Communication In Lieu Of Resentment

Communication Crowd

Communication can be a pain. Imagine you need something or have to make a decision for your child.  Whether you have to choose a doctor, agree on an extracurricular activity, make a medical decision, decide on which school to send them to, whether you should buy them a pony so they like you better, whatever it is….

Now imagine that your child has one to three other parents, and you have to discuss every decision with this overwhelming crowd of people.  The correct, legal, moral, non-dick move is to include them all in decisions and come to an agreement among two to four people. Now imagine that you have done the research, gone to whatever tours, appointments, orientations, etc., which no other parent attends, and yet they all get to weigh in.  Worse, they can suddenly decide they no longer want to switch visitation, allow an activity, or transport during their visitation. Now, you’ve wasted your time doing the research only to be outvoted because one to three others decided they no longer want to do it. This is especially infuriating after being asked to “look into it,” and when every reason given could have ruled it out prior to the research and legwork.

This happens to so many co-parents.  It is incredibly frustrating when one parent has spent time researching an extracurricular activity — that you’ve all agreed upon — and after all the research is done, the parent is told that another parent doesn’t have time to <insert excuse>.  Further, they are told that they are welcome to pay for it and do all the driving if they want to enroll the child.  The child of course, who they’ve already said yes to, because everyone agreed prior, is now super excited — and your head wants to explode.  When I go to doctor’s appointments and then have to give a full report to one to three people who were too busy to come, but still they argue about what tests to agree to and get annoyed about questions I should have asked, I restrain myself from saying, “you could have come!”

Flames, flames on the side of my face….

Flames Communication

I use myself as an example because so many of you say how “zen” I am about our family dynamics.  Usually, that is true, but every now and then…not so much.  I have my freak-outs, and the girls’ dad handles many gracefully and comes up with a solution, which makes me less stabby, head explody, throat punchy.  Well, most of the time….

So, what do we do about this?  No, lighting his car on fire is not a viable option (come on ladies, we all know you do that when he cheats on you, and you, my dear, are already divorced).

Basset Car Fire Communication

Here’s the deal…this is painful for me to write because, while pissed, I still have to admit it’s mostly my fault that this happens.  While it sucks that I don’t have help, I also told them, “I’ve got it” or “I’ll let you know how it goes.”  Why should anyone step up if you will do it all for them?  Is it still shitty? Sure.  Mostly, because you end up doing all the work.  Make no mistake, having two to four parents does not split the workload two to four ways.  It often times just means more people to confer with.

Before resentment builds, ask for help.

Tell them what you are planning and say (which I swear I have done), “I’m going to look this up and do the legwork but I need to be sure we agree, because if I waste my time and it’s a flat ‘no’, I will hurt someone.”  Parents (especially moms) feel the need to “do it all.”  Doing it all means resentment and burnout.  Being overwhelmed isn’t failure, it’s recognizing you need to reevaluate your priorities.  

Alternately, you can split up the workload.  I make my own schedule, so I handle appointments that are scheduled in advance.  Their step-mother has offered to take them on some days off and split up the amount of work missed.  Their dad researched the last extra-curricular, because I was getting overwhelmed.  All three of us rotate when a kid is sick so none of us are missing too much work.  Is this easy to work out?  Hell no.  It also means you have to communicate.  I know communication with your ex and/or their new spouse can be tough, but the tone of your relationship depends on it.  That tone bleeds over to the sidelines at a game, or awkwardness at a school function, which isn’t fair to your children.

Every time you must have one of these discussions, have a glass of wine first, take a deep breath, and discuss calmly.  Be honest because open and honest communication is just as essential to co-parenting as it is to anything else.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve told my ex, “between the girls, work, and the house, I just don’t have time to figure out ____________”, and he picks it up.  Come on, if people can be “sister wives,” we should be able to figure out football practice.

Worries Are Inflated When My Kids Are Away

Balloons Edited

Every parent has been there.  Your kid coughs during the day and it’s allergies and you tell them to go play.  Kid coughs at 3:00AM and they must have the Bubonic Plague and you start searching for boils.  Anyone who says they haven’t overreacted, is lying.

My youngest had to have an Endoscopy recently.  I kid you not, when asked what we are dealing with, the Pediatric Gastroenterologist responded, “we could be dealing with anything from heartburn to cancer, I won’t know what until I get in there”.  I almost turned his testicles into a bow tie.  So her parents, Aunt and Uncle, and grandparents spent the next 2 weeks practicing deep breathing exercises and sitting on the edge of our seats while awaiting biopsy results.  I never again want to have to say “biopsy” when discussing my child.  And you wonder why I drink?  Needless to say she got lots of Popsicles (I would’ve gotten her a damn pony had she asked).  Turns out it was just a little inflammation but seriously, who the hell says that?

