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Co-parenting when ideologies clash

Categories: Missing Parent

24 comments

I’m stuck in bumper-to-bumper bridge traffic late on Sunday afternoon, my windshield wipers feebly half-parting the sluicing waves of rain over my Jeep when my Blackberry vibrates.

“I know!” I answer immediately, seeing his number on the call display “I’m late, we’re headed over there now.  I got lost trying to find your rugby game today and Nolan’s cranky…”

“I’m not cranky!” bellowed an indignant, trembly voice from the backseat. He had blueberry yogurt dribbled on his chin and clutched a crusty Spiderman action figure.

“He’s not cranky,”I sighed,”We’ll be there in twenty minutes.”

“OK, “said my ex,”Tell him I rented him the new Batman movie.”

“The new Batman movie?” I blinked, glanced at our son in the rearview mirror,”Not the Dark Knight?”

“Yeah, that one.”

“He can’t watch that movie!” I hate that my voice just moved up four octaves, and I take a deep breath,”Man, wait.  Have you seen that movie?  It’s rated R and I had nightmares about blue-mouthed evil clowns for weeks after watching that and he’s 3.”

“He’s gotta grow up sometime.”

I have the feeling he’s pressing my buttons and I fight the urge to press them right back.

“He’ll have nightmares, R, please.”

“I’m not going out again.  If you want him to watch a different movie, stop and get one yourself.”

I hang up the phone, glance in the mirror and my son is looking intently at the back of my head. We go to the video store and pick up a copy of Finding Nemo.

***

I don’t think any parents of a child make the decision to split up with lightness.  For my ex and I, there were a multitude of reasons.  There were the “standard” things: money, unresolvable fighting, a diminishing lack of respect for the views of one another.  One of the things that came up time and again was guns: I am staunchly anti-violence and anti-gun and my ex is very much at the opposite end of the spectrum.  If I had my way, our son would never play with toy guns, would never watch a violent movie - would not be exposed to the reality that human beings kill each other, fairly regularly - until much, much later in life.

If my son’s Father and I still lived in the same household, this would be easier to assure but as it is, of course, we’re leading completely separate lives.  Our one shared life thread is our son, but we have heavily differing views on what is right and appropriate for a 3 year old.  So - right now, there’s an uneasy balance: I guide Nolan according to my principles at my house, and his Father does the same thing at his house.

It’s far from ideal.  I wonder about the future implications of the mixed message for our son, and wonder what I can do to help come to some kind of happy medium.

Among the things I’ve pondered:

  • Writing a list, asking my ex to abide to the top 5 things that are very important to me (no violent movies, teeth brushing every night, no sugary food right before bed, etc.)  I would then encourage him to write a list too, and promise to abide by what he considers important (assuming they are not in direct disagreement with my list.)
  • Asking him to attend a co-parenting class.  We’ve done this before, as a mandatory part of our Separation Agreement process, but it might make sense to do it together.  I’m not sure he’d be interested, though.
  • Giving up any illusions of control whatsoever and realizing: he’ll do what he does, I’ll do what I do, and hopefully our son will turn out OK despite of us.


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24 comments so far...

  • Ohhhh, I feel your pain. My toddler daughter has twice come home from visitation and told me about the “scawwy” dinosaurs or ants she saw on “telebision.” (I’m thinking they showed her _Land Before Time_ and _Antz_, so a far cry from Batman movies…but still, scary to a toddler.)

    My ex gets mad at me when I tell him how much allergy medication the doctor has prescribed and ask him to, you know, GIVE IT TO HER, so the options you are considering are definitely out for us. I told my daughter that she should tell her grandparents (who have to be present at visitation) when she is scared and ask them to turn something else on.

    I wish I had better ideas for you. Any suggestions I make to my ex are met with anger and a reaction in the opposite direction. For us, your first option would be like giving him directions for driving me to CrazyTown, but only you can know what will work for you. I’m leaning toward the last option you list in my own situation. You are doing the best you can do, and you really can control only your own behavior — e.g., getting a copy of Finding Nemo.

