I love my kids very much. This was probably from 3rd grade (he’s in 9th now) and was hidden in a stack of papers in a rarely used filing cabinet. I just found it and it tugged at my heart strings.
This is a Melt down.
Did the adult in this situation, based on limited data available to the casual observer, make good parenting choices? Maybe not.
I would like people to consider that they do not have all of the facts and that it is likely unfair to judge. I say this coming from experience with a kid like this. I’ve experienced major melt downs. Ones where I feared for the safety of anyone near my kid. One where I felt the safest choice was to call for police assistance. More than one where I felt helpless and could only cry. Many, especially in the early days, where I made poor parenting choices. Many where I’m sure someone judged me poorly.
My only point is that we have a very brief glimpse into this family’s lives. Please don’t judge.
I was thinking to a time several years ago when my ex and I had one of our rare fights. I don’t remember the details, but our oldest son was very young and in trouble. The ex went overboard with yelling and in my mind “instilling fear” into the child. I was angry because I always moderately feared my dad and did not want my kids to fear their dad. Our voices were raised and my ex passionately declared (breaking my heart) that he is OK with the kids being afraid of him. Said he was always afraid of his dad and therefore minded and behaved properly.
I’ve been thinking about this for a week or more now. Mulling it over in my head, trying to figure out how this affected me as a child and how it could affect my kids if ex had continued on the fear path. Thankfully the ex did not continue on the fear path.
Fear is an unpleasant emotion. A fearful person believes that something dangerous is likely to happen. He or she feels something or someone may cause pain – and in my opinion it could be physical OR emotional pain.
In my case, the pain was emotional. I was never good enough. I didn’t do anything right. I was stupid.
I didn’t fully work through my confidence problems until I was in my 40s. I did some initial work on it in my early adult years, but truthfully it was mostly due to situational luck. It was not an intentional effort for improvement until I became a parent and realized I had a special needs child.
Back to the situation with my ex. I believe that he was suffering from an all to common parental misperception. I think that what he really wanted was respect – not fear. When you respect someone, you respond positively to their requests because you know they are capable and trustworthy. When you respect someone, you feel you are able to trust them not to cause you pain or unpleasantness. You are more likely to comply with their requests because you trust and admire them because they are proven their worthiness.
I choose to build respect in all of my relationships, especially with my kids. I want my kids to be able to rely on me because of my proven abilities, qualities, and achievements where they are concerned.
What do you choose?
I’ve been told by professionals that my ex and I are handling our co-parenting relationship very well, with focus on the boys instead of ourselves. This is coming from a psychologist who councils parents who are sent to him from divorce court, so he sees the worst of the worst. I’m very thankful for that.
Ex’s mom died this January and this weekend the family gathered for a graveside service in her honor. This meant that I spent an entire day with him, trapped for almost six hours on the road. It was the first significant amount of time we’ve spent together since late last year and we were in a place in time where we were willing to just be friends.
There are many good qualities about my ex. He is kind. Sincere. Supportive. Structured. Funny. Sweet. Intelligent. But I believe I’m at a point far enough beyond my grieving the death of our relationship that I can appreciate the good and understand his characteristics that make him a less than ideal match for me – without thinking that he is a bad person.
He is the type of person who comes to a solution, let’s say, and then has a very difficult time letting go of his solution. We each talked about our new romantic partners and I noticed a trend that he tries to take charge of things in her life. She is young and inexperienced enough that she may appreciate that quality in him. I am at a point in my life that it just rubs me the wrong way because I want to do it my way and just have someone accept that. And finally, he is at a point in his life that he thrives off of being needed.
All in all, I think that our long ride together yesterday was good for both of us, and good for our kids. They got to see their parents enjoying conversation together in spite of the fact that they are divorced.Embed from Getty Images
I’ve written about this before, here, regarding my oldest son. But it is clear where he gets this trait from, at least the majority of it anyway. From his father. No, I’m not perfect and I’m using this as a learning opportunity – not as a rag on the ex opportunity.
As a refresher, here’s the definition:
Merriam Webster says that manipulation is “to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one’s own advantage.”
Here’s the situation:
Oldest son mows the yard for $5 with an extra $5 if he string trims. It’s a BIG yard. His dad comes bustling into the house yesterday afternoon after several days away and only seeing them for 5 minutes over the weekend. He promptly tells oldest to get his shoes on because it is time to mow. Oldest says he’s really not in the mood to mow. Ex is clearly irritated and in a confrontational mood and says oldest cannot have computer for the night. Ex knows that this is the way to get oldest son’s attention. Oldest was willing to go without earning the $5 to $10, but was NOT expecting to have computer taken away. Ex clearly did not want to mow the lawn either, but knew that it needed to be done.
What could happen differently?
In my humble (Ok – not so humble) opinion, ex would have had much more success if he had sat down and had a conversation for a few minutes and then gradually brought up that the lawn needed to be mowed. But ex seemed to be in a hurry to get it done, which gave the impression that he didn’t really want to hang out. As soon as oldest indicated his lack of desire to mow, in a very respectful way – mind you, ex chose not to show any empathy but instead went on the attack. If he had shown a little empathy for oldest’s feelings, oldest most likely would have come around quickly and would not have been upset about the whole situation.
If by chance oldest did NOT come around as quickly as I suspect, ex could have given a reminder that the only way oldest earns the extra $5 to $10 is to mow the lawn. I believe that the only cause for taking computer away would have been if oldest were disrespectful. It felt like a manipulation tactic to me, more than skillful parenting.
