Monday, November 21, 2005

Happy Or Not- The Holidays Are Here

Just wanted to take the time to say Happy Holidays to everyone! This can be a very difficult time of year for divorced parents. So here are my things to remember:

1. Generally, the states provide non custodial parents half of their child's time off for Winter Break. If you are like my parents who live in different states - one year my father has the first week of vacation (including Christmas Day) and then the kids fly out on the 26th to spend a week with my mother. The following year the reverse - my mother has the first week with Christmas Day and the kids fly home on the 26th. To that end, whichever parent does not have the children over Christmas Day gets to have them over Thanksgiving. So for example, this past Thanksgiving my mother flew my younger siblings to her home, next year they will stay home with my dad but fly out the first (or second) day of winter break.

If you are like my husband and your ex lives in the same town (or general area) regardless of what custody arrangement you have (unless restricted to supervised or something of that ilk) the law generally provides you split all holidays. This can mean a literal split - 12 hours with each on each holiday or it can be split each year. My husband and his ex wife are on a one week/one week schedule. Halloween almost always falls into his week while New Years Eve almost always falls into her week. Instead of switching half way through the day (especially since the "fun" parts of Halloween and New Years are at specific times) or trading off each year - they have just declared Halloween his and New Years Eve hers. This prevents a lot of scheduling conflicts, questions, etc as everyone is fully aware of the schedule. This would also be an example of "splitting" the holidays. However, this is possible because they agreed - if the court had been forced to decide a half day split would have likely been ordered on both days.

For Christmas, one year one parent has the child Christmas Eve and overnight until midday Christmas Day - the next year they switch. Again, it is easy and something they agreed to without court assistance.

I am just providing all of this so you realize splitting the holidays does not have to mean at 12:00 pm one party turns the children over to the other party. Try to work with each other and around the traditions of the other.

But most important - WORK IT OUT FAR IN ADVANCE OF THE HOLIDAYS! Something about the holidays seems to bring out raw emotions in everyone, particularly if this is your first after the divorce. Come to an agreement, put it in writing and have it filed - and then adhere to it! It will make it a lot easier on everyone - particularly your kids.

2. Your children did not want you to divorce. They ALSO do not want to see you continue to fight or degrade the other. It doesn't matter whose fault anything is - they love you both - RESPECT THAT. Children see themselves as half mom - half dad. If you make negative comments about mom or dad in front of them - they see themselves negatively. The holidays are for them - this is harder for them to understand and get over than it is for you - make every effort to make this a painless and enjoyable holiday for them no matter how lousy or angry you are feeling.

3. Someday this will end. I know it is hard to imagine a life in which your everyday is not colored by a "custody arrangement" - wondering if you got all the school paperwork, find homework, trying to balance who will purchase clothes (will you share a winter coat or each have your own?), who will schedule (and remember) dentist, doctor, tryouts... Is your support paid- why is the support late.... Whatever your daily issues may be - they will end.

My parents oldest and youngest child are 13 years apart. That definitely prolongs the experience - but even for them (I keep telling them) someday it will end.

Where will you be when it does? Do you really want to spend the next 1 -20 years constantly battling with someone else? Do you want to spend those years internalizing your bitterness? Even if that is what your ex chooses to do? Would that be a productive use of your time?

Eventually your child(ren) will reach the age of 21 or graduate college - generally when agreements disappear. At that point you will have an adult child who will still need/want to spend the holidays with someone - but there will be no more description of how they will be spent. A good previous relationship with your ex about the holidays will be conducive to a good subsequent relationship. Now you will just have the added stress of what your child(ren) and potentially their new family will be able to manage.

Make decisions with your children as your first factor to consider - but don't live for your children. In this I mean, (as an example) abstain from remarrying a new spouse until your children are out of the home, but don't abstain from dating or having a life outside of your children. Eventually your children will have their own lives. If you have spent the previous time obsessing over them and every punctuation mark in your custody decree - you will probably be in very bad shape when that decree ceases to exist and your children go off on their own.

If you are paying child support - and you believe it to be an inordinate amount - make sure you place your anger in the right place. Although it is unfortunate that your ex cannot see the benefit to having a financially sound co parent - the courts and the government dictate child support levels. Get mad at them if you need to be mad. Get mad at the broken system we call family law. Get involved in a group attempting to change that system. (But if you do this do not let it overtake you. Everything in moderation - don't forget to enjoy the blessings in your life - your kids). Regardless of your levels of child support, find a way to save. You may have to reduce your standard of living - but eventually you may find yourself needing to pay for college and you WILL want to retire. Don't let the courts prevent you from fulfilling the dreams you have - just change the manner in which you achieve those dreams and be realistic about what is attainable considering the current system you are under. I know this is all easy to say and I know that some of you have horrific stories where you are ordered to pay more than you actually make, plus your ex's attorney fees, etc... If you are in that kind of situation I encourage you to continue to petition the court for relief - try doing it pro se, there is help out there for people who want to represent themselves.

