Before You Panic, Your Ex Might Just Be A Dick

Panic Edited

Let’s be honest…parents worry.  Some more than others, but we all still worry.  As co-parenters (no, I don’t actually think that’s a word), we have all found out at least once that our children were not with their other parent when we thought they were.  Sometimes it is during the timeframe when they are “elsewhere” and sometimes after the fact.  Before you panic and assume your children are lost or being held captive in a creepy redneck’s shed, remember that it is more likely that your ex is just a dick.

I know, I know, but Mandee, you always say to give them the benefit of the doubt!  And I do….which means before you strangle the other parent, you should first assume that they simply forgot to tell you.

That being said, not knowing where your children are is absolutely not OK and non-negotiable.  I have heard it all, every excuse, every reason, every bullshit thought when a parent thinks the other doesn’t need, or deserve to know where their children are.  Here are some of my favorites (and by favorite I mean ridiculous):

  1. “She said she couldn’t watch them so I found a babysitter.  She doesn’t need to know if she cannot be available.” – You’re being passive aggressive because he or she has a life and didn’t drop everything for you.  Knock it off.
  2. “He knows so-and-so.  I don’t need to tell him every time the kids are with them.” – It is not the other parent’s job to remember every person you think they know, may or may not remember since you were together, or people you’ve mentioned since.
  3. “If she wants to know, she can ask.” – You wouldn’t appreciate getting a text every time the children are with you.  It’s your job to notify the other parent if the children are not with you.  A quick text from you means you won’t have to get one every day confirming that the kids are in your care.
  4. “He doesn’t have first right or refusal so I don’t need to tell him.” – For those of you who don’t know, “first right of refusal” means that before you find a babysitter, you have to ask the other parent if they want the child(ren).  This keeps petty parents from giving the kids to who they want even when they don’t have time to be with them, while restricting the other parent.  Even if there is no first right of refusal, every parent is entitled to know where they are and who is caring for their children.
  5. “We are out of town.  She wouldn’t know where it is anyway and besides what could she do to help if there was an emergency?” – This is my favorite and by far the stupidest thing I’ve heard before.  You think if there was an emergency, it wouldn’t be beneficial to know what freaking plane to get on?

Every parent deserves and is within their bounds to demand to know the location of their children.  Additionally, each parent is required to tell the other parent where their children are and they cannot withhold this information.

It’s simply the logical thing to do.  If you leave the kids with a friend, go out, and something happens to you, the other parent will not know who to contact or where to go to pick up the children.  If God forbid you get into a wreck.  Who should they contact to get the kids?  It’s not enough that their parent got into a wreck, they get to be delivered to your ex in a cop car…..yeah, that’s not traumatic.

Here is what you should be doing (preferably via text or email):

  1. “I have ___________ on Tuesday night.  Would you like the kids?”  The other parent confirms that they are not available.
  2. “OK, thanks anyway, I will send you the babysitter’s number once I get confirmation, but I wanted to check with you first.”
  3. Provide the following (also in writing):  Name, phone number, and address, and what times they will be in the other person’s care.
  4. If you don’t want to ask them first, simply send a text or email with the above information so they are notified.

This is one where you don’t want to be caught with your pants down.  When they sign out the kids from school and see that someone other than you signed them out last week and no one told them, you are going to have a pissed off parent on your hands.  When the kids say they were at a “sleepover” last Friday night that you knew nothing about, you’re going to lose it.  When the other parent calls to speak to the child and you have to explain that they are with your parents in another city and you dropped them off and came home without saying anything, you look like an asshole.  Hmmmmm, perhaps leaving them with someone out-of-town without saying anything is a bad thing?

The fix above is simple, and it is common courtesy.  Further, it can keep you out of legal trouble.  No Judge wants to hear that you were sitting home twiddling your fingers while the other parent is out partying and you could have been with your kids.  Alternately that you are finding out regularly that your kids are being left with someone else and you are not being told where they are.  This is absolutely not acceptable.

Every parent deserves to know where their children are.  If you are withholding this information, more than likely it’s because you’ve decided they don’t “need to know”.  Since you are no longer a couple,what they do and do not need to know is not your call anymore.  Try and remember when you were together and you appreciated that they cared enough to keep track of the kids.  That hasn’t changed and they still want to know.

