As someone who has spent a fair amount of time writing about divorce, single parenting and the effects of both on children, I am often asked for advice in private. Friends I thought were happy reveal their pain and challenges, and others share with me the journey that someone else in their family or social circle is experiencing, asking for advice and whatever wisdom and perspective I can offer.
I am not, of course, an attorney, and my firsthand knowledge is based purely on my own experience, which is thankfully many years in the past. My ex and I get along quite well now, I’m glad to report, though it’s been years for us to get to this point and not without its adverse impact on each of our children in their separate ways.
Still, I am always happy to talk about my own experiences and offer thoughts and suggestions about the situation others find themselves in, for what benefit it can offer.
In that light, a good friend reached out for some advice about her boyfriend and the tense, difficult relationship they both have with his ex. Divorced for over a year, they have two children, now 6 and 12. Here’s our discussion:
Friend: To start, you should know that my bf’s ex took him to court over supposed unpaid health costs and the judge told her that she opened it in the wrong court, and that the court does not mandate ex spouses paying half of health insurance. Her reaction? She marches back into the courthouse and files a request for more spousal support!
Problem is, she’s messing with the wrong folk: I did the math and unlike what she claims, her expenses do not exceed her income and she’s playing games by adding how much money that I contribute to the household as basis of his income. Meanwhile, she’s also cohabiting, paying for her fianceé’s motorcycle, and trying to hide that they’re engaged.
It’s just kind of crazy! She’s greedy and we’re just so tired of it. I’m not looking for specific advice since we’ll have a lawyer, but, I was curious about others’ experiences, because I recall your divorce being contentious around money too?
Me: I have to say that just about 100% of situations I’ ve heard about have this same characteristic: actions out of pain and hurt, not logic. And the kids are always left trying to figure out WTF is going on and why mommy and daddy hate each other’s guts ?
Friend: The kids come to us saying things like, we don’t like mommy’s boyfriend, mommy is mean.. we take some of it with a grain of salt and tell them that they need to be nice to their mom, so while we don’t 100% believe everything the kids tell us, we know there’s a pretty big element to her parenting in a way that shows them she doesn’t care.
When you’re 6 years old and have a breakdown because you got crayon on your shorts and you’re scared of what your mom is going to do, well… that’s what happened sometime last year, Emma cried one day when we were just playing that her mom would be upset that she got crayon on her shorts. I rushed to clean them before the kids switched back. It’s these kinds of things, almost every single visitation.
Me: Tough. Focus on when they’re with you, though. Commiserate in a way that doesn’t affirm their bias, if you can, but say “let’s make TODAY really fun then!”
Friend: That’s awesome advice.
Friend: Haha yeah I agree, I’m sure they do. We just try to distract them!
We bought Emma some books to help her improve her reading before school starts, and that’s been lovely and lots of fun.
Me: Good! Focus on the positive. Make time with Dad the best it can be. That’s really all you can do.
Friend: To be honest, we have a few other couples friends who have similar struggles and it helps that we share our stories and that they share theirs.
Me: Sorry you have to deal with it, but I think the one thing divorced couples never acknowledge is the hurt, pain and disappointment. It motivates SO MUCH of behavior in those first few separated / divorced years, but everyone just externalizes it. So it’s all the other person’s fault. I did it too.
Friend: Yeah, a lot of the early stage of our relationship was figuring out those emotions. 🙁
It’s easy for me to get upset, because I see how she’s treating him, even though he’s a super supportive dad, pays his child support on time and in full, WANTS their mother to be able to provide for them and WANTS them to have a good relationship with their mother. Just to be met with court filings and deluges of nasty messages.
Me: Perhaps you miss the fundamental human side of this: I suspect she feels she’s failed as a wife and mother, and since she doesn’t want to own any of it, therefore the break in her life MUST be his fault. So everything he does is insufficient because he can’t “fix” it. Better to draw a rational, generous and supportive line and stick there.
Friend: Well, I’m sure to a certain degree she feels failure, but she’s told him for years and years that he has never amounted to anything and that he’s incompetent as a father and parent, and that all he can do is work. Which makes no sense: now that I’ve lived with him for a while and seen him do laundry, dishes, etc. A man doesn’t just up and learn how to do these things if he hasn’t done it all himself for years!
Me: Ugh. just a tough situation, for sure. glad you two are happy, tho.
Now, if you had been part of this conversation, what additional advice and thoughts would you have offered my friend? Please leave your thoughts in the comments, below. Conversation republished with permission, in case you’re curious, and specific details have been changed for privacy reasons.