Every summer my girls go away with their grandparents for anywhere for 2-4 weeks.  I miss them terribly and I never want them to go but I let them because it would be wrong to deny them these memories with their grandparents just because I’ll miss them.

That being said, I spend that time constantly telling myself that just because I haven’t gotten an update does not mean a band of rednecks has found them in the woods and is systematically torturing them.  Most likely, they just don’t have signal…..spaz.

Past years have been tough because the girls weren’t old enough to contact me on their own and ex-daughter-in-law, is not high on their grandmother’s list of priorities.  Therefore, I sometimes go for extended periods without hearing how they are doing (one summer was 10 days and I made sure it was clear that if that ever happened again, they would no longer be going on these trips – boundaries folks).  Recently though, they have iPads and can FaceTime me (how is that a verb?) regularly so it has been better.

What does all this mean for you?  It sucks being away from your kids and as divorced parents, we have to do it regularly.  It’s never fun and it’s easy to overreact when you aren’t there, or you only have half of the story.  Sidenote: Don’t listen to stories from a kid and take it as Gospel.  Ask the other parent before getting upset because let’s face it, kids are idiots.  Don’t look at me like that, when we were kids we were idiots too (some of us didn’t grow out of it) and yes, yes, your child is brilliant.  Can we move on?

The chances of them being dead on the side of the road or contracting the Bubonic Plague is slim, so simmer down.  Take a deep breath and calm yourself.  If it has been excessive (like 10 freaking days), then speak up and set boundaries – they are still your children too.  Otherwise remember that you don’t want to be tethered to your ex either (which is why you’re divorced), so let them do their thing and talk yourself off the ledge.

Self-care goes a long way here.  Take a bath, get some exercise (yes, I’m one of those crazy people who believe that exercise induced endorphins can keep you from being homicidal), do the shit that gets put aside when your kids are with you (or just freaking sleep in because yay! the kids are gone), or whatever you need to do for YOU.  Take care of yourself and your psychotic symptoms will lessen.  After all, your kids are fine and they still love and miss you.

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.

People Don’t Change, Except When They Do….

People Change Edited

Some say that people don’t change.  Some say you can do anything you put your mind to and people can change if they really want to.  So which is true?

Both.

The person someone is, at their core, doesn’t change.  Some things are simply set.  However, as people experience life and survive struggles, their outlook changes and they learn different coping mechanisms (some good, some….not so much).

As parents we learn that our children change in some ways, but not others.  My oldest has always been the most fearless person I know.  My youngest is cautious and thinks things through.  The fussy baby in need of constant stimulation is still ridiculously active.  The one who played with her feet for hours in the infant swing, still prefers to be alone and do her own thing.  Most parents call bullshit on tabula rasa once you have more than one child and realize that you did the same crap and they are completely different.  These things will remain because they have been this way since they were born.  On the other hand, my oldest who once loved everything pink now chooses blue because “pink is a baby color, mom”.  My youngest has learned to make people laugh when they are mad at her (which makes discipline a challenge), instead of crying.  When we are dealing with adults though, we forget that they change too.

I am often surprised by my ex.  The man I knew who survived on Skittles and Dr. Pepper and who considered exercise to be the hand movements necessary to play video games, suddenly shuns carbs, runs, cycles, and consumes sushi?  I don’t know why I’m surprised, I’ve changed as well.

For various reasons during my formative years (I will not bore you with the details), I developed some unhealthy coping mechanisms.  My sister and I were constantly thrown curve balls (generally in the form of a screaming parent that you had no idea you upset).  As a result, I learned to plan ahead of time for everything (even insignificant things), to try to gain control and head off problems.  In addition to this neurotic habit, the younger version of me didn’t like rocking the boat.  I would hold things in until I lost…my…shit.  This left the recipient assuming I was having a bad day instead of an understanding that they had been an asshole for an extended period.  So I ended up with a reputation for having a bad temper while they were left confused because of all the times I had said nothing.  Wasn’t that nice of me?  No.  I wasn’t giving them an opportunity to change the behavior.  Keeping shit in while planning every moment of your life is a horrible combination.

These things are rarely an issue now.  Sure, I have my mental health lapses, but these are cured with deep breathing and wine (sometimes it requires more wine than breathing).  I am now more direct and explain what I need before I’m ready to twist someone’s head off.  While I still plan events in advance (mostly because I’m responsible for juggling several people and their associated responsibilities), I’m no longer as frazzled when plans change.

This isn’t because I reached some magical state of enlightenment.  It’s because my life is different.  My kids are older (I really don’t miss wiping butts), I enjoy my work, I’ve earned my degrees, I have more stable friendships, etc.

