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Why does this have to be a competition?

June 6, 2007

Yesterday, I was reading Dawn’s post about being the Cash Cow. It’s a good post–sad, though. As I read, I got irked. Her story is not new. It’s been told, and told, and retold… a thousand times by parents across this nation. The part of it that really got me was the “S-kids act like spoiled brats and treat their father horribly” section. She describes how Dad stood in line for three hours in sub-zero temperatures to buy tickets to a Broadway show for his kids. The kids pitched a fit because it wasn’t their “preferred” show and proceeded to make Dad’s and Stepmom’s life miserable for the next couple of days, all the while in touch with Bio-Mom by cell phone. As if all of that weren’t bad enough, Mom had to step in shortly thereafter, plan her own trip and make sure to get tickets for the “preferred” show for the kids.

Shame on the kids for their rotten behavior toward their Dad. But far, far more than that, shame on Mom for her behavior and her encouragement of this abominable situation. I can only imagine the backstory on this one. It’s probably been years of this kind of tug-of-war, of one-upmanship on Mom’s part, of control over things that don’t need to be controlled.

Quite frankly, I’m sick and tired of hearing about poor, picked-on Mom. I’m sick and tired of hearing about the “Single Moms” out there that are really “single” because they’ve alienated their kids from their Dad. I’m sick and tired of hearing Moms say things like, “If Dad won’t do it, I will sweetie… he doesn’t know you like I do.” I’m sick and tired of watching an entire generation of kids grow up without a relationship with Dad because Mom can’t set her own needs aside long enough to use her brain.

Simply put, these kinds of things are an abomination. In an “intact” family, this kind of behavior would be the exception to the rule. Why then, is this such a huge issue with divorced folks?

It’s time for change, plain and simple. It’s time, Mom, to stop putting your kids in the middle. It’s time to start shifting your thought processes. If you were an “intact” family, the kids would not have a choice about whether they have a relationship with Dad. Why is that different now? I’ve heard some say, “I’m not going to force them to see their Dad if they don’t want to.” Seriously? How about raising your children without giving them the option? Visitation for our bunch is not a choice, it’s just the way it is. Birthday parties, school events, whatever… nothing gets in the way of visitation. It’s the number one priority. And I’ve found that if you actually make an effort to involve Dad, he’s much more likely to play chauffer and pitch in for things like pictures, birthday presents, new clothes, and the like. He just wants to be a part of the action. He just wants to watch his child grow up and participate in making that happen. Why is that concept so hard to grasp?

I sympathize with those of you out there actually trying to get the basics done for your kids and fighting an unstable ex- tooth and nail every step of the way. I know it feels like a competition… and the stakes are high. You do have to compete with your ex- in the court’s eyes, the Special Advocate’s eyes, the therapist’s eyes, the school’s eyes, and many other’s eyes. You don’t, however, have to compete in your child’s eyes. You can choose to support your ex- to your child, no matter how crazy he/she might be. You can choose to encourage your child’s relationship with your ex-, you can choose to give your child permission to love you both, without strings attached.

For you lucky folks with an ex- that might be distasteful but actually cares about your child and tries to be a decent parent, your divorce might have been acrimonious but it was you that made the decision to divorce your spouse. Your child did NOT.

Why must you constantly, consistently, calculatedly put your child in the middle of a war zone? Why would you encourage disrespectful behavior towards Dad? Why would you encourage your child to choose between you? Why should your child have to? Can’t you and Dad both participate? Can’t you and Dad both make decisions? Can’t what Dad provides be just as good as what you provide? Can’t you leave well enough alone when Dad tries to do something nice? Can’t you stop trying to one-up?

Can’t you be grateful that your child has two loving parents, sometimes even bonus parents? Can’t you be glad that your child is growing up with multiple healthy relationships in his life? Can’t you put aside your own insecurities and issues and think about the well-being of your child?

