May 11

The Problem: Putting Kids First

Presents 29

The mantra I hear in divorce circles is that you need to put the kids first. There are multiple problems with this. One of the more common terms is child-centric divorce. I have stated so many times before, that if it were about the children, then the divorce wouldn’t be the event that they are having to adjust to. Lets just put the idea to bed that there is such a thing as a good divorce for children. As I sit here happier than I have been in most of the last fifteen years, I still believe that divorce was the wrong course to take. I also have to recognize that for so many reasons, I can’t go back. Number one of course is she doesn’t want to, but as I have thought about things, neither do I. For different reasons. For me, it is about the kids. I won’t put them back on that roller coaster just to wait and see when it will happen again. I don’t trust her. This has been covered before, so read the rest of the blog to understand why, because that is a long story.

The Fallacy of Child Centered

Divorce by its very nature puts aside what is very best for the children for the benefit of one or both parents desires. The very act is not child centered, except in rare instances where it is done to protect the children from the other parent. That is not what is considered when people say child centered. In a child centered divorce, the children become the focus. The parents throw themselves into the children’s lives as they are dealing with the trauma of divorce. The core ideas of trying to create the softest landing for their kids as possible are good, but they become such the focus that the parents aren’t seeing the bigger picture for the family, which by the way includes themselves. Divorce at its core is a selfish act, and doing things the child centered way makes the parents feel better about the divorce, but more often than not its still about the parents. They get wrapped up into competing with their old partner in life over who is the better parent. It should be noted that one parent is always better than the other, and it may not be the same parent as last week this week. This new child centered ideal for divorce has moved children from the same position as the furniture to a new position of actors in the parents’ play. They get confused over which parent to try to please and when. It is about the kids looking like they are doing as well as the kids from intact homes. It becomes yet another way for people to keep up with the Jones. The kids are not doing as well as similar kids in intact homes. They just can’t. They may develop new skills, and there are plenty of bright sides to their new life, if they can overcome the trauma of divorce. Everyone should understand that the child centered divorce is not about the children, but about alleviating the guilt the parents feel about the divorce regarding their children. I often see that the initiator or causer of the divorce uses the child centeredness of the the other parent as a way to get their way. It is rare that both parents are truly trying to be partners in this. It become a lever for manipulation.

Why Is It A Problem

Most people I know who have tried the child centered approach to divorce have a common problem in their marriage. The marriage became about the kids. All the couples time together was with children, or exhausted from children. One or both people never got out to do things without the kids, and they certainly never got out together. This is something that opens the marriage up to all sorts of problems. Men and women have affairs. They develop interests and don’t share them with their partner. They grow apart while spending most of their time together, and they stop enjoying each other at all. They lose patience for the things that bothered them, but they decided to accept when they took their vows. I think this happens often by accident, but initially when the kids are little they need lots of care. As the kids become older it is easy for one or both parents to stay completely engaged as if the kid needs them every moment. The longer this goes on, the harder it is for the couple to come back together. One of the things my wife told me when she asked for a divorce is “We are great partners, but horrible lovers.” There is truth to that. I know what I have written here played a part in that, and I was the one who ended up hiding in the kid stuff. As the rest of the blog explains, this is probably less true for us than many others I have seen. My response to her was that we wouldn’t necessarily stay as good a partners, because without the marriage bond our desires and interests for the kids would diverge, and probably sooner than we know. In the past year to year and half that has certainly been the case. We have fought over medicating my son, and what soccer team the kids will play on. These are the issues I am holding strong on, or at least for one soccer team, since my niece plays with my daughter. On many issues I state my opinion, and ask her to take time and think about it, and if she doesn’t change her mind, then I will usually acquiesce. I do believe that too much conflict will only hurt the kids, and she is high conflict. The only way to avoid conflict is to not take on every issue ready to fight.

