Lessons Learned

 

When I set out to write this blog, I had a couple of reasons:

I thought it would be therapeutic to get my thoughts down. Perhaps part of my healing would be sharing my experiences and my feelings with others and embracing their support, advice, and love.

As a friend pointed out, it would serve as a way to memorialize my feelings for my son, so that he could look back on it someday and have that piece of me and knowledge of who I was and how I cherished him every second that we were on this Earth together.

And, finally, I thought it might help others. That I might have something of worth to share that could help someone else navigate these sometimes trying and treacherous waters.

This entry falls in the last category. On Tuesday of this week, I spent five hours in court defending myself against a restraining order.

That will probably come as a shock to most of you. It certainly came as a shock to me. It was surreal and unsettling and, at times, terrifying. Even when the foundations for the claim were baseless.

Those of you who know me know that I’ve tried to refrain from airing dirty laundry of the past throughout this process. So even as I sat there that day and listened to false accusations, assumptions, embellishments, logical fallacies, and some outright lies, I told myself I would not go down the road of dredging up the past or disparagement beyond saying that what happened that day was not right.

It was not right that I spent enough money for half a vacation on an attorney to ensure that a vendetta didn’t leave me with a criminal record. And it’s not right that this cloud now hangs over my ability to co-parent.

But that’s all I will say about that. What I will say is that I can now reflect and realize all the things that I did — right and wrong — leading up to that moment that ultimately led to my being vindicated.

That day we won. But I still feel like it’s a hollow victory.

Offering these pointers will give me some solace. So, if you are co-parenting and it’s a less than amicable situation, here’s some (hopefully!) helpful advice:

  • Document EVERYTHING

Seriously. The difference between having the court go on someone else’s word and yours may be in an email or text or other conversation you documented.

When a co-parent falsely accuses you of doing something in an email or text, send a business-like reply with just the facts. And save it. Save everything. You may be lucky like me and have something submitted into evidence by the other side that directly contradicts their own testimony. Made the ten minutes sending my account at the time all the more worthwhile.

Keep a journal, as well. When I first feared there might be a custody battle before my separation, I started a “care diary” documenting all the things I did for my son — making breakfast for him, dressing him, taking him to school, playing with him, eating dinner with him, giving him his bath, going to birthday parties, etc. To show that I needed to be a part of his life going forward. Now, a journal reminds me of episodes that may call for documentation or memorializing what happened someday down the road.

  • Do not engage

Flare ups happen when custody is shared. Even when it’s amicable, there will be misunderstandings and tempers will rise.

Resist the urge to fight back.

I would say my ratio of “let it go” to “fight back” is about 20:1. That’s still not good enough. Because that one time will be the one that is repeatedly brought up to try and bait you. So, just ignore the attacks — public or direct. It is far too easy to fight a war of words, but even if you think you “win”, what did you accomplish? Bragging rights? A temporary sense of satisfaction until the next barrage ensues? It’s not worth it. So, do not engage.

Don’t even try to Aikido your way out of it and use their momentum and rage against them. Better just to turn your back and walk away.

Your silence and lack of showing that it affects you is sometimes the most potent defense.

  • Be respectful, but businesslike and curt

In court, I remember being coached by my attorney to answer the question and nothing else. Don’t elaborate. Don’t offer anything additional if unnecessary.

Do the same in your communications with your child’s parent. Answer the question or pose the request or question and do not editorialize.

Unnecessary commentary or opining or pontificating will only lead to more of those scuffles that you will not want to get yourself into (see above). So, don’t offer an opening. Just get to the point, and limit it to things that directly affect the care and development of your child.

  • Stick to the plan

If you went through a divorce, you spent a lot  of time and money on a Parenting Plan. That is your child-rearing Bible now and should be treated reverently and considered the ultimate authority.

When you are dealing with an acrimonious co-parent, it is even more important that you live by the plan and only the plan.

Do not make exception unless absolutely necessary.

Do not make offerings that go beyond the plan to try and offer olive branches or cultivate good will.

These things will only come back to bite you further down the line. They can be misinterpreted to support an agenda. They can become expectations in the future. They can be the proverbial inch that convinces a co-parent they can get that metaphoric mile the next time.

For your own benefit, do not make grand gestures or concessions outside of your parenting plan and expect it to be appreciated or returned in kind. Save that for if/when you are in a more harmonious place and working together.

  • Think of the child

Don’t put your child in the middle. This should seem obvious. So obvious it probably should have been listed first. And while I didn’t put it at the top, it certainly bears repeating. Don’t put your child in the middle.

Don’t tell them things that involve the divorce or finances or your relationship with the other parent or…well….anything. Just keep your child out of it.

Do not…Do NOT write detailed and disparaging things about your child’s other parent on Facebook. Or their family. Or their boyfriend or girlfriend or fiance’ or dog…or even their ficus!!  That doesn’t help anyone and only makes it more difficult to parent in that community and among those other parents and friends.

I’ve never gone down that particularly dark path. But I’ve felt the effects of it.

I like to think I am wrapping Aaron in bubble wrap where my divorce from his mother and our relationship is concerned. And, as a result, he talk freely and openly about her and her boyfriend and their dog and his aunts and uncles and everything else around me. And I tell him “That’s awesome” and “Your mom loves you more than anything” and “You’ll only ever have one Mommy — the one whose belly you came out of!” And my fiance’ does the same. It’s an unwritten rule that where my son is concerned, everyone in both families is spoken of as if they were a saint.

It makes him feel safe and insulated from the turmoil sometimes going on in my head and my heart. He is blissfully ignorant of most of the fallout, and it should always be that way.

  • ALWAYS think of the child.

The rabbi who taught the parenting class every parent must go through in CT before a divorce is granted told an interesting (and true) story:  a 70-year-old dad was fishing with his 40-something son. He had been divorced from the son’s mother since the son was young. The son, being older and with kids of his own now, felt wise and emboldened and asked: “Dad, I know we never talk about it, but I’ve always wondered about you and Mom getting divorced. Why did you do it? What happened?”

And the father said, “Son, now that you’re older, I will tell you the same thing now that I told you back then….

“It’s none of your damned business.”

There’s your answer now and 20 years from now, Aaron.   🙂

 

Those are my takeaways and how I plan to make the best of a tough situation. I’m not likely to have seen the last of a courtroom. And there are plenty of parents out there just trying to get by that will not have, as well.

But forewarned is forearmed.

-Chris