on […]

  9. Lee says:

    Depending on what the orders say, really depends on the specific situation. We are court ordered to list each other first as emergency contacts. Of course, me ex does not follow that and when he sent my daughter to camp, he put his wife as the emergency contact and as the mother. I corrected it with the camp and have never said a word to him about it.

    BUT, if it happens again, I will. Being the parent gives you the right and responsibility to know what happens and be the emergency contact when the other parent has access and is not around. Period. Not only is it the right thing to do, it is common courtesy and acknowledgment that you are the other parent.

  10. Hi, I have a blog on a similar subject than yours, which is already an excellent resource. I feel that your readers could benefit from visiting my blog as well. Thanks for your efforts.

  11. […] to Week 2 of the She Said/She Said Project between myself and Meredith, author of  Now Is Good.  This week, we’re talking about […]

  12. […] Said/She Said, Part 3 Welcome to Week 3 of the She Said/She Said Project!  Last week’s topic generated some heated discussion and I’d like to thank everyone […]

  13. […] the last Tuesday in February, I’ve decided to post my reflection on the She Said/She Said project. I can honestly say that I’ve learned a lot over the past few weeks. And the outcome was not at […]

  14. […] this type of perspective was one of my goals for the She Said/She Said Project.  What you are about to read is another attempt to promote understanding across divorce-drawn […]

  15. […] thought our conversation went extremely well.  Meredith and I discussed The She Said/She Said Project in addition to the personal struggles and triumphs we’ve endured as our lives have evolved […]

  16. […] at Relative Evolutions had a very interesting series of cross-posts in February entitled She Said/She Said written from the perspective of a stepmother and a mother – definitely worth […]

  17. […]  I’ve talked about my journey as the partner of a divorced dad and I’ve invited conversation from The Mom’s perspective…. among other posts.  And throughout the life of this blog, I’ve gotten some […]

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