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This is a guest post from an anonymous author who wanted to share her struggles about her ex.
“Daddy, my other name is Johnson.” (Names changed to protect the innocent) My 4 year old son blurted to his dad on the phone the other day. You could hear a pin drop on the other end and quickly my ex rushed to say, that is not y our last name, you don’t want a name like that. If you remember that character “Anger” from the Disney movie Inside Out I could tell that Anger took over and was in control at that moment as I quickly picked up the phone and a small petty argument ensued between the adults on the line while my son continued scribbling and coloring in his notebook. After an abrupt phone call end (I miss those days of slamming the phone) I felt like a jerk for allowing my emotions to get in the way of my son’s phone call with his dad.
The Last Name Saga
When my son was born dad has already vanished with a truck in both of our names to go live his life in another state about a 19 hour drive away. Finally relief that the abuse was over and even though my family and I had to endure a barrage of voicemails filled with profanity and name calling, he never came around. So my son took my last name and there was no dad on the birth certificate. Why would he put his name on the birth certificate? He didn’t believe his son was his and after dealing with voicemails of him claiming our son was the “son of a wetback” I just stopped listening to the voicemails and kept them all for the future. So my son grew up with his last name.
Custody Battles and Name Changes
Fast forward two years later and the stress and toll of single motherhood, not getting child support and managing a career were too much for me. My ex claimed he could provide a better life. He had a new girlfriend (fiancée) who was a doctor and she had a nice home etc and I had a nervous breakdown. So my son went to live with him (Something I did not agree with) and the judge ordered a name change. The change in last name bothered me but I had no say on that point because I’d rather pick my battles than spend a big amount of money fighting something like that. So the court ordered a name change. Then things changed and I went to therapy, regained my footing and had lots of support from my friends, family and my employer. Things really looked up and I went back to court since I rarely got to talk to my son, when I asked about preschool or who was watching my son my ex gave vague answers. When I asked about where my son was living I got no definitive address either and the address my ex gave to the court was wrong. I showed up there multiple times and the residents inside didn’t even know who my ex was. This was not cheap since I had to travel and pay for all of that travel for not just myself but also my daughter yet I feel like it was all worth it. So fast forward and that original court order gets thrown out (Including the name change) and here we are today with my son back and thriving with school, speech classes and friends. While at school, the school kept calling him by his last name (My name), Johnson and he kept answering to that. I didn’t notice it until a few days had gone by and I realized people kept calling him that at school. I corrected everyone but I realize he would answer to that and it stuck. I got upset that my ex would accuse me of coaching our son.
How I should have handled things differently?
There is not much to a name since my little boy is the same little boy that is full of life and loving as he always is. Apparently a name is a big deal to my ex and after listening to him talk about courts and legal stuff to a 4 year old on the phone while my son is trying to get a word in edgewise about his day at school it’s time I say enough is enough. If he can’t keep the conversation with his son about his son then he no longer has anything to talk about.
Three Responses with different outcomes
- Be hostile – This does nobody any good since all it does is further break down the communication process. Understand your worth and with another hostile person such as the ex, less communication except what is important is key.
- Be weak – This also serves nobody because it doesn’t give children or the other party proper notice about boundaries and acceptable behavior. It leaves the responses open but isn’t firm in stating what you are or are not willing to put up with.
- Be cordial – The courts can’t force you to get along but you save a lot of grief just being cordial but firm. Name calling, vulgarity and bad language should roll of your back. Stick on headphones and don’t mind any of it. Set the example to your child of how to behave and reassure them that you will be there to keep them safe and secure.
How could the above phone hostility been handle differently?
Don’t react to it. Politely let dad know that the conversation disparaging mom is inappropriate and if he doesn’t stop the conversation will have to end. When he makes promises like he usually does without the intention on keeping them, explain to your child it is not their fault if mom and dad fight or if one of the parents doesn’t keep their promises. Then leave it at that. I think all the energy spent being angry served nobody. It can be normal for me to automatically get anxious and hostile when hearing my ex’s name or seeing it pop up on the caller ID but I have to get over that and let cool heads prevail.
No doubt if you are divorced or in the middle of divorcing you have just managed a holiday with something called split visitation. As I ventured through Dallas-Love Field airport I could see all the “Unaccompanied Minors” making their way to the other parent’s house for the holiday. I was also on this venture with my son and while it is a stressful time it is court ordered and part of the “new normal” for some of today’s modern families.
Being able to adjust will help you get through some of these stressful situations and try to create a sense of normalcy during the holidays. Here are a few things to consider as you begin the new year as a newly divorced or veteran divorced parent. Even if you were never married, navigating the visitation schedule and co-parenting with a difficult ex can be made easier once you begin to focus on what you can control. What you can control is your attitude, your emotions, your reaction, and the things that come out of your mouth.
Here are few things to remember as you navigate the rest of the year:
- The custody agreement is set in stone by the LAW and is an unemotional document and a minimum standard. The point of it is to set the foundation or routine but it is the responsibility of the parents involved to learn how to compromise. It doesn’t legislate feelings and emotions and it is not a perfect document.
- If you don’t like the custody agreement then first ask for permission from your ex to follow another arrangement, get that agreement in writing and if changes in your life necessitate a change in the agreement then go to court and change it,
- Don’t pretend to be a lawyer and try to interpret the custody agreement for your ex you will only frustrate yourself. My ex has grossly misinterpreted our custody agreement as it pertains to Texas law. I made the mistake of falling down the slippery slope of arguing with him. I have since ceased doing that and basically told him if he can’t understand it, then talk to his attorney. It’s not that I don’t want to explain, I gave up out of frustration.
- Learn how to communicate before you learn how to compromise. If the other person is difficult to communicate with, learn how to accept that and move forward.
- Learn to sacrifice and adjust. You will not get to do everything you want to do and so you have to allow yourself to be ok with that. Don’t get personally attached to holidays, days or events. Those things don’t matter. The only thing that matters is the quality of time you spent with your kids. The world doesn’t need to see the proof on social media to know that it happened.
- Put things in writing. Pleading ignorance is something that many people like to do so make sure instructions are in writing. Certified mail, email is preferable over text. I have to do this with my ex’s but if you have an ex that you can actually communicate this would be overkill.
Obviously I am not a legal expert and if you need one then you should really try contact a legal professional that can help. I try to remind myself whether a decision I am making is really all about my “ego” and all about winning. We have one way of looking at our children and how they will be raised and our ex’s have their own opinions. Best thing to do is to keep an open mind and communication lines open.
Check out this handbook for coparenting and keeping track of visitation:
If you are in Texas, check out the State Attorney General’s Office has a website to help parents with visitation and access.