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BFSO readers, I need your opinion. I have been opining this subject for a while now. Actually, it is eating away at me because I have always tried really hard to not let what an ex does or doesn’t do or something he says or doesn’t say to me bother me. My 19 year old son, L’s, father lives in California. We were married for 5 years. During that time, as I have written before, he was very physically abusive to me in front of my two older boys. My oldest son was not his biological child.
Last May, when my son graduated high school, my ex and I got into a huge argument, over the phone over his car insurance payment. The only thing I ask him to do is pay his car insurance $72.00 a month and that has only been since he was 17. So, the first 17 years, he never paid a dime of support or helped me in anyway. He didn’t work when we were married. Anyway, at the time of our argument, he said to me “Diane, our son is 19. I don’t have to have anything else to do with you. I don’t have to talk to you, I can talk to L from now on.” That really made me think. How do you say that to the mother of your child? If it weren’t for me, he wouldn’t have his only son, his namesake.
Well, he’s right. He doesn’t. But, that really hurt me. I raised this boy on my own, got the crap beat out of me by this man, and now he just writes me off because our son is 19. I think what bothers me more is that my son WANTS a relationship with him. For some reason, I feel a little bit betrayed by my son. I was the one struggling, making $15,000 a year, eating oatmeal at night so the boys could eat what little meat I could afford to buy. I was the one crying at night wondering how I was gonna pay the daycare that next week, buy groceries and have enough money to last me to the next paycheck.
I never asked for child support from him, not a dime. We divorced when my son was 4. I was so afraid of him that I didn’t want him to have any reason to come around us. The court ordered supervised visitation, with no overnights and that he seek batterers treatment counseling, etc. The court did order child support, but I stipulated that he didn’t have to pay it and I moved away. My question is….why would my son want a relationship with him when he has done NOTHING for him, ever? Needless to say, from the time my son was 8 through now, 19, my son has seen him a total of 4 times. Now that he is 19, my ex tries to have a father-son relationship with him, calls him on his cell, talks about the Lakers; which is both of their favorite team. My son acts like they are the best of friends and it makes me almost physically sick because he has no idea the pain this man has caused me. Just the raising of this man’s voice still scares me to this day. My son doesn’t see that pain. My son doesn’t understand the things his dad took away from me during those years of abuse. He took everything from me. My self-esteem, my self-worth, my pride and he placed fear in my heart. Why does he want to have anything to do with him? I know I am being selfish. My son deserves a relationship with his father….but he is a horrible father. I have forgiven my ex, but I haven’t forgotten and I guess, I didn’t expect my son to forget either.
It bothers the heck out of me. HELP!!!!!
I have an issue that I’d like to reach out to the BFSO Advisory Board (that’s you readers, by the way) for advice on. It’s about my ex and his relationship with our son. Most of you know, by reading the blog, that my ex is an overseas basketball player and has been since I was pregnant with our son. As such, he’s been living out of the country ever since our son was born and he’s now 11. As a result, they pretty much don’t have a meaningful relationship. My ex wants to change that and so do I, but we clash on how to do so. He is only in the states about 8 weeks, maybe a little more on occasion, out of the entire year and has been since I was pregnant. Therefore, my son has never had the opportunity to develop a meaningful bond with him. It took my son a long while before he actually wanted to go over to their house, without being forced. Over the past few years, however, it has gotten better; especially since his wife and son stay behind while he goes to Spain to play basketball. It has allowed my son to spend more time in his second home, with his second mom and little brother. Now, he loves to spend as much time with them [his second mom and brother] as he can, and I certainly don’t mind. As a matter of fact, my husband and I are both very happy that he asks to go over every weekend, holiday or whenever he has a break from school. It confirms that his second mom really makes him feel at home when he’s there. I thank God for that…what a relief! The problems occur when my ex returns for his 8 week visit. My son almost instantly withdraws and doesn’t want to go over. Last summer, he even said, “I’ll just wait until dad leaves before I go over there again.” When I asked him why he said that he just didn’t feel comfortable when his dad was there. He said that he’d like for him (his dad) to get to know him better.
Let me explain…my son is a highly intelligent, straight A student. He started booting up the computer (on his own) and playing educational games at age 18 months, putting together 100 piece puzzles before age 2 and reading, fluently, by age 3. He’s our brainiac who loves anything having to do with science. Some of our conversations are even over my head! Additionally, he’s the sweetest, most kind-hearted, compassionate, wise individual (not kid, but person) that you’d ever meet. Most people (his teachers, friends’ parents, etc) literally compare him to Ghandi. His bio-dad, on the other hand, is a jock. He’s the professional basketball player, who like most (I don’t mean to stereotype, but it’s true) are self-absorbed individuals, who think that world starts and stops around their schedule because they play basketball. Are you starting to see how the two completely clash??
