Husband's Ex Is a Co-Parenting Nightmare

My husband and his ex have been divorced for about 7 years. When they got divorced, his ex immediately moved 1,000 miles away to live with her then-boyfriend, leaving her 3-, 4-, and 5-year-old children in my husband’s custody. Their divorce settlement grants them joint legal and physical custody, with my husband being the parent of primary residence (which means our house is the kids’ legal address). During the first three years after the divorce, the ex-wife lived far away and would come back to the area every few months to visit her kids for a couple of weeks, then go back home. While she was visiting, she was extremely permissive and irresponsible with them; my husband eventually had to refuse to allow the kids to spend the night with her (she would stay at a relative’s house) because she would keep the kids home from school without good reason.

Three years after the divorce, the ex-wife moved back to the area with her new husband. The children alternate weeks between homes; they spend one week at our house, the next week with their mother, etc. Their mother lives just outside the kids’ school district, so while the kids get buses to school from our house, their mother has to drive them to school when they are at her house. Since the time she moved back, attendance has been a problem while they are in her custody. This year, the school finally got sick of it and sent the case to truancy court a couple of weeks ago.

In addition to the truancy issues, my husband’s ex has issues disciplining her children. She grew up in a house with a mother who was clinically insane and, as a result, withholding and cruel. I think because of that, she has decided that she is going to give her kids everything her mother didn’t give her - all the cuddling, loving, snuggling, etc. The problem is, that’s only half of a mother’s job. The other half involves teaching them responsibility and respect. At their mother’s house, the kids kind of rule the roost. There’s very little punishment for anything, and when there is, she is still using time-outs (her kids are now aged 10, 11 and 12). At our house, they are expected to follow the rules: be respectful, follow instructions, help out with chores, clean up after themselves, things like that. Their mother is horrified that we’ve started having the kids do the dishes after dinner each night - she views this as slave labor and extremely cruel. And she calls my husband all the time to complain about the atmosphere at our house, because her kids complain about it (I guess so - what kid wouldn’t rather be at a house where they not only don’t have to go to school, but also get to stay in their rooms playing video games all week long?). She constantly tells my husband that the kids hate coming to our house and think he’s mean. She is very clearly in a competition for Most Popular Parent of the Year, and that is more important to her than actually raising her children to be functional, independent, productive adults.

As a result of all of this conflict, my husband feels that the bulk of the “bad cop” parts of parenting have fallen onto his shoulders. If the kids are to learn how to behave in society, they’re only going to learn it at our house. And the kids have been acting out, breaking rules left and right, being disrespectful (mostly to me) and our house is filled with tension. My husband and his ex have started going to counseling with the kids, but his ex seems more interested in getting the counselor to agree that my husband and I are mistreating her children than she is in actually getting to the root of the problems and learning to co-parent with my husband. (Much to her disappointment, the counselor agrees that my stepchildren are old enough for the chores we ask them to do, and does not seem to believe that we’re being cruel to them.)

For my part, I have a 4-year-old son with my husband. And I do not want to raise my son in an environment where his siblings do not have to follow the same rules he has to. And my son is already expected to clean up after himself, he will be expected to participate in household chores when he is old enough to do so, and he will be expected to show the proper respect to adults.

There are other issues - she does not buy the kids clothes that fit them and they often come back to our house looking like homeless people.

So I guess my question is, how do you co-parent with a mother who complains about the fact that you aren’t allowing her children to run hog wild? I’m not interested in getting the kids to like us or our house more; they have to come to our house every other week until they’re 18, they just have no choice. And I’m really unconcerned about their mother filing for sole custody; first of all, she seems unable to handle having the kids with her 50% of the time as it is, and secondly, a woman who runs off with her boyfriend and leaves her young children behind is not a woman who wants to have them around all the time. What I’m interested in is running my household without their mother’s constant interference, so that I can raise my child without having to adhere to rules imposed on us by my husband’s first wife. I want my stepkids to be good role models for my son, and I don’t want to have to have so much anger and tension in our house all the time. Any advice, keeping in mind that she probably is never going to change her attitude?

@Kay_Ro The short answer to your question is you don’t get Mom to co-parent the way you want. You let that idea go. Once you can let that go you can move on emotionally. Set your household up so it works for you and don’t worry about what Mom and kids are saying. Kids have rules for the different settings they must encounter (school, church, friend’s houses, etc) and they can handle it.

Emotionally I feel for you. It sucks to see Mom raising brats while you are trying to do your best. In general, legally speaking, other than what you wrote about the truancy issues you’ve got nothing here. In the eyes of the law both parents have the right to impart whatever values they choose during their parenting time as long as those values do not pose a danger to the children. If Mom wants to raise Hare Krishnas she can. If Mom wants to raise brats she also can. If mom wants boyfriends that’s her business. What mom does on her parenting time is her business - period!

If there has been a substantial change in circumstance since your husband’s last orders were issued you can attempt to take things back to court and get more decision making and/or time with the children. Unless Mom is provably unstable and unfit she will and should always be apart of those kid’s lives. From your tone that doesn’t seem to be what you desire. This is a long hard road for step moms. If you don’t want your 4 year old to grow up in this environment you should think long and hard what kind of a life you do want. At this point even if you do get a divorce from your husband your child will spend time with his half-siblings anyway.