    Best of luck to you. I know you are frustrated, and I am sending good energy your way.

    Just me  |  March 16th, 2009 at 9:09 am

  • “Giving up any illusions of control whatsoever and realizing: he’ll do what he does, I’ll do what I do, and hopefully our son will turn out OK despite of us.”

    This one is, by far, the your best bet. Yes, you could attempt to sit down and each make a reciprocal list, but when N comes home and tells you about what he did (or didn’t do) over the weekend and you discover that your wishes weren’t honored, it will only lead to aggravation and frustration. You can only control what N does when he is with you, and when he isn’t you can only hope that the people he is with are doing what is in his best interest, you know?

    Andrea  |  March 16th, 2009 at 10:15 am

  • Kristin, I hope you don’t mind my suggesting something that’s worked very well for my situation. The difference between my own and my ex-husband’s philosophies on raising children has become more evident as my son has reached school age, and now the discussions involve more complex matters, like how we label decisions and emotions and behaviors, and what and how severe the consequences are for disciplinary matters. We agreed to get some coparenting support once it was clear that our communication on those tough matters had deteriorated to a level that made it very difficult to find any common ground whatsoever. I highly, highly recommend a shared parenting support program facilitated through a trained (and completely neutral) therapist as opposed to a class scenario (more info at http://shared-parenting.com/). It does necessitate the participation of both parents, and it’s geared toward leaving behind the issues of the marriage and separation, and instead seeking positive outcomes and effective, respectful communication for the sake of the child. My attorney suggested a few names to me, then I did the research on each before presenting the options to my ex-husband. Once we met with her and agreed to proceed, we attended once each week (together with his current wife, since she parents my son at their house, too) for about 6 weeks, and now go every three months to check in and make sure the plan is working. The coaching hasn’t made our differences disappear, but it has provided us with tools we were lacking to work together. Good luck.

    everythingblue  |  March 16th, 2009 at 10:31 am

  • I agree with Andrea. Tough situation but can apply to single and married moms.
    I am not single mom, but there is always an argument about what I think is right and what he think is right for the kids. Sometimes I give in and other times I get the doctor involved. Like, the doctor says x so we shouldn’t do that or do this.

    vera babayeva  |  March 16th, 2009 at 11:00 am

  • My husband & I have experienced similiar parenting issues with both of our exes. Not fun at all.

    My ex would show our young children R rated movies as well. I took him to mediation to try to get him to curb it, and it didn’t help.

    My step-daughter came home from seeing her mother one weekend saying: Friday night I slept in bed with Mommy & ___________ insert first guy’s name here, and on Saturday night, I slept in bed with Mommy & ______________insert a different guy’s name here. She was 5 years old at the time.

    Your ex sounds like a jerk.

    R: He has to grow up some time ?!

    Yes, that’s true, N does have to grow up some time (that’s stating the inevitable), but there’s no reason to rob him of his innocence, and make him grow up too quickly.

    ***

    It has been our experience that if you have an ex that is unreasonable to deal with, the last thing you want to do is give them ammo to use against you, when they get upset with you.

    ***

    My children with my ex, are all adults now, and sadly none of them have a good relationship with their father, inspite of the fact that I tried to encourage and support them having a healthy relationship with their father.

    My exes crappy parenting style cost him dearly, and it breaks my heart. But, things are going to pan out ,however they’re going to pan out, whether we like it or not.

    I could not micro-manage my children’s relationship with their father (and I really Wanted to, trust me…it’s only natural for a mother to want to protect their children, especially if we see someone doing things that we instinctively know is not in the child’s best interest). The best we can do is, accept how things are, do a good enough job on our end, and hope when things settle, all the good we put into our children floats back up to the top.

    Lisa  |  March 16th, 2009 at 11:23 am

  • I know this pains you. It’s not fair that every time your child returns to you; you have to deprogram him. I am not in your situation, however I’ve seen people go through it.

    Trash the list. Don’t even think that this list will do anything.
    You’ve identified one area of concern; he’s trying to push your buttons.
    I may be taking some liberties here, but one of the reasons you broke up had to do with maturity.
    Classes-If he’s game great, if not, act like a duck and let it roll off your back.

