Question:

I’m a single mom and have been divorced for two years. I share custody with my ex-husband and he takes the kids for visits at different times throughout the month. Although we have a schedule, he is completely inconsiderate of my work schedule and the kid’s schedule. In other words, he only wants to be flexible when it benefits him but not when we need some flexibility. So, sometimes he’ll call and say that he’s early and wants to get the kids, even though I don’t have them packed yet. He’ll accuse me of being a bad mom and not having the kids ready to see their dad. He’ll send them home missing clothes and then I have to buy them more clothes to replace them. I don’t want to put my kids in the middle of this, but I feel like I need to stand up to him when he’s so rude and disrespectful to me. I want to know if there is anything I can do to get more cooperation out of him without making things worse for the kids.

Answer:

You can’t let your ex-husband steal your peace. Even though this is completely frustrating and aggravating, you can establish rules for yourself about how you’ll respond to his childish behaviors.

Think about what he may be getting out of these behaviors. Does he get a reaction out of you that he likes? Does engaging you do something for him? The best way to end a tug-of-war is to drop the rope instead of pulling harder. You don’t need to engage with him to make him stop.

You can spend lots of energy and money taking him back to court to tighten up the rules about visitation. I think it’s safe to say that he’ll find new ways to annoy you if that’s his goal. Instead, focus on your responses so you’re not becoming someone you don’t like.

When he shows up early and demands the kids, there is nothing wrong with reminding him that his visitation begins at the designated time. Keep on schedule so the kids know what to expect.

Additionally, if clothes don’t come back, think about how the best version of you would respond. Perhaps you’d simply say, “Will you please remember the return all of the kids clothes or replace the ones that come up missing?” Granted, he may never spend a penny on extra clothes, but you can continue to set the expectation.

I don’t recommend you spending extra time complaining to family and friends about his behavior. This will only keep him front and center in your mind and steal your peace. If you need to talk with a counselor to help you respond in healthy ways, then that’s a great use of your time and energy. If you’re handling things with him directly and clearly, then there really isn’t much to talk about with others.

Your peace is the most important thing you can give your children in the wake of your divorce. They need to know they have a stable foundation. You don’t have to suppress frustration and irritation. Let those frustrations teach you where you are crossing your own boundaries and make adjustments so you don’t lose your bearings. As Wally Goddard often says, “Irritation is an invitation.” I would only add that the invitation is for you to understand your own reactions and how you can best maintain a balanced and calm environment for your children even though the storm of your ex-husband blow through every so often. 

Want to improve your marriage in a fun and engaging two-day marriage workshop? Geoff will be facilitating a Hold Me Tight marriage workshop in sunny St. George, Utah, February 21-22. Visit www.alliantcounseling.com for more details.

HMT

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.com

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves on the high council of the St. George, Utah young single adult second stake. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

 

You can connect with him at:

Website: www.lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT