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How an Angry Co-Parent Can Harm Your Kids for Life

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I tell stories about my life as a way of critiquing bad parenting, bad co-parenting, and bad divorcing. I also write about good parenting, good co-parenting (though I was not able to have this), and good divorce. Divorce is a fact of life. If your relationship runs aground, at least consider what’s best for the kids. I mean, really consider all sides. In the end, my ex-wife did NOT consider me at all. I think she barely considered the kids. I believe my ex-wife suffers under the illusion, that someone else is actually responsible for your happiness. She was pissed that I was not fixing her life. I could not. But she didn’t know that. I’m not sure she knows that now.

You Are the Parent

Early in my divorce, my still-wife and I agreed that we would never discuss the divorce or finances in front of our children. It was an easy request, they were 7 and 9 when we unhitched. Our thinking, reinforced by therapists, was that adult issues were not for “little ears.” And a lot of homage was paid to the phrase “in the best interests of the children.” It was a mantra. But, often, this phrase hides a request by one of the parents that meets THEIR needs. It’s an out the lawyers use when they are making changes that seem unfair. Of course, I also learned, divorce is not fair.

I think about my divorce as a choice my ex-wife made for all of us. I don’t think she was of sound mind and body at the time. At the moment she revealed she’d been to see a lawyer, she claimed to be so stressed out she couldn’t think straight or sleep well. It was affecting all of us, by creating a crabby and angry partner. But, divorce? What’s the plan for that? And why, if we’re in couples therapy, didn’t you bring that idea in for us to discuss together? By the time she’d been to see a lawyer, she was 95% out the door.

Again, I’m not sure the divorce was in the best interest of any of us. I even think my then-wife made one of the big mistakes of her life. And that mistake has cost all of us dearly. Mainly, her, I’d say.

She married an OCD man, like herself, a number of years ago, and I watched as she continued down darker and darker non-co-parenting roads. She simply quit speaking to me about the kids. I would ask. She would blast me a new assh*le with her response. Her tactic was to overwhelm with anger, resentment, and bluster. She was mad as hell and she wanted me to know it. Somehow, I suppose, she imagined it was me that was her problem. I’m hoping, if she’s still in therapy, that someone has hipped her to the idea that her disappointments have been with her since she was a child with two highly dysfunctional parents. And since she didn’t learn what healthy emotional attachment looks like, she didn’t know how to manage her own anxiety and insecurities. She blamed me for the fracture. I’m not so sure.

Talk To My Husband About That

At some point along the non-co-parenting journey, my ex-wife began to delegate hard discussions to her new husband. You’re going to have to talk to Fred about that. (Her husband’s name is not Fred.) I fought against this deflection. I needed to talk to the mother of my children, not the newly arrived frosty turtle. He could care less about me. I guess, he would have the kid’s best intentions in mind, but what was his value in the parenting and financial conversations that needed to happen? Easy: so she didn’t have to think or talk about it.

Sure, they would confer to their heart’s content, and they were united against me. In theory, they were also united in the “best interest of the children.” But, that wasn’t accurate or true. He cared about my ex-wife. I’m sure he cared about my kids. And his one kid, a son, appears to be successful. So, I guess the idea was, Fred knew things.

But Fred didn’t give a rat’s ass about me. And, in fact, I believe Fred also enjoyed sewing discontent between my children and me. I mean, the more they were angry at me, the more they would be secure in their newly minted family unit. This family unit was not like the one before. Neither my wife nor her husband have emotional balance or integrity. They fly off the handle. They yell. They accost my two kids in the middle of the night. They have problems. And Fred is no prince.

Even today, my ex pushes Fred to be the enforcer. He’s the one that negotiates with each of my kids about student housing. He’s the one who gives advice on health and wellbeing. Yet, both of these “parents” are less interested in parenting and more interested in remodeling a house and traveling without the kids. I get it. But, pushing your parenting responsibilities off to another person is a dumb move. Perhaps, my ex-wife gets some relief from her overwhelming stress and anger when she can make Fred confront one of our kids who is still up at 4 am. But, I don’t think it’s serving my kids. It is certainly not giving them a portrait of a loving and healthy relationship.

Getting Healthy After Divorce

It took me eleven years to find my next relationship. I had a new set of criteria, post-divorce, that would eliminate any potential partner with anger issues, narcissistic tendencies, emotional immaturity, and passive-aggressive behavior. That it took me so long was not a result of laziness or lack of focused effort. As you can see, on this blog, my intentions and approach were pretty clear. I’ve been Single Dad Seeks, for a long time. I was not interested in another relationship with an emotionally damaged woman. I took my time. I attempted and sorted through 5 relationships. And finally, for now, I found the one. I found another happy parent, with kids of her own, and an attitude of gratitude and hope. My partner is clear that inner happiness is a process each one of us has to discover and exercise on our own.

My ex jumped into dating immediately on her “off” weekends. She would even get babysitters to go out on dates. In our decree, it said she would give me first right of refusal before getting a babysitter, but that never happened. I mean, why would she give me the kids for an extra second? She wouldn’t. And after a few misguided and odd dating choices, she found Fred. I suppose he was more like her first husband than me. A bit of a headscratcher, when you see pictures of my ex-wife. She used to be beautiful. Her hard living, however, has taken its toll. She looks exhausted and strained in every photo I’ve seen of her in the last five years.

She doesn’t want to parent with me. So, I guess she parents with her husband, who is as spectrum-y as any adult I’ve met. And when my ex-wife began pushing hard conversations onto him, I understood I was being shown “the hand.” She no longer wanted to consider me or my opinions.

It’s too bad. My kids are beginning to see the *bs* for what it is. The attachment parenting model we parented by, while we were still together, has given way to hands off >> ignore >> crisis >> fight >> reset >> hands off >> (repeat). I’m certain my kids still love their mom. I’m also certain when Fred is dressing down my son, and my ex-wife is sitting at the table in silence, that something fundamental is broken.

Don’t delegate your parenting to another person. Don’t push your ex-partner away. And, please, don’t aim barbs at your kids meant to hurt your former partner. It never works as expected. Arrows fired at your ex will always affect your children on the way to the target.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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