Pushed to the limit

It’s the school summer holidays. I expect that most ex partners who co-parent probably have a discussion a couple of months in advance to agree on which dates the non-resident parent will take the children over that period. I’ve been told that it’s not uncommon for the NR to have the children for two weeks, whether all in one go or split.

I long ago gave up trying to get dates out of the Husband. I took matters into my own hands and made other childcare arrangements for the period that they will be off school and I will be working. My parents agreed to have them from Sunday night through Tuesday afternoons for the first three weeks and I booked and paid £72 a week for them to be enrolled in a local Holiday Club for the Wednesdays and Thursdays of the first four weeks.

I knew that the Husband had booked a two week period off work mid-August – he had even phoned at one point (albeit after I had already paid for the holiday club) and told me that he might want to take the children away somewhere on one of those weeks but he refused to say when or where. He also told me that he wouldn’t refund the money I’d paid if that happened.

The children have just spent their first Sunday-Tuesday period with my parents and lo and behold he has decided to bemoan the fact that he actually could have had them instead because he wasn’t working.

He texted me today asking to have them when they were returned this afternoon and hassled me to get my mother to bring them back earlier than planned. I asked him what times he would like to have them and he told me just for one hour because he was going out in the evening.

When he arrived to pick them up the five year old refused to go with him and he accused me of “poisoning” the children against him which is extremely ironic as I never bad mouth him to them and he is constantly bad mouthing me and my family to them. I know this from things like my seven year old asking me “is the word B-I-C-H a swear word Mummy? Because daddy says it about you all the time”. Fortunately he was mature enough to add “He shouldn’t do that because it’s setting me and [my brother] a bad example” without any prompting.

I had to pull out the big bribes to get the five year old to go along today but not before he had called me ‘scum’ in front of them and said some derogatory things about my family (he knew my mum was inside the house and would be able to hear).

He has been texting me almost non-stop whilst they have been with him – being very antagonistic – the children must be having a ball!

He wants to know if he can have the children next Tuesday which happens to be my birthday and keep them until Thursday. Any other time I might have agreed but I do have plans for a birthday celebration and my parents are very kindly looking after the children whilst I go up to London for a few hours during the day with a friend.

I’ve told him he can have them Wednesday and Thursday without having to compensate me for the holiday club and overnight on Thursday instead of Tuesday as that would simply be easier and more practical.

He is desperate to ruin my plans – it wouldn’t be the first time he’s ruined a birthday for me – when we were still together in 2014 he got himself in such a rage about something that he refused to talk to me and went out to a pub in another town for several hours in the evening with his friends leaving me at home alone with the children who were then 2 and 4.

He has just dropped them back to me – over an hour after he said he would. I asked him again to give me a list of dates for the sake of the children who need to know where they stand and have some kind of stability and not the shifting sands they are on when he asks to see them at short notice on a whim. He once again equated my request with a selfish desire on my part to plan my own social life.

Of course I want to be able to have a social life – I don’t think that is unreasonable – however I gave up expecting to be able to use his contact dates for that purpose some time ago instead preferring to get either babysitting from family members or paying for a sitter. When he has the children he always appears to be absolutely obsessed with my whereabouts and movements calling me controlling if I decline to provide that information and working himself up into a rage. I’d almost prefer to be at home alone doing nothing at those times if it means he remains calm during his time with the children.

I definitely felt pushed to my limit earlier despite all my best intentions of remaining calm and not letting him and his words and behaviour unnerve me and crank up the anxiety levels.

I will stand my ground about the contact dates for next week and he will simply have to comply with my request for dates in advance. When he has given me a list in the past it has kept our relationship civil as everyone knew where they stood. I just wish he could open his eyes and see that civility between us is the way forwards – however I know that this is a complete daydream on my part – he has undiagnosed mental health issues and until and unless he addresses those issues, his behaviour will remain the same and he will never be able to take responsibility for the failures in his life, including eroding his own relationships – every one.

*Update*

It’s a couple of hours later and I have received an email from the Husband’s parents accusing me of depriving them of time with their much loved grandsons and telling me that my behaviour is not very mature for “a woman of my age, let alone a mother”.

I have replied to them with the utmost dignity and let them know that I have been expecting dates from the Husband for months – and expect him to liaise with them although in the absence of that happening I have suggested a date for them to spend time with the children this coming weekend.

I remained gracious in thanking them for the gift they gave the five year old for his birthday and pointed out that the arrangements for the summer holidays would have been more inclusive if I’d had a pre-agreed schedule from their own son.

I’m hoping that they are a bit shamed by my reasonable and reasoned response, but at the same time I currently just feel like curling up in a ball and crying my eyes out. It’s hard enough to deal with him without his parents going on the attack. Some days I wish I’d never met any of them.

