Check Mate

I think there’s only one thing more brutal than a young child’s honesty and that is his lack of empathy with his parents’ reaction to it.

Tonight, I found myself, yet again, caught right inside the thorny tree which is ‘do right by all’, and lost, big time – evidently to all parties:

Most of you who know me on Twitter, or have read some of my earlier blogs, will know that, yes, L’s father and I split up almost three years ago, but that we have blundered through the storminess of our own misdemeanours to emerge with the mutually undisputed mantra: whatever went on back then, what comes now has to be about our son. Over time we have created a wavelength upon which we can function as parents and both agree that however hard it is for us as individuals and at whatever level, the responsibility of bringing L up is not just a job, it is our vocation. As such, we have never sought mediation, we have never been through the courts to endorse (or have endorsed) access rights, we just worked it out and, give or take, M has seen his child every two days. That was, until mid September.

To backtrack a little: This year has seen the transition of our son from a naive (albeit extremely ‘with it’) toddler to a very astute and savvy little boy. Very little gets past him and he has worked out very clearly in his mind what he wants and when he wants it. Since around Easter this year, he has displayed an increasing aversion to going to his Papa’s house, be it for tea or for the weekend. The pre-visit drama has transgressed from mild objection at the beginning of the year, to, as with tonight, full-on hysteria to the point where he is almost physically sick.

At first we were able to reason with him and, like a switch being flicked, he would go from ‘no I don’t want to go’ to: ‘OK I’ll get my jacket …’  and off he’d pop without so much as a look back. Later this became much more of an event and M and I often found ourselves reaching the compromise of “Alright then, Papa will make you tea here at our house and then put you to bed” … and that too worked well, for a while. As the weeks passed, he would allow Papa to make him tea and help him into his pyjamas, but then also started to refuse to allow M to read him his story and tuck him in. It became all about me.

M has never been one to hide his feelings and my heart does go out to him when the little one turns to him from my arms and says blatantly, Papa, you’re not my friend.  I don’t want you to put me to bed. Mama has to do it. It cripples me how little effect M’s pain has on his son, who is unwavering and resolute in what he wants for himself.

For my part, I actually feel myself withering in guilt in M’s presence as if I myself had brought it on in some way, as well as being racked by a sense of ‘unworthiness’ – my conscience screaming at the unfairness of the whole thing. I spend hours pondering over it, but cannot work out why it’s happening. Logic defies me, as, let’s face it, I have been a complete witch over the last few months – the stress, induced by a combination of lack of income and a dire lack of sleep, has rendered me voiceless from shouting some days .. if I were L, I’d be beating the door down to get away! and yet, despite playing me up all the more on the days when things are at rock bottom, he has become rigidly attached to my company. When he does go to his Papa’s – particularly for the weekend, he returns smiling, happy and arm-loaded with things they have made together … a vision of contentedness and yet, no sooner he steps in the door, than he says ‘Mama YOU are bringing me to bed, NOT Papa!’ and these days, there is nothing I can do to change his mind.

I blogged back in August about M losing his job, floundering very quickly and then eventually being offered a new post, well, cause and effect: on the one hand he now has a stable income – one which, at last, will cover his outgoings and allow him just a little freedom, but on the other, he works in Munich and is returning later and later into the evenings. We have had to drop the Wednesday evening ‘tea at Papa’s ‘ so L now doesn’t see M at all from Monday to Friday.

I realise it is nothing new for some fathers to have to endure a lack of involvement with their families during the week, but this really has had a catastrophic effect on our little unit, namely, where L was reluctant to spend time at M’s place before, he is now refusing point blank to go with him at all.

Up to around Easter-time, L would orientate himself through the week by asking ‘Is it Papa-day?’ … now I dread the moment when I have to remind him he is even due to go for tea. It destroys whatever we are doing at the time (believe me I am having to be so strategic about the moment I pick these days) and it puts a bad atmosphere on the rest of the day, however ‘fabulous’ an image I paint of the time they will have together.

Friday night is the one consistent overnight stay with M per week and we have never missed one. Tonight, however, L screamed. And screamed. And screamed. My heart broke. I was teaching at home and I’m sure my student will never, ever return.

