I have posted here once before and got some great feedback, so I thought I’d put this out there for all of you to see if anyone has thoughts or suggestions.
I have a 5-year old daughter and my SO has a 5-year old son. We’ve been together almost three years and have lived together for a little over a year.
Some background on the relationship between my SO and his ex-wife: they separated when their son was an infant, and she has done everything in her power to minimize dad’s role in his life. The relationship is still very contentious. Until about a year ago, mom had about 90% of the parenting time. Now the parenting schedule is approximately 60% mom and 40% dad, but they’ve agreed to mediate again in a couple of years because dad wants equal time. Mom has final decision making on medical and educational decisions, but the parenting plan encourages mom and dad to work together to make decisions and resolve issues, with mom having final decision making if an agreement can’t be reached.
Their son’s behavior is very troubling at times. He has what seem to us like many of the signs of ADHD. He has an extremely hard time sitting still, concentrating on tasks, following directions, and controlling his behavior. Many people have told us that he’s just being a 5-year old boy. I know all 5-year old boys have these issues SOMETIMES, but these are the rule with him, not the exception. He is markedly less mature than his peers, who are also 5-year old boys. As an example, he played in a sports league with other 5-year old boys this past fall. All of the boys hung from the goalposts once or twice. All of the boys lost focus occasionally. He, on the other hand, was consistently messing around (hanging from the goal posts, playing with things on the field, getting up in other kids faces and acting silly, running off the field during play, etc.) and for the most part totally oblivious to the game going on around him on the field. The difference between him and the other boys was significant and obvious.
Additionally, he has some serious behavioral issues. When he’s excited, he escalates very quickly to an almost manic state where he’s out-of-control hyper and impulsive, doing things he knows he’s not supposed to do. When he’s upset , he escalates very quickly to crying, yelling, hitting, kicking, spitting, and biting. The most minor thing can turn into a major meltdown. I don’t know where he learns these behaviors, but it certainly isn’t from us or anything he’s exposed to at our house. He has tantrums and meltdowns on a daily basis. We have tried a number of techniques to help him calm down and channel his feelings appropriately, but our success has been very limited. I feel like we spend most of the time he is with us in crisis mode, barely surviving until he leaves and we can put everything back together.
He has gotten sent to the principal at school three times this year for aggressive and/or disruptive behavior. Last week something he did was escalated to the school social worker. It wasn’t that big of an issue and it was resolved the same day, but my SO stopped by on Friday to introduce himself to the social worker and they ended up chatting for a while. The social worker felt it was appropriate to set up a meeting between mom, dad, stepdad, and me. When mom found out that dad met with the social worker, she sent an e-mail saying that she was going to notify the school that she has SOLE decision making and that dad cannot meet with teachers, social worker, etc. without her. She also said that she does not experience any troubling behaviors at her home. We (me, dad, mom, and stepdad) are now meeting later this week with the school social worker, principal, and his teachers. I’m sure she’s going to downplay his behavioral issues and deny that he has behavioral issues in her home, as that is what she’s done in the past. She’ll probably also find a way to make dad look like a jerk even though his intentions are good.
So, I have a million thoughts swirling through my mind, in no particular order.
Is it reasonable to say that 5-year olds should not have tantrums on a daily basis that escalate to hitting, kicking, and spitting? Is it possible that he doesn’t exhibit these same behaviors at mom’s house? It seems unlikely that he’s extremely volatile and quick to anger with us but cool as a cucumber with her. It also seems unlikely that he exhibits signs of ADHD at our house but not at her house. Are we setting ourselves up for something by saying he has serious behavioral issues at our house when she’s going to deny that any issues exist in her household? Can that be used against dad later when he’s trying to increase parenting time? Is mom reasonable in saying that meetings with school personnel cannot take place without her because she has final decision making? Is there any recourse if mom continues to insist there are no issues and prohibit dad from meeting with anyone at the school without her? Any advice for the meeting this week?
Thank you in advance for reading this (I know it’s long!); any insight is welcomed.
His behaviour sounds out of the norm, yes. Does he say he enjoys soccer?
I think it's possible that his behaviour is different at mom's house. Not to say that you guys are doing anything wrong, or that it should affect custody at all... quite the opposite. She has spent more time with him and might just be more in-tune with him for now. I can predict the kids moods better than my husband can, and much better than my parents can, etc. It sucks that she's so oppositional and denying that a problem exists, because otherwise you'd be able to ask what kind of things she's noticed will trigger him, or what kind of things she does to help him calm down, etc.
Because he's having problems at school too, I don't think you need to worry about it affecting parenting time.I could be wrong, but at least you have a third party that's made the same observation. If she pushes it, she's going to be or appear to be withholding services that he may need... that is going to go badly for her.
I think there's not a lot of recourse. All you can do is show the courts over and over again that she isn't sharing information, and eventually they may give more control to your husband... if he has final say regarding school then maybe she will be more likely to discuss medical decisions or whatever she is still in charge of, so that her opinion will be considered by him?
~Teresa, raising DS (Jan. 02) and DD1 (Jun. 04) and DD2 (Dec. 11) with DH.
...Mom has final decision making on medical and educational decisions, but the parenting plan encourages mom and dad to work together to make decisions and resolve issues, with mom having final decision making if an agreement can’t be reached.
