Now is Good.

Just because life hands you lemons doesn't mean you have to suck.

She Said/She Said, Part 1. February 1, 2011

Filed under: Balance,Dads,Dating,divorce — nowisgoodblog @ 7:44 am
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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.


21 Responses to “She Said/She Said, Part 1.”

  1. jennifer Says:

    Great blog! I love the guest blogging and this is a great refresher on Turf,Trust and The Bigger Picture for so many of our relationships.

    • Jen–so true. Seeing a situation from someone else’s perspective … perhaps especially when it’s from an uninvolved third party’s perspective … can be a helpful thing to do in any situation.

  2. ChopperPapa Says:

    I left a post on DE that’s a bit to lengthy to repeat here. It did however mirror, in many ways, the feedback here.

  3. Julie Says:

    I think I’m agreeing with Meredith here. I’ve read both her and Tara’s posts, and I think what it comes down to is the definition of “emergency” as Tara pointed out. The situations described above and by Tara on Meredith’s site are not truly emergencies that an experienced babysitter would be contacting anyone via phone – vomiting on the couch is unfortunate, but this particular babysitter would probably clean it up and then report the incident once someone came home. It would not warrant a phone call to anyone to cut short their plans and rush home. Same thing with a skinned knee, or a cut finger. An emergency means just that – an emergency warranting a trip to the emergency room, an immediate visit to the doctor, a phone call to poison control, a phone call to the police. And in any of those situations, the father needs to be called first because he is the custodial parent on duty, and then the mother needs to be called because she is one of the legal guardians of that child. The girlfriend – regardless of her feelings for the children, or her involvement in the parenting of them while they are with their father – is not a part of the equation. She does not have the authority to make medical or legal decisions for the children. I think if NEITHER parent were available, she would be a great third option until one of them did become available. She is someone who (hopefully) cares about the kids, who has their best interests at heart, and someone who can be relied upon. But she is not their parent. And in a true emergency that would actually warrant a phone call….it needs to be the parents who are called first. Knowing what little I know about Meredith’s particular situation, it seems like her ex does not really think that far ahead to what is a “true” emergency, and handing the babysitter (whom he knows is shared with Meredith) the girlfriend’s phone number as the emergency contact and not Meredith’s is a passive aggressive way of him communicating again that the girlfriend is a Very Important Person. And I think this is a situation unique to Meredith and her ex and his girlfriend and not at all typical of how most men behave post-divorce who are in relationships. Meredith’s particular ex seems to have the need – or his girlfriend does – to establish legitimacy. So I think that’s what this situation is about, and I can completely understand Meredith’s reaction to it. I think it’s exactly the reaction her ex wanted her to have. (And again, I’m commenting about Meredith’s ex, not any other divorced father out there who is currently in a new or established relationship, I’m not commenting on Tara or her boyfriend or her relationship with his children.)

    • Julie–I agree. If The Ex wants The Girlfriend to be the first one to know that the kids spilled juice on the rug or broke The Girlfriend’s perfume bottle or violated one of their household rules or any other scenario that can and should be handled within that household, that’s fine. But if it’s a real “emergency” requiring legal or medical attention, I’m the one with the superior right to know and act. And you’re right that in this particular situation, the babysitter has kept our kids for quite some time and would not be bothering any of the adults in the situation with calls about a skinned knee or a broken vase or running out of milk/diapers/whatever, so the odds of her making any kind of “emergency” call to someone are more likely to be the type of situation when I would need to be notified instead of The Girlfriend (or at least as well as The Girlfriend). I think there’s a gray area with the vomiting-on-the-sofa scenario. Yes, The Girlfriend has a superior right to know about her sofa, but I have a superior right to know about my child (or without question, at least an equal right to know). A sick child is a sick child, and I think that takes precedence over anyone’s need to mark territory or make a statement about their romantic relationships. If the sick child is my child, I want to know about it.

      • That couch comment does sound a bit petty, doesn’t it? I’m sorry about that.

        A better way to look at the situation would be to ask: if Dad was home when the sickness occurred, would he normally call you immediately? Or would he wait until it’s time to exchange and then let you know that there were some stomach issues.

        In our case, I’d view vomiting as something a babysitter should be relieved from dealing with… but it’s not necessarily something that Boyfriend would tell his ex about right away. We’ve dealt with several 1-day stomach bugs and, unless the illness continues into Mom’s time with the kids, Boyfriend doesn’t tell her until he gives her the rundown of what she needs to know at the dropoff time.

