Responsible Parenting: Detaching From Your Ex’s Manipulation Involving Your Kids

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How do you deal with unreasonable demands involving your children made by ex spouses? What constitutes an unreasonable demand?

Greg and his Ex have been divorced several years. Given the choice, he would have preferred to make the marriage work, especially for the sake of the children, but Ex’s behavior prevented that from happening. For his own sake and that of his children, Greg walked. It should be noted here that Greg does not abdicate responsibility for his children. He often goes above and beyond court stipulation to do for his kids because, well, they are his kids and he loves them.

Without saying more, because it’s not the issue at hand, it’s important to look at the terms of custody in divorce and think about what is reasonable and what is not. How far is one parent able to push the other into complying with wishes? What constitutes responsibility? And how does one parent respond in light of a disagreement of responsibilities not addressed by courts?

Greg and Ex have 50% shared custody. They have three children, the eldest of which is a 15 1/2 year old daughter. Greg pays the lion’s share of child support as dictated by the courts. He supports the children’s extra curricular activities and when they are in his care, he attends their events. Ex does not work and lives very comfortably. She and children moved in with her lover several years ago (and no longer pays rent or mortgage), so Ex has plenty of excess, support money, that is not used for housing costs for the children.

Eldest daughter is on a travel team. This decision to be involved in travel team was made by Ex and daughter with no input from Dad. Once again, however, the burden of those costs were not spelled out in child care and Dad is expected by Ex to pay up.

Travel takes Eldest Daughter to different states, some more resort like and glamorous than others. Last year’s travel took Ex and Eldest daughter to a resort like state, in resort like weather. Ex and Eldest daughter attended without involving Dad. This year’s travel is in a not so touristy state, at a not so touristy time of year. Here’s the dilemma:

Ex feels it is Dad’s responsibility to attend with Eldest daughter this year, of course, at his expense. She informs Dad that she went last year and it’s his turn this year. Dad has no interest in travel team, has a job to report to,  has a new wife, and his two other children (with Ex) to be responsible for, during his custodial time. He informs eldest Daughter that he will not be attending but will show for the 2 or three days that he would have custody of her. Eldest daughter goes ballistic, has a tantrum,  and reports to Ex. Ex and Eldest Daughter tell Dad he is irresponsible, and mean, and cheap.

My spin on these events is that Ex has no boundaries and the courts probably do not require her to. Dad does not want to drag this back into the courts because he has always protected his children from the truth about why he divorced their mother. To tell them the truth would put their mother in a bad light and would definitely hurt their children who are not developmentally ready to know.

Of course I have an opinion on this scenario. It’s important to understand that I am  a woman, a mother, and a wife. My life is not perfect but my husband and I both understand that marriage is a job we must both work at 24/7. That being said, it doesn’t always work that way. On the flip side, I have witnessed divorce up close and personal. It is ugly. But it appears in most cases, with no fault divorce (not all), that the man gets the shaft. Even when he is not such a bad guy.

I will include a disclaimer that there are cases where men are abusers of all sorts. But I have seen the flip side where women were the abusers, yet the burden of proof is almost always on the man. He is guilty unless proven innocent.

Here’s my opinion: If after the divorce, Ex decides to allow child to get involved in activities such as travel team, then Ex must take on responsibility for said travel with that team. If Ex cannot afford team, she has an obligation to ask Dad to invest in said team. Dad has a choice here. I’ll admit there are many smitten Dads who will say, no way!” But, at this point, Dad has a right to say just that. Travel Team is a “want” not a “need!” Travel Team is not Dad’s responsibility. College, on the other hand might be half his responsibility because in today’s world, college is a need. That doesn’t necessarily include the most expensive college. If the child has great grades, perhaps it does include the better college.

At some point, parents must understand that by breaking up a marriage, no matter what the reason, some things will be broken. Dad has a responsibility to help his child go to college, but maybe not an Ivy League one. She’d better get a scholarship for that. Dad might be responsible to send junior to dance or soccer, but not necessarily to travel team or competition. Perhaps Dad does choose to do those things for his kids. That’s a choice, not an obligation. Dad has an obligation to provide for his children’s needs. He is obliged to raise his children to become responsible citizens. He is not obliged to give to excess. In fact, that is hardly the way to raise responsible citizens and children.

Parents always have an obligation to provide for their minor children’s needs. However, once the courts have spelled out the terms of divorce and custody, the Ex spouse has no business redefining or manipulating those terms to suit himself, or in this case, herself.

There are lots of different scenarios out there but this one is pretty straight forward with the exception of not knowing the cause of the breakup. Suffice it to day that Dad was a work-a-holic (he’d better be, to keep his kids living in the comfort they are used to), and Mom, for whatever reason, chose to compromise that marriage.

What do you say? How much is enough? Is it okay for a Dad to say, “no” yet still be responsible? Is it responsible to say, “yes” simply to keep the peace with Ex and Eldest Daughter? Please share your thoughts and comments.

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