Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Custody & Visitation: Kids Are People Too

Why does Mommy get all of the holidays?
"Because that's what the court papers say, babe."

Three years ago, when Maleficent lost custody she had written into the visitation stipulation that she be able to spend every school holiday with Cinderella.
Every one. From 11am to 5pm.
Until this year, it never posed that much of a problem. There were a few times when my plans had to be altered to make sure I was home for her pick up/drop off, but that's the way it goes. I made the compromise to adhere to what seemed to be in Cinderella's best interests.
This year, however, things are different.
Cinderella is getting older and finding her voice. She wants to participate in the decisions surrounding her days off.
Like expressing a wish to volunteer at a local farm to come on school holidays to care for their chickens.
Twice a day. Morning and evening.
Cinderella was especially excited to be part of this. (We always fantasize of the day when we own our own home that will be big enough to have chickens and horses and sheep! Oh my!)
There was just one problem. Chickens need to be tucked in at DUSK.
Dusk comes earlier now thanks to Daylight Savings. Right at the time Cinderella comes home from visiting Maleficent.
Not wanting to exclude her from his activity, and not really thinking it would be a problem, Prince Charming contacted Maleficent. We posed a COMPROMISE of allowing Cinderella to CHOOSE to stay home SOME holidays so she didn't miss out on this.
Maleficent outright refused and accused Prince Charming of making these plans to purposely spite her out of time with their daughter.
Step in the Rational One.
I contacted Maleficent to smooth things out a bit. Explain it was my doing and that I was unclear as to the actual wording of the court document and misunderstood that holidays were an absolute RIGHT and not an option open to compromise. (A concept that has historically proven lost on her.)
She changed her tune and seemed willing to work with me.
If you want ... can you and I keep in touch on this and then if you need me to bring Cinderella home early so she can go with you, I can do that. It's no problem.
GREAT! Right?
Monday morning, I realize tomorrow is Election Day. A school holiday. We need to be at the farm by 4:30. That's 30 minutes before the time Cinderella is supposed to be home.
I call Maleficent and leave her a voicemail, per our agreement. I asked her if she wanted to drop Cinderella off at home at 4pm (only an HOUR early) or just meet us at the farm at her regular drop off time of 5pm. I know from past experience that she responds better if she feels she has some control over the situation. So I gave her a CHOICE.
Still, I suspected that she would not like either.
And when I received the call from Prince Charming a few hours later I knew from his tone of voice that I was right.
If Maleficent was going to lose an hour with Cinderella because of this activity (which Cinderella WANTED TO DO) then Maleficent wanted to make up that time on another day.
In light of recent events, Cinderella does not want to spend extra time with her Mom. She is beginning to see her for who she really is. And she does not like it one bit.
Prince Charming could not consciously place his daughter into that situation.
Emails were sent. Accusations were flung at us.
Prince Charming and I spent ALL DAY Monday either in email with or talking about this woman.
Such a waste of a day and of our energy.
We put up a good fight on Cinderella's behalf. I apologized to Maleficent in an effort to smooth things over.
In the end, she chose NOT to bring Cinderella home and decided to communicate that THROUGH her daughter. Using her as the messenger to notify us that she had changed her mind from the earlier emails in which she agreed to the request for the early drop off.
We went to the farm without her.
And waited in the dark for her to be dropped off (and she was LATE, too).
Sooner or later Maleficent is going to have to realize that Cinderella is a person too.
That she is not a piece of property and has a RIGHT to CHOOSE what she does with her time. Cinderella sas a right to voice her opinion. And to be HEARD.
That's it not about what Maleficent wants.
Or about what Prince Charming or I want.
It's about Cinderella.


Anonymous said...

While I realize you have extenuating circumstances to this that make it more difficult to see the other side of it, M has less time with her daughter than your home and you are asking her to give up more of it.

As a non-residential mother, I would initially balk at the "request" too. No matter how you sugarcoat it, you are asking her to give up even more time with her daughter (where you and PC have the bulk) without compensating that loss under the heading "it's what Cinderella wants".

While I believe it is what Cinderella wants, if my ex or his wife approach me with that request instead of my daughter directly, I would take that to mean they have ulterior motives and speaking for a shared daughter to their advantage (and my disadvantage).

