When Co-Parenting Goes Horribly Wrong

24 May 2012

written by Carolyn

Courtesy of www.firstpeople.us

My ex and I both filed for divorce, in a rush to the courthouse, in 2004. Our divorce judgment was granted in 2006. I like to say I’ve been divorced for eight years, even though it’s only been six years since I received the final judgment, because filing was the first step towards liberation.

In that six- or eight-year span, I have been restrained in what I write about my ex. I am mindful of the fact that he is my children’s father. My memoir project has stalled in large part because I’ve been conflicted about what is and isn’t OK to reveal about our relationship and marriage. One of the best pieces of advice I received about divorce came from one of my former law partners and mentors, who told me, “Do not discuss your ex, his failures or his shortcomings, with your kids. That’s between the two of you. He’s their father, and kids have a right to their parents. Your relationship problems are your business, not theirs.”

I agree with that advice 100%, and I give it to divorcing parents today.

And yet, there’s value in writing about what I went through during my marriage, and continue to deal with. I write about my life – my family, my lovers, my children, being a single mom, dealing with a psychotic ex, etc. – because my life mirrors that of so many smart, professional women:  distinguished and accomplished professional life, and a personal life that is messy as hell. I don’t know if anyone has studied this phenomenon. We tend to hide behind the façade of the perfect life. Everyone assumes that women who take no shit professionally behave the same way at home. Sometimes our closest friends and families don’t even know how bad things are beneath the surface.

My friends and family didn’t know how bad things were in my marriage. Until I stopped hiding.

Choosing the wrong partner to be the father of one’s children has lifelong consequences. My ex exemplifies the saying, “Hurt people hurt people.” My ex still wants to hurt me. He’s chosen to try to hurt me by hurting my children.

It’s gone too far, and it has to stop.

In my post about my son’s recent medical ordeal, I mentioned that my ex saw my boyfriend at my house, and flipped out. Had my ex left it there, I probably wouldn’t be writing this now. He hasn’t stopped. And his behavior has been so reprehensible, it deserves to be exposed.

My ex apparently was upset about seeing a man in my home. He doesn’t appear to be worried about how this man has been treating our children. I don’t think my ex has even bothered to ask the kids whether or not they like my boyfriend, or whether or not my boyfriend treats them well. Instead, my ex has made up things to tell the kids about my boyfriend, a man he doesn’t know at all.

For instance, my ex told my son my boyfriend is an “uneducated handyman.” He happens to be neither uneducated nor a handyman, but so what if he were? My ex has also told my kids that my boyfriend is married. He is not, but he has sown in the kids the seeds of mistrust about my boyfriend’s true feelings and intentions towards me.

The insane side, of course, is much, much worse.

My ex discovered the NPR interview I gave last year to help promote R. Richard Banks’ book, “Is Marriage for White People?” He didn’t like the characterization (which was the author’s, not mine) of professional women marrying blue-collar men as “marrying down.” My ex decided to strike back by making up things about me to tell my kids. He has told the children stories from a past he has invented for me, to expose to them what a slut their mother is.

My ex has texted my children the following outrageous statements and outright lies:

* that I “fucked the Harvard football team”

* that I was committed to a psych ward for attempted suicide

* that he regrets meeting me because “nothing good” came out of our marriage (including, apparently, our children)

and most damaging of all,

* that he is not the father of my son.

On this last point, his most recent – and now last – text to my son read, “Remember to ask ur mother about DNA test.”

It is incomprehensible to me that my son’s father would tell his son, out of the blue and in such a cold, cavalier manner, that he is not my son’s biological father, simply to get back at me. Of course, my ex is my son’s father, in both the biological and legal sense of the word. My ex knows this. In the ten years my son has been alive, my ex never once questioned my son’s paternity. We even used to joke about knowing the exact moment when I became pregnant with my son – while we were celebrating my becoming a law firm partner. If my ex weren’t my son’s father – or believed he wasn’t – a text message would hardly be the way to break that news to him.

This is beyond hurtful. It’s sick. It’s monstrous. It’s abusive.

My ex has demonstrated time and time again his willingness to use our children to hurt me. What he doesn’t seem to comprehend is that he’s not really hurting me, he’s hurting them. I’m the one who has to try to heal the damage.

Out of my awful marriage came two beautiful children. I don’t regret the marriage because I don’t regret my kids. But I do regret that my ex has never received treatment for whatever mental illness drives him to attack my – our – children in this way.

My ex has no visitation rights, thanks to his own refusal to comply with various court orders. When he has seen them, it’s been at my discretion. As long as he continues on this destructive campaign, his access is blocked.

The kids will be all right. I will do what needs to be done to protect my children and ensure that we all come through this situation intact.

I just wish I didn’t have to.

29 Comments on When Co-Parenting Goes Horribly Wrong

  1. Feminista Jones

    This is horrible. You are right. It is abusive. I’m fortunate to not be experiencing this but my heart goes out to you and your children. Makes us reflect on how we don’t know what others are going through. I wish you peace.

  2. Andrea Morgan

    Wow. I’m so sorry that you and your children are being treated so horribly. Hugs and peace to you all

  3. dantresomi

    Wow! I feel horrible for you.

