child visitation after divorce

Child Visitation After Divorce: How My Narcissistic Ex Is Using It Against My Children

child visitation after divorce

 

My divorce never hit me. I was contently past all the stages of grief on the day of my divorce. I was free and so eager to start anew. (I even agreed to attempt reconciliation with my ex post-divorce, but that’s a story for another day.)

Some months later, I moved back to the town I had grown up in. My boys, then seven and eight, moved with me. It felt great to be starting fresh and to be surrounded by family and my childhood girlfriends again.

My boys and I did get the I’m-so-sorry-face from everyone we knew. But despite the catastrophe that others saw, I was relieved, happy, and shame-free to be divorced. I could breathe again, and my life was my own again. Or so I thought…

Given my move, I had agreed to my ex-husband, aka WASband, seeing our boys virtually every weekend and agreed that he could have the boys visit him at his home 400 miles away on any given weekend.

Child Visitation After Divorce

My ex abused my trust.

My WASband turned our flexible visitation agreement into a nightmare for my boys. He insisted that every visit be in Los Angeles in his world. I had agreed to this and he had a legal contract to enforce it.

So, our children traveled from San Francisco to Los Angeles and then back again three to four weekends each month during the school year.

He didn’t care that virtually every Friday his children spent four hours or more traveling to him and four hours or more on Sundays traveling back.

He didn’t care if the children were sick.

He didn’t care if they missed the one and only birthday party they got invited to.

He didn’t care if they weren’t making friends at their new school.

He didn’t care if our son cried and cried over not being able to compete in his once-a-year Tae Kwon Do championship.

He didn’t care if their Friday flight was canceled by the airline. He made them take the 6:00 am flight on Saturday morning only to fly back on Sunday.

He didn’t care if the children were exhausted from all the travel.

He didn’t care if they couldn’t join the basketball team because of weekend games.

He just didn’t care. It was a zero-exceptions contract that I had agreed to.

My WASband’s words were, I am NOT willing to spend my custodial time in Northern California. There was intense hatred towards me in that single sentence. Each time I asked for some flexibility for our children, those words were written back to me in bigger, bolder font along with, My position hasn’t changed.

I had made a huge mistake.

I had willingly given a narcissist full discretion to decide where and how he spends time with our children assuming that he would be reasonable when it came to the children.

I don’t know if he saw their tears. I wiped them.

I don’t know if he heard their screams. Some days that’s all I heard.

He denied their pain. I couldn’t.

I don’t know if he realized their isolation. I saw it.

Over and over I begged a father to accommodate his children’s needs. Each time he refused.

There came a time when my children cried, I know the answer is no. The answer is always no. Then came a time when they no longer asked.

My ex now controlled the boys with custody.  

Spending his time with his children in Los Angeles trumped all else. He was blind to their physical health, their social development, and their emotions. He had to have control: It’s okay for [our son] to miss a birthday party in order to spend quality time with his father.

Of course, nothing was preventing this father from accompanying his son to this one and only birthday party that his son had been invited to all year.

And my ex also controlled me with custody.

When I mailed out a birthday card over summer break and asked my WASband to give the card to our son, my ex responded, “You should do that personally, meaning during your own custodial time.”

This was emotional abuse at its worst.

The control and emotional abuse I thought I had escaped resurfaced like a newer, stronger virus. This time, while aimed at me, it was infecting our children. The children weren’t doing well socially or emotionally.  Despite multiple pediatricians’ recommendations for immediate therapy for our children, my ex refused to consent.

Since the divorce and move my older son had begun to break out crying and screaming for no apparent reason. Of course, I knew the reason; he wasn’t coping well with his parent’s separation.

He was eight-years-old at the time and completely non-verbal about our divorce. He didn’t want to talk, or discuss, or listen to anything related to his mom and dad no longer living together.

Over the course of a year and a half, even after two pediatricians independently witnessed my older son have such an emotional meltdown including throwing himself around the room, my WASband maintained that my son didn’t need therapy.

The emotional outbursts became more frequent, became more intense and shifted from crying and screaming to also verbally threatening his family and physically hurting those around him.

Family court was a game of poker.

With no other resolution in sight, I turned to the Court for help. My children were in danger if nothing changed.

That journey through Court was long, expensive, and made unreasonably longer and more expensive by my ex on the other side. (During our eight-year marriage my ex had been in constant litigation all eight years; he sued all his business partners from multiple businesses, a dentist who voluntarily admitted a mistake, and an employee of a Fortune 500 company knowing the company would pay him damages just to avoid litigation).

I should have known better. My ex had no qualms or limits in abusing the legal system. He was an eye-for-an-eye man once he convinced himself that you had slighted him.

So, my ex showed up in Court with thick, oversized, zero-prescription eyeglasses and a bow tie to complete his geekiest Caltech persona. A charming serial entrepreneur with 20-20 vision (the one I had married) now sat disguised as a nerdy engineer in an effort to explain away his complete inflexibility in co-parenting his children.

He claimed he was an engineer who was scrambling to make ends meet and whose employer had been loaning him money for personal expenses. The fact was that he owned the company he worked for!

He showed virtually no income and no assets all the while affording private flying lessons, affording aircraft rentals, and paying his parents and extended family from business profits.

And so, a game of poker with the judges ensued. The first judge had enough common sense and provided temporary relief for the children from all the travel. This judge saw the thousands of pages of written communication between my ex and me as a complete breakdown of communication.

But he retired. Then a second judge with a completely different common sense, had me pay my ex’s attorney fees and didn’t bat an eye at the amount of travel our children were doing between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

This new judge wanted proof to correlate sickness to excessive travel. Common sense wasn’t good enough. This new judge saw the thousands of pages of written communication between my ex and me as normal negotiation.

This judge saw my wealth against my poor Caltech-graduate WASband with his fake glasses and bow tie, who had no car in his name, no property in his name, who for years had paid his company’s profits to his extended relatives.

In retaliation to me going to Court, my ex had convinced himself that he needed $30,000 per month to support our children. And since he could afford neither a car nor housing, he wanted me to now support a new lifestyle for him, complete with private jet travel, five-star hotels, and much more.

