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Parents separating without dispute — Good Parenting

Welcome to Good Parenting, our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Headshot2011Parents separating without dispute — Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

Finally. After two emotionally trying years, my ex-wife plans on coming to my house to take her belongings.

I’ve been stressed about this for a week. I’ve been cleaning, packing, planning. It’s consuming me to be honest with you — because my ex’s latest attempt to not take her things involves offering to “loan” me things that she says I need. Well, I don’t need any of her things. She offered this because she probably cannot take all of her things and is trying to continue to use me as storage for the wreckage of her life.

I have asked some friends to be here when this happens, for moral support and to be sure she doesn’t take MY things. I presume she will have someone with her to help carry things out, and perhaps to try to intimidate me.

She cannot be trusted.

Most importantly, our 7-year-old son will not be here. Throughout the mess of our marriage, I have done my best to keep him shielded from her malicious and self-destructive behavior. A protective instinct in me kept him from knowing about her lapses in maturity and sobriety. More than once I was called by his child care center because they couldn’t reach her and she “forgot” to pick him up. I have often answered his questions about her with, “I don’t know.” Eventually, he’ll have to come to terms with who his mother is. My stance, when he’s older, will be to let her bad side speak for itself.

My question is, considering my current agitated state, are there words I can be prepared with if he starts asking about what I’m doing? Or he notices that things are gone?

Done with Her

Don’t miss last week’s column on Volunteer jobs for teens

Dear Done,

Children learn to read emotions long before they can read words. Choosing careful words is important when tackling sticky subjects, but being aware of your emotional message is important, too.

Let’s say you’re nervous. Focus on lining up your support for the day so you are less anxious about what might happen. Some extremely antagonistic ex-couples ask for police assistance for move out day (check ahead of time if this would be possible).

Let’s say you’re angry. It’s hard to let go of anger until you’re ready to accept that, in most cases, it’s hurting you more than anyone else. You can’t change who she is. Try to rise above her attempts to mistreat you. Focus on the concrete agenda of the day – reuniting her with her stuff. Be clear with your support team about which property is to go. Can you send her an itemized list? Pack and seal smaller items? Have your helpers move larger items outside, or close to the door, before she arrives with her helpers?

Let’s say you’re relieved. Two years is a long time for you to be wishing the detritus of your ex would disappear. You may be so anxious to get her stuff out of your space that you may not have noticed that your son has an emotional attachment to items that remind him of his mother or of happier days. Or maybe he just assumes that elephant planter is his. Take one last look – especially at the things she says you “need,” to see if they might satisfy a need for your son.

Important words: Tell your son that you’re packing some things that belong to Mommy that you’ve been keeping for her. Unfortunately many children of divorce cling to the fantasy that their parents will get back together. If he expresses feelings of loss over an object, it could be symbolic of his sense of loss over not having both his parents in his home. Be sympathetic. The kind of words he needs to hear repeatedly are those that reassure him that although there are changes going on around him, your love for him (and his mother’s if you can speak to that) will never change.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com


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