The Balance

In marriage and in divorce there is a balance. I am not good at it, but I see where I need to get. As parents we need to allow the kids to develop and make mistakes. We have to tell them no sometimes not because we can’t do something, but because we need the time. In my case, we should have divided and conquered more for kids events. We should have taken time out together. That is one thing in divorce that I am not going to do wrong. I will take time for myself. I will take the time to play for me. I will not feel guilty for missing 1 or 2 games in a weekend when there are 8 to 12 games. With the tougher schedule of separation, I will not go to the late games if I have other opportunities most of the time now. I need to get out and see friends. I needed to to do that within the confines of marriage. I am spending my time rebuilding relationships that would be strong if I had done some of this before. If I need to clean the house, and the kids are with their mom, then I might not make it to a couple of events. I hate to miss them, but my world comes crashing down on me, if I don’t take the time to do the things I need to do. In the US we are not good at balance. I have known men and women who’s life stops because of divorce with the kids. They devote all of their time to the kids. Not just put kids first when the kids need the parent, but in every moment of every day they devote to the kids. They are usually praised and their egos are fed through this. These people become bitter as their kids don’t devote that same kind of attention on them as they grow up. Just as the married couple who fails to connect and devotes everything to the kids has nothing when the kids move out, so is true for the divorced parent who always puts the kids first. They are alone, and many make their children feel guilty about it. It is not the children’s fault that they are alone, it is their own. They didn’t have a balanced life. I know that I did not, and its tough to get there, but I find more and more joy as I do, and I enjoy my children more, because they become less of a burden. A word I would not have described them as before, but as things change I realize that I allowed them to become that to me.

Final Thoughs

Its not about the kids. The divorce, the marriage, the future none of it is about the kids. The kids are but one piece to the puzzle. If it is all about the kids, then you will be unhappy, and the kids will be spoiled and unhappy. The children raised in poorer cultures learn the lessons of family, and grow up to be much more balanced themselves. This is why these children can come to the US with no money and no skill, and end up running businesses that are successful. It is better for our kids to see us live. They will not appreciate us for giving up everything for them as they grow into adults, they will pity us. They will not visit to be our companion or friend, but out of guilt for all that we gave up for them. Family matters. Family is the most important thing in your life. Remember that your family includes you, and your well being matters as well.

Ten Foured,

JeD

May 10

When 1/2=6+

Happy Pi Day - P versus NP

No this is not a math problem. Its the dynamics of what happens to the family after divorce. When parents of kids split, there is not two families created. There are at least 6. Some of them are created by how the kids interpret what is going on, and how they decide to handle it, but there are some patterns that I have seen as this has happened in my life. I will use my family as an example throughout, but I have observed this from the sidelines of a lot of families that I interact with. I will touch on each of the six individually, but then I will explain the plus side of this.

The Families Created

Mom’s Family With The Kids

This is an obvious one. Mom interacting with her kids as a mom. Dad is gone, but most times its not a lot different than the life of a family with a dad that that travels for a living. Mom may have to work more than she did before, and fix things around the house she didn’t before, but the care of the children doesn’t change as much. Where it becomes different is when mom needs a dad moment. Does she call dad or does she try to be dad. This choice is critical to how the children handle the split up. Super mom trying to be the dad when he isn’t there makes things hard on the kids. There are really three ways to handle this. Moms are much more likely to hover and supervise than fathers. Its is harder for the kids to get some freedom to grow up in a mothers house.

  1. Mom tries to fill the role of the dad. This is problematic because she isn’t masculine. There is more to being a dad than acting like a dad. Dads are better at it, because they are masculine, and the things that need a dad truly need the masculinity. This is the case in comforting and disciplining. Dads and moms are different.
  2. Mom explains to the children that she is not the dad, and she is not willing to be the dad, because their dad does that for them. She can then go on to allow them to call their dad, or tell them to wait until they see their dad,
  3. Mom can call their dad and ask him to come over to help or take the child to him. If mom and dad are really working for the best interest of their children, they will figure out how to do this for any big issue. Big being defined by the child’s emotional state and age at the time as much as the issue itself.

Dad’s Family With The Kids

This is similar to the one above, but it is different. Its different in the fact there are a lot of things dad may not have done on a daily basis that he does now. This does depend on how involved dad was in the mundane things of their kids life before. I pass no judgement on what worked in the marriage partnership to parent. I am sorry that the courts do. Dads are much less likely to try to be mom. They have the same resolutions as stated above. Dads will tend to play more with their kids, and encourage independence as they grow older. Dads do less to protect their kids from themselves, though they are very protective from others. This is the balance that is lost in a split household, and the parents working together to ensure that when one is not resident, they are not absent. This is hard, and both parents out of pride may struggle with this.

Dad’s Family Without Kids

Dads will tend to find distractions. They go out with friends and work more. They get back into hobbies and sports that they had abandoned for the sake of their marriage. Things that probably weren’t really healthy for the marriage, but the stresses of time management made them think so. Once the kids are a bit older, dads are much more likely to wait for the mother to call if there is something that needs talking about, and to wait for their kids to call if they need or want to talk. Part of this, is they don’t need the constant contact for the closeness to be there. Again we are dealing with the masculine vs the feminine in how things are handled. There is often a renewed connection to the dad’s family(parents, brothers, sisters, etc). It is al too common that a married couple spends more time with the wife’s family than the husband’s this is often the case, because she is the one that is scheduling things, not some evil plot.

