The following is based on a true story. Minor details were changed to protect the privacy of those involved…
Non-Custodial Divorced Dad was sound asleep late one night when his phone rang. He felt a bit panicked when he saw his ex-wife’s number on the caller ID and he answered immediately.
“John,” his ex began. Her voice was barely under control. “Dana has another stomach virus. She threw up twice tonight and there’s no way she can go to school tomorrow. You need to take off work and take care of her. I took off the last time she was sick and StepDad scheduled to take off at the end of the week when she has an early dismissal. I can’t take off work again- you have to.” Her tone was growing harsher- more demanding as she spoke.
John took a deep breath. He and Cindy had an ugly divorce but lately the quality of their communications had improved. He didn’t like the way she was instructing him. He didn’t want to get into a fight with her. And he had an important meeting the next day that he couldn’t miss. “I can’t,” he began, but wasn’t permitted to finish.
“You can’t?! I just told you she’s very sick!! I can’t take care of her again because I stayed home last time and I don’t want to lose my job because of this. I told you, you need to take off. I can’t believe you ‘can’t’ tomorrow or Friday?!?!?”
“I might be able to take off on Friday,” John said, calmly. “I’ll have to ask my -“
And at that moment, StepDad began yelling in the background. “IT’S YOUR KID!!!” he screamed. “YOU NEED TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR KID- I’M THE ONE TAKING CARE OF YOUR KID ALL THE TIME!!!!!!”
Cindy raised her voice and started to say something as well, but John stopped her. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Things had been going pretty well between us, but I don’t deserve to be screamed at by you or your husband in the middle of the night.” With that, he hung up the phone. She tried to call several more times and he didn’t answer.
When I first heard the story, I kinda felt bad for Cindy. (but then, I suffer from delusions of beautiful amicable divorces where ex-spouses work together as effective, communicative and respectful co-parents)
“Can’t you work out a schedule with her?” I asked John. “Like… you, her, StepDad and Grandma all take turns in situations like these?”
“Cindy is the custodial parent,” he told me. “I pay a support bill every month so that she can be sure my child is provided for in my absence.” He went on to explain, “When we first separated, I wanted 50/50 custody and she refused. She said I ‘couldn’t handle it’ and Dana ‘needed her mother’. It’s wrong for her to withhold my daughter unless Dana presents an inconvenience. I’ve dealt with my share of sickness when Dana is with me and I did what I needed to do without insisting that Cindy step in and help me.”
“I see your point,” I told him. “But what about your daughter? She obviously heard all the screaming. Don’t you want to keep the peace for her sake?”
“Yes and no,” he started. “There’s no reason for me to be treated with such a lack of respect. I don’t want to re-enforce that kind of behavior. My daughter needs to understand that she should ask for help instead of ordering people around like that.”
“Yeah, I get that.” (I do! If only more of us could think in these terms)
John concluded, “Here’s the bottom line: Cindy insisted on being the primary custodial parent- that job comes with ups and downs. This is one of the downs. Its a hardship for all parents- it’s not just her and it’s not my fault.”
After hearing John’s point of view, I think I agree with him on this one. But this is a tough situation that’s likely to come up among most co-parents.
How do others handle this? Or plan to in the future?