    Writing is therapeutic (as you well know) and I know writing helps you work through it. I agree with you 100%, what stays between the parents is between the parents and should be kept from the children. They will learn when they become adults and understand how it all went down.

    I commend you for the courage to write about this stuff because many of us do hide these things until its too late.

  4. Kya

    This is absolutely disgusting! What like of man would subject their child to such pain and hurt-psychologically? Terrible! I have made a mistake of getting pregnant by someone I could not see myself having children with, it was simply a fling. We did you contraceptive and I still got pregnant. While I take personal responsibility for this bring a mistake, there are reasons like this that make me 100% positive about going through with my decision to get an abortion. I couldn’t live the rest of my life like this!


  5. Livia Gainam

    I was very interested to read your piece as it is similar to what I and my/our children have had to put up with. I’m afraid that I don’t think he will improve. Your best hope is that he meets someone else which will take the pressure off you.

    But you are very fortunate to be a lawyer as it puts you in a much stronger position than I was. For a happy life try and ignore him as much as possible, though unless he finds someone else, he will do his best to attract your attention – most probably in a negative way.

    All the best!

  6. Nancy

    The thing I most appreciate about your writing is the honesty. You are so right that these are often common stories. Your children will be ok because they have a great Mom. It is so sad that the same can’t be said about their father. Wishing you all peace!

  7. Cubanitabean

    I wept as I read this.. From the bottom of my heart I am sorry. Sorry. Sorry Sorry.. I understand so much how this can hurt you and your children.. Your wonderful, strong, intelligent, charismatic, loving children. I know 1,000 percent they will be okay.. They will. They have you and if need be a village on their side. Any day they need a trip to NJ for any reason, the kids and I are here. For you, for them. Every day you will be blessed. <3

  8. Liana Brooks

    As the child of divorced parents, and the grandchild of divorced grandparents, I can tell you I’ve never seen co-parenting go right. Even when it starts well, it can’t last past the inevitable changes that come with life. If a couple couldn’t make the marriage work, the chances that they’ll be able to co-parent for more than a decade without serious issues are slim to none.

    The best thing you can do for your children is cut the sperm donor off and build them a home filled with love and respect. Don’t drag them down over some antiquated notion that being a genetic donor makes someone family. It doesn’t. Donating your genes does not magically make you a responsible, nurturing adult who can love and care for children. It doesn’t make you an ideal role model. It just means you can have unprotected sex like everyone else.

    At this point, your ex is abusive and subjecting your children to him would only make you part of the cycle of abuse. Cut him off and let the kids choose their own father figure. It’s the best thing you can do for them.

  9. Darlene

    Although your blood must be boiling at his actions, your words and concerns are expressed fairly. It’s hard to understand why a father would want to poison his children. What does he stand to gain?

    His verbal assault reminds me of the way we’ve seen the mainstream media treat strong women. Ridicule a woman and reduce her to a slut if you don’t like her point of view.

    Peace, strength and a well of positivity, Carolyn.

  10. Sarah Buttenwieser

    You do have to push back with truth. You are appropriately restrained & ultimately stronger than his disease can let him be. You can’t protect your kids from their father’s mayhem entirely. But you can cushion it & keep them safe, which you’ve done & will continue to do.

  11. Tiffany In Houston

    My prayers are that you and your children will be able to heal from this terrible situation, and perhaps one day, your ex-husband will see the extreme error of his ways.

  12. Blackgirlinmaine

    Wow! I went through a similar ordeal with my ex, but overtime he chilled out especially as our son got older. Yet I remember the bad times oh so well. As a writer myself I have hesitated with just how much to share though at 20 my son has come to realize on his own, who his father is. So I agree it’s a fine line with how much you do mention publicly but at this point your priority is keeping the kids and yourself safe. Cutting him out is probably the best thing you can do.

    Keep ya head up!

  13. Foxy Brown

    wow. i’m not sure what to say. prayers for strength and courage for you. prayers for protection and courage for your children. prayers for strength for your boyfriend. prayers for healing for your ex. hugs for you and the kids.

  14. Nicole

    This is so sad. Peace and hugs to you and your kids. Your children are lucky to have you. They are happy to have you.

  15. Leon X

    As an uncle who has helped raise a niece and two nephews I’ve experienced my share of crappy dads. My heart goes out to you.

  16. ProfessLCH

    No, SIR; NO. That you call “FOUL” when he goes out of bounds? ABSOLUTELY APPROPRIATE.

  17. BecomingAMW

    I can’t even imagine the psychological damage one would need to have to inflict this level of torment on children unnecessarily. Your children, wisely, have held him at arms length, and I pray for them, their wisdom, and their hearts and minds to be whole…and yours, too. xoxo

  18. Hil C

    Thanks for sharing your story and it is horrible what your ex is trying to do to you and your children. He really does need to get some help and hopefully one day he will.

    As a writer myself who is just coming to terms with my soon to be ex’s abuse and infidelity, I too struggle with how much I should say and what I should and should not tell our son. But I have to live in truth. I’ve hidden things for so long so our problems didn’t get discovered and no one looked upon me or my ex with shame. I am tired f putting on a brave face and “frontin’ ” while he continues to do damage. I am choosing truth!