Mom’s Family Without Kids

I don’t have the insight for mom’s family that is required to go into great detail. What my experience tells me from being the dad with the kids on the other end. She calls me two to three times a day. In the morning to check on the kids. During the day about school stuff. After school about activities. The only necessary call is the last. She may or may not call them during these times. There is a part of the mom that can’t let go of the things she used to own in the marriage as the care giver. She knows that she doesn’t have the control over these things, nor does she have the right to try, but she has to touch base with it. I think this will become less as time goes on, but I doubt it will completely go away. Moms are much more likely to make extra contacts to the school when she doesn’t have the kids as well.

Mom Has The Kids At An Event Dad Is At

There is a tendency for the mother to hold tight. To keep them close. Its almost like they are afraid at some baser level that the father will take them away from her. There is also a tendency to return to requesting the father to do things that she would have expected when they were married. In the more mild cases, it is just things for the kids, but in more extreme cases it is things that he would have done for his wife not his kids. The Dad has a tendency to absolve himself of disciplining the kids. In his mind they are in her care, and whether its a detachment or avoiding stepping on her toes, I don’t know. I am intentional about not being her husband, but being their father, so the balance works out for me without too much stress or inconsistency for the kids.

Dad Has The Kids At an Event Mom Is At

There is a tendency to let mom take over parenting at these things, which often leaves the kids without a parent, because mom thinks she is there to just see the event and get some hugs from the other kids. Again I am intentional about not letting this happen. Little kids are drawn to their mothers anytime she is around, so its easy for a dad to let them go and absolve himself of responsibility. The situation tends to resolve itself as the kids get older. The kids are more autonomous, and it is easier for the dad to assert his rules.

Increasing The Multiples

There are many things that can increase the multiples. Stepparents with kids can change things a lot. Imagine that sometimes the step-siblings are there together and other times they are not. The dynamics of whose house it was if the family moves into a house one of them owned already.

One child has special emotional needs that has them living with one parent or the other or following a different schedule than the other kids. This can create distance and closeness that doesn’t exist for the other kids. And affect how the kids respond to each other.

God forbid that a parent get married more than once again, because this just continues to extend the family and its complicated interconnections.

The Effects On The Children

Its stressful. Their little minds are not mature. Their emotions aren’t in check with their logic centers. They are going to be stressed by even the best situations They don’t like change. Children do better when the parents stay together, even in the worst marriages. People can judge the break-up all they want, and whether it was good or not. Many will use the children as the filter. The problem is that it is too late for that. The decisions are made, and action has already been taken. I hate the argument that children are resilient. They really aren’t. They are pliable, and it takes time to bend around their new world. Much longer than it takes an adult. Part of this is the adult has much more control over what is happening than the child does. The best the parents can do along the way is ensure to the kids that their mom or dad is not being replaced or leaving, and neither are they. Reinforce, reinforce, reinforce this idea to them all the time. Their dad, even a bad dad, is their dad, and is irreplaceable. Their mom, even a bad mom, is their mom, and is irreplaceable. Don’t let your feelings get in the way of whatever relationship the kids can have with them. If they are flakes, then be their to catch them, and cry with them. Save your tears for them that are tainted by your anger and hurt until they are out of sight.

Ten Foured,

JeD

May 2

Constantly Changing

High Dumbo Range

This has always been an issue. She has always been an unsettled person. We moved 6 times in 14 years. She left me by moving back to the city, and she doesn’t feel like she was thoughtful enough in her choice, and wants to move again. I almost believe that what precipitated the separation was a desire to move when we were upside in our house. The market killed us. We had made good money on each house up until this one. We are taking a bath in this one. We are selling a house that is more than twice the size of one of our old houses for less money than we sold that house for. It sucks. She expected that I would stay in that house, and be the one stuck while she moved up here and started her new life without me. She would be the known one at the school, and I would be one of those dads. I turned the tables a bit. I wasn’t willing to live that far away from my kids. I moved shortly after her to a place near the kids schools. I am not in the same district, but close enough to drive them there quickly. I am in the neighboring district. I don’t really care if she moves. The kids will, but I am out of the business of telling her she is making mistakes. She can do that fine on her own. I do keep notes on those mistakes. I want to make sure that I keep at least equal time with my kids. My problem is that she can’t seem to find anything in the same school district, and can’t work her schedule around school when she has the kids, so they need to ride the bus, or go to the schools near the high school she works at. This puts me in a position of choosing a place that is convenient to the schools they are in, but not very convenient to where she is looking. It will make my mornings tougher, and make getting to work harder. I hope she changes her mind for at least a year. If she is more patient, she will find a place in the district we are in now.

