Welcome to our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.
The Ex Files
Dear Dr. Debbie,
My not-soon-enough soon-to-be ex-husband is yanking my chain whenever we have to make – and keep – plans for our daughter’s time with him. He just texted me to say that no, he’s not going to be able to get her back to me at the appointed time but would appreciate meeting up a few hours later. Ugh. I should’ve known better, but had planned the afternoon around taking her with me for a babysitting job and now have to re-arrange several errands and part-time jobs (things that fit my single-parent lifestyle), to accommodate him.
I don’t begrudge our sweet five-year-old her time with Daddy, but I sure am losing patience with having to deal with the man whose lack of responsibility I decided not to be married to anymore.
When Does This End?
Click here for last week’s advice on getting thorugh the terrible twos.
Unfortunately you and your ex are parents together forever. But take heart, the journey will have a varied landscape over the years to come. Soon she will have a school/sports/social calendar around which her father and you must cooperate. Then again, your daughter should be old enough to spend brief periods on her own by the time she is eight, so you won’t have to feel as if time away from her has to be measured so carefully. A few years of trustable independence will be followed by the sometimes treacherous teen years, and your stresses will change.
Through its evolving course, competent co-parenting requires teamwork. For now, juggling your parenting and non-parenting duties around your ex’s time warps is a source of stress for you. So try to keep your “child-free” time flexible enough so that if you have to, you can work around his last minute changes.
An “ex” is still a member of your family by virtue of being your daughter’s father. Your marriage may be over, but you still need to work with him as your partner in parenting. If you accept his limitations as you would any family member, you may be less disappointed in the future.
Since keeping on schedule is a perpetual challenge for him, you’ll be less stressed if you accept this. Can you plan your time more loosely so he could extend or shorten his time with your daughter without ruining your day? Do you have neighbors or friends of your daughter who could fill in for you if he arrives late to get her or has to return her early?
As a general strategy, competent parenting requires a reliable network of support for such contingencies as a parent’s unexpected delay. If you don’t have a few back-up people for short-term child care, it would be worth getting to know some neighbors or parents of your daughter’s classmates to see who might serve this purpose. It works nicely if you can reciprocate in some fashion or at least plan to pay it forward the day you are no longer a single parent working multiple part-time jobs around your daughter’s needs.
Sometimes the behavior of exes is more about their animosity towards each other than about trying to be a good parent. Try not to let your family slip into this destructive pattern. You need to respect each other’s privacy, time, and good judgment regarding your mutual daughter in order to be successful as exes. If there are still raw issues between you, professional counseling and or mediation are advised so they don’t spill out into behaviors that could adversely affect your daughter. She has had a major change in her short life regarding the two grown-ups she counts on for her well-being. The last thing she needs is to see one parent behaving badly toward the other.
Try to remember that Daddy days are primarily for the benefit of your daughter, secondarily for him, and lastly for some child-free time for you. This you can get from other resources.
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 [email protected].