Yes, They Have It Tough – Kids Of Divorce Have to Be Responsible Sooner

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Yes, your kids have it tough.  They have to be responsible at a younger age.  But hey, at least they aren’t coddled.  I once dated a 24-year-old guy whose mother still made his bed and wrote his checks for his bills (gee, I wonder why THAT didn’t work out).  THIS will not be the fate of your child, because children of divorce have to suck it up just like you and take care of business.

This was very hard for me to learn when my daughters’ father and I split up.  Prior to our split, I had recently returned to the workforce and prior to that, had spent 3 years as a stay at home mom.  Relinquishing the girls for extended periods was really hard for me.  After one night of a bubble bath and a glass of wine with no interruptions, I wanted the girls back.

When we separated, I couldn’t always be there to do everything for them.  It was no longer my place.  My girls were 9 months, and 3 years old.  I have experienced many stages of difficulty with this.  I cannot be there to make sure they take their vitamins every morning and I often find out about a project the night before, because I simply wasn’t there to receive the form if it went home on a “dad day”.

My daughter takes daily medication for ADHD.  She is in the gifted program and gets straight “As” but basic skills are difficult without her medication because she cannot concentrate to complete them.  When she does not take it, she struggles to complete tasks at school, gets frustrated easily, and often forgets things such as pushing in her chair, thus getting in trouble (yes, she has actually gotten a note home for not pushing in her chair, but that’s a whole other rant).  Her father sometimes forgets to give her medication when rushing in the morning.  Is this his fault?  Only kind of.

My daughter needs to remember to ask for it.  It’s not his medication, it’s hers.  This is not a cardiac drug and she won’t die, she’ll just have a bad day.  I have picked her up from school and had her tell me, “I got on red today (they have green, yellow, and red to indicate their behavior) because I forgot to push in my chair 3 times but it wasn’t my fault, dad forgot my meds.”  My response, “It is your fault and when you are in trouble, I don’t want to hear anyone else’s name other than your own.  Only you, are responsible for you.”  Is this hard to say to a child?  Hell yes, especially since in the back of your mind you are thinking, “would it kill him to remember the damn meds?”

This is her path and I cannot help her at 6:30AM when she is at her dad’s house.  She has to help herself.  When he is struggling to get the younger one to PUT ON HER FREAKING CLOTHES (ask me how I know), get everyone fed, out the door, and simply remember to put on pants of his own, he is not always going to remember.  That’s life, and no one is perfect.  I forget shit all the time.

What does this mean for your kids?  It means that you cannot wipe their ass from your house.  They have to learn to be self-sufficient sooner than children who do not go back and forth.  They have to learn two sets of rules.  No matter how open the communication, there will be some different rules because each parent has different priorities and belief systems.  They have to remember to think ahead.  If something is due on Monday and they switch houses on Friday, they have to remember to pack it Thursday night or go without it.  There are no last-minute “oh shits” because we don’t have keys to their other house and they may not have access to it.  They have to learn to plan.  When they actually did the work but got a zero for a failure to plan ahead and turn in their hard work, they will be more likely to remember the next time.

Yes, as a parent it is hard, but it is possible.  What I’ve noticed is how fast they learn when they have to.  They are more capable than you realize and they will be fine.  So, what should you do?  We discuss the things they are having trouble with at each house.  It’s amazing to see what they think they can get away with or when they think you’ll clean up their mess.  It only takes once for me to say, “I know your father doesn’t do that for you and neither am I.  Do it yourself.”  Amazingly, they are capable.  Above and beyond that, take a deep breath and sip your wine.  They will survive and so will you.

Love is Not Finite

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Love is not a limited resource.  I know adults who still have not learned this and it’s very sad (and annoying).  The result is someone who feels threatened for absolutely no reason.

These individuals can be identified in many ways.  The most common is that they use titles when you know exactly who they are referring to.  My friend, my mom, my dad, my brother, etc.  Yes thank you, we just had dinner last week, I know who “your friend” is.  They do this because they have to point out that they are “theirs”.  Note: If you know me personally and do this, I may punch you in the face.  Stop it.  You are probably cuter/can walk up stairs without being winded/more charming/have a better ass/can walk in heels/smarter (I could go on), than me.  NO ONE should be threatened by me.