He clung to me as if he were about to be ripped out of my arms forever. He told his Papa to Go Away. He told his Papa he didn’t like him. He told his Papa he was NOT going with him.

However hard, M and I stand by what we have always said .. it IS about L now. Who knows what is actually ‘best for him’ in the situation we have inflicted on him, but, within reason, it now has to be about what he wants. With that in mind and with absolutely no dispute at all between the two of us, M made him his tea here at home and then left.

The result?

L was, if not completely jubilant, certainly visibly satisfied with what he considered ‘the way things had to be’ and appeared totally unscathed by the devastation his willfulness had left behind:

M was … is gutted. He has so little time with L  now anyway. I can see in his eyes, that despite my reassurances of ‘don’t take it personally’, he really does. Of course he does. It would kill me.

I feel evil. As if I had provoked this somehow.

I am also left in a complete quandary … Ultimately, I guess, I have the last word on whether or not L stays or goes, but my God this is getting tough. Up to now, M & I have managed to reason with him, or at least compromise and L has always admitted, at the end of an evening / weekend with his Papa that he has had a good time. We have played on that and have pushed him gently but firmly into honouring the routine we set. But I am no longer sure whether I should continue with this. It cannot be a good thing to continue to force him into doing something which evokes the level of protest and emotional negativity as we experienced tonight … can it? This evening we did give in and he stayed here with me, but if this becomes the norm, it could prove fatal for the future. The fact that the two of them have had such regular contact, has, undoubtedly served to maintain the excellent relationship they have always enjoyed with each other thus far, one which I have wholeheartedly encouraged from the beginning. But a waiver in contact can only be detrimental to that relationship and surely they will both suffer greatly from that as time goes on.

 

Once he had got his way, L played me up insanely by refusing to stay in his bed. At my wits end emotionally anyway by this stage, I went from screaming like a banshee one minute, to gasping, doubled up, from monstrous fits of guilt, followed by indulging us both in huge cuddling sessions, which were followed by him gallivanting around the house again like a loon, followed by me screaming like a banshee …. and so the next two hours went on.

Finally at 9:30pm, my one childless “me” evening a week started, with me collapsing in a chair and thinking, if I don’t get this out I’m gonna end up off my head by 10:30 just to stop my brain from exploding …

So this is me on a Friday night, sober as a judge, drinking German tea and wondering where on Earth we go from here …

MJM.

 

 

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30 Responses to Check Mate

  1. Oh MJM. I wish I had a clever answer for you! This sounds horribly tricky. All I can say is, my heart goes out to you all. Big hugs and I hope it all settles down as “just a phase”. In all this, you forgot to say, that YOU need the nights off too. So although, of course (!), this is about the wellbeing of your son, you actually need the downtime too.

    :-(((((

    Maggy xx & hugs

    • Thanks Maggy, I appreciated the hug last night, even if I couldn’t respond properly :-(
      I hope you are right and that this is just a phase. As for ‘nights off’ .. what’s one of those??! ;-)

      MJM xx

  2. Aw honey. I have no answers. Just want you to know I am here, listening.
    I remember being peeled off door frames and forced into the back seat of his car and hating it and it being that forcing, that lack of control, that ignoring of my needs/feelings which destroyed my respect for either of my parents and instilled a furious independence which has never left me. You are listening to your boy and allowing him to kick and scream, to make his own decisions at his own pace with guidance and I really do feel that has to be the way to go. I’ll shut up now. Love xxx

  3. Bumbling says:

    ((hugs))

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the fact you care so much shows what a great job you are doing.

