One of the nasty side effects of divorce is that custodial parents lose control over the welfare of their children when they're off visiting the not-as-vigilant ex. For women, our mother-henning instinct is involuntarily shut down, and it's maddening. We can't monitor junk-food intake, apply sunscreen or prevent impulsive kids from running into the street without looking both ways—twice.
In fact, every decision regarding their health and safety is now someone else’s responsibility—you know, the very same guy I found sleeping soundly on the couch after I came home from Girls’ Night Out while our young children, who were supposed to be in bed, were trying to make pizza in the kitchen, ovens turned on and all. The guy who is completely deaf in one ear, and when he sleeps on his good ear at night, he couldn’t hear a tornado ripping through the bedroom, let alone a smoke alarm screeching that the house is burning down.
Honestly, handing my kids over to my ex-husband every other weekend is very much like throwing my babes into the wild and hoping they somehow return home safely.
The reality that I am, quite literally, out of control when the kids visit their father hit hard when I picked them up from his house one night. They swung open the front door eagerly, and I gasped. My youngest daughter’s shoulder-length hair that we were growing out to look like Ariel’s in “The Little Mermaid,” had been chopped into a bob. After the initial shock, I mustered enough pretense to say, “Oh, Honey, you look so cute!” Then the anger set in. I was LIVID that her father hadn’t consulted with me about this drastic change in her appearance. I’m her MOTHER, for God’s sake! I should have a say in these matters! What’s next? Tattoos and belly piercings?
Stephanie Buehler, a marriage and family therapist in Orange County, California, explains the dynamics. “One parent feels that to consult another is tantamount to asking for permission, while the other feels to be excluded is a betrayal of trust and likely to result in an irresponsible event.”
Blah, blah, blah. Whatever the reason, I’ve been deprived of my natural rights as a mother to be neurotic and protective. I’ve lost control, and I’m not sure what to do about it.
“Letting go of control is trusting that an agreement exists between parents that no major event will take place in your children’s lives without both parents being consulted,” says Buehler.
Trust the ex? That’s a tall order. But to be fair, my daughter’s hair is adorable. Perhaps I overreacted and Buehler is right. There’s very little I can control and I need to trust that my ex-husband will make responsible decisions regarding our children. He is their father, after all.
No sooner did I settle calmly into this new reality when I found out that he’s been taking our daughters up in a private plane with his best buddy, who just got his pilot’s license.
OK . . . this time, Mother Hen’s feathers are REALLY ruffled!
Lynn Armitage is a freelance writer in Northern California, and an enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin. She is petrified that her children will grow up to be fighter pilots. You can reach her via e-mail at: Boatfolk@aol.com.