      • Generally, The Ex and I *do* let each other know immediately when one of the kids gets sick, particularly when the sickness is of the stomach variety. The Ex handles it when the kids are with him, and I sincerely appreciate that he is able and willing to do that and the kids are relatively comfortable with him being the caretaker at those times. I think we do a quick communication on that info to say: (1) heads up—the virus may be incubating with you, as the parent that the children most recently spent time with and may have shared germs; and also (2) heads up—I’m going to handle this unless all three kids and I become deathly ill within the next 12 hours, in which case I may need back-up. That’s generally how it’s handled, so perhaps that is why I’d expect to be notified. In any event, there have been some great perspectives and some viewpoints I hadn’t considered!

  4. Anonymous Says:

    I’m wondering if there is anything The Girlfriend could do or say that would make you believe that she cares about your kids or that would make you less hostile toward her?

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Apologies. I am reading your blog in reverse chronological order (linked from The Divorce Encouragist) and just realized that The Girlfriend was The Other Woman before she was The Girlfriend. So now I understand.

    The reason I asked before is that after five years, during which time I have demonstrated in every way possible that I care deeply about my SD (15) and SS (20) and about doing the right thing for them in any situation, their mom continues to speak about me to everyone (small town) and to the “kids” as though I am evil incarnate. But she refuses to talk to me at all, even to respond to my “hello” when we run into each other in public. (She will readily send my fiancé nasty emails about me, though.)

    She left him. Well before we met. So I am just trying to understand what it is about me that she hates so much and whether I can do anything about it.


    • I don’t envy your situation. From what I can tell, DE’s circumstances are similar. Kudos to those of you who undertake the stepparent role—there can’t be much that is easy about it.

      But the point in time at which the significant other enters the familial relationship *does* make a huge difference in the benefit of the doubt that can be given to the new person, at least for me. I truly believe that if, in my situation, The Girlfriend had come onto the scene after the fact, instead of while I was pregnant with our youngest child (and continued on the scene for quite some time before our divorce), that I would feel very differently about her. It *does* seem as though she cares for our children, and to my knowledge she has never done anything directly hurtful to them. I am grateful for that, but I also view it with some amount of suspicion.

      Given our history, my image of her is (and may always be) one of a manipulative and amoral young woman who goes after what she wants, regardless of who is hurt in the process or of what is “right.” I believe she wants to marry The Ex, even though he has said he doesn’t want to remarry. I believe she wants her own biological children, even though he has said he doesn’t want more children. I can’t shake the feeling that anything and everything she does is part of a master plan to prove to The Ex that she is wife material and mama material for his future babies. Paranoid? Maybe, or even probably. But I certainly don’t trust him or her.

      Personally, it’s not that my ex has A girlfriend involved in the lives of my children … it’s that he has THIS girlfriend. This girlfriend who has already stolen so much of my life, who has never shown an ounce of regret for the pain she has caused other people, who seems so smug about the position of import she has wedged herself into. I don’t think that’s you, based on the description you provided, and I don’t think that’s DE. But I do think that if you enter into an affair with a married man who has two young children and a pregnant wife at home, at a time when you yourself are married to someone else, you can’t expect to be welcomed with open arms or be seen as much other than “evil incarnate.” I’m trying to get past that and get to a point where I can simply appreciate the fact that she *seems* to be good to my children … but it’s a long, tough road.

    • Anonymous,

      I know what you mean.  I wasn’t the reason for the breakup of my boyfriend’s marriage (the accusation has been made).  However, my presence served as proof that a reconciliation was unlikely and I think that hurt his ex on a subconscious level.  When I put on my empathetic hat, that’s how I can explain it.  Married people are strongly bonded regardless how long the marriage lasted or how bad it was… they represent a sense of security for each other.  In the mind of the ex wife, I robbed her (and her children) of that security.  Her animosity is a primal reaction… as humans, we’re still learning to use our brains to override our biology.  (that’s just my theory)

      In my case, the situation has improved since his ex remarried, but the hateful vibe is still present.  

