This post talks about custody and divorce. The hassle of shared parenting visitation and co-parenting with a narcissist.

Life on pause.

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.

Nine secrets your spouse’s ex may not tell you.

Do you have an ex in your life, which makes your life hell? Does it feel like even though your spouse got divorced, that they are still married? Would it surprise you to find out that you put up with more than you have to, simply because the ex says you do?

Below are nine ways to stop allowing the ex to run your life. And, how to remove the welcome mat from your porch and your forehead respectively.

1.  You didn’t marry them; they are not your ex.

This person your spouse or significant other married and consequently divorced, was not who you planned to spend your life with. The word exclude, starts with ex, do just that.        

2.  The ex does not own your spouse just because they share a child.

If your spouse is the non-custodial parent with visitation; it is difficult, but not impossible. Though no longer a team in terms of marriage, they are a team in terms of the child/ren. The ex can only control what the divorce decree says. If the ex has sole legal and sole physical, s/he has the say over schooling, medical and religion. However s/he is required by law to encourage and nurture a relationship with any and all family members of the child’s non-custodial parent. This includes stepfamily, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Better yet, did you know your spouse has a right to daily phone calls with their child, unless noted differently in the divorce decree?  

3.  If you want to attend a school or sporting event – you can. Doctors’ appointments too.

Sporting events are public; anyone and their grandmother can attend. If you want to go, go. Same goes for school recitals, back to school nights, etc. In fact most schools will do separate conferences so that both homes are involved in the child’s educational progress and needs. In terms of doctors’ appointments you can go with a spouse, or have your name added to the child’s file as someone who has a right to medical care and information. It is really no different than having access to a credit card or utility bill that may be solely in your spouse’s name. You can gain information and have some involvement.

4. Your spouse’s visitation time is your spouse’s choice to spend it how they wish. 

The ex-spouse cannot commit you to anything on your time. This includes sports, doctors’ appointments, birthday parties etc. It is a double edge sword though because if by not taking the child to certain engagements will hurt the child in the process, it is a no win situation. But, by no means are you required to do it.

5. Follow your divorce decree, not the ex’s divorce commands.

It can’t be any more plain stated than this. The divorce decree is your spouse’s bible in a sense. It states what is expected, allowed and forbade. Non-custodial parents have more rights than most realize, like rights to medical and school records. Do your research.

6. If your spouse and their ex share joint legal and joint physical custody – your spouse’s say is just as important as the ex’s.

One is not more than the other. In some cases, one parent may have sole physical custody, while both retain joint legal custody. You need to know the differences of these and what your spouse has.

7. The ex can only control what there is no control over.

If a void is visible, the ex will invade. One place the ex will try to invade is your marriage. This is your territory – be territorial enough to remind the ex, this is not their place, and their existence will not be tolerated. Stand your ground.

8. The ex’s issue with you, is a reflection of an issue with themselves.

Any parent who is content with themselves and their own level of involvement and parenting they provide will never limit or control the parenting or involvement of anyone else. This is a well-known fact.

9. In terms of child support, do your own math and research.

Many parents pay more than they should, and feel as though they have to roll over and take it. If your spouse feels there is a substantial change either in their income or the ex’s, request a review. If your spouse is on disability or the ex is on disability make sure the child support office is aware. You’d be surprised how many parents overpay because they failed to double check or request a review.

There you have it, nine ways to limit or exclude the ex’s involvement in your home, your marriage and the relationship with your stepkids.