I divorced my husband of nine years and three years later met my “forever” husband. We’re both 39, and plan to marry sometime this summer.
My son, age six, is being raised through shared custody. We alternate for weekdays, and every other weekend.
My ex was very angry about the divorce, though we were incompatible. He resented my family members who were more successful than his relatives and fought my decisions to continue my studies and advance at work.
I also believed that he was randomly cheating through dating apps when I was pregnant and during my maternity leave. I felt that we were already emotionally separated back then and urged that we go to counselling, but he refused.
Luckily, I’ve been in a totally different relationship for enough years to believe it’ll last. I feel supported and loved completely.
It’s my young son who I worry about. He loves his father and I’m glad because it’s important to his security in their relationship. But I hear negative thoughts from my son when he’s staying with me and my partner.
He’ll complain when I’m working (I set aside many hours for him when he’s with us, and work later). He’ll cry that I’m “mean” and ignoring him even when we’re in the midst of home-schooling, playing games or doing a puzzle together. It’s like it’s been repeated to him as a recorded complaint to turn on when he’s here.
But we’re together a lot. He’ll easily cuddle with me at bedtime. And we regularly have fun as a family - on hikes, picnics, with a child-height basketball net, etc.
I’m worried about how these negative thoughts/messages will affect our relationship over time.
I don’t want to start dealing again with a court process over what sounds like small matters but is becoming a worrying pattern affecting our child.
My ex is still cold and argumentative with me when we meet for dropping him off. Also, our previous court-imposed mediation just set him off even more against me as he believed the female mediator was prejudiced against him.
What can I do to help my son feel at ease with me and my partner, and also recognize that he’s allowed to love both of his parents equally?
The realities of divorce often don’t become as clear as many thought they already were, until they make themselves felt by the children.
At different ages, they’re given to testing the situations they’re in with regard to trust, equity, comfort, and more as they go through age changes.
Since it does sound like your son is being fed some negative thoughts at his father’s home, seeking mediation again does sound like a potential choice. Yet, given your ex’s distrust, it could worsen things.
I advise getting good counsel from two sources - 1) your lawyer who handled the custody issues, especially if s/he was sensitive to the dynamics between you and your ex; and 2) a psychologist who can inform you of the likely effects on your son from this apparent ongoing negative messaging.
You’ll then have a better idea whether mediation can or cannot work. Or whether it’s best to learn how best for you to respond to your son without involving your ex and creating more tensions between you two.
Readers who’ve experienced divorce’s after-effects in situations when one parent’s ongoing grudge is apparent to the child, will likely have commentaries to offer. Watch for these in a future column.
Reader’s Commentary Regarding the person whose son bought her a tablet but refused communication with her (April 21):
“I recommend the book Rules of Estrangement: Why Adult Children Cut Ties and How to Heal the Conflict by Joshua Coleman. It’s an excellent reference for people estranged from their adult children and was a big help to me.”
Ellie - The California-based author and psychologist, writing for psychologytoday.com/ca has addressed many estrangement topics, e.g. “Why Should I Have to Apologize to My Estranged Adult Child?” posted April 19, 2020.
I particularly like his answer to this question: “Making amends, showing empathy, and taking responsibility are acts of humility, not humiliation. It's a position of strength, not weakness. It's the ability to say, ‘Well, maybe you're right. Maybe I missed something really important about you, either in how I raised you or how I communicate with you. Let's look at that together and figure it out.’"
Tip of the day:
Divorce is hard enough on children without one parent’s ongoing anger fuelling insecurity.