Just because your kid, parent, or friend loves someone in their lives, does not take away from their love for you.

No one is going to say, “I’m sorry but I can only love 10 people.  If you want my love, Herman here, has to go to make room.  It’s OK, he always smelled like cigarette smoke and invaded my personal space anyway.”

This is especially true for your children.  You are their parent.  No matter how much your child loves their other parent, they will always love you.  They may not like you, but they will always love you.  You do not need to be threatened.

Hanging on to your children to make them love you will push them away.  It will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Remember, your kids love both their parents and step-parents (if applicable) and loving them, doesn’t take away from their love for you.  Whether you’re the sperm or the egg, your role is important.

No They Aren’t Lying, Kids Act Different in Different Places

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It’s all about perspective folks.  I know you’re ex repeats stories back and you wonder if that’s actually what happened.  Maybe your ex thinks one child does no wrong while the other child cannot seem to do anything right.  Maybe your ex exaggerates or understates.  Maybe you are told a story and you think “that never happens when they are with me, I call bullshit”.

There are a few things at play here.  Your ex is going to actually see things differently than you, interpret them differently, and relay them accordingly.  If you two agreed on everything, you wouldn’t be divorced remember?  Additionally, your kids act different in their other home.  It’s a different parent, different family members, different rules, and different dynamics.  They are going to act differently and they will do things that perhaps you haven’t seen.

Two examples off of the top of my head for you.  I picked up my daughter from daycare one day and her teacher asks me in passing, “How do you handle temper tantrums at home? You know, when she throws herself on the floor.”  I, do not have an answer for this.  I finally respond in my usual tactless way, “I have no idea because she doesn’t do that shit at home.  That is absolutely unacceptable.”  I’m sure she thought I was full of crap because apparently, my then three-year old had DAILY temper tantrums complete with biting her peers.  On one hand, I desperately wanted to help and on the other, how do I assist with a behavior I do not see and I am not present for?

Fast forward one year.  Same kid, different teacher.  I hug her goodbye as she is about to leave.  She bursts into hysterical tears and clings to me.  She says, “I forget what you look like when I’m at school.  I want to stay with you Mommy.”  We go together and find a picture of myself and both girls.  We put it in her lunchbox so she doesn’t “forget what we look like”.  This appeases her and she goes off to school.  I shoot a text to her teacher and explain so she knows she is having an “off” day.  Both the teacher and her father have never seen this behavior.  While they were both polite, they both had the vague tone of, “that’s weird we’ve never seen this, perhaps you’re full of shit”.

Your kids act differently in different places.  This is just the way it is.  Just think of yourself.  How you act at home vs. work.  Or at work before the boss gets there and after he or she arrives.  How you act at Thanksgiving with family or in the absence or presence of a certain family member.  Remember your kids are people too.  You cannot let it hurt your feelings or feel like you are doing anything wrong.  Our kids are very well-behaved and we are complimented often.  But, sometimes they are terrorists, and we do not negotiate with terrorists.

Sure, I thought it was weird that she was throwing tantrums at school.  I even had a “and what would you like me to do about that”, moment.  However, I also know my kid.  She gets overwhelmed easily and hates chaos and excessive noise.  Hmmm, let’s send her to a brightly colored room, with a ton of screaming, snot filled monsters, and then just for fun, try and talk over each other all day.  I would be rocking and singing to myself in the corner.  She comes by it honestly.  My youngest is VERY attached to me.  She follows me everywhere.  I mean, wants to do laundry and scrub the floor if it means being with me, attached.  It is not strange that she would want to stay with me and I would be the one to see this behavior.

When your ex relays something that seems strange, listen attentively, and respond kindly.  You may not see the behavior but if it wasn’t there do you think they would feel the overwhelming desire to call their ex to explain it in the first place?  Or even better, to explain something only to be treated like they are stupid or lying?  No, they wouldn’t.  Hey, I know what would be fun today!  I should call my ex and talk about the kids so they can treat me like an idiot!  That sounds fun.  After that, I’ll strip down naked and roll in broken glass.  Hooray!

