JP has entered an interesting phase of his development. A couple of weeks ago I received an irate phone call from his mother. She told me that JP had refused to do something she had told him to do, and his rationale for telling her no was that he always got to do exactly what he liked at my house, and furthermore, he liked my house better than hers. That this was delivered with a smile seemed to have no impact on my ex. She was furious and wanted to know just what kind of show I was running.
Of course, this was all a crock. JP may not receive the discipline of a Iowa farm boy milking the herd at sunrise, but he is certainly not allowed to call his own shots. He had, however, figured out a pretty solid way to hurt and anger his mother. She calmed down when I explained that JP was messing with her mind, but clearly we both now have to be cognizant that our sweet boy is playing a more sophisticated game than we were previously accustomed to (although this kid has always been a crafty one).
Now the shoe has been shifted to my none-too-comfortable foot. Yesterday, JP was in something of a mood: wasn’t listening, wouldn’t finish his dinner, throwing his toys around. We had a few discussions, and eventually I had to send him to bed. Earlier in the day, when I took away one of the offending toys and opened a discussion about an embargo on his Nintendo DS, JP had announced that as of that moment he loved his mother better than me. Again, smiling when he said it, but said nonetheless. I’m not entirely sure what would have been the best way to react to this, but this is what I did: I reminded myself to stay calm and just said that it made me sad for him to say that. And I took the toy anyway.
Now to the evening. When the final moment came and JP’s punishment was announced and the crying began, he yelled that he wanted to go to his Mommy’s house. Immediately. I don’t want to downplay the importance of this kind of stuff in a divorced household: it hurts. I didn’t sleep well last night. It pushes up against one of the key insecurities that one can feel as a parent in a divided household; namely, that your child can be taken from you, and worse, that the child can be the agent of that departure. Nor does the emotional discomfort release you from your responsibilities: I have to put aside the urge to convince him that he loves me and still go ahead and just parent. He can say what he wants, but I still have to send him to bed, even if some part of my brain is saying, “He’s going to run away and never come back.”
Right now, JP’s young enough that his attempts to play his parents against each other are easily read and countered. What’s more, he doesn’t get to choose much these days. He can say he never wants to see me again, but he still will. Later, though…
It’s a game of chicken with my ex. We’re both heading down a road full speed, awaiting the collision of JP’s developing desires, our own ability to be good parents, and the urge—always there—to hold him as close as possible, no matter the cost.