    I have no advice. We have similar, if lesser, demonstrations of this nature. And I don’t know how we’ll deal with it going forward. But like you, I’m doing my best to put moo’s interests firsts. But also like you I’m not sure her interests necessarily match up with her desires…

    xxx

    • You put it in a nutshell .. and much better than I did with your last line. That’s exactly my dilemma … I’m not sure that what L wants will ultimately be good for him. But I guess I need to let go a little and allow him to find that out for himself.
      I am so sorry to learn of your situation and although, after 3 years, I am absolutely no expert on any of this, I can listen.
      I wish all of you the very best of luck with getting through the next phase as painlessly as possible. If that is possible.
      Thank you for still taking the time for me. I appreciate it hugely.
      MJM x

  4. You have no choice; you go forward. You do everything you can to keep this channel of communication open and you accept that this is a difficult phase. It is a phase. It could last a few hours, weeks, months, hopefully not years, but it is a phase.

    I had 3 kids with my ex and pretty much a similar situation. We had a good relationship and wanted the best for them, at times it was tough to be nice to each other but it was better to tough it out than to have bitterness between us. My ex had a fairly damaging relationship with a woman who didn’t want the kids around and in his confusion of trying to do the right thing by everyone he failed and agreed to reduce contact with the kids. At the same time the visits for the kids became stressful due to the way this woman and her children behaved. I remember my middle child coming home and vomitting on my doorstep, another time my eldest sobbed in the bath that he never wanted to see his daddy again. I was heartbroken and lost for the right way, i wanted that divorce, I’d put my kids through this. I’d ruined our lives. It doesn’t actually matter how I feel though, or how he feels (the ex) it really only does matter how the kids feel. Remember, this is supposed to be healthier the child(ren) than living in a damaged relationship. So, I simply said, let’s just keep going. One day you will be big and daddy will be here for you. If you send him away now you will find it hard to get that back. Let’s just keep going and see what happens.

    and that’s what we did, the kids saw a little less of him, they sometimes didn’t go, they sometimes went more but we muddled through. It was hugely stressful and difficult. They’re 22, 19 and 16 now and have a brilliant relationship with their dad who is aware of how hard I worked to keep that channel of communication open. He comes to our house and is loving and kind to my fourth child. He and beardie have a great deal of mutual respect and both want the best for the kids so I feel that all the crap and feeling guilty and second guessing and worrying was worth it. We moved forward without a plan but with an eye on the future and a determination to make it work. That’s all you can do. Great post.

    • I have read your comment several times now and see something new and inspiring in it each time. I was speechless last night that you and others read and responded to my post with such honesty and passion. There are so many things here that I will take away. Thank you.
      I am very happy for you that things worked out the way they did … and are! It sounds like you really found what you were looking for. That is the light at the end of my tunnel. I’m not giving up – there are answers out there! :-)
      Again, many thanks. I’m glad we ‘met’ last week :-)
      MJM.

  5. rugbymadsdad says:

    Hi Mjm, Please dont blame yourself and i understand how you feel, you know my tale, but could you suggest they go for a day out instead of his house, do something together and hopefully they will enjoy and want to do it again and again. Even if its only Mcdonalds or Pizza for tea to start with and a film….then when the weather improves go to the park zoo etc.

    • Hey. Thank you, I appreciate you reading and commenting :-)
      You are right that meeting on neutral ground would be ideal. There are a couple of issues with this at the moment however: namely, in the evenings, M gets home late and usually only has an hour or so before L goes to bed. In that time, L needs to eat. Neither M or I have money to buy out, so tea has to be at my place or his. Similarly, it is freezing here so going out ‘for the day’ has to be somewhere warm ie inside. We live in the country, so ‘inside’ away from either house is a long drive away and involves a lot of money. The nearest McD’s is half an hour’s drive away. Other than a swimming pool also half an hour away, there is little else in the winter other than being outdoors. But you are right. We need to work that out and find a solution for the weekends if L refuses to go to M’s over the longer term.
      Thank you for the valuable suggestion.
      MJM x

  6. Bob Greig says:

    I read this last night – and have given myself time to respond.

    It is testimony to you and M that you have raised such a lovely boy as L. I have of course been fortunate to meet him and he is just delightful!

    The fact that he ran you both ragged last night (in truth) makes me smile. It only means he feels safe with you – and that is a wonderful thing.

    It is also not surprising he kicks up a fuss about leaving you from time to time. You are his Mum and most kids of L’s age want, perhaps need, the maternal comforts that Mums offer. It’s natural :)

    Juggling all this stuff is difficult. Many reading this will know from their own experiences.

