- You should fight that!
Trying to co-parent with someone you don’t get along with is never easy. There are so many endless possible scenarios of things that seem “unfair.” Factor in an ex-spouse who is spiteful, vengeful and uses the children as ammunition and it can get downright ugly. When you are trying to live with one of these scenarios it’s bound to come up eventually in a conversation. For example your former spouse may start to refuse to meet you halfway at the intended exchange point. Now in order to see your child you must drive the full distance or you don’t see your child at all. Now you need to schedule a 3 hour window every Friday and every Sunday night instead of 1 ½ hours. Well that’s not only unfair but it goes against court orders. So it’s simple, just file a motion to hold them in contempt of court, right? Except you need to factor in the costs… $4,000 in a retainer fee to even get a lawyer in the first place, $300 per hour not to mention animosity and tension, stress on the child and missed work days for court attendance and lawyer meetings…. Or $40 extra a month in gas, 2 hours extra time and a mouthful of blood as you bite your tongue at every exchange… Of course these are the two extremes. Most would lie somewhere in between. Some may already have a lawyer on standby, others feel confident in representing themselves… However, this isn’t even where the real fun begins. There’s an unwritten tendency that when one issue is filed with the court it presents an opening for every other item on the parenting plan to be reassessed and renegotiated. This means that simply not meeting halfway turns into an all-out war for visitation, custody, child support… ect… In an attempt to avoid this entire disaster one parent may just deal with the injustice and deem the fight is not worth the cost. Other parents play a glorified game of chicken! Each parent takes turns twisting the parenting plan in their favor until the entire case is hashed out in court. Usually when an outsider say “you should fight that” they really have no idea what that would truly entail.
- Wouldn’t you rather live with mom/dad?
There seems to be this absurd notion that the child must have a favorite parent. And that that favorite parent must have an ideal living arrangement that must surpass the other parents home. Just like in divorce there typically isn’t just one villain and the other a complete saint. The same is true with households. Fathers that have children for only the weekend and no school may soon develop the reputation as the “Fun” household. Meanwhile mothers who are stuck in rigorous and hasty bustle of weekly routines may not be as fun. Somehow children are supposed to decide which household they want to live with?! If you have ever spoken to a young child about their preference the response is typically: “I wish we could all live together.” Then they may just go on about who gets what room and where the pool in the living room would be and what story the slide to the pool should start on.
In the words of my bonus son: “It’s just so unfair. No matter what, I always have to miss one of you guys.”
What is the typical parental response when they are asked “who is you favorite child?” The answer is always, “I don’t have a favorite child. I love you all the same.” Yet somehow the expectation is that children should not only favor but pick a parent they prefer when an adult has recognized the absolute absurdity and impossibility of such a question. Give me a break! Just Don’t!!!! Children have a remarkable ability to look past flaws and love you anyway. Let them! They have plenty of love to share!
- Can’t you just trade that weekend?
A weekend visitation in a parenting plan isn’t just something you can “reschedule.” There is a lot of anxiety in approaching a confrontational ex and asking for a favor. They typically will ask for an even exchange in weekends and then a little extra because they are doing you a favor. This may be trading your 4 day weekend for a 3 day weekend, or giving up a holiday or if you’re lucky, they will just require you to do all the driving for the exchange that weekend. Even if your co-parent is reasonable there is an entire logistical nightmare attached. It’s not usually just trading the weekend with your ex. It’s also getting your spouse’s ex to agree to the switch as well. With any luck you’ll manage to trade for the same weekends on both sides, otherwise you will end up with the siblings not seeing each other for 3 entire weeks; x2. For children who are supposed to thrive on routine it can really throw them off and result in attitudes and temper tantrums. In our family we were forced to adopt the rule that weekend exchanges are allowed for immediate family only. For a while we even had to refuse grandparents the request for exchanging weekends because the request was so abused. So no, I’m not going to go through the nightmare of switching weekends to attend your pyramid-scheme themed home party. If the event is a big enough deal to me that I find it worth it to work through the logistics, I will offer to see what I can do; and that is the absolute highest honor I can give you.
- We don’t talk about mom/dad here…
This comment can come from parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles.. anyone who can’t stand to hear another thing about the other parent. I’ve heard several professionals say that this is a very damaging thing to do and can ultimately lead to split personality in your child. Your child will learn that they have to become someone else around you, and again, someone else at home. They adapt very well, or at least appear to, but it is very deceiving. I used to say this to my Bonus Child before I was aware at how damaging this could be. Something amazing happened when I stopped and just listened. He would talk and talk… we’ve found some very interesting information. Some of it was crucial and needed to be acted on right away, other stories were just for our benefit to help him feel more comfortable and at peace in our home. This is one of those areas where I have found it is worth it to just listen to your child no matter how uncomfortable or even angry the stories make you. The pay-off is well worth it.
- Bad mouthing the other parent
Not only is this just plain morally wrong, but it is also ILLEGAL. Every pre-drafted parenting plan will have some variation in it that clearly forbids speaking ill of the other parent in front of the child(ren). This is a form of alienation and although it is very difficult to do, if it can be proven in court that alienation has taken place, custody can be granted to the other parent. The logic is that it is the best interest of the child to be awarded custody to the parent best capable of facilitating a healthy relationship with the non-custodial parent. It really doesn’t matter if what you are saying is true or how truly horrible the former spouse is… Your child is half of them! If you are speaking poorly about where they came from you are also covertly expressing your distain for half the child. Imagine what this could do to your child’s self-esteem? Value your child’s development more than your distain for your ex. In a blended family, you become used to the taste of biting your own tongue.
- Does (your visiting child) want to do a sleep over?
This question is so innocent. It has sweet intentions. The person asking truly wants to involve the child they hardly get to see and incorporate them into their lives the same as they do the other children in your household. The sad reality is that as a family we only get 4 days a month with our visiting child. That’s it. Often those visitations were earned with thousands of dollars, anxiety and lengthy court battles. The time we have with our little visitor is so precious it is unbearable to thing we’ve gone through all that to forfeit more time and voluntarily give up the days we’ve fought for. Without making it obvious to the other children, practically everything stops for those 4 days. Chores are put on hold to go on a fun outing to the Zoo, museum or outdoor activity. Bedtimes are pushed back to spend some extra time visiting and cuddling. Secret treats, snacks and ice-cream are pulled out of hiding… We love to get together with anyone else who wants to share in our family time, but giving away our revered time is just too unbearable.
- I mean your REAL dad…
It’s bound to happen. With the mix up of titles, sometimes it’s hard to keep track of who exactly we’re talking about here. At some point, someone will try to clarify “No, I mean your REAL mom” (brother, sister, grandma…) This is like saying anyone else who isn’t biological doesn’t actually count. Depending on which family the child resides with, they may have a closer bond with the step-parent in that family than their corresponding biological parent. (or siblings) For example: My Bonus child has no cousins on his mother’s side, he has limited encounters with his maternal grandparents… His paternal family is scattered all around the country and even abroad so encounters with them are limited as well. So his main interactions with grandparents, uncles, aunts, and a plethora of cousins is all my family. Does that make my family any less real for him? To clarify without demeaning relationships it is best to refer to “real” family as “Biological” or “Birth” family. To clarify the “extra” family I prefer “Bonus” in lieu of “Step.” This helps facilitate the love we have worked so hard to develop but still honors original family members without feeling like they are being replaced.