A third judge put an end to my ex’s non-sense; my WASband got his child support but an amount which I proposed to the Court based on facts instead of exaggerations. Disappointed with this outcome, my ex filed two more cases trying to get exorbitant amounts of money from me.

Those cases, while dismissed, still took an emotional and financial toll. I’ve learned now that it’s a matter of time before my WASband sues me again.

Court was a two-year war. And war is never good.

One of my sons got therapy after two years of jumping through all the Court’s hoops. My children’s travel was slightly reduced and many smaller issues were resolved. Yet the Court was fooled by a narcissist.

The Court didn’t approve therapy for my younger son because I didn’t have any evidence for its need. So, now a year later when my younger son says, “I will kill myself,” and my WASband still refuses therapy for him, am I to return to Court?

The Family Court that deals with divorced families and children couldn’t see this coming? I could.

This Court that also ordered my ex to spend the first weekend a month in Northern California because it coincided with the Tae Kwon Do schedule didn’t think to make it an order that my WASband actually take the children to these Tae Kwon Do events.

The Court couldn’t catch the narcissist in disguise. How am I to point out this mistake to the Court? With another trial and 2-year battle? No thank you.

Life, Uh, Finds a Way.

For nearly three years now, my children have been traveling between San Francisco and Los Angeles nearly every weekend. Yes, it’s hard and unheard of, but the one weekend each month we have together is better than ever.

We miss most of the special school events, but we did go to one dance last year and I caught my boys on camera doing the Floss with their classmates!

We do miss most of the special Tae Kwon Do events, but every now and then the stars line up and we get to go to the one we get to go to!

We do miss most family get togethers, so now many of my nine first cousins go out of their way to have our children meet.

For over two years now, my WASband has been telling our children: Your mom is a liar. Her entire family lies. It’s her fault; she’s the one that divorced me. He shows them snippets of court documents to prove his story with evidence.

Sadly, my nine and ten-year-old children are versed in court vocabulary including evidence, exhibits, credibility, and legal contracts. My WASband tells my older son:  You go to therapy because you have mental problems. Your mom forced you to go to therapy.

You’ll be in therapy for your whole life.

You need to lose weight. You need to get in shape.

Are you trying to gain weight?

He tells our children: Do you have any Indian friends? I’ll arrange a playdate [on my visits to San Francisco] if your friends are Indian.

This type of abuse attacks every aspect of their lives. There may never be a respite from this.

My children began coming back to me on Sundays, especially after long holidays, and telling me: You’re a liar. A big fat liar because you don’t have any evidence. Daddy has evidence. I was caught off-guard, hurt, and defensive.

My co-parenting counselor (not to mention others) advised me to open up to my children, but mostly all I could say was: These are adult issues. Children shouldn’t be worried about these things. I will tell you when you’re seventeen or eighteen. Your Daddy loves you, but some of these things he is doing and saying are wrong. And he may never change. You have to be stronger.

After two years of this, there are still new frustrations, more confusion, and deeper wounds but my children are finding their way. They tell me: Mommy, you have to be stronger!

And I am stronger because I chose to be free. My marriage was bad and the aftermath of my divorce worse, but I am free. I’ve begun to learn to allow myself to resign all outcomes to a higher power when I need to.

I’ve learned that there’s nothing that can break me. I’ve been shattered more than once, and I’ve gotten up to collect and put myself back together each time. I don’t hate my ex; it’s as if my body or mind or soul has decided that this person doesn’t deserve even my hatred.

I pray for his peace of mind, I tell my children to send love towards Daddy, and I’ve never been one to pray. Whenever I remember, I tell my children to say something nice about someone else each night.

I’ve learned to hug and cuddle. My children wonder: Why have you gone all lovey-dovey. I suppose it’s because love is all that remains for me.

The post Child Visitation After Divorce: How My Narcissistic Ex Is Using It Against My Children appeared first on Divorced Moms.

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co-parenting with a narcissist

Co-Parenting With a Narcissist Turned Me Into My Daughter’s Hero

co-parenting with a narcissist

 

Last Sunday I was in the kitchen working on meal prep for the week. I was slicing melons, plucking grapes from vines, and baking chicken breasts when an unexpected thing happened.

It was just my daughters and I home for the afternoon and they had both gravitated to the kitchen (probably the scent of chili-lime flavored chicken wafting through the house had something to do with it.) Before long we had found ourselves deep in conversation; about what, I couldn’t say now, but somehow we came to this:

My sixteen year old looked at me and said, “Mom, you are the strongest person I know. I look at everything you have gone through, picking yourself up after the divorce, being a single mom to two daughters, having to work hard to support us…  You showed us not to settle for less than what we deserve. I don’t think you realize how much we look up to you.”

Naturally, I teared up and if my soul could sigh, it would have done so at that exact moment.

We’ve been through a lot in these seven years post-divorce. There have been countless arguments, tears, hugs, and laughter. The girls are now twenty and sixteen, and while there was no DIY manual on how to cope when the man in your life walks out, somehow we have gotten here: blubbering in the kitchen over how proud we are to have survived together.

It’s been such a rough road for us three. The road started out pretty normal, freshly tarred to make for smooth sailing. Eventually, that perfect road experienced some pretty major frost heaves, frost heaves that popped us right out of the minivan of life and dragged us behind it for a spell; resulting in three pretty severe cases of road rash. Road rash hurts, both real and metaphorical. It hurts real bad.

One day I got tired of the frost heaves causing so much pain, so I put the brakes on, dusted everyone off, slapped some bag balm on the road rash and turned that minivan down a new road. This road had potholes, too, no road is perfect, but we were wiser this time, and we had the scars from the road rash to remind us to slow down and avoid the bad road if we could. So eventually we learned to see the signs of a road in need of repair and we began to detour whenever possible.

It seems like for the past year the road has been a bit more travel-friendly, and for that I am thankful.

