Uses Kids to Get Even

Q: I was with my ex for eight years. Though we were never married, we had three children. I then met the love of my life, and we are happily married with two more children. My ex and I originally agreed to joint custody of our three. However, ever since my husband came into the picture, my ex has been trying adamantly to diminish my relationship with our children. He says mean things about me to them, and tries to shorten our time together with sly excursions to art classes that don't exist, and soccer practices at the wrong practice field, etc. Any suggestions on how to deal with his "power play," as I call it, without causing stress on our children, ages 10, 7, and 5? -- Sandi, 30

Dr. Susan: You're wise to see that this is a power play, but face it: Your ex doesn't have much real power. He's still furious with you over leaving him for "the love of your life." In situations like this, a man who feels betrayed may speak ill of the one who left, pretending (to himself?) that he is only letting his kids know what sort of person their mom is. Which is grossly unfair to such young children as yours. I've found that the best way to avoid exacerbating the problem you're having over custody issues is to write up a clear agreement, and not be so flexible about times and activities. This may be very hard, depending on your circumstances. Sure, it would be great if the two of you could behave like adults and do what's best for the kids, which is to keep them out of your adult quarrel entirely. But he's shown that's not possible. So insist on a revision of your agreement that states clearly who goes where with whom, and when. Revise it every school semester if need be. And especially, don't let him push your buttons, because that's really all he wants to do. Unfortunately, the kids are probably going to feel the stress of all of this for some years to come, but the more unfazed you show yourself to be, the better it will be for them. Do not give in to the temptation of badmouthing their dad or belittling the love you once had for him. It would only confuse them further.

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