Dealing Gracefully With A New School Year

School Edited

So by the end of the last school year I was threatening to pummel a teacher who thought it wise to assign a project the last week of school.  Seriously?  I just didn’t have it in me anymore.  The administrators were lucky at that point that I wasn’t sending them to school in tutus and feather boas, in lieu of replacing their stained, ripped, and in some cases, buttonless uniform polo shirts thanks to the kid who was chewing them off….gross.

We happily embarked on summer and enjoyed the lack of an alarm while it was still freaking dark out.  We swam, got tan from failing to make the 57th application of 189 SPF sunscreen, barbecued, and stayed up late.  But there is always a rub…. summer camp is freaking expensive.  Everyone complains about holiday expenses but for us, summer is much worse financially.  It’s an arm and a leg for it to start hours later and end hours sooner.  If I can’t work a full day, I may as well keep them home.

As such, summer also means attempting to write, work full-time, and you know, maintain a family and a home, all with children under foot.  The girls are like tiny soldiers.  They know the rules, they help me at the office, and they don’t dare make a sound when a client calls me.  That said, they talk… a lot.  Concentration becomes hard.  Hell, it’s an Olympic level sport trying to remember what the shit I was writing.

Now it’s time to return to school….  We attend the open house and it’s chaos.  The kids are all acting like they’ve been apart for years.  They are hugging and jumping up and down.  Did I mention all the squealing?  We have not accomplished all the reading we intended to and everyone has school supplies that were apparently “online” (thanks for narrowing that down).  I overhear a mother talking about “intensive violin” and private tutors.  Meanwhile, my youngest is wearing two different shoes (I had at least fed them and I’m pretty sure they were mostly clean).  It appears I’m not quite ready to do this all over again.

After, the three of us head to the office to get a few things done and a client calls me screaming that her ex-husband didn’t buy the school supplies, and now she’s stuck with the bill.  Fuck, I still need school supplies….

Most of my readers are co-parents.  Please, please, please, for the love of all that is holy, read your legal documents.  Whether that is a Final Judgment of Dissolution,  a Marital Settlement Agreement, a Paternity Agreement, or the like.  School supplies are almost never listed unless you have written your own custom agreement.  The Court does this so you don’t fight all year-long over who bought the last damn pencil.  However, most agreements do state the percentages that you will use to split your expenses.  If your income is close, it is usually 50/50, but it could be 75/25, etc.  I generally recommend that individuals use these as a guideline for any expenses not specifically listed.

For uniforms: get your own.  Children should have clothing at each house and this applies to uniforms/school clothes.  Food, clothing, and shelter are no-brainers.  Don’t fight about it.  If you are worried about your clothes going to the other house, then mark the tags and politely ask for them to be returned.  No, you won’t always get them back and it sucks, but life is tough.  Is it really worth fighting over t-shirt?

To track shared parental expenses, use a shared spreadsheet.

List expenses on the spreadsheet and email any necessary receipts to the other parent.  We don’t generally send receipts because it’s time-consuming and we have a general idea of what things cost.  Simplicity is key to not making each other nuts.

I wish you all luck for the new school year.  Here’s to all the homework, projects, deadlines, and events.  Try and enjoy it.  They children will only be this age/grade for this year.

Worries Are Inflated When My Kids Are Away

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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.

It’s Not a Break – Also Why a Manicure Gave Me a Panic Attack

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I’m exhausted, and it’s all my fault….

I wish more people would admit that.  You are only as busy as you want to be.  Learn to say “no” and stop taking things on.  Also, I suck at this.

For those of you who don’t know, I am a mother, aunt, sister, friend, I run my own practice, I write this blog, and I care for a house that is in constant need of attention.  I know there’s some other shit in there but I’m really tired and don’t remember.  I choose the number of clients I take on and I choose what I say, “yes” to.  Don’t feel bad for me, my exhaustion is self-induced.

That being said, I feel your pain….  I know that the kids going to the other parent isn’t really a break.  It’s not like you fly off to Hawaii every time they go to their house.  It is not as if when they leave, I am no longer responsible for them.  That their doctor appointments and illnesses are no longer my problem.  Do you know what I do when they are away?  I work my ass off so that I have more time for them when they come home.

