Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Where's the Balance Point?

My problems seem very small right now. I try to remember to be grateful that I am so blessed to have the problems and worries and concerns I have. From the perspective of my own life, a year ago I never could have expected to have these problems today. From the perspective of over 100,000 people living in shelters, dazed, shocked and displaced by a monster hurricane, my problems are very small indeed.


How do I find the balance point between self-will and doing the next right thing? What do I do when what I see as the right thing to do brings me into conflict with someone else?

I'm worried about my son. He has no stability, no regular schedule. He's showing signs of defiance, disobedience, throwing toys. Is it just a part of turning three? I don't know. Yesterday I left a message with my shrink, that I want to talk to him, and get a referral to a child psychology specialist I can discuss it with. I have already suggested to my wife that she consider having our son live with me.

Two months ago, at the beginning of July, when my wife decided she didn't want me coming to LA on weekends to be with her and my son, we agreed that he would live with her, and he would spend two of every three weekends with me. So, he would be with me 4 of every 21 nights.

Since then, my son has been with me half the time. Which is fine, I'm happy and grateful for every moment I'm with him. The problem is that it hasn't been planned. One time he was with me for a week after my wife left him with friends overnight in my town. She was visiting them on Sunday, had to drive back to LA, my son was sick, so she left him there. She called me Sunday night after I was asleep and left a message "call me right away," with no information. I talked to her Monday morning and she told me what had happened. "If you want to pick him up, fine, otherwise I'll come and get him Tuesday or Wednesday." I, of course, went and picked him up immediately, and he was with me a week. (Need I add that one of the friends she left him with is an active alcoholic?)

Last week she left another "call me" message, weeping and wailing. I figured her elderly aunt had died. When I talked to her, no, she had just cycled to a bipolar depressive phase: she had crashed. She couldn't go to work, couldn't get out of bed, couldn't take care of our son. I drove to LA that day and picked him up, and he was with me for five days, until yesterday.

I suggested to her on the phone that she needs to consider having our son live with me. That, of course, was greeted with self-righteous anger, excuses, and accusations.


I'm very angry with her, incredulous at her unwillingness and/or inability to provide stability and consistency for our son. I'm seeing alarming signs in his behavior; I will be working soon and unable to drop everything and take care of him -- I need to arrange day care for him when he's with me, and that requires a consistent and predictable schedule.

I honestly don't think she wants to be a mom. I think our son is a burden to her and gets in the way of what she wants to do. I think what she cherishes is the image of herself as a mother -- particularly the image of "poor single mom, doing the impossible, with an estranged alcoholic husband."


It breaks my heart. I'm not even 8 months sober, and my life is no paragon of stability and maturity. And yet it seems my poor son would find more stability, attention, stimulation and affection from me than from his mother.

Where's the balance point? Where does my own self-will leave off, and doing the next right thing for my son begin? What do I do next?
  • First, I'm going to talk to my shrink and to a child psychologist.
  • Second, I'm going to start saying "NO" to my wife -- I'm not going to be "flexible" about my son's schedule, I'm going to be rigid. She insists on being the primary caregiver, well, let her deliver it. I'm not going to bail her out any more.
  • Third, I'm going to meet with an attorney. It seems clear that there will not be a reconciliation, so I'm going to see what I need to do now, and in coming weeks and months, to strengthen the legal protection for my son's best interests.

I won't do anything drastic or irrevocable today. I'll gather information and advice. I'll call my son tonight, tell him I love him, and sing songs with him.


At 9/06/2005 01:08:00 PM, Blogger NMAMFQLMSH said...

Phil - it sounds like you got your shit together and have decided all the right things to do. I wish you luck.

At 9/06/2005 05:19:00 PM, Blogger One Drunk to Another said...

Phil, as someone who works with children, most of them in some form of broken, divorced, or chaotic homes, my best advice to you to is to always remember to keep your son's health and happiness first. Sounds like you're trying to do that. Always be willing to ask for outside help and draw upon resources. And remember to help his mom, if you can. A happy, healthy mom AND dad are best for any kid. My prayers go your way!

At 9/06/2005 06:29:00 PM, Blogger dAAve said...

My prayers are with you Mr. Phil.

At 9/06/2005 06:30:00 PM, Blogger Phil said...