They are calling/emailing/texting because they love their child and want to deal with something and that means they have to deal with you and vice versa.  So, what to do?  Go back and forth with ideas of what works in your individual houses.  Alternately, go over well-I-haven’t-seen-that-but-here’s-something-similar-and-what-I-tried.  Not there yet?  Then, try the smile and nod.  Lastly, if none of that works,  explore how much you could get for a really cute kid on the black market.

Dealing with Unsolicited Advice – How to Pretend to Listen

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Unsolicited advice, we’ve all gotten it, and most of it sucks.  Here’s the thing, he who speaks the loudest is usually the most wrong.  If this is someone who is not close to you, you can smile, nod, and move on.  What do you do though when this is a close friend or worse, a family member?  Even worse than that…a family member who has never been there, and has no idea what the hell they are talking about.

In my experience, you will get the most advice from parents who have never been divorced, people who are not parents at all, people who were divorced 15+ years ago when moms still automatically got custody, or those who just handle things poorly.  This last group simply serves as an example of what not to do.

What happens though if you hear something and it sucks so bad that you cannot imagine what you would ever use it for?  I still use the smile and nod.  Never, ever underestimate the power of the smile and nod.  People want to believe what they want anyway so let them insert their own interpretation.  I further use, “Wow, that’s interesting, I never thought of that.”  I never thought of that because your idea blows and nowhere, in the history of ever, would I use that…but they don’t have to know that.  Will Rogers once said, “Diplomacy is the art of saying “Nice doggie” until you can find a rock“.  At least I think it was him, but you get it.  You see, you have enough to deal with.  Pissing off Aunt Titsenflopper from Wisconsin that you see only at weddings and graduations is unnecessary.  Just send the Christmas card and let her think she was incredibly helpful.

Here’s the thing, people like this do not actually give advice to help you even though they tell themselves they are.  They give advice because they want to justify how they handled a similar situation.  You choosing to take a different path makes them insecure.  They feel it is a reflection of them or that they handled it poorly when faced with something similar.  Others do it because they think they are superior.  They are explaining to little ‘ole you how you should handle it because God knows, you couldn’t figure it out without them.  Some just do it simply because they are soul sucking, miserable people, and want you to be too.  These people can be identified because they give advice when you don’t actually have a problem.  You’re fine, you didn’t ask a question, and don’t need help, but you’re suddenly on the other end of a lecture.  These are unhappy people who are actually threatened because you are not.

So smile and nod.  Paraphrase so they think you were listening, and then just continue along as you were.  No one has to know.  You’ll avoid burning bridges in case that person one day says something insightful you can actually use.  It’s so cute when I’m optimistic, right?

Your Kids’ Path

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When babies are born, it’s hard to fathom that this, is a person.  It’s not just “your baby”.  It is a human being, with a name and everything.  A future, likes, dislikes, etc.  This is not a puppy, it will grow up and fly away (at least if you do it right).

New parents have all sorts of ideas about what “their kids” will and will not do.  That’s wonderful in theory (I had them too) until the little bundle of joy learns that dropping the sippy cup from the highchair is funny because they made you retrieve it.  What a fun game!  The toddler that spouts off to your mother-in-law that “her food is disgusting”, is not a child you will want to claim.  This of course escalates as they get older.  “I can’t wear blue mom, it’s a boy color.”  A year later, “Why are all my clothes pink mom?  Pink is for babies.”  Seriously, I will smother you in your sleep….  This is a person who has feelings, likes, and dislikes.  Surprise!  They are not the same as yours.

Your kids have their own path.  They have relationships with people completely independent of yours, even if you know the person.  This is especially true for their relationship with their other parent.  What you find annoying, they love about that parent.  What you once found charming, they find embarrassing.  This person is not their ex, it’s their parent.

When they go to the other parent’s house, they are following their path with one of the most important people in their entire world.  Good, bad, or otherwise, this is their path and you cannot follow them.  If they hate that mom makes them go bed an hour earlier than you do, well, “mom has different rules, honey”.  It’s up to them to discuss it with their mom.  If dad has a habit of blurting out “private” stuff they didn’t want everyone at dinner to know, the kids will have to learn to speak up and tell him.  It’s simply not you place anymore.