I knew it was time to reign in my obligations when a manicure gave me a panic attack.  I know, I know…at least you had time to get a manicure!  Hear me out.  I bring my laptop to the nail salon.  As they work on my feet I write, answer emails, and/or draft documents, complete assessments.  But, I had had gel polish the time before and they had to wrap my fingers to get it off.

I panicked…How will I type?  I can’t even slide to unlock my phone to check emails from there with the tin foil on my fingers.  I frantically start asking the nail tech if there is another way to do this.  The nice Vietnamese lady smiles and says, “why you come, if you not relax?”  I had no good answer and stared at her in horror.  As if people come here to relax?!?!?  I come here so I don’t look like a troll who lives under a bridge eating goats when I have to meet with clients!  I almost slapped myself.  How had it gotten this bad?  Being busy doesn’t earn you a medal, it means you cannot manage your time.  Just as being a perfectionist means you are afraid to fail, but that’s a whole other rant.

Children of divorced homes grow up differently.  Besides the obvious double homes, holidays, and such, the time with each parent is more child focused.  It’s not that they are catered to and spend every weekend at Disney.  However, the parent generally wants to make the most of the time with the children and as such, adjust their time accordingly.  While I don’t make every weekend all about the girls, I have explained to those who ask, that we have them 4 non-work/school days per month.  I have half the time “regular” parents have to create lasting memories and enjoy each stage, and I want it to be special.  I don’t cater to them and I have been known to say, “I just spent 3 hours at Chuck-E-Cheese (also known as my personal hell), Mommy needs wine and a nap, go entertain yourself”.  What I don’t do however, is use that time to clean out my closet and catch up on work.  That’s for when they are with their dad.

Parents who are not divorced think that time away from the children is some magical vacation.  What is hard to explain is that parents who share their children get much less done when their children are home, because they try and cram in the 50% of time they feel they’ve missed.  Further, they are still responsible for their needs regardless of where they sleep that day.  While we switch every other week, I very rarely go a whole week without seeing my girls.

The point is, your children sleeping at another house does not alter your level of responsibility.  Additionally, you are probably behind on things you let slip when the kids were home.  What we need here is balance.  Make the time with your kids special absolutely.  But, don’t drive yourself to breathing into a paper bag while the Vietnamese employees glance in your direction and all you can make out is “crazy white woman”.  That’s never a good time.

Actual Abuse

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No one likes to talk about child abuse.  It makes people sad, upset, angry, (in my case borderline homicidal), and a range of other emotions.  But, if we only ever discuss the warm and fuzzies, we will never learn anything right?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 686,000 children were victims of abuse and neglect in 2012.  Of those 686,000, an estimated 1,640 died as a direct result.  Of the children who experienced maltreatment or abuse, over 75% suffered neglect; more than 15% suffered physical abuse; and just under 10% suffered sexual abuse.  Approximately 80% of reported child fatalities as a result of abuse and neglect were caused by one or more of the child victim’s parents.  

I have to say it:  What…the…fuck…is…wrong…with…people?

People are beating their children to death but talk about how upsetting an ASPCA commercial is because the puppies are sad.  I love me some puppies but seriously, how are we not doing something about this?  We have DCF reviewing cases because some bitter ex filed a false claim to piss off the ex that rejected them and we cannot get them into the homes of the children who need it.  Which brings me to my point….

Those stats are ACTUAL abuse.  Your ex taking the kids to McDonald’s, is NOT child abuse.  Your ex setting a later bedtime than you do in your home, is NOT child abuse.  Your child being exposed to your ex’s significant other (because God forbid they like someone other than you), is NOT child abuse.  Giving your child popcorn before the age of 4 (it is a choking hazard not a health risk), is NOT child abuse.  Your ex giving your kids non-organic foods or toys that aren’t made of only wood hand carved by tiny elves who live in a tree (I mean seriously, whose kids actually like that shit anyway?),  in NOT child abuse.  I could go on.  You should hear the crap people bitch about.