Suzanne: Definitely have my son's health and happiness as top priority. Definitely willing to reach out for help and support -- not an easy thing for me to do, you know how that goes, but I'm more willing and able than I used to be not to depend on my rugged individualism.

In what ways should I help his mom? I send money (more than the state guideline), I provide anything I see he needs, I go get him and take care of him at the drop of a hat. I don't know what more I need to do. I feel like I've been bending over backwards, to the point of shielding her from her own responsibility and the consequences of her choices. Actually, as I was posting this, I was reminded of a post in your blog a couple weeks ago, about the struggle between being a pushover and "accepting things I can't change." I have the same feeling about this.

I'm not being a smartass here, I genuinely want to hear if I'm overlooking anything that I ought to be doing.

JJ: I sure don't FEEL like I got my shit together! I suppose I'm at a point that boils down to me asking, "What does God want me to do next to fulfill His purpose?" And I guess that's not such a bad place to be...

At 9/06/2005 08:18:00 PM, Blogger NMAMFQLMSH said...

No..you have your shit together more than you think. You have your sons best interest at heart and that is what is important. Through my whole divorce I never thought of myself but my girls. I did what would be best for them. The only thing I did for myself was remain clean and sober. I was never so pleased to say to the judge "I'd be more than happen to submit to a drug test" knowing full well my ex wouldn't pass.

At 9/06/2005 08:19:00 PM, Blogger NMAMFQLMSH said...

By the way your blog is great. I'd love to be able to do what you have done with the picture thing. Awesome stuff!

At 9/06/2005 11:57:00 PM, Blogger Grace said...

In my experience defiance and misbehaviour are classic reactions to lack of routine. You have every right to get support/advice from professionals. I certainly wouldnt be happy about other 1/2 leaving my son with strangers.

I've been on the end of having my other half expect me to pick up the pieces, its unfair of them to do this, to you or your son. She may have to accept she needs more support if she has problems, but the support should be on your terms and your son should be clear where he is and when. I've had endless battles with this over the years. You do need to arrange child care if you are working, I've had to drop work at short notice to get my son to the point my employers arent happy. It will immpact on your life and you need to get that straight with her from the start. Shared child care is difficult living in the same town, but with distance as you have everyone has to pull their weight and keep their bargains, she needs to be aware of her responsibility in that for your sons sake. Hope you can work things out amicably. Sorry I am ranting!

At 9/07/2005 11:55:00 AM, Blogger Shannon said...

Hi Phil
I feel ya. I know both sides of having a split family. My daughter is with me 95% of the time, and her dad 3 weekends. With us, she has rules, with dad its like disney land, she can do whatever she wants. We my husband and I when she comes home from her dad, pay for her, with her irritability, and crankiness as she adjusts.

I read a great book that helped me with her behavioral issues, called
The Difiant child, and when I go home tonight I will post who the Author is.

It sounds like you are doing the right things... and sometimes doing the right thing, doesnt feel good. And shit yea finding the balance of acceptance and takin crap is a tough line... Hang in there, and keep doing what you are doing... God will take care of you, your son and even your wife

At 9/07/2005 03:13:00 PM, Blogger One Drunk to Another said...


I dunno exactly how you can help her. Definitely don't be a pushover. But, just don't let yourself be caught up in some of those battles we all hear over and over that happen between divorced or separated couples. The battles are about "them" and not their children, and therefore they are unwilling to work together and the kids suffer.

I've watched a lot of people try to get sober, while their spouses have done the lion's share of taking care of the kids while they do that. Then, after they get their act together, they start to pull their weight more. I guess I wonder if it's ever 50/50. Seems it's more that sometimes one person does a lot more than the other, and as long as whoever can do it does, the child will be okay. Just as if the couple were still together. Did that make sense?

I just hate the word "should" because the 12 steps teach us to try to be of maximum service to others, to make amends for our wrongs, and to do the right thing. The steps don't teach us to make sure others do what they are supposed to be doing. And when it's a child, I think doing more, rather than less, is worth it in many cases.

The important thing is, you're seeking input, rather than just forging ahead and relying on old ways and old behaviors. You're already doing the right thing simply by not trying to do it on your own!!! And I am fairly certain you're working steps on it and praying about it, right? If so, you can't go wrong!!!!

