I sympathize! My ex used to be rotten about punctuality. Sometimes he wouldn't show up at all. And then, his expectation that I'd be upset with him about the week before would make him come up with excuses not to show up the next week, to avoid me. I used to fume over it and read all sorts of things into it: He thinks his time is more important than mine. In fact, he thinks I am a less-important person than he is, altogether. He's more reliable for his live-in girlfriend's kid than he is for ours. He's an inconsiderate S.O.B...
Well - at least at that time - all those things were kind of unavoidably true! But here are some things I learned - after much frustration, hurt feelings and not always handling things the way I should have. Maybe some of these ideas can help you, earlier in the game:
* He can't be a fundamentally different person than he is. If he were considerate and reliable when we broke up, I would've been more upset about losing him! Instead, I realized we weren't a good match for each other and it was better that we broke up. So, there was no longer any reason to try to resolve our piques with each other; or to seek ways to make him a better person (in my estimation). He was chronically late and inconsiderate about making and communicating his plans, before we had kids. He was like that with most people, not just me. So, although he was the one with the boorish behavior, *I* was the unreasonable one, expecting HIM to change just because MY patience with his behavior had changed. It was much easier on our kids, if I expected what was reasonable and predictable (albeit not ideal), rather than being angr, every time their Dad came to pick them up.
* His last-minute schedule changes did not obligate me to rearrange my own! The more I worked to accommodate him, the more I reinforced his belief that it was MY responsibility to ensure he got time with the kids, even if he was an hour late and didn't call to tell me until the minute he was supposed to be at my door (or didn't call to tell me at all). But if I made a point of leaving the house when he was exactly half an hour late - so we wouldn't be there when he finally arrived - I was ALSO rearranging my plans because of him (just in a bitchier way). So...
#1- Since you know he's unreliable, have a back-up plan for the kids, any time you're going to do kid-free things when they're supposed to be with him. That doesn't have to mean your DH keeps them at home, so they'll be there whenever your ex arrives! Have Grandma or a friend on standby and tell your ex he can pick them up there, since he didn't get to your house within the window when you expected him. Or arrange for a sitter and tell your ex to be prepared to pay her $X/hour for however long she was needed, after you had to leave.
#2- If you have plans during your ex's parenting time that CAN include your kids, bring them along! Your ex can either pick up the kids from wherever you guys are, or - if that's too much trouble for him - kindly say, "Oh, that's too bad! I hope you have an easier time getting here, next visit. See you then!"
#3- But if you DON'T have plans to be out of the house, let him pick them up whenever he gets there and try to be gracious. If you don't EXPECT him to be considerate, punctual or reliable (and he hasn't given you any reason to expect that), there's less reason to feel angry.
* Usually, in the long run, what people get out of relationships with kids is proportional to the effort they put in. No, it's not fair that you both created these children, yet you can't rely on him to show up and take responsibility for them, when it's his turn. I mean, YOU can't leave them with HIM and luxiuriate at the spa, with no concern for whether you get back to pick them up on time, can you?! But trust that being the better parent will be its own reward. There may be periods when he seems to be the kids' favorite, because you're there all the time, whereas they may feel they have to work, to be a priority in his life. But, over the course of your lifetime relationship, the kids will feel closer to you and trust you more, if he never becomes more reliable or focused on them.
* Someday, he might actually change! My ex did! I don't know if it was getting older; or realizing I had things to do OTHER than wait around with the kids when he was late... Maybe, as my attitude toward him gradually improved - and he felt less aversion about coming to my house - he was inspired him to do some self-improvement of his own. Maybe his new wife whipped him into shape. Or he whipped himself into shape, to impress her. Maybe he just started to care more what our kids thought of him, as they got older and easier to communicate with. Whatever it was, he is now pretty great about spending time with them; being involved at school and their activities; and even communicating in advance, when a business trip is going to mess up his visitation schedule. So, my final advice is: Be open to letting bygones be bygones, if your ex ever does get better! It's of no benefit to your kids, to hold onto grudges, once he IS doing the right thing! And actually, it's NICE to get back to feeling friendly with someone who was once your best friend. My ex and I certainly weren't meant to go through life as partners. But we WERE close, long enough to start a life together and bring kids into the world. It's nice to let all the resentment go and just accept the way things are, if you can. I hope things work out that way for you, too.
Edited by VocalMinority - 4/2/11 at 4:18pm