With that said, I can really tell, especially since my ex is getting older and finally growing up, that he desires a more meaningful relationship with our son. But, he wants our son to do so on his terms. He thinks that by forcing him to stay the entire summer (the 8 weeks that he’s here) that their relationship will automatically improve. I told him that forcing him would potentially do more harm than good. By the time my son gets over the shock of being forced to stay in an environment that he’s not comfortable in, it’s time for the ex to skip town again, for a year, and they get to do it all over again the next summer. I explained to him that forcing him to be with him will not do any good until he decides to stay put for more than 8 weeks in the summer. Additionally, being a parent is much more than just having him in the house with you. You have to spend time with him and even do things that he wants to do at times. And, because you’ve never had an opportunity to bond, alone time is essential as well. My ex just doesn’t get it at this point. I will say, however, that I can really tell that he’s making a concerted effort to understand where I’m coming from. I’m so happy that although we don’t agree on everything or even always understand each other’s points of view, we both talk about it like adults and then attempt to work out an optimal solution. And, at the end of the day, we both really want what’s best for our son. What a blessing to have finally arrived at this point!
My question for the BFSO Advisory Board is, should I force my son to stay the 8 weeks in the summer, if he doesn’t want to? Legally, I am not obligated to do so because the judge ordered that he give 60 days notice prior to arriving in the states, which he has never done because he said that he just can’t. However, I’m always flexible with the parenting time schedule and allow my son to see his dad and/or second mom as much as he wants. My thoughts are that if dad were doing everything that he was supposed to do, we wouldn’t have to force him. I’ve told him to call regularly, not just from time to time. Use email to communicate with him on a regular basis. I even suggested a webcam for more frequent contact. But, he’s acted on none of my suggestions. Why should I be flexible and bend over backwards to achieve this goal [my son spending more time with him], and why should my son be forced to be uncomfortable, if dad can’t hold up his end of the bargain? Whether it be because he can’t or isn’t willing? What do you readers think?
Divorced parents argue, agonize and litigate constantly, over how much time their children will spend with each of them. As these parents are held captive by complicated calendars and negotiate [fight] about parenting time, it has become more and more apparent to me, that the battles are really power struggles due to fear of losing relationships with their children. Their concern is seemingly more about their interests rather than about their childrens’ best interest. Through it all, no one bothers to ask the children exactly how they feel and how it affects them. Parents either assume that their children will adjust, unaffected or are too wrapped up in “sticking it” to the other parent that they simply don’t care. Through informal interviews with children and adults of divorce and blended families as well as a research study done by Dr. Constance Ahrons, author of The Good Divorce, the inconsistency regarding what mattered to the children and what mattered to the parents was amazing. As such, I thought it would be interesting to share with you what the children want you to know.
As you may know, the opinions of children are often overlooked as it pertains to divorce, so they had a lot to say. As a result, I decided to create a series of articles regarding what the children want you to know. The first will be what the children want you to know about living arrangements and parenting time.
What the children want you to know about living arrangements and parenting time
Deciding living arrangements and parenting time after a divorce is just about as painful as contemplating the divorce itself. It’s extremely overwhelming when trying to agree on what’s in the best interest of your children post-divorce. Parents become engrossed by rigid schedules which calculate their respective time with their children to the exact second. They want to be sure that they aren’t being cheated out of their parental rights. Most mothers don’t want their babies bouncing back and forth like a ping pong ball between households. They assume that by having their children spend the majority of time with them that they are creating stable households in an already chaotic world for their children. Fathers, on the other hand, desire to remain in contact and involved the way they were prior to the divorce, and feel that having equal time between both parents will allow their children to retain their relationships with each parent. Hopefully, by listening to these children, parents will be able to figure out the most favorable living and parenting time situation for their children.
The results from my study (20 children and adults who are products of divorce/blended families) and Dr. Constance Ahrons study (173 grown children of divorce and blended families) were consistent. All of them expressed that they would have liked to have their needs considered more. Some noted what really upset them, even more than the going back and forth, was the constant fighting over which one had more time. It truly made them feel as if it really wasn’t about spending time with them at all. Instead, it felt like they were more interested in punishing each other. Additionally, they said that they wanted to be able to maintain meaningful relationships with BOTH parents. When one parent limited contact with the other, for whatever reason, it made them feel as if they were losing that parent. It almost felt like a death, to them. They not only lost their family, but they lost a parent as well. All they want is to be able to continue their lives with as little stress and interruption as possible, and suddenly losing a relationship with a parent IS STRESSFUL!
These children also want you to know that transitioning from house to house IS HARD! To them, it feels like they have to deal with change over which they have no control. They want to have their needs considered. For example, older children (12 and up) desire flexibility in the parenting time schedule. Feeling tied to a strict schedule is annoying and unfair. Smaller children want to be reassured that things will be okay. They feel frightened, left out and confused.
