One of the things that has helped me most over the past 18 months has been hearing about other people’s good divorces. Divorce is never easy and it’s never fun, but there are varying degrees of how much impact (both negative and positive) it can have on your life. I regularly read a blog called Relative Evolutions (née The Divorce Encouragist) to be reminded of the good things that can come out of a divorce and of the ways in which I can make my own divorced situation better and easier for all involved. Tara, the blog’s author, is a happily divorced woman who shares her life with her boyfriend and his two sons from his prior marriage. Tara is A Girlfriend (not to be confused with The Girlfriend) helping care for her partner’s biological children. As such, her perspective of the co-parenting relationship often differs from mine. I’ve benefited from that different perspective in my attempt to gain objectivity in evaluating problems that arise with The Ex and The Girlfriend. It has been helpful for me to see a situation through her eyes in a way that is not personally threatening to me. Toward that end, she’s going to guest post here on several occasions throughout February and I will guest post on her blog, each of us providing a different take on a given Divorced With Kids/Co-Parenting/Significant Other scenario. The first such post appears below. Please feel free to share your thoughts in either space ….
Scenario: Dad left the kids with a babysitter at his residence and provided The Girlfriend, instead of Mom, as an emergency contact.
I think I understand why Dad did this. It has to do with turf, trust and lack of A Bigger Picture.
Turf: This isn’t about replacing Mom, it’s about differentiating between households. When the kids are with Dad, they are on his turf, in his care and he’s the responsible party. Not Mom. Therefore, when it comes to emergency contacts, Dad is going to list people from his camp. Furthermore, he doesn’t want to be in a position of vulnerability should Mom find out that something went wrong on his watch.
In my case, Boyfriend and I live together. If a child vomits on my couch, I feel entitled to know about the incident before the ex wife.
Trust: Dad loves and trusts his girlfriend. At this point in their relationship, he considers her to be part of his family. And he’s making the statement in a big way. This action sends a message to everyone that Dad and Girlfriend represent and official partnership.
When it comes to stepfamilies, Ron Deal suggests that a biological parent “trust the stepparent’s heart”. A parent and stepparent might disagree on issues where the kids are concerned, but that doesn’t mean the stepparent doesn’t care. I think this advice applies in this scenario too… Mom should trust Dad’s heart and know that he loves his kids and would not intentionally put them in harm’s way. His family is evolving and it’s a big change for everyone.
Lack of A Bigger Picture: It’s appropriate that Dad feels responsible enough to handle his turf on his own terms. And it’s nice that he trusts his girlfriend to replace a babysitter if necessary. But what if the emergency involves legal or medical professionals? Dad might not be thinking about such severe instances. If he was, he’d likely realize that there might come a time when it’s necessary to notify Mom. (The dad I’m most familiar with doesn’t worry much. His mind doesn’t constantly conjure up suggestions of What Might Go Wrong. Lucky him!) There are some things that girlfriends aren’t qualified to deal with… nor do they want to.
As a girlfriend, I’ve sat with sick kids. I’ve cleaned up various bodily fluids at all hours of the day/night. I’ve washed and bandaged wounds, administered medication, settled fights and tended to broken objects. To date, I’ve successfully completed such tasks without the intervention of an Official Parent. I’m pretty sure Boyfriend’s ex believes that I should be disqualified from such activities because I haven’t incubated little people inside my abdomen. Quite frankly, she’s wrong.
That being said, there’s a big difference between cutting a finger and cutting a finger off. Sometimes, issues arise when it’s necessary for Mom and Dad to work together and secondary authority figures need to take a back seat.
Ultimately, my personal preference for this scenario is that the babysitter would have the contact information for Dad, Girlfriend and Mom. I think a good guideline for emergencies might be to ask the question: Can the problem be solved within the confines of the home? If so, call Dad and/or Girlfriend. If not, call Dad and/or Mom.