The first few months after divorce are a time of transition and significant changes especially for children. As unfair as it is, it’s normal for kids to prefer spending time with one parent over the other. Chances are they’re more comfortable with the parent with whom who they’ve spent the most time and they’ll probably want to spend the most time at the marital home, if that’s still an option.
With commitment, the “least-favored” parent can turn that around especially with the support and encouragement of the other parent. Solo-parenting often means becoming a better parent after divorce. That’s a win for everyone.
Sadly it doesn’t always happen that way and in some cases, instead of the parenting becoming more balanced it gets even more lopsided.
My current guest, Helen has shared that her marriage was always difficult but after her divorce her ex’s behavior worsened quite possibly due to untreated mental health issues. With shared parenting, there was no way to shield her children from him. Here’s Helen:
Five months after we were divorced, my ex physically abused our special needs son. It happened before school. My son went to school that day and the school called the Department of Children and Families. Prior to that my son’s psychologist called DCF because she was concerned about emotional abuse. And then I had filed a Restraining Order.
My son is not completely diagnosed, but he is like a Golden Retriever. He is this most loving, caring person. He has a lot of speech/language difficulties and of course with everything coming out about Autism now it scares me to death because people are going to get the wrong perception. He is on the Spectrum, but he is as sweet as can be. One of the things is that he’s overly affectionate. He hugs everybody and now that he’s fourteen, I’ve said, “Honey, you can’t go up to every woman or Mom and hug her.”
Apparently what happened was that my son was sitting in the front seat of the car and I guess he was mixing it up with his sister a bit. He reached back and he grabbed her arm apparently. My ex proceeds to punch him in the arm and leaves bruises.
Now to the parenting co-counselor my ex admitted he did something wrong, but he never told me. To DCF and the Court he said my son was choking my daughter and that he was protecting my daughter by hitting my son, which was physically impossible given where the bruising was.
Even my daughter said my son wasn’t choking her.
This was two years ago and my poor son. The school has seen it. The school sees how anxious he is when he comes from Dad’s house. We had a talk the other day about how he is progressing and I congratulated him on the little things. I’ve asked the school to call my ex and to explain but they said, “Unfortunately we’ve seen what he’s like and we can’t get through to him.” That’s a challenge.
However, my son at fourteen is now 6′ 1” and about 135 pounds and Dad is 5′ 11”. The other day I guess Dad was being very critical of him and my son just very quietly said, “Dad, you don’t scare me anymore.”
I think that was kind of a wake up call for my ex. Since then more of his anger and nastiness is directed towards my daughter.
Now, my ex will not allow them to call me. He had them hang up in the middle of a ‘phone call the other night when my youngest was calling me. Now my son has courage: he just picks up the ‘phone and calls me whenever he wants. The girls are scared to.
The Divorce Coach Says
What do you do in a situation like this?
- Know what your possible courses of action are – there’s civil action and there’s action through your state’s child protection services. Be realistic about child custody battles. They’re ugly and difficult for everyone and especially for your children who may be so intimidated they won’t speak the truth or they won’t understand the consequences of their action. The outcomes of child custody battles are never a certainty.
- Keep accurate records – write down the details of every event using whatever you can to corroborate your side of the story – photographs, text messages, voice mails, Facebook statuses.
- Be realistic about what is happening – don’t blow events out of proportion, attempt to verify the event with your ex, take note if your children disagree on what happened (but recognize that they each have a different relationship with your ex). It’s less about a single event and more about patterns and trends.
- Coach your children in coping skills so they learn how to diffuse an explosive situation and that they have a safety strategy. If you need help coaching them, seeking professional help. Helping your children understand the reason for their parent’s behavior, such as an untreated mental condition, may make it less scary for them. It’s also healthier for them to understand that it isn’t about them.
- Try to manage around the events your ex doesn’t handle well. If for example, you suspect your ex is an alcoholic, arrange the transportation for your kids’ after school activities so he isn’t picking them after he may have been drinking. Yes … this means you may be taking on more of the parenting duties but what is more important? Your free time or the safety of your children?
Stopping children from calling the other parent is a common tactic and it’s not right. But telling your ex that isn’t likely to change it. I do have some thoughts on how to handle it but would love to hear your suggestions. Is this a situation you’ve handled? What worked? What didn’t?