    The post by everythingblue is right on. As your child gets older, your ideologies will begin to align. Something grand will happen. As your little boy grows up so will your ex. Your ex will begin to see behaviors that he does not like and will want them rectified. He’ll finally realize the things he may not like about himself is staring him right in the face, just cuter :)

    It seems to be unfair to your son to have to go through this clash of the titans, but there is not much you can do outside of the decree. Don’t argue with your ex in front of your son. Ask to talk about the situation another time. You look in the rear view mirror to realize your son staring at the back of your head. He’s already realized the strained relationship. Make the relationship comfortable at best. Conversations about what you can and cannot agree to need to be done out of sight and/or earshot of your little man.

    What you can do and know that you are doing well is overcompensate for your ex’s shortcomings. Not overcompensate to the point that your’re driving yourself crazy, but overcompensate in the sense that you always have to stick to your guns with your son. If the answer is no, the answer is no. If you tell him your going somewhere…go. You are his sense of balance.

    Is this situation fair? No, Hell No for that matter…but the love for your son outweighs any foolishness your ex can toss at you.

    Last but not least, I offer this advice for all mommies. Find time for you. Where you ask. When your son is with your ex, lay down, turn off the crackberry (i mean blackberry) and relax. That can mean 15 min of yoga, a trip to starbucks..anything. Your son needs all of you all of the time and you need to refuel as much as possible.

    I hope I have not rambled on too much. I pray that this fiasco ends sooner than later.

    You will get through this a stronger and more beautiful person than you are today. That is not psychobabble. it’s the truth. Stay strong.

    Fellow Mom Hurtin' for Ya  |  March 16th, 2009 at 6:27 pm

  • Wow, all, your experiences and words are compelling - and better than anything I could have written in a post. Thank you!

    Kristin D  |  March 16th, 2009 at 11:23 pm

  • This is my first time responding to one of your posts - I quite enjoy reading your blog, but struggle greatly in everything you discuss about your ex and this last post really pushed my buttons.

    How about if you stand up to your ex?
    Be a strong woman and not continuously rolling over when it comes to your ex.

    I’m really not meaning to be offensive, but from everything you write he walks all over you and you feel the need to be apologetic and wonder if you’re the one doing something wrong - the majority of your posts have this as a very clear undertone.

    From child support, to set schedules, to violent influences, to watching a movie like the Dark Knight? Wow!
    I won’t allow my 10 year old to watch it - and he understands why.

    You and Nolan deserve nothing but the best - so stop settling for less!

    Tammy  |  March 16th, 2009 at 11:57 pm

  • Tammy - you’re not the first person to tell me I’m a pushover when it comes to my ex, and believe me, I hear you (and them)

    But: this is a one-sided blog. I am sure my ex would tell you that I am difficult, condescending at times, stubborn as all hell. He does not have a blog of his own, or any inclination to refute anything I’m saying here: and so I’m sure I paint a one-sided story..it’s from my perspective, after all.

    Yes, I try to be pliant to keep the peace for our son - but I’m trying hard not to be a doormat - that’s one word that’s never been used to describe me.

    Kristin D  |  March 17th, 2009 at 1:48 am

  • Kristen I know you’ve heard it a million times before but you HAVE GOT to stand up to your ex. Not always, but sometimes. Sometimes it’s imperative that you do it, and this was one of those times.

    Firstly - the Dark Knight is NOT a suitable film for a preschooler; I probably wouldn’t even let a ten year old watch it!

    Secondly - Nolan is seeing you let R walk all over you. He knows R doesn’t respect you. What do you think Nolan is going to take from that? He’s not going to think “Oh, that means Daddy’s an arsehole,” because little boys worship their Dads. He’s going to think “Oh, that means Mummy is weak and I can walk all over her too.”

    Don’t you dare think he’s too young for that to make an impression on him because it will. Right now he respects you because compared to him you’re huge and strong and you know everything. A few years down the line he’ll stop seeing that and he’ll start seeing a woman who lets men walk all over her, and he will start to do the same - and worse, he will think you are weak, and he won’t respect your authority.