I didn’t always handle things well and therefore people who have known me prior to these changes rely on what they used to know about me.  When childcare falls through and the girls suddenly need to go to day-camp at the rate of $140 per day, my ex will assume it’s my need to plan or that I’m freaking out.  When I say, “I need to budget because I don’t have the funds to not plan for these expenses”, I mean just that.  I’m saying what I need, and why.  It’s not because I always have to plan.  It’s because I have to budget as well as make transportation arrangements, because I don’t want to get shit-canned by my job.  I’m being direct so this doesn’t keep happening (which eventually leads to an explosion).  I cannot work with this, means just that.  It does not mean I’m having a panic attack over it or blaming anyone.

When dealing with your ex (or anyone for that matter), don’t assume you know them.  People actually do adjust their coping mechanisms and their outlook.  I know it’s hard but when your ex speaks to you, simply listen to the words and remember you don’t know them like you did.  Even if they haven’t changed, the dynamic has.  The other thing to remember….if you understood them so well, you probably wouldn’t be divorced.  Take a deep breath, take things at face value, and remember that people change.

Religion and Co-Parenting

Right Wrong Edited

Along with some other fascinating demands (yet outside the jurisdiction of the court – that whole separation of church and state thing), of divorced parents, is attempting to force the other parent to observe their religion, in the other home.  Hopefully we are seeing a pattern here that you do not control what goes on in the other parents’ home even when your children are there.  I completely understand that religion is a touchy subject and I await the flood of emails once I hit “Publish”.  But, some things must be addressed.

If you are a religious person, and you want to raise your child in your religion, you have every right to do so.  Your ex cannot tell you that you cannot take your child to church and raise your child in your religion, during your visitation.  It is your right as that child’s parent to teach your child about your religion.  That being said, NO, that does not mean that you get to show up on their doorstep and take the child on their days.  If a church event falls on the other parent’s visitation day, your child will not be allowed to attend without their permission.  This is where it is prudent for everyone to play nice.  It also does not mean that the other parent is required to observe said religion that you have chosen in their home.

If you are a non-religious person, that’s perfectly fine too.  You do not have to teach your child about God and organized religion.  This does not make you a bad parent, and you are perfectly capable of teaching right and wrong, without the fear of God and/or hell, as backup.  That being said, do not assume you are right.  Atheists are just as annoying as religious zealots.  Remember, as Mark Maron says, “there are no atheist soup kitchens”.  If your ex is trying to teach your children not to steal, kill, rape, pillage, etc., these aren’t bad lessons and they are not hurting anyone, so just stop.

Neither side will know who is right until we are all too dead to gloat, so stop competing.  

The trickiest situation is when each parent believes in a different religion altogether.  This is more difficult because you feel strongly that yours is accurate.  You really feel as if you are fighting for your child’s soul here, which is decidedly worth fighting for.  I get it.  But…yes, there’s a but.  You two don’t agree on things, that’s why you’re divorced.  I know this seems obvious, but I keep coming back to it because parents forget this.  Take a step back, do your part just like you do in every other area of your child’s life, and remember that what your ex does, or teaches in their home is none of your business.  Also, (and I know you don’t want to hear this, but it needs to be said), I don’t know any religion that condones divorce (correct me if I’m wrong).  If you two are so darn religious that you are at each other’s throats about it, how did you end up divorced?  Shouldn’t you be off building schools in Africa and flagellating yourself?  Exactly, you don’t get to be religious when it’s convenient.  It makes the rest of us look bad.  Stop it.

Your child will have questions when they receive conflicting information.  Use this as an opportunity to teach tolerance.  Many people believe many things.  That they should listen to everyone’s different beliefs because you can take something away from each person and their relationship with God, or lack there of, for that matter.

At the end of the day, you need to be honest with yourself.  Do not use religion as something to fight about (historically this fails *sweeps Spanish Inquisition under the rug*), because you like power struggles with your ex.  In the end, your child is going to grow up and decide for themselves.  You do your own thing, in your home, and the rest will fall into place.

Refusing to Argue Doesn’t Make You Enlightened, It Makes You A Controlling Bitch

Hemingway Edited

I know several, “I don’t argue” people.  I thought these were the exceptions but more and more, readers have mentioned being frustrated with people in their lives who refuse to discuss issues and never hear what the other party is saying.

For all of you who refuse to discuss issues, who think they already know what the other person is going to say, or simply don’t like being uncomfy having a tough talk, refusing to argue does not make you enlightened or superior, it makes you a controlling bitch.  Stop it.  No one likes it and it makes you look like a prick.