My mother is the type who lives through her children and sticking my father at every opportunity. She has had a series of failed marriages and relationships - something I attribute mainly to the extent of her anger at.... Everything - stemming from the courts mandating her to "share" the custody of her children with their father. She has spent thousands and thousands of dollars (requiring my father to spend the equivalent) battling over the most petty of issues in a courtroom. Now that she is the one paying support she withholds it at regular intervals. At the risk of delving too deep into this - I will say I am certain that when my youngest sister (now 16) is finally free of a court ordered custody arrangement, my mother will surely fall apart. She has no other focus in her life than to control us and her partners - who all quickly leave her after witnessing the depths of her anger - furthering her need to "punish" my father for this life he forced her into by impregnating her.

Ask yourself how you envision your life once your children have graduated college or gone out on their own - and then make the necessary choices to get there. While having children and an ex spouse may encompass your entire life today - you will likely have quite a number of years where this will not be the case. Don't forget to plan for this time too and don't let yourself become so bitter and directed that you don't know how to do anything except stew about how badly you got screwed.

4. I can't remember the exact verbiage - but I was told once by a mediator that in 18 years parents will make close to a half a million decisions about their children. This will be everything from what to eat for breakfast to what time to set curfew. Some decisions are more important than others. Ask yourself what you are arguing about in court? Is the money you are expending on your attorney, evaluator, etc... plus the tension you are breeding with your ex worth the decision of whether your ex feeds your child too many fish sticks? If you consider roughly 70 decisions are made a day, you could be in court for the rest of your life... is it worth it? Add up what you spend on your attorneys in a month and then figure out what that would be invested for the next 15 years - you might find you just wasted a year of college for your child...

To that end, cooperative parents try to identify the positives about the other and let slide some of their more lacking attributes. Come on, you married the person - you know that he/she is not such a great cook, terribly organized, timely, athletic, whatever.... Keep in mind that while at the others house the kids may eat more fish sticks but they will also have the advantage of accessing all of those wonderful things about your ex. And there are wonderful things - remember, you used to think so too! No one ever died from eating fish sticks!

Truthfully I have never heard of a case with fish sticks but I have heard about a couple who spent around $20,000 arguing about whether one fed the children too much macaroni. Seems pretty ridiculous, right? Ask yourself if any of your issues are equally ridiculous.

5. Finally, whatever scenario you have with your ex, remember this - YOU WILL NEVER GET THIS DAY BACK WITH YOUR CHILDREN. There will never be another Christmas 2005. So whether you see your kids for a day a month or half the month - TAKE ADVANTAGE. There will come a day when your children get to decide for themselves where they go - and they will remember if you spent the past years degrading their other parent, being mad about the arrangement - or if you cherished every second you had with them. And those decision's will come back to you once the court can no longer control your family. Make the right ones!!

Make this holiday as wonderful as you can - don't dwell on what your don't have - focus on what you do...

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6 Comments:

Blogger The Lawyer said...

Nice post and nice blog.

5:17 PM  
Blogger MisAnDrope said...

Whereas you have my utmost respect in so many ways, I must disagree with a couple comments and implications here. The first one that hit me was the “abstain from remarrying” bit. I think that this was just an example, but think how ludicrous this becomes if you find yourself in a committed relationship – but have the person move out whenever the kids are due to appear. A mature adult has mature relationships. And when those grow into healthy longer-term relationships, you bring that person into the wholeness of your family. Do you re-marry? Perhaps, but that decision shouldn’t be about ‘the kids’. For many, their divorce was about recognizing and naming a lot of lies in their lives. Lies like ‘it’s going fine’, ‘of course he/she loves me’, ‘no, he/she’s really a good person’ and so on. Introducing new lies, and concealment of reality into the lives of divorced people sounds too painful and just wrong.
The second item that pushed my button was your blaming of the system for the unfairness it metes out, and not the spouse. I do blame the system for creating the opportunity for unfairness, when the system is supposed to protect rights and fairness first. But primary responsibility must go to the person who picks up the gun and shoots it, not to the person who left it lying on the desk. The first creates an opportunity, a temptation – the shooter carries out a crime. And slavery (and slavery is what is meted out to most men in this process) is the most heinous, the most unforgivable crime, short of murder. It isn’t stealing money, it’s stealing time, and destroying lives. I am not arguing that we need to make our lives about hating the slave-owner, but I am arguing that we should call things as they are. Simple honesty. You may be forced to feed the mouth that bites you, but for heaven’s sakes, don’t pat it on the head – you will get bitten again if you do.
And even if and when your ‘owner’ frees you, and even if and when she pays back what was stolen from you over the years, even then, I think, you must remember what was done. You can forgive and live in your own peace, but you should never forget.

8:39 PM  
Blogger Meg said...

Hi Mis – you have been quiet recently, glad to see you are back.

As for remarriage – I probably should have been a bit more clear. I don’t think that I have ever hidden on this blog that I am married to a divorced father so “don’t remarry” I’m sure may sound a little disingenuous.

Remarriage (with children!) is a particularly hot button issue for me. My parents both remarried (and have both since divorced their second spouses) people with children. I will say unequivocally that the discord between the children forced together into the “wholeness of one family” put terrible stress on the marriage as well as the children’s relationship with their respective parent. Not to mention that all of the involved children were dealing with equivalent scenarios in the home of their other parent.

