I am an ex-wife, and I deal with an ex-wife, so when it comes to co-parenting, I have seen it from both sides of the equation. That’s an interesting thing about families today. So many of us are blended that we can really see a mirror of our own ex’s situation in our partners, and understand their view a little better via our partner’s point of view as they deal with their ex’s. It has been an interesting thing for me to watch since moving in with my boyfriend a bit over a year and a half ago.
Unfortunate for us, his ex is high conflict, so the fathers’ priorities are where the similarities end. In both of our cases, the fathers want to have as much time with the kids as they can, do holidays as they’re able, and generally maintain contact.
I have never found this unreasonable. I have one rule for visits to dad’s house since it’s far away. It can’t conflict with school. That’s it. If the kids are out of school, he has access to them. He has to let me know what dates he wants, but it’s his choice. I’ve never said no when he said he wanted to take them, and he’s had far lengthier visits than our custody order states he would.
This isn’t said with the intention of making myself seem saintly. It helps me, too. I work, therefore, when the kids are out of school, I have to figure out childcare. If their dad wants to take them instead, that’s a win-win situation. They get to see their dad, he gets to see them, and I save thousands of dollars and have an easier commute for a few weeks.
Seeing that this is how I live my life, it has been strange to watch my boyfriend and his ex argue over their son’s time, hour by hour. During trick-or-treating this year, she even tried to make the kid not hold hands with his father, saying loudly, “No, this is MY possession time. You hold hands with mommy.” How To Fuck Up Your Kid 101. I am constantly surprised.
Being that logic and reason seem to be missing from this, and ostensibly from some other parenting situations, I’m about to drop some obvious knowledge on the people based on my observation and experience, as someone who’s dealing with both a chill ex (mine) and an unhinged one (his) at the same time.
Kids grow up.
They are always their own people, but this is going to be way more obvious in a few years. What I’m saying is, your meticulously curated visitation schedule is going to go out the window about the time the kid gets a weekend job, or makes the football team, or joins the Mathletes. Even Scouts or Little League could have an affect.
Do you really want to be the person who denies your kid a summer internship they worked hard to be chosen for because it conflicts with your weeks to have them, knowing that it’ll look fantastic on their college applications? Please do not be that person. That person sucks. That person isn’t putting their kid’s best interest first. This isn’t directed just at one parent in the situation. It’s both. Work together and reschedule visits around activities. Captain Obvious says, be flexible, both of you!
Don’t expect everything to be done the way you do it.
When I was married, shortly after my third child was born, I read a parenting book that said a lot about not criticizing the way one’s spouse does parenting tasks if it’s different from how oneself does those tasks. I thought of how my husband at the time did things so differently for our kids than I did, but always got the job done. After our divorce, this continued. He had his methods, I had mine, and they all worked reasonably well.
Just last night, my boyfriend’s ex-wife said that before she’ll consider signing anything for any significant overnight visitation, we have to prove we can carry out her bedtime routine for their son. My reaction was, “Bitch, please!” (No, I didn’t say that to her. Luckily, she wasn’t standing in front of me.) This isn’t because I don’t want her to dictate things to us, but because her routine is irrelevant to our home.
At her house, her son sleeps in the bed with her. She feeds him some cereal, gives him his tablet, and lies down with him until he falls asleep in the middle of it all. At our house, we don’t allow food in bedrooms, nor tablets at bedtime, and he’ll be sleeping in his own bed, sharing a room with my two sons. The dynamic is completely different, so her bedtime routine does not apply. We will figure out our own, and it will be fine. Captain Obvious says, different houses, different routines.
Different does not equal harmful.
I will never forget the first time my boyfriend’s ex-wife called me abusive. It was because my kids sleep in their own room, and I close the door. I always wanted her to say this in court, and for somebody to snap a picture of the judge’s face, since I’d be willing to bet money the judge probably did this with her own kids when they were young, too. Most people do.
Then there was the time she said I threatened to starve her son. My offense at that point was saying in a group conversation on a FaceBook site she apparently follows, that my kids are expected to eat what I cook for dinner, and if they refused, I wouldn’t give them another option. (I never even mentioned her son. I was talking about what I did with my kids.) I don’t cater to a picky eater. I can think of maybe twice in all these years that my kids chose not to eat what they were served. I am not in the starving children business. I am in the adventurous palates business. Yet, to her, that’s abusive, because she’s taken a “whatever you want whenever you want it” approach to food with her son.
There have been many times she’s made remarks about how I didn’t really raise my children because they went to daycare as toddlers, and are now school age. Although this is just reality for every working mom, to her, it’s neglect.
These are pretty far out opinions, right? I have some of her as well, of course. I think her entire parenting philosophy could be written down and titled, “How to Kick Your Own Ass, a Synopsis of Parenting That Does Not Pass Muster in Any Respect”. I think she should get a job instead of judging me for having one, while demanding other people pay her way. I think she should be genuinely afraid for when her son is 16 years old, has a horrible temper, and is a foot taller than she is, and the main lesson she’s taught him about life is that if he screams loud enough and kicks hard enough, he can have whatever he wants. That’s a recipe for disaster if I’ve ever seen one.
The fact is, though, none of that matters. Different doesn’t equal wrong as long as it’s not directly harmful in a way that the courts would recognize, and really, most things aren’t. I am reminded of the first time my ex-husband took my kids for an extended visit. I saw the food he intended to feed them, and I about passed out. So many dyes, so much high fructose corn syrup, MEAT!!, the very prepackaged garbage I’d purposely kept out of their bodies their entire lives, and he was about to load them up on it for two weeks solid. Luckily, my mother was with me when this was happening, and she said, “This isn’t a battle you’ll ever win. You’d be a fool to pick it.” So yes, my ex-husband feeds my kids things that I consider not quite food, but they’re ok.
Captain Obvious says, people are allowed to find their own way, and they usually aren’t harming anybody. If in doubt, call your lawyer and ask them if they would feel stupid representing you in a hearing on the matter. If they would, it’s all in your head.
The bottom line in all of this comes down to a simple concept. Most people aren’t out to get you. In all but the rarest cases, a child’s other parent isn’t trying to harm them. Most people aren’t incompetent as parents, and even if someone seems that way to you, kids are surprisingly resilient, and will probably be just fine. Keep it simple. Just worry about your own side of the street, and realize that being able to go between two different situations with ease will actually be an asset to your kids in the long run. Stop trying to control things you can’t control, which aren’t even of much consequence anyway, and you’ll have a way better time.