We have real problems here (see above for those of you with short-term, single parent, lack of sleep, memory issues), your ex doing things differently than you is not abuse whether you like it or not.  Further, I’m willing to wager that if you guys did everything the same and thought so much alike, you would not be divorced.  This is one issue that I will not joke about nor apologize for my snarkiness.  If you have filed a DCF report, which is bogging down our system, creating unnecessary work for our already overworked and underpaid government employees, and therefore keeping children who actually need help from getting it, you deserve  worse than to be offended by my pissed off blog post.  Additionally, you probably shouldn’t tell me where you live.  There will be abuse and it won’t be of the children.

Happy Easter! Thinking Differently.

Kermit

This is how much I like Easter….I REALLY love Easter.  Easter in our house is bigger than Christmas.

You know why?  Because I didn’t use to see my girls for any other holiday (other than Halloween which often falls on a weekday and is not shared with family).

People always gasp when I say this and I explain that I agreed to this.  I didn’t have a large family at the time and I wanted the kids to keep the same traditions they had always had.  I feared change and every parenting book said they’d become serial killers if we didn’t have consistency.  I now know it’s all bullshit, but I didn’t know that then.

Regardless, I’ve learned to think differently….and I’m not just making the best of it.  I truly enjoy the traditions and way of life that we, as a family, have created.

I don’t need to make a big fuss over Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas morning.  We celebrate those when we feel like it.  In fact, making a huge celebration out of Easter means that I have less competition.  No one cares if you want Easter dinner at your house, no one complains that you saw this parent/family member for Thanksgiving so it MUST be our turn, etc.

When your children have multiple homes, you have to be creative.  Not the overused, “think outside the box”, but instead, think differently. It’s only a problem if you make it a problem.  Alternately, anytime can be a celebration.  We love making Christmas last an entire weekend.  It may be a week after Christmas but who cares?  We love having everyone over for Easter because most don’t have other obligations anyway.

Anything can be special if you make it so.  Pick a day.  Maybe in your house Wednesdays are special.  Maybe you have a water balloon fight every year on Secretaries’ Day.  Perhaps Boxing Day is popular in your home (no, I have no idea what that is but it’s on the calendar, and I don’t judge).  It doesn’t matter.  Your kids will remember traditions because they were important to you.  Not because Hallmark told you you needed to make it so.

You’re Clueless: Supporting The Co-Parenting Parent

GUEST POST

Today’s guest post/public service announcement is brought to you by my sister and reader, Andee.          

  

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Andee:  When people talk about “fight or flight” I admit I am little confused. I go into this mode on a too regular basis, but it’s the “flight” part that is foreign to me. I don’t run. I dig my heel in, square my shoulders, and get ready to fight. There is a reason I am routinely referred to as “mama bear” and I consider anyone I love to be a cub.

So when I go through a traumatic family event vicariously through one of my cubs, I have to reign mama bear in, and remember that while I may be the person standing right behind the person going through the life event, it is not MY event. And what that person needs is one part teddy bear (giving them a soft place to fall), part elephant (really big ears and a closed mouth) and only a small part of mama bear.

I have learned this like I have learned virtually everything else in my life, the hardest way possible. I became educated on the subject only after I had screwed up royally, and there are too many cringe worthy moments to list. In the hopes that you can become educated without the list of ways I messed that one up, here are what I wish I had known then…

1. You are clueless. You don’t know jack. No really, you don’t know a thing, and you need to accept that fact before you open up those pretty lip glossed lips. Even if there was absolutely no embellishment, no expansion and 100% of the truth told 100% of the time, you still only know 50% of one person’s interpretation of an event. Think of it as that person’s facebook feed in reverse, instead of the highlights, you’re only hearing the lowlights. I am not suggesting that the person you are talking to is lying, but there are only two people in that relationship and you are not one of them. No matter how much experience you have co-parenting yourself, understand that their situation is different.

2. There is going to be fallout you don’t expect. When my sister and brother-in-law got divorced, my children lost a beloved uncle. I had to answer questions about my own marriage – in short, if they could get divorced, doesn’t that mean you and Daddy could too? Holidays where we had hard fast traditions needed to be modified, and sometimes we were less than thrilled with those modifications. Suddenly I had to be sensitive to rules my nieces had that were new, and I was expected to honor just like their mom was. There was a learning curve for all of us.