I need to keep telling myself that this is a particularly awful moment in the whole break up/divorce scenario – even after nearly 18 months things are still so raw between all of us and it seems to be pushing it to expect even civility despite the fact that I am desperate for a bit of kindness and understanding from them.

To be hated…

It’s been a funny kind of summer so far. I have heard very little from the Husband for a while – he has had the children on three occasions in June – two of them overnight. Tonight is the third and last overnight for June. It’s Thursday. This was arranged on Monday. I pay for the children to go to after school club on a Thursday – £24 and I normally pick them up between 5 and 5.30 after I finish my working day. He will pick them up, give them tea, let them bounce off the walls for a couple of hours before putting them to bed and taking them to school in the morning. He is also off work on Friday and over the weekend but he has asked for them Sunday afternoon only.

There is nothing for me to do tonight even though I don’t have to get up in the morning because it’s my day off. It was too late to arrange anything although to be fair I think I am probably too tired to do anything right now anyway – I will just enjoy this peace and quiet, not having to jump to the constant demands and break up the inevitable squabbles. I will enjoy having the freedom to start watching a DVD at 6pm or listening to my music loud or staying up past my own bedtime. Woo! What an exciting life I lead.

What has become very apparent is that the Husband has been spiralling into a vicious mood in recent days. I’m not sure what’s triggered it, whether it’s his lack of success with the ladies lately or his 8 days in a row at work culminating in two night shifts or just the fact that when he knows he’s going to be seeing the children it is his one chance to force his way into my life and my consciousness while we manoeuvre our way out of the shallows and into the cross currents which represent our co-parenting exchange.

His phone broke the other day and during the period when he didn’t have the phone I had to physically attend his house to write my number down for him as he made no attempt to contact me regarding child contact or indeed to speak to the children for over 7 days. I found out that he had his phone back fixed but all the numbers wiped out however he did not attempt to contact me or the children. In the end I texted him saying “do you ever want to see your children again?” to which he replied “who is this?”.

I replied “your children’s mother”. He countered “The one who left me?” before telling me he didn’t want to talk to me – “you are the last person I want to speak to”.

A couple of days later I thought I would pre-empt the shit storm that ensued last year by texting him with dates of parents evenings coming up at school plus an information evening up at the Junior school where our eldest will be starting in September and all the details of the birthday party I have arranged for our youngest at the end of July. He didn’t reply to this but later in the day he texted “It looks like your car is still registered at this address”.

I thought that was odd and looked out my Vehicle registration documentation and driving licence and both are registered to my current address. I asked him what he’d got there and he said “Renewal notice apparently”. I asked “renewal of what?” to which he replied “stop bothering me”.

I pointed out that I had gone to the effort of providing him with important dates recently and that it would be kind of him to simply tell me which document it was he was referring to – i.e. which agency it was from.

He replied “you FINALLY have started doing that. Remember the way you left me? You can crawl under the nearest rock as far as I’m concerned”. I told him I would stop providing him with information if that was all the thanks I would be getting and he said “you should be doing it anyway!”.

He then tried to get me to call him, tried to call me, which I declined, told me it was my loss and when I asked what he was trying to call me for he said “To tell you about the document!!”.

He tried to call again this morning and I didn’t answer. It was 7.40 am – prime school run prep time so no reason not to suppose that I could have been in the shower/making the kids breakfast, or any number of other tasks that need to be completed like clockwork in the morning so we all get out of the house on time. He told me “there’s always an excuse for you not answering your phone and I’ve had enough of it. Your post will be in the recycling bin, unless you want it somewhere else?”.

I texted “just leave it inside the door and I’ll get it when I drop the bag off”. He responded “Now why would I do that? You haven’t even tried to call me back”.

When I dropped the bag off the post was by the door. I flicked through quickly and immediately recognised the yellow logo of the AA (that’s Automobile Association for any of you Americans out there 🙂 ). It was a letter dated May telling me that my breakdown cover had been auto renewed.

He could have mentioned AA to me at any point and there would have been no need for any further discussion on the matter. This is a classic case of him using the smallest tool to try and manoeuvre himself into a position of power – some small piece of information that he thinks I will be desperate to get my hands on. Because I wasn’t and didn’t jump to his demands or take his calls, he became irate.

This afternoon he texted me “when will we be divorced?”. I replied “Not before September” (which is when our Financial Dispute Resolution appointment at court takes place) and he responded “I hate you”.

About half an hour later he texted “will the children have eaten?” – an entirely practical, innocuous, reasonable co-parenting type question which fails in any way to acknowledge his previous vitriol.