The Use of Pronouns

Pronouns Edited

No, this is not a grammar lecture (though if you don’t know the difference between your and you’re, and there, they’re, and their, we probably cannot be friends).  I am speaking today about possessive pronouns.  Possessive being the prominent word here.

As we mentioned when discussing step-parents, your child(ren) is/are not the immaculate conception.  They are not your children alone.  They have at least two parents (unless the dirty socks on the bathroom floor were the last straw and he swims with the fishes) and possibly as many as four parents (well, there are dynamics where there could be more than four, but that’s a whole seminar).

Make an effort to call them “our children” or “the children“.  Many of you may think this doesn’t matter.  While it is a small thing, I will tell you that if you thought to be considerate even in your pronoun use, you’d have a lot less trouble with your ex because you would be infinitely more considerate in every other aspect of your co-parenting.

Let’s talk about the legal aspect.  [Disclaimer:  I’m not an attorney and I do not know family law statutes/local rules for your area.]  What I have seen though:  The quickest way to piss off a Judge is to withhold visitation from their other parent.  Withholding visitation is when you decide the other parent doesn’t know what they are doing, and therefore cannot see their child.  If you don’t want the kids, this is the quickest way to lose custody.  But I digress….. The second easiest way?  To spend all your time in Court/Mediation/Magistrate’s Hearings, talking about “my child(ren)“.  They are not your children.  They are our children or the children.  It makes you sound possessive and that you think the other parent is inferior.  Judges hate that.  It’s their job to make sure that children get to have both parents.  If they think you are impeding that, they will remove you from the equation.

When I talk to strangers do I say my girls?  Absolutely.  Usually because we are swapping parenting stories.  When a teacher rambles about doing a “sticker book” after my daughter just pummeled another student, do I think, “they are going to light you on fire and dance around you under the harvest moon because I know my kid and you’re screwed if you think stickers is going to help”?  You bet.  All that being said, please please please do not speak to your children’s other parent and say my kids.  It makes you an asshole.  I won’t even do that when speaking to the girls step-mother.  They are not my kids because I am not raising them alone.  It’s rude and disrespectful.  He cleans up vomit at 3:00AM….they are not just my girls.

This goes for anyone who says “my mom”, “my dad”, my sister” or “my brother” to another family member.  It means you are insecure and you need to claim ownership.  Since peeing on their leg is generally frowned upon, you need to find another way to feel secure.

Nemo-seagulls

Unless you want to come across like the seagulls in Finding Nemo, yelling “mine, mine, mine, mine, mine, mine”, learn the word our.  You are good parent but you are not the only one.  Please remember that.

Maximizing Your Time and Creating Priorities

Priorities Edited

It seems today that there is never enough time.  Spending time with our family is no different.  Every mom I know either stays home with their kids and never gets any time for herself, struggles financially on one income, etc., or she works and spends her life feeling guilty for not spending enough time with her kids and hating herself if she actually dares to enjoy what she does for a living.  Now add to that sharing custody of your children, which means that even when you have time, they could very well be with their other parent.

First, let’s talk about priorities.  I’m sure if you ask most parents, they will tell you their child(ren) is/are their number one priority.  But, let’s a take a look at how they actually spend their time.  Let’s be clear here, your priority is where you spend the majority of your time.  We’ve already discussed this here but it is worth repeating.  I know you are all saying, “but Mandee, I HAVE to work”.  I understand and agree.  I spend about 40-60 hours per week at work.  I get it.  However. when you pick up your children after work, put down your damn phone, and stop checking work emails.

There is a single father of a client of mine that brags about having 50/50 custody.  He struts around in front of other parents and loves telling his significant other how dedicated he is.  The truth is, he constantly hires babysitters, has the kids go to “sleepovers”, when he wants to go out, and when that doesn’t work out he gives them back to their mother and says he has to work late.  His priority is most decidedly not his children.  The children’s mother, is constantly frustrated finding out after the fact that her children were with yet another babysitter. and she wasn’t told where they were (a whole other soapbox).  Additionally, he pays child support as a 50% parent while averaging the visitation of a one night a week and every other weekend, dad.  I feel for his children when they finally realize their dad is constantly blowing them off when it isn’t a public forum where he gets “credit” for showing up, such as a sports function.

