Off-Duty Parenting… Babysitting?

The worst thing about my parents’ divorce was how much they cooperated.  That sounds odd, doesn’t it?  As a child, their level of respect for each other made the transitions easy for me and my sister.  But as an adult, I’ve had a hard time understanding the animosity that plays out between separating couples.

One area where my parents worked together was the subject of caring for the kids if the custodial parent couldn’t.  We lived with my mom most of the time and if she had somewhere to go or something to do, my dad was always quick to step in.  I grew up thinking that was the way it should be.

And then, a few years ago, a friend of mine complained that her ex-husband expected her to be his babysitter while the kids were with him.

“He thinks he can use me,” she lamented.  “As if I don’t have anything else going on in my life!  It’s just like when we were married.  He wants to do whatever he wants in the easiest manner possible and he expects me to pick up the slack.”

I considered her situation.  In that instance, The Ex had asked her to take one child while he participated in a planned activity with the other.

“But it’s not like he’s partying with the guys,” I suggested.  “He’s trying to spend quality time with Kira.”

“It doesn’t matter,” she insisted.  “We’re supposed to be sharing the kids 50/50 and he’s not putting in his full 50%.  He needs to learn how to juggle two kids on his own.  I did.”

I touched on this situation in an earlier post regarding children’s illness and who should step up to stay home.  But that was more specific.  Right now, I’m considering the broader issue: how “available” should co-parents be during times that the kids are with the other parent? How do you handle this in your family?  Do you have specific procedures/agreements to address this in your parenting plan?  How do/would you feel if your ex asked for your child-rearing assistance on his/her “watch”?

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  1. I am going out of town for work for the first time. I expressed to my ex that we could work something out and our nanny could transport the kids to and from his house each evening and he would just have to miss a few hours of work over my three day absence. I couched it in a positive ‘Let’s figure this out together!’ way.

    He told me “It’s not my job to watch the kids when you go out of town.” And that I should call his mother. (note: one of his accusations towards me at the end of our marriage was that I was trying to replace him in his family. He did not talk to, call, or email his family. I did. But it was my fault for developing a relationship with them, not his for NOT maintaining his family relationships.)

    I expressed to him that I wanted to feel comfortable asking him to do things like the Boy Scout camp out with just the boy on his weekend – ie, offering him up that precious individual parenting time. He responded as if he would be doing me a favor if he agreed to that, that he has a ‘personal life’.

    And to your friend’s comment, he was asking things of me like transport to a birthday party for one child, because it was too far for him to drive (he lived about 15 minutes further than I).

    I feel like I’m a ‘detractor’ on your blog, sorry! I keep trying to be positive and somehow engage in positive co-parenting. It fails, again and again. I keep trying, but less.

    • I appreciate your input, Lori. My hope here is to generate discussion so we can all learn from each other and navigate our own personal territory a little better (hopefully).

      I find it interesting to note the different ways people “detach” following a separation. The lines all start to blur: how much of the detachment is a matter of renegotiating the old marital relationship? And at which point does that cross the line into being detrimental to the parenting relationships?

      I refuse to believe that so many exes are just plain “bad”. I think that we all carry different expectations and coping mechanisms. It’s positively maddening when the emotions are added in and all of this is blended together during and following a divorce… For me, the only way to stop the insanity is to unravel it and try to find some understanding.

      • I don’t think he’s bad, I just think he’s selfish. I know I think more about this, and I try about once every few months to generate some positive discussion. It is very very very very very difficult. There are people who do not solve problems. I happened to have married and divorced one. I don’t think it’s deliberate, I don’t think it’s evil, it just is. He will focus on himself. I am learning to deal with this, and I am planning ahead (in my head) for dealing with this with my children. I *know* he loves them. This does not, however, mean he will call them, take them to things they want to attend, or try to expand their life experiences. He will play Monopoly (so thankful I don’t have to), hug them, and tell him he loves them. They will be okay with this, because to them, that will be who “Dad” is. It is what it is. That doesn’t mean that not having a parenting partner isn’t incredibly frustrating and at times completely mind boggling.