    I hope you continue to share your stories as they can be so helpful for others who are dealing with the same struggles and just want to know that they are not alone, not crazy and that they don;t have to hide it anymore.

  19. Carolyn Ellison

    Harvard has a football team?

    and more importantly, I am so sorry and overstand want you to KNOW that your strong, smart beautiful children are survviing and thriving thru it all

  20. Andrea Harvey

    Thank you for this post. Especially to the divorced parents. I am so appreciative of your honesty and transparency.

    This is sometimes the cold reality of a divorced parent’s life. Moreover, this highlights that despite the laws BEST intentions- we cannot control the actions of people. I agree with the steps you have taken. Especially as a fellow colleague. You could go to court and hold him in contempt but what would it accomplish beyond lawyer bills and likely more contention.

    You have done a great job of making the “best” of a terrible situation. And more importantly, when your children are older they will appreciate you all the more. There is no need to “point out” his actions- they speak loudly and clearly.

    Thank you and Bravo!

  21. LovnLivnLifeDC


    Wow!! My lower jaw has hit the floor. I can’t believe after 8 years you are still dealing with such absurd behavior!!

    Thank you for sharing this post. It’s amazing how many of us share parallel stories in marriage, divorce, and the aftermath of it all. I am two and a half years post-divorce and have held back on sharing with family and friends what happened behind the closed doors of my marriage. I often resort to just saying, “If you only knew..” Yet, your story, this story, is the worst post-divorce relationship I’ve heard to date. But thank God your children have you. Having my children as my #1 priority helps me to focus solely on my them, and what’s best for them despite their father’s animosity towards me. I sincerely hope your ex seeks help and things change for the better.

  22. Mo (@MonnaAchy)

    Oh…no. Sorry to hear this. People can be mean and horrible. My heart goes to you & the kids. A good friend of mine went through similar thing with her ex during their child custody battle. He made up disparaging stories about my friend and left her hanging with $ 20,000 in legal fees.

  23. Mark Robinson

    I agree that you need to confront and respond to your ex husband’s reckless and hurtful words and actions, but here is my suggestion. Arrange for your children to have the opportunity to speak privately with someone who is both trustworthy, knowledgeable and neutral (perhaps a counselor or child psychiatrist). Encourage your children to share their feelings with this person and feel free to ask this person anything they want. And tell them once they have done that, you will be ready to sit down with them – if they want to – and talk about this with them. Let them know that you will ALWAYS answer their questions and never conceal anything from them, but also help them understand that when you and their father fight, they don’t need to be – and shouldn’t be – in the middle of it. Let them know that you can and will fight your own battles for yourself.

  24. Mark Robinson

    One more thing…
    I think this could also be a “teachable moment” between you and your kids about the right way to fight and the wrong way. Every human relationship experiences fights. Happy, loving, enduring relationships experience many, many fights over the years. But what makes those relationships happy, loving and enduring is that people have learned to fight with respect and dignity and honor and compassion and empathy.

    If you can teach this to your kids, they will have successful relationships as adults.

  25. Caroletta

    Unfortunately, denied/questioned paternity isn’t as uncommon as it should be when exes feud. DNA testing is common knowledge thanks to Maury so when facing similar remaeks I let the kids hear me say I’d be first in line if one was requested. Slander & accusations of child abuse are daggers also. My one and only post-marital beau of record was labeled a baggage-boy! There’s light when the children come of age, trust!

  26. Whitney

    Your ex is out of bounds and apparently needs psychological help…really. His actions will not bring the two of you back together, and his selfishness shows parenting is not on the top of his priorities. My ex hasn’t spoken to his children in 3 years and they haven’t seen him since we split in 2006. I agree, I do not say anything negative about him, although I had to give my youngest a brief lesson when she questioned me about my husband, their step dad, the man that takes care of them. She understands now…

  27. Carolyn

    It’s so nice to hear from people who understand. My ex comes and goes, which is worse for the kids than it would be if he would either stay and proactively parent, or go and stay gone. Thanks for your comment, Whitney, and all the best to you.

  28. Valencia

    Had I not seen your name as the author, I would have thought that someone had copied my journal and posted it for all the world to see. I totally overstand both your dilemmas and your challenges. I thank you for your candor. Our stories are similiar enough that it looks like our paths would have even crossed at the courthouse…our timelines are extraordinarily close. Recently, I have begun examining the effects of the “ex” tornado and committing it all to prayer and deliverance. However, all the while, focusing on the overseeing of the real “prize”…those young hearts (the children). I commend you for your transparency….know that you are not alone in the walk……thank you for sharing. Grace, love and blessings, V

  29. nichole

    I believe that some adults think children aren’t smart so they continue to act and say things that ultimately come back to haunt them as the children grow up.

    Your ex has some major issues. It seems that he feels if hurts you or hurts your children (which will in turn hurt you), he is in control. This man has a lot to learn.

    Continue to be the strong parent and the parent your children can depend on. And believe that all will be well.

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