Saw the neighbors outside this morning and they came over to chat. The ex and I are not “friends” with either of them, but we’re friendly and chat from time to time. They’ve always been interested in my boys, so I was catching them up on some of the things the boys have done recently.
Then the man said that either him or his wife would come over to help with anything I needed, which is not a surprise. That is just how they are, friendly and helpful. I was very surprised that he said he noticed that I do a LOT with the kids, the pets, and the house that my ex did not participate in. I knew that the wife feels that way, because we’ve talked about it before. He went on that they think very highly of me and my affect on the boys.
Wow! It is nice that I’m not the only one thinking that more could have been done on the part of my ex. I know that family members know this – from both sides actually. But I didn’t know that a man, who is not a father himself, would notice from a neighborly distance.
It was like a bit of validation.Embed from Getty Images
Someone who thinks in absolutes misses out on possibilities. There’s no gray area for them. They cannot see the big picture. This can backfire in many parenting situations. As kids get older, parents need to provide information and opinions so that kids can make their own decisions. It is how they learn. If a parent says, “if you do x, y WILL happen,” they are essentially limiting possibilities. If the child listens to the parent, they may miss out on something. It is discouragement based on the parent’s own experiences. As parents we should keep our “Because it worked that way for me, it will work like that for you.” to a minimum. Even when we mean well.
I’ve been on all sides of the triangle of deceit. The side where I have an opportunity to fess up and didn’t. The side where I’ve given unintentional opportunities for someone to confess to me. And the side where I’ve decided that I need to be, to fess up to uncomfortable truths.
I’m on that final side because I’ve been lied to too many times. Sometimes it was outright lies, but most of the time it was lying by omission. It hurts either way.
On to what triggered the posts I’ve made today.
I’ve mentioned that my ex has a girlfriend and spends a LOT of time with her. On our ride home from school yesterday, youngest was saying he ate lunch with his dad and saw a lady from work. He said his dad gave the lady some good advice. I think this was the 2nd time I’d heard this story, but my ears perked up because it seemed like they ate lunch with this lady. So I texted ex and asked if by chance youngest had met his girlfriend. Yep.
Why wasn’t I informed? I was pretty upset.
Got home and was trying to go for a walk to cool down, but oldest knew I was upset and kept after me. He asked if I was upset at his dad and then said, “Oh, is this about that girl from dad’s work that was here?”
I flipped. He had his girlfriend in MY house. Ok – we both own the house. But why the hell did he need to have her here? Oldest gets home from school early on Wednesday and notices his dad is home and in the basement. Goes down there and his dad is sending the girlfriend out the back door to leave.
That was bad, but is NOT the worst part for me. Earlier yesterday I emailed him about some things and he emailed back and said “I am thinking about introducing the boys.”
That is the lie. At a minimum, youngest has “met” her because he had lunch with them. And oldest has at lease “seen” her. It feels like it should have been a perfect opportunity for him to say, “Hey, the boys have already met / seen her. I’m sorry I didn’t let you know ahead of time. I just didn’t know you’d be upset.”
Back to the conversation with oldest. He was horrified because he felt like he told on his dad and he begged me not to say anything that would let his dad know he spilled the beans.
I’m sooooo sorry for him. His dad should have been the one to spill the beans. I worry this will be with him for the rest of his life. He’s scarred!
How do you tell a newly divorced dad with a new girlfriend that he needs to spend time with his kids? This is our parenting schedule this month. I’m purple!
Granted, I’m the scheduled parent for tonight but have dinner plans with some new girl friends. Ex planned to be at the house for a period of time this evening, before heading off to his girlfriend’s. Granted, he did see them for a brief time Sunday (maybe 2 hours, while oldest mowed lawn) and for a few minutes this morning.
Anyway, now he’s backing out. Here’s a text conversation between us:
Him: You need me home this afternoon when you bring the boys home?
Me: No, but maybe they would like to see you.
Me again: Let me know what you decide.
Him: Will it impact your plans if I’m not there? I can be there, it is no big deal.
I was trying to convey that I’m fine but that I think he should spend some time with the boys. Yes, it was indirect because it didn’t say that outright. I was hoping that he’d take the hint because I don’t want to tell him what to do. He’s not my responsibility anymore.
It seems like this is something that most of us struggle with to some degree. We all want to be heard, but use communication styles that may prevent our messages from getting through. The most common ones in my house include
- Lecturing. Ever try to get a kid to do something by lecturing? It doesn’t work. It is draining to all parties, even those on the peripheral of the activity.
- Defensiveness. Lecturing brings out the defensiveness in most people. When someone is being lectured, they’re being told. They don’t get to have input because it isn’t a conversation. Another cause of defensiveness is when a person feels like they’re being attacked. This typically happens when people forget to use their “I statements.”
- Talking too much. I think this is heavily related to the above points. During a 30 minute lecture / defensiveness session, there is probably about 5 minutes of “meat.” Why not just have a 5 minute conversation where both sides are heard and then take a break? Sometimes the solution to communication stalemate is just letting both sides be heard. It is pretty powerful, even when the parties involved don’t necessarily agree.
- Expecting immediate attention. Ever try to get results by telling someone they need to stop everything they’re doing NOW and listen to you lecture? And then expect them to comply right away? It doesn’t work. First of all, you’re lecturing, which puts them on the defensive, and then you end up talking too much.