Recently my ex called while I was making dinner and told me he wants to take our 13 year-old son to China for a week. He might as well have said he was taking up belly dancing. That’s how random, strange, and unexpected this was. I didn’t have time to process the idea, and mumbled something along the lines of “Uh… that would be cool, I guess.” By the time I gathered my thoughts enough to pose some questions and concerns, he had bought tickets to travel during a school week and over my parenting days. I’m not allowed to change my mind, he says, and if he has to pay $1,000 to change plans it will be my fault.
What just happened?
Putting aside his usual bullying and grandiosity, I had forgotten to ask myself:
1. Am I responding or reacting?
It’s been five years since our divorce, but in that time I’ve learned to protect myself by making sure I respond in the manner and timing that best serves me. That means that I treat negotiations as business agreements, via email. When he called, I should have asked him to send his idea in writing. All I can say is that I suffered temporary amnesia, and that lead to reaction.
Reaction equals losing power. Responding equals reclaiming power.
2. Do I have my facts straight?
I immediately assumed that my ex can’t take our son out of the country without my permission, but when I checked our parenting agreement, I saw that he only needs written permission from me the first 24 months following the divorce. Wow. That shocks me, but there it is, in black and white. Gathering the facts gave me time to gather my thoughts enough to tackle a bigger issue:
3. Am I complete?
This is the question at the center of it all. It’s the juicy one, the meat inside the sandwich. Everything revolves around my ability to get quiet, tune into, and take responsibility for my inner world. What are my motivations? Is this about me or my son? Am I fighting for the sake of fighting? Am I settling an old score? Am I just bored, lonely, or missing the drama? I need to look at whether I’m feeding myself what I need rather than entering into a “hungry” exchange with my ex.
4. Is my request clear?
I’ve found this to be one of the hardest things to pin down. Of course I’m being clear! Aren’t I? Isn’t it obvious what any reasonable person would do in this situation?
No. Remember, they’re from Mars. And while I have mostly stopped trying to understand the way my ex thinks, I find that I still expect him to understand me. Sometimes it annoys me to have to boil things down to their bones, but what I’ve learned is that it gets results, and it’s made me stronger, more direct, and more powerful.
In the case of the China trip, my objection boils down to the fact that our son has some emotional and therapeutic needs that haven’t been addressed. Rather than have him globe-trot for a week, I would like to see him better prepared for his everyday challenges. My request then becomes clear: I want him to see a therapist.
5. Can I find power in any outcome?
By mentally playing through several scenarios, I can be prepared for anything. Otherwise, I may end up reacting, and that starts the whole loop all over again. Most often I find that once I’ve clarified my objective, my ex’s actions become almost beside the point.
In this situation, I make a decision to schedule my son for bio-feedback. It’s something I’ve considered for a long while, and I’m finally taking action. I’ve found my power, regardless of what my ex chooses to do, and in the process, I’m empowering my son.