For those of us moms who share parenting duties with the ex, there comes a time when we have to ask ourselves:
“Is this a CPS-level offense or just dad establishing himself as the fun parent?”
For me, that time came when my daughter was about ten months old, her father had her for the weekend and I gave them a call to see how everything was going. I asked him what they’d had for lunch, and he answered “blue cheese stuffed steak,” before hanging up on me. My daughter had eight teeth at the time.
I called my mom in a state of anxiety and consternation —because moms are made for venting—and my mother’s response: “It’s nice that he’s introducing her to new foods!”
At first, I was taken aback by her optimistic slant. My initial imagination had drawn up an image of the ex dropping a big Outback porterhouse onto my child’s high chair tray while saying, “Eat Up, Kid!” Something akin to the opening of the Flintstones where Fred’s car tips over under the weight of a brontosaurus rib half rack. In actuality, he was probably letting her nibble on a little bit of his steak and sample the blue cheese in between bites of her own lunch.
So I started to think: maybe grandma is right. Maybe instead of panicking, I need to consider the fact that the ex does possess some common sense. And yes, the blue cheese will create some interesting diapers on Monday, but he is actually widening her palette with new flavors. In fact, experts agree that introducing a variety of foods makes babies less likely to become picky eaters as they age. Babies, it turns out, are capable of consuming and enjoying many spicy, flavorful foods. It’s actually our current western culture incorrectly dictating that baby food has to be dull and bland .
Behavioral therapists would refer to this thought shift as restructuring, or “learning to identify and dispute irrational or maladaptive thoughts known as cognitive distortions.” With the help of good cognitive therapists, patients can learn to internalize the fact that they can’t always control what happens in their lives, but they can always control the ways they think and thus react.
CR therapy may seem like a pretty simple concept, but it’s really a very involved and fascinating practice once you dive into it. For example, there are actually fifteen different types of cognitive distortions. You can read about each of them here, and I’ve outlined a few below along with examples of how us parents can fall into these lousy little thought traps. (These also make for a couple good band names: “Fallacy of Change,” “Heaven’s Reward”…)
Simply put, this is filtering out all the positive aspects of a situation so that only the negative aspects remain. This is one of the most common cognitive distortions in people who suffer from anxiety and depression, sometimes causing only the bad memories to stick in their brains, which can be a very vicious cycle.
Example: You work up the nerve to go to a party where you don’t know anybody but the host. You end up making great conversation all night. Except for one ridiculous slip of the tongue. On the way home, you dwell on that one stupid statement until it’s the only aspect of the night that you can effectively remember.
Corrective Tip: Examine the actual evidence. Observe how other people around you react to similar situations and what they chose to focus on. Look at the situation as a whole and weigh the good with the bad. Be objective!
This occurs when we look at a situation and anticipate all the things that could possibly go wrong. Your classic “Slippery Slope Syndrome.”
Example: Your child has chronic flus throughout the winter and you’re thinking that something more sinister is taking place in her system. You type the symptoms into WebMD and convince yourself that it must be a terrible disease, and not just kids coughing in her face all day at daycare.
Corrective Tip: Learn to recognize when you’re doing this. Oftentimes, we go all the way to the worst-case scenario before we even realize we’re heading down that path. If necessary, set a specific time aside each day to allow yourself not to just worry, but to consider your problems thoughtfully along with realistic solutions and conclusions.
This occurs when we either blame ourselves for every problem, or blame someone else for all our pain.
Example: You blame the ex-spouse for your life’s current shortcomings. “If only he hadn’t failed the family, then my life would be 100% better today.”
Corrective Tip: Recognize the lesson to be learned and then learn from it. Especially in the case of failed relationships, there is always a lesson to be learned or a pattern to break. Also, try viewing the situation from a third-party perspective to help quit the blame game.
Fallacy of Change
This is when we rest our happiness on another person and feel that we can change them to suit our needs, if we just work with them or pressure them enough.
Example: Your current partner will be just perfect…once you can correct a few undesirable behaviors and traits.
Corrective Tip: Recognize that your happiness depends more on yourself than others. Once again, you can’t control others, but you can control how you respond. And remember that changing another person for your benefit will only lead to resentment on their part.
This is when we expect all our sacrifices to pay off and we get upset or depressed when the world is unfair and our reward doesn’t transpire.
Example: You get frustrated with your children because you feel they don’t appreciate all you do for them, and the fact that you have to put yourself last all the time.
Corrective Tip: Don’t play the martyr, mom! Recognize that sacrifices won’t always be rewarded and, as we’re so fond of reminding our children: Life just ain’t fair most of the time!
If some of these distortions resonate with you, you might consider seeking out a cognitive behavioral therapist to help de-stress your daily life. Or if you’re like me, and a visit to the shrink’s couch is a luxury that money and time will not allow, you might find this article helpful instead. Thanks to the internet, we can now access a variety of cognitive tips and practices from the comfort of our homes (which is a much better use of time than googling for evidence to support our maladapted thoughts!)
…Revisiting my original anecdote, I’ve also learned a valuable piece of advice that I share with other single moms: Leave the kids alone when they’re with dad.
Maybe this is something we all learn as we go, but it’s really best not to call, text, Facebook message, drive by, walk by, digitally stalk, smoke signal, carrier pigeon, or whatever your preferred method of contact… Just Don’t Do It!! This is your time too, Mama. Time to relax and focus on yourself while you can. Reframe your thinking, put yourself first for a little while, and enjoy.
After all, as an old proverb states:
“Worry is like a rocking chair. It will give you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.”