When my parents remarried my siblings and I ranged from 17 to 4. The divorce of our parents (and the ensuing custody battle, arguments, etc…) had been traumatic. Introducing a step-parent was just more trauma – as was trying to renegotiate your home while sharing it with three other kids you had virtually no previous experience with.

I have no problem telling my parents directly that those decisions were selfish and something they did because they were hurting from the divorce – not because we were hurting.

And even worse, eventually you may come to foster some sort of a relationship with your step-parent and siblings and then WHAM – divorce #2. This, in particular, hit my youngest sister extremely hard. As she was only four when my father remarried she actually developed quite a substantive bond with my step-mother. The divorce was probably more traumatic to her than when our parents divorced as she was too little to remember much of their divorce.

Being the oldest I resented “new” parents. My mother almost immediately turned all disciplinary measures over to my step-father which was a great source of tension between my siblings.

When I began dating my husband, for the first year I think I saw his child less than 10 times. We would meet for lunch, go to the park, etc. No pressure, no PDA, no mommy replacement even though at that time he had just turned two and was not at all apprehensive towards me. More importantly for me was to make sure prior to developing any serious attachment to this child or letting him develop one to me that I could be reasonably sure that this relationship was going to go the distance. Sure, I couldn’t have guaranteed at that point that we would marry – and I can’t now guarantee that we will never divorce – but I felt as though we hadn’t run into this emotionally but always with his child interests first. After that first year I slowly introduced myself more. I was around some over the holidays, birthdays, etc.. We eventually married four years later and I have a spectacular relationship with my husband and step-son. I also have a very good, civil, and communicative relationship with my husbands ex. I attribute that primarily to being so careful and trying to not step on “moms” toes.

I am sure you are familiar with the fact that remarriages fail at a greater rate than first marriages so I empathically disagree when you say that this is a decision that shouldn’t be about “the kids.” Any decision that introduces a new fixture in your home, one that runs the risk of developing an emotional attachment with your child – should always be about the kids. I feel that a persons own emotional fulfillment may at times have to take a back seat to their child’s needs. Someday you won’t have kids in the home – at that point I wouldn’t care if you were running a harem!

As for your concern about my laying blame on the system, I think we may just have to agree to disagree. I think this is a system in flux and one that discriminates against good fathers. I also think, however, that some of the precedents I now find so abhorrent (BIC, primary caregiver) did at one time (and may very well still in some cases) have sensible reasoning behind them. And I think that at times has altered women’s perspective as to what they are entitled to receive in terms of their children, home, etc… You would not believe some of the mothers I work with in what they perceive are their rights – or the number of fathers that are willing to provide them with the kids, house and the check just to (I don’t know) avoid the fight?

It just doesn’t seem to make much sense to continue pointing fingers. There are mothers will want their children to have as much time with both parents as possible – and then there are mothers who will withhold the kids for any number of reasons. Do you expect the reason with the withholder? I just think we should direct our duress at those who could stop the withholders (all of them) in their tracks.
And unfortunately you are going to have a tie to this person indefinitely. I am certainly in favor of reducing tension whenever possible for the sake of your kids.

I think it is largely self-fulfilling… If the system condones these scenarios it becomes much easier for one (especially when being spoon fed by feminists) to believe “that is how it is supposed to be.” The gun analogy doesn’t quite work here – these are women taking advantage of a system slanted in their favor not using a weapon to commit a blatantly illegal act. The government created child support, visitation schedules, etc… Women just happened to be on the receiving end of the benefit from these acts. If the government changes position it will eliminate the possibility which I much prefer than trying to impress morals into a gaggle of feminist raised children. When government changes tune to say that the expectation will be joint custody with no/minimal support –girls will begin to look at their role as a “parent” differently and eventually have less (or different) expectations about divorce. Research has already shown that in states with a strong presumption of joint custody the divorce rates have diminished substantively.

Whew, sorry that was so long!
Meg

10:30 AM  
Blogger MisAnDrope said...

:)
Well, I can see we disagree on two fundamental points. One, I don't put my kids first. They are important, the most important people in my life, but I take care of myself first. I don't see this as selfish at all, because an unhappy, unfulfilled parent probably isn't able to be a very good parent. This has been a blessing for the kiddoes too, because in my case, if it were not for my new spouse, I would be living out of a very broken down car. Instead, my children have a comfortable home near their friends and school for the 1/2 the time they are with me.

And I do see what is being done to men as a blatantly illegal act. Slavery *is* in my mind a blatantly illegal act. The fact that the laws have been twisted around to make it 'ok' doesn't lessen the reality of the situation one whit, whatever a whit is. :) Yes, don't get in a permanent rage and make yourself miserable over it, but no, don't turn into an 'Uncle Tom' either.

Probably we need both attitude and legislative adjustments to fix what is going on. We probably won't emancipate men until many, many people see what has been done to men as what it is, enslavement, and these people put pressure on their legislators. Merely pointing out that 'this is the right thing to do' will likely not carry the day.

I have been quiet of late - new business venture starting. With luck, I might be rich again in a couple years. But until then, I have leg-irons on. :)

Best!

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