Relationship Connection: My ex is playing games with his visitation

Question

I’m a single mom and have been divorced for two years. I share custody with my ex-husband and he takes the kids for visits at different times throughout the month. Although we have a schedule, he is completely inconsiderate of my work schedule and the kid’s schedule. In other words, he only wants to be flexible when it benefits him but not when we need some flexibility. So, sometimes he’ll call and say that he’s early and wants to get the kids, even though I don’t have them packed yet. He’ll accuse me of being a bad mom and not having the kids ready to see their dad. He’ll send them home missing clothes and then I have to buy them more clothes to replace them.

I don’t want to put my kids in the middle of this, but I feel like I need to stand up to him when he’s so rude and disrespectful to me. I want to know if there is anything I can do to get more cooperation out of him without making things worse for the kids.

Answer

You can’t let your ex-husband steal your peace. Even though this is completely frustrating and aggravating, you can establish rules for yourself about how you’ll respond to his childish behaviors.

Think about what he may be getting out of these behaviors. Does he get a reaction out of you that he likes? Does engaging you do something for him? The best way to end a tug-of-war is to drop the rope instead of pulling harder. You don’t need to engage with him to make him stop.

You can spend lots of energy and money taking him back to court to tighten up the rules about visitation. I think it’s safe to say that he’ll find new ways to annoy you if that’s his goal. Instead, focus on your responses so you’re not becoming someone you don’t like.

When he shows up early and demands the kids, there is nothing wrong with reminding him that his visitation begins at the designated time. Keep on schedule so the kids know what to expect.

Additionally, if clothes don’t come back, think about how the best version of you would respond. Perhaps you’d simply say, “Will you please remember to return all of the kids clothes or replace the ones that come up missing?” Granted, he may never spend a penny on extra clothes, but you can continue to set the expectation.

I don’t recommend you spending extra time complaining to family and friends about his behavior. This will only keep him front and center in your mind and steal your peace. If you need to talk with a counselor to help you respond in healthy ways, then that’s a great use of your time and energy. If you’re handling things with him directly and clearly, then there really isn’t much to talk about with others.

Your peace is the most important thing you can give your children in the wake of your divorce. They need to know they have a stable foundation. You don’t have to suppress frustration and irritation. Let those frustrations teach you where you are crossing your own boundaries and make adjustments so you don’t lose your bearings. As Wally Goddard often says, “Irritation is an invitation.” I would only add that the invitation is for you to understand your own reactions and how you can best maintain a balanced and calm environment for your children even though the storm of your ex-husband blow through every so often.

Stay connected!

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Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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6 Comments

  • K January 29, 2014 at 10:03 am

    Share custody? Really? You obviously divorced him for a reason, maybe he isn’t very organized, not very good at time management, looses kids clothes and shoes? The thing is he is your children’s parent just as equally as you, your kids have the right to be in his life just as much as your life regardless of what kind of parent he is or you are( your obviously on the controlling side,& just upset that you don’t have all the control) well, you should be happy that he is making initiative to pick up the kids who cares if it’s early…work it out, two separate households if rough to adjust to for all family’s but the kids are number one, regardless, I wish parents would quit thinking about them selfs and open up their eyes to that TIME is the most important part of a kids life. Schedules, material things, court made timelines, really? Can’t take any of that with you to the other side and children are only children once, can’t replace that either!!! To the single mom that wrote this letter, for your kids sake break down your walls and just go with the flow…

  • Control January 29, 2014 at 10:09 am

    She sounds like a control freak, not him. She wants rigidity with him but flexibility with herself. She needs to realize they are divorced and let him live his own life instead of trying to dictate his schedule and control him. She sounds like someone carrying a lot of baggage. I think any prospective male Beau would be smart to stay clear of her.

  • Get Real! January 29, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    Sheesh, what a couple of lame responses here! I feel for this mother. What she needs to do is find a hit man to take care of this SOB permanently!

  • Nonbeliever January 29, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    K and Control I have some points to consider.
    This woman most likely needs to keep her job and the insurance.
    If she has to continually leave work early or ask for schedule changes too often to accommodate the ex what do you think will happen?
    Do you suppose she might be fired? Miss out on a raise that could be vital to this families security?
    Children’s clothing is expensive. They grow so quickly that it must be replaced often. I imagine it’s very frustrating to have to plead to have it returned and purchase more to replace the needed items.
    Children do thrive on consistency. Stress and anxiety increase when they can’t count on anything, confusion and frustration arise when they do not know what to expect and when.
    The ex husband needs to show a little responsibility and respect to his former wife and his children.
    Being on time and consistent with visitation is one easy way to show both responsibility and respect.
    Far too often I have seen the disgruntled ex play little games to “get back at” the other party. In this case its difficult to know if the ex husband is being spiteful or if he is just can’t be bothered to follow the schedule or keep track of the clothing.
    Either way he needs to grow up and get his big boy pants on. He is a father and he has responsibilities to his children.
    If nothing else he can just be a good example to his children by being on time, considerate and mature.

  • KanabCowgirl January 29, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    K & Control please excuse me but, what the he…? How can u say this lady is a control freak? I have an ex a lot like hers. The lady’s ex is obviously (IMHO) the control freak.
    When I divorced my ex we had clear visitation rules set by the courts. Even then he and his dad went out of their way to deny me my visitation. He was a real piece.
    The ex in this story should be working towards making his children’s lives as happy as possible not jerking them around
    Ed. ellipsis.

    • Control January 30, 2014 at 9:07 am

      Knew of a divorced couple where the guy bought nice clothes to have at home for the kid’s visitation. Whenever the ex-wife would go into the house, she’d raid the kid’s room and take the nice clothes with her. I bet it gets confusing in St George where these people get married and divorced on a regular and frequent basis and produce a bunch of kids in each of those marriages. How do they determine which clothes belong to which kid produced with which ex?

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