Last week I wrote about the importance of empathy and compassion during a divorce. As families evolve, it’s important to extend that empathy, compassion and communication across new channels to different people… like your ex’s new partner.
When quality communication isn’t freely flowing, it’s harder to reach an understanding and maintain a sense of inner peace. In many cases, this results in heated emotions: anger, hurt, frustration… and a tendency to dig in one’s heels.
In an effort to gain perspective from The Other Side, I’ve teamed up with Meredith from Now Is Good. Throughout the month of February, we’ll be cross-posting our own feelings and reactions to common issues which arise in many of today’s modern families. Meredith is a divorced mother of 3 and her ex is now integrating his girlfriend into the lives of their children. I’m the integrated girlfriend of a divorced dad. Together, we can learn from each other and hopefully these lessons will help us (and you) in our personal journeys.
Our first topic of discussion involves the emergency contact info that one parent leaves for a caregiver of the children. I’ll let Meredith tell her story here and you can read my perspective on her blog. We welcome your comments on either page…
My ex husband and I share custody of our three young children. I have greater possession of them time-wise, but we share decision-making and responsibility pretty equally—both legally and in practice. We also share babysitters; depending on where the kids are at any given time, the same caregivers simply keep them at my house or at the ex’s. Recently, right before she walked out of the door, one of our regular sitters pulled me aside and asked to speak with me. She had been babysitting our youngest at my ex’s house and when he left for work he handed her a piece of paper with a phone number on it … his girlfriend’s phone number. And he told our sitter to call his girlfriend in case of any emergency.
I, like our babysitter, was bothered by that. I’m of the opinion that if there’s an emergency, you call the parent. Always. If something happens to my kids while they were in my ex’s custody and my ex isn’t available, then I should be the next phone call. Always. Particularly when this sitter knows me, sees me regularly, already has all of my contact information. You know why? Because I am the parent. In the 18 months since our divorce, I have never put down anyone other than my ex as first emergency contact—on school forms, doctor forms, babysitter notes. Not because I have any desire to have him receive a phone call about a problem and know that I was unavailable to handle it (because really—in a post-divorce relationship that is already rife with mistrust and accusations and fear of getting one-upped somehow in the parenting arena, that is a situation I would dearly love to avoid), but because he is their father. And if something qualifies as an “emergency,” he has the right to know about it. Immediately. Before anyone else.
I told our sitter that when she kept the kids at the ex’s house, she needed to follow his rules. If he wants her to call the girlfriend, then I guess call the girlfriend. But please, call me also. I haven’t mentioned any of this to my ex yet: first, because I’m not really looking for a fight; and second, because I’m trying to assess the situation objectively and determine if there is any rational reason for his actions before I go all Harpy Ex Wife on him. My hope is that he wants to appear capable of complete parenting when the children are in his possession. He doesn’t want a babysitter calling me to say, “we’re out of milk” or “where are the diapers”—and quite honestly, I don’t want that, either. My hope is that he wants to show he has a Plan B … that he has back-up (because it really *does* take a village, and my ex doesn’t have any extended family or friends living nearby). If that’s the case, then I can cut him some slack.
BUT. For me it boils down to this: I am the parent. I have the right to know about and decide how to handle any emergency involving my child … certainly a superior right to that of my ex’s girlfriend. If my child spikes a fever or has an accident and my ex isn’t reachable by phone, I need to be the one to decide whether that fever requires a trip to the ER. My ex’s girlfriend isn’t a mom, and even if she were, she isn’t my kids’ mom. Putting anyone’s name down but mine in that first spot on the “In Case of Emergency” list seems like a failure of co-parenting.