The Catch-22 Clause was also in my husband's and his ex's orders, once upon a time. It makes me laugh! What does it MEAN? The Court had to order Mom to discuss things with Dad, because on her own, she didn't have enough respect for him as a parent to include him in any decisions about their child. Now, all she needs to do, to CONTINUE making completely unilateral decisions about everything is to say, "We couldn't come to agreement." In other words, Dad may now have a token voice in decisions about his child, as long as he agrees with Mom. Any time he doesn't, his opinion becomes irrelevant!
He has gotten sent to the principal at school three times this year for aggressive and/or disruptive behavior. Last week something he did was escalated to the school social worker. It wasn’t that big of an issue and it was resolved the same day, but my SO stopped by on Friday to introduce himself to the social worker and they ended up chatting for a while. The social worker felt it was appropriate to set up a meeting between mom, dad, stepdad, and me. When mom found out that dad met with the social worker, she sent an e-mail saying that she was going to notify the school that she has SOLE decision making and that dad cannot meet with teachers, social worker, etc. without her.
Get a copy of the letter. Ask Mom to copy you (your husband) on it, so he can be clear - like the school staff - about what she expects from him. Or, if there's no other way to get it, ask the school for a copy of it. Think hard about which staff member to ask. Some will assume you're not entitled to it. Others won't question it until someone complains later that they gave you a copy. And once you have it, you have it.
Research the laws where you live. Here, it violates civil and criminal law for anyone to block a parent's access to their child's school, educational records, or a parent's ability to communicate with staff at their child's school - regardless of custodial status, but especially if the blocked parent has some legal decision-making power regarding their child, as your husband does.
It would be very interesting to a future judge or mediator, I imagine, to know how Mom interprets her court-appointed power. A copy of her email alone would make her look bad, much less a copy of any follow-up letter she actually sends to the school. It took a while, but my husband's ex writing such letters (to my step-son's school and medical care providers) is part of the reason she lost all custodial (and decision-making) rights and now only gets visitation.
There is no harm to you, if she writes such a letter to the school. Just be sure you guys show up at the meeting with the school social worker armed with copies of your custodial orders (showing she does NOT have exclusive decision-making power) and any state laws/guidelines that prohibit interfering with a parent's ability to communicate with their child's teachers. If anyone is confused, you want to be prepared to clear it up in a very factual and non-argumentative manner. Mom can only make herself look like an ***, by following through on her threat.
She also said that she does not experience any troubling behaviors at her home...I’m sure she’s going to downplay his behavioral issues and deny that he has behavioral issues in her home, as that is what she’s done in the past. She’ll probably also find a way to make dad look like a jerk even though his intentions are good....
Especially if this is her first child...and he's only been alive for 5 years...and he's been verbal and mobile for less than that (so she's pretty green at mothering, still) it is perfectly normal for a mother to feel insecure about, and want to deny, ways her child's behavior is worse/more worrisome than other children's. More than a father, she feels personally responsible - and personally judged - for how she has raised him. When your daughter was born, didn't you feel a gush of devotion to do everything just right, to help her blossom into her best possible self? If you took total responsibility for everything about her - and everything she was exposed to - then you could comfort yourself with a (false) sense of certainty that she'd be wonderful and have a wonderful life. Everyone wants that for their child.
By the same token, if your child has behavior issues, then especially when he's very young, as a mother you think, "If I can just find some way that this is my fault - and not an intrinsic part of my child's personality - then logic says I have the power to fix it and save him from a troubled life."
Well, who is the last person on God's earth to whom a woman wants to admit that she fears she may have screwed up raising her kid? Her ex-husband. Especially if they have a high-conflict relationship and she fears he wants to take away "her" time with the child, or that he may think he's a better parent and want custody.
The second-to-last people to whom an insecure Mom wants to admit her fears of being a bad mother? Her child's teachers, child care providers and/or other school personnel. In a sense, they ought to work for her, but if she's only been a mother for 5 years, then even a 25-year-old preschool teacher probably has more experience with children than she does. She doesn't want to be judged by any of them and found wanting. She doesn't want her ex-husband talking to any of them behind her back and having them conclude he has a better grip on their child's needs, than she does.
None of this means your husband shouldn't communicate with his child's teachers! I'm just explaining to you where Mom is likely coming from. Now, at 40, I know I'm a good mother. I have an excellent relationship with my ex. And, thank God, I've usually able to rise above my pettiest, most fearful and selfish instincts, to see and do what's best for my kids. But I have thought and felt everything I just described to you, regarding my oldest kids, who are Autistic. And it feels horrible! And not everyone is capable of rising above. The ex may not be making a conscious choice to be unreasonable and unfeeling toward your husband. It may feel like absolute self-preservation, to her.
And she's about to be fairly humiliated, whether or not she realizes it. I taught preschool for many years and had numerous children with various behavior issues. Many of my friends are in early childhood education and I discuss their students with them. No teacher or school employee is going to believe that a child who's acting up in school isn't also acting up at home. They'll be polite about it. But they're just not going to believe it, because it's not true. A child may react differently to one parent's rules/personality/discipline style than the other parent's. But a child's entire, fundamental reaction to stress or overstimulation does not change, between one setting and another.
If you are honest and Mom is not, your step-son's teachers are going to realize that, whether or not they say so in front of Mom. They will think that either she knows nothing about children and truly believes her little angel's behavior is normal - and doesn't care what a hardship it is, to other people who watch him - or they're going to think she's lying, to save face, even though it keeps her from participating in the process of trying to discern what his needs are and how to meet them.
Go to the meeting honest and open-minded. Do your best to let it focus on your step-son and not the conflict between his parents. Don't gear up to have all the answers. The staff at his school will have some and you want to be able to hear them.