When you sent your child off to visit her/his father on his most recent weekend visit, the child wasn’t wearing a mail carrier’s uniform, was he? Then why are you asking him to carry messages for you? Your child doesn’t work for the Post Office or Western Union; he also isn’t a carrier pigeon. He shouldn’t be asked to carry messages to (or from) his father.
Even the most innocuous-seeming messages have the potential to be loaded. Messages regarding plans for future visitation (“How should I dress Jamie for next Saturday?”) can carry hidden freight, such as implying that the father never does anything with the child but expects her to sit around and watch TV at his house. Messages about plans both parents need to be aware of (“Kelly is invited to Rebecca’s birthday party next Saturday. Here is the address. The party is from 2 to 5.”) seems straightforward on the surface, yet is a potential bombshell if the parents squabble over whose responsibility it is to pick up and pay for the present.
And the fact that the message is written down, rather than the child being asked to transmit it orally, does little to minimize the potential for damage. If Dad gets upset, he may respond verbally even though you sent the message in writing: “Tell your mother that I’m not taking you to the party.” “Tell your mother that I’ll bring you to the party, but I want three hours next Friday night to compensate for the time you’re not with me.” “Tell your mother that I’ll bring you to the party, but she needs to buy the present and send it with you.” “Tell your mother that I won’t be able to see you next weekend. She can plan on taking you to the party herself.”
For that matter, any plans about a change in visiting schedule also should not be transmitted through the child. This is something you two parents need to iron out between yourselves, if only to minimize miscommunication, forgotten messages, or the chance that there won’t be an immediate agreement on the terms of the change. (“You can’t back out of having Tony next weekend. I’m going to my friend Sandra’s wedding out of town.”)
But parents send more toxic messages, too. How do you think Rob or Caitlin feels about being asked to “Tell Daddy that the child support payment check had better be on time this month.” or “Ask Daddy how come he can afford a new sports car but he can’t afford to pay for your piano lessons.” These are totally inappropriate messages to ask your child to carry, yet parents send such messages all the time. Beyond the issue of potential miscommunication or delivery failure, there is the issue of how the child feels on being asked to carry such a message.
Of course, it’s not only moms who are at fault. Dads do their fair (or unfair!) share of message-burdening too. “How can your mother dress you this way? Tell her if she’d spend less money on pedicures and perfume, she could afford to put some decent clothes on you.” “Tell your mother that I don’t want to hear again that she had some man over who was still there when you kids went to bed.” “Tell your mom I don’t want to hear that she’s leaving you with a sitter so much. She should stay home and be a mother.” “Tell your mother that if she’d stay home more evenings and not use a sitter so much, she wouldn’t have to keep asking me for more child support.” “Tell your mother to stop asking you so many questions about me every time you come home from spending the weekend with me.”
Whether his criticisms are valid or invalid (the frequent sitter could be watching the kids while you take evening college courses to improve your earning ability, for example), he needs to deliver the message directly to you, not send it via the kids. And if he won’t put a stop to this practice, you need to try to stop it from your end. Call him up and tell him that it isn’t healthy for the kids to be burdened with such messages, and that if he has something to say to you, he needs to call you (or send an email or a text message) directly. No intermediaries. No turning the kids into carrier pigeons.
And that, too, is a message you need to deliver yourself.