I'm cheering you on, my friend.

By the way, if you're bookmarking my old blogsite, please keep your kid away from your computer. hee hee


At 9/07/2005 04:11:00 PM, Blogger Phil said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you all for your comments. They are extremely helpful to me. I can see I'm not alone in my dilemma.

My first responsibility is to stay sober. I need to remind myself, frequently and consistently, not to let conflict with my wife become a prism, or funhouse mirror, in my perception of what my son needs. Doing the right thing, and striving to give my son the best I can give, will come back to me in joy and blessings a hundredfold. I need to continue praying for God's guidance, to me and to my wife. I must try to practice the principles in all my affairs. I must accept I can't control what my wife does or doesn't do.

Thank you for telling me what I need to hear! God bless you all.

JJ: I like the idea of telling a judge, sure, I'll pee in a cup any time you want, you could put me on 24-hour surveillance and you wouldn't see me doing anything with my son I would be ashamed of or want to hide.

Suzanne: Letting my son look at your blog is one of those things I wouldn't be ashamed to show I'm not doing. :)

At 9/07/2005 08:52:00 PM, Blogger Scott W said...

...praying only for the knowlege of God's will for us and the power to carry that out.

At 9/07/2005 10:04:00 PM, Blogger Phil said...

Scott: Bingo. I think that may be the crux of what I'm dealing with right now, the step I need to be working most diligently right now, and consciously evaluate any ideas I have, or decisions I make, against that reference. Thanks!

At 9/08/2005 12:08:00 AM, Blogger K said...

Sorry to hear about all this. I would be worried to. It sounds like your on the right path though. If I were in your shoes I would be struggling to keep my emotions in control over the choices she's made also. Letting go of the anger will give you the calm and peace you need to work through it.

Something that might help (until you come up with something more permanent) would be to talk to your church family; if you get in a jam once you've started working, maybe you can rely on someone there in an emergency to watch him. I did something similar with a family at my church for a few months at no cost because they really needed help with their kids. Your church can also give you some probably much needed guidance from the good book, support, and love, don't forget their always there for you. You and your family have my prayers bud.

John 14:1
Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.

Psalms 119:105
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

At 9/08/2005 10:28:00 AM, Blogger Phil said...

So true, Bossco, the folks at church are happy to help each other. Thanks for your prayers. And get well soon!

At 9/08/2005 03:04:00 PM, Blogger Jedi Michael said...

Hi Phil,
Thanks for dropping by my new blog, I am very new to the blogosphere since I kept my own hidden one for a year so I hope I have posted in the right place, I am 374 days sober today and just come back from my Holmfirth meeting having taken the key and sort of got roped into organising a cake for someones 21st AA birthday. It all feels quite overwhelming at the moment but I know in my second year I have to get in the middle of the AA boat so I have finally adopted AA as my "home group".
I dont know if you have heard of Holmfirth in America but its "Last of the summer wine country", anyway good to see you are doing so well - May the force be with you...

At 9/08/2005 03:28:00 PM, Blogger Phil said...

Thanks for coming by here, Jedi! Not familiar with Holmfirth, but I'm guessing it's near the mouth of the river Holm?

You redcoats have quite a presence now: Grace, aka Jedess Katkins, whom you know; Kenny, the wild-ass bloke in the southeast; and Martin, struggling with sobriety in Wales.

Congratulations on your One Year birthday! May you have many more days of sobriety and serenity!

At 9/09/2005 08:12:00 AM, Blogger Jane said...

When my ex got sober and tried to see his son, his son's mother became a real bitch. wouldn't even let him talk to his three year old son on the phone. my ex was doing all the right things, legally, financially, mentally, and spiritually. but still he had to wait almost a year to regain his rights as a parent. he had to take her to court. we learned a few things. such as, you must learn to see your relationship with your son's mother as a business relationship and not an intimate one. if she is not fulfilling her role as business partner your business (your son) is in trouble.

you have to cover your ass and take initiative. but don't get authorities involved unless you absolutely have too. my advice? if you aren't already you should....

1. pay child support by cheque and KEEP RECEIPTS, as well as receipts for significant expenses, such as child care.