So there we have it – undisguised hatred. And what does that feel like? At my weakest moments it feels like a knife in the heart.

I am not a bad person – I have lots of friends and I don’t have enemies. I don’t engage in backstabbing gossip or think the worst of people. I try to always be kind and loving and open. I know from my recent attempts at relationships that I am the kind of person who wears her heart on her sleeve, bends over backwards to be thoughtful and generous – generous with my love and my affection, but also financially, I pay my way and I don’t expect to be given a free ride.

Even though I give a lot less fucks than I did as a young person I still generally want to be liked and well thought of. It really hurts to know that someone is out there thinking dark black thoughts about me, sending their negative karma my way.

I unexpectedly bumped into the Husband’s mother in the supermarket this morning and I’ve never seen someone smile at me through such gritted teeth. I know there must be a mad concoction of what he tells them and the destructive behaviour they must witness in him which all adds up to them feeling nothing but angry and bitter towards me, but it is blind of them. I haven’t taken their grandchildren away from them, their son has messed his own life up – two failed marriages with children, two women who’s experiences mirror each others so closely that we have bonded over the debris and identify so closely that we are now more like family to each other than either of us ever wants to be with him again in this lifetime.

 

Somewhere over the rainbow, childcare works…

Another day, another stressful phone call with the husband. I’ve been asking him for a list of dates for child contact for the last 2 weeks since the old list ran out. In that time he’s seen them once – for one afternoon before depositing them with his parents for the night and not returning til the following morning.

The only date we had talked about and agreed upon a couple of weeks in advance was this coming Thursday – a school holiday day when I’m at work and out 9-5.

His attitude to me (which is never exactly good) appears to be on the down swing. He has no respect for me or understanding of what it’s like to be responsible for keeping the children fed, clothed, entertained, healthy, morally sound and well behaved, supported in their education, looked after when I’m not around, and just generally alive and safe and content.

I asked to confirm that he was still having them on Thursday and he just casually mentioned that he can’t any more because he’s got to work now. There was no apology, no sense of dismay for having forgotten to tell me as soon as he’d found out himself. Then to add insult to injury he implied that the there was something unfair about me asking him for a list of dates and told me that I am trying to use him for childcare. I tried to point out that as their parent, the childcare analogy is moot but he talked over me repeating the phrase “because you’re a little bit of a bitch” a few times before hanging up on me.

He had spoken of getting his mum and dad to have the kids on Thursday (his dad is 80) but I would be happy if I never had to see his father ever again after his rude and aggressive behaviour towards me each time (even after over a year of separation). I sent him a message telling him not to bother asking his parents, that I would make other arrangements.

I have sent a message to his ex wife asking if she would be able to have them for a half day as she lives in the town where I work, doesn’t work herself and has mentioned in the past that she could cover for me if I ever needed someone and she has willingly agreed which is a big relief as it is too late to book a holiday club now and I really couldn’t have afforded it anyway.

I’m trying to let it wash over me and take it in my stride. Having coped alone with this same kind of “help” (or lack of) and bad attitude from him for the past year at least I know I can juggle through, just about have enough leave from work and can just about afford to pay for childcare.

One thing is certain – I need more help from him financially, particularly if he is unable or just unwilling to care for the children himself when I can’t. If I can’t rely on him to make firm dates to have the children and stick to them then I need to make childcare decisions which leave him out of the loop for my own peace of mind and sanity.

I know from experience that he will get angry and belligerent if, closer to the time, he finds himself free and asks to have the kids last minute when I’ve already made prior arrangements, then of course I’m the bad mum who refuses to play the co-parenting game in the “best interests” of the children. Essentially I can’t win.

Also, I’m not sure if it’s simply a case that he hasn’t heard the children speaking about the (ex) boyfriend recently but he appears to have been pumping them for information.

He knew that the boyfriend was a smoker (although he’s given up now) and he’s been asking our eldest if the boyfriend has died. Today as my son was shutting the door of my car when I picked them up (they spent four hours with husband’s family) he actually shouted “find out about [boyfriend’s] funeral “. My son tells me “Daddy doesn’t like [boyfriend]” to which I reply “how does he know, he’s never even met him”. There’s bitter and resentful and then there’s selfish and hateful.

The people he calls friends don’t know this about him. They think of me as “Cruella” – as though I’ve not only wronged him by daring to walk away whatever the personal cost to me, but continue to wrong him by trying to control his relationship with his own children. I see myself more as Dorothy, caught up in the raging whirlwind, doing the best I can and trying to hold onto the belief that there’s a mystical portal of peace and tranquillity from all this insanity, somewhere over the rainbow.