We have not been separated for a year yet. The schedule is constantly changing. First we were using a 2/3/5/4 schedule. It meant we were changing houses only once during the week. She had the 5/2 part of the schedule. She complained that the kids didn’t feel like they saw her as much, so at the first of the year we swapped schedules. I got the 5/2 part of the schedule. The real reason that the kids felt this way, was because they hadn’t. I took the kids to most of their practices, even when they weren’t with me. There were a number of nights that I would be there while she did something else like the gym. I would do homework, fix dinner, and get them off to showers and bed. She would come home just in time to kiss them good night. This still happens some, but I am much more apt to ask her to bring them over to me, or go get them, and have them spend the night or evening with me. She hasn’t handled my oldest well. They explode at each other. I have posted about this before, and there is more to come. He has done some crazy things in his rages at her. Rages that just don’t happen with me. She has been threatening him with having to come live with me all the time. I finally pulled the trigger, and asked that she let me have him during the week. She would have any access to him she wanted, but he would spend the night with me. He would still have his weekends with her and his siblings, and he would be with me and the other kids when they were with me. It amounted to at most 2 days a week where he may not see his siblings. I thought this was needed to give them some space to develop a new kind of relationship. She was not sold, but went along with it for a week and a half. She then talked to a counselor about him and came over and pretty much took him. She wanted to have him when the other kids weren’t there, except the weekends. The weekends would stay the same. So now he spends 5 nights a week without his siblings. A new family dynamic is being created, and its not good. They still don’t get along any better. She just doesn’t explode in front of the other kids at him. This is sad for me. I really would rather be back on a schedule where he gets to be with his siblings all the time, especially if things aren’t going to change for him and her. I am sure that by the time school starts she will want another change. I am almost tempted to propose that we do one week on, and one week off. Friday through Thursday. We would still help each other with practices, but the consistency I can provide in week, I think would be good for all of them. It would feel less harried, and give me a better work schedule.

With the moving comes changing schools. My oldest has been in 4 different school systems and is only in sixth grade. The kid who hates change keeps getting changed. Even if she doesn’t move, she is trying to change his school to one that feeds into her high school, so she can keep a better eye on him. If she moves they all will be moved to another school, because she can’t get them or pick them up from school. They will have to go to a school where they can ride the bus for her place. I can’t keep them in the same schools. If they came to my schools, I would use the bus. I would also allow them to come to my place every afternoon and start homework until she gets off work. Something she won’t allow. She also won’t go for having to pick them up every afternoon. They have all just made some new great friends, and I am sad that she might uproot them again. Without a pattern of this changing all the time, I don’t believe that I can get them residential status with me to provide that stability. I am going to have to talk to a lawyer and see if filing for that type of custody would do some good.

Changing teams is the next thing she wants to change. She has tried ever season to move my kids from one team to another. She begins bad talking the coach, and making other people feel bad about them as well. I am not happy with this. My son is being made to feel bad about a coach who loves him. A coach who cares for him probably more than anyone outside the family. A coach who does a fine job, and mostly for free, even though he should be being paid. She is doing this for my daughter, who plays on a team with my niece. My niece fought hard to get on this team, and has been a great player on the team. They have fun together, and this is one of the rare times that they get to be together with the busy life our families have with four and three kids a piece. She has told me that it is my responsibility to get them together, and that it wouldn’t be her fault they see each other less. I haven’t told her, but I would not take her to games in favor of playing with cousins if that is the choice I am forced to make. I think I will win with my daughter, but not with my son. His coach is working with us while he is suspended from playing by us for grades and school work. Any random coach who just liked how he played would drop him from the team at the first opportunity, because he is not invested in him.

I hate the fact she constantly wants to change things for my kids. I hope she will settle down, but without me to settle her in her life as a husband, I doubt that she will. I fully expect she will become more chaotic. Divorce is such a huge change for the kids. I don’t think changing the rest of their life is smart, but I don’t have all the say. I hope that my kids get through this without any more damage than necessary. I will try hard to do this on my part.

Ten-Foured,

JeD