There are going to be disagreements in life and people are not always going to share your views or feelings.  It would be pretty boring if this were not the case.  If this person is important to you or in the case of co-parenting, important to your kids and a general fixture in your life whether you like it or not (because suck it up, you slept with them), you are required as an adult to deal with issues and work through them even when it isn’t fun.  Life’s tough and it doesn’t get any easier.  Do it anyway.

For the person trying to discuss and being shot down by, “I’m more enlightened than you and do not lower myself by ever getting upset about anything”, (hear, “it makes my tummy hurt and I don’t want you having the satisfaction of knowing I’m upset too because I’m an emotional 12-year-old”), there are ways to deal with this.

  1. Remember that people who “don’t fight”, are actually controlling.  This type of control is hard to identify but if you know what to look for, it’s there.  Control monsters have learned they can actually hurt and control sometimes, by doing nothing.  Sometimes it can be by simply ignoring you to let you know how unimportant your existence is to them (but what they really are, is threatened).  Other times, they make comments, stir up shit, and then fade into the crowd leaving you pissed off, issues unresolved, and then they get the satisfaction of you coming to them to resolve it.  If you can identify this, it will go a long way in preserving your sanity.
  2. Write it out. When a topic is sensitive and you are afraid a discussion will be too heated or the other party is ignoring you, this gives you the opportunity to get your thoughts and feelings out in total without the other person inflaming you further.  Additionally, this gives you the added benefit of not having to keeping playing out this argument in the shower and in the mirror while getting ready for work because the asshole won’t talk to you about it.  Not looking like a mental patient is always positive.  They may not read it but at least you get to say what you need to say and hope that some tiny piece may have been understood.  If it is about your kids, sometimes even if you want to let it go, it still has to be said because these are your children and it’s your job.
  3. Let it go when you can.  I am definitely NOT a proponent of talking out every issue.  This will drive everyone crazy because moods change and chances are it wasn’t that big of a deal.  If this issue is not a safety concern or threatening to end your relationship (whatever that may be), try to let it go.  If this is your ex, you are not a couple for a reason and you are not going to agree.  If this is anyone else, they have no power over you.  Let them go on feeling superior, who gives a shit?  The answer is no one, because 9 times out of 10, the person who does this has a constant stream of friends and/or romantic partners that come and go because they can only be tolerated in small doses and since they don’t work through issues like an adult, long-term relationships are all but impossible with this person.
  4. Drink wine and say “fuck ’em”.  You are trying to keep your head above water like everyone else and their immature version of communication or lack there of, is always going to be a much bigger problem for them than it is for you.

I know this is frustrating and dealing with these people makes you want to pull your hair out but don’t.  If they ever want to be an adult and talk, you’ll want to look your best.

Stepping Into Their Shoes

Assholes Edited

We talk a lot about how hard it is to be a single parent, a parent in general, and how kids have it tough but they have to be responsible anyway.  I know it appears as if everyone should suck it up.  However, as my sister tells our friends, “Don’t let her fool you.  You mess with her family and she becomes a mama bear.”  She’s right.  Sometimes, transitions are hard and my girls just need a damn break.  This is perfectly normal and I try to give it to them.  Your kids need to understand that they are understood and not in fact, surrounded by asshole adults who don’t have a clue how they are feeling.  Validation is key in almost every relationship, especially with your children.

You should cut your ex and yourself some slack.  Please take a moment and think about how hard this is on your kids.  Now, don’t misunderstand, I don’t think having divorced parents is an excuse for bad behavior, and adults who still blame their parents failed marriage for their relationship issues, need to grow up.  More than half the population is divorced, stop making excuses.  You are not unique.

All that said, having two homes fucking sucks.  Sure, you get two of every holiday and many times, two of everything.  But they also have to constantly keep track of whose home their belongings are located.  They do without things they forget.  They have to remember things other kids don’t, because they can miss school deadlines if what they need is at the other house.  They struggle with stability and remembering what rules apply at which home.  They miss out on events depending on what weekend they fall on.  Most importantly, sometimes they just want mom while at dad’s house, or vice versa.

Think about the last vacation you went on.  Trying to remember what to pack and get where you needed to go.  Having to stop somewhere because you forgot something and cannot be without it for the duration of the trip.  The stress of being out of sorts and having to “settle in”, when you arrive.  And this is for VACATION.  Your children have to do this every week while attending school, meeting deadlines, practicing their instrument or sport, etc.

I am not saying that your kids don’t need to figure it out, or that they don’t need to be responsible.  But remember that sometimes, they didn’t want to leave dad and that doesn’t mean they don’t love you.  Sometimes, they have a bad day and wanted to sleep with their smelly, faded, well-loved, teddy bear, and they forgot it.  They don’t have our adult freedoms and cannot simply go out and pick up what they forgot or feel they need.  Step into their shoes and see things from their point of view.  Your kids will really appreciate it and you’ll be a better parent for it.