I know it seems selfish, and it is to a big degree, but imagine having a strained relationship with the father of your children and you are constantly on the losing end of time with your kids. Imagine the father or his now-wife asking you to limit your time further and speaking for your children...would you trust it?

I think Cinderella needs to strengthen her voice directly with her mother...not through the two of you.

Personally, when I talk to my daughter and she expresses her needs to me directly..I'm MUCH more amenable to compromising at a disadvantage than her using her father or his wife as an intermediary (rightfully don't trust them or their motives).

My daughter is pretty much the same age so I hear you on the need to listen to their voice. Thankfully, my daughter has a relationship with me where she knows she is heard and trusts I will compromise/sacrifice for her but I know (color me awful) if her father were the one asking, I'd have a much different response.

Food for thought.

Wicked Stepmom said...

Running Peripheral -

I agree with every one of your points. Despite our extenuating circumstances, I have always been able to empathize with Malfeficent and have argued in her defense on many occasions. I can only imagine the sadness a mother must feel when she loses custody of her only child. I know these past three years have been hard on her.

We look forward to the day when Cinderella finds the strength to speak up to her Mom and for when M is able to HEAR what she is saying. Your daughter is very lucky to have that kind of respect from you. But Cinderella needs us to back her up - for whenever she does speak to Maleficent, all she gets is grief, guilt and stress. The repercussions of such a conversations have hurt her deeply.

Yes, Maleficent is getting the short end of the stick. Unfortunately, that is her own doing for the mistakes she has made (and continues to make). If extra time with her Mom weren't so detrimental to Cinderella's emotional well-being the extra time would have happily been granted. Until recently, that time has almost always been compensated.

But right now, what Maleficent wants and what Cinderella needs are two completely different things. Maleficent's struggle with bipolar disorder prevents her from seeing that. We understand this and realize there is no rationalizing with her kind of madness.

We do have ulterior motives, and that is to protect Cinderella.


melaniet42 said...

What a bummer. I hope things work out for the best (for Cinderella's best). I find nothing more frustrating than spending excessive time (mine and my husband's) with the inevitable back and forth and back and forth with the ex over weekend plans and "special events". Luckily she's been pretty flexible and we work with her pretty well too, but my stepson will soon have his own voice as well, and hopefully we can all work together for his benefit.

Anonymous said...

I know you are looking out for Cinderella. That comes across loud and clear in your postings.

I'm presenting a potential perception she might be receiving and why she might renege on your agreement.

It appears a no-win situation if Cinderella isn't able to approach her mother and articulate what she needs from her to meet her needs. While I think the farmyard responsibility is something to encourage and foster, Cinderella needs to find the strength to express herself despite whatever emotional flak she gets from her mother...I'm not so sure if being an intermediary for her will help her with it but I trust her therapist is probably guiding your decisions.

Please know I wasn't criticizing but trying to offer help considering I know how receptive I am to certain request depending on who is asking...thought perhaps M had some of the same wiring, obviously not.

Wicked Stepmom said...

Running -

I completely appreciate your insight and constructive comments. In no way did I take them as criticism. :)

FWIW, I do think you are right - Cinderella will never learn how to stand up to her Mom if she never has to. We're trying to give her gentle nudges in that direction... and feedback like yours helps to give us the nudges we need.

So... thank you. :)

Desiree said...

Hi! I came across your blog on google reader suggestions. While I had to agree somewhat with what Running Peripheral said, in that when you ask the parent with significantly less time to give up that time, whether it be an hour or a day, it is very hard on that parent.

My step-daughter lives with her mom and has weekend visitations with her dad (and me and her [half] sister). I know it is very hard on my husband whenever her mom asks him to give up time for whatever reason. At the same time, he doesn't want to say no because then he would be hurting his daughter. So that part I agree with, it is hard.

On the other hand, I 100% agree with you when you said that the children are NOT property and should have the right to voice their opinions and wishes. My step-daughter's mom, in my opinion, does treat her daughter as property. Maybe not all the time, but enough where it becomes a problem.

My step-daughter is now at the age (10 yrs) where she has made comments about where she wants to be, who she wants to be with, and what makes her happy/unhappy, but all her words seems to get wasted on her mother. In her eyes, and again, in my opinion, her mother sees her daughter as hers.

It is truly sad and unfortunate what some kids have to go through because one parent or both can't let go long enough to see that their child is an actual human being, with a voice and rights. And shouldn't be used as a weapon or a tool to get their way or to hurt the other parent.