    Many reading this will also know that if anyone can cope with the pressures of juggling, @metaJUGGLAmum can!!

    It’s why so many of us love you and respect you :)

    Bob x

    • Just two words in response to that Bob: (in bold): Thank you xx

      (I also discovered today, that the shockingly high number of visits to this post may have had something to do with you (I didn’t tweet it at all), so a huge thank you for that too. xx)
      MJM.

  7. Ally says:

    *Hugs* Sounds like you and M have been through the emotional wringer. I’ve no advice, but you (and M, from how you write about him :-)) are a fab parent and that shows through the fact that you’ll listen to L’s demands, no matter how much they hurt. I think I could take some pointers from you here, sometimes I don’t listen enough.

    I reckon you don’t have anything to worry about. L is discovering how far he can push his own little world of independence and the fact that you and M give him some leeway and adapt to what he thinks he needs in matters like these, it can only be good for L, can’t it?

    You’re a wonderful Mum, and M sounds like a wonderful Dad. Can I ask something? Didn’t L start kindergarten in September? Maybe that change could be part of the reason? Princi became very clingy with me when she started nursery.

    • Hi Ally, thanks for your lovely comment … as always!
      It is very important to me that L has a say in what he does in this respect – even if I then have to to make a different decision for him!
      You know, his behaviour towards me really has changed over the last few months and I have actually wondered if it had something to do with him starting Kindergarten, but oddly I have never really connected that with the anti-Papa behaviour. I think you could really be on to something there… if I think about it properly, everything did happen around the same time – his starting KG coincides with his father’s first job-change and ensuing stress and the changes of access routine. The combination is pretty catastrophic, the poor thing :-(
      Thank you for this … definitely food for thought xxx

  8. Maddy says:

    Hi there,
    heres a little advice hope its helpful, I work with children and families and totally get your plight, Sorry to hear you are having a difficul time, sounds like u and your son are experiencing some changes, is he worried about leaving you? maybe hes aware of your stress and is reacting by staying close?
    your son is clearly angry maybe anxious, and in order to cope he seems to have developed a strategy to control his feelings, I guess if he stays within the safety of mummy he feels secure, yet daddys life has been through some changes too which your son may have picked up on.
    Sadly you seem to be stuck between complying with the agreed rules and expectations and keeping your son happy and safe. Although it feels a little like collusion when you play around after he has upset daddy and then let him in your bed (a little confusing for him) does he know that you support daddy? and have work to do or fun to have when he goes? a little seperation anxiety I guess?
    If hes having a wobbly time you could spend time together all three of you away from both houses, this could reinforce your family unit Your little man is in complete control of u and his daddy, maybe changeing the arrangements so he doesnt leave from your place, maybe meet in a neutral space and depending upon his age, school counselling may help him work out whats in his head? ove and light Maddy xxxxxxx

    • Hi Maddy,

      Many thanks for your comment. I think you are absolutely right that the little one really does pick up on my mood greatly .. he is incredibly sensitive to my anxieties and is, as you say ‘wobbly’ if I am tired or under work and financial pressure. I also agree that he is very possibly reacting to the changes in routine due to his father’s new job.
      I do, however, think I may have created an element of misunderstanding in my final paragraph: Last night there was really no playing around .. it was him testing me to the limit, pure and simple and me exhausted, emotional and, by the end of it, pretty irate. No collusion, no fun, no laughs, just me screaming in frustration at his charging around the place and refusing to sleep. (He has only ever once slept in my bed in his life and that was about 6months ago, when he was extremely ill.)
      Re school councilling, he is 3yo and has just started Kindergarten. As far as they are concerned, he is happy, extremely active and very coherent and has not displayed any abnormal negativity in the time he has been there.
      I never speak ill of his father in front of him or with him and when M and I are together, we always back each other up so there is no inconsistency. If there are divergences in opinion on a certain topic or on something that may have happened, we try and take these offline and have a chat once L is in bed.
      I do, however, think that meeting on neutral ground may be helpful and although time is extremely tight for both M & I as we both work on our ‘child-free’ weekends, and money is always an issue for us both to undertake ‘indoor’ activities during the winter, we may have to crow-bar this in somehow.
      Thank you for the time and interest you have invested here. I really will take some of your points on board. Much appreciated.
      MJM.

