Way back in the 70’s when my parents divorced, in the United States it was still pretty much assumed that the children would remain with the mother. However, it was an experimental period wherein the “me generation” was trying out all sorts of unconventional changes in previously accepted social norms in the name of progressivism. They grabbed hold of what began in earnest over fifty years earlier and ran with it. While my mother embraced all of the other aspects of this powerful re-emerging movement, she lamented one. Strongly.
She and my step-father were raising four children from three combined previous relationships. My mother found herself in the position of dealing with two ex-wives and regularly traveling great distances to retrieve children who were being raised in ways that were polar opposite from her standards. Try as she might to befriend the women who once shared her husband’s bed, she found it extremely difficult to find enough commonalities with these women on which to build friendships.
My step-dad recognized the problem of my dad’s failure to spend time with me and his inconsistencies with his favorite child, my youngest brother. So, my loving and generous step-dad offered for my dad to come spend the afternoons at our house, swimming, with my brother and me. I think he thought it would afford my dad the opportunity to do something fun with us while not committing himself to any creativity or large chunk of time. Come over. Swim for a few hours. Laugh and hug a bit. Bond a little. Run off again.
Unfortunately, my mother and my biological dad took advantage of my step-dad’s long work hours and us kids being occupied in the pool to continue their sexual relationship. Their relationship began as a sexual one at a New Year’s Eve party, and it was the only thing they’d ever had in common and the only way they’d ever been able to connect. Other than that, they fought like cats and dogs. They had different aspirations, goals, parenting beliefs and styles, tastes, social circles, and religious beliefs, with a deep chasm between their intellects.
In spite of their continued physical relationship, they still fought about the only other two things that connected them: money and us kids.
After an exceptionally long and futile argument my mother once complained to me, “If we could get along well enough to co-parent, we would have stayed married!”
Not that she was inferring their parenting disagreements severed the marriage, rather that if they were able to discuss their parenting differences and agree to meet somewhere in the middle on that issue they likely would have had the ability to do so in all other areas of conflict as well.
My mother being what she was, let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. She had a point. I think she was dead on on this one.
It takes two mature, healthy, stable adults to sit down, discuss differences, and agree to an amiable conclusion. If a married couple is so unable to do that on any level that life together becomes completely unbearable, how in the hell do the courts think things are going to magically change because they grant them a divorce?!
I didn’t divorce my husband because we had “grown apart.” I didn’t choose to “go my own way.” It was not his snoring, his lack of hygiene, talking with his mouth full, his laziness, his addictions, his vulgarities. It wasn’t even his constant infidelity!
It was his persistent and insistent control over the children and me. It was the horrific violence he metered out against the children and me for his perceived “lack of respect” toward him. It was because I was CONFIDENT he was eventually going to kill us. And, in the meantime, he was destroying us emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and intellectually.
And, I am now forced to co-parent with him.
The same cycles that were present in our marriage are still in operation. That judge’s signature and the severing of our legal contract did not instantly correct his psychological aberrancies.
At Christmas time he didn’t pay child support, yet lavished expensive gifts on the children, and sought to talk to me constantly, wanting to coordinate gifts for the kids. Then, after the first of the year, when I asked to speak to him on the phone about a visitation schedule, he yelled at me that he didn’t need to talk to me. He and the children can work out the visitation schedule and just tell me when I need to deliver them and pick them up.
During those friendly Christmas conversations we discussed video games several times. I told him over and over again that our 7 year old is not allowed to play Halo. It is a mature game and not for small children. The Lego series are great for his age though.
Last fall I also stopped taking our 17 year old driving. In just a few short months he has damaged or destroyed my chainsaw, the kerosene heater, the gate to our property, the new weed eater, a light fixture, my stereo, several glasses and plates, the drawers on his bed, every drill bit belonging to his younger brother, several window screens and frames, the kids’ pool pump, the door locks, the bath mat, and dinged my dining table. When I took him driving he consistently ran red lights, refused to listen to my directions and instructions, and ran up on a concrete barrier, scraping the entire length of the under carriage, front to back. I told him he would have to earn back the privilege of driving once he demonstrated respect and responsibility.
Last month my 7 year old son threw a huge fit at his dad’s house. He defied him and yelled at him, utterly refusing to turn off the video game and go outside after the allotted time as had been agreed. I heard about it from the other two children. Their individual renditions were identical, so I confronted J on it and grounded him from the video game at my house for the way he’d behaved at his father’s house. I then called R to let him know that I’d been made aware of the incident and had disciplined J for it. I expressed that I understand it must be difficult when you only have the children for six hours and that I didn’t want J to behave that way, believing there would be no consequences following such a short visitation. R thanked me profusely for my support.