    I’m not saying you need to go in guns blazing with every conflict, but you need to teach your ex that actually, YOU are Nolan’s parent too, not just his parent but his primary carer, and that YOU call the shots.

    Think about this:

    “The new Batman movie?” I blinked, glanced at our son in the rearview mirror,”Not the Dark Knight?”

    “Yeah, that one.”

    Firmly: “He can’t watch that movie, he’s too young.”

    “He’s gotta grow up sometime.”

    “No, you’re not listening to me. He can’t watch that movie, end of. If you are going to be irresponsible like that I am going to keep Nolan until you can act like an adult parent.”

    “Whinge, whinge, bitch, moan, trying to make you feel evil, telling you you’re a bitch, telling you you’re too controlling, telling you you’re a shit parent, blah blah blah blah.”

    “I’m not going to argue about it, he’s too young to watch it. Do you want to carry on being childish and miss your visit, or do you want to act like an adult and be a parent to your son?”

    And as it carries on of course, you could always point out that if a family court knew he was showing inappropriate material like The Dark Knight to a three-year-old, he’d be strung up by his balls faster than you can say “supervised visitation”.

    My ex tried the same bullshit with me about bedtimes; he was consistently bringing our son back home after visits waaaay past his bedtime. When I brought it up with him, he immediately went on the angry defensive - “It’s not that late, it won’t hurt him, you let him stay up late sometimes too, you can just bath him in the morning instead, what’s the big deal?”

    I emailed him and told him in no uncertain terms that as the primary carer, I make the main decisions and it’s my way or the highway. I called the family law helpline and they were in absolute agreement with me - if it’s me who is the resident parent, it’s me who calls the shots, end of story.

    I know it’s hard to hear all this and you’ll dig your heels in and think “It was only one occurrence, you’ve only heard one side of the story, I’m a bitch to him sometimes,” but this isn’t about the way he treats you, it is about inappropriate parenting of Nolan.

    It’s not about R thinking you’re a bitch - who the fuck cares what R thinks of you? It’s about preventing R from doing potentially dangerous or traumatising things to your three-year-old child and you OWE Nolan that.

    For that matter, do you know for sure R didn’t go ahead and let him watch TDK anyway? It sounds like he thinks you’re an idiot and he can do whatever he likes and you won’t call him on it, so I’d be worried that he’d just think “Stupid overprotective bitch,” and showed him the film regardless. :o/

    Anji  |  March 17th, 2009 at 2:35 pm

  • Anji - I could not agree more with you.
    I hope for Nolan’s sake Kristin finally see’s it too.
    Been way too many posts and thus way to many days/weeks/months/years,

    Nolan will be another “R” soon enough.

    Tammy

    Tammy  |  March 17th, 2009 at 11:35 pm

  • And truth be told this world has enough men like that.

    Tammy  |  March 17th, 2009 at 11:37 pm

  • I fear some of the same things that you and your Ex have experienced. Like you, I am staunchly against guns/violence and my husband is obsessed with them, even going to the point of saying that we need to pick a Saturday to go to the range so he can teach me how to shoot in case of an intruder etc. I keep reminding him that I don’t force things he doesn’t like down his throat and why is he doing this to me. I refuse to go to the range. I have no interest. It is a waste of time & money in my opinion. We have a 13 month old boy and reading your post feels like I’m reading something I may write in 3-5 years.

    remember moments  |  March 18th, 2009 at 8:20 am

  • OK, I really do hate to be That Poster, and I try not to leave more than one comment per post, but some of these comments are
    pissing.
    me.
    off.

    I do not share your opinion that Kristin is being a doormat here, and that’s fine. You can have your opinion, and I can have mine. But saying “N will be another R soon enough”?!? Do you have ANY idea how insulting that is to a single mom who is doing her dead level best (and a damn fine job) to raise a fantastic little boy?