When parents are in conflict
When parents are in conflict, children said that they NEVER look forward to going back and forth. They detest being grilled by either parent about what’s going on in the other household. They also despise their parents bad-mouthing the other, putting them in the difficult position of having to choose sides. These children expressed that their parents can reduce stress by at least minimally cooperating and leaving them out of grown up issues. This group also declared that they are smarter than what we give them credit for. Even the parents who are gritting their teeth to operate in what they think is a civil manner, their children still feel a great deal of hostility.
My husband and his ex-wife are a great example of this. I once reached out to her asking if we could sit down and resolve our issues because she clearly had and has a major problem with me. Her response was that she didn’t wish to disrupt the level of calm and civility in K’s (stepson) life at this time. To her, things were calm and K was properly adjusting because nobody was literally tearing each other apart when in the same room. She didn’t take into account that visitation drop-off and pick-up occurs in front of a police station where they each stand on opposite sides of the street, while not even making eye contact with each other and delivering handwritten notes via K. But, even K and M (my son) could tell that there was a problem; which was why I tried to reach out to her. Often times K and M (at 6 and 7 years old) would debate about how much K’s parents (my husband and his ex-wife) HATED each other, and they used that specific word. So, parents just because you aren’t yelling and arguing back and forth at each other doesn’t mean that your children don’t pick up on the obvious tension.
When parents get along
About one fourth of the entire group noted how beneficial it was to have their parents cooperate with and even like each other! They appreciate their parents talking to each other, in a friendly manner, instead of passing notes via the kids. Having parents who get along helps ease the transition between households; it helps to normalize their dsyfunctional family. They expressed a feeling of security and were less worried about the changes of divorce. These children felt like they adjusted faster and didn’t dwell on their parents being back together again.
In my case, my ex and I cooperate with each other and communicate our disagreements pretty well. I will not say that we agree on everything, but we make every effort to hear the other out, work out an optimal compromise and don’t involve our son. We definitely put his needs above our own interests. We remain flexible with our parenting time schedule and he has unlimited access to either parent in our respective households. Drop off and pick up occurs at our respective homes, and we always have a friendly conversation at those times. As a matter of fact, all of us (me, my husband, my ex and his wife) are friendly with one another. Our son has taken notice of this as well. When he was 6 years old (during that same conversation that he had with my stepson about his parents hating each other) he said that his mommy and daddy liked each other. I asked him how he could tell and he replied, “Because every time you each other, you smile and give each other a hug.” Recently, I asked him if he ever wanted his biological parents to be back together again; and he responded with an emphatic no! He said that he is happy with the way his family is and he wouldn’t change a thing.
What is evident is that regardless of parenting time and living arrangements, children hate being put in the middle. They want their parents to consider their feelings more and work together to resolve conflict that makes an already stressful situation even more stressful. Most importantly, these children want the opportunity to maintain stable and meaningful relationship with BOTH parents. They’ve already lost their family; they don’t desire to lose a parent, too.
Interesting Fact: Children whose parents were constantly in conflict after the divorce grew up to have trust and commitment issues in their own relationships. Almost all of them blamed the divorce on these issues. However, children whose parents cooperated, got along, and encouraged contact and relationships with either parent grew up to embrace family and seemingly adjusted better than the other children post-divorce.
September 16th is National Stepfamily Day, according to the Stepfamily Foundation. As such, I would like to take the opportunity to thank the bonus (I don’t like the word step) members of my family. Don’t forget to do away with the negativity on Stepfamily Day and instead, take this opportunity to recognize and thank the members of your blended families for what they are doing right!
- My first thank you goes to my wonderful husband who is daddy all day, everyday to our son. Thank you for being the primary and prominent male figure in his life. We love you!
- Next, I’d like to thank and recognize my son’s second mom. Every time he leaves your house he comes home talking about how much he loves you, and I can’t tell you how great that makes me feel. And, the fact that you still welcome him with open arms even when his father is out of the country for most of the year is also amazing. I love you for that!
- I’d also like to thank my bonus son’s second dad. We appreciate you being the primary and prominent male figure in his life.
- Finally, I’d like to thank my sons, K and M. They are two of the most wonderful kids I know. We have put them through a lot of changes, but still they remain, kind, honest, intelligent and thoughtful kids. How lucky are we?
Don’t forget to take the time to thank the special members of your blended family as well. Let’s forget about the challenges that we face in our respective blended families and instead, take this day to recognize the blessings that exist within our families.
HAPPY NATIONAL STEPFAMILY DAY!
When newlyweds without children get married they often spend the first few months, if not years, bulding their relationship. However, couples who enter into a ready-made blended family are often more concerned with their children than we each other during the first several years of marriage. Don’t get caught in this trap! Blended family newlyweds need to spend time together building strong marital bonds just like any other traditonal couple. Schedule regular date nights with your spouse; take vacations without the children; and take every moment to remember why YOU TWO fell in love in the first place. Taking these actions will ultimately benefit your children because you are building a strong stable home environment in the process.