They are Children- Not Weapons
Here is the scenario- you fall in love, you get married and you have a child or a few children. You grow apart, things happen and suddenly you “don’t know each other anymore.” You struggle, you fight, you go to therapy if you are actually interested in preserving the marriage- but ultimately you let it go.
I was prompted to give this idea some thought when I was in Village Tea having some warm green tea, working, and a couple of guys came in with a 4-year-old girl. There were a few things wrong with the scene- two gym rats in a tea shop, the little girl was dressed as if for an evening out- if she were- oh, 25. I did a double-take and my heart began to pound.
What was going on here? They went to the counter, placed an order and sat adjacent to me in the “living room setting.” The little girl was quiet and gazed longingly at the play area set up for just this purpose. When she asked if she could go draw, her dad reminded her that her mother would be here momentarily to pick her up. And then there was light.
Seconds later, Mom walked in and nearly burst into tears at the sight of her 4 year old in red nail polish and an animal print outfit with one-and-a-half-inch heels. Her face flushed red and she covered the distance to her daughter in moments.
“She is your daughter, not your girlfriend!” she hissed at her former husband (no rings). He gave his child a perfunctory peck on the cheek and got up to leave. On the way out, I heard him say- “I knew that would piss her off” to his friend.
The mother opened a bag and took out a different pair of shoes (she’s been down this road before) and a brush. The waitress brought the little girl’s snack over (sliced apples and some Nutella) and the mom ordered a pot of tea. I could see she was nearly in tears and my heart clenched.
“Do you like my nails, Mommy?”
“Well, the color is lovely, honey- but it might not be a good color for a little girl. This color is for big girls and we can try it again when your older. How about if, after our tea, we go get our nails painted together?”
Her daughter beamed and they settled in to read a book before the little one went to draw and play while her mother texted furiously.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN
The week prior, at Starbucks, a man paced and belted back his coffee. He looked at his watch every five seconds and texted intermittently. Finally, he made a call.
“I know you are doing this on purpose. You knew we had tickets to the air show. It started 20 minutes ago. By the way, he called me last night and I know you left him with a sitter so you could go out. Do I need—“
At that moment, the door opened and a little boy burst in and threw himself in his father’s arms nearly knocking him over.
“Are you ready, Dad? Come on, we have to go. We are going to be late!” His dad threw a look at mom, who didn’t even pause on the way to the counter for what looked like a much needed Venti black coffee. Dad scooped up the organic milk, a package of sliced fruit and cheese from the table and headed to the door, his face five shades of rage.
What is going on here? Fighting for your kids is supposed to mean FOR them, not with each other USING them. It saddened me to watch these scenarios play out.
It seems in most divorces there is always the parent so intent upon hurting the other they will use their child as a pawn no matter how much it hurts the child. In the first case- Dad dressed his child up as Jon Benet Ramsey, knowing it would make his wife angry. Now, does it hurt a child to wear red nail polish and high heels? Not right now, and certainly not under the keen watch of her mother- but what happens as the baby gets a little older and it is a constant battle to manage her clothing, hair and tendencies to dress suggestively.
Her mother will take the heat for not allowing it and Dad will become the hero. When she is with Dad, he will allow it. The next thing you know- Dad and fellow gym rat get hammered one night and “friend” wanders into the precocious 13 year old’s bedroom. Now, she might put up a fight, but can Dad hear? Will Dad care?
In the second case, Mom is ready to party- to be on the single scene. She might have overslept, she might have dragged her feet. What matters is, the only person she hurt was her little boy, because he likely missed not only part of the air show, but his precious little time with his dad.
Now, in a typical divorce arrangement the child is awarded to Mom (regardless of her qualifications as a mother) and Dad gets to see the child/ren for dinner one night weekly and every other weekend. I have some recommendations for dads who’d like more time with their child and want to write it into the divorce decree, because as amenable as she is when you part ways (maybe because she is the one who wanted a divorce,) as soon as you start seeing someone or as soon as you reveal you have a girlfriend- she will likely fight you for every minute with your child.
1) If Mom is going out of town or even out for the evening, Dad is to be the first choice as a sitter.
2) If Mom begins dating, there will be no overnight visits unless the child is staying with Dad.If Mom wants an unscheduled overnight visit, Dad is to be notified and allowed to take possession of the child/ren.
The same holds true for Dad- it is a matter of consideration and the more considerate you can be with one another, for the sake of your children, the better. You have no idea the damage that can be done to little children during the course of a divorce, even when your entire focus is their well- being. Disengaging and lavishing yourself with perks and nights out with friends can be at the expense of your child. I know you think you deserve it- you were “wronged,” your self-esteem is hurting, you are depressed. Well, guess what? You don’t get to be depressed and express hurt or anger toward your spouse. You have a child and what that child needs to feel is security and stability during this time.
“Fighting for custody” because you want to hurt your wife or soon to be ex-wife is not right and likely you will not win. It is a fact. A Very Clever Daddy once told me- “In Texas, a woman can have a crack pipe in her mouth and a needle hanging from her arm and she will still get custody.” That is WRONG. There are a great number of fathers who are more capable, engaged and loving than the mothers, but sadly, nine of 10 times, the mother is awarded custody. Threatening each other is shameful. If you must hurt one another- find another way.
This world started going to hell on a greased rail when we started putting our own wants before the needs of our children. I say “we” because we are all guilty of doing it from time to time- but it’s not the “time to time” that does the damage- it’s the “all the time.” The new way of life for your child.
If you create a toxic environment for your child, they will be poisoned by it and there is virtually no way to stop it.
I am a firm believer people grow and change- but you loved this person once, you believed in them enough to have a child with them. For the sake of your child- hold onto that, if nothing else- and know they love their child and want to be with that child. Do not use your little babies as weapons. If you must call your ex and set up a meeting where you can scream and rant and rave- do it. Do not sleep through Dad’s time (he gets so very little)- do not put your children in a position to pit them against Mom.
When you were married- you delighted in the fact he walked through the door and headed straight for your daughter. Now, you are trying to deny him access to hurt him? SHAME on you. You encouraged her to have children, though she was a severe career woman, she fell in love with staying home with the children but is now forced back into the workplace as a result of the divorce and you are punishing her for it? Belittling her as a mother for not being there for her children? Castigating her for heading out for an evening with friends- SHAME on you. Making yourself into the Disney parent (the one who doesn’t discipline, who showers the child with gifts and trips) just to undermine the efforts of the other parent- SHAME on you.
Bottom line- you had children with this person and the only scars that will likely be eternal are the ones you cause your children. Grow up.