One of the top concerns for parents getting divorced is how does shared parenting work. The good news is that there is no rigid plan or formula that you have to follow for shared parenting. That does mean it’s up to you and your STBX to figure out what works for your family which always takes work and effort and it always involves disagreements and disappointments. Many couples are able to successfully negotiate very reasonable parenting arrangements but when parents are not able to put their children’s interests first, things can get ugly.
When my current guest, Lisa Thomson got divorced her two children were about 11 and 13 years old. Lisa had been a stay-at-home mom so shared parenting was an adjustment for her. She started out being flexible but that changed when she realized her ex was using her flexibility to deprive her of time with her children. Here’s Lisa:
Initially we had this agreement that we would share.
The age that my kids were, it’s a very busy time for parents. You’re right in the thick of all of their activities and their school and so it’s still a very demanding parenting stage to be in, basically. I obviously wanted him involved and there was no thought in my mind that he wouldn’t be.
What had started to happen with the shared parenting is that he started to really disrespect my time with the kids. He was interfering with my time. The first few times he would call up and say, “Do you mind if I take the kids to whatever.” He would start taking them to expensive special events that were going on in the city, but they would always fall on my week. I would agree, because I was trying to be reasonable and trying to be flexible but it was happening all the time, to the point where there kids would just come to my house and they would be picked up by him. I started to see that this was just spiraling out of control, basically—out of my control.
Part of that pattern was him almost like playing a popularity contest. The kids would prefer to be with me. I think what he was trying to do was perhaps try to sway them to spend more time with him. It was probably a lot of variables involved. I think the insecurity that he had as a man and as a father. All of these things came to the surface and his loss of control over the divorce. The kids were the one area that he could also, not only control but that he could punish. It was his way of getting his anger out on me as well.
I know just from being around the internet and reading blogs and meeting other women that have gone through divorce, it’s a very common thing that can happen with these type of personalities. They want to get that control back or they’re angry and so they take their anger out by keeping the kids from you, because if you want to stab a woman in the heart, you do something to their kids, right?
They were my life. I was a full-time stay-at-home mom, so it was very heartbreaking and of course, it escalated into more serious situations.
When the kids were younger we attended the same events and definitely not together. It was very, very acrimonious. I think that’s the right word.
Usually we didn’t go to parent-teacher conferences at the same time and I used to try to communicate with him as far as, “Okay, do you want to go to this one and I’ll go to that one,” but he used to resent that. Again, he resented me trying to organize and again it was because he liked to be in control of things and he resented me trying to specify which parent-teacher interview are you going. Eventually I gave up on that because it just wasn’t working. So, I would just go when I chose to go and not worry about him.
There’s also sports, so not just school. I’d show up at a game and your ex is there and it’s awkward, like do you go say, “hello?” Initially I tried that and all I got was a snarl, so I just stayed back. I was a little bit afraid.
My kids ski raced, so that was a real adjustment because that’s an expensive sport—
It’s also an expensive sport to spectate, to go watch, because you’ve got to be away for the whole weekend. You have to spend money on a hotel, lift tickets. Then they want you to volunteer, so then you’re stuck on the hill standing there freezing. With my budget and with the changes in my financial situation, I still did try to go but it was hard because I just didn’t have the same amount of income.
There was one or two times when he was there with his girlfriend who he lives with now and it was awkward. He’s the kind of person who’s very charming and gregarious and so he’d made all these friends at the ski hill and when everything came to an end there was only a few people who would talk to me. It was almost like I was this horrible person that no one should speak to because he had all these friends. It’s ridiculous when I think back on it.
I felt that they sided with him because you don’t know what they’re saying about you and I hate to bring up the “n” word, but narcissism, egocentric people, they will lie. They will tell lies about you. I found out that he was actually lying about me while I was married to him. He wasn’t loyal during the marriage, so he was probably saying some nasty things during the divorce.
My kids are older now. They are 21 and 19. We’re passed the school stage. My son graduated two years ago from high school, so that was the last event that my ex and I were at together. He told my son that he didn’t want to sit with us. So, after all of these years later, him and his wife sat at a different table.
The Divorce Coach Says:
Shared parenting after divorce is definitely different but my first rule is to stop thinking it would be different if you were still married or that you wouldn’t be having these arguments. It’s tempting to think that but there’s no way of knowing what would have happened if you’d stayed married. Just don’t go there.
You can’t control your ex and that’s going to come out in all sorts of way, such as refusing to co-ordinate parent-teacher conferences. As frustrating as that is, I think it can be as much about you learning to limit your responsibility to yourself as anything to do with your ex. I guess my guideline here would be to ask if the lack of co-ordination negatively impacts your child and remember, parenting is not a competition.
Even if your legal divorce doesn’t require a parenting plan I would recommend one and the more detailed the better. I would also recommend sticking with the parenting plan to start with. Flexibility comes with time as you’ve rebuilt the trust with each other as parents.
Disagreements are inevitable and normal. What’s key is learning to express and resolve your disagreements in a healthy way. Kids have the hardest time coping with divorce when there is on-going unresolved conflict between their parents.
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