Part 5: The Ex

Some object lessons; dealing with the ‘ex’

Ah, a very ticklish area here. Also tricky from a legal standpoint. How do you deal with people who can’t keep to agreements, and worse still, treat their kids as some kind of weapon in a marital battle already fought to a stalemate? Especially as the relationship crashed and burned long before you came on the scene?

Now in some ways I’m fortunate; my wife’s ex-husband is an expatriate with a relatively deep wallet. Unfortunately for him, while he can afford to shower his biological progeny with gifts and holidays, but doesn’t make the emotional connection. Providing a steady male role model was down to your working fingers, right here.

However, one of the things that will get thrown in your face, and I had chucked in mine a few times is the “You’re not my father!” Tantrum when kids can’t get exactly what they want.
The darkness in my soul always wanted to say; “I know.” Yet that kind of ill-advised remark would have only put spark to the napalm. You will have to tread very carefully with your stepchild’s loyalties. They have few of the psychic defences of adults, and as such you’ll have to keep the sharp tongue and sarcasm under a tight rein.

You are not their father. Think about that for a moment. You will never be their biological father and in my book (This one at any rate) it’s another of those counter productive thingies. Your new charges do not carry your DNA. Their instinctive loyalties lie elsewhere. As do yours. Neither party can help it. We’re all biologically pre-programmed, poorly bonded, half-socialised and sometimes all we can do is rage against our fleshy machines.

As I’ve said before, this is one of those junctures where all parties are at the mercy of their biological imperatives. However, and this is my experience talking, in the kingdom of the blind, the one eyed man is King. Power lies with they who can take a half breath and think a little before acting. The ones who can stand their ground and do what seems like the right thing at the time to give themselves thinking room. While there is the potential for major brownie points on occasions like this, there is also the potential for the Titanic to really hit the iceberg and go down with all hands. Your relationships with it.

Here your best friend is honesty and a little self examination. That and the ability to say “No” every so often and not back down under pressure. Show all parties a little steel, some firmness and resolve and you may be quite pleasantly surprised. Other times you’ll get your face rubbed in it, but that’s life. No-one wins all the time, so don’t waste your time holding a grudge if you don’t. Just don’t get fooled twice.

Now you can’t deny access to a biological parent, no matter how big an arsehole they are. Restraining orders notwithstanding. However, their right of access to your home is entirely under your remit. He can’t cross the threshold without your (or your spouses) specific permission. If the kids let him in without either parent being there, a quiet word with them on the way out is in order. That word being; “I know he’s your Dad, but he doesn’t come in unless I’m here.” Mi Casa was definitely not his Casa.

In my case I chose to allow my wife’s ex (To a lot of initial background spitting and hissing from Mrs S) into the house to talk to his kids. With one proviso; I had to be home. All visits were fairly loosely supervised, but there were clear areas of demarcation. Upstairs or any of the bedrooms, were off limits. My dog was off limits. The garden shed and my motorcycle, likewise. As was the kitchen (All those knives). The garden, such as it was, no problem, the living or dining room for privacy. No problem. My wife’s Ex was given the implicit understanding that he went nowhere outside of the allowed areas without my or Mrs S’s explicit permission. Our house, our rules. Any breach meant he got left standing at the front door in future. No appeal, no mercy.

Otherwise, I saw no percentage in being openly hostile to the man, even if he was a class A dick and serial adulterer. We’d talk in the street, pass the time of day with him and his new spouse and be as cordial as our relationship with my wife allowed. I’d even listen to his input on my wife’s occasional eccentricities, sometimes. After applying a very large pinch of salt. But that’s where things began and ended. Our relationship was always at arms length, which I think worked out quite well for all parties.

Overall, I’d say our triangular parenting ended as a no-score win. Stepkids got to see their biological father as regularly as they wanted. Mrs S got to work out her anger at her fickle ex-husband for his multiple acts of sexual betrayal, and Ex got to carry on proving he was a total dick (yet again) after ducking off to another country. And managing to get divorced, yet again. I even ended up winning a little acknowledged respect from all parties. Which is a worthwhile prize to aim for let me tell you. If given a choice between love and respect, I’ll take respect every time. For one simple reason; it lasts longer. We’re even on half way decent terms with Ex’s ex-wife, who was the woman he was having an affair with when Mrs S decided to divorce Ex for his bad case of wandering willy.

Stepkids also got to see the difference between different kinds of mature male and perhaps learned (I hope) that not all of us are complete arseholes all of the time. So, despite all the in your face shouting and occasional hurtful remark we all got out alive and functioning as human beings.

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Expatriate expostulations from Canada; a.k.a. A Sarcastic man abroad trying to stay in the middle of the road without getting run over.

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