Q: My ex is just too wild to be a dad and I want his time with our child limited to supervised visits. He drinks, smokes weed, and is just crazy at times. It was cool when we were dating, but not as parents. How do I make sure my child is safe when she is with him? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: First, she’s not YOUR child, she’s OUR child, and it’s not up to you to make sure she’s safe with her dad. He’s her father. It’s up to him to make her feel safe – and up to you to let him. Sometimes parenting differences can be infuriating, but they are merely differences. Doesn’t mean your child is in danger. If she’s truly in danger, then there are agencies to help. Child Protective Services, for example, will step in if needed and prevent visits, but if you are not together, technically, you can’t just dictate policy based on he’s not doing it how you like it.
I can’t tell you how many times people walk into my office upset about how bad the ex is when he or she was just like that when they were together – and that may have been part of the attraction. Sounds like you like “bad boys” and you made a baby with one. Although it would be nice, people don’t always change once they have kids. Sounds like you did. He didn’t. That doesn’t mean you run the show. Legally you are both the parents, and if he’s been there since day one, just doesn’t parent like you do, it’s not in her best interest to stop or supervise visits.
That said, if he’s high when your daughter is around, that’s another story. And, if there’s been a conviction, then visits can easily be supervised and possibly should be. There are also precautions on a custody order that limits alcohol and drug consumption prior and during times with the child. Thing is, if you have to tell someone not to be high when they are alone with their kids, that’s a huge red flag. Rarely when people are having sex do they say, “OK, if we get pregnant, you know you’re going to have to stop smoking weed.” In other words, this was a mutual decision, whether you realize it or not.
So, what do you do? If this is really a case of concern and not “I’m going to get him back because he acts like he doesn’t care,” first you talk to him. Ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 2 is, “Ask for help if you need it.” He’s the only other person who may even remotely love this child as much as you do. Does he know what you think is inappropriate or do you just yell at him when you think something is off? Ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 8, is “Be honest and straightforward.” In other words, present your case in an orderly fashion, in the calmest demeanor you can muster, and if he still doesn’t see the merit in your concern, that’s when you call CPS or the police to do a welfare check. If this is a case of child endangerment and not parenting differences, they will intercede and dad will have supervised visits because it is in the best interest of the child. (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 1, “Put the children first.”) That way, it’s not on you – it’s on him because of the choices he made all by himself and there will be steps he has to complete prior to parenting alone. That’s good ex-etiquette.