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RAISING THE KID YOU WITH THE EX YOU HATE
By EDWARD FARBER
Greenleaf Book Group PressCopyright © 2013 Edward Farber
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCongratulations, You Are Divorced— Now start Co-Parenting
If you enjoy fighting with people, you are now in the right position. Probably never before in your life have you been in a place where every decision you make, large or small, is so likely to be challenged by someone else, sometimes for good reasons and sometimes just because this person hates you and doesn't trust a word you say or a thing you do. And to make matters worse, your challenger has a legal agreement that virtually mandates conflict.
Bound by the court, you must not only consult with your ex before doing anything related to your child, but now the two of you must also agree on matters that in the past you likely decided on your own. And the fact is that you and your ex are stuck together, at least until the child reaches maturity and likely for many years after that. Your murderous fantasies are just that—fantasies.
Your ex now is involved in every aspect of your life as a parent: what you feed your kids, how you discipline them, what activities you drive them to, when they see their friends, what time they go to sleep, what kind of clothes they wear, when they visit your family, when they visit your ex's family, how they pray, and when they do their homework.
You now also have new, unanticipated controls on your own life. They affect your earnings and hours at work, how you spend your holidays and vacations, whether or not you can move, your freedom to introduce new people into the life of your family, even whom you have sex with, and when.
After ending your marriage from hell, you don't really want your ex, through a binding custody agreement, controlling your love life. Yet your custody agreement states: "No non-blood family member of the opposite sex shall spend overnight in either parent's residence in the presence of the minor children." That means not only can your new boyfriend not stay over but also that your married sister and her husband have to stay in a hotel when they visit from out of town. You are free to date every other weekend but have to remember that "weekend visitation is subject to out-of-town business plans, in which case seventy-two hours' notice shall be given in writing and visitation shall occur the following weekend."
You may want to get back in shape, so you decide to sign up for an exercise class every other Wednesday night because your ex has visitation every other Wednesday. Of course, that assumes your ex shows up on time, doesn't cancel, and doesn't bring the kids back early. You cannot move without permission: "Both parents agree to remain in the greater metropolitan area with the intent of co-parenting the children."
If you get a raise, you are likely to find yourself back in court to ante up more for child support. If you get fired, you have to prove that this was not a deliberate attempt on your part to increase the support your ex pays.
You now need permission from your ex to take your children to your parents' anniversary party if it falls during your ex's time with the kids. You have to tell the person you hate if you are going to be out of town: "The parties shall inform each other by email seventy-two hours in advance if they are to be away from their permanent residences for greater than a twenty-four-hour time period or if the child is to be away from a residence listed below for greater than a twenty-four-hour time period."
Your custody agreement will make you feel micromanaged. If you want to take a day for yourself, you may have to inform your ex, who, according to your agreement, may have "the right of first refusal": "If I am unable to care for my child for greater than a six-hour time period, other than school or structured activities, and if I enlist the aid of another adult to supervise my child, I agree to inform the other parent seventy-two hours in advance and that parent shall have the first right to care for the child. Should the other parent be unable or refuse to care for the child, such parent shall inform at least twenty-four hours in advance of such."
You really do not want to tell your ex that you are going out of town for the day to meet your new friend's family, but your ex has a legal right to decide whether or not she wants to take the kids that day. So you decide to tell her a week in advance. Then, six days later your ex calls on Friday morning, twenty-four hours before you plan to leave, saying, "Oh no, I can't take the kids tomorrow, but thanks for asking." If a babysitter canceled twenty-four hours in advance without any reason, you would fire her. But now you have a contract that requires you to turn to your ex first before hiring a babysitter when you need one.
co-Parenting defined: Why it's for You
You have essentially two realistic choices at this point. You can repeatedly smash your head up against the brick wall of your undesirable situation, or you can compromise and accept a new dynamic that will allow you to preserve a best-case scenario—the concept of co-parenting. In a nutshell, co-parenting is a particular post-divorce arrangement designed to create for the child a sustained relationship with both parents. For the sake of their child, the parents agree to cooperate in order to create a consistent, constructive, and positive atmosphere for their child. Both parents will share, in some manner, in decision making for and physical care of their child.
The co-parenting relationship rests on three broad principles that guide parents after divorce to promote positive growth and development in their children. Challenges to these principles are certainly expected, but adhering to these three guidelines increases the probability of success and positive outcomes for your child.