      • Maddy says:

        Thanks for your response MJM, u have such a lucky boy, u sound like a fab mummy always putting your child first and trying incredibly hard to create a balanced, consistent and very supportive friendship with your ex, and you work too!…..
        hope things settle soon M xxxxxxxxxxxx

  9. The Moiderer says:

    Oh my. I wish I had some sage advice to give you but is actually sounds like you are both doing all the right things. The only thing I can think to suggest is that if it is at all physically possible that no matter how much he screams, he still goes to his dads for the weekend. Is the right advice? not a Scooby. I hope it will pass. Can you go with them? and leave after his bedtime?

    • Oh it’s such a tough one. Last night, I really could not have made him go, he was in such a state. I’m surprised we didn’t have a visit from the authorities he was screaming so loudly and for so long. I don’t want him to end up resenting both of us by forcing him into doing something he really doesn’t want to do. What is the ‘right thing’ and what is the ‘wrong thing’ those are the questions. But maybe there’s no such thing as right and wrong. There’s just a ‘right at the time’ solution. I just hope we don’t get THAT wrong!!
      Thanks for reading and for the suggestion. I will definitely consider it.
      MJM xx

  10. Him Up North says:

    Some good advice already dished out here, hon. Children are indeed savvy and yet wear their emotions in a very complex way. It is very possible little L’s outlook will change, maybe even just like *that*.

    All I can say is, trust your instincts. x

    • I completely agree that kids are complex. L especially so … (can’t imagine where he gets it from!)
      I think actually, your suggestion nails it completely. It might sound non-committal, but then I really have always run my life on gut feeling rather than logic and I’m still here … just. It’s what I’ve been doing anyway, but I just never really acknowledged or accepted it as a solution. It’s certainly the most honest way forward I guess.
      Thank you xx

  11. JulieB says:

    I read this post very quickly before I jetted off with work, and kept it unread as I still wanted to respond. I don’t have any experience or advice that will help, but just wanted to let you know that I’m here if you need me.
    x

  12. Ol Moore says:

    Heartbreaking, absolutely heartbreaking. I feel for both you and M. Have a similar arrangement with my ex, we haven’t endured any of what you have spoken about- if anything it is going the other way.

    Life is tough and when savvy small children enforce their will my god it gets tougher.

    I hope it improves for you.

  13. That little boy is playing you sister. You have to stand firm. You are in charge not him. He needs boundaries. If you can’t control him now you won’t be able to control him later. Your guilt means that you feel you have to let him dictate ‘what’s best for him’. This is where your parenting unit has to stand resolute. You and your ex-partner need to work together. He has to go. Tough he doesn’t like it. This is the rules. You are in charge. Let him be sick. It is a device to control you – ‘look at how much I will hurt myslef to hurt you and make you do my bidding’. He’s a clever child but you and your ex-partner are in charge. Don’t let your guilt get in the way and also don’t enjoy him punishing your partner. Raising children is war – it’s them or you! There job is to manipulate you – your job is to control. Stand tough – it’s in your little boy’s best interests that he has a relationship with his father.

  14. Thank you for the comment and for adding a new perspective.
    I’ve read your response a few times now and have to admit to being mildly shocked in the beginning but in some aspects you are quite right. He does need to understand the boundaries of day to day life and behaviour, but believe me I am no ‘twist you around my little finger’ mother … I am pretty strict in many areas. I have to be or we would not survive. However, in this case I am not sure it is about control. My mother tried to ‘control’ me instead of working with me and it led to a catastrophic relationship between us, full of resentment and bitterness. This situation is more about trying to encourage L to enjoy both his parents without feeling he is being ‘pushed away’ by either of us or just bulldozed into being somewhere he doesn’t really want to be. Coming down too hard now could actually completely destroy all the hard work we have put in to keeping the triangle together over the last 3.5yrs by fuelling a resentment of his situation which could turn very bad later. We have to find a way of compromising with him which makes him feel like he is not being ‘forced’ to leave me to go and see his Dad but which encourages him to ‘want to’. And btw, I get absolutely no enjoyment at all out of him punishing his father. I have no reason to feel that way. It hurts me greatly to see both their reactions. I don’t think he is trying to manipulate me in this. Why would he? He has a better time on a Friday with his Dad than he would have with me, with my head stuck in work. I think he guenuinely doesn’t want to go. Imho, it is that, that I need to work on, not ‘enforcing rules’.
    But thanks for sharing your view. Always good to hear things from a different angle :-)