3. Learn how to listen. Really listen. No using this as an excuse to complain about your own problems, or how this issue is better or worse than yours. Use your big elephant ears and shut the heck up.

4. Never plan anything without synchronizing your calendars. In a lot of cases today, parents are splitting custody 50/50 which means the person you are supporting may only have their kids every other weekend, weekday whatever. Plan your activities around their custody schedule. Asking them to move it around is insensitive, makes them “owe” the other parent one, and is usually so stressful whatever delightful activity you have planned is simply not worth the hassle. Give them that courtesy.

5. Understand you might be a little jealous. And insensitive. And dare I say it again, clueless. When I talk to my divorced girlfriends there is a little part of me that wonders what it might be like to have a night off. Like an entire night where another adult was responsible for the health and well-being of my kids. I image rainbows, and unicorns, and bubble baths, and sleeping in until ten. There is not one single girlfriend I know who wouldn’t give up that illusion to have her kids 100% of the time, and will clarify the nights she has “off” are usually spent watching Supernatural and going to bed right after the laundry is dry. That’s where the insensitive thing comes in, there are times when I am complaining about my kids being up my butt, my husband being a sloth and watching a Top Gear marathon and they will say something to the effect of, “Well, at least they’re there with you.” Open mouth and insert everything you own. Don’t stop talking about your own problems, but stop and think before you speak (which is kinda good advice in general.)

6. Be a constant for the kids. Even the most successful co-parenting relationships have some areas where the kids get caught in the middle, despite everyone’s best efforts. Make an extra effort to be stable, consistent, and normal for them. Don’t buy them off, they’re too smart for that, and you won’t benefit from the relationship either. Invest in the them as people. Call them. Mail them little notes. Remember what they tell you. Play on-line games with them. Cluelessness is not ok here.

So where does mama bear come in? Right here. Put mama bear to bed. She needs her rest. Relationships are marathons, not sprints. Firing up your friend, alienating their ex, telling them what they should be doing is completely ineffective. It also makes the person feel like they have to explain themselves to you, or worse have to decide between you and their ex. Don’t do that to them. You can want to mama bear them, you can even tell them that, but channel your inner teddy bear instead.

~Andee Myatt – Guest Post Author (April 1, 2014)

Mandee comment for #5:  If you are a single parent, Please do not say things like, “at least they are with you”.  I may will smack you…hard.  Everyone has issues and co-parenting and life in general needs to be filled with tolerance.   Married parents have issues too, they are just different.  It’s not appropriate for married couples to look down on you for being a single parent, but it is equally shitty for single parents to insinuate that because another parent is married that they couldn’t possibly have a hard day.  As Ian Maclaren once said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” (now widely misattributed to Plato or Philo).  What the world needs is tolerance.

Thank you for tuning in today for this public service announcement.  Say “no” to drugs, and I’ll see you next week.

Be Honest With Your Children – Even When It Sucks

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We’ve all been there, it’s 3:00AM and the baby starts screaming.  He or she cares not that your alarm is going to go off in 3 hours and you are going to have to guzzle gallons of coffee to make it through your day.  Babies don’t care, they can’t care, because they lack the tools.  They lack empathy and they lack perspective.  They believe they are the only player….the only actor in everyone’s play (hell, I know some adults like that).  It takes years for children to realize that what they see, may not be what everyone else sees.  Years to go before they realize that everyone is the leading role in their own play.

Children operate under the “egocentric fallacy”.  Babies learn, “if I cry, they feed me”.  As they grow, this turns into, “if something bad happens, I must have caused it”.  As parents, it is our job to teach our children that they are not responsible for things that are beyond their control.  Further, children make things bigger than they actually are and they know more than you think they do.  This is a bad combination.  A white lie can turn disastrous in a child’s mind should it be left to fester.  They will believe that everything from divorce, to death, to mom’s crappy day at work was caused by them.

