Monday, March 22, 2010

Co-Parent Fear?

I recently received an email from a bio mom from Houston, Texas who was interested in my mediating a problem she was having with coparenting with her ex-husband.

"Well, I thought I was doing it right," she wrote. "I didn't think my children could see how disgusted I was with their father. His parenting skills suck. I always have to take up the slack."

Intermixed among other emails was one from a father, Mike, who complained that his ex-wife was always trying to control how he dealt with the kids. He felt his privacy was invaded and he wanted to be left alone when his kids were with him. He was writing to ask how to get through to his ex-wife and let her know that he was fully capable of taking care of his own children. “The kids are clean,” he wrote. “They have a bed time. What's the problem?"

Before I go on, I must explain that I often have the opportunity to talk with both parties, even though we do not meet face-to-face. If those who need mediation do not live within driving distance, I mediate using Yahoo Messenger and we converse over the internet in real time. Both Mike* and Brenda* had stumbled on to the Bonus Families web site and had no idea the other was writing. I suggested online mediation--and for them it worked.

"Have you asked her what the problem is?" I asked Mike.

"Sure," he wrote back. "She never gives me a straight answer. I think it's just me."

"Have you told him specifically what you don't like about his parenting skills?" I asked Brenda.

"It's everything!" she wrote back. "He doesn't do anything right!"

It appeared that Mike was right. Brenda’s responses suggested that she did disapprove of just about everything he did.

"Do the kids complain when they are with Mike?" I asked Brenda.

If you ever had an insecure bone in your body, divorce will find it and shake it until it really hurts. "Are you kidding?" she wrote back. "They can't wait to get to their dad's house. No one bugs them to clean up their room. They have pizza for dinner every night. It's a party over there! I'm the one who always has to be the disciplinarian. The kids probably hate me."

I continued to ask Brenda questions and because we were meeting in real time Mike could instantly read her responses. “Because Mike is a little more lax in the discipline department, does not cook on a regular basis, and is not the fastidious house cleaner that you are, do you feel as if you have to compensate by staying the responsible one?”

“Oh my Gosh! she wrote. Yes! What a relief! You get it!”

Mike then wrote, “It’s just not my style,”Brenda. And, continued by saying that being “‘Suzy Homemaker’ was not required for their children to be healthy or safe.”

As much as she hated to admit it, Brenda agreed that Mike was right. “He’s right,” she wrote. “He just makes me so mad!”

I then pushed a little further. “Are you perhaps afraid that Mike is "the fun one" and therefore the kids prefer to be with their dad?” Her response was simply, :-(. It was obvious I had reached the heart of her insecurity. She went on to explain that because of the divorce she could no longer influence Mike’s parenting decisions and her frustration was making her into someone she did not want to be--bitchy, condescending, and never satisfied.

Mike then confided that the kids felt Brenda’s frustration, too, and he worried that they could never satisfy their mother.

In turn, Brenda admitted that exactly what she feared so much was happening--the kids preferred to be at Mike's. She was deeply hurt, however, it was obvious that her family perceived her hurt as anger and the children were rebelling.

"Brenda," I wrote. "Are the kids in danger when they are with Mike?"

"No," she replied. "He's always been very careful with the kids."

Found at

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