parent opinion

'I’m a single mum and I’m completely done sending my 6yo daughter to her dad’s house.'

A couple of weeks ago, we celebrated our daughter’s fifth birthday. As usual, I organised and paid for the whole thing. That’s fine since I make all of the decisions and I’m the one who settles on making her birthday a big deal anyway.

I invite her dad, his wife, and the six other kids between them. This year, once I was aware that they have housemates with a five-year-old son, I told my ex to invite them. I invited cousins too.

It’s the one time of year that I plan an event where I take on the full cost of entertaining and feeding other people, and this was my third year.

Chloe Shorten talks to Mia Freedman on No Filter about how she told her kids about her divorce. Post continues after video.

Video by MMC

These birthday parties for our daughter have also become the one time a year that all of the kids and three of the five parents are in one room together. The only parents not present are my ex’s first wife and her second husband since they naturally spend no time with my kid.

And while I’m grateful that my daughter gets to spend her birthday with so many loved ones, I can’t help but feel that for the most part I’m done sending my kid back to her dad’s.

We’ve had a rough go with co-parenting.

Every year after the birthday party, my daughter goes back to her dad’s house for at least a couple of nights. Since we moved down to Tennessee two-and-a-half years ago, my daughter’s been having overnights at her dad’s place.

It’s hard enough letting somebody else have your kid for a week because you need some alone time to work, and they aren’t willing to just have her for the day. It’s harder when it’s your ex who’s treated you like dirt and now his current wife is quick to confront you anytime she doesn’t like something you’ve said to him.

The first time my daughter’s stepmum told me off happened when we were just visiting Tennessee and she wasn’t yet married to my ex. I had the audacity to tell my ex that he needed to stay another hour to watch our daughter while I finished work that evening at his mum’s house.

ADVERTISEMENT

She had a lot to say about how she wasn’t going to let me disrespect her person, and that what I said was completely unacceptable. To be fair, her one and three-year-olds were up in Ohio with her ex and she never really worked for an income beyond babysitting at home. So neither she nor my daughter’s dad had any understanding of what it’s like to have a child 24/7 as a single working parent.

They still don’t know.

Since moving down to Tennessee, there have been several more altercations with my ex’s wife. So you know, that’s been fun.

A couple of months into the move, she drove an hour to show up at my place unannounced. Her mission was to set me straight that I had no right to email my ex to tell him that he had a responsibility to keep me in the loop about the things that impacted my daughter.

Of course, I brought it up because he asked to have our daughter one weekend and lied about the reason. The truth was that they were getting married that weekend and wanted our daughter to be in the wedding.

I found out when his mum innocently posted photos on Facebook. She didn’t know they’d kept the whole thing from me.

It was silly because I would have said yes anyway and I never wanted to keep our daughter from her dad. But I would have liked to know that they were getting married so I could have at least talked to our kid about it.

Instead, I found out on Facebook while my daughter was away, and over the subsequent weeks they tried to get her to start calling his wife “mum.”

Should I really be the last to know?

Child Psychologist Dr. Michael Carr-Gregg talks to the split host, Mandy Nolan, about how to talk to your kids about divorce. Post continues below.

Suffice to say, I’ve had a lot of frustration with their lack of communication along with their immediately angry reactions to my own efforts to chat. I’ve tried to pick my battles, but they don’t just fail to mention life changes like marriage. They also don’t keep me in the loop when they move.

I found out through my then four-year-old that she was having sleepovers with some boy I’d never met.

When I questioned my ex, he shrugged it off and said it was just his “roommate’s kid.” Even then it was like pulling teeth to find out who my daughter actually lives with when she stays at her dad’s.

And this year after our daughter’s birthday party, she spent two nights at her dad’s while I took a mini-vacation in Atlanta. When her stepmum brought my daughter back to my place, I was surprised to see her own daughter wearing my kid’s shoes.

I’d recently bought two pairs of high-quality shoes for my child to wear when she went to her dad’s house. Yet they returned her to me in the rain boots from the birthday party costume… without socks.

ADVERTISEMENT

And then, I was further irritated to realise the stepmum was blasting music that I don’t find appropriate for five-year-olds.

If you’ve read much of my work, I’m sure you know that I am no prude. Even so? No, I’m not happy to find my kid listening to music which features heavy doses of the N-word. Nope. I’m not even remotely okay with that.

Since that day, I haven’t even wanted to think about sending my daughter back to her dad’s. And trust me, I know that’s problematic.

I don’t want to keep my daughter from her dad.

But I can’t pretend that I genuinely trust him to do right by her, either. One of the reasons I’m so careful to bite my tongue is because I don’t want my daughter to lose access to her father. And I don’t want to punish her just because he and I no longer get along.

