Friday, December 21, 2007

My Child and My Ex-Husband

Today is a tough day for me, as is any day when my ex-husband has my daughter for the day.

My ex doesn't see my daughter much. When we were married, he was a very hands-off parent...he never wanted to be alone with Grace, he never bathed her, he rarely fed her, and I got the impression that he would have been much happier watching a Law and Order marathon than spend some good quality time with Grace. This was a large part of the reason I decided to leave him. He was a crappy dad, pure and simple, and I was not about to put my child through a lifetime of that.

Right after my ex and I split up, he saw Grace a couple of times a week. The visits were short and most of them were spent with me coaching my ex on what to do (and not to do) with Grace. "No, it's not ok to plunk her in front of the TV for hours." "No, you can't feed her McDonald's at every meal." "You should probably get some healthy snacks in your apartment." "Try to engage her in conversation--read her a book." "Wet diapers must be changed immediately so she doesn't get a rash." It was enough to drive me out of my wits, but I had to do it for Grace's sake.

His visits became less and less frequent, and then I eventually stopped calling him to try and initiate a visit. Visits went from twice a week to weekly, then a couple times a month, and now we are averaging about once every six weeks or so. He was also supposed to call Grace every Monday night to chat with her, even though he thought that was pointless. Those calls stopped months ago.

Ok, I need to stop here and vent. If you TRULY cared about your child, wouldn't you want to see him or her frequently? Wouldn't you at least flipping CALL every now and then to check in on your child? Wouldn't you have a vested interest in her school, her health, her moods, her daily life? Do you care that you are potentially damaging your child's self esteem by showing her that one of her parents doesn't have the time to even place a five minute call once a week check in on her? And, I'm sorry, but you don't go from being a sad excuse for a parent to parent of the year because you take a four-hour parenting course. It doesn't work that way.

But I digress...

So, a couple of weeks ago, my ex called me and told me that his mom wanted to see Grace around Christmastime. (Oh yeah, the only time he wants to see Grace is when his mother initiates a visit.) My stomach dropped when I received this call. Yes, legally he has the right to see Grace when he wants to. But, the past several times he has taken her for the day, Grace has come home looking DRAINED. She has told me a couple of times that she doesn't want Daddy to pick her up. Last visit, he took Grace to the Children's Museum here in Milwaukee, and something there scared her so much that even mentioning the idea of going to a museum to Grace sends her into a panic. Aaron and I made the mistake of taking her to a museum recently to tour a space for our wedding reception, and when we told her we were in a museum, she threw a huge tantrum. Shaking from head to foot--she was terrified. It took at least a half hour to convince her this was not the museum she went to with Daddy and that she didn't have to be afraid.

And what did my ex say when I confronted him about this? He blew it off and said he had no idea why she would be acting that way. Yeah freaking right. Are you that clueless, or are you just a liar?

So, naturally, when visit time with my ex comes, I turn into a basket case. I don't sleep for a week before the visit, and I am useless the day of the visit. Becoming a mom has opened up a whole slew of new emotions I never knew I had, and one of the rawest and most powerful of those emotions is the fear of something bad happening to your child. I have no control over what happens at these visits, and if my ex was at least halfway responsible, I would feel better about things. But, he's not, so I don't. And, the worst of it is, I know he will not be honest with me about what happens during a visit. Things could have gone horribly but he will go on and on about how much fun Grace had and how much he adores her. So, I have to rely on a three-year-old to give me the facts, and that is not a position I want to put my daughter in.

The other thing that gets to me is that he loves to play the role of the doting father at these visits. He gives her gifts. He takes her to do fun stuff. He doesn't discipline her. THIS ISN'T PARENTING! This is a glorified version of babysitting in which the child has free reign and gets whatever she wants.

I do the best I can to prepare Grace for these visits. A few days ago, I started to tell Grace that Daddy would be coming to pick her up for a visit this week and that it would be lots of fun. I told her that Grandma has Christmas gifts for her and that she'd get to open them at the visit. I told her that Aarie and I would be there to pick her up before bedtime. She understood what I was saying and even seemed a little excited about the visit so I tried to convey nothing but positive messages to her so she wouldn't go into it feeling apprehensive. Then, I laid awake every night this week dreading today. Part of being a parent is sometimes, for your child's benefit, jamming your own feelings as far down as they can go and not letting them out. I think this is particularly true for divorced parents.

Grace seemed happy to see my ex this morning when he picked her up, but I noticed a look of panic on her face as I put her in his car. I swallowed hard and smiled and told her that today was going to be a fun day and that I loved her so much and that Mommy and Aarie would pick her up tonight before bed. She said, "I will be a good girl,"and then they were off.

So, today has been a tough day for me. I found it hard to concentrate at work because my mind would always wander back to Grace and wonder if she is scared or if she is having fun or if she needs me. I called to check on her earlier, and it sounded like things were going ok. I am eagerly watching the clock and waiting for the time to come to go and pick her up.

Sorry, I know this entry really isn't in the spirit of the season. I promise that once I get through today, things will brighten up significantly for me.