June 28, 2014
When you live with your parents and sleep on their couch, communication is key. Lack of communication may be catastrophic. If you are divorced with children and you live with your parents and sleep on their couch, lack of communication may be apocalyptic. My mom and my ex-wife are on opposite ends of what I will call the “organization spectrum.” My mom knows what she is having for dinner Tuesday night three weeks from now. My ex knows that Tuesday comes after Monday. There is a second spectrum that I will call the “adaptability” spectrum, which has an inversely proportionate relationship to the organization spectrum. My mom and my ex are on opposite ends of that spectrum as well. For my ex, plans are subject to change right up until the moment the tires lift up off the ground. For my mom, plans are sacred covenants, the variation of which is tantamount to a material contract breach. Damages and reparations must be paid, apologies must be given, contrition must be shown. Somewhere in between these social-philosophical extremes you have me, between a metaphorical rock and a hard place.
This leads to all kinds of problems. First and foremost, we have the problem of communication. I am used to making plans with my ex about our children, free from interference from anyone, including my parents. But now, since I rely on my parents for certain things, including transportation (sigh…this will get a post all it’s own at some future date), any plan relating to my children must involve my parents. You would think: we alternate weekends, how hard can that be? The divorced parents with children would be nodding along in solemn agreement with me as I say: very. It can be very hard. I hope that at some point in the future the blazing hate of a thousand suns my ex harbors for me will phase down into the heat of a thousand brown dwarf stars. But that does not appear to be happening.
In fact – for reasons known only to my ex, God and her therapist – we appear to be headed the wrong direction. Her distrust for me and general dislike appear to be gathering steam. As an aside, it really is amazing to see the effect blind, unchecked rage has on a person. They become completely irrational in a very self-sabotaging way. “Oh really? You want the kids this week? Well you can’t have them! What’s that? My JOB? I’ll QUIT my job, then. I don’t care!!” I have seen up close the kind of cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face anger that leads someone to load up the kids in the family station wagon and chart a course for the bottom of Lake Erie. It’s scary stuff.
This leads to a cloak-and-dagger kind of existence where I have to mask my true feelings about people and things. I have to be careful about letting the ex know that something means a lot to me or that I really want to do something. Because her knee-jerk reaction to something that is important to me is to try and blow it up. For the first six months after I met my girlfriend (I swear she’s real), any time I didn’t do something the ex- wanted, she started making threats to contact my girlfriend – presumably to tell her what an unrepentant douche-bag I am. She even made these threats about my boss – at the job from whence the child support comes(!). That’s what I mean by self-sabotage. You know how every story has two sides? Well this one kind of doesn’t, okay? Just take my word for it now. Or read “Texts From the Ex.” I deal with some crazy sh@t.
This cloak and dagger existence applies to plans and the custody schedule. I have to be real careful about letting the ex know I want to do something. Because if she gets wind of that, she the answer to “do you mind having the kids that weekend?” becomes an obstinate “No. Deal with it (words from an actual text. Several actual texts.).” So I have to use misdirection and subterfuge in order to make plans. And quite often, I fail miserably. The problem, in addition to the cloak and dagger existence, is that my ex makes all kinds of assumptions. Assumptions like: well, I took them for a week, so now you get them for a week – whether that actually works for me and my job and my parents or not.
The logistical problems we have learned to work around, for the most part.The other problem is what I will call the diminishing tolerance my parents have for being around children generally, and my kids in particular. My parents are great grandparents. They love my kids and they know it and I know it. But they are not necessarily sensitive to the fact that I am not my children’s grandparents – I am their parents. I want to spend the amount of time around them that is appropriate for a father. Which is a totally different time commitment. Sometimes I feel like my mom and dad have reached their saturation point after about 20 minutes.
And I get it – my parents have done their time with kids, and my kids – trust me on this – are exhausting. But I’m still trying to be the best dad I can under the circumstances – and it is not my kids’ fault that their parents kind of want to tear each others eyes out like rabid spider monkeys. But they are the ones caught in the middle, just like me. This all leads to situations where I am getting blistered by the ex- with texts, emails and phone calls about how I am the “f@cking Dad of the year” while also getting heat from my parents about how my mom just doesn’t have the stamina she used to and “she’s not wonder woman” anymore – sometimes at the same time. My mom has also perfected passive-aggressive to a near art form. And round and round it goes. I literally can’t win. And it’s a pretty common occurrence that everyone is mad at me at once.
Those of us who are parents have a difficult enough job as it is. And navigating the inter-generational waters of the competing agendas of parenting and grand-parenting is difficult enough as it is. And a terrible job market and economic difficulties create real-world pressures that are difficult enough as they are. But all those things at once, PLUS a recalcitrant and obstreperous babies’ momma who is hell-bent on making everyone’s life more difficult?
It’s just the worst, Jerry. The worst.