I've been asked this question so often, I decided to write a column on it. "What do I do if I have an ex who WON'T co-parent/cooperate/play nice?"
I get many women who contact me, asking for advice for exes that play dirty, poison the kids against them, refuse to take responsibility or (simply put) are d-bags. The girlfriend in me wants to tell you to get even, hire a hitman or take him back to court. But in 99% of the cases out there, that's not an option. Going to court is expensive, time-consuming and in many cases... useless. So, hitman notwithstanding, what's a girlfriend to do?
One. You get more flies with honey. When my grandmother used to say this, it made me hopping mad. But it is sage advice and - sadly - true. Most men who try and play dirty want a reaction from you. They do it to control you, honey. They want you to get mad, cry, scream, fume, lose sleep... anything to prove they are still in control. So then, when you react irrationally, they've won. You want to pay me less in child support? I'm going to show you a calm face and tell you just to send me the papers. You're not going to take Tommy to any of his t-ball games and I'll have to figure it out? Okay, looks like I have some re-scheduling to do and thanks for letting me know. Trust me, I hate telling you this as much as you're going to hate doing it. But reacting to hate with more hate is going to escalate things, and that's not going to do anyone any good. A calm front is the best defense to his offense. Burn him in effigy to your girlfriends... that's what we're for.
Two. Build yourself a fortress. In mid-evil times, the way you kept someone from storming your castle was to build the strongest castle around. (That, and having a dragon working for you, but I digress.) Building a strong home (for yourself AND your kids) has never been harder - but it will be enough to deter some invasions. Build your house on love, consistency, trust and togetherness. Above all, children crave those things (despite what they may say to the contrary). I'm a working mother with a full-time job. I'm a writer on the side and somewhere in there I'd actually like to start dating. I get the same groans you do when I announce I won't be home Friday night because I'll be in the city working again. But I follow it up by reinforcing my castle wall. "I am working hard for our future. I'll be home in time to tuck you in and plan what we're going to eat for breakfast tomorrow morning. Let's do pancakes together!" Despite what propaganda they may be hearing from your ex, your actions are going to speak volumes. Kids don't just believe whatever they hear... they believe what they can see.
Three. Don't cry over spilt milk. Roughly translated; if you can't change it, don't sweat it. You can't change what your ex is going to say about you to the kids. You can't change the fact that your ex is a Disneyland dad who won't reinforce taking your son's phone away when he's getting a D in three subjects. And finally, you can't change the fact that he isn't picking up his share of the responsibility. All of this is frustrating and enough to make you want to cover him in honey and leave him naked and wandering in the desert with hungry badgers chasing him. (Sorry, the graphic imagery is the writer in me. Plus, it's fun to think about, right?) But you can't. The reality is that you may be the only responsible adult in this equation. You may be the only one who makes your son do his homework, brush his teeth or take him to the doctor when he is sick. I can't change it and neither can you, so you must try and spend your precious energy elsewhere. Enlist his teachers to have him do his homework in class (or after school, if possible), pack him disposable toothbrushes in his backpack so he can use them on days you don't have him (good luck, I know... but I can hope!). Your imagination will get you through this time (think badgers here...) and you and your kids will survive. But your energy is best used for positivity - not dwelling on what you simply can't change.
Being divorced is a tightrope walk, and sometimes it feels as though you're walking above an alligator-infested marsh. You are. You can make it to the other side - even with a nightmare ex - with most (note: I did not say ALL) of your sanity in tact. When all is said and done, an occasional glass of chardonnay with girlfriends can work wonders. Chin up, honey. You'll make it.