    In response to some of the other commenters here: I’m no lawyer, but in my experience the family court does not in fact care if your ex shows your child an inappropriate movie. It does not care about whether he keeps your child on his or her schedule, either. For that matter, it does not care if he refuses to accept her blankie or other comfort objects for visitation. Physical abuse? Sure, the courts care about that. But other issues? The kinds that aren’t important enough for police intervention but could still keep a mom up at night? Not so much. Again, that’s just one person’s experience. But I can’t see the courts really backing Kristin up on this in terms of enforcing supervised visitation because of a movie.

    Also, did y’all miss the part where R agreed to show an alternate movie? Kristin didn’t roll over on this one. She didn’t have a screamfest in front of her son or refuse his visitation, maybe, but she did protect her son. And, after all, wasn’t that her goal?

    She can’t possibly know ahead of time what will happen at visitation. Yes, R could still have shown N the movie. But he could also have shown it if he never mentioned a word about it to Kristin. That’s one of the major drawbacks of visitation.

    Kristin is walking the fine line between encouraging N to have a relationship with his father and protecting N. It’s not an easy task, and I think she deserves a little more credit for the (very good) job she’s doing.

    Just me  |  March 18th, 2009 at 8:25 am

  • So a happy medium would be your ex doing everything your way, even at his house? That makes me suspect that “diminishing respect for each others’ views” was mostly on your end, which could be the source of a lot of your other issues as well. I really do mean that as friendly advice. It never hurts to step back and evaluate your own behavior and reactions.

    Believe me, I understand about not liking the fact that someone else is making decisions about what your child will see, hear, and be taught. To take one small example, my daughter, age 2, already needs a day or two at the beginning of my week to adjust to the lesser quantity of daily television in my household. But it’s clear that constantly fighting about these things, especially in front of my daughter, doesn’t help anyone, least of all her.

    And lucky for you, the answer is easy. Just tell your son that Mommy’s house has Mommy’s rules, just like Daddy’s house has Daddy’s rules.

    Stacy  |  March 18th, 2009 at 9:56 am

  • One other thing I meant to mention: If a kid grows up in two different households, then it will give them a natural advantage later in life if both households admit forthrightly that they may not agree with each other on everything, but both have a right to their opinions and way of doing things. That approach should translate naturally into an attitude of understanding and appreciating diversity as adults.

    Stacy  |  March 18th, 2009 at 10:02 am

  • I agree with “just me” - none of can judge another’s unique situation. Kristen, I think the list idea is a good one, and I can’t think of any reason not to try it. If it accomplished even one of your goals that is real progress — and who knows, because it is a reciprocal list, maybe he will actually be supportive. As far as the mixed messages go, you can’t control it, but you can acknowledge it. I think its important to acknowledge to your son that you and your husband disagree on the issue and tell him why you believe what you believe. That may not help so much at his age right now, but it is a message that will help over the years. (Its ok to disagree, think for yourself, life’s not black and white, etc.).
    hang in there.

    Laura  |  March 18th, 2009 at 10:44 am

  • “I’m no lawyer, but in my experience the family court does not in fact care if your ex shows your child an inappropriate movie. It does not care about whether he keeps your child on his or her schedule, either. For that matter, it does not care if he refuses to accept her blankie or other comfort objects for visitation. Physical abuse? Sure, the courts care about that. But other issues? The kinds that aren’t important enough for police intervention but could still keep a mom up at night? Not so much. Again, that’s just one person’s experience. But I can’t see the courts really backing Kristin up on this in terms of enforcing supervised visitation because of a movie.”

    Having actually SPOKEN to legal advisors in family law, I can tell you that you are wrong, at least for here in the UK (and of course I can only speak from my experience in my own country).

    I was told explicitly that if I felt my ex was behaving inappropriately - to MY definition of inappropriate, not anyone else’s - I had the right to withold visits, and then he would have to physically contact a lawyer to have visitation set up legally. He would then be bound by the terms of that contract. That could easily include not showing violent or pornographic films to the child - no court is going to say no to that.