How can you help?  Be honest with your children, even when it sucks.  I’m not saying you need to explain things above their comprehension level.  You don’t have to explain infidelity or that their other parent was a terrible spouse.  A simple explanation of, “there are different types of love and the type you need for marriage just went away for us”.  If they get into specifics (usually from a parent who shares too much or from a conversation they overheard), just tell them that “those things happen when that love disappears.  People behave differently when they are not happy”.  It’s not an excuse, but it is a graceful way of not disclosing things that are either too old for them to understand, something that is simply none of their business, OR something that’s not true because someone is running his or her mouth.  This protects everyone.  It is often extended family that does the most gossiping and therefore, the most damage.

By the time people I knew played telephone, the version of why my ex and I split up was very freaking creative (and much more adventurous than I am), by the time it got back to me.  There were so many versions, I couldn’t keep track.  Kids hear these versions.  People are hurt, and they talk.  I promise the kids are listening.

We forget how much is going on in those little minds or how much they understand.  My girls are often processing something profound while I’m in the front seat craving chocolate, and thinking how I like the color yellow and kittens.

Just the other morning I come into the kitchen and said, “how are my two favorite people today?”  My oldest took on an astonished tone and asked, “what about daddy?”  I calmly explained that he is my friend and always will be, but my kids are my favorites and they have to be my priority.  She seemed satisfied with that answer, but let me tell you I wasn’t expecting to have that conversation at 6:30AM before my tea.  After this, why don’t you ask me where babies come from and what my net worth is?  

When I was a kid, my mom was super reserved and didn’t like talking about things that made her uncomfortable.  From telling me she didn’t know what tampons were (when asked while watching a commercial), to telling my sister that gay only meant happy when someone called her that in school.  Needless to say, she was not a huge source of information.  

Allow me to demonstrate:  I once went camping with my dad and his girlfriend.  I started my period for the first time and I thought I was dying.  I thought I was bleeding to death and since my mom had had a hysterectomy a few years prior, I assumed I had caught Ovarian Cancer, and was actually dying.  

Tumor

So, his girlfriend, (this nice lady who was effectively a stranger), had to explain to me what was happening and while in a campground bathroom, I had to figure out how to use feminine products….thanks for that.  I learned very quickly to go elsewhere for information than to ask my mother.  As a result, I heard plenty of colorful explanations for everything, much of which I cannot unknow.  Someone is going to teach your children.  Do not give away that opportunity.

I am always honest with my kids and have been from day one.  I don’t need to tell them adult versions but when my kids ask how you physically make a baby, I am honest and open with them.  Even when I’m uncomfortable, they deserve to know what’s going on.  I don’t have this kid:

Kindergarten Cop

because no one wants the weird kid (don’t lie, everyone loved Kindergarten Cop).  But still, they know the basics and therefore, they don’t run around asking other people.  So be honest with your kids, even when it sucks.

Contact And Loyalty Is A Privilege Not A Right

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Fair warning: this is not a popular topic, especially among parents.  If you get ruffled or become insecure easily, stop reading now (and maybe this isn’t the best blog for you, either).

Blood is thicker than water.  Family is forever.  Forgive and forget.  Turn the other cheek.  Be the bigger person.  I could go on, but I won’t.  Instead, I call bullshit.  Having contact with another human being regardless of family connection, friendship, or history, is a privilege not a right.

This gets every parents’ panties in a bunch.  “But these are my children!”  “My children should love me unconditionally.”  “But this is my mother/father/sibling/long-lost Aunt.  I have to let certain things slide.”  I contend that this notion is false.  So many readers and clients tell me that they treated their spouse as if they would always be there only to be surprised one day when they had had enough.  Everyone has a breaking point.

I cannot tell you how many times I felt alone when thinking, “why is it always my job to be the bigger person?”  I have had so many come to me since saying exactly that.  Sometimes you get tired of being the bigger person and sometimes you run out of cheeks to turn (I mean, we only have 4 right?).

