Friday, May 23, 2008

Choices (long, sorry)

I've reached a conclusion that the fundamental instability between Gary and me is not fixable, because it is not available to Gary's awareness. He is simply not aware that he expects my vantage to be one and the same as his. It's very unlikely he will: as was famously said, "the fish will be the last to discover water" (Marshall McLuhan). It's hiding in plain sight. When I point it out to him his eyes glaze; he has no idea what I mean.

Therefore, the fruits of this set of conditions are very unlikely to change. These include being held responsible for knowing what's in his mind (and being punished when I fail), continued backlog of unresolved conflict, passive-aggression.

At best the field between us is polite or friendly in a distant way. It is not an atmosphere of mutual genuine warm regard and good will. And it degenerates quickly and sometimes unexpectedly.

Sadly, the boys have not known much else.

Now that I understand the anatomy of our dynamic better, I see how it's likely to continue to affect them. Already I've seen Gary answer for one of them when I say, "Do you want some dressing on your salad?" Gary will answer, "Yes, lots!" (Then is resentful when I point out that it was one of the children whose preference I asked, not his) Gary already assumes his preferences are also the kids', and when they object exacerbates the situation by either insisting on his choice or implying that there is something wrong with them for wanting something different. He wants them to want what he wants, in the same way Gary's mother wants him to want what she wants. He does not see how this undermines his own authority in their eyes. If the pattern stays unchanged this probably won't improve as they approach adolescence.

What is best for them? If part of their developmental task is to individuate from us, their parents, is it not confusing to live in an environment where one of the parents is NOT individuated and appears to condemn movement in that direction?

Of course, he is going to be in their lives: If we split I can't imagine that he would want anything but shared custody. But there are many ways to approach this.

Most important I think is that the boys not change their address. I've heard of solutions where parents keep their house and rotate back and forth as custody agreements dictate, rather than the children doing the moving. Unfortunately, this is complicated a little by the fact that the boys are now in two different schools (although I still have hope that maybe at some point Scott will return to our neighborhood school. He'll stay at Trillium for second grade, next year, though.)

So with that as a basic assumption there are various ways to accomplish this. One way would be to just make a few adjustments to our current living situation. Not much would have to change at all. He works long hours, and so our overlap time within the house is pretty minimal already. We just delineate it a little more: figure out how we'd do a conventional custody and just arrange to be gone when the other is here. An advantage to this is that I would continue to be the full time caregiver for the boys so we wouldn't need to utilize before/after-school care. This could continue to be my full time job and I would not need to seek outside employment. Furthermore, the perceived transition is less jarring to the boys.

My question about that is whether or not it's best to put daylight between the perennial conflict of my need to differentiate and his to remain undifferentiated. It's often a fraught process anyway for children to differentiate themselves from their parents : during ages 2 and 3 when the developmental need was particularly acute I remember thinking that adolescence must be like this. I had this confirmed from many quarters by people who specialize in child development: it's the task for the children to separate themselves from their parents, and it often isn't pretty. Will their task be more confusing if I don't physically separate myself from their father?

So perhaps it's better for their father and I to not share a house--at least living in it simultaneously.

There are a couple ways to do this. I could rent a room from someone during the days I don't have custody. He would have to manage his own child care arrangements. He would also need to make arrangements to sleep somewhere else on days when I have custody. I would need to return to my profession or something that pays a living wage. I don't know if it would need to be full time. So there would be childcare needs on days when I have custody too, depending on what kind of hours I have. This of course, would be far more noticeable for the boys.

If we are both renting part-time somewhere else that's a good chunk of change evaporated each month. It's a shame to think of, when one considers that it could be going to upgrade the house we have. Perhaps the solution is to buy a small place, a little house, or condominium and own that together. So at least we are creating some value and investment, though it still fragments the resources that could have gone into the house we have.

Another question about co-owning two places is the level of cooperation it would require. Will it be possible for us to cooperate amicably to the extent that would be required? And what if one of us wants to remarry? I don't foresee that for myself--I can't imagine wanting that after a marriage lingering for 16 years and then failing. (Actually, it's probably more accurate to say it's been failing for 16 years.) I can see him seeking someone else to mirror him: in general men do have a tendency to mate fairly quickly after a break-up (remembering a statistic: the only population more depressed than divorced men is married women!) I suppose if one of us was to find another partner we'd then have to work out some kind of buy-out arrangement.

The traditional divorce would be the most disruptive. A lot of my assets are tied up in this house and I don't think it would be smart of me to walk away from them outright. Though the house has probably appreciated some in value since we bought it three years ago, it is not enough that we could expect to buy two other places in the boys' school district with the proceeds of a sale.

Of course another consideration is to just continue to be married and go on with status quo with the understanding that I am living with a spouse who is not able to be a full partner. Though my vows didn't state this specifically, 'sickness-and-health' is implicitly part of what I agreed to. The problem with that is, it doesn't look like the resentment and passive aggression is going to get better. Even though I understand better where it's coming from, I can't seem to just ignore or disregard it when he puts me down. There's not much pleasure in living in an atmosphere where at any moment he may remember he dislikes me and treat me accordingly.

Two Days Later:

Update: I read Doug' post, "Bruises" and realized the congruency of my situation. The stones Gary throws are labeled: "Couldn't you have figured that out yourself?" "It's OBVIOUS!" "I would have thought you could have seen that." "This stone is for what I was mad about the other day." "This stone is for the fact that I resent you...for some reason I don't remember."

