Co-Parent Conundrum

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?


5 comments on “Co-Parent Conundrum

  1. I agree with John. However, if the tone of voice and manner in which she asked him to help her had been in a more loving way I have to speculate that the outcome would have been different. And as for the Step dad yelling in the background. If you are looking at the child as a burden in your life, instead of a blessing you are not helping that child or your wife.

    Remember parents are the ones who got the divorce in the first place and therefore; it is our responsibility to take care of our children whatever means. Maybe next time instead of demanding John’s help if she simply would ask in a loving way the results might be different.

    No one likes to have things demanded of them. Divorce to happiness is something that starts with yourself. And I think she has some work to do on herself.

    • Thanks so much for commenting! I too believe things would have been different if Cindy had used a different tone and asked for help instead of demanding that John follow her orders. I feel bad for the little girl who had to listen to this drama while she was sick and really needed a loving parent to ease her discomfort.

  2. burblingbee says:

    It’s a tricky one without knowing all the background but I don’t think either of them behaved great 🙂 There was no reason to ask so badly – it’s always hellish when a child is ill and you can guarantee that it will come at a time of important meetings and so on – but equally, playing the ‘well I wanted custody and you wouldn’t let me, so nur to you’ card is no way to behave.

    My ex-husband and I share the ‘sick’ days, although I am the primary carer. I work part-time so am always on hand for the days I don’t work, and do about half, maybe slightly more, of the days I do work. But we are both aware that it’s a juggling act and we try to play fair. It’s inevitable that sometimes one of us will have to take the day off and think ‘but MY day was more important’ but that’s just the bias of knowing about our own day and not the other.

    At the end of the day, you have to put your own feelings aside. A child is sick, someone has to look after it, you have to take turns, and put aside any ‘wrongs’ you’ve been done by the other. But that doesn’t mean you can’t secretly snigger if they get vomited on :-p

    • It sounds like you and your ex are pretty cooperative- that’s great! I like the idea of sharing the sick days- it let’s the kids know that they have a “team” to support/care for them when they need it.

  3. […] touched on this situation in an earlier post regarding children’s illness and who should step up to stay home.  But that was more specific.  Right now, I’m considering the broader issue: how […]

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