    I’m not saying I WOULD stop visitation or even reduce it, but I’d make damn sure my ex knew I *could* if I felt my wishes were being ignored. Since standing up to him and making sure he knew that I wasn’t going to take his bullshit, he has been a lot more reasonable and more likely to listen and discuss with me rather than digging his heels in for the sake of it.

    And to those accusing me (and others) of being judgemental - I love Kristin and I am giving her exactly the same advice that I would give her if she was a friend who had popped over for coffee and told me the same story. That’s not being judgmental, that’s just not sugarcoating the truth.

    Anji  |  March 18th, 2009 at 4:51 pm

  • I don’t want to get into a defensive debate in the comments here, but I do want to say, thank you, Just Me, and Anji, I know you mean well and I dig you, and Tammy - that comment about me raising a clone of my ex was a bit over the top.

    You are free to disagree with me, but understand that my foremost priority in life is to raise a good, decent, loving boy, who will turn into an amazing and warm-hearted man. Even if I make mistakes along the way, even if I’m very, very far from perfect.

    Kristin D  |  March 19th, 2009 at 1:56 am

  • Yes, Tammy, the clone comment was completely unnecessary, unjust, and downright nasty.

    Kristen, you are a wonderful, thoughtful mother and regardless of your ex, Nolan will always have your influence to buffer him against that of his dad.

    Jessica  |  March 20th, 2009 at 10:35 am

  • I’m not jumping on Tammy here just using her remark,

    “Nolan will be another “R” soon enough.”

    to make a point. I’ve been reading Kristin here and at her other site for about six months now so I may have missed something going back a few years (but I doubt it). While Kristin has issues with Nolan’s father I have yet to read her actually bashing this man as a bad person. Bitching about people who get on on our nerves is probably the real reason behind the invention of the Internet so it’s no surprise she uses this space to vent from time to time. This is a parenting blog.

    I’m sure Nolan’s father also has many good traits or Kristen wouldn’t have fallen for him in the first place. I don’t know if he moved to Kristin’s town specifically for Nolan or if it was just an additional plus in his decision but that says to me he cares for this boy. It just sounds like he has some more growing into parenthood to do. Hopefully being closer to his son will bring that about. We are eavesdroppers in Kristin’s life. Making disparaging remark against Kristin or Nolan’s father doesn’t encourage discussion on the topic at hand.

    My husband and I have very similar ideologies and are working hard to bring up our two little ones and we still clash from time to time.

    Dawn  |  March 20th, 2009 at 12:36 pm

  • Last one is probably your best shot. Sucks, but I think it’s true.

    Robyn  |  March 20th, 2009 at 4:24 pm

  • Again, my comment was not that you ARE raising a clone of your ex but rather that will be an ongoing issue and concern if he continues to have such negative influences from his father.
    The things that Kristin tells us about and asks us for feedback on.

    My whole point is that we as women should not take certain things lightly when it comes to these kind of situations and with men in general.

    It’s almost like so many of you/us women are wired to be apologetic and try to look at things as “not so bad” or “he isn’t such a bad guy/father”.

    I apologize if my comment was taken as insulting as I didn’t mean it that was, but sometimes strong wakeup calls are necessary.

    As always, I wish you and your son the best.

    Tammy  |  March 22nd, 2009 at 12:08 pm

  • Wow - off the boards for a while and didn’t see this one. To Anji, you’re very lucky in the U.K. if the courts acutally care about your version of parenting vs. the non-custodial parent’s. You just have to read the heart-breaking story of what happened to the two little boys in Illinois to know how the U.S. courts see things; it is all about “rights” and very little about what is truly best for the child.
    I know my ex spoils our daughter, he’s lax with bedtime and diet, he rolls his eyes if I’ve suggested something that he doesn’t agree with and I know does darn well what he wants to anyway.
    So I try to dig in my heels only over really important issues: you must hold her hand when crossing the street or she is allergic to that food. Otherwise, for the day or two a week she spends there, being over critical goes over as picking at the other parent.
    And I’ve found by not being over critical, he’s stopped picking at my perceived faults and overall parenting her is better, and isn’t that the whole point of this?

    Mich  |  March 31st, 2009 at 2:21 pm

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