I recently met the mom of a teenager who had been divorced for more than 10 years. She hadn't dated since her divorce, she said, because she didn't have a predictable schedule. Her kid's dad would show up without warning — and rarely stick to any pre-determined schedule. She felt his impromptu visits and failure to show up when expected was an attempt to control her, since she could never make any plans — including with men. “I couldn't bring myself to tell my son he couldn't see his dad — especially when he was standing right there at the door,” she said, shaking her head, sadly. “He was so heart-broken that his dad never prioritized him. I didn't want to be part of the problem.”
Here's the thing: She was part of the problem.
If you don't require your kids' dad respect everyone's time with a reasonable schedule, you are perpetuating the problem.
Here are four reasons you absolutely cannot let your ex show up happenstance at your house — or with unreasonably short notice, say, within less than a few days.
- This teaches children that it is OK for others to disrespect them. Not respecting one's schedule and time is of one of the highest insults. You can regain most of anything you have in this world. But not time.
- This demonstrates to your children that you are not worthy of respect. Your life, schedule and time are upturned by your ex's lack of decent behavior, and that is a huge deal. Don't let your kids see you being treated like that.
- It does not teach your children appropriate behavior of stable adults. Face it: No one operates like that. Your kids have a schedule at school, with friends, activities. You have a work schedule. I don't even talk to my mom on the phone without arranging it by text first. Showing up willy-nilly is a sign of instability.
- By playing victim to another person's rude behavior, you give away your power. Your time, schedule, plans and LIFE are yours to make amazing. Crying that you can't date/exercise/see your girlfriends/have alone time because of your ex's nutty behavior isn't a good look.
Is this you? Does your ex refuse to stick to a visitation schedule? Act like your requests for one are a way to control him? Blame you for keeping the kids from him?
Do you have a court-ordered visitation agreement? Pull it out, make a copy, hand it to him, and tell him that that is the schedule. If he wants to change it, he is welcome to go to court and have it amended. Be polite, but firm. Say: “It is best for everyone if we all stick to a schedule. If it goes well for six months, we can start to be flexible when we need to be.”
From my podcast, Like A Mother:
When an ex's visits are unpredictable
Give him the benefit of doubt. Remember: You are changing the dynamic. Change is hard. He thought he could control you, but you are letting him know he can't. He won't like this. Give him an opportunity to step in line.
If he shows up on, say, Saturday evening and asks to take the kids for ice cream, even though his visit is not until Wednesday, answer the door. Try not to let the kids see, but accept that they might. Tell him that this is the last time you are opening the door for a time that outside of his visitation.
Let him leave. The end. See ya Wednesday!
If he doesn't leave?
Be prepared to call the police. Then call your lawyer — or find one via a friend .
I do not say that lightly. Early in my divorce, I had to call the police. I think there are lots of times people call the police during divorces that is unwarranted. Just because you're really angry doesn't mean that the cops need to be called. However, sometimes the other party just doesn't understand that because he used to live in the house that is now yours, that he can't just be there when he wants — and will not leave your apartment. Or, just because children with whom he shares joint custody live in a building, that he isn't allowed to have keys to that building. In my case, I couldn't make the other person understand those basic concepts. But a couple of giant, burly officers' presence did make him understand.
So: Be prepared to call the police, and file a report.
If you threaten to call the police, then you must call the police. He already doesn't respect you. Empty threats will make that worse.
If things get to this point, then you do need to documenting this unstable behavior.
Police and courts will likely escalate things, at least temporarily. But they can and do get better. In my case, things got much, much better. But it took outside agencies to impose the rules. It is ugly and embarrassing. For me, a low point. But it had to happen.
You don't have a visitation agreement? Go to family court this week, and request a hearing to get one. I also recommend hiring an attorney if you can at all afford one. You are very vulnerable without a custody and visitation agreement, regardless of whether you were married to your kids' ex, live in the same state or country, whether you seek/get child support, whether or not he ever sees those kids.
Caveats: OK, maybe you have one of those Gweth Paltrow dreamy divorces where you both blow in and out of each other's homes unprompted, are BFFs with the other's new significant other, and vacation together with your collective broods to the Maldives. Yay you.
This post is for everyone else.
How about you? Does your ex do this? DID he do it? How did you manage it?
- What to do when your ex cancels visits at the last minute. All the time.
- Why you have to chill out and be more flexible about visitations.
- Why every single mom needs a custody and visitation schedule.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.