There was a time when I didn’t know if my relationship with my girls would ever return to what it was before. Were the scars from the road rash just too much to fully recover from? It felt like it at times. Times when I couldn’t say or do anything right. Times when they judged me and resented me for choices I made and for things that were out of my control. I’m not talking about normal everyday adolescent squabbles with my children, it was something far beyond that.

I’ve read a lot of books, articles, and blogs about life after divorce, but I’m not sure any of us dare to truly delve into the ugly truth of single parenting. Even now, I only dance around the subject matter of co-parenting with a narcissist. The truth was knowing that anything that was said and done at my house could and would be used against me by the other side. For years I felt like I was being held captive in my own life and that my world could come crashing down at any moment due to crafty manipulation techniques.

Even when the efforts failed I felt the effects from my children. They would treat me differently until finally things would settle down and we could get back to our normal. It wasn’t their fault, they were children, and it certainly wasn’t fair for them to be caught in the middle of someone else’s sick games.

I struggled during those years. I struggled with my reality vs. the reality I longed for. I wanted simplicity and an honest life with my children. I resisted and pushed back when drama and lies crept in from the other side.

It wasn’t easy having a foot in two separate worlds; the world I had lived in with my children and the world I wanted to live in with them.

I kept on. I stayed true to my course. There were days when I wanted to scream and yell, and there were days when I did exactly that.

They said it will get better. They said, “Keep doing what you are doing because you are doing it right.”

And after looking into the eyes of my sixteen-year-old when she said, “Mom, you are my hero. I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for everything we went through.”

I finally believe they were right.

For all the struggling mamas out there acting as mom and dad while trying not to lose yourself in the process, it does get better. There is hope for a happier, more peaceful existence with your kids, just don’t give up. Even more importantly, don’t give in to the dark side. Listen to your heart, trust your gut, and love those little cherubs of yours with everything you have.

I have no false pretenses on perfectly paved roads of the future, in fact, I am well aware that at any moment I could get bucked right out of the minivan again and suffer a fresh case of the rash. The knowledge that at any moment we are one incident away from turmoil, and I could be cast back into the role of the villain always resides in the back of my mind. But the older they get, the wiser they are becoming and I keep praying that they always see truth above everything else.

At the end of the day, at least now I know with certainty that underneath all of the muck and mire resides a strong foundation of truth and integrity that we built together. And as for that road rash… it gave us some pretty beautiful scars that only the three of us can see. It taught us more than I can even begin to quantify with words.

As we stood around the kitchen that afternoon we shared memories of one horrible summer that we all now agree has become one of our favorite summers together. I never would have guessed all those years ago that some of the worst days of our lives could have bonded my girls and I so closely that we could turn it into such a positive and sacred memory.

Never underestimate the power of the road rash and the beauty of its scars.

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Divorce Tip Tuesday: 5 Tips For Co-Parenting With a Narcissist

Divorce Tip Tuesday: 5 Tips For Co-Parenting With a Narcissist

5 Tips for Co-Parenting With a Narcissist

The word “narcissist” gets a lot of use these days. It seems everyone with an irrational ex is divorced from a narcissist. That’s doubtful! So, why did I title this guide, “Co-Parenting with a Narcissist? Because, whether your ex is a narcissist or nothing more than a common, garden variety jerk if he is giving you a hard time co-parenting and causing your children emotional harm, this video is for you.

Co-Parenting With a Narcissist Tips:

1. Don’t Allow Him to push your buttons

That is his number one goal! Don’t allow him to succeed. He wants to cause you to respond to him with anger. He wants you to appear as angry and irrational as he is. If you do, you give him ammunition to use against you in court, with his family and his friends.

He was married to you long enough to know your vulnerabilities and which buttons to push. He is adept at getting you worked up and he knows it. If you allow yourself to overreact to his nonsense you’re giving him exactly what he wants and the last thing you want is to give him any satisfaction. Keep that in mind when you’re trying to cool yourself down and ignore him.

2. Use Reverse Pronouns

Narcissists project, nearly every statement they make is a projection of something they fear. Example: If he says, “You’re a terrible mother who is going to ruin her children’s lives.” What he really means is, “I’m a terrible parent who is going to ruin his children’s lives. If you reverse those pronouns and understand the degree of his projection it will free you up from feeling like you need to defend yourself or concern yourself with what he thinks.

3. Lower your Expectations of Him

He is never going to be a good co-parent, stop hoping he will. What you have now, is what you’re stuck with. There is nothing you can do that will cause him to magically one day become the perfect co-parent so don’t waste your time and energy on hoping he will change.

4. Set Communication Boundaries

Communicate via email only. If you’re able to use a communication software like Our Family Wizard to keep track of and document all email communications with him.

No texting, phone calls or in-person communication about child-related issues. If all child-related issues are discussed via email and a legal issue comes up, you have documented proof to use in court.

5. Grey Rock Him 

What does this mean? NO personal interaction, NONE. If you’re around him, do not acknowledge him. Do not attend school functions together. If you both happen to be in the same place at the same time, ignore him.

Have minimal communication and only via email. Respond to his emails with 2 or 3 words. If he emails and says, “I’m sick and can’t take the children this weekend.” Respond back and simply say, “Understand.”

He no longer exists to you other than some being in the clouds that you converse with as little as possible.

Last but Not Least

Be a good Mom to both your children and him! He is, after all, nothing more than an emotionally stunted child.

The post Divorce Tip Tuesday: 5 Tips For Co-Parenting With a Narcissist appeared first on Divorced Moms.

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Don’t Make Divorce Co-Parenting Your New Year’s Resolution

Don’t Make Divorce Co-Parenting Your New Year’s Resolution

Wait, what? Isn’t January 1st the time to make those grand plans to improve our life? Too often, people make New Year’s resolutions that are too broad and too overwhelming to succeed. This can be especially true with something as inherently complicated as divorce co-parenting.

The post Don’t Make Divorce Co-Parenting Your New Year’s Resolution appeared first on Divorce Magazine.

