Yesterday I had an opportunity to decide where to set my boundaries and how to react to a situation where they were crossed. This situation involved my ex-husband. He and I have not had an easy relationship since our divorce many years ago, but have to maintain some sort of contact because we have a teenage son together.
My son has been living with his dad this school year, and is with me every other weekend. On my weekends I pick him up at his dad’s house on Friday afternoon. Yesterday I was ready to leave the house about half an hour early, so I texted my son to see if he wanted me to pick him up early and got no response. I was irritated, but decided that no response was equivalent to an answer of “no, don’t pick me up early.”
When I arrived at my ex-husband’s house at the appointed time, I texted my son to let him know I was there. When he didn’t acknowledge my text or come out of the house I called him and got a message that his phone was disconnected, so I went to the door and rang the doorbell.
As it turns out, my son had done something that my ex-husband had told him not to, and as punishment his dad had taken his phone away. I was really irritated with my ex-husband for not telling me about this. My primary way of communicating with my son when he is at his dad’s is by text, like it is for most teenagers.
In addition, my son told me that my ex-husband and his current wife had gone away for the weekend. So if something had come up around me picking up my son that afternoon I couldn’t even get hold of my son by calling his dad.
Here’s where the contemplation comes in: should I say something to his dad or not? My immediate reaction was to send his dad an email (and cc my attorney) raking him over the coals for taking away my mode of access to my son and not providing another one. Legally he is required to allow me access to talk with my son. The righteous me wanted to jump right on that train and ride it to the final destination of rubbing my ex-husband’s nose in this legal error.
We are currently in the midst of revising the parenting plan for the change of custody that occurred eight months ago. As everything seems to be with my ex-husband, something that should have been simple and easy has not been. It was very tempting to use this situation as leverage in the legal issues we are dealing with.
Additionally, this situation triggered a fear that I have always had when dealing with my ex-husband: that he will deny me access to my son. We have been divorced for 11 years now, since my son was 4. For the first several years we had joint custody with an every other week schedule. During the weeks when our son was with the other parent we called every night to talk with him. When my son was seven or eight my ex suddenly stopped answering the phone when I would call in the evening, denying me the ability to talk to my son.
This feeling of helplessness and powerlessness was overwhelming for me. Although it was 7 or 8 years ago when this was happening, that fear of being denied my child has never left me. So as I was contemplating whether or not to say anything to my ex-husband – or what to say if I did say something – this fear also played into the equation.
If I didn’t say anything, was I setting a precedent that would lead to greater infractions? Realistically, what was the worst that might happen? As it is, I rarely talk to my son during the time he’s at his dad’s anyway. Had there ever been a situation when I was supposed to pick my son up and couldn’t get there and needed to notify someone? Not that I could think of.
My ex-husband has been manipulative, secretive and underhanded in our dealings during and since our divorce. He is not trustworthy. And at the same time I don’t want to live my life constantly looking for the presence of a threat from him. Where is the balance between doing what is right for myself and my son (setting a boundary for the right reasons) and me acting from a place of unreasonable fear and/or revenge (setting a boundary for the wrong reasons)? This is a lot to think about.
I find this particular situation to be an example of broader issues that I have with setting and enforcing boundaries. Whenever a boundary is crossed, or there is the threat of it being crossed, I overreact. I become very rigid about the boundary, and angry at the person who has crossed it. I had a work situation earlier this week where this became very clear to me.
I realize that this automatic overreaction is based in fear, just as my immediate reaction to my ex-husband’s boundary violation. Having lived much of my life feeling that my boundaries were not honored, I have become hyper-vigilant about enforcing them. I would like to move into a softer space where I can maintain a boundary that I have set, but also consider the circumstances and be more flexible.
Being more flexible and less reactive requires trust. Trust that I will not allow myself to be overtaken by others. Trust that I can keep myself safe. Trust that when it is time to set a rigid boundary I will know that.
I am grateful for these two opportunities that presented themselves for my learning over the past two days. Having them come one right after the other highlighted that this is an area of growth for me.
Setting boundaries is good. Enforcing boundaries with compassion is good. Contemplation and trust is the key.