Dropping the Parenting Bomb on Your Ex Unexpectedly
THIS IS NOT OKAY. Text from daughter at 7:00am.
[These events happened a few weeks ago, so I’ve cooled off and tried to temper them with some perspective.]
Good morning! I’m sorta glad the ex-y got my daughter a phone. BUT not if the primary purpose is so she can leave my her and her 12-yo brother home alone.
The first time this sort of thing happened, I got a “Kids are home sick, I’ve asked babysitter to check in on them through the day, can you check in on them too?”
What are my options? As a good Dad, there was only one thing I could do. I went and picked them up, on her day. She had started a new job. I was being supportive, without a fuss. But I did not appreciate the unplanned reorientation of my entire day.
When we were married the scenario went more like this.
1. We’ve got a sick kid. How can we divide the care for him while keeping our jobs?
2. Then we would have the opportunity to discuss how to juggle our mutual schedules to minimize the impact on our work responsibilities.
3. The priority was on providing comfort for the kid, AND being flexible with one another.
Today I have much less flexibility (patience maybe) to be jerked out of my regularly planned work day because she couldn’t find a sitter, or couldn’t rearrange her day around her responsibility.
My responsibility is to the sick kid. My flexibility is in helping and being a good coparent to the ex-y. She gave up the mutually-shared-responsibility-and-drop-any-and-everything-to-make-it work-for-you partner a number of years ago.
I’m happy to report that this scenario played out much less antagonistic than it might first appear from my response. We talked on the phone. My daughter had jumped to conclusions and was doing her part in the family system to care take. The ex-y was not really considering leaving our son at home alone, sick.
The better part is I got a chance to share my vehement abhorrence of her idea of leaving the kids without a supervising adult for ANY REASON. The childcare is her responsibility when the kids are on her watch. PERIOD. I can help, I am happy to help, and most of the time I’d rather have them with me than anywhere else in the world. But for the most part, when I’m not the ON Parent I’m working to pay for my house and a good portion of their mom’s house.
I have never had easy access to my anger. When I start standing up for myself, my family often thinks I’m being an asshole. Let me reframe that. My mom, sister, and ex-wife think I’m being an asshole when I start using anger to push back a bit on their overbearing demands and requests. Without it, the anger, we are emasculated. Male or female, we need to be able to get angry. Especially in a complex thing like a relationship. If there is no anger (and there was very little in my marriage) then there might be an anger problem. Not enough.
I pushed back with an angry response. I let the ex-y know that I would not be compliant with this type of activity. If she needs something from me, in terms of parenting, she needs to contact me directly. I did not respond to my daughter. I contacted the ex-y with my response. We did work it out. And in the same communication I was able to establish that our daughter was not going to be left home after school, just because she has a phone. She’s in fourth grade. And our sixth grade son is not a babysitter. NO.
If saying no, and needing to say it loudly and repeatedly makes me an asshole, well I’m learning to own that persona. My “real” asshole dad, sort of RAGED the hell out of all of us. So it’s hard to raise my voice. It’s hard to demand my point be taken seriously. And being raised by three strong women, and on emasculated brother, was not easy.
But we’re learning and getting better. And I will re-educate my immediate family that anger is okay. It doesn’t mean I’m nuts, or that I don’t like you or respect your ideas and boundaries. It means something has threatened me. And I’m willing to fight for it.
Just like my kids at the end of the marriage. I fought like a banshee to stay in the house the last two months, while they finished 2nd and 4th grade before exiting our family system. As hard as it was for both my ex-y and me, it was the right thing. And of course I was accused of being unreasonable, and “off my meds” for demanding this strategy. But I persevered. And I think the kids WON as a result.
Know what to fight for and what to let go. But when you are pushed, be ready to bring the heat. It’s okay. No body is going to be hurt physically. But feelings often are not the best guide for what is best or right.
The Off Parent
- The Divorce Library (reading list)
- Songs of Divorce (free listening library – youtube sourced songs)
- Laugh It Off (building a resource library of funny videos and other diversions)
- Facebook (follow us on Facebook and keep up with all the conversations)
- The 5 Love Languages (a book on love styles by Gary Chapman)
Footnote: There was a time I would do anything for my wife, if she was ill or needed help with a project. Um, now that she’s my ex-y I have a very different response to drama.