It’s some twenty-five years since Sarah’s parents divorced and during that time, parenting time philosophy has changed significantly. Back then, it was typical for children to live with their mother and to visit dad on alternate weekends. Today, the starting point is more typically 50/50 parenting time. Sarah doesn’t remember there being a specific parenting plan but her dad lived close by, and that meant she did see him regularly. Here’s some of her recollections:
My mom and I stayed in the same town and moved to a condo. My dad stayed in our house and I could walk there from my mom’s. He moved into this one room garage that was next to our house, and then he rented out our house.
My dad is very uniquely Spartan, but cluttered at the same time, so my visitation over there was kind of like “do I have to?” I would go over and spend a few hours, have dinner, play gin rummy or cribbage and hang out, watch TV and have dinner. Usually, I’d stay with him if my mom was going out of town.
I don’t ever remember not seeing him, or ever feeling like “this is the set time that we’re supposed to see each other.”
When I was in middle school, my mom just got a lot more communicative. We did a lot more things together, we went on trips together like in seventh grade my mom took me to Washington, D.C. for spring break. Later, my mom ended up getting another degree when I was in high school, so we were like ships in the night.
My dad always had different rules because my dad’s a hiker. I think I’ve never really liked hiking because I always HAD to do it, but that was the way I HAD to bond with my dad. I was like, “Let’s play Scrabble!” I wanted it to be ANYTHING else. I think for my dad, it made him have to work a little bit harder, but mom jumped in.
They did not take any of my crap. If I were to play off one against the other, they knew. They just knew. Mom always reminds me about this. Dad had come over for a meeting to talk about raising my allowance. I remember sitting on the stairs, kind of apart from them and saying,
“I am going to be sad about this divorce for the rest of my life.”
And my parents looked at me and said, “Well, that’s unfortunate. That’s really too bad.” And both of them were of the same mindset, which was just, “Well gosh, I’m so sorry that you’re going to be sad about this forever and ever.”
I was just doing it because I wanted a raise and no, it didn’t work. I think they just handled it…because they were my parents. They were my parents no matter what else happened and I really wasn’t privy to a lot of that.
They communicated with each other about my issues. I think maybe it was because they were both teachers, they had seen a lot of other kids who had divorced parents and they saw the acrimony in a lot of cases. They just didn’t want that for me. My mom was in counseling, so she really was working through her own acrimony. I don’t know what my dad feels…my dad’s very guarded about that kind of stuff, but he never expressed any acrimony to me.
The Divorce Coach Says
I love this story about the allowance – I have such a visual with Sarah sitting on the stairs craftily trying to engineer her increase. Obviously, it’s not just divorced parents that get played against each other but I do think it’s easier for a child with divorced parents to capitalize on parental disagreements and it’s easier for divorced parents to let that happen hoping to curry favor with the child. Increasing a child’s allowance is not a big issue in the overall scheme of things but it’s a slippery slope. If you can’t support each other on this, then what happens when it comes to curfews, school absences and tardies, underage drinking, graduating driving laws and so on… It’s easy to see how children who experience parental divorce as minors are more prone to high-risk behaviors.
Two other great pointers from Sarah – first, if you want to engage with your child (and who doesn’t?), then you have to find an activity you’ll both enjoy. If you try to insist on your choice all the time, the end result will be that your child won’t want to spend time with you. This doesn’t mean never insisting your child do a specific activity with you – yes, I have forced my kids to come hiking with me – and there’s probably some things your child loves and you just can’t stand, so it’s about compromise and balance.
My son loves to watch animated shows, I can’t stand them. Our compromise is to watch Big Bang Theory or The Daily Show, which were two of his favorites and which he introduced me to. He also loves to play video games but honestly, I’m so bad at them that’s an activity he’d prefer I didn’t try.
The other great pointer here, is not speaking ill of your ex. I didn’t ask Sarah a specific question about this – this is what she volunteered, what came up in the conversation so that should tell you the impact that had on her. When you bad-mouth your ex, it can make a child feel that you’re questioning why they would want to spend time with that parent and no child wants to be made to feel like they have to choose between two parents.
Have you called on your ex to support a parenting decision? What was it? How did your ex respond? How did your child react?
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