Sunday, January 25, 2015

The one with the email and the quagmire

Dear Dad,

I am a single Mommy of twin boys that are 8 years old. I’d like your take on something:  my ex-husband and I have been divorced for 7 years now. I try to communicate important dates, information, and anything that I feel needs to be addressed via email. I spent too much of my life having my words twisted around and played back incorrectly to me and our friends. When I send an email I copy his mother as well, so that there are another set of eyes on my words so that he can’t mix them up and spew off what he wants and because Nana and I are still good friends (oddly enough, though she is part of my kid's family so I feel she should be in the loop). 

My ex remarried in October of 2013. I don’t have an issue with his wife. Overall she’s great to my boys. Earlier this week I sent a ‘very important’ email to my ex and copied Nana. I had to address my ex leaving our two 8 year old boys home alone (even if it was for just a few minutes) not once, but twice last week while he ran up to his wife’s work. He responded immediately and promised it won’t happen again.

I would like nothing more than for our boys not to go to his home anymore. He is very much an 'Uncle Dad'/'Disneyland Dad'. Our boys are beginning to catch on to that a little. He also accused me of grilling our boys for information about him and his wife. I couldn’t care less about their lives as long as our children are well taken care of. 

My ex told me he would never leave the kids alone again, but does not want me to ask questions about him and his wife and also asked me to stop copying his mom on emails I send to him. He also told me to copy his wife instead of his mom. I informed him that he cannot control who I send communications to and that it was not my job to ensure his wife knows what I have said. I told him that if I was remarried it would be my responsibility to discuss things with my husband, not his. I would love to have your opinion of all of this along with any tips, warnings, anything you’d like to say.

Dear 'Single Mommy',

I think it is wonderful that you have retained a connection with your ex mother-in-law, and that you have a support system in place. I do, however, disagree with your copying her in on emails between you and your ex husband. It seems inappropriate on more than one level: you are making her a forced moderator, which while nice to have, is not her place; and secondly, you are sending an ongoing message to your ex husband that he is incompetent and needs his 'mommy' to keep a watchful eye on everything you communicate about (more on that in a bit). 

I think email is the best way to communicate with your ex, as keeping things in writing will minimize conflict; moreover, emails act almost as a contract with a time/date stamp on exactly what you each present and agree to. Keep every single email to and from your ex in a dedicated folder so that no words, dates, or information can ever get twisted or played back incorrectly to you or your friends. If they ever are, you have proof and don't need Nana's input. 

The good news is that sword is double edged and it would be completely inappropriate for you to be expected to copy in his new wife on an email you are writing to him. Your ex certainly knows how to forward an email, and it should be his sole responsibility if he wants to copy in his wife on your correspondence regarding your children. 

Now on to the real root of your question - he admittedly left two eight year old boys alone and has the audacity to scoff at the notion of you "grilling" your children for information? I don't think so. I would make it clear to him that you are not asking questions to determine what he and his new wife have for dinner or what movies they watch together. You are trying to determine if either of them are suitable parents who can make appropriate parenting decisions. I am glad he acknowledged that leaving 8 year old twins alone was wrong. Twice? In one week? Where else are these people dropping the ball with your children who you are entrusting in their care? 

My advice is to send an email to him and advise him you will no longer copy in his mother, and advise him that his request to copy in his wife is inappropriate. Make it clear to him that you are keeping all email correspondence, so the function that your mother in law played is still in effect, but in a more appropriate means of communication between just the two of you. If he twists your words, or messes up on a date, you will have proof. I would also send an email to Nana and let her know you still consider her a wonderful resource and relative, but you are honoring her son's wish to remove her from future communication.  Advise Nana that you will always communicate with her via a private communication between the two of you, and value your relationship. 

I would have a very direct discussion with my children and give them an opportunity to advise you of any other details you may not know about, but should know about. You need to be vigilant in making sure they are safe when they are with their dad and step mom. It is my very strong opinion, 'Single Mommy', that you have every right to ask any and every question you ever have involving the safety and well being of your children.  I believe if your ex dropped the ball in judgment to leave your children alone twice in one visit - you are completely justified to make sure the environment is safe.

You are in a quagmire, 'Single Mommy', as you are now co raising your children with a 'village' in more than one home.  This may not be the situation you idealized, but is a reality that many families face.  I think you need to document everything to maintain a clear directive about dates and events and happenings, and be reasonable when it comes to requests such as your ex's to not copy in his mother (and expect the same in return). Above all else, trust your instincts!  If you think something is amiss, send an email, talk to your children, and follow your gut feeling!  Best of luck to you and your family!

Raising children is difficult enough with a partner on the same page and in the same household, and I have a great deal of respect for those who raise their children alone, or in concert with others.  This question got me to thinking:  in the case of divorce or separation, is it really every member of the children-raising-village's place to be privy to every single day-to-day detail?  

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