“I don’t want to go,” she said imploringly with her big brown eyes starting to fill with the flicker of tears. “Can’t you tell him that I can stay with you? Please Mom? I want to be with you.”
“No. I can’t. That isn’t how it works,” was my stoic reply.
This was not the first time, nor will it be the last, that one of my daughters did not want to go to their Dad’s for the weekend.
He was committing the offensive act of taking her to a hog roast in Kansas for the weekend. For my 11 year old, the thought of missing her volleyball game with friends trumped her adventurous spirit to try something new. I was wise enough to know that this plea had little to do with me, and more to do with her own pre-teen desires.
All parents of divorce experience this tug at some point. Their child begging not to have to go for one reason or another: “It’s boring over there.” “She never takes me anywhere.” “All I do is chores at his house.” My clients ask me what to do. “Do we change the custody order?” “Do I keep them home with me?” “Will I get in trouble?”
Parents of divorce, all too often, fall into this pit of pacification. We feel guilty enough already being parents in a divorce that could potentially ruin our children forever and ever – right? We quickly lose perspective when our child shows distress over a divorce-related action. We engage our egos and seek to problem-solve instead of parent.
In the moment that my daughter was asking me to intervene and save her weekend, while I was strong in my response, I was covering up my emotional flinching. Of course I wanted to jump in and message her dad and be her superhero mom. I thought – “if only I weren’t divorced I wouldn’t have to deal with this.”
Then the truth hit like a ton of law books falling atop my head – if I weren’t divorced, my daughter would still not want to go to a hog roast in lieu of her volleyball game. My daughters would still have to do things they do not want to do. My daughters would still sigh and moan, just like I did as a kid when I had to do chores. My children would still say “Ah Maahhhhmmmm” when their parents were picking family time over friend time. Divorced parents or not, my children would still be parented.
As painful as it may be at times, our job is to persist in co-parenting: to establish and maintain unbendable boundaries; to not succumb to their manipulation of us as they pick their fickle favorites; and, to bite back the “I told you so” when they come back from the dreaded weekend or event still alive and no worse for the wear. When I picked up Anna on the following Monday she reported it was not as bad as she thought it would be and she had fun. Yup. And so it goes that we will continue to follow orders.