I’ve already said that co-parenting sucks.
Under the best circumstances, you have two people who respect each other and help each other parent their wonderful, well-adjusted child. In my circumstance, in one corner is a bully with wife, baby, extended family, and the financial resources to back him up and in the other corner is me. I know on paper I don’t have the best profile: Major Depression or Bipolar Disorder depending on who you talk to, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; unemployed and disabled; moved 45 minutes away from where my child lives; takes multiple medications.That’s on paper. It’s not the entirety of who I am. I’m not wholly without my strengths. I have an education including a BA in Journalism and a MS in Photography. I’m a funny, strong, understanding mother. My son is showing strong signs of having mental illness. I understand him more than most people because I have lived what is going on in his head.
Our custody situation should be a strong partnership with resources on one side and real-life understanding on the other. But instead we have a feud and it’s because I’ve gotten strong enough to fight back from abuse.
I have been in some kind of therapy since mid-2009, often multiple kinds of therapy at the same time because I knew I wanted to feel better. When I began therapy, I believed that the bullying and abuse in my life were acceptable. I thought that it was okay for people to treat me that way. I was angry at the first therapist to tell me that I had been living with abuse. All I could think was “I’m not like that. I’m not one of those women.”. It turned out that I was one of those women. It’s hard to find statistics on how many people are emotionally abused each year because there is no reporting mechanism like there is for physical assaults. Here’s a great site that gives a great description of emotional abuse:
Bit by bit, I began to regain myself and learn who I was away from abuse. I learned that I am able to handle the people who choose to abuse me. One of those people I kicked out of my life, permanently. I’ll never see or speak to her again if I have any say in it. The other is harder. If we didn’t share a child, I would lock this person out of my world and never think of him again. But we have custody schedules and an 8-year-old. The abuse hasn’t stopped. Although legally required to inform me, I’ve never been told about a doctor, dentist, or therapist appointment. I don’t know who my son’s pediatrician or dentist is. One therapist was told that I signed away my legal rights to Mini-me and was surprised when she and her supervisor received angry phone calls from me. I only knew when my son started seeing a psychiatrist because he told me and he told me the doctor’s name. I’ve tried time and time again to connect to his teachers but because I’m not the parent who gets the notices in his backpack at the end of the day, I get left out. What’s worse, or more obnoxious really, is that he schedules activities for Mini-me during my scheduled visitation and expects me to abide by them.
The NSPCC defines four types of emotional abuse: rejecting, terrorizing, isolating, and exploiting. I’ve battled all four in my five years of custody haggling. It’s nothing I’ll ever be able to file a restraining order for but I can build a restraining wall within myself that keeps the trash of emotional abuse away from the heart of me.
Little by little, I’ve begun to stand up for myself and, in turn, for Mini-me. Ex-zilla and I only communicate through text messages. Ex-zilla has a special ring tone which helps me prepare myself. The messages are often demanding in tone and timing and use belittling language. I take time before I pick up my phone so I don’t respond from emotion, especially anger. I craft these responses carefully. I make sure they are clear. I make sure they are neutral. And, no matter how much I want to, I never, never name call or incite a fight. I do not get the same courtesy. I’ve been called a druggie psycho, told I was not a mom, and just today told my actions (standing up for myself) were sad.
Last year I had an attorney tell me to not have anything anywhere on the internet. No Facebook. No Pinterest. No LinkedIn. But I suppose writing a blog about my life should include my life. And this is my life. Right now Ex-zilla is steaming because I have refused to take my son to soccer games on my Saturdays. When I was told about the games, less than a week in advance, a pit began forming in the deep of my stomach. On disability, I am not even making my ends meet. Making the hour and a half round trip to visit Mini-me or pick him up and drop him off costs about $20 for one trip. Ex-zilla does none of the driving. When the issue came up between our attorneys last fall he said he couldn’t possibly contribute because step-zilla was pregnant. Gas costs in California are ridiculous. In an ideal month, I make 8 trips for him. That’s $160 if my math is better than usual. I won’t disclose what I earn in disability, but $160 is a pretty big chunk. But the bearded gentleman and I make it work because he’s my Mini-me. He’s still my miracle.
