I’m a fan of the shared parenting communication platform, Our Family Wizard. Since 2011, I’ve recommended Our Family Wizard (OFW) without hesitation to every client I counsel embroiled in a high-conflict custody case. Over the years, I’ve witnessed clients gain significant relief from toxic exes by limiting communication to writing only and housing it in one place. I’ve coached clients to effectively use the OFW platform as an accountability device, especially in regards to aggressive and hostile messages. I’ve also seen how it can be effective in reducing the gamesmanship that is commonplace in sharing custody with emotionally unstable, immature and frequently personality disordered ex-partners. I know OFW can be a very effective tool when used diligently, intelligently and strategically.
If memory serves, Our Family Wizard was created in response to the request of one of the founder’s mothers, a therapist who assists divorcing families. In an effort to help the men and women who follow Shrink4Men and clients who share children with high-conflict exes, I’ve written articles recommending and extolling the benefits of OFW:
I still believe Our Family Wizard is a great tool. However, if you’re currently an OFW customer or about to become one, you should be aware of a new-ish feature the developers have added to the platform. Recently, two clients (unrelated cases) shared their frustrations about this feature. Specifically, OFW now allows parents to add accounts for their children. When the first client reported this, I didn’t believe him. Surely he was mistaken or he was confused and meant that his ex was allowing the kids to access her account. Nope. The kids have their own separate OFW accounts. This gentleman’s children are 7-year old twins.
Shortly thereafter, a second client told me his ex had created accounts for their two children. One is just finishing kindergarten and the other begins preschool in the fall. His two kids don’t know how to read or write, yet they have their own OFW accounts. The 7-year old twins know how to read and write, but that doesn’t mean they need email accounts. Predictably, the two high-conflict exes with narcissistic and borderline traits are abusing this feature. Thus far, messages from “the children” have been along the lines of:
Why aren’t you answering mommy’s messages? Please answer mommy!
Mommy has tickets to Smurfs on Ice on your night next week. Can we change nights? If I don’t see Smurfs on Ice I’ll be scarred for life!!!!
Why are you so mean to mommy?
So, I’ve gotta ask, what is Our Family Wizard thinking? Presumably, they know their target market — high-conflict custody cases. Co-parents who aren’t high-conflict typically don’t require a specialized communication platform unless they want to maximize efficiency and organization. I’d be willing to wager the bulk of people who use OFW have a high-conflict ex or are high-conflict themselves. After visiting the OFW website, I was equally dismayed to find zero guidelines about age appropriateness for child accounts nor any do’s and don’ts regarding the use of this feature. Again, what are they thinking?
Of course, OFW can be abused by parents determined to create conflict, alienate and put children in the middle whether or not the kids have their own accounts. It’s commonplace for narcissistic, borderline, psychopathic, histrionic and other characterologically disordered parents to routinely discuss divorce and custody issues with their kids and to read or allow them to read adult correspondence. But why create a children’s account feature that, for a parent hellbent on stupid, would seem to indicate that kids being privy to OFW communications between the adults is okay?
I understand that there are families who benefit from and use this feature appropriately. They’re the co-parents who are capable of co-parenting. These individuals will likely decide jointly if the kids will have their own accounts. What do you think the likelihood is of making a joint decision with a narcissistic mother or borderline father?
Suggestions for the Our Family Wizard Team
1. Age recommendation. Obviously, children who are too young to know how to read and write don’t need accounts. Even if the kids know how to read, does a 7-year old or 10-year old need an OFW account? Kid appropriate information can be shared in other ways.
2. Guidelines. Include guidelines about appropriate use for children. Even if you think you don’t need to spell certain things out, remember your market. Spell it out. For example, “Don’t share adult correspondence with the kids. Don’t allow them access to the adult accounts. Don’t enlist the children to write messages to ask the other parent for money, favors or custody changes.”
3. Parent agreement. Neither parent should unilaterally be able to decide to create a child account. My client suggested using a two-parent authentication mechanism. For example, in order for a kid account to be created, the parent who isn’t registering the child would receive a notice requiring a click agreement to finalize setting up the account. Also, allow for human error. Most people have accidentally clicked on things they didn’t mean to click on. For instance:
And, just for good measure:
Suggestions for Our Family Wizard Users
1. New OFW users. If you don’t want your kids to have accounts and you’re still in the process of hammering out the custody agreement, ask your attorney to include language that explicitly prohibits kid accounts. When it comes to custody orders, don’t assume that a borderline or narcissistic ex doesn’t need to be told not to do damaging things. If in doubt, spell it out.
2. Existing OFW users. If your ex unilaterally decides that she or he wants the kids to have access to OFW, there’s nothing you can do to stop them. It will likely require a custody order modification.
3. Lemonade out of lemons. If your ex creates the accounts without your agreement, document, document, document. If your ex is a high-conflict narcissist or borderline, it’s pretty much guaranteed they’ll abuse the kid account feature. Both of my clients are including the messages that “the kids” (i.e., borderline moms dictating and/or writing the messages themselves) have sent them in their respective pending Family Court hearings as documentation of the exes’ alienation attempts, making the kids privy to adult issues and putting the kids in the middle.
Again, OFW is an amazing tool despite the bizarre decision to allow kid accounts. Just be aware of it and take appropriate action if you don’t want the kids to access the program. Or, use the documentation to make your custody arguments for you. Still, what are they thinking?
Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD helps individuals work through their relationship and codependency issues via telephone or Skype. She specializes in helping men and women trying to break free of an abusive relationship, cope with the stress of an abusive relationship or heal from an abusive relationship. Coaching individuals through high-conflict divorce and custody cases is also an area of expertise. She combines practical advice, emotional support and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Schedule a Session page for more information.
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