Q: My son and daughter-in-law divorced a year ago. My daughter-in-law retained the family home and my son moved in with me. They share a 4-year-old son who goes back and forth between homes. Parents get along and can work through most problems, however, there is one thing on which they don't agree and it is causing huge problems for my grandson - his mother still breast feeds him before he goes to bed. Sometimes it is very difficult to get the child to settle down at our house. We've asked mom to stop, but she won't. What's good Ex-Etiquette?
A: Good Ex-Etiquette is to try to stay as consistent as possible between homes - and you definitely are not - but rather than turn this column into a discussion on the merits of breastfeeding, consider that the real red flag here is that these parents don't have a way to problem-solve in place. Ironically, they may have faced the same problem even if they were still together - Mom and Dad don't agree how and when to wean their child. How would they have handled the disagreement? Fight until one gives up? Storm out and block further discussion on the subject? Together or apart parents have to decide how they will solve problems when disagreements arise. From what you tell me, Mom's continuing to breastfeed interferes with Dad's ability to sooth the child. This seems like a logical assumption, but it may not be the only contributing factor. Lack of communication and the parents' inability to compromise as the child goes back and forth between homes may also be contributing to the child's anxiety and inability to settle down. More importantly, it's Grandma writing to me, not Dad, so I'm wondering whether the continued breastfeeding is really bothering Grandma, and Dad really doesn't care. Research tells us that more than 50 percent of mothers in the U.S. don't breastfeed at all, so the choice to feed a child to the age of 4 or 5 will stick out like a sore thumb. Research also tells us that breastfed children have stronger immune systems, less allergies, better bonding, the list is endless, but we similarly have to take note of the social implications of breastfeeding a child until this age while living in the U.S. In other countries, breastfeeding may be the child's main food supply and breastfeeding a child to four or five is a matter of life or death - that is not the case in the U.S. This child will be starting school next year and the subject may be discussed with his friends. Without his ability to properly explain, breastfeeding until school age could be misunderstood by his friend's parents, which could open another can of worms. This is a sensitive parenting decision and there are many factors that must be considered - certainly BOTH parents must weigh in. If you're asking me to weigh in, I suggest that the mother stop. Research implies that most children will naturally wean themselves around the age of 3 - some earlier, some later. This child is far older which suggests the decision to continue may be more about mom than in the best interest of the child. I suggest a therapist who knows more about the everyday ins and outs weigh in at this point. Remember, communication is the key component to positive coparenting. Ex-Etiquette rule No. 1, "Put the children first." Ex-Etiquette rule No. 10, "Compromise whenever possible."
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation," and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.