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gatekeeper mom

4 Reasons To Avoid Being a Gatekeeper Mom Trap During Divorce

gatekeeper mom

 

Do you find yourself having difficulty letting go and relaxing about what your children do while they are with their other parent? Focusing too much on your children’s time or activities at your ex’s house can potentially damage your relationship with them and undermine their connection with both parents. When a parent communicates anxiety and becomes too vigilant about custody exchanges (or parenting time) they may be taking on the role of a gatekeeper.

What is a gatekeeper mom?

According to child custody expert Robert Beilin, P.h.D., a gatekeeper is a term  often used in a negative way to describe how parents (usually a mother) attempts to control their children’s time with the other parent. Since traditionally mothers tend to be gatekeepers, this article will focus on mothers but the term could apply to fathers as well.

According to author Kerri Kettle, the term “gatekeeper” is generally brought up in child custody cases. Kettle, an attorney, advises mothers to beware of being a gatekeeper and to avoid adversarial interactions with their ex. After all, it could lead to additional legal costs and have a negative impact on children. She writes, “If you think you might be acting a little like a gatekeeper, try saying “yes” more often than saying “no” for a while. Start with something small, like giving up a few hours of your custodial time for a special occasion or simply not asking questions about what happened at their dad’s house.” She also advises parents that they will save legal fees by being a cooperative co-parent.

Let’s face it, it’s easy to see how a parent could slip into the gatekeeper role. After my divorce, I had trouble adjusting to our co-parenting schedule and I found myself overly concerned about what my children did when they were with their father and the amount of time they spent with him. It took several years for me to realize that this was my way of trying to gain control over the situation. While I never did anything consciously to sabotage my children’s relationship with their dad, my questions, and concerns about their activities with him didn’t demonstrate confidence in our parenting plan.

Further, children have a way of sensing tension and worry and so a mother’s fear or concerns about time spent away from her may be a red flag that heightens their anxiety. Without awareness, a parent could be bringing undue stress on your children without intending to. My research shows that the two variables that had the most negative impact on children of divorce into adulthood were limiting their access to both parents and experiencing high conflict between their parents post-divorce.

A crucial aspect of healing after divorce is realizing that you can’t control what goes on with your ex and so need to respect the decisions that he makes regarding his time with your children.  You can’t change him and are wise to let go of unrealistic expectations. For instance, you might not approve of him taking your eight-year-old to a movie rated PG 13 – but in the end, it’s not going to make or break their emotional development. So it wouldn’t hurt to simply let it slide sometimes.

On the other hand, if you have legitimate concerns about activities that your kids participate in with their father, it’s a good idea to send him a friendly, business-like e-mail expressing your concerns. Divorce expert Rosalind Seddacca CCT writes, “If you’re intent on creating a child-centered divorce that strives for harmony between you and your ex, you need to initiate the conversation and model win-win solutions. If your ex doesn’t want to cooperate, that’s when your patience will certainly be tested. Look for opportunities to clarify why working together as co-parents as often as possible will create far better outcomes for your children.”

Eileen Coen, an attorney, and trained mediator states that one reason mothers tend to be gatekeepers is that trust is often lost in a marriage. Other reasons cited by Coen are economic and a lack of confidence in their ex’s parenting skills. However, she cautions us that on-going conflict between parents is the primary reason why mothers are gatekeepers – making it virtually impossible to have adequate, healthy parenting time with their children.

Studies show that kids benefit from access to both parents. There is evidence that cooperative co-parenting actually reduces conflict between divorced parents – which has a beneficial impact on children into adulthood. Scheduling appropriate parenting time for both parent’s post-divorce and keeping lines of communication positive can be a challenge but it’s paramount to building resiliency in your children. When a parent takes on the role of gatekeeper, they communicate discomfort and anxiety to their children and diminish their sense of belongingness with both parents.

Joan Kelly, a renowned researcher who has conducted decades-long studies on divorce, found that the more involved fathers are post-split, the better off the outcomes for children. Children benefit from strong relationships with both parents post-divorce. According to Linda Nielsen, author of Between Fathers and Daughters, the child’s relationship with their father is often the one that changes the most after marital dissolution. Sadly, Dr. Nielsen notes that only 15% of fathers and daughters enjoy the benefits of shared parenting.

There are many compelling reasons why mothers are wise to encourage their children to have strong bonds with their father post-divorce. Studies show that these reasons include: Better grades and social skills, healthy emotional development, higher self-esteem, and fewer trust issues. Lowered self-esteem and trust wounds are especially a concern for girls who may be more vulnerable to the breakup of the family home because they are socialized to be nurturers and caretakers. Your kids may also have better access to extended family members and therefore intergenerational support if they spend close to equal time with both parents.

Here are 4 Reasons to avoid the gatekeeper trap:

1. Your children will gain trust in both parents and feel more confident about their relationships with both of you.

2. You will build trust in your ex’s ability to effectively parent your children.

3. There’s a possibility you’ll have the added benefit of more leisure time – when you can relax and worry less about your children’s well-being.

4. You’ll create a new story for your life built on reclaiming your personal power rather than letting your divorce define who you are or the choices you make.

Focusing your energy on what’s going on in your home and encouraging your children to have a healthy connection with their father will pay off in the long run. Another important reason to avoid being a gatekeeper is to respect your child’s and ex-spouse’s boundaries. When your children are with your ex, honor their time together and try not to plan activities or partake in excessive communication with the other parent (phone, text, etc.). Since parental conflict is a factor that contributes greatly to negative outcomes for children after divorce, keeping disagreements to a minimum is a key aspect of helping your child become resilient. You owe it to yourself and your children to avoid playing the role of a gatekeeper.

More From Terry:

Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter,  Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com

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negative post-divorce feelings

Negative Post-Divorce Feelings: One Day They’re Going To Get The Best Of Me

negative post-divorce feelings

 

I’m a divorced mom who has shared custody of an 8-year-old girl. I have a good job, great friends, own a house, and am generally happy.

However, I have personal issues that I am working on that I constantly hope will resolve faster. I own it, I mostly hate it, and I’m working through it.

I have guilt, I have entitlement, and I have anger. One day, one of those three things is going to get the better of me.

Negative Post-Divorce Feelings I Have:

Guilt. 

