My friend is having child custody issues with her ex-boyfriend. Her concern is that her ex-boyfriend apparently likes prostitutes. This information came from reliable sources, which happened before and while they were together. Things fell apart when she was about three to four months pregnant. The ex-boyfriend shares custody; therefore, no child support.
My friend is worried that his indiscretion will and can affect her son while in his care. The quality of company he is keeping may harm her son. She is concerned about her son’s welfare for she is just now discovering undesirable things about him.
How can she entrust the care of her son even on a temporary basis to a man that cheated, lied to her and likes prostitutes?
— C.S., Las Vegas
Divorced, co-parenting relationships can be creative, functional and faithful. Even, in a sense, loving, if in no other way than that it’s clearly in the best interest of our children for estranged mates to co-parent well.
But divorced co-parenting relationships aren’t easy, given that couples who end significant love relationships are normally in a lot of pain. The estranged mates don’t tend to be huge fans of one another. At best, we co-parent in a context of disappointment, antipathy, resentment, guilt and a sense of failure; at worst, ego tantrums, anger, rage, hostility, vindictiveness, threats, sabotage. Sometimes, violence.
If you want to be a quality divorced co-parent, the place to begin is abject surrender to three immutable truths:
* You decided to make a baby with this person. No excuses. Even if most people would agree your ex is a total loser, well, that was you who decided to sleep with the total loser. You. You’re part of the equation. You chose your baby’s father/mother out of thousands.
I’m not inviting guilt, rather, humility and responsibility. This truth restrains our temptation to self-righteous indignation. Which is good, not merely because it’s inaccurate to say we’re righteous, but because it saps our psychic strength to grasp after that illusion of innocent victim. And, we need to preserve our strength for the moral high road — being a present and faithful divorced co-parent.
Now, if your response to my invitation is, in a shrill voice, "But I didn’t mean to get pregnant/get her pregnant," then, all I can say is, "Yeah, well, my chain-smoking grandmother didn’t mean to die of lung cancer, either." Try telling your son/daughter, "Honey, I didn’t mean for you to be born."
See, there’s this relationship between sex and pregnancy. When you … oh, never mind.
* Divorce disrupts the continuity of our relationships with our children. Even in the best divorced co-parenting relationships, our influence is lessened. In a painful irony, this means our vulnerability to our ex is, as regards our children, greatly increased. The natural balance of male and female energy is no longer consistently present and available.
Again, not trying to depress you, just trying to preserve your energy. There is nothing gained by denying or railing against this fact. Better that we accept it and be free then to make the best of it.
* There is a dishearteningly long list of derelict and even despicable childrearing actions and inactions that, in fact, are not against the law. If your ex thinks it’s OK for a 7-year-old to watch "Family Guy" on television, and furthermore has inconsistent or zero expectations regarding due diligence with homework, and the two of you are not in possession of a healthy, working divorced co-parenting relationship, then there’s not a heck of a lot you can do, save explain to the child that "Your mother/father and I disagree about ‘Family Guy’ and homework, so here’s the rule at my house …"
If your ex solicits prostitutes, well, unless he’s allowing/forcing his child to participate in or witness the sex, there’s nothing actionable here, at least as regards childrearing. If your ex was nutty enough to casually disclose his sexual escapades to his minor children, hiding behind the narcissistic ruse of, "Well, I don’t want to lie to my kids," or, "I want my children to know me," then, of course, that’s terrible for kids. But it’s not against the law.
It’s at that point you will respond to your ex’s behavior the same way you respond to any sordid and unlovely human behavior your children sooner or later encounter as they move into the wider world — profanity at school, billboards for strip clubs, littering, cruelty to animals, Dad’s indiscrete sex life — we live our values. We defend our values. We teach our values.
We wield the influence we do have with consistency, credibility and integrity.
Originally published in View News, Nov. 3, 2009.