Q: My ex just can't seem to leave our six year daughter alone while she is with me. He calls my cell phone several times a day, and if we don't pick up, he'll call back five or ten more times in rapid succession until he eventually talks to her. Recently he got her an email address and told her to check her email every day. It feels so disruptive and intrusive! How can I get him to back off?
A: Yuck. I don't blame you for feeling irritated!
I'd make a direct request by sending him an email. I wouldn't expect that he'll actually honor it, (although you never know!), but it's important for your own integrity that you are clear in your communication: Please leave a voice message if we don't pick up. She will call you back when we have a free moment. I'd prefer not to receive multiple follow up calls.
Remember, your phone is for YOUR convenience - it's your decision whether you answer it or not. That's true for any incoming call from any caller. Caller ID is a real blessing in situations like this. You are under no obligation to EVER pick up when he calls. Talking in real time is a privilege, not a right!
Personally, I'd let him go to voice mail every single time he calls. Of course I would listen to his message promptly in case there was an emergency, and call him right back if necessary. Odds are, though, it will not be urgent.
You might also want to consider putting your phone on the 'silent' setting on the days you have your daughter, to avoid being constantly interrupted. If she hears it ring and sees that it is him, she might feel guilty unless she answers. Turning off the ringer can spare both of you some unnecessary stress.
Assuming it's not a time-sensitive issue, you can have your daughter return his call when it is convenient for you: "Hey honey, your dad called earlier. Would you like to call him back now?"
Your ex will probably test to make sure you really mean it by calling you a million times a day at first. Be consistent: don't answer, check your voice mail, and have your daughter call him back once each day.
Holding your ground will be very important. If you sometimes answer and sometimes don't, you are sending him the message that if he is persistent in calling you, he will eventually get through. Instead you want to set up the consistent pattern that he never reaches you directly. Just make sure your daughter calls him at least once a day, to maintain your integrity as well as her trust.
If she wants to initiate a call to her dad for her own reasons, I'd say go ahead and let her. You don't have to drop everything immediately if it's not a good time for her to use your phone, but don't try to stall her off or talk her out of it. Supporting her desire for contact with him will strengthen your relationship with her, not weaken it.
And if you find that she's wanting to call him numerous times every day, you might take a look at the quality of your time with her -- is she bored and needing stimulation? Does she feel disconnected from you? Is she hungry for contact and conversation? Those things are your department when she is with you, so make sure you are engaging with her as much as you can.
Regarding email: I say GREAT!! If your daughter has access to a computer and can check it everyday easily, let her. The more directly he can communicate with her, the better. Let's get you out of the loop as soon as possible!
And of course, this is not an option if you don't have a computer at home. In that case, you might say, "Oh, gee, that's really neat that your dad emails you every day, honey! We don't have a computer here at home, so you won't be able to read them every day, but we'll make sure to visit the library computers when we go to check out books every Wednesday."
There's a very good chance that as your daughter gets older, she will become annoyed with his neediness, clinginess, and/or control at some point, and develop a strategy for setting her own boundaries with him.
Set a good example for her so she'll be ready when that day comes. Communicate your requests clearly and respectfully. Let others know what they can expect from you, and keep your word.
I hope this helps!
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