Throwing stones is a serious matter, and Doug's post was a reminder that it's not good to minimize the effects. That said, when I consider the intricacies of separating--coming up with a value for and dividing our assets, our retirement, furnishing another household (and therefore reducing the resources available for our boys' future education)-- it sure seems like it would be a whole lot simpler if I was just not bothered by his behavior. In fact I'm aware that it could be seen that I'm preparing to do a whole lot of boat-rocking when it would just be simpler for me to shave off my corners and fit in this round hole. I'm the obstruction; if I would just give everything would be all right

Another update is that I took Scott to the pediatrician for his ADD evaluation. The check-list I filled out matches Billy's, the teacher's almost exactly--Scott meets nine out of nine of the criteria for attention disorder, and 5 out of nine for hyperactivity. The dr spent a long time with me. She said that a lot of the issues wouldn't even exist in a simpler societal structure--that school is where the behavioral symptoms manifest, since it is language-based, and requires a special kind of attending that is difficult for these kids; a lot of issues disappear once formal education is complete. The key is to get them through the school system "with their self esteem intact". It's when self-esteem is affected that the secondary problems emerge: social problems, drug abuse. She recommended medication; said that other non-drug interventions don't have a good track record for effectiveness.

So I have a lot of thinking and research to do in this area in considering what will be the best for Scott. He has been learning and showing growth in reading...math concepts more questionable. Still, as a first grader, the academic demands aren't yet too rigorous...will symptoms worsen as more is expected of him?

And, if the structure of school is the genesis of the behavioral symptoms we see in children with ADD, maybe it is ludicrous to send him to school. The fall-back of poor-man's private school, homeschooling, is a possibility, but not if I'm trying to earn a living wage. Physical therapists' hours are the traditional 9 to 5... Fortunately the school Scott is in now is probably the most understanding and kind environment for a child with ADD as can be found in the public school system. But it still relies on means of passing knowledge that require a level of focus that is not Scott's strength; and I've seen adverse behavior created when too much is asked of him: that's why I moved him from the more traditional school.

It just now occurs to me to think of this decision-making process as a slow-cooked meal--slow, moist heat softening the gristly tendons and connective tissue, and melding various flavors into something harmonious. Hopefully.

I guess the key is to keep forefront what is most important, and an eye open to decisions that will best meet those needs.


Douglas W said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Douglas W said...

Oh... where to start... so much to say. I'll tackle just one thing to start with...

In Australia we are trying to move away from the notion of "custody" and now talk about "Shared Parenting Plans".

Try this... there are lots of ideas... on our Family Law site

Here's an extract from a site called Positive Solutions.

"While you and your partner may have separated, you remain parents to your child or children. Like business partners, you are now parenting partners with a joint vested interest in the positive growth and development of your child.

The new Family Law Amendment CShared Parental Responsibility) Act 2006 deals with parenting issues. By establishing a Parenting Plan we can help you find a way to continue parenting your child, even though you are separated.

The Basic Ground Rules for Parenting Successfully

Parenting Plans

Under the new Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Act 2006 (the Shared Parenting Act), parenting plans may be drawn up to arrange contact. A parenting plan must be made free from any threat, duress or coercion and be in the best interests of the child.

Why enter into a Parenting Plan?

Parents should consider entering into a Parenting Plan as:

it is a way of avoiding future conflict;

it is a way to deal with future consultations about children's issues;

it gives the child security, clarity, safety and certainty through knowing they have a set routine for contact;

ways for resolving future disputes can be included in the plan;

the process for changing the plan to take account of the changing needs or circumstances of the child or parties can be dealt with in the plan.

What can a Parenting Plan deal with?

Parenting Plans may deal with one or more of the following:

The person or persons with whom a child is to live;

The time a child is to spend with another person or persons;

The allocation of parental responsibility for a child;

If two or more persons are to share parental responsibility, the form of consultations those persons are to have with one
another about decisions to be made in the exercise of that responsibility;

The communication a child is to have with another person or other persons (ie telephone calls etc);

Maintenance of a child;

The process to be used for changing the plan to take account of the changing needs or circumstances of the child or the
parties to the plan;

Any aspect of the care, welfare or development of the child or any other aspect of parental responsibility for a child.

Who can make Parenting Plans?

Parents can make Parenting Plans, as well as others, such as grandparents or other relatives of the child.

How much time should a child spend with each parent?

If it is reasonably practicable and in a child's best interest to spend equal time with both parents, then parents can consider the option of an arrangement of that kind.

If spending equal time with both parents is not reasonably practicable and/or in their best interests, then an option where the child spends substantial and significant time can be arranged.

A Parenting Plan that is neither of the above that is in the best interests of the child.

What is substantial and significant time?

A child will have been taken to have spent substantial and significant time with a parent if (and only if):

The time the child spends with their parent falls on weekends and holidays; and

Days that do not fall on weekends or holidays.

This requirement has been put in place so that the time the child spends with their parent allows the parent to be involved in the
child's daily routine and occasions and events of particular significance to the child, as well as the parent."

There's lots more on this and other similar web sites.

It might sound a bit legalistic, but it helps to clarify the thoughts about an issue that can easily fill your head with confusion

There are some good resources at our Child Support Agency web site.

Do a Google search for "Shared Parenting Plans" and Australia and you'll find a lot more.