Yet at what point do I admit that her dad isn’t doing his part? At what point do I put my foot down to say that he and his wife aren’t making an effort to actually co-parent?

Some people might say it’s no big deal to have my daughter’s step-sister share her shoes. I might agree if those shoes were bought by them and not me. To be honest, I have routinely been in charge of buying everything for our kid to the point of sending food, clothing, toys, toothpaste, even diapers and wipes before she was using the potty.

My ex contributes $200 a month to her care, yet I’m still stuck providing whatever she needs at her dad’s house with zero guarantees that any of it will actually go to her or ever be seen again. One winter I thought I was going crazy looking for a pair of boots my daughter had when those turned up on her step-sister as well.

And I don’t want my daughter to grow up thinking this dynamic is okay.

As it stands, my ex and his current wife have very little respect for me, and they refuse to communicate with me like adults. A year ago, I made the mistake of telling her dad that he has a responsibility to help teach our kids how to appreciate her family.

I called him out for the fact that I have always helped our daughter with appropriate presents for birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. But he hasn’t even bothered to help our kid pick out a card for me.

My ex’s default method of managing unwanted input from me? He shows his wife whatever I’ve said and then let’s her have at it. I start getting angry face emojis and lectures from his wife that I need to grow up.

Seriously?

I get gaslighting and manipulating messages aimed to make me feel bad for even speaking up. But what I really feel bad about is that my daughter is being raised with such a dynamic happening.

ADVERTISEMENT

Her dad and stepmum treat me as if I have no right to know what’s going on in her life when the reality is that they are lucky I have tried so hard to include them in her life.

I have full custody of our daughter. Her father holds no legal guardianship since we were unmarried and he threatened to cut off from me if I filed papers for a legal child support agreement.

At least two years ago, my ex said that he and his wife wanted to split custody with me. Fifty-fifty. I replied that I wouldn’t even contemplate such a thing until they treated me with respect and finally began communicating with me.

My ex hasn’t brought up split custody again, and in five years, he also has never had her birth certificate corrected. The hospital made a mistake and omitted her dad from the birth certificate even though we submitted all of the proper paperwork. We’ve known how to fix it since our daughter was an infant, and it’s more paperwork that he’s never chosen to file.

Plus, I want my child to have a healthy childhood.

And I don’t trust her dad or stepmum to nurture that. I feel like a jerk saying that but over time I’ve learned that we have very different parenting philosophies. I have to make a point to ask her dad to please plan something for the two of them to do together so that our kid will actually want to go to his house.

What he doesn’t seem to grasp is that our daughter has a much stronger attachment to me for good reason. I’m the one who’s raised her and done the bulk of the work. I’m the one who’s co-slept and breastfed and spent hour after hour of quality time. I work from home and have to still interrupt my writing to meet her needs.

And while her stepmum is a great housewife who runs a tidy home, she doesn’t make time to play or bond with my daughter.

It doesn’t matter how much I tell my kid that her dad and stepmum love her. She knows they love her. And she still prefers to be with me.

I have pretty strong opinions about parenting my child. She’s got hypotonia (a neurological condition also called low muscle tone) and sensory processing disorder. These issues make her prone to rigidity, much like an autistic kid. Lately, she’s developed some OCD symptoms regarding hands washing and even using her hands at all.

It’s up to me to get her back into therapy to deal with her current rigid issues, and I can’t help but feel frustrated that her dad and stepmom are not reliable communicators for anything.

Co-parenting shouldn’t be this hard.

In an ideal world, all co-parents would focus on the best interests of the kids. But in the real world, many co-parents disagree over what that even means. My ex and his wife don’t concern themselves with the way their kids may respond to their choices.

ADVERTISEMENT

Point in fact, my ex plans to move across the country in just a couple of years. His three sons are getting older and will graduate from high school soon after that… so he claims they “won’t need him anymore.”

And our daughter? Will she need her dad when she’s seven or eight? He doesn’t think it will really matter because “she can just spend her summers there.”

Well…

Considering how unenthusiastic I currently am to send her over to her dad’s anytime soon for even just a couple of days, I’m far from keen about the notion of sending her across the country for three months.

Clearly, that’s not a choice I even need to make any time soon, but it is something to consider.

And as much as I might really like to avoid single parent burnout by sending my kid to her dad’s to give myself a break, I’m not so sure that’s a great trade-off these days either.

All I know is that I’ve got at least 13 more years of uncomfortable conversations ahead of me with people who haven’t shown an interest in communicating kindly at all.

This post originally appeared on Medium and has been republished with full permission. You can read more from Shannon Ashley on Medium, or follow her on Twitter

Beautiful, expecting women. Take our short survey to win $100.

MMSurvey
00:00 / ???