Reader’s Question: I have two challenges that I could use some help with….
I have been divorced since May ’08. My ex is presently in Mexico getting remarried. They called tonight to leave a message for our 7 year old daughter. After her message, their phone line did not cut off and the machine taped several minutes of them bad mouthing me and making comparative and hurtful statements. (These were all perspectives on me, our relationship and the break-up that I had never heard before.) When we split, my ex had been more compassionate and insightful about our relationship and seemed to view it within a holistic context in which we each shared responsibility in both its success and “failure”. We are already relating poorly and now I really feel like I cannot trust him (them). How can we move out of this when our perspectives are so radically different?
The second challenge is in our child custody arrangement (and relates to the first challenge as well). My ex is an ER doc. He argued that he cannot commit to a regular schedule as his shifts are inconsistent. He also has never felt strongly about maintaining a relationship with our daughter- feeling like he couldn’t do it because of his work- and, that the adoption was my idea and he didn’t really want to do it. He couldn’t quite admit this in court so he did agree to average 10 days a month with her. When he is with her, he seems to enjoy his time and she enjoys being with him. What’s happened is that he gets looser and looser with following through. (Doesn’t let us know his schedule until the last minute, doesn’t follow through with his agreements, schedules trips without coordinating as agreed…) When confronted, he rebels. His words and actions don’t match. Out of frustration, I said I was ready to go back to court to establish a consistent schedule so that we would all know what to expect and could plan our lives. He reacted by stating he would argue for physical custody (which I now have) and would stop paying child support. So, its all or nothing. How can I work with this while maintaining some boundaries for our daughter and myself?
BTW, these entanglements are similar to ones I had hoped to divorce myself from in the marriage. I really thought that the divorce decree would provide more structure and I would have more autonomy. Ironically, I still feel controlled.
My Response: First off, let me assure you that I can identify with how you feel as I have been where you are. I’m sorry that you are experiencing the same pain.
I can understand you being a little, well maybe even a lot, upset by the comments you overheard your ex and his new wife saying. It’s always hurtful to hear someone saying things that aren’t so nice about us. That being said, I’m an avid believer in truly accepting your reality. The reality is that even though you may not have heard these things before doesn’t mean that your ex never felt this way. It only means that he was ‘kind’ enough not to say it to your face. If you’re really honest with yourself, I’m certain that you’ve said some not so nice things about him, too. After all, you said that you two were already relating poorly, so don’t be too quick to blame this one phone call (that you weren’t even supposed to hear) on your inability to trust him at this point. That phone call has nothing to do with the child and if you have any chance at co-parenting effectively, you must learn to separate the two. I tell all of my divorced parents to be conscious of “I” versus “our child” statements. If all of the statements out of your mouth are…”I was hurt when you…,” “I didn’t like it when you…,” “It makes me sad when you…,” then how you’re feeling probably has more to do with you than with your child. Your perspective on how your relationship ended bears no relevance in how you move forward to raise your daughter. One has nothing to do with the other and you must adopt this mentality if you want a chance in co-parenting effectively in the future.
That being said, this next issue is definitely about your daughter. Children definitely benefit from consistent meaningful contact with both parents. I can certainly understand, however, his work schedule, as an ER doctor generally isn’t a 9 to 5 profession. What was your husband’s work schedule like before the divorce? Did he consistently spend quality time with your daughter when you were married? If not, it isn’t realistic to think that he would change when you divorce. I’m certainly not condoning his behavior. I’m simply trying to get you to accept your reality. When we truly accept our reality we know how to move forward. But if you have a false sense of reality, your expectations will likely far exceed what they should.
I was in your position at one point, too. My ex was and honestly, still is (from a physical and emotional standpoint), very inconsistent. He is an overseas basketball player and he too blames his actions on his work schedule. I used to fight, but now I just don’t anymore. The court order (we have an order for consistent visitation in place), fighting, or even communicating in a friendly way hasn’t changed him and never will. I realized that he has to make that decision all on his own and hope that our son is here to receive him when and if that happens. You stated that you thought about going back to court to establish a more consistent visitation schedule, but that will only work if your ex-husband decides to follow that schedule. Unfortunately, he will not do so until he realizes the importance of doing so.
Reader, there really is no easy answer to setting boundaries for you and your daughter. Yes, the divorce decree is SUPPOSED to provide more structure but that only happens when both parents mutually agree to put their child’s interest above their own. It simply doesn’t work, if you both aren’t on the same page. And, there is ALWAYS compromise involved when trying to get on the same page. You can’t expect him to meet you where you are and he can’t expect the same of you. You BOTH are going to have to make some concessions in order for you to communicate effectively enough to co-parent! Also, be advised that it hasn’t even been a year and it’s going to take some time to move past the hurt and to a peaceful existence. Often times, when we are stewing over hurt feelings we don’t focus on what’s right because we don’t want to. It’s a natural human reaction to being hurt and pissed off. Allow you both to have some time to move past it instead of assuming that you are automatically going to be the loving happy divorced parents who co-parent their child perfectly. Trust me, it takes time to get to that point, if you even arrive at that point at all. It’s all about accepting your reality.
So, my suggestion would be to try to COMMUNICATE with instead of CONFRONTING your ex-husband. When you confront someone it automatically puts them on the defensive. Remember, you’re not interested in being right or attacking him. Your main goal is to communicate, with an intent to understand, so that you can begin to co-parent your daughter in a manner that is most beneficial to her. You set the tone for how things are to going operate from this point on.