If you guys are getting earfuls of woe from Mom about what meanie-heads your household is than you don’t have enough boundaries set up with Mom. Explain to her that you’ve got your rules and she has hers. Please do not tell you what to do in your household and then be prepared to do the same for her.

For your own sanity find a way to take breaks from all of this. If you can find a step-mom support group or even your own therapist it will really help you manage the frustration. I was making myself sick until I started working on me and balancing it with my step mom duties.

Good Luck and all the Best!

@TheProfessor - Well, I wasn’t really asking what we can legally do; I work for attorneys and am aware of my husband’s legal rights. My question was coming from a place where I want to be allowed to run my household without interference from my husband’s ex-wife, and she is unwilling to allow us to live our lives without causing constant havoc. If her kids complain to her about a punishment they received at our house, she calls my husband and screams at him about it. If her kids complain about a rule they don’t like at our house, she calls my husband and screams at him about it. My feeling is, absent evidence of physical or emotional abuse, her response to her children should simply be, “Those are your father’s rules, and I’m sorry that you don’t like them, but it’s his decision what rules you should follow at his house.”

While you might consider this screaming thing to be solely my husband’s problem, the constant phone calls and complaints interfere with our ability to have our own family life. My husband cannot simply ignore her phone calls, because she often uses some other issue he actually needs to talk to her about, to yell at him about something she dislikes about our house.

My desire is not to prevent the mother from being involved with her children - that is obviously her right, and theirs as well. They were unfairly deprived of their mother at a very young age for far too long. So I have no desire to separate them from her. What I DO want, however, is to run my household as I see fit, without the constant interference from her. And because she refuses to accept that my husband, too, is the children’s parent and does not need her supervision to care for them properly, the kids have picked up on the disagreement between their parents and use this to cause great tension and behavioral issues in our house. In short, they don’t have to follow our rules because Mommy thinks our rules are wrong.

So my question is not about what we can legally do - we can legally do nothing. She is not abusing or neglecting her children. She is not really caring for them in what I consider to be the way they deserve to be cared for, but she isn’t actually HARMING them, per se. (Our state does actually consider truancy a form of child neglect, but for it to be actionable in family court, I’m reasonably certain it would have to involve several truancy court appearances to have any weight.) My question is about what people do to communicate to a crazy bio mom that being divorced from the dad means she does not get to weigh in on, or decide, what the rules in his house are, that the rules in her house are her domain, but she must have the same respect for his house.

@Kay_Ro I’m really sorry you have to go through all of this. I’m in the same boat :frowning:

Read through some of my other posts on setting boundaries. Google “gray rock.” Check out Bill Eddy on high conflict issues and how to deal with them. He has some great strategies for how to defuse someone like your husband’s Ex.

Good Luck! And a happy belated Mother’s Day :smile:

Same boat here too :frowning: Now, we’re headed to court because we’ve established gray rock method, and set up boundaries in hopes we could find some relief in our home, during our time with the littles. She is now suing for court ordered co parenting counseling to happen for her and my husband. The issue is every time my husband would offer information, she would be-little him, and find something else to complain about. So, he stopped giving information unless necessary. She then started reaching out more and more, but stated it was only in regards to the kids because my hubby stopped engaging with her! Now that he’s not giving much energy into her… she hates it and is taking us to court!
We did get a lawyer, but mentally I’m not sure what to do or how my husband is able to show the judge the constant inconsistent behavior from his ex, and the unnecessary reaching out in hopes she get control again? UGH.

I am currently going through something like this myself. I have sole custody of our now 16 year old daughter as of yesterday and her mother has been trying to say I am violating out agreement by having our daughter get a job now that she is 16 and I want her to have some responsibility other than what she has at home. Our agreement states (this started back in 2012-2013) she gets 8 weeks out of the summer, every other Thanksgiving/Christmas, Mother’s Day, and a couple of other holidays thrown in there. But we have also came to an agreement that with us living 600 miles apart, that Christmas we should be able to do and since she does not get her for the other days that were in our agreement, that she would just have our daughter the entire summer from the day after they get out of school to one to two weeks before school started again.

However, here lately she has been harassing us to the point leaving voicemails when I do not answer the phone because we are busy doing something, that she states she is going to call in a welfare check since I have not answered. She has been doing this since our daughter came back from her summer visit with her.

I was given care, custody and control of our daughter when my ex wife was arrested for drug manufacturing and child endangerment charges back when out daughter was 8. I am to the point that I am ready to take her back to court if she does not stop the harassing messages

I’m sorry but as the father that doesn’t want to deal with his ex because of a disastrous divorce that has given me a police record and devastated my financial future, I have no issues not co-parenting with my ex-spouse. If I wanted to co-parent with this woman, I would have done everything I could to prolong a marriage for the child’s sake. When she presented me with divorce papers then falsely accused me of battery to gain advantage in our custody battle, she ceased to effectively have my cooperation in parenting our daughter. I have no desire to continue to work with someone like that. I parallel parent with my daughter’s mother, only communicating via email when it’s absolutely necessary and try to be the best father I can be to my daughter during my custodial time. You all need to understand, there are always two sides to a story. A child can be raised very well by a single parent and/or without the parents cooperating. In my case, attempted cooperation will just lead to more frustration and conflict… so parallel parenting is my choice, for everyone’s sake.