One way flexibility

When I made the decision to leave my marriage I always knew that child contact was not going to be straightforward. My husband is a shift worker and his rota follows a ten week rolling pattern. I also had first hand experience of how he manages child contact due to the fact that he has a daughter from his previous relationship and his ex wife had gained a court order (I think) which required him to give her a list of dates for child contact a month at a time.

Despite this requirement I found him to be highly flaky when it came to getting organised and in the first couple of years of our relationship I acted as his personal secretary and compiled a list in triplicate – one for the ex, one for him and one for his mum who always wanted to know and be involved.

When I had my own children, I pretty much stepped down from that role and in subsequent years he has all but lost contact with his daughter – only seeing her on a very sporadic basis.

His ex wife has since told me that she wouldn’t have minded if he was out of her daughter’s life completely so she never really cared whether or not he wanted to see her – it doesn’t seem to have affected her – she took her daughter with her to the stables (where she spends half her life), but she also had a lot of family support on her doorstep.

If I want to take a weekly exercise class, join a book group, sign up for a local walk, cycle ride, talk or social event – well, I can’t because there is no family member who can drop in for an hour or so to do a bit of casual (cost-effective!) babysitting.

The other thing is that, much as I love my children, sometimes parenting them solo for a couple of weeks takes its toll. When I know that there is respite for a day or a night just around the corner, psychologically it takes the pressure off.

I appreciate that army wives have to live their lives like this but the difference is that I didn’t marry into the army – I think you have to be a certain kind of person or have a certain support network in place to thrive under those circumstances. Knowing your partner is out there, supporting you, a sounding board for parenting decisions or whatever, makes a difference.

Now, I’m not saying that I don’t get to make plans in advance with or without the husband’s cooperation. My parents have been great – taking the kids for a couple of days or the odd night when I’ve had a girl’s night out, a blog conference to attend or, this year, my big night hike in June and the pre-event curry and ‘practice run’ in May. They also take on childcare duties for a couple of days a week during school holidays which helps me out enormously.

But here’s the thing, the husband treats the child contact arrangement as a casual, last minute thing which he bases on his own convenience. Yes, he is often working – that’s not the issue – the issue is that he picks and chooses dates from his own spare time that are the best for him and he doesn’t want to commit in advance just in case a last minute social invite comes up that he doesn’t want to miss out on.

For example, at the beginning of this week he suddenly popped up asking to have the boys on Thursday. It had been 8 days since he last saw them and he had yet to give me a list of dates going forwards – he still hasn’t). I told him that I’d booked paid child care with my neighbour who needs the money (it’s school holidays). Later after talking to CiG, I decided I should be more flexible and I offered to cancel the arrangement so he could have them. He then suggested a compromise and now he is having them in the afternoon and overnight.

That’s all fine although I’m not thrilled that he left it to the last minute as it is a headache arranging child care and needs to be planned and booked and often paid in advance and I think when he already knows he has days off work during that time it would be so much more helpful, responsible and just plain courteous to let me know well in advance – particularly when I always make sure he knows school holiday dates in advance.

The arrangement was made on Monday, I asked him to let me know by the following day what time I would get the children back on Friday. It’s now Wednesday and today I asked again for a time (bear in mind that it’s Easter weekend and if I want to plan anything, either a child friendly day out or, if they’re not going to be around, an adult get together, I need to know what’s going on). He responded “I don’t know yet. Sorry. I may be invited out somewhere’.

Not only does he expect complete flexibility for himself, but he also deliberately holds back information from me knowing that it will prevent me from arranging anything myself – he continues to feel angry and aggrieved at the thought of me having a social life – he wants to punish me for leaving him.

I know this is not uncommon. In fact, I think this is probably more common than anyone would like to admit going by some of the single parent forums that I follow.

I read a lot of commentary that implies that wanting some kind of set pattern for yourself and your children (even if it is a changing pattern from week to week and only available a few weeks in advance) is just unrealistic and selfish and that trying to stand your ground and in some way ‘force’ your ex-partner’s hand in order to obtain a pre-agreed arrangement in a timely fashion would just be damaging to the children and their relationship with their dad. So essentially, put up and shut up.

I also appreciate that there are plenty of single mums out there who would point out that their children’s father is not on the scene at all, or that they have no family to baby-sit or help out or offer respite at all. In a way though, that situation at least comes with certainty – you know exactly where you stand, as hard as that life may be.

So what I’m left with is this constant questioning of my own decisions – am I being selfish wanting to have more certainty day to day? Or am I being a doormat when I let the husband get away with last minute requests or when he fails to tell me what time the kids will be returned? It’s not fair, but life is not fair so maybe I should suck it up? Worse things happen at sea? What do you think?