I told Ex-zilla that he could come and pick Mini-me up and drop him off after the game. No response. Maybe he’s allergic to driving. Maybe he’s as broke as I am. Either way, no communication. If humans have learned anything during our span, it should be that not communicating never, ever, ever helps anything. At the same time, Mini-me has been scheduled for karate lesson and soccer practice during my visitation. Apparently, I was supposed to roll over and be okay with wasting my one-on-one time with him with shuttling him around and watching practices. I declined. Politely. And chose to move my visitations to an activity-free day. For all this I was told that my actions were sad. And he added that he was going to tell Mini-me about the soccer games and that he’d be disappointed. It’s that last bit that get me riled. Go ahead and take shots at me all you want but manipulating a small child against the other parent is vile.
I’ve certainly had the opportunity to lambaste Ex-zilla to Mini-me a whole lot of times. But I choose not to because a little child should not hold the burden of their parent being a shithead. For as long as he can, I hope Mini-me thinks his father and I are wonderful. There will come a time, probably as a teenager, that he will discover that we are both horribly flawed and suck. Instead, I hold Ex-zilla accountable for his actions but I never belittle him in front of Mini-me. He frequently does not have Mini-me’s medications ready for our scheduled weekend visits. Mini-me, understandably, tries to make excuses for his father. He’s busy or he had school late or step-zilla didn’t tell him. I tell Mini-me the same thing in the same way. Your father is responsible for your medications being here. You’re responsible for some things, yes? Well, this is one of his things. In my opinion, so is treating the mother of his child with respect and teamwork.
I think you can see this rant in a few ways. One, you could brush it off as another bitter, angry ex-whatever story. You could also look at it as a cautionary whale. Be careful who you take to bed and wrap it before you tap it. Or you could take it as I’ve felt as I’ve been writing it. Life is hard. For everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’ve worked your way up from the bottom or slunk your way down from the top with a silver spoon in your bum. Everyone has struggles and it would behoove everyone to be a little kinder, to take a moment to think before they talk, to examine their own actions for where they can make a change for the better. We all have people in our lives who we hate. Okay, people hate the word hate. We all have people in our lives who make us crazy. Who push our buttons. Who don’t use pleasant language when they talk about us. Some relationships you can’t repair. Some people, despite our best efforts, will not work with us. It’s the awful truth we live with. But, I’ve found that I can try. I can do my best to be neutral if I can’t be cordial. I can be honest but kind when I answer my son’s questions about his father and I. I can keep raising a son who is kind and will carry that forward into the world.
An open letter to Mini-me:
Have you ever heard of something called mental illness? No? Well, mental illness is something that happens in your brain. And it makes you feel a certain way or think certain things but the feelings and the thoughts aren’t true. They’re not real.
You know how Mom takes a lot of medications? Well, they’re to help my brain give me true feelings. I know you’ve seen me when I’m sad for no reason. It’s a sunny Tuesday afternoon at the pool and Mom looks sad. I have mental illness and I have had it for a very long time, way before you were born. I’ve worked really hard with doctors and counselors to get the right medications and to learn when my feelings and thoughts are real or not real. When I say real, I mean that there is truth behind them. If I’m sad because my friend died, that is real. But if I’m sad when I’m sitting at the beach with my feet in the sand, that is probably my brain playing tricks. Do you understand?
Because I’ve been sick with this mental illness, I haven’t been able to have a job for a long time now. That’s really hard for me. I want work more than anything. I’m good at being a writer and photographer and artist. And having a job means having money, you know that. I’m what’s called disabled which means you’re too sick to work. Being disabled gives you a little bit of money but not very much. It’s enough to pay for our apartment and food but it’s not enough for me to buy you the things I want you to have, like new Legos, or a trip to the fair, or Disneyland. It makes me sad that I can’t give you those things. I appreciate that you don’t ask for a lot of things. It makes me feel bad when I have to say no.
It also means I don’t have the extra money for gas to get you to your soccer games on our Saturdays. I’m sorry that I can’t do that for you. It makes me feel like a bad Mom. I understand if you’re disappointed or angry. And it’s okay to talk to me about those feelings if you want to. If you don’t want to talk, maybe we can draw some pictures and you can show me. If you’d like, we can take your soccer ball to the park on Saturday, go to the pool, or do whatever you want to do.
I love you so very, very much. You are my miracle, always.