There, is an example of a father with messed up priorities.  This is not the case for all parents by any means.  But please take a moment and figure out how much time you actually spend with your kids.  I bet you’ll be surprised how little it is.  Take out the morning scramble, the after school chores/showers/homework/dinner/bed, etc., and actually tally the time spent doing something with them.  Now, please state again for the record what your priorities are…. makes you cringe huh?

“It’s not enough to be busy; so are the ants.  The question is: what are you busy about?”  ~Henry David Thoreau

Let me explain that I despise how our society has set itself up.  We spend the majority of our time doing a job we may or may not like, with people we didn’t choose.  Meanwhile, by the time we get home to the people we love and actually like, we are exhausted.  We give our best to strangers and then try to “survive” the evening with those we want to be there for the most.  There HAS to be a better way.  Until I think of one though, we have to live life on life’s terms.

It’s nothing you are doing wrong.  We have to juggle immediate family, extended family, work, friends, self-care, possibly school, religious practice (if this applies), exercise/health, volunteering/community work, etc., and that’s all after maintaining food, clothing, and shelter.

Here’s some ways of maximizing your time with your children:

  1. Attempt to work out an alternate work schedule.  When I was still married to the girls’ father, I worked from 4:30AM-8:30AM and then again from 6:00PM-10:00PM and stayed home with the girls while he worked regular business hours.  Now, I often get up at 4:30AM and work from 5:30AM-5:00PM.  This way I can get in the extra hours required by work (and my budget) while not creating late evenings/nights that take away from family time.
  2. Register your kids for sports and/or extracurricular activities.  I know this sounds counter intuitive but I love going to cheer the kids on at their games on Saturday mornings.  Moreover, I enjoy getting to see them every Saturday even if it isn’t my weekend.
  3. Have “family dinners”.  I know this sounds hokey and old-fashioned but we have our best conversations while sitting around the dining room table and I can actually focus on what my family is telling me without doing 10 other things at the same time.
  4. Add your children into activities you need to get done or want to do.  I don’t go to the gym when I have my girls but we do run together, take walks, ride bikes, jump rope, do yoga videos, etc.  My girls and I even participate in races.  I need my exercise, and so do they.  I don’t ditch them for the gym, we do it together and we have really great conversations on our long walks.
  5. Combine responsibilities when possible.  Try and do friend maintenance when your kids can be included.  If it’s kid friendly, you can see your friends and include your children.  [Sidenote:  this should not be the only time you spend with your friends!]  Additionally, let your kids volunteer with you.  They need to learn to give back anyway, right?
  6. Do something that doesn’t suck.  As Jerry Seinfeld says, “There’s no such thing as fun for the whole family”.  I HATE Chuck E Cheese and the like.  All the blinky, beepy, screamy….no thank you.  And by “no thank you”, I mean I’d rather roll around naked in broken glass.  But, there are things I DO like.  I love animals.  So, we have zoo passes,and I take the kids to aquariums, animal rescues, etc.  We all love “the city” (our little downtown) so I take them to the kids floor of the library and ride the trolley (both free, BONUS!).  These are all things the family can do that may not be sitting on the beach with a Corona and a cigar, but you won’t be trying to think of ways to feign illness to get out of.  This will at least motivate you to not sit in front of the television instead; not exactly quality time.
  7. Break up the things that cannot be avoided.  I completes my BS and MA while my kids were underfoot.  At the start, I could get all my homework done when the girls were with their dad, or in the evening after they went to bed.  Sometimes, I would even get up before they woke up and do it very early in the morning (which is no longer an option with the early work hours).  However, the longer I was in the program, the harder and more time-consuming the work is becoming.  So, we break it up.  I do most after bedtime but if some seeps into our weekend, I split it up.  I let them know I need one hour to write a discussion post. but then we will make smoothies.  Then I need two hours to work on a paper, but then we’ll play a board game.  This keeps me from having to spend all afternoon locked in my office while they rot in front of the television.

Try not to beat yourself up about what MUST be done.  Children need to know they are important without the world revolving around them.  That said, they need to know they are a priority.  Once they are grown, there are no second chances.  Unless you want to sit up at night eating ice cream and crying while listening to Harry Chapin’s, Cats In The Cradle, you may want to make sure you are maximizing your time with your kids.