Q: I read your post "Ten Strategies for Co-Parenting with an Uncooperative Ex" which really hit home. I strive to do all those things, but do not believe my ex does. Why should I keep letting him walk all over me? I believe that teaches our daughter bad self-esteem. Where is the line between negotiating (or giving in) and standing your ground, especially with a co-parent who has addiction and mental health issues? I tend to think my situation is different than what you were writing about, but part of me thinks maybe it isn't.
My daughter is a very happy, kind and gentle little girl. She doesn't seem to be too affected by the divorce. She has anxiety constantly questioning whose day it is - which I assume is normal behavior due to all the changes going on. The only apparent issue she has is when it is time for her to go with her father. The anxiety and crying is not diminishing as I thought it would and it's been almost a year. It starts the day before she goes and the exchanges are horrible for her. He and I don't speak but the tension could be cut with a knife.
I read so much about how to co-parent with someone who is unreasonable. I have a therapist to help me make sure I see my part in situations as well. But there is little "extra" help when it comes to co-parenting someone with addiction or mental problems...
A: Yes, you are right, there is a fine line to walk when we are co-parenting with someone who has addiction or mental health issues.
At the risk of overstating the obvious, I think it's more important than ever in these situations to make sure you are taking good care of yourself and getting the support you need, because it will be you who is doing the bulk of the emotional work of parenting. So it's awesome that you have a therapist to help you process and offload the big feelings that will inevitably arise for you, as they would for anyone in your situation.
I understand not wanting to set a bad example for your daughter, and by making that intention clear within yourself, you have already done a lot in
Your daughter is a very lucky girl to have a mom who is intentional about wanting to see what part she is playing in these situations as clearly as possible. That's a rare and amazing goal, and quite
admirable, in my opinion. If that's the only thing you ever model for her (and I know it won't be), you will serve her extremely well!
Hopefully, most if not all of the negotiating you do with her father will be out of her sight and hearing, so at this point you are not going to be a role model for her about how to negotiate with him without giving in.
The healthy self-esteem that you will model for her will come in other contexts - how you talk to your own friends and family in her earshot, how you handle yourself in the world, etc.
And although he may not being doing the things in my post, if you are, she will see that happening, and that is what she will internalize - that her mom, in good faith, tried to be reasonable.
You are right that your case is different in some ways from what I wrote about, and similar in others. There's lots more to your particular situation than I can address here, and you seem to be well aware of that already. I think perhaps Al-Anon might potentially be a good resource for you in terms of concrete and local support for how to negotiate with him without giving in.
The anxiety and crying in anticipation of transitions does seem to be common, and of course that does not make it any easier for the mama who feels her heart breaking every time.
A few ideas for resources:
Added Feb 2015 : My latest go-to source for information about high conflict personalities and in difficult joint custody situations is http://highconflictinstitute.com/articles/parenting-a-divorce-articles. Tons of free articles there, and also some online training options and books for sale. I've read almost all of them and highly recommend anything written by Bill Eddy.
I cringe at the title, but the book Joint Custody with a Jerk by Corcoran and Ross does have some really useful ideas in it. I put stickers over the word 'jerk' on my copy, because I just couldn't bear the thought of my kids seeing it and thinking I was disrespecting their dad.
Another resource that I so wish I had known about when my kids were going through all this is www.handinhandparenting.org
They do such a great job explaining how to be with a child who is crying - starting with the fact that crying is a natural and very effective way to release big emotions and cleanse the system, and therefore is not something to be feared or avoided.
Here's a link to an article to get you started. if you like it, there are many others available on that site under the article tab -- all for free.
You may also have noticed that there are several other articles here on my blog that might be helpful. Check the categories on the right in the sidebar.
I don't know offhand of anything specifically written about co-parenting with someone who as addiction or mental health issues, but clearly this is an issue that many divorced parents are dealing with, and there's a real need for assistance. Maybe you will be the one to write it? :)
If anyone reading this has resources to share on this subject, please feel free to post them in a comment.
Best of luck to you, and please let me know how you are doing ...
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