Do you think, 10 years from now, the fact that you might have “won” this little contest will have caused your child to have a healthy outlook on life? Or have you stopped to consider that perhaps your child will be irreversibly damaged from the tug-of-war all of these years? And if you succeed in “winning” your child over to your camp, do you think the Dad-sized hole you’ve created in his life will miraculously be filled by something else? Do you think that your child will grow up with the same insecurities you have? Do you think the cycle will repeat itself?

I think that 10 years from now, your child will look back and wonder what happened. Your child will be living a fractured life, because you encouraged him to make a choice that wasn’t necessary.

Stop now. Think. Set aside your emotions, your insecurities, your fears. Allow your child to be loved by both parents. Give your child permission to love both parents in return. Give your child the ability to accept decisions made by both parents. Encourage respect. Think less about what your child thinks right now and think more about how your child will BE in the future. Win your child’s heart without cutting Dad out of the picture. Their hearts have so much more room in them than we give them credit for.

It truly doesn’t have to be a competition. Stop making it so.

The prize isn’t what you think it is… and the price is far too high.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Lynda permalink
    June 6, 2007 8:40 am

    An excellent essay Steph. We (my hubby and I) are very fortunate to have a good relationship with his ex and a good co-parenting situation as well. We attend parent/teacher conferences together with mom, attend the school programs with mom, attend special church services at their church so that the kids can have all of their parents there to spend this special time together, etc. We’ve even spent the last two years having a Christmas dinner together with their mom and her parents…and it was fine! And the kids really love it and appreciate it. I understand that it cannot, and probably should not be that way for every family, but come on folks, let’s at least work together for the good of the kids! My stepson (age 13) told me last year that he felt really lucky that his parents are “kind of” friends now and that his mom and I are also friendly because he knows lots of his friends don’t even get to see their dads because of the divorce and animosity between their parents. Pretty insightful for a (then) 12 year old boy. And if the kids can see the benefit for all involved in having a decent parenting relationship with the ex, why shouldn’t the adults?

  2. June 6, 2007 10:15 am

    “I’m sick and tired of watching an entire generation of kids grow up without a relationship with Dad because Mom can’t set her own needs aside long enough to use her brain.”

    I’m with you here. And it does seem that it is BM’s that play this little game more often than BD’s—regardless of whether or not the are the CP.

    “You can choose to support your ex- to your child, no matter how crazy he/she might be. You can choose to encourage your child’s relationship with your ex-, you can choose to give your child permission to love you both, without strings attached.”

    You kind of lost me here. I think there is a big difference between encouraging and supporting. I don’t believe it is always in the best interests of children for one parent to be a constant advocate for an unstable, harmful parent. I do believe that they can appreciate, understand and support the fact that the children love both parents without being a constant cheerleader for their relationship.

    Ultimately, each parent is responsible for their own personal relationship with the children. The part where this becomes a problem is when one parent is continually trying to damage the relationship the children have with the other parent. Damage is done in many ways, and one of the biggest is allowing the children to act disrespectfully. Our BM is responsible for the relationship she has with her children, but my husband has reprimanded my stepson’s for being disrespectful to her in front of him. She’s crazy and toxic, but she is their mom and children must treat their parents with respect regardless of their parent’s faults.

    My answer to the one-up scenario is to come up with things that aren’t expensive and center around our family. You can’t one-up meaningful family time. Take yourself out of the game and focus on people instead of things. It is a win-win for everyone. Quality family time and no competition.

  3. June 6, 2007 10:40 am

    @Mrs. H – by “supporting” I didn’t mean advocating for the unstable, harmful parent. God knows we deal with that instability constantly. What I really meant by supporting was that one parent does not have to denigrate the other, or cause the child to feel torn between the two. Our BM (we have two, actually — so the completely crazy one, and the one we have to deal with the most, is the one I’m talking about here)is as crazy as they come, but we have the kids call to say goodnight, we take them to buy birthday gifts for her, we help them make things for her on Mother’s Day, etc. They love her and so we try to support that love for her in the best ways we can.

