In divorces where there are minor children, custody is often the most contentious issue. With her alcoholism, Debbi’s ex could easily have been seeking full-custody and restricting her access. Fortunately for Debbi that’s not how it was. Here’s Debbi:
I wasn’t concerned about custody, only because I knew what my ex’s relationship was with his previous children, he was very much hands-off. When I married him, his kids were teenagers and he didn’t hang around them that much and didn’t have them over that much. I didn’t think about it at the time because I was twenty-six years old and I wasn’t thinking about being a mother at that point.
When we started down the divorce path I was pretty certain I was just not going to have to worry about custody issues. It was one of the things that was first addressed, and he basically said, “I want you to have full custody because I’m going to move and start a new life.” And then the conversation was over.
I work with women who have lost their children because of their alcoholism and they’re fighting to get custody back, or even visitation rights. That’s not uncommon for anybody.
I am so blessed of the situation that I was in that I did not have to deal with that at all.
My ex moved out of state for four years and then he decided his geographic change didn’t work, and he wanted to spend time with his daughter. At that time she was eight years old, and he wanted to start visitation. I was four years sober and I can tell you I had a huge resentment about him wanting to get back into our lives, but obviously he had a legal right to it. It turns out it was a blessing on many different fronts.
Number one, since I had no family in the area, I was with my daughter 24/7, and very rarely did I get a babysitter just to go out and have a me-only night, so finally I was getting some release from being a full-time, dedicated mother with no breaks. He was taking her every other weekend. Even to this day, he’s still in the area, he lives far enough away that he takes her two nights a month on the weekends, and that’s it.
He really is not part of our lives on a daily basis which I see as a blessing, because he still has things in his life he’s working through. My daughter spends just enough time with him, because there are still his anger issues, and she’s aware of it, but she doesn’t have to live it day in, day out the way I did and the way his kids from his first marriage did. That is a blessing, and she does have a father who is somewhat involved in her life even though he’s very distant, but it’s the only relationship she’s ever known with him.
What we have today works. Through my sobriety I learned to come to terms with my part in the downfall of our marriage, obviously my alcoholism, but there’s a lot of my personality, things I needed to change about myself and how I dealt with things, that I also came to terms with. I was able to turn to him and apologize for the way that I behaved, and that’s set up a foundation for an incredible relationship that him and I have with our daughter today.
My daughter’s a dancer. He and I can go to a dance recital and sit next to each other with our significant others. We can sit at an event all night long and go out to dinner afterwards and be there to celebrate our daughter, and that is huge. There’s so many fights going on with people with children where the spouses can’t even tolerate talking to each other on the phone, let alone going to an event together, let alone sitting there and “oh, want to go out to dinner?” “Sure let’s go out to dinner.”
Us being able to put aside our differences shows her that regardless of what happens in your life, you can still coexist, you can still forgive. You can part ways, and you don’t have to part ways as enemies.
She knows that mom and dad will never be married again, but she also knows that mom and dad have a friendship.
The one thing that I didn’t want going into the divorce , was to get to that day down the road where my daughter’s planning her wedding and going, “OK, I’ve got to have mom sit on this side of the room and dad on that side of the room and all their friends have to be divided out so WWIII doesn’t break out during the reception.” That’s what I didn’t want. Or this schedule that needs to be put up as far as “when you can come visit the grandchild.”
Life is not meant to be that way. Even early in my sobriety, I knew I had to treat everything like a business when I dealt with my ex, and to this day, it is all business. We don’t drag emotional stuff into it, and we don’t take each other’s inventory about the old stuff.
We focus on our daughter, she is our priority, and what happened with us is secondary. Both of us have been able to function that way, and my daughter’s been able to flourish. It is wonderful to know that I can pick up the phone and talk to him about something if I need to but we’re not close. I don’t want to make it seem like we’re buddies. We’re not friends. We’re more acquaintances, but we will always be the parents of our daughter and we can operate in that mode and we do.
I have a deep appreciation for the job that Debbi has done here, in accepting her ex’s wish to be part of his daughter’s life again and in being able to work with her ex, attending her daughter’s functions. If you can do it, sitting together makes a huge difference to your child. Why? Well, imagine after the performance, your excited child comes barreling out from back stage and sees you, and then sees your ex on the other side of the room. She has to make a choice and she’s probably wondering if she chooses you over her dad, will he get upset or vice versa? How much simpler and stress-free it would be if you could just sit together. Oh, and don’t get into a competition over congratulatory bouquets – one between the two of you will say so much more than two separate bouquets, She doesn’t need to know whose idea it was, who bought it or who paid for it. She just needs to know you’re both proud of her.
Does your child have performances coming up in the next month? Will you and your STBX sit together?
Debbi Dickinson is a personal coach who writes at Stepping Into Joy inspiring professional women the importance of self-care and balance. Debbi also creates audio and video programs and hosts telesummits focused on topics professional women deal with today.
Photo Credit: 2012© Since My Divorce