Welcome to Good Parenting, our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.
Uncooperative ex — Good Parenting
Dear Dr. Debbie,
When my divorce was finalized a couple of months ago I thought things would get easier. Not so. My ex-wife “Audrey” and her mother do not heed instructions given by anyone. They don’t need anyone’s help, advice, etc. — nor do they communicate to me anything regarding our 7-year-old’s whereabouts or well-being. It’s been a rough summer, with her changing days and times for visits, including the one full week with her that just ended.
I don’t know whether to believe her or the doctor about whether an appointment was suggested/made/kept and what advice was given regarding the discharge from his ears. Regardless, I have made a (follow up?) appointment since “Devin” continues to have the problem now that he is back with me. During the full week that Devin was with his mother, he apparently spent most of the time with Grandma. I was not informed that Audrey wasn’t with him. When he got home, Devin told me he and Grandma went to a beach and a water park despite my understanding that the doctor’s recommendation was to avoid any chance of getting his inner ear wet. Audrey claims the doctor told her it would be okay. If I had had better communication, I might have been able to prevent the second water activity, however I tried for four straight days to call Devin and I was not permitted to speak with him (I left four voicemails, wrote two emails, and one text).
Audrey does not plan ahead regarding Devin’s schedule. She instead decides things as she sees fit on a day to day basis. For example, a few weeks back she texted me Wednesday morning saying she wasn’t going to be able to pick Devin up from child care that day and also stated that she was going to have him starting Friday of the coming weekend. This was after I had told her that my grandmother had passed away and that I was taking Devin to a family gathering out of state on Saturday. Now the end result was me leaving work early on Wednesday (her scheduled day to pick him up), and instructing the center to not allow her to take him on Friday. As is typical of Audrey, I never was given a reason as to why she wanted to switch her visit day in the first place.
The constant lack of communication, reliable scheduling, and trust, etc. is enough to drive someone (me) crazy at times. I don’t want to have to drag this back into court which is time consuming and costly, but I am concerned that Devin is suffering from his mother’s lack of responsibility and obvious disrespect for me.
Single But Still Stuck
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It is true that children can suffer from the aftermath of divorce as long as parents continue to act out their hostilities using children as pawns. A mediator (less costly than court) could be helpful in working out these continuing conflicts such that Devin’s time with his mother becomes more predictable for him and less nerve-wracking for you.
I surmise that you are the primary parent and therefore need to be the one holding things together for Devin. Audrey can assist with responsibilities regarding Devin’s health, however you need to keep your own line of communication with the pediatrician’s office. A mediator who is experienced with post-divorce parenting disputes can help you address this as part of your Parenting Plan. For example, any visit or call to the doctor’s office made by Audrey should be fully reported to you. It is a serious issue if she cannot be trusted to follow doctor’s orders. If that is the case, Audrey should not be making calls nor taking Devin for appointments. Since she doesn’t listen to you, a mediator (or judge) may have to hold her accountable.
Whether Audrey’s mother was acting on her own animosity toward you or was instructed by her daughter to keep you from contacting Devin during his time with them/her, this must be stopped. A mediator could help you and Audrey have an agreed upon time for you to call Devin, or for him to call you, during his time away — especially when it is for a full week.
You seem to be doing a good job of keeping a tight relationship with Devin’s caretakers at his child care center. It is unfortunate that Audrey cannot be trusted to stick with pre-arranged pick up dates. Each child care center may have their own policies about what kind of notification is needed for someone other than the primary parent to pick up on any given day. If Mom is an approved pick-up person, the staff cannot legitimately keep Devin from her. The best they can do is to call you immediately if she shows up on a day you have told them she is not allowed to take him and stall her until you get there. You might decide to no longer have her approved. In some families, another family member is the approved pick up person for visitation days which obviates the necessity of listing an alienated ex- as approved. For the children’s sake, the grown-ups need to hash this all out and put it in writing. Let’s hope that there never is a scene in which Devin must witness his caregivers — or you — denying his mother access to him.
As unpleasant as it may sound, you and Audrey need to come together to be better apart. A Parenting Plan, created with the help of a professional mediator (start your search with this list http://www.mediate.com/Maryland/, could help you and Audrey work through the lingering conflicts in your parenting partnership.
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]