Anyone who is divorced and sharing custody of kids will probably agree with me that the first and most common question we are asked is, “Do you and your ex-wife get along?” or its variation, “Did you and your ex-wife stay friends?”
I never know where to begin to answer. I tend to be a pretty nosy person myself, so I don’t really resent the questions. I understand that they’re just trying to ascertain how difficult things are for my children and for me.
Saying, “It’s complicated” or “It’s none of your business” and walking away isn’t my style. But let’s be honest, divorce is complicated and unless you have several spare hours to hear the twists and turns I can’t really answer your question. The details are maddening, really. So, I blog about it. This blog isn’t titled, “Dadsprimalcream” because everything is hunky-dory all the time.
Some things do go smoothly…
I just made a quick mid-week trip (4 hours each way) out to see my kids. I arrived when school got out, took my 13 year old to get a haircut, watched the younger ones perform in their school talent show and took them all out to dinner to celebrate 2 of their birthdays that come a day apart this weekend when I won’t be there. Time spent with my kids is always rejuvenating.
By all appearances, my ex-wife and I do get along swimmingly. I picked the younger kids up from school, walked home with them and hung out with them for about an hour at their Mom’s home. I was there when she got home from work and we exchanged pleasantries.
At the talent show we sat together in the front row. After my dinner out with the kids I went back to her home and spent another 45 minutes there (in a perfect world I would have her come along, but some things are too much to ask)… reading with my youngest… watching their latest tricks on the trampoline… kissed all the kids goodnight and coordinated the next custody time with my ex-wife before driving 4 hours back home.
In two weeks she’ll be going to a conference for the weekend so I’ll go out and stay in her home with the kids while she’s gone. I’ve done that sort of things several times. Sounds like we live in a divorce paradise right?
Upon getting divorced I made a few commitments to myself:
1) I would take every opportunity to share time and space with my kids regardless of the reason. I knew from experience that I’d be expected to take the kids if it benefited her but that it would be a struggle if it inconvenienced her.
2) I wouldn’t argue in front of the kids or talk poorly about their Mom, or Mom’s family, or Mom’s religion in front of the children.
3) I wouldn’t make the kids act as messengers between their Mom and me.
A little over a year ago I was talking to my son about his friends, most of which have divorced parents too. He remarked that he was glad that his Mom and I don’t fight and that we get along compared to his friends’ divorced parents. So, we’re doing something right.
Obviously, staying in her home while she’s gone so I don’t have to incur hotel costs is huge. I do often go over and stay in a hotel with the kids and it can get expensive. I appreciate that.
I don’t think she directly bad-mouths me to the kids.
What they don’t see
As I said, it’s not all wine grape juice and roses.
First of all, she did move my children a six hour drive away from their Dad (I moved 2 hours closer since then – maybe one day I can actually find a job THERE).
She is always more difficult if any member of her family are around. She would not have sat next to me (or anywhere near me) at the kids’ talent show, for example, but would have made the kids feel torn; “Should I sit with Mom and grandparents or Dad?” (I always try to lighten that burden by telling the kids I’m just happy to be there and they can sit wherever they want).
All our communications are limited to money and custody times. It is a constant struggle to get information about the kids. She did not make the same commitment as I did to not use the kids as middle-messengers. I only know about their activities through them. I talk to their school teachers independently because nothing is filtered down to me otherwise. I have never missed a child support payment and yet I have to fight to interact daily with my kids.
She resents that I’m the “Disneyland Dad” even though it’s her move that put me in this position.
I haven’t yet had the stomach to revisit that whole custody battle in this blog, but about a year after our supposedly amicable divorce she elected to move away. I fought her in court and lost. More than the divorce it was the worst experience of my life. It’s also embarrassing because most people assume one parent can’t move away when they have a joint custody arrangement unless one parent is unfit.
Trust me, they can.
Take a stay-at-home Mom, and add a gay Dad. If he has 100% supported the family financially and thus enabled her to stay home then you have a man with no rights and a women who has ultimate power to do whatever the hell she wants with her children. If anyone reading this is where I was 6 years ago, take this advice:
1) Do not trust a lawyer, the law, family counselors or the court system to care what’s best for your children. It’s the adults that have rights. And when I say “adults” I mean the Mom.
2) Before divorcing, and if you are a good parent, demand 50% custody – as in the amount of time the kids are with you. Just declaring “joint custody” doesn’t mean diddly-squat if the kids are not with you 50% of the time. Not 49%, but 50%. The one with 51% has all the power.
Part of me wants to say that I will never forgive her for moving. And part of me won’t. I still think it was a horribly selfish thing to do.
But not long after the decision was reached in the courts, I experienced a “spiritual lightening” of my load of bitterness and anger. I knew it would only hurt me and my children, not her, if I kept resentment as part of my interaction with her. Part of that I’m sure was the stark realization that I held no power as a father and therefore I had no choice but to acquiesce on well, just about everything.
I know all this was a long-winded set-up for the question I posed in the title of this post, but here goes…
Now that I’m essentially without power, it’s very difficult to choose my battles… any battle at all… I’m constantly asking myself, “Is this the hill you want to die on?” Because as bad as I think it is now I know it can and would get much worse.
Yesterday, my 13 year old son was exhausted. He’d had a sleepless night because the day before he’d asked his first girl to “go out with him” and she’d said yes so he was elated. He was so excited that he couldn’t sleep. In Junior High lingo that pretty much means they are boyfriend/girlfriend and will hold hands and perhaps sneak a kiss at school (I’m telling myself that that’s it anyway).
He was even more exhausted in that way you are when you anticipate another sleepless night. You see, the youth in his ward were meeting this morning at 4:15 am at the church for a temple trip to do baptisms for the dead BEFORE SCHOOL?!!! That means he’d have to be up around 3:45 at the latest!
Am I crazy for thinking that it is horribly wrong to wake children up on a weekday at that hour? I’d never heard of that before! I’ll post sometime about my own early morning seminary days, both attending and teaching it, but I’m talking about 12 and 13 year olds here!!! He even told me that last time that this happened, he and his friend ditched school because they were so tired afterwards.
But is this the hill I want to die on?
Saying something will only close doors for me. Past experience has taught me that I can’t say anything about church or the kids just stop talking to me about it. If I say something to him, he’ll just stop telling me about these trips or anything related to church. I lightly hinted that I thought it was wrong for children his age to be up that early and that studies showed that his sleep was more important.
And I can’t even hint to his mother that not only is it irresponsible religious behavior to do this to kids on a school day, but that it’s also careless parenting to allow it.
Anyone who has been Mormon knows that a true blue Mormon parent such as my ex-wife wouldn’t even think to question it, let alone suggest that he shouldn’t just follow glossy-eyed the next morning into the baptismal font.
When it comes to religion especially, I can’t say anything. For example, once-upon-a-time my ex-wife agreed with me that it was foolish to allow children to be interviewed alone by an adult. But now, on her own I’m certain she would never say anything or regulate that behavior among her religious leaders. As my oldest children enter adolescence, I feel powerless to suggest otherwise.
As it stands, by not saying anything to them overtly their guards are down around me and I get to teach them lessons that reflect my values and hopefully plant seeds that make them go, “hmmm?” If I say anything the glossy-eyed wall comes up. It’s a horrible thing to watch.
I’m not sure now if I have the capability, discernment or hope of recognizing another hill worth fighting on or not.