First, research confirms that children of divorce do better if they maintain positive, meaningful, real, and consistent relationships with both of their parents. But is a fifty-fifty living arrangement better than every other weekend with a midweek visit? Or is an every-other-four-day weekend the best alternative? The answer: There is no credible evidence that any one living arrangement is better for the child than another.
That's because the actual amount of time a child spends with each parent after divorce is not the critical factor determining a child's behavioral and emotional stability. Rather, counting time is a control factor for parents determined to claim days, vacation times, and federal holidays with their child. Fanatically dividing a day down to the minute between two parents may be important to you or to your ex, but it doesn't help your child much. I have yet to see a child, other than one whose parents have drawn her into parental anger and anxious mistrust, who cares whether she spends an extra hour a week with one parent over the other.
Obviously, each parent and child need enough time together to allow a relationship to develop and flourish, but as the story of Colin in the introduction demonstrates, creativity and dedication to the plan you've developed outweigh quantity of time together.
What you as parents consider equal parenting means nothing to your child. What matters in the beginning, the middle, and the end is that each parent develops a relationship with the child, not the quantity of time the parent and child spend together.
Second, there is the principle of reducing discord. The parental relationship has to be as free of conflict as possible, which is hard to do after the contentious battle of the divorce with its fights over child support, visitation, alimony, and custody. Despite all that, you and your ex are still your child's parents, and you must model conflict-free parenting-that is, if you want your child to learn how to solve problems by listening, compromising, and hearing different perspectives in order to effectively reach decisions rather than hanging up the phone, cussing someone out, threatening lawsuits, and ignoring others.
Third, parents must work to assure that both are actively involved in the life of the child and making decisions for the child. The children I see for counseling in my clinical psychology practice are hurt by the divorce, but they are far more damaged by their parents' behaviors that follow. And one of the biggest sources of that pain is the difficulty their parents have in making decisions or in simply being together at important times in the children's lives. These kids worry about which parent to spend their birthday with or which parent to invite to their science fair. Because the parents can't decide, the children feel they have to.
The bottom line is that when adults fight-whether about softball or gymnastics, church or synagogue, organic or non-organic-and when they cannot together effectively set consistent boundaries, rules, and expectations that will allow active and meaningful relationship with both parents, the child suffers.
Rule 1: Your child needs Both Parents
Michael was a fourth-grader when his parent's contentious divorce began. Father, a powerful executive diagnosed with bipolar disorder, had a number of affairs and relationships throughout the marriage, many of which Mother knew about but excused in exchange for a life of financial comfort and security. When Michael was seven, Father had another child with one of the two other women he was having active relationships with at that time. His trips out of town for business became more frequent in the last two years of the marriage. One Thanksgiving, when he told his wife he needed to work over the weekend, Mother offered to take the children to his office so he could spend time with his family. Father refused, saying he was forced to work and detailing the number of meetings he had scheduled over the holiday weekend. Mother wised up, hired a private investigator, and discovered Father living with another woman on his weekends at the office. She then filed for divorce.
The bitter divorce battle that followed was over money, not custody. After weeks of confrontation and denials, Michael's father admitted he was having an affair but neglected to say that he was living with another woman and that they already had a two-year-old. Michael soon learned of Father's double life and that he had a stepbrother. An A/B student in third and fourth grades, Michael's grades quickly plummeted to B's and C's. For the first time, Michael began to get in trouble in school. He continued to play soccer and baseball but without his old enthusiasm and success.
Mother argued that given Father's immoral and illegal relationship with the girlfriend and the baby, Michael should have no contact with his father. The courts decided otherwise, giving Father every-other-weekend visitations, provided Father not be with an unmarried, non-related woman overnight in Michael's presence. Father was also given the right to daily phone contact with Michael. Of course, from the third visitation on, Father broke the court order. Father's girlfriend came to "visit" and would stay over to care for his son. Mother filed contempt of court charges against Father. That began a regular pattern of court battles and attorney agreements, brokered and continually broken, until the financial settlement was arranged and the parents divorced. Father married his girlfriend the weekend following his divorce, and Michael was now legally allowed to stay in the house with his "new" stepmother and stepbrother.