I want more for my daughter. I want her to have the happiest easiest life. I want her to walk to school and have friends and play and go to birthday parties and sleepovers. I want her to worry about kid things like her best friend has more scrunchies than her, or that she didn’t know who to sit with at lunch in the cafeteria.

I don’t want her to worry about which parent she will be with for the first day of school, or her birthday, or the holidays. When our neighbors have birthday parties for their kids, it might be a weekend she is with her dad. There is always a 50% chance.  She misses out, and I don’t want my beautiful girl to miss out on anything.

She has to worry about her homework and if her piano music got copied and sent to dad’s house. Are her favorite shoes at mom’s house? Because she wants to wear them to a party. It breaks my heart that I can’t give her the life that other parents can, by providing one home that she lives in and can thrive in, as opposed to two.

Entitlement. 

This is a big one. I endured a lot in my short marriage. Excessive drinking, lying, and infidelity. My ex-husband had an affair my entire pregnancy and left me to fend for myself. When he was around, he was not a nice person. He made his resentments very well known to me.

The night before my daughter was born, the San Jose Sharks were in the playoffs. I was to be induced the next day. I told him I was making a special dinner for us since it is our last night before the baby comes. He left work, stopped at the bar for a drink, and came home to find out that I had recorded the wrong channel. I recorded the news instead of the Sharks game. He had a massive tantrum, including yelling at me that I can’t do anything right, I am useless, and for God’s sake, I’m not even wearing TEAL.

I cried, and packed a bag and spent the night in a hotel so I could have a peaceful night before giving birth. After being induced, 72 hours of labor, hemorrhaging and needing emergency surgery and a blood transfusion, I had my baby. She was perfect.

So yes, shouldn’t I be entitled to have my own daughter on her birthday? Not every other year, but every year. Shouldn’t I get to raise her and love her and be with her daily? The law says that no, I shouldn’t. That his genetic material made up 50% of our daughter, so he gets 50% of her. On good days I am glad she has a good relationship with him. On bad days, I don’t think he even deserves the title of father since he was such a jerk during my pregnancy and her first couple of months.

I think I deserve more time with her. That am entitled to more. Did he have hyperemesis during pregnancy and was bedridden? Nope, that was me. Did he almost die during labor? Nope, me again. Did he party and binge drink, and sleep with another woman for months while I was sick and alone? Yes, he did.  Entitlement is a killer, and at times I think it eats at my soul.

Anger: 

I left my husband twice. The first time when my daughter was 6 weeks old when I discovered his long involved affair.  When my daughter was a year old, I decided to try a relationship with her dad again since he appeared so remorseful and made great strides in cleaning up his life. That lasted about 2 years before the binge drinking, blacking out, and other precarious outings with women started.

He was drunk driving quite a bit. His behavior was erratic. I wanted to fix up my daughter’s room by painting the walls and getting some cute little decals. He had a tantrum and said she wasn’t worth it, and he refused to spend the money and demanded I return everything I bought. The last night we were ever living together as a married couple, a policeman had to pick my little girl out of her crib in her onesie pajamas, and told me I had 5 minutes to get a go-bag since my husband was so drunk the police officer said he was not to be trusted.

I was in such a hysterical state, that I packed my car with my daughter, our dog, and a bag filled with shoes. SHOES. Nothing else. That is how crazy an incident like that can make a person. I left him and went to stay with my parents and told him I would be back in one week and he better have found another place to live by then.

Do you want to know what this horrible human being did?

He went to rehab.

He started rehab 2 days after my daughter and I left. He has been sober for almost 5 years now. He has a great job, a house, two cars, a boat, and is president of the PTA. I can’t even make this stuff up. I am grateful every day that he is healthy and seemingly happy and has stepped up as a father. He wants to be involved in everything that our kiddo does. He drives on field trips, he takes her on vacations, and he has taken her to more playoff games for Bay Area sports teams than most grown adults have gone to.

So why am I so angry?

Because he put me through hell. I have sheltered my daughter from any of it so her father and I can sit next to each other at her dance recitals or gymnastics classes. I have bitten my tongue and sacrificed my daunting ego so that she has a loving relationship with her father.

The jerk who came to the baby classes drunk is now the head of the PTA.  He has a girlfriend of several years and they take my daughter on trips together. They take her to church. They painted her room at her dad’s house pink. She has a cute bedspread and a ton of toys, and a basketball hoop him the backyard at his house.

She loves her dad. Which on good days I am so grateful for. So when I have Christmas every other year alone watching Netflix, and eating copious amounts of ice cream, I get angry. Angry at him for being so great now, angry at myself for putting up with so much, angry at all the happy families that are spending Christmas together. Just plain angry.

My ex-husband and I still argue. We still have disagreements about custody and money. Our daughter has no idea, and we are able to sit together at school functions without clawing at each other’s eyes.  I am several years in as a divorced mom, but it honestly feels like this journey just started. Like I should be farther along than I am.

I should be happy for my ex-husband. I should be enjoying my free time more, I should be traveling, going out, laughing. Sometimes I am doing great; however, sometimes I am missing my daughter and I don’t know who I am without her. Everyone says it gets better, and sharing custody gets easier. After several years as a co-parent, I shouldn’t have so much guilt, I shouldn’t be so entitled, and I shouldn’t be angry.

But it is my process and my truth. And I can decide to let it get the better of me, or thrive.

The post Negative Post-Divorce Feelings: One Day They’re Going To Get The Best Of Me appeared first on Divorced Moms.

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Do The Struggles Of Co-Parenting Ever End?

struggles of co-parenting

 

As a therapist and writer specializing in divorce, I’m often asked, “When does co-parenting get easier?” While there is no simple answer to this question, most experts probably agree that while families usually adapt to co-parenting over time, it never really gets easier. Most co-parenting arrangements, especially after an acrimonious split, can be exhausting and exasperating.

Put simply, the challenges change as children grow and develop. Consequently, it’s key for parents to keep in mind that the tools necessary to succeed need to be modified considerably as children age and mature.

