How do I control the behavior of my children in my ex's home?

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Answered by: Carrie, An Expert in the Children and Divorce Category
As mothers we find it hard to let our children leave our home bound for a place where the welfare, rules, and lifestyles are questionable--if not completely opposite of how we would have it in our homes. When it is a friend's house, we can easily control the time our child is allowed there and anytime it becomes increasing uncomfortable for us we can go and get them. However, when the home in question is that of your child's other biological parent, your control of the situation goes right out the door with your child.



A while ago I wrote a piece on Parallel Parenting and how the discovery of this term freed me from the ridicule and the constant berating that went along with being told I had to "Co-Parent." Many of you have made comments and observations on the topic--some agreeing and some disagreeing. Mainly I had questions asking my advice regarding how to deal with specific situations. Interestingly, among these questions I found there to be a common theme--how do I control the behavior of my children in my ex's home?

As the questions rolled in, I felt the need to answer each question as it related to the individual and their specific circumstances. However, over time I have decided that with so much concern over the same basic issue that this would be a great topic to discuss on its own--thus today's post. :)



Let me start by saying that every situation is different and when you are caught up in the moment of it, your problem feels as if it is bigger and more difficult than anything anyone else may have experienced. As with everything else in life, you have to gather your information, research your options and do what is best for YOU. I can share my opinions and thoughts and maybe give you a little food for thought, but you have to live your life, I don't.

Parallel parenting begins with detaching yourself from your ex when you realize that co-parenting is not working. With detachment comes a freedom but also a horrifying realization that you no longer have any control over what happens to your children when they are not in your care. Horrifying not in the sense of "OMG my child is going to be killed" but horrifying in way you feel completely out of control. Ironically whether you decide to co-parent or parallel parent with your ex, you can only control what you can control--meaning when your children are with you in your home, you can control what is happening. When they are in their other parents home, you may agree or disagree with what is happening but you have no control over it. Like it or not, that control now belongs to the other parent.

Just because you are the "biological" parent does not give you an ounce of right to speak into the other parents home, rules, lifestyle, decisions--you are divorced and now you have no right to speak into their lives, even in regards to your children.

I know this is so much easier said than done. When it comes to our children we want to protect them from every evil, ugly, bad thing out there. Sadly when it comes to divorces and joint custody or even just visitation, your ability to control and protect them from everything you do not like has been replaced with half-time/part-time control. Even when you can't stand their other parent and hate all of or just some of the things that happen when you child is when you, you cannot change or control that situation. You can only control your time.

Like it or not, they have another parent. And more likely than not, that parent is very different from you. Most likely they are not going to do things in the same manner or handle things the same way you would--you are after all divorced. So with that in mind, unless they are physically abusing your child or there is something so extreme happening (like the ex is strung out on drugs or passed out drunk all of the time) there is nothing you can do about the other issues that are taking place. Judges see so many truly awful situations with children where they are being beat and abused that yours and my concerns over actions, words, misleading, sharing, whatever it may be, is so minor in the scope of life that we are just instructed to parent the way we choose on our time. I know it seems extreme and unfair at times but it is reality. I have spent this past year helping out a good friend who is a family law attorney and you cannot imagine the amount of things I have seen. My eyes have been opened. The things in the past that I thought were such big issues pale in comparison to many of the truly sick and disgusting things I have witnessed in the family court system. These judges are faced with incredibly horrid situations with families and kids everyday--no wonder they don't have time for our "major" issues.

For me, accepting my loss of control over my children's lives when not in my care was really hard to grasp at first--they are after all my children. I wanted to be able to tell my ex when they should go to bed, when I thought he was making bad choices, when I thought they were in need of something, whenever I saw any issue, I wanted to tell him he was wrong and I wanted it done my way. I should be able to have a say in their lives at all times, I am after all their mom. WRONG!!!! When they are with their other parent, that other parent has control of all decisions and truthfully does not want my input. I get a say when they are in my custodial care and that is it, period.

It is tough. It really is. But the sooner you realize and accept your new reality the better it will be for both you and your child.

It took a while for me and my current husband to get to the point we are at now with being able to relinquish the control when the children are not with us and realize we cannot control the behavior of my children in my ex's home. But if I can encourage you to do anything, it would be to let it go. Honestly it creates so much more anger, frustration, resentment (pick the adjective and fill it in here) to constantly be wanting to monitor and control the situation with your children when they are not with you. And where does it get you? Nowhere, except maybe a visit to the doctor for the ulcer you have created. Yes, maybe once in a while your long emails and rants via text are heard and applied. But really most of your suggestions, wants, demands, are ignored anyway and you are the only one left feeling upset.

Like I said it took me a while to get there, but both my husband and I have come to terms with the fact that when the children are not with us, we cannot control their surroundings or happenings, so we let it go and wait until they return to us where we know everything is the way we feel it should be. When conversations are started by the children regarding things that have happened in their other homes, we either bite our tongues and don't say a word or we say "That is your dad's/mom's house and you must obey the rules for that house" and change the subject. At the same time, we always listen to the kids to hear what they have to say because one, we want them to share things with us and two, if there ever were a extreme issue, we would want/need to know about it.

Like I said when you are in the middle of it, it is so hard. And when your ex is doing things that you find so appalling and frustrating and wrong, you can't help but want to stop it. But you can't--so stop making it worse on yourself. Accept your new reality. Do the best you can with your children when they are in your care. Love them and don't do things to them while in your care just to get back at the ex. Ultimately, your children are the one who will pay, not the ex. Just like when your ex is doing things out of spite for you, you can see the effect on the children, which is why you want it to stop.

Look at it this way--if you were doing something you felt was completely appropriate and your ex was telling you how wrong you were and trying to tell you that it was not acceptable, would you want their input? Probably not. So when it is the reverse, take a breath, remember you can't control it and let it go.

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