Author: Dr. Betty Richardson
Q. My ex-husband Dan and I divorced two years ago and share custody of our two children. Dan frequently disregards set pick-up and drop-off times as well as the kids’ planned activities and sporting events; their coaches’ pleas for them to participate with their team seem to have no impact on the situation. Even my brother’s recent wedding, in which the children were scheduled to take part, was not important enough for Dan to acknowledge ahead of time and commit to attending. Why does Dan behave like this and what can we do to make things easier?
A. I strongly suspect that Dan is angry at you. Not communicating when he will be late and not letting you know if the children will be taken to their important events or not is a way to upset you. Upsetting you is a way to get revenge for any real or imagined hurts that he attributes to you. Unfortunately, your ex-husband’s behavior no doubt causes the children some worry and anxiety. Dan might be using his behavior as a way to control the children and a form of subtle psychological abuse. On the other hand, he could be just a thoughtless person who puts his needs ahead of the children’s needs. My advice to you includes:
1. Try your best to “make nice” with your ex-husband. When he angers you, don’t respond back in anger but try to be as pleasant as you can. When he picks up or drops off the children on time, thank him for being on time. Thank him and instruct the children to thank him when he does take them to their events.
2. Put your ego aside and put the children first. Bruce Willis, when interviewed on Good Morning America about how he gets along so well with his ex-wife Demi Moore, said “I keep it simple…..I put the kids first… I put my ego aside.” When your ex-husband does take the kids to activities you could say to him, “Thank you for doing this (describe what he did). I know you may have had other plans and I thank you for putting the children first.”
3. Talk to your therapist, not your children, about any negative feelings toward your ex-spouse. Your children, upon hearing you express negative feelings, may share what you said with their father or may model the attitude you demonstrate, creating a negative relationship with their dad.
4. Avoid acting on thoughts of wanting to portray yourself as the good parent and your ex as the bad parent. Before giving up on modifying your ex-husband’s behavior, try your best to create some cooperative parenting where the kids benefit from having two parents. Competing with each other for the title of “best” or “good” parent is not helpful to the adult relationship or the relationships with the children.
Betty Richardson, PhD, RNC, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist who specializes in dealing with the problems of children, adolescents and parents