I have one of those brains that plot patterns. Think geometry: you need only two dots to define a line that spans infinitely in both directions; powerful stuff.
While quite inconvenient at times (there are many patterns I’d rather not see), the wiring of my brain can be quite useful. It earns me a living because I can design systems resistant to failure. But it is in parenting that it finds its most interesting applications these days.
Firstly, I can halt patterns before they result in a disaster. Secondly, I am nearly impossible to surprise: I either recognize a mere accident because the event defies a pattern, or I see it coming. The up-side? I am ‘good in a storm’ because I am immune to panic.
Enter stage left, personality trait that I had to new-age-yoga my way into loving: obsessive responsibility. I feel responsible for the outcome of every pattern because others don’t see it, so I appear to be the only one who can do anything about it.
Yes, on a bad day that would make me an anxious, helicopter-ish, impossible to live with control freak that holds out your snack with a smile right when you realize you are peckish.
So I do all I can to keep the number of bad days to a minimum or I have to deal with my ego – and my disgruntled family – on top of everything else. However, that is where one of my biggest issues with my partner’s alienating ex comes into play: the woman makes no sense!
We have two middle-school kids. Both in club sports. Demanding on the body. One is in her first year and her coach, PhD and all, has suggested, quite humbly to counter any perception of ‘sales pitching’, that a handful of private lessons would help our kid re-learn some compromising techniques picked up elsewhere and prevent inevitable and avoidable injuries, all while catapulting her play to the next level.
We think: a no-brainer. Our kid’s potential has attracted attention amidst 100+ other kids; the club is non-profit so the money is negligible; plus, this kid has claimed a mere fraction of all extracurricular costs for years. At home, we confirm that privates are a compliment, a privilege and proven way to accelerate mastery and our kid grows quite excited.
Then we email the Mommy.
In the email, my partner acknowledges that she has been doing most of the driving (we have them 9.56% of the time) and offers to schedule all of the lessons on our time. After three days of her silence, we follow up and several hours later, I am writing to you about a rational mind twisted into a pretzel.
The ex informs us that after thorough discussion, both her and our kid ‘voted no’ on the privates. Reasons? The lessons inexplicably single our kid out, and the coach is already obligated to train all players (30+) during practice. Despite going round and round, she won’t acknowledge the injury prevention aspect while humiliating my partner all along the way, especially in regards to the money outlay: my partner was behind on extra-curricular expenses (not a legal obligation) so no extra expenses should be considered.
My partner generalizes the importance of injury prevention, and that is how our other kids gets brought in to the discussion: she has suffered a severe injury apparently symptomatic of muscles developing faster than bones. My partner makes ongoing sports contingent on injury prevention for both kids.
So far, so logical.
However, several exchanges later, the Mommy’s opposition to ‘extras’ for one kid is justified by ‘doing what is right’ while any challenge to ‘extras’ for the other is framed as us forcing her to enter a new season ‘at a deficit’.
Would the discussion be entirely different if the coach, rather than my partner, suggested that a few sessions could wade off injuries?
If two kids dream of playing professional sport, why does one kid get shamed for wanting to be exceptional while the other gets cuddled? Why does one kid get to think that targeted attention is a sign of weakness while the other sees it as a sign of exceptional potential?
My rational conclusion: whatever we touch turns against our children; we are better off staying out of it. Or quietly manipulating my wife’s ex into doing the right thing by our kids; if only our integrity could allow it. So, out of luck there.
But parental alienation is not rational. I am not missing some vital ‘input’ that would plot a different pattern. The only theory that explains all of it, not that there is any solace in it, is that what we fret over actually suits the alienator. What if pitting the children against each other; inciting rivalry, jealousy or guilt between them; undermining the closest life-long relationship they can have as siblings is her aim, however subconscious? Because then she can be the power to make their lives whole. What if she actually prefers to have them second-guessing themselves, because their individualization may signify their split from her into worlds of their own?