I am divorced and have an 8-year-old son. Our son lives half of the time with me, half of the time with his mother. Communication between us parents is good, there is no conflict of any kind, and we cooperate well in raising our son.
Sometimes (about once every two months), when our son is with his mother and they have some quarrel that upsets him, he calls me, and, overwhelmed with hurt and anger, says something angry to me and then hangs up the phone. These calls come completely out of the blue for me, and I'm usually unprepared for them and busy with something else (I often work on those weekends that our son is with his mother).
The problem for me, when I get one of these upset phone calls, is, that I don't know what is (truly) going on – so I don't know what the appropriate reaction would be –, feel that he needs me (or he wouldn't call me) – so I feel I need to help him –, but at his age constructive discussions on the phone are not yet possible (and not what he needs). What he usually needs in similar situations when he is with me is time to calm down and some sort of "making up" when he and I are ready for it. I cannot do that over the phone, and I'm also not the person he has been hurt by, so what I often do is call his mother, talk to her, get some (biased) explanation, try to get her to calm down (if she is angry or upset) or change her perspective (if she is, in my opinion, overly strict) and then hope that they can resolve their conflict. Often I call them again later to see how they are, and usually they are fine, but sometimes the conflict goes on for some time, and sometimes I get a few calls with increasing emotions which then unsettles me because I'm too far away to actually interfere in a meaningful way.
I don't want to turn my phone off, because I want to be available to my son, but at the same time these events stress me out and often leave me feeling down for the rest of the day and I don't want to be what I like to call the "trash bin" for my son's negative emotions, when I'm not the "culprit".
I understand that in a family that lives together, similar things happen, but the phone makes these situations especially difficult. When I'm there, and he's in a conflict with his mother, I can ask him to go out and play soccer with me, and thus get him out of the frustating situation and allow him to take his attention away from his hurt so it can calm over. But when I'm on the phone there is nothing I can do. I can only talk, and talk doesn't help him get out of being focussed on what angers and hurts him.
So basically my question is, how can I deal with these phone calls? I can't always drop what I'm doing and go over there and take care of stuff. I also can't (or don't want to) turn off my phone for the time our son stays with his mother, because being divorced does not free me from the responsibility of caring for our child.
Mostly, I guess, I lack the abilty to listen to him and be there, but not let his emotions affect my own. These phone calls wouldn't be so difficult for me, if I were more stable in my own emotions and didn't feel so over-responsible for the happiness (not well-being) of my child. I understand that it is normal for every person to be frustrated, even sad, from time to time, but I cannot well deal with my son feeling bad, and being unable to do do anything over the phone is torture.