Do The Struggles Of Co-Parenting Ever End?

Clearly, research by child development experts demonstrates numerous benefits to children when their living arrangements enable support from both parents. One reason is that parents who co-parent tend to experience lower conflict than those who have sole custody arrangements.

Studies show that conflict is what creates the most pain and anguish for children after parents’ split and that keeping parental disagreements to a minimum is a key aspect of helping kids become resilient.

Co-parenting, at its best, is a wonderful opportunity for children of divorce to have close to equal access to both parents – to feel it is okay to love both of their parents.  Dr. Joan Kelly, a renowned psychologist reminds us that the outcomes for children of divorce improve when they have positive bonds with both parents. These include better psychological and behavioral adjustment and enhanced academic performance.

However, few authors mention that while co-parenting is the best decision for children, it takes two special parents to navigate this arrangement over time. Interacting with each other at drop-offs, making shared decisions, or even speaking to an ex who you’d rather forget can be a challenge.

In order to succeed at co-parenting, it’s wise to be realistic about the difficulties that may arise as your kids go through childhood and adolescence. For instance, it might be hard to differentiate between the impact of your divorce and normal adolescent rebellion.

For instance, my two children spent close to equal time with both myself and their father until they reached adolescence when they both protested their schedule.  When my daughter was thirteen, after her father’s remarriage, she chooses to spend most overnights at my home, while her brother started spending more overnights at his father’s house because it was located near most of his friend’s homes.

Fortunately, my ex and I agreed that it was in their best interests to revise their schedule. As a result, our kids thrived as they felt their needs were being respected.

There are numerous benefits of co-parenting for kids:

Children will:

  1. Feel a sense of security. Children who maintain a close bond with both parents and are more likely to have higher self-esteem.
  2. Have better psychological adjustment into adulthood. My research shows that adults raised in divorced families report higher self-esteem and fewer trust issues if they had close to equal time with both parents.
  3. Grow up with a healthier template for seeing their parents cooperate. By cooperating with their other parent, you establish a life pattern that they can carry into their future.
  4. Have better problem-solving skills. Children and adolescents who witness their parents cooperate are more likely to learn how to effectively resolve problems themselves.

The key to successful co-parenting is to keep the focus on your children – and to maintain a cordial relationship with your ex-spouse. Most importantly, you want your children see that their parents are working together for their well-being. Never use them as messengers because when you ask them to tell their other parent something for you, it can make them feel stuck in the middle. It’s best to communicate directly with your ex and lessen the chances your children will experience loyalty conflicts.

The following are suggestions based on my own experience and advice from experts. First of all, it’s paramount that you gear your parenting plan to the age of your children and that it is consistent. Try to develop routines for them leaving and coming home when they are young. As they reach adolescence, they strive to be more flexible and adapt to their changing needs.

Tips to help kids live happily in two homes:

For children under age 10:

  1. Reassure them that they have two parents who love them. If they balk at going to their other parent’s home, you can say something like “Even though mom and dad aren’t married anymore we both still love you and are good parents.”
  2. Maintain a cordial, business-like relationship with your ex so that your children won’t feel intensely divided loyalties. It’s important not to express anger at your ex in front of your children so they don’t feel stuck in the middle
  3. Help your kids anticipate changes in their schedule. Planning ahead and helping them pack important possessions can benefit them. However, keep items to a bare minimum. Most parents prefer to have duplicate items for their kids on hand.
  4. Encourage your younger child to adhere to their parenting time schedule – being consistent with their schedule will help your kids feel secure. Younger children often benefit from avoiding frequent shifts between homes.
  5. Show enthusiasm about their visit with their other parent. It’s important to put your differences with your ex aside and to promote your children’s positive bond with them.

For children over age 10 – to young adulthood:

  1. Allow for flexibility in their schedule. At times, teens may have difficulty juggling their busy life with school, extracurricular activities, friends, and jobs if they start working.
  2. Encourage them to spend time with their friends and extended family (on both sides). Avoid giving them the impression that being with their friends is not as important as spending time with you.
  3. Plan activities with them that might include their friends at times – such as sporting events or movies. Encourage opportunities for them to bond with peers at both homes.
  4. Respect your teen’s need for autonomy and relatednessDr. Emery writes, “Teenagers naturally want more freedom, but they also want and need relationships with their parents, through your adolescent may be unwilling to admit this.”

Keep in mind that communicating with your former spouse is going to be necessary for the length of your children’s childhood into young adulthood. This may include special events, graduations – and perhaps even weddings.  It’s important to keep clear boundaries so that your children wouldn’t harbor fantasies that you will reconcile.

For the most part, this means less personal sharing and focusing on exchanging information, cooperation, and make good decisions about your children.

Finally, modeling cooperation and polite behavior set a positive tone for co-parenting. When children are confident of the love of both of their parents, they will adjust more easily to divorce. Keeping your differences with your ex away from your children will open up opportunities to move beyond divorce in the years to come. Ask yourself this question: how do you want your children to remember you and their childhood when they are adults?

Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com

More From Terry

Fathers and Daughters: An essential bond After Divorce

Building Resiliency In Children After Divorce

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aggressive parenting

Is Your Ex An “Aggressive Parent?” Here Are 9 Signs

aggressive parenting

 

According to Alan Kemp in his book Abuse in the Family, domestic violence is defined as “A form of maltreatment perpetrated by a person with whom the victim has or had a close personal relationship.” (Kemp, P.36)

Furthermore, the clinical and textbook definitions and categories of child psychological maltreatment found in Table 3-1 of Alan Kemp’s book, Abuse in the Family, on pages 72-77, can easily be applied to show it as a horrific form of domestic violence via psychological maltreatment.

This book is just one of many textbooks used to teach students and professionals about psychological maltreatment and the categories that make it up. Whether one believes in the term parental alienation or not, the following criteria help to show that certain behavior perpetrated by a parent can cause a child to withdraw their love from the other parent.  For the sake of this article, we will term this abuse as aggressive parenting.