Whatever you think is the other parent’s transgression, you’ve done something equally annoying.  Oh you haven’t?  Think harder…..I’ll wait.  Yep, there it is.  Glass houses and shit folks….  No one gets it all right.  It’s their parent to be dealt with either now, or later in therapy.

It’s hard, but this is their family, even if it isn’t yours anymore.  These are people too and they love their parents.  Both of them.

 

A Change in Dynamics

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There is in fact, a reason why dealing with your ex is difficult, other than the obvious hurt feelings and the occasional desire to cause them bodily harm.  You are adjusting to the change in dynamics and the changes period.  In other words, he doesn’t get to know where you go on Friday night and you don’t get to tell him to pick up his damn dirty socks for the millionth time.

This is difficult for many reasons.  You have known this person as one of, or in any combination of, the following (in no particular order):

  • friend
  • boyfriend/girlfriend
  • fiancée
  • spouse
  • lover

Each of these positions, are a position of power in some ways.  If the other person is putting out, they have power over you and vice versa.  Now that the relationship is over, you don’t get to correct their driving, tell them they should eat better, get more exercise, or how they should handle their personal relationships.  Here’s the kicker, you don’t even get to tell them how to handle their relationship…. (pause for effect)…. with your kids.

Your children are as much theirs as they are yours.  I am assuming here that none of my readers experienced the Immaculate Conception.  Here is a list of most but not all the things that you no longer control in regards to your children when they are with their other parent (remember: deep breaths):

  • What they are fed
  • Discipline methods (As long as there is no abuse.  Federal and state guidelines please!  No, it is not in fact child abuse to let them eat fast food even if you don’t agree.)
  • How they are dressed
  • What they are allowed to watch on television
  • When they go to bed
  • Who they are allowed to spend their time with
  • Whether or not they are left with a babysitter (unless you have a court document saying otherwise)
  • What music is allowed
  • Whether or not they attend a religious service

I could keep going but you get the point.  I know many parents who are twitching over the thought of not being in TOTAL CONTROL.  It is hard to allow someone you may or not be fond of to make daily choices for your children.  Mostly though, whether you can admit it out loud or not, a lot of that feeling is being unsure of the new dynamic here.

Remember, you are no longer their partner, so you lose some rights.  You can have your opinion, but you no longer get to share it unless the ex asks (which they probably won’t).  Good news though, this goes both ways!  As she says in Labyrinth, you suddenly realize, “you have no power over me” and everything shatters.  What you do in your home, is your business.  Unless it is in regards to your children and a law is being broken, your ex does not control what you do under any circumstances.  When your children are in your home, that extends to them, and maybe David Bowie.

So, now we have identified why you are having trouble communicating but what do we do about it?  It can be solved in two words.  Before I tell you these magic words though, I am going to preface it with the knowledge that you already know this and this seems too easy.  It is, but I wouldn’t have to say it if PEOPLE ACTUALLY DID IT.  Moving right along…

Two words…be considerate.  I know, I know, “but I don’t wanna!”  Do it anyway.  Here are some examples:

  • If you know you may get stuck late at work and you need the other parent to pick them up, contact them as soon as possible.  Make an effort not to wait until 4:30PM after they’ve potentially made evening plans and if you must ask with short notice, be understanding if they have to say “no”.  This is not an indication that they do not want to see their children.  It simply means they were planning on being kid-free.  They may have plenty of plans that are not kid friendly and <GASP> they may even have a date.
  • The child, who is at the other parent’s house, currently owns one pair of school shoes that are at your house and they are needed Monday, which is tomorrow.  Try to make arrangements to get them to the other parent that evening if you can.  Do not wait until it is 6:30AM and the kid is getting dressed in snow shoes or flip-flops because that’s all that is available.
  • The other parent is on his/her way to pick up the kids, and made a point to tell you that they are heading to a restaurant for dinner. Hand them over in a reasonably presentable state, and do not let them roll in the mud until the doorbell rings.

I could go on, (I’ve seen some amazing and terrible examples of people being inconsiderate) but you get it.  Treat your child’s other parent with the respect you would give a boss or a co-worker.  You don’t have to like them but you do have to be professional.  Remember, you chose to sleep with them!