Q: Even though my ex and I have been together for five years, he’s been abusive since day one. I finally got tired of it and left — and got a restraining order to protect myself and our two kids. He has custody of his daughter from a previous relationship — and I’ve raised her the whole time — but he has not let me see her since I left. He said since he couldn’t spend time with our kids, I can’t visit his kid. She’s 7! I decided to let him visit our children hoping I could spend time with his child. It didn’t work. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: Not this, in any way shape or form. You both have children depending on you, and both of you are playing games. Granted, I don’t know the severity of the abuse, and I certainly don’t want to diminish what you’ve faced, but if you’ve allowed him to see the kids even though there’s a restraining order in place, that tells me you aren’t concerned about their safety. All signs lead to you and dad using the kids as leverage to get back at one another. That’s about the worse ex-etiquette possible. You’ve both lost your way — and your kids are paying the price.
As a side note: When one parent has sole custody of their children that means something has happened in the past that requires that kind of parenting plan. It also implies Dad’s daughter has already experienced loss of some sort at a very early age. He’s playing with fire when he prevents you from seeing his daughter. Actually, you both are. Good Ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 1 is, “Put the children first.”
If you’ve been facing this for five years, you know there’s a pattern recreated each time there’s a disagreement. Without the proper tools to break that pattern, partners can be in danger. If one of the partners has been violent, without the appropriate help, it may continue and often accelerates — and the other may be doing something to contribute to the cycle without knowing it (starting with returning after each incident). Therefore, the restraining order was probably the proper course of action — but as you’ve seen, the fallout once a restraining order is in place can be just as difficult to maneuver as what lead to the restraining order in the first place.
It’s because of situations like this that I included Ex-etiquette rule No. 5, “Don’t be spiteful,” and rule No. 6, “Don’t hold grudges” in the Ten rules of Good Ex-etiquette for Parents. Those two rules serve as reminders to parents that only they can break a cycle that’s perpetuated by anger and resentment — and the incentive to do that, particularly in your case, is the physical, mental, and emotional health of their children. If you and dad don’t want them to recreate the same relationship you have, stop it now. They will think violence is “normal” and find themselves in the same sort of relationship because it’s familiar.
Finally, when restraining orders become part of the scenario, things have accelerated past the point of simply being able to stop the nonsense. You may need professional help to intervene — and it’s not uncommon for couples in your position to reconcile after the dust settles. Even if you’re tempted to go back together once things settle down; get professional help before you do it. If personal counseling is too expensive, check Victim Witness or non-profit groups like “Women’s Centers.” (That’s for everyone in the family) That’s good ex-etiquette.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is an author of “and the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website exetiquette.com at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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