Welcome to Splitsville. This weekly column will focus on parenting after a divorce, break-up or one-night stand that didn’t end like a Katherine Heigl movie.
I have to admit, I feel really fortunate that my daughter’s father doesn’t have Facebook. I don’t have to deal with the temptation of checking in on his weekend plans or party pictures. I know that I would have a hard time ignoring the urge the snoop. So maybe it’s unfair of me to offer advice to a friend of mine who recently discussed her cyberstalking ways with me.
Laura* and I have talked a lot about divorce and separation after having children before. We’ve supported each other through the difficult break-up phase and the confusing new world of co-parenting after a romantic relationship. So when we sat down to lunch last week, it was only natural to update each other on life with a baby-daddy.
“You’re going to shake your head at me,” Laura started. “Dan* told me that he was too busy this week to see our son, so I checked his Facebook page to see what he was up to.”
“And what did you find?” I prompted my friend, already amazed that a man who is friends with his ex on Facebook would be dumb enough to lie and then post about it online.
“Nothing,” Laura went on. “So I searched his girlfriend’s page and her mom had posted that she hoped they had a great date night on the night he was supposed to be with our son.”
Laura was obviously really angry that her ex seemed to be slacking on his visitation so that he could have a night out with his girlfriend. After all, since he doesn’t share custody, he has at least four nights a week, every week, in which he could make some reservations at a restaurant. No doubt, this was kind of a crappy move. I definitely agreed with Laura there.
“So how can I confront him about it,” she asked me. And this is where our opinions differed.
“You can’t,” I told my friend. “Hunting down your ex’s girlfriend on Facebook doesn’t mean that you have a right to discuss with him whatever she posts there. You aren’t friends with her. He has chosen to share his information with you there, but he didn’t post about it himself, or let himself be tagged in the post. You got nothin.” Laura was not happy with my answer, and I understand why.
By my friend’s own admission, she full on cyberstalks her ex. She looks through his pictures, checks friends of friends pages to see if they have mention of her ex and his activities. She searched him out on LinkedIn and Twitter. After they broke up, she even searched for men like him on dating sites to see if he had signed up anywhere. She does this all in the name of protecting her son by making sure that she knows what his dad is involved in.
Every time Laura finds information that she finds troubling or damning, she asks me how she can confront her ex about it. Every time, I say that I don’ think she can. Finally, I looked at my friend and asked, “What does all your information change? Even if you do find that he lied to you or that he went out drinking and let your son stay with his mom, what can you do with that knowledge?” The answer is that the information doesn’t change anything. She can’t take a night out with friends to court. And she can’t chastise a man she isn’t with any more for anything other than broken promises to their child.
Finally, I asked the big question. It’s the one that single parents everywhere have to ask themselves before they let go of their precious little ones and wave them goodbye for visitation. “Do you think he would ever hurt your child?”
“No!” My friend is confident in her answer. And while we both agree that her ex can be an irresponsible jerk, we also know that he really loves his son. For me, that’s the only question in this situation. And if the answer is no, then you don’t get to try to assert control over your ex. You don’t get to comment on what they do with their private life and you don’t get to pass judgment on their choices. If they aren’t going to hurt your child, you have to step back and let them make their own choices. You won’t always like them, but you’ll have to deal with them.
I’m not sure that I got through to my friend. And I’m not sure that my personal philosophy will ever work for her. She might always keep a close internet eye on her ex, needing to know what he’s up to. But in the end, I like to think that I would step back and let my ex’s private life stay as private as he wants it to be. Even if we do get along, I don’t want to know more than he tells me, because it’s not my place.
Do you cyberstalk your ex or try to check in and monitor what he’s doing? Do you think Laura has a right to call out her ex? Or do we need to establish trust and boundaries in our co-parenting relationships?
(Laura’s name has been changed to protect her privacy. She is well aware of this story and approved my using her dilemma as inspiration for a post. Dan’s name has been changed to protect his privacy and he has no idea that his ex reads every obnoxious Tweet he posts.)