2. put it in writing. write your ex a letter explaining your concerns and what you propose to help the situation. sign and date, and keep a copy for your records.

3. visit local family resources. my ex took a short course in "positive parenting from two homes", which was a huge benefit, emotionally and legally. check out what is available in your area, but my advice is to stick to non-profit organizations and away from the government as much as possible.

4. keep accurate documentation of when your son is with you. if it comes down to it, and you tell a judge he spends "a couple nights a week" with you it wont be as convincing as having exact dates.

5. work with his mother. support her, but don't become co-dependent. if you are paying child support and have your son two weeks out of the month or whenever she becomes overwhelmed, that's not right. he deserves more consistency.

i think the wisest decision here, if you can convince her, would be for your ex to take your son on the weekends and you to have him during the week, so you can line up dependable child care and have some peace of mind until your ex gets back on her feet. of course i am completely biased.

At 9/09/2005 10:19:00 AM, Blogger Shannon said...

Hey Phil, just checking in with you... how goes it today?

At 9/09/2005 11:29:00 PM, Blogger Phil said...

Jane: Wow!! You don't happen to be admitted to the bar in California by any chance?? :) I've been keeping pretty good records of time and expenses. A two-household parenting class is a great idea, I'm going to look into that.

I have my son this weekend. I picked him up at his day care this afternoon, my first time there since he started going to this one a few weeks ago. Two teachers reported he's adjusting very well, happy and cheerful, no behavior problems, no indications of problems from his situation. That was VERY good to hear. I have an appointment with my shrink Tuesday, and I think that will be helpful, too.

At 9/10/2005 04:03:00 AM, Blogger Jane said...

aw shucks phil, you've just gone and inflated my ego balloon, now i'm about to pop and ooze all over my new computer (which is totally being a pain in the ass, so maybe it's not such a bad thing)

(strange jane)

At 9/12/2005 10:02:00 AM, Blogger Rusty said...

When my son was 3 (he's 8 now) we took him to a therapist because he was so high energy, defiant, etc. Basically, what she told us was that he was smarter than the both of us and we were just going to have to learn to deal with it.

It sounds like you have a smart, active little toddler on your hands that's trying to push the envelope and find out where his boundaries are. You seem like a good and loving father that's trying to do his best in a less than perfect situation. I don't have any suggestions other than "hang in there," but I do want to offer my support. :-)

At 9/12/2005 10:13:00 AM, Blogger Princess Powerless said...

Hi Phil:

I came to read your blog after seeing your comment on mine; thanks for the feedback.

It sucks that you're going through such a tough time in the midst of early sobriety. The good news is that you sound very rational about this and your words show how much you love your son. My sponsor would say, "Just keep doing the next right thing."

Phil, you're in my prayers.

May I add a link to your blog to my page?

With love, Princess Powerless

At 9/12/2005 10:57:00 AM, Blogger Phil said...

Rusty: LOL It was about 6 months ago I stopped thinking, "He's smarter than I was at his age," and started thinking, "He's smarter than I am." :)

Looking forward to a pic of your new piercing on half nAAked thursday.

Princess: You sure can! I already linked yours. :)

I think most of us have to deal with something "big" in early sobriety, because it took something big falling apart to get our attention that it was time to quit drinking!

At 9/13/2005 01:48:00 PM, Blogger Phil said...

I had a meeting with my shrink this morning. As usual, he was very sensible. "You can try to analyze whether your son is going through normal development or if there's something going on due to your separation. But it boils down to parenting, and that has to do with training and teaching, and disciplining his behavior. Whatever the source of his behavior is doesn't change what you have to do." I have to provide structure, consistency, nurturing, stimulation, and discipline, and everything else should fall into place reasonably well. And I can't control what happens at his mother's, and she doesn't listen to me anyway, so WTF, just "turn it over."

He gave me some reading material, which is all fine and good, but has a fatal flaw: it assumes the parent is an adult.


Shit. I want easy answers and magic formulas. But the solutions always seem to come back to the same things: Grow up. Be responsible. Trust God. Do the right thing. Be humble.

Nothing here about my favorite activities: Analyze. Strategize. Criticize. Procrastinate. Then swing for the home run.

Simple. Not easy. Not for this stinkin' thinkin' egotist.


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