The very next visitation, a month later, R allowed J to play Halo during the entire visit. He also allowed him to drink two sodas in one sitting. Not only do I not allow the kids to drink soda, J’s teeth are a mess and are costing ME (because R fought in court to not be responsible for the kids’ medical and dental care) almost a thousand dollars over the next few months. J’s teeth are in such horrible condition in part because when he lived here R demanded that I stop brushing J’s teeth, accusing me of hurting J by brushing and flossing. Anything went on this last visitation, and, like a typical 7 year old boy, J reveled in it. I’ve had nothing but behavioral problems since.
Two days before that visit, D fell in the bath tub and cut the bridge of her nose. My adult daughter, a former employee of Child Protective Services, still a mandatory reporter working for the state under the auspices of CASA, was here when it happened. She quickly called her husband, who holds a Masters in Nursing; he immediately came right over to examine his little sister in law. In fact, he arrived while he was still on the phone to my daughter. He came as though it was a serious emergency. He very confidently stated that there was no need for stitches. Butterflies would suffice.
Upon arrival at their dad’s house on Friday R questioned the kids as to what happened and then asked E to hand him his phone. He wanted to take a picture of D’s nose and document it. E refused, but R had let his intentions be known.
I also recently found out that R has been sneaking out here and picking up the 17 year old after school to take him driving when I’ve thought he was staying after school to make up credits needed to graduate on time. He has also “disappeared” several Sunday afternoons after work, and it has turned out that he went driving with his dad. These sneaky little visitations obviously don’t follow the court order.
Two weeks ago I asked to speak to R when the kids were finished with their weekly phone chat with him. I told him about our upcoming trip and that we’d be gone during one of his weekends. I offered him the weekend before we left in lieu of that missed visitation. He expressed gratitude and was amiable, though nosy, asking about my new car and all about our itinerary and flight plans. Though he was positive about my new car, telling me he thought it was a “good decision,” he punished me for it by sending the child support three weeks late. I had predicted that! Anyway, I digress, he said that he’d call back during the week to see if the kids wanted to spend time with him before we left.
He never called. He didn’t take the visit offered to him. He called Saturday night though to talk on the phone for a bit and let the children know that he’d had the day off. There was no reason he couldn’t have taken them. He just simply chose not to. He tormented the kids all of January and February with what they took as threats when they said they didn’t want to go with him. He argued and argued with the kids until I finally mouthed to E to say, “Dad, I don’t want to argue with you,” in an attempt to exit the loop. He made comments like, “I CAN take you!” which made the kids feel like he would force them. He was speaking in an overtly controlling manner. But, now, suddenly, he seems disinterested. He seems content to take them for four hours on Friday, no overnight, and four or five hours on Saturday, once a month, for a free for all visit.
I am trying to co parent with a psychopath because the court mandated that I spend the next thirteen years of my life in a friendly manner with a man who tried to kill me. Yet, every week is different. We never know what we’re going to get. Just like when he lived here. We dreaded 4 o’clock back then. We never knew who might be pulling up the driveway. We’d take turns being “the greeter” and feeling him out. The rest of us would sneak around like mice, asking, “How is he?” once he was safely in the shower. Now, we dread the second and fourth weekends and Sunday evenings.
Will there be head games? Will he be demanding and controlling? Will he yell? Will he be negligent? Will he even call? Will he even want me to bring the kids by to him?
As the sole custodial parent (and the sane one), I’m trying to instill character in our children and raise them to be responsible, healthy, productive adults. But, he subjugates my attempts and lessons at every turn. He still wants to conquer us. If anything, it is more subversive now, and more intense, because he views the divorce and loss of custody as a lost battle. He must recover this lost ground and take back what is rightfully his as a man.
Throughout the marriage he was fond of saying, “I know how this game is played.” I tried repeatedly to tell him that life is not a game. These are people’s lives, children’s formative years, and they are not to be “played” with. But, it was to no avail.
To him, this is still a game. The children are pawns. His objective is to defeat me, his perceived opponent.
Another of his favorite sayings was, “I’ll cut off my nose to spite my own face.” I heard that FREQUENTLY. He’s made it very clear. He doesn’t care how much damage he does to his own life or the lives of the children if it enables him to destroy me. You can’t co parent with someone like that. Co parenting is an impossible ideal created by foolish and ignorant individuals with pie in the sky wishes.
I didn’t want a divorce. I didn’t want to be divorced. I’d have stayed through thick and thin. I did stay through some unbelievably horrible actions! In the words of my mother, “If we could get along well enough to co-parent, we would have stayed married!” I only chose this route because the children needed safety and security from his craziness. Unfortunately, the craziness of our system forces us to remain locked in his craziness as I struggle to co parent with a man who has no interest in parenting.