Splitsville: Losing Control
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.
As a single mother, I was extraordinarily sensitive about control. The only one making decisions, I became more authoritative and decisive than I had been at any other time in my life. What were we having for dinner? Pasta Primavera. When was bedtime? 8:00pm sharp. What were our plans for Saturday? Two hours of time outdoors in the morning, lunch, nap, visit grandparents, dinner, playtime, bath, bed, done. As the only person responsible for my daughter’s upbringing, I felt the need to be constantly in charge. If it was only me, I was going to make sure that I took care of absolutely everything.
Then, all of the sudden, my daughter’s father wanted to see her. Not just for a couple hours, he wanted to see her for a full day! In many ways, I was thrilled. I was excited for my daughter to spend time with her father, excited for the little bit of free time it afforded me. Then, in a whole host of other ways, I was terrified. I had laid out a very careful routine for my daughter. She always seemed to be a child that thrived on routine. Our’s suited both my need for control and her need for stability. So how could I trust the most precious thing in my life to someone who had to ask how long it took to warm up a bottle? How I could write enough notes to explain the exact consistency she needed for mashed carrots? How could I tell a man who hadn’t played with her in months the right way to organize the blocks so that she didn’t get frustrated? She’ll need to sort them by shape, then size, then color before she’ll build anything.
The first day my daughter was gone, I was a nervous wreck. I worried constantly. My eyes rarely left my cell phone. I couldn’t enjoy my day alone at all. Mind you, my daughter was going to daycare by this time. She spent 8 hours a day with someone other than me. That wasn’t the issue. At daycare, my provider and I had very thoughtfully discussed my daughter’s schedule and what worked best for her. At daycare, I could call or stop by whenever I wanted to see how her day was going.
With my daughter’s father, I really didn’t have the right to dictate what they did. As her father, he needed to find a system and schedule that worked for the two of them. I could explain her preferences and give him tips, but ultimately, he got to make the decisions. I had to cede the control over my daughter’s life that I was so closely guarding. It took me months before I stopped holding my phone the entire time my daughter was gone. I was so positive that I would get calls begging for help. They never came. For the short time that my daughter sees her father, currently one evening every three weeks, he decides everything. I don’t always agree with his decisions, but as long as they aren’t detrimental to my daughter, I don’t get to intervene.
My friends and family marvel at me when I say that I don’t know what my daughter and her father do. I ask how their evening was, but I never ask for a detailed description. In the end, I have to trust that as a father, he’ll only do what he thinks is best for our daughter. I have to give up the control and let him make a couple decisions. Obsessing over those hours doesn’t help me and it doesn’t do anything at all for my daughter. Granting visitation means trusting the other person to be a parent, in whatever way works for them. It was not an easy lesson to learn, but I think it was a necessary one.