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.

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Managing a co-parent with a personality disorder: Note to self…

After my reflections yesterday about knowing where to turn during the most stressful and abusive confrontations with the husband I met up with the boyfriend and he confirmed everything I had thought about the negative impact of sharing all of this with him. He actually told me that if things didn’t change then it would be damaging to our relationship. He also asked some questions about how one goes about applying for a restraining order. Oh my goodness, talk about alarm bells! Right now I don’t think I ever want to mention a single negative thought about the husband in his presence ever again. The thought of losing him right now is more than I can take – apart from the fact that I love him, I see him as the epitome of a tolerant, reasonable, caring, understanding partner and if someone like that couldn’t roll with the ongoing situation then I’m entirely doomed!

Several thoughts have been going through my head since then. The most important thing is for me to begin to re-focus on strategies to deal with the husband’s personality disorder.

I need to re-establish firm boundaries, concentrate on minimising contact where possible and let him know in no uncertain terms that I will not tolerate aggressive verbal assaults – not on the phone and certainly not on my own doorstep.

I am still following the relationship between the husband and his on/off girlfriend. She is clearly a well educated, emotionally intelligent, progressive thinking person but she does not seem to have caught on to the fact that he suffers with BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder). She sends him links to articles which provide both anecdotal and scientific evidence of what it takes to make a relationship work. She fully expects him to read and take on board something called ‘Principle Number 1’ which comes from a book called Fierce Conversations. I have familiarised myself with her sources and, to a reasonable minded person it all makes perfect sense and provides a nice reminder of how to conduct oneself in order to achieve success and happiness and balance in relationships. Unfortunately for her, none of this insight and wisdom will make a damn bit of difference to the husband.

For someone with a personality disorder there is no right and wrong, there is just their right and everyone else’s wrong. 

It will be interesting to see if she ever does manage to break free. She’s given him every reason in the book why it’s not working and he continues to pester and plead and lay the pathos on thick.

But enough of them. I need to focus on protecting myself and my children, emotionally. I read recently about some strategies for bringing up children who are in regular contact with a BPD parent: managed emotions, flexible thinking and moderate behaviours. No one wants their child to either take on the negative traits of a personality disorder or conversely to become a doormat. I think that in a very non-specific way I am not too bad at modelling these three things (albeit that sometimes when I am pushed to my limits I do shout and I do get upset and I need to work on that). I am also in danger of modelling some doormat tendencies when it comes to my interactions with the husband, but I am treading a fine line.

It is a relief to read an article by an ‘expert’ which confirms to me that at least some of my strategies (the ones that my loved ones object to) are on the right track. There is a huge difference between escalating a conflict between two rational, mentally robust people and escalating a conflict when one person is not all there.

In a way I feel some affinity (in the most surface level way I hasten to add) with the predicament in which our Prime Minister, Theresa May, currently finds herself. She has visited Trump and been seen to extend the hand of friendship and even invited him for a full state visit to our country (triggering over a million people to sign a petition against such a gesture). She has been dubbed ‘Theresa the Appeaser’ in Parliament and called upon to give the US president the hard line – the message that we don’t tolerate his kind of prejudices over here. But put yourself in her shoes: we are the little guy, he has the power to impose trade embargos and other ‘punishment’. International politics is a game of diplomacy whoever is in charge, but in this case, we are not dealing with a normal rational person (in my humble opinion) but a megalomaniac narcissist. 

Now I’m not saying that the husband is a megalomaniac narcissist or that he has the power to mete out crippling punishment but he does have the ability to de-stabilise the delicate balance that I try to maintain for the sake of the children. That’s the absolute bottom line and it’s essentially the sticking point for me: how do I adjust the balance of power – start calling him out on the unacceptable behaviours – without escalating his abuse?

I already know that anyone dealing with someone with a personality disorder is in a no-win situation and therefore it is less a case of playing out your hand and more a case of politely declining to join in the game in the first place.

If that means ignoring phone calls and sticking to the facts at hand by text then so be it. If that means meticulously pre-planning everything in an attempt to foresee potential conflict then so be it. If that means turning a blind eye to inappropriate comments then so be it.

I’m not saying that it will be easy because someone with a personality disorder will be hell bent on establishing and maintaining control, but, similarly to parenting a small child, their behaviour needs to be managed and addressed and nipped in the bud before they have you believing that they have set up what is considered to be the ‘normal’ way everyone behaves and responds to each other. I’m notoriously bad at letting my children get away with stuff so this is all a huge challenge but one which I need to address. Now or never.