9 Signs of Aggressive Parenting:

  • Rejecting (spurning)
  • Terrorizing
  • Corrupting
  • Denying essential stimulation, emotional responsiveness, or availability
  • Unreliable and inconsistent parenting
  • Mental health, medical, or educational neglect
  • Degrading/devaluing (spurning)
  • Isolating
  • Exploiting

An Explanation of the 9 Signs

By deliberately isolating the child from other family members and social supports, isolation is occurring.  The whole premise of aggressive parenting is to isolate and distance the children from the targeted parent or any other individual who supports the targeted parent.

If the aggressive parent uses threats or denigrating tactics, to force the child to comply, this can be seen as terrorizing.  As well, verbal denigration, harassment and exploitation of the targeted parent is very prominent and a key indicator of aggressive parenting.

In addition, domestic violence includes the exploitation and use of the child for personal gain.

Thus in aggressive parenting, when the child is used to destroy the targeted parent by denying visitation or a relationship between the other parent and the child or is used for monetary gains such as excessive expenses beyond child support, they are in effect committing domestic violence.  It is for these reasons that aggressive parenting or isolating the children from the Targeted Parent can be considered as a form of domestic violence.

Rejecting/Terrorizing

Let’s take this a bit further in its application. When a parent rejects a child because the child shows any love or affection for the targeted parent that is a form of abuse. This is not only a form of rejection but terrorization. In fact, a child’s refusal to come to the targeted parent’s home for fear of losing the aggressive parent’s conditional love is fear and fear is terror.

Corrupting

When an aggressive parent refuses to comply with court orders and tells the child they do not have to either, this is corrupting. It is teaching the child that they are above the law and therefore immune to the court’s authority.  When a parent files false allegations of abuse and convinces the child to do the same, this is corruption.

When an aggressive parent tells the child lies about the targeted parent, and that anything having to do with the targeted parent is illegal, immoral and disgusting, this is corrupting.  In fact, this is a form of discrimination and prejudice, which corrupts the child’s minds.

Denying Essential Stimulation, Emotional Responsiveness, or Availability

By refusing to allow the children to have a relationship with the targeted parent, for no reason other than their own need to control the ex-spouse, the aggressive parent is denying them the basic elements of stimulation, emotions, and availability with the targeted parent. In fact, the targeted parent has little to no opportunity to defend themselves against false allegations.

Though they will have you believe that they or the children feared for their lives and that the targeted parent was abusive, this is usually unsubstantiated or proven by the courts to be a fabrication. With no basis for this denial, the aggressive parent refuses their child a warm and loving relationship with the targeted parent.

Unreliable and Inconsistent Parenting

Since the children have been denied a relationship with the targeted parent, they have also been denied a reliable and consistent parenting situation and the aggressive parent has proven that they cannot parent consistently and reliably in the supporting of a two-parent relationship with the children.

Mental, Medical and Educational Neglect

When an aggressive parent refuses to comply with numerous separate court orders for counseling, they are denying their children’s mental health. Thus mental neglect has occurred as defined in the DSM IV as Malingering.

Denigrating/Devaluing

If despite numerous court orders or requests and recommendations, the aggressive parent continues to insult, verbally abuse and denigrate the child’s targeted parent in front of the child, this behavior degrades and devalues someone the child once respected and loved and in most cases, secretly wants a relationship with.

This disdain and disrespect for the targeted parent in front of the child is another form of psychological maltreatment as it permanently affects their view of the targeted parent, which transfers to their view of themselves. This creates a distorted sense of reality, of themselves and their ability to trust and accurately judge others.

Isolation

When a parent deliberately sabotages a relationship with the targeted parent by refusing to allow visits, calls, or any form of healthy communication, with no evidence of abuse, this is called isolation. Furthermore, when a parent has initially allowed continuous contact with the children during the separation and divorce period, but reneges on this, refusing visitation, especially when they find out their ex-spouse has a new partner, this is isolation and abuse.

This is also called Remarriage as a Trigger for Parental Alienation Syndrome and can be further reviewed in an article by Dr. Richard Warshak, There is no doubt this is isolation and thus psychological abuse.

Exploitation

When a parent uses the children as pawns to get back at their ex spouse for not loving them anymore or to control them further, this is exploitation.  When an aggressive parent uses the children and makes false allegations of abuse, terrorizing the children to state they hate the targeted parent, this is exploitation.  When a parent uses the children for monetary gains such as child support, but yet does not allow the children a relationship with the targeted parent, this is exploitation.

In Conclusion

When you add all these signs up, it is easy to see how Aggressive Parenting, can be classified as child psychological maltreatment in a divorce situation.  When you put it all together, the DSM sums up the aggressive parent quite nicely under Cluster B Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder.

The aggressive parent willfully and without regard to the child or the targeted parent’s welfare, or the innocent extended family’s welfare, continually violates their rights and disregards their needs for a relationship. The aggressive parent callously puts their own desires, wants and needs above those of everyone else including their own child.

This all adds up to one thing, Domestic Violence in the form of psychological maltreatment.  So why does Child Protective Services refuses to protect the children from this form of abuse when the signs and symptoms are so clearly evident?

The post Is Your Ex An “Aggressive Parent?” Here Are 9 Signs appeared first on Divorced Moms.

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Developing Productive Co-Parenting Communication

productive co-parenting communication

 

Parenting can be difficult even in an in-tact household wherein even residing together the time spent together as parents, uninterrupted in thought and time for discussion, results in many discussions occurring through text, email and in passing.

Of course, the hustle and bustle of the world we live in as parents leave much room for errors in schedules, forgotten appointments, and confusion as to who is where. This is even more difficult for two parents who do not reside together yet share in one mutual goal- raising and being involved in their children’s schedules and lives on an equal basis.

Productive Co-Parenting Communication

Married or not, raising children takes a lot of communication. Unfortunately, communication in relationships that have broken down for one reason or the other is made even more difficult and can create a host of issues for couples attempting to co-parent absent a close relationship or any at all for that matter. As family law attorneys, we are often faced with questions, concerns and issues from our client stemming from the lack of communication, i.e. the other side not providing information or not being responsive.