        • I think it’s good that you can simply accept it as his nature. It doesn’t make it easier to deal with, but you can at least save yourself the continuous disappointment.

          It’s funny that you mentioned Monopoly. We’ve found that the Speed Die is extremely helpful in mixing things up and making it more interesting. We’ve also started playing with a time limit and the rule, “the winner is the one who has the most fun”.

        • I just play Monopoly on Wii… I don’t have to pay attention as much 🙂 Since I still have a 2 year old bent on game destruction, true family games aren’t in the picture yet.

  2. This is actually an area in which The Ex and I do pretty well, I think. If one of us has to travel for work (and thankfully it doesn’t happen frequently) during our custodial time, we simply rearrange the calendar. The noncustodial parent always keeps the kids during the travel time, and we try to find “make-up” custodial days for when the traveling parent returns. If the noncustodial parent needs to also be gone during part of that time, making a babysitter necessary, the custodial parent pays. That way, kid-parent time is maximized but the noncustodial parent isn’t financially burdened if he/she needs child care during a time when they otherwise wouldn’t have expected to have the kids.

    In general, we try to keep non-work/social absences during custodial times to a minimum. On the rare occasions when there has been a special concert or out-of-town friend visiting occurring during a custodial time, I’ve usually arranged child care as a back-up but always given The Ex the option of keeping the kids. The “right of first refusal” is actually written into our Divorce Decree.

    Somehow (shockingly), this is an area that’s just always seemed to work out for us.

    Great topic.

    • “If the noncustodial parent needs to also be gone during part of that time, making a babysitter necessary, the custodial parent pays. That way, kid-parent time is maximized but the noncustodial parent isn’t financially burdened if he/she needs child care during a time when they otherwise wouldn’t have expected to have the kids.”

      Excellent! Lots of forethought here… And an obvious display of respect.

  3. I can remember telling the ex that I would not be her baby sitter whether and the trainer wanted to go out. It’s a statement I regret. Seven years later we have an amicable arrangement. In fact she is out of town for an extende weekend and I am with the kids for an extended period. I also travel for business and sometimes have to switch days with her. She usually has no issue with it especially when it’s the travel that keeps the child support coming.

  4. Good topic! I linked over from ChopperPapa’s blog.

    When we first separated, she used me as a ‘babysitter’ quite often and i was happy to do it. She has since finished her classes, so it’s not so often now. I’ve made a point to be available for things like that. One thing she has asked of me that I’m not willing to do is to stay with the kids and put them to bed at her place. She’s not willing to let me have them overnight too much either. Something to do with child support probably.

    What I don’t appreciate are last minute schedule changes and I’ve had to talk to her about that. I’m willing to be flexible but not abused.

    I appreciate nowisgood’s comment about “right of first refusal.” I’ve never heard of that, but will look into including it in the decree. Thanks!

    • Thanks for stopping over here!

      In my state, the support amount is calculated based on “overnights” (funny, most people spend money during the day!). I know sleepovers can be a sensitive topic.

      I think your statement about being flexible vs. being abused is worth pointing out. These situations have to be handled in a respectful manner.

  5. My kids were 12 and 14 when my ex and I separated so could easily be left on their own for a few hours although I would avoid making personal plans during my parenting time and neither of us travel much for work. My ex and I have always been flexible with helping each other out with pick ups etc so we’ve rarely used babysitters.

    Our parenting agreement does requires gives the noncustodial parent first option on spending time with the children, if the custodial parent has a conflict.

    It saddens me when I hear a parent refusing to spend time with his/her children on their non-custodial time. It seems directed so much at the ex and I think sends an extremely negative message to the children reinforcing the idea that that parent’s house is not really a home, just some place to visit during specific hours.

    Well done Chopper Papa for being able to work with your ex – has it changed your relationship with your kids?

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