Imagine every other weekend, your life and family is put on hold, hindered and incomplete – that’s life with divorce and visitation.
It’s easily one of the most frustrating and difficult situations in divorced families with children where co-parenting is not an option. And, unless you live this life, chances are you don’t understand.
You won. You were awarded full custody and now you are in charge and everything just goes your way, right? Wrong! First, winning shouldn’t be a term in child custody, and neither should awarded. When my ex-husband took me to court for full custody – I was sickened with worry, stress, potential heartbreak and fear. Basically, I am expected to go into a court room, with a stranger whose sole purpose is to judge me, going against the only person in the world who gains a sick satisfaction out of manipulating, emotionally and mentally breaking me down and hates me for sport. And then, convince this judge in a limited time frame that not only am I a good mother, but that I am a better mother, than their father is a good father. That is essentially what is comes down to; who is the better parent for the children. And, one wins and one loses – but truthfully in our case, one wins and three lose, either way. There are a handful of days in my life that I can remember in vivid detail – and the day I “fought” for full custody is one of those days I still play back regularly.
While that day is not really the point of this post, I will just say a couple things that are relevant. The words “full custody awarded to the mother” echoing in the half empty courtroom were the loudest, emptiest, angriest and most relieving words I had heard up to that point. That morning I came prepared to fight for my life, for my children and I was not going to lose them. Thankfully for me, I didn’t lose them. But, their father did, and looking back now you can see that day was the beginning of the quit. The beginning of all the “I can’t make it’s”, the schedule conflicts, the manipulation tactics, reverse psychology and narcissism that
I , we live with today. And, when someone else see’s it, or hears it, they say the same thing – “don’t let your children go there, stop the visits” and I have to explain that is not how it works.
There are a set of unspoken (but written) rules in divorce decrees that have a trailing visitation order. If you are the custodial parent you are expected to encourage and foster a relationship with the non-custodial parent and the children you share between you. This includes their family and friends as well. You are expected to not speak ill of the other parent, or withhold visitations out of pure distaste of the other parent. Sports, extracurricular activities, school events etc. are supposed to be avoided if at all possible during their weekend, and if they do land on the other parents “time” they are not required to take them – because it is their time. Their time, not your child’s time.
You learn to maneuver around the schedule and you do your best with what you get. There were a few civil standbys when the selfish stubbornness kept my children from attending games simply because their father didn’t feel like going in the beginning. Those days sucked for everyone but him, I’d ultimately have to leave without the children, the kids would miss their games/events and he would essentially win. The officers didn’t enjoy it either, they know the situation, they see it, but they can’t get involved and most don’t want to. It started with school events and games, and then slowly oozed into birthday parties, family events, holidays etc. The first time I had to tell my child they couldn’t attend something because it was important to spend this time with their father it was okay – but the more frequent they became – the harder it was. And, no because they shouldn’t want to spend time with their father – but because he refused to spend time with them doing the things they enjoyed.
Co-parenting with a narcissist is like being the tin man from the wizard of oz, having motion sickness, on the downward spiral of a roller coaster, with a loose harness, after eating ice cream and 5 corn dogs – doing the tango with a peg leg and an eye patch all the while sewing back together and re-stuffing down feathered pillows your dog chewed up and scattered throughout the back forty – it’s freaking difficult!!
Not everyone is able to join the elusive and all inclusive co-parenting club, no matter how hard they try or pray. And, people don’t register the impact this has on your families life. What looks to friends and family like a minor schedule change, is an asteroid headed for earth sure to destroy life as we know it. I always love when someone asks if I would like them to call dad and tell him he needs to bring them to an event – as if that would do anything?! He doesn’t care, plain and simple and there is nothing anyone can do to change that than God, and he isn’t a believer, so… ya!
So what does a parent do when you really have no control or say every other weekend? We don’t. We literally don’t do anything. We found that we stopped doing things. We stopped making plans. We stopped inviting people over, or going out as a family – because eow someone is gone. And, truthfully that hindered the weekends the kids were home to because we wanted to be with them, so we would not do anything, ever. Plus, everyone always asks “where are the kids? Why aren’t the kids here? They get out of everything” etc. And, sometimes I want to scream “No, they don’t get out of anything actually, they didn’t choose this life, we couldn’t fix our “issues” and now they are innocent bystanders who are paying the price! They are with their other parent who doesn’t give one shit about what they want or need, and they’re missing out on everything and we are here just trying to not focus on that fact, thank you very much.” But, just a much as people don’t understand, we can’t expect them too either.
They can’t just decide – there is a COURT ORDER that requires them to go. It is not a suggestion, it’s a requirement. The only way they are allowed to miss or skip a visit is if they get permission from that parent – or go back to court. Which makes our situation all the more complicated because my daughter did just that – she requested through the court to not be required to visit her father anymore when she was old enough. He will never tell this story because no one wants to say the part that makes themselves look bad – but he had to okay it – which he did. So, we have one child who is still court ordered and one who is permitted to not attend. Navigate that one…
As a parent, a normal parent, you want what is best for your children. It is your job to not only provide for them, but teach the importance of opportunity, achievement, dedication, commitment, work ethic all while loving, encouraging and supporting them. When you have one parent who is against every part of these – how are you supposed to make it work? We have our children in 4H, FFA, sports, etc. to teach them the importance of responsibility, the importance of teamwork and working hard for the things they want in life. But every other weekend – it’s a headache. And for my son, every Wednesday too.
My son was excited to sign up for Track, which he has never done, and to be honest I was slightly dreading it because track meets drag on all day. But, I was supportive because it was something new, something he was interested in and running keeps him active – so heck ya! go for it bud! Then Wednesday comes around and he is gloomy because his dad already questioned him last week if he was going to get his Wednesday visits back now that basketball was over – and he didn’t have the heart to tell his dad he signed up for track. So, now he stands in front of me at 6:30 am and has to choose – either track and telling his dad, or quitting track and going to his visits. Our family is serious about sticking to a commitment, once you start a sport and the fee is paid, you have to finish it out. But, I can’t force that in this situation, so I tell him my thoughts and that I support him in whatever he chooses.
On the car ride to work I am having a serious discussion with God and I get a text from my son saying he chose to give up track so he doesn’t upset his dad – and I am equal parts heartbroken and pissed. He asked if I was mad and for the first time I responded with he truth about his dad, “No, I am not mad at you for wanting to not upset your dad, I’m mad that your father has put you in the position where you care more about letting him down, then letting yourself down – and I can’t fix that and it breaks my heart for you.” And, that is the truth folks – we are stuck a lot of the time, and we aren’t supposed to say the other parent is bad, or wrong, but damn it – he is wrong and it is not fair. But as the repairer, I called his coach and explained the situation and we were able to come up with a plan for him to still practice 4 of the days and remain on the team, and make visits with dad.
That’s what we do I guess, we rearrange, we maneuver around and come up with other options to still afford them the normalcy of childhood, opportunities and a healthy life – even if we are the only ones doing it consistently. So, the next time you see a blended family jigsawing their way through life – maybe you’ll understand a little better that they are simply attempting to navigate a different normalcy.