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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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?