    • dadwhowrites says:

      Hmm.

      Have to confess, my initial thought was not dissimilar to AMMM’s but with a slightly different chain of cause and effect. It sounds like (from what you say) he really didn’t want to go. Then afterwards, having won one negotiation…

      I do feel that smart children have far greater insights into the dynamics of power and control than we sometimes give them credit for – I know ours do. I also know that they’ll rage and howl and carry on about things which are totally irrational, which they actively enjoy.

      So the problem isn’t that he doesn’t want to go but the lesson he might apply going forward. And underlying it, the anxiety of the age of becoming a separate, distinct individual yet having so little control over anything except the confidence that everything will continue to consistently be as it currently is.

      Sorry, this is totally useless. But I do feel for you. It’s simply horrid when they launch into those rages which come from such a deep place within them and yet are so transparently “irrational” to us…

      • hehe … “Hmmm” is about as far as I have got on this one too, so don’t apologise!
        As with AMMM, I have to agree … to a certain extent with your observation that kids are clever – I was only using that exact wording last week with a good friend who refuses to put her baby down as each time she does it cries. My simple comment was ‘let her cry for a while, she’ll get the point and you’ll gain yourself a whole load of time’. L IS extremely clever and knows exactly which buttons of mine he can press to make me flip, in general, but I say again, this situation is slightly different and I’m yet to come up with an answer as to why things have changed. Last Friday, he objected again to going to his Dad’s but we pushed carefully and gave him lots of reasons why he should and he went – ultimately reasonably happily. On Saturday when he came back, he stated “I went to Papa’s Mami and I DID have a nice time … but I don’t want to go again now for aaages. Is that OK?” Is that a child trying to manipulate me? The way he said it made it sound like he’d done it to please me – as a sort of favour, because he knew we wanted him to go. I really don’t know the answer yet.
        But thank you just for reading and thinking about it. It’s nice to know that there are people out there xx

    • Thanks for understanding. I do know what it’s like – I am often a single parent and I work too – my kids need to do stuff they don’t want to do because I need them to do so. If it helps I sometimes bribe my son. That often works. He often doesn’t want to go to my parent’s house because they are far stricter then we are so I reward him for going with a treat. Usually, with marshmallows. He will pretty much do anything for marshmallows. Maybe you should throw some treats his way. What is it that he really wants? Anyway, sounds like you could do with the break – what’s the point of having the potential to get some you time if you can’t use it. Work together, stand firm and then slip him some marshmallows on the quiet for good behaviour. ;)

      • Thanks for ‘getting’ my response too!
        Oh believe me my child does not get away with much … and he has to do loads of stuff that probably other kids don’t have to do, simply because I’m so strapped for time. A lot of it he screams and wails about, but that does not change a thing … if he’s asked to do something that’s it, he’ll have to do it somehow or deal with the consequences of not. Sometimes bribery works but in this case it really hasn’t which is what initially triggered alarm bells in me. Nothing I did or said could make him change his mind about wanting to go and in the meantime this has become a standard daily Q .. “is it Papa day Mami because if it is I don’t want to go.” See also response to Dadwhowrites for his claim last Saturday when he returned from an overnight.
        Anyways. Good debate. Thanks for triggering it and I will continue to ponder on what you and others have said, while mixing it all up with what I see everyday here.
        Take care :-)

  15. Good luck – I know it’s never easy. You know your own child better than anyone and so therefore you must trust your instincts. xx

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