Just my two cents.

Anonymous said...

A non-custodial parent causing that much drama over one hour of parenting time, is extreme.

Seriously, M couldn't give up one hour to ensure that Cinderella got to do something she really wanted to do ?!

It's sad to hear about how selfish some parents are.

I'm sorry Cinderella doesn't have a mother that puts her feelings or wants, first. The fact that Cinderella doesn't feel comfortable enough to share her feelings with her mom speaks volumes about how uncomfortable and emotionally unsafe Cinderella must feel around M.

Should a parent always give the child(ren) what they want, make allowances, etc...of course not, that would be unreasonable, and that would fall under the disneyland parenting that so many non-custodial parents do to buddy up to their child(ren).

However, in this one instance, it only involved giving up one hour of parenting time, and M could have shown up one hour early and met you at the farm, and M could have stayed and enjoyed seeing Cinderella feeding the farm animals, etc...

Maybe at some point M will grow up, and realize the world does not revolve around her.

Anonymous said...

I am the child of divorced parents. My parents spent the first 15 years of my life haggling over custody arrangements in court. My mother was very good at keeping her opinions and thoughts on the matter to herself, she never once attempted to influence any opinion I had of my father. Any decisions I made regarding my father were mine, and mine alone, based on what I saw and experienced when I was with him. I'm sure this was difficult for her, as it is for you, and I applaud you for putting Cinderella's needs first.

My father was diagnosed by several court ordered psychiatric evaluations to be paranoid and delusional. I didn't understand all of this until I was much older, but age 12 is when I started making my own decisions about which parent I wanted to trust and rely on. I severed my relationship with my father completely, and while I regret that on some levels, it was necessary. Unfortunately he passed away before either of us made an attempt at repair. If anyone can understand the position Cinderella, and you, are in, its me. Speaking from experience, it's extremely hard for a child to find their voice when one parent is mentally incapable of understanding that the child's voice is really their voice, not the manipulation of the custodial parent.

However, she will find her voice, and she will learn to speak for herself. She will stand up for herself and she will learn to implement her own decisions, regardless of the guilt or nagging of her mother. Don't stop supporting her wishes and helping her out, knowing that she has one set of parents who have her best interests at heart will make all the difference! When you are a kid in this situation its very important to know you have a safe place to land.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I have this same issue but it is with my son's father. He has used to have him every other weekend and then on school holiday. x-mas eve, and every other thanksgiving. Now my son is 15 has friends and other thing he wants to do. My son at 13 asked me to go back to court to change his visitation with his father so they could be more flexible. His father never understood give a little get a little. So we went to court it was ugly my ex accused me of turning his son against him; I said that I enjoyed my time being able to be me and not having to worry about my son for a couple of days...long story short as your step daughter get older and starts to express her wants, just go back to court without a lawyer and tell the judge if they do not believe you to meet with your step-daughter before he/she makes their decision - it worked for me and my son is so much happier - sometimes he even spends two weekends in a row at his dads now that he has choices! Hope this helps!

Meesha said...

"she is not a piece of property and has a RIGHT to CHOOSE what she does with her time. Cinderella sas a right to voice her opinion. And to be HEARD."

So true! Maybe the therapist can help Cinderella work through how to better speak to her mother(?)

I admire the strentgh with which you're handling the situation.

Caribel Renee said...

I agree that Cinderella needs to be able to make her own choices, but at the same time Bio Mom should have the time agreed on by the courts. She should also be willing to give that up for her daughters sake.

That said I am the pseudo mom to 2 boys and their mother barely wants to see them and there is no real vistitation set up so she emails once a monthand says she wants to see them and we allow it. It is hard on them her seeing them so infrequently (in fact I don't know whether it would be better for her to leave all together.

So I totally understand your surcumstances but at lease Cinderella knows that both you and her Bio Mom want her around. The boys went through a lot of issues when they started realising that their mother wasn't showing up much.

She actually pretends to care like saying thing like "I am worried about their hygien, they were really dirty last time I saw them". GRRRRRR (she was 3 hours late and yes (gasp) we let them go outside and play! :)

Do what you feel is best, as long as you are fair that is all you need to be.

Justagirl said...

Amen about Cinderella's voice. We speak to my stepson about his "Voice" all the time. He's nine and realizing that he has a voice now too.