Title pretty much says it all. My kids came home from a weekend at their father's, and were very upset about some things that were said about me. The kids were bickering, and my daughter snapped at my son about something, and called him lazy. Their father overheard, and came storming in and took her aside and said that I was mean to him their entire relationship, and that he doesn't want her talking like that because it reminds him of me. (As an aside, I actually left him, in part due to physical abuse that the kids witnessed - the fact that I was "mean" to him, ever, is completely new to me and has never been brought up in the past, not even during the heat of our divorce, so I have no idea where this even stems from.) He said that he didn't want her to turn out like me, and then told her that this was a "secret" conversation, and she wasn't allowed to tell me about it.
My daughter got upset, and packed up her stuff and stormed off. He also sat my son down and had a little chat with him, asking him if I ever say things that upset him, or that he thinks are mean. He said no, and was really confused by it all.
I don't know what to do about it - if anything. Our separation agreement obviously has the very standard clause of not speaking ill of each other, a clause that I do my very best to stand by. The only time their father is even discussed in our house, is when they bring up the topic and need to talk about something (and I steer them back to him, if they just want to complain about something that's happened there, as I feel that he should be solving problems at his house, and vice versa). But my daughter freaked out, saying that I'm not allowed to complain to him, because then he'll know that she told me, and she'll get in trouble at his house.
Anyway, this is all kind of new to me, too. He's been absent for most of the past 4-5 years. Disappeared to another country, goes stretches of 3-6 months without seeing or talking to the kids. And then - BAM, he's suddenly back in their life for a regular streak. The kids were actually freaking out tonight, because the things he was saying were making them worry that he's going to try to "take them" from me. I have a feeling that he may have finally gotten the collection letter for child support (hasn't paid more than 2-3 times in the past four years, and never what he's actually ordered to pay) and he thinks that by taking custody, he won't have to pay? Or that I'll have to pay him? He has eluded to this in the past, with me. That even if we have 50/50 custody, I'll have to pay him support because I make more "on paper" (he has been paid under the table for most of his adult life - though I am to understand that he recently got a "real" job.) I strongly feel that this is his driving force for wanting any sort of custody - getting out of paying child support.
It just scares me, because now that he's seeing them regularly (for the past several months - this is the longest stretch he's EVER seen them regularly) he's been grooming them more and more. Every weekend he sees them, the kids come home with more stories and complaints about the things he's saying, talking about how the school there is so much better, etc. I'm so stressed that he's going to try and take me to court for custody (or even 50/50), and I just don't think that it's in the kids best interest, given the track record of him hopping in and out of their lives whenever it's convenient for him. I have been stable since our divorce, and have had full custody for the past several years. I am glad he's seeing them more often, for their sake. I just don't think that uprooting their lives would be great for them, now that they're so settled.
And I don't know how to deal with the grooming thing, and the badmouthing. I'm just so frustrated with his behavior, and how he's making the kids feel.
All the same stuff you've taught them about relationships with their friends applies here. You can give them some things to say to try and stop the bad-mouthing "I don't keep secrets from my mom." or "I don't like hearing bad things about my mom/my family." or "It's rude to talk about people behind their back." might be things they can say to him when they are uncomfortable.
Do you think he's organized enough to go through all the hoops court sets up? Figuring out what kind of application you need to make and all the rules to follow can be pretty daunting. And lawyers to do it for you are not cheap!
The only other thing I can think of is, without 'ratting out' your daughter, can you ask your ex if he has any ideas on why the kids might be upset? You could describe some of their behaviour, not their words. It doesn't really matter what his answer is, but if it's something denigrating to you. all the better. You can then link him to a parenting after separation booklet (a lot of states/provinces have them online) You could say that it's your intent to use the booklet as a guide for how to navigate your relationship with the kids where he is concerned, and it might be good for the kids were he to do the same. The pessimist in me says he won't take it to heart but you can add that email to the records you keep in case he does take you to court, along with notes of what the kids said about their visits with him.
I wonder if it would help to explain to the kids that, sometimes, after a relationship like a marriage ends, people have badly hurt feelings for a long time, and they say bad things about their former partners. Point out that, of course, this is not good behavior, but one of the things that not being in a relationship with their dad means is, you can't keep him from doing that. On the other hand, also point out, it's not fair for adults to ask kids to keep secrets from their parents, and they don't have to keep secrets for their dad. Say that it's up to them whether they tell you what he said, but that it's okay for them to do that, and you'll work with them to help them deal with whatever goes down at their dad's house.
Also, you think they're both great kids, and you know that they're turning out well. Point out, too, that sometimes you can do the right thing (like protecting yourself from emotional and physical harm), and people will think you're being mean. That doesn't mean you were wrong. You can only be nice so long as you're safe and with people who are nice back.
I handled it by doing most of the things suggested, so thanks! I haven't talked to him about it, and may just let it go for now. My daughter later elaborated and said that she made it clear to him that she was upset about the things he said about me, and told him that she wanted him to stop. So hopefully, hearing that from his daughter will open his eyes to the fact that his behavior really sucks. I find that sometimes, hearing the opinion of a child can really put everything into perspective. I've dealt with it, myself, while having my own mis-steps during the divorce. They're inevitable. We all make mistakes, and I get that. With him, it just seems more and more like grooming, and that's what's freaking me out a bit. I've been trying to handle it as emotionless as possible (easier said than done) so that I don't blow up at him, or say something to the kids just to try and clear my name. =P I told them that they know the truth about me, they know if I'm a "mean" or a "nice" mom, and their opinion counts more to me than anything else. And not to worry about what their dad says. He's angry, and he shouldn't say things like that to them, and they're allowed to tell him so, if it makes them uncomfortable in the future.
Ugh, divorce stuff can be so HARD sometimes.
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