Advice | Carolyn Hax: Is it bad for a kid in the long run when Mom and Dad don’t speak? – The Washington Post

Hi, Carolyn: I was in a 15-year relationship that ended about a year and a half ago. It was mostly good but pretty rocky for the last five, with things both of us did to make it so. We were never married but have a 9-year-old son together, and I also helped raise her now-adult son, treating him as my own.

As things got bad to the point of living as strangers in the same home, I realized I really wanted to save our family. Her response was less than enthusiastic. I suspected she was having an affair, but she lied to my face about it and gaslit me. Even after I found out the truth, I told her we could work through it. Eventually, I caught her in another lie that was the last straw.

Per legal advice, I planned to stay in the home until a parenting agreement was finalized. She was mean and nasty to the point that the situation was unbearable and I was forced to move out. All I took was some furniture and my car, even though I invested in the mortgage, upkeep and upgrades, doing a lot of the work on my own. Even then, I wrote her a long letter thanking her for the relationship, expressing what it had meant to me and apologizing for any hurt I caused her throughout.

What I got in return was a year-long legal battle just to get equal parenting time, custodial rights and medical decision-making. I won in all three areas. I am now in a relationship with someone who is caring, open, honest and transparent, and it feels good.

Here is my issue. I don’t want to have anything to do with my ex unless it is solely related to our son. I don’t want to co-parent; instead, I am practicing parallel parenting. I don’t want to otherwise engage and “be nice” when we are at his events. I totally ignore her. He is a very active child, so there are a lot of events, practices, etc., sometimes multiple in a week.

Our son has not asked about the obvious lack of any engagement. Do you think this is impacting him in a negative way? Do you think I should at least exchange greetings at a minimum for his sake?

Tell us: What’s your favorite Carolyn Hax column about becoming an adult?

A Dad: This looks like a simple question with a simple answer — “Yes, ‘be nice’ for your son’s sake, because of course ignoring his mother has a negative effect.”

However, given the years of discord your son witnessed, he may be relieved you’re avoiding each other, and prefer these events without fear that his parents will fight.

I’m not saying that this is true or that ignoring each other is right. Treating people as if they don’t exist is objectively terrible and a very last resort. My point is that “for his sake” hinges on him, on how he really feels, not on me or you or any other adult who pronounces what’s best for him. You’re also not behaving in a vacuum; you can decide to greet your ex, but she decides how she responds.

Obviously, as a parent of a minor child, you have to make judgment calls without firsthand knowledge of your kid’s state of mind. But you’ll serve him better if you work from broader goals centered on his mental health, using the reality you have vs. what “should” be happening — and using your senses to read what he needs. And letting his simple daily conversation take you to topics he’s ready to talk about.

For example, it’s tempting to think, “I need to say hi to his mom so our son can see us getting along” — such a simple, unobjectionable cause and effect. But dig deeper for the reason you’re considering this step: You want his world to be stable and supportive vs. a source of anxiety, so he has room to grow and try new things and build confidence. You want him to trust his parents and himself. Right?

If so, then is greeting your ex the best way to accomplish that, given the realities you have on hand? Maybe so. Maybe not, if engaging would invite conflict. Maybe let your fury cool to indifference. Maybe more creative scheduling is the answer. Maybe see which way your son tugs you when you enter a room.

For certain, the answer isn’t to ignore his mom just because “I don’t want to” deal with her. It’s about your son, not you, so this is good — you are asking the right questions to get the better answers.

Even when you do figure out what he needs, though, it’s not going to be a fixed quantity. Right now, discreet distance might be wisest. In time you might notice he needs something different, or your reality has shifted toward new options.

What remains constant is your son’s rightful place at the top of your list of priorities. Be attentive and “listen” for the things he doesn’t have the words or maturity yet to say. Be ready to be who he needs.

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