Other times, the absence of communication is used to assert control and intentionally keep the other parent out of the loop. On the other hand, some parents utilize communication in a manner which is harassing such as incessantly texting, calling, or making things difficult. Either way, the reality is that communication in strained relationships can be incredibly difficult and as a result, children suffer by missing activities, homework assignments, family outings, etc.

Therefore, focusing on simple ways to communicate, absent the need to involve lawyers and judges, is the most productive and cost-effective way to co-parent when the relationship with the other parent is less than ideal. The reality is that the involvement of lawyers and the court’s not only costs thousands of dollars, but there is also a delay in resolution by virtue of the time needed for everyone to respond.

Therefore, it is simply not practical on any level to require the use of your lawyer to communicate about everyday issues regarding your children.

It is significant to note that communication is one of the primary statutory factors the courts consider in determining custody and parenting time arrangements. Moreover, just not getting along is not enough to prove that two adults cannot communicate in a manner which would cause a court to minimize either parent’s role.

In fact, the New Jersey Supreme Court has long held that joint legal custody is the “preferred” custody arrangement and that this requires sharing the responsibility for jointly making “major” decisions regarding the child’s welfare, developing a productive way of communication is key to the success of not only the co-parenting relationship but the children’s success overall.

That being said, family law attorneys, as well as Judge’s, are mindful of the difficulties parent’s may have communicating during less than ideal times. Therefore, the focus and trend have been to encourage the use of apps that parties can utilize to limit and focus the communication to just the issues versus the text message and/or email chains that seemingly increase in hostility with the back and forth involved.

For example, one method of communication often utilized by co-parents, either by way of agreement or more frequently now being Court Ordered, is Our Family Wizard.  Our Family Wizard obviously cannot circumvent the use of communication as a weapon in contested or tension ridden co-parenting relationships, however, it is designed to assist parents by having categories that limit and narrow the issues and minimize the probability of misinterpretation of miscommunication.

Parents can download the children’s schedules, they can monitor parenting time changes in their schedules, and even scan in the children’s expenses, none of which can be altered if needed for use in Court. In other words, it is a protected forum which allows communication between parents about the issues relating to their children and provides clearer documentation in the event that communication (or lack of same) is the overriding issue.

In sum, learning and finding a way to communicate is essential to raising children regardless of the status of your relationship. Utilizing applications such as Cozi, Our Family Wizard, Truece, and other applications which permit scanning, scheduling and limit the opportunity for emotions to supersede the issues is beneficial to everyone’s quality of life, especially and most importantly the children involved.

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Can I Modify My Child Custody Agreement Myself, Without Going to Court?

modify child custody agreement

 

As an experienced Somerset, NJ divorce and family law attorney, I can tell you that the answer is yes, of course! But I don’t advise it, because when you and your ex alter your child custody arrangements on your own, you are creating more problems than you are solving.

Who suffers? Ultimately, your children.  Read on to find out how you can best protect your children and your parental rights.

Can I Modify My Child Custody Agreement?

The Child Custody Agreement

How a child custody agreement is reached varies by state, but in general, it is negotiated as part of your divorce and a court decree is entered setting forth the child custody terms. When parents agree on what living and legal arrangements are best for their children, the process goes smoothly.

When parents disagree, this is where the court steps in, attorneys negotiate, and a compromise is reached. Most often, compromise satisfies neither party and there are continuing ill feelings. But at least there is a court order in place, and either you or your ex could ask the court to step in if one of you fails to comply with it.

Generally, the initial child custody agreement will establish who has physical and legal custody, and whether there is joint custody shared between the parents or one parent has sole custody.

Physical vs Legal Custody

In most states, legal and physical custody are different rights. The child lives primarily with the parent who has physical custody. Either parent or both may have the right to make decisions for the child, and this is called legal custody.

When parents are married, both have physical and legal custody of their children.  When married parents divorce, these rights must be either divided or shared.

Joint Custody vs. Sole Custody

These are what they say they are:  where children live with both parents, this is called Joint Custody. In this situation, both parents as a practical matter often retain joint legal custody.

Sole Custody is the term for when one parent has both physical and legal custody of a child. Usually, for the other parent to lose these rights, there is a hearing and the judge will make that determination based upon factors that vary by state.

Asking the Court to Alter The Child Custody Agreement

Parents who change the terms of child custody through the courts are doing the most they can to protect their rights as parents because the court issues an order memorializing those changes.  Thereafter, the new child custody terms can be enforced by the court should one party fail to keep to them.

Altering the Terms of Child Custody on Your Own

Of course, you and your ex can agree to change the child custody arrangement outside of court.  It’s quick, easy (assuming you both agree), and cheap in that there no attorney fees or court filing fees. But beware of the following pitfalls of changing the child custody agreement on your own:

The court will not and cannot enforce your new child custody terms.

If your ex wakes up one day and decides not to stick to the new child custody arrangement, there is nothing you can do about it. Only a court order is legally binding on your ex. There is no way to enforce your informal agreement with your ex.

Your ex can get the court to enforce the terms of the original child custody agreement.

You might be acting in good faith and sticking to the changes you and your ex worked out.  But your ex could still haul you in front of the judge and demand that the court enforce the original child custody order.  That would be well within his rights, and the court would find that you are the party who violated the order.

Changes in child custody may work out at first, but if you allow one informal change, where does it end?

It is common for an ex to take advantage of the situation when you are willing to make informal changes, either planned or on-the-fly.  Your life could become a hell of variables and resentment, with your ex constantly demanding little changes to the child custody schedule and you feeling powerless to say no because you allowed such changes in the past.

In short, making informal changes to child custody might seem convenient and harmless at the time but you end up laying the groundwork for future conflict between you and your ex. Didn’t you go through the pain of divorce to end that conflict? Your children also suffer, not only from the revived conflict between you but from the uncertainty in their parenting schedule. Parents who remain civil, a calm, stable environment, and a predictable schedule all help children heal from divorce.

Let the court help you and your children, and your ex, move forward in an orderly and predictable way by memorializing any needed change to a child custody agreement with a court order.

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