    That does NOT mean that we don’t fight her tooth and nail in court for the things that are in their best interests, nor does it mean that we aren’t continually frustated by her behavior. But we allow the kids to love her without fear of reprisal and we support their relationship with her.

    The other BM we deal with is the subject of “Letter to Her Mother”. That BM did all of the physical things for my SD and is fairly sane in most respects, even acted like she was trying really hard to “work with us” most of the time. But she absolutely ruined the relationship between my SD and my hubby, calculatedly, because she needed SD’s affirmation that she loved her the most and the best. She worked hard at being the Disneyland parent, and cutting hubby out of the picture every chance she got, often under the guise of what was in SD’s “best interests” (e.g., “it’s to overwhelming for her at your house, maybe she can just skip this weekend” or “I don’t think you should force her to come if she doesn’t want to”). It’s too bad for both my SD and my hubby that she couldn’t realize there was plenty of room in SD’s heart for both.

  4. June 6, 2007 10:47 am

    “It’s too bad for both my SD and my hubby that she couldn’t realize there was plenty of room in SD’s heart for both.”

    Absolutely. But more likely, she didn’t even view it in those terms. Some people are bad parents. When bad parents become divorced bad parents, the potential for damage is far greater. My guess is that BM is an enabler to the 100th degree. It is a shame that this personality flaw destroyed SD’s relationship with dad, but time can heal. When SD grows up (and who knows at what age this will really happen), she will want a meaningful relationship with her dad and at that point, your husband will be able to guide that relationship without as much outside interference from her inept mother.

    70% of our problems with our BM are because she is crazy. The other 30% are because she is a bad parent—-and would have been one regardless of the divorce. The difference for the children is, a marriage might have kept her in check. Add this to the list of reasons why divorce is really bad for kids.

  5. June 6, 2007 11:09 am

    @Mrs. H – It is definitely my hope that SD will get it someday. Yes, BM is absolutely an enabler. She can’t deal with any kind of conflict with SD (who is BPD, by the way, so HUGE conflict comes with the territory), so she just caves to everything, hence the Disneyland thing.

    I’m sure you’re right that BM just doesn’t see it in that way, probably stuck in her own perception forever.

    Yep, the list is so long of reasons divorce is bad for kids. It doesn’t have to be as bad as it is in many cases, though. I’m looking forward to the time when things change a bit in “the system” so that we can shift away from constantly striving to prove oneself the “better parent” and actually start being “better parents,” together.

  6. June 7, 2007 8:28 pm

    Mrs. H and all her intricate analyzation of every paragraph aside, I had to pinch myself to check if you hadn’t written this letter to The Mother in our lives. Don’t know how many times birthdays, holidays, whatever had to be switched around because The Mother made some sort of big plan; that if we didn’t comply, we’d be SO the bad guys. What? Little Suzy is missing her OWN birthday party??? Dad wouldn’t let her go? Golly, too bad he gets parenting time and it was unfortunate Little Suzy’s birthday fell on HIS day….

  7. June 11, 2007 4:15 am

    Well written, Stephanie–if only Mommie Dearest was able to read that, reflect on it, and think about it. But she doesn’t need to–you see, she’s the Good parent, and my husband is the Bad one. The kids need to know that, you know. *removes tongue from cheek*

  8. June 13, 2007 4:07 am

    @Lynda – I’m so glad that you and your hubby have a good relationship with the ex. It makes things so much easier on everyone, particularly the kids. You make lots of sacrifices, I know, for that to be so. Good for you! The kids benefit greatly from your participation in their lives.

    @Donna – It does seem crazy, doesn’t it, that the assumption is just that Mom is entitled to it all, that visitation is lower on the priority list somehow. I know your situation is tough. Hang in there!

    @Peg – Yes, that’s the sad part. The kids need to know that… How awful that one parent truly believes that the kids will benefit from cultivating hate in their little hearts their entire lives. Why they can’t put their children’s needs ahead of their own (why they still have custody if they can’t–a post for another day) and just live their lives is beyond me.

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