Everyone knows that parenting can be difficult even if you’re married. It’s inevitable that you and your spouse will disagree on some issues. Parenting after divorce means there’s a high probability that those differences will become more pronounced and more entrenched especially if there’s a power struggle between you and your STBX.
Helen has three living children: a son with special needs who’s now fourteen, and two daughters aged ten and seven. With a mentally unstable ex, parenting is a huge challenge and there are times when Helen can’t shield her children from his predictable erratic behavior. Here’s Helen:
When the divorce started I knew that my ex was incapable of handling all three kids at once. Most dads would be capable of handling all three, but handling all three when you have a special needs son is very difficult and I really believed in my heart that my son needed one-on-one time.
I tried to arrange a visitation where my ex would have one-on-one time with my son and then with the girls. He kept saying, “I don’t want to separate them. No, no, no, no.” He never wanted to accept any of the visitations that the Court recommended or that the lawyers recommended.
We ended up appointing an attorney for minor children—a Guardian Ad Litem and he was not free.
The children are with him now every other weekend from Friday after school until Sunday night and then they are with him for dinner every Tuesday. They alternate one Wednesday overnight with the girls and the other Wednesday overnight with my son. The thing that I was fighting the most was overnight on Wednesday nights because the lack of structure for getting ready for school is a big problem.
The Courts didn’t think it should happen. The Department of Children and Families didn’t think it should happen. They also thought there should be a supervisor after the abuse. The Guardian Ad Litem who never talked to the school and only talked to the kids once said, “I think it’s fine. There’s no problem.”
And the Court ended up listening to the Guardian Ad Litem.
My daughter does competitive cheerleading and it’s Sunday afternoons and Monday nights for a practice. This was before our current parenting visitation plan but it said it doesn’t matter whose parenting time it is, if it’s the kids’ activities, that comes first. But my ex didn’t want that. He emailed saying, “I don’t have enough time with XXX so you need to change to Tuesdays. If you don’t agree I’ll drag you back to the Court.”
That means more legal fees for me but not for him. He’s been representing himself and he has racked up two bills for two separate attorneys that he still hasn’t paid. So he doesn’t care.
I know I still have issues that I need to address because I can’t even open his emails. I still get physically ill reading his emails because they’re so harsh and so nasty.
A few months ago my friend was able to get us tickets for a One Direction concert for my daughter’s birthday. If you don’t know One Direction, that’s the end-all, be- all for 10-year-old girls.
I was so happy because this is what my daughter wanted. We bought the tickets in July. The concert was November 30. That was going to be his day. I was worried that he wasn’t going to let the girls go. So my daughter started talking to him about it, “Dad, I can’t wait, I can’t wait, I can’t wait.”
Two days before the concert he said, “Sorry, it’s my night and I’m sure you wouldn’t give them to me if it’s yours so they can’t go.”
I wrote back saying this isn’t about me. This is about your daughters. You’re more than welcome to have them on another Friday.
He wrote back saying, “If they’re not at my house I’m going to have you arrested.”
These are the kind of games he plays.
I literally called the police and said, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is a civil matter and he can’t get me arrested for not bringing the children to him. He knows where they will be at any given time.”
This is the nonsense I deal with.
I did hear, and I don’t know if this is true that the children can decide at 14 years of age if they want to be with him. My daughter started a notebook of everything he has done to her and she’s dying to go into Court and say, “I don’t want to see my Dad anymore.”
But until that point I don’t see it abating. It’s horrible.
I literally went to a parent teacher conference recently and my daughter’s teacher said, “Oh. Her father is coming tomorrow.” I had no idea.
I would send him updates, pages of here’s where the kids need to be; here are their activities; here’s what’s going on and he’d never respond. And then he’d say, “She doesn’t tell me anything. She doesn’t include me.” I don’t do that anymore.
But I do organize everything for my kids and their activities. Unfortunately, all of the Moms in town realize he’s crazy and will help me. They’ll send him an email saying, “We’d love to have XXX come over.” They know. They know and because my daughter doesn’t want to be with him, they will try to arrange as many activities as possible. If they send it to him directly he will respond because he wants to look like the good dad.
He doesn’t know it’s being arranged behind the scenes. I’m literally traffic patrolling everything.
The Divorce Coach Says
I don’t want you to read this and try to decide who was right about their children’s parenting schedule. The most important lesson here is that parenting schedules need to be designed around the needs of the children. It’s about what is going to work best for them.
I’m not a fan of the traditional alternate weekends with a midweek overnight schedule – it’s too choppy. Both my kids dropped the midweek overnight once they were in high school. Their school works on a two-day class rotation so that makes it harder to make sure their needed books and school supplies are in the right place at the right time. My daughter also did gymnastics on Tuesdays and Thursdays so she never felt like packing everything up to spend the night at her dad’s. Thankfully, my ex listened to their concerns and didn’t fight it.
Generally, the people who are best-positioned to work out what’s going to work for your children are you, your STBX and your children so it’s really important to figure out how you can sit down and come to an agreement. Relying on a judge is the option of absolute last resort.
I do think that children, once they can talk, can participate in these conversations. It gives them a sense of some control in a situation in which they often have little control but, and this is a big but, the conversation should be age-appropriate and decision-neutral. By that I mean, you don’t ask your child a leading question to get the answer you want and you’re not giving your child free rein over their schedule. Ideally, both you and your STBX should be there together so you both hear what your child has to say and what each other says. Start with the basic parameters such as equal time, no splitting up siblings, balanced weekends and weekdays and so on and take it from there. This is about listening to their concerns.
Do you involve your children in deciding their parenting schedules? How are you and your STBX handling your discussions?
How do you handle when your child has an event on your ex’s parenting time?
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