      • I think you’ve probably hit the nail on the head, here, Tara. Very astute. Thinking of an ex spouse with whom you’ve shared a long history and with whom you’ve had children as a security blanket is probably fairly apt. You want that ex spouse to always have some sort of feeling for you, for the relationship to have some sort of gravitas—because otherwise, it seems like none of it was worth it. Like you just wasted a truckload of time and emotion on something unworthy. When an ex spouse clearly moves on, there is a threat to that security and the response likely *is* primal. Hopefully recognizing that emotion for what it is will pave the way toward using our brains to override that biology.

  6. Lori Says:

    I am in the same position as Meredith, an other woman came on the scene while I was pregnant. In my case she is almost too old to have her own biological children so I believe she view my children as all of the “fun” with none of the “reality”. So in that way I don’t want a call when the children are sick (other than informing) because my ex and gf will readily take that opportunity to put the tougher parts of parenting back on me. I have had to establish boundaries several times about getting my own time (he has them on 24 hour period a week).

    Of course, in a true emergency, I would expect to be called. And I’m guessing my ex would do this because he’s not a decision maker.

    And yes, it’s THIS girlfriend. I am extremely envious of people who’s marriages ended, the family unit had time to grieve, and *THEN* other people came into the picture.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    This is helpful. I certainly understand that when (and how) a new partner arrives matters.

    I guess that in our situation that although in reality I arrived at an acceptable time (after she left and hired a lawyer), in her reality I arrived too early (before she was ready for it to happen).  

    Of course, she was already dating someone (whose later proposal she rejected) when I met my fiancé, but that’s another story; just because she was dating doesn’t mean she was ready for her former husband to be doing it. 


  8. Julie Says:

    For me, my experience was different. Neither of us cheated, both of us wanted out of the marriage and demonstrated it in different ways. But before he had even moved out, my ex had a profile up on a popular dating website and was going out on coffee and drinks dates while I was at home taking care of our two children. He met his now-fiance one month after moving out, introduced her to our oldest son (and probably youngest son too though he was too young to report) 3 months after moving out (despite a verbal agreement with me to wait at least 6 months after announcing to our kids the divorce before introducing significant others to them). He then proceeded to maintain an off-again/on-again relationship with her….involving our children during the on-again phases. Last fall they were going to move in together. Then a huge fight, a break up and the whole thing got called off (dragging my children through the anxiety of the imminent move and then the subsequent change of plans). Then they got back together and a mere 4 months later they are engaged.

    It’s hard for me to take this relationship seriously because of the sheer desperation shown by the both of them to partner up so quickly. What is an “appropriate” amount of time? I’m not sure I know the answer to that question. I am still healing and learning and reflecting on my very unhealthy marriage and why I chose it, and what I contributed to its demise….I have seen no growth or reflection on his end. Only a desire to demonstrate his desirability (and willingness to settle) to another woman. I have met her. I like her. She likes my kids. My kids like her. All of this is good. However, I have significant doubts about the durability of that relationship, as well as its impact on my children when/if it fails. I have significant doubts about her decision-making considering she has an 8 year old at home who has been witness to her bringing this guy into her home and her bed on a nearly nightly basis. If they were officially living together in a committed relationship, I think that would be okay. But the on-again/off-again nature of it causes me some serious doubt. I think I would be able to get behind his new relationship (and marriage) if I had more confidence that he had actually learned something from our marriage and our divorce, had he picked someone who was able to set some appropriate boundaries for her own home and children, and had they been in a relationship that was solid and steady instead of up and down for the past year. I say all of this Anonymous, because I think your situation is unfair to you. I am sorry that you have done the appropriate thing, and still seem to get slammed simply for your existence. I really admire people who step into the step parent role because it really is a thankless job. Know that it has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with your bf’s ex and her inability to move on. I would love it if my ex were in a healthy relationship with someone I could also collaborate with. I think how long it takes before a person jumps into another serious relationship makes a huge difference, but I have no idea how long “appropriate” might be.

  9. […] pertaining to their children.  Given her reaction, I still don’t think I’d change much about my own- except to remove my comment about the couch, which was poorly executed due to my own unstated […]

  10. […] 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 […]

  11. […] Campbell, founder and host of The D Spot website and blog.  For about an hour, we talked about the She Said/She Said project, our differing opinions about but similar goals for attaining peaceful post-divorce […]

  12. […] 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 […]

  13. […] pertaining to their children.  Given her reaction, I still don’t think I’d change much about my own- except to remove my comment about the couch, which was poorly executed due to my own unstated […]

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