When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.  ~ Victor Frankl

Your children will one day get this option.  Whether it is as final as severing contact or simply establishing boundaries (which if you raised a healthy adult, they should).  It would do every parent well to remember this.  Never assume that because you are a parent/spouse/sibling/extended family member/long time friend/beloved cousin twice removed, that you automatically gain access.  It may mean that they will put up with you longer, but it doesn’t give you immunity.  Unless you are a Czar, you shouldn’t assume that simply being born gives you a power position.  Positions and loyalty are earned.  Assuming that being a parent automatically makes your bad behavior untouchable is like assuming you’re a proper lady for giving a handjob with your pinky raised….you’re still giving a handjob and you’re not fooling anyone.

Do not misunderstand, I believe in family.  Family is by far the most important.  But family comes in many forms and sometimes you have to protect family from family, or yourself from family.

Only you can decide who gets to be in your life and who doesn’t.  You have a limited amount of time and energy to spend on this planet.  Only you choose how and with whom you spend it.  Further, only you decide the boundaries you put in place and the way you allow these people to treat you.  Remember that this is the case for everyone in your life.  

The People You Lose In Divorce – Spoiler Alert – It’s Not Just Your Spouse

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When people are deciding whether to end their relationship, they often focus on whether the impact of the divorce will impact them negatively or positively.  Whether the pros outweigh the cons.  Most importantly, whether they can live without their current spouse (of course you can, but how bad will it suck?).

What people forget is the collateral damage.  Of course the children are affected and if you are reading this, you are the type of parent that wants it to be as easy as possible on them.  What people don’t consider is that when you get divorced, it’s not simply who gets the couch and the fish, but who gets what friend and which family members are going to end their relationship with you.

So many of my readers email me and lament the friend that simply stops speaking to them.  They either choose sides or simply feel that your divorce makes them uncomfortable.  Women often treat other women poorly and no longer feel comfortable having them around their husbands (as if getting a divorce turns you into a dog in heat).  Some will stop responding to your invites because the fact that divorce hits home, and they worry that their relationship will end as well or maybe it should, and they are not ready to face that.

I learned this when my ex and I got divorced and I wrongly assumed that he had maintained friendships with people who had stopped speaking to me.  He was equally surprised as they were no longer interacting with him either.  We had simply both been dumped.  These people are not missed (real friends do not do this), but we were still surprised.

When dealing with family, you have to understand that your spouse’s family may very well stop speaking to you.  It hurts, but it is their job to support their family member and protect and care for them during this transition.  If they didn’t, you’d have to wonder what type of loyalty they possess and therefore, if you’d want them in your life anyway.  [Sidenote:  This stems from the “we don’t like them rule”.  If one family member is hurt by someone, you have to do damage control even if you are not taking sides.  Having a party and inviting two people who don’t want to see each other is never a good time.  Additionally, speaking to the offender could lead to allegations of gossiping, etc.  Just stay out of it.]

My ex father-in-law and I were very close friends for 5 years before I dated his son.  We had a relationship based on mutual respect and love.  It involved him helping me with things as a father figure, arguing/debating, and consuming mass quantities of hot wings and beer.  I was ecstatic to have him as a father-in-law.  When my ex and I split, things were said (not by me) and he chose to end our relationship.  I have seen him at the girls’ functions and he is cordial but we no longer have a relationship.  It was one of the most painful things about my divorce.  All that said, I’m glad.  My ex deserves a father like him and it be unfair for him to maintain a friendship with me.  I wish it wasn’t handled this way but his gruff inability to properly handle emotions has always been endearing.  I smile when the girls talk about him and I’m glad they have him as a grandfather.

I say this because people do not consider who they will lose in addition to their spouse.  This should not in any way keep you in a dead/abusive/failed/loveless relationship, but you need to prepare for this.  Being blindsided when someone simply stops returning your calls is much more hurtful than if you expect and prepare for this possible reaction.  Taking responsibility for your decision means understanding that others may not agree with it, and you may lose them.

Even if you do, you will be fine.  If you are already a single parent, you know you can handle just about anything by now.  People come and go as you grow.  It is normal to outgrow relationships and for relationships to end or evolve.  Be kind and open when you see them and make it clear that you are there if they ever change their mind.  In the meantime, you have a life to live.  Go live it.

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.