Michael's parents' post-separation relationship was never a pleasant one. Mother felt cheated on during her marriage and in the divorce settlement. Her dreams of financial stability were shattered. Unfortunately she showed much of her bitterness and anger to Michael. Mother's selling the family Suburban and million-dollar home and going back to work were "all your father's fault." Father's phone calls to Michael were awkward and irregular. Mother screened calls; often the phone was not answered. Father, long removed from much of Michael's life, didn't have much to say when he finally reached Michael on the phone. After the typical "What did you do in school today?" and "How was soccer practice?" their conversations faltered and failed. Father got angry about Michael's sliding grades and athletic performance and blamed Mother. Mother flared back in anger, blaming Father for all of his past sins. Michael, aware that his parents would argue over his phone calls with Father, began to say he didn't want to talk to his father anymore. The parents continued to blame each other. Soon Mother was back in court requesting an end to phone time and a shortening of the weekend visitations due to "Michael's level of emotional distress." The court, frustrated by the parents' bickering, ordered a psychological evaluation of Michael's needs.
Michael, bright and articulate, was pretty up front about his needs. Even while blaming his father for his parents' divorce, he still liked visiting his stepbrother and really wanted a stronger relationship with his father. But he worried that if he talked to his father regularly on the phone and showed how happy he was to see him, his mother would be upset. He knew he hurt his father when he said they had nothing to talk about on the phone, but Michael felt saying that made his mother happier. The court ordered Michael to maintain contact. Counseling with the mother helped her see how her anger toward her ex was hurting Michael.
Although tension remained between the parents, Michael eventually developed a regular, ongoing, substantial relationship with his father. The parents continued to fight over money, but Michael, now age thirteen, seems more self-assured and confident.
The child's perception of an ongoing and meaningful relationship with both parents is the most significant factor in raising a healthy child after divorce. With the exception of some horrific abusive relationships—and I will argue later that, even after some abusive relationships, it is still important for the child to develop and maintain a relationship with both parents—a child's knowledge of both her parents counts more for her healthy adjustment and sound mental health than anything else that I have seen in more than thirty years of practice. Your arguments that your ex is dysfunctional, angry, neglectful, always late; that he feeds the child only hot dogs, ignores the kid to be with his girlfriend, has done nothing to deserve the contact; that she is depressed, picks fights—none of these factors outweigh the strong developmental need of the child to be emotionally connected to both parents. You may hate your ex's guts for the horrible qualities you now see in her, but the positive qualities you loved when you first met and married are now characteristics of your child's own personality and temperament and need to be fostered. It doesn't really matter what you think of your former spouse. If you want your child to grow healthy emotionally, succeed academically, and develop socially, your child needs to maintain an emotional bond and connection with your ex.
And don't try to teach your ex how to maintain that bond, either. If you couldn't do it while you were married, you are certainly not going to be able to do it now that you are divorced. You are not going to change the quality of the relationship between your ex and your child. You are not going to get him to check homework rather than just ask if it is done. You are not going to get him to notice that the TV is on all the time. You will not get him to stop taking your son to inappropriate movies. This is your ex's relationship with the child, and you can't change it. If your ex is ever going to learn that R-rated movies are not great for ten-year-olds, he will learn it from someone else, not from you. In case you haven't noticed, he doesn't pay much attention to what you say. I have seen so many divorced parents frustrated: No matter what they tell their ex, the ex doesn't listen. The parenting books and articles they send over get returned unopened and unread. Of course, there must be forums for the two parents to discuss critical issues in the life of the child, but one ex cannot overtly or covertly keep the child away from the other because of the bitterness of the divorce or because Mom doesn't do things the way Dad thinks they must be done.
Remember: it is not your perception of their relationship that matters, anyway. You may think that because your ex is always late and seems to plop your child in front of the television on visitations that your daughter has no relationship with him, but in fact she does. This relationship may not be ideal, and it may not be the kind of relationship you think you have with your daughter or the kind of relationship you want your ex to have with her, but it is a relationship, and your daughter will see it as such. That a relationship exists far outweighs the perceived quality of the relationship in determining the emotional and psychological outcomes of divorce for your children.
Excerpted from RAISING THE KID YOU WITH THE EX YOU HATE by EDWARD FARBER Copyright © 2013 by Edward Farber. Excerpted by permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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