Updated: Jan 11, 2020
You can not rescue your child(ren) from their other parent. And if you truly feel like there is a real need to, then go about it through legal channels. I have a rule of thumb when I feel like I am wanting to step in and remove my child(ren) from a situation that is affecting them in regard to their Dad or his other family in that household; I ask myself, "Is it worth going to court over? Am I willing to get a judge involved and possible drag my kids into the court too (as is often done the older they get)?" Because if not, then I have no real power or influence to do anything about it. I wish our co-parenting skills would mature into mutual respect, but it seems we are forever stuck living and operating in the land of toxicity. Turns out, I've never answered "Yes" to either question posed about during those challenging times. I guess I should be thankful that nothing has escalated to "the point of no return" as I like to call it. There are some things that there's no coming back from and once the court door is opened, I fear that my kids will suffer tremendously when the gloves come off. I truly believe that the cure can be more painful than the disease. As with most things in life, there is a certain amount of acceptance that is necessary for sanity; being divorced with kids is no exception.
Last school year there was a situation that arose where my daughter was being dropped off at her elementary school before proper supervision was in place (before the school staff arrived). She couldn't go on campus and there was no one to look after her outside it. She was seven. Mind you, during this time there had been emails sent from the school that suspicious vehicles had been reported around the school luring kids to interact with the persons inside said vehicles. Also, mind you, that during each back to school night (I have attended every single one) the principal always makes sure to make the point that kids should NOT be dropped off before 8:15 am because there is NO supervision for them. For safety reasons he always pleaded that parents make arrangements to respect this safety request. Come to find out, this being dropped-off-before-proper-supervision-was-in place-early business was happening every school-day morning after she stayed the night at her Dad's house.
It is funny too, because I only found out this was happening completely by accident. I was driving to the gym one morning to sneak in a workout before work and passed by my daughter's school. It was way before anyone was due to arrive at school. I saw my daughter out front of the school, alone. Shocked, I immediately turned my car into the school and scooped her up. We hung out and talked until the school bell rang. Turns out this was happening on a regular basis. I. Lost. My. Shit. I am a mama bear. This was not okay. Yes, we live in a small and pretty safe town, and the chances of something happening to her early morning were slim, but it still made me uncomfortable as her mother. There was still a slim chance someone could come harm her, steal her or she could get hurt with no one around to see or help. How a mother is supposed to look the other way when her mommy protective instinct is going off like and alarm is beyond me. How a mother is expected to do nothing, to say nothing, when there is an obvious chance that her child is not safe is once again beyond me. I knew better, we had been warned and asked not to do this very thing.
<Insert here, the part of the story where I took it upon myself to rescue my daughter.> I began to show up early to the school on her Dad's mornings and go stay with her until school started. After a while that turned into my Mom (her grandma) taking a turn and starting coming early to work on spelling with her every Thursday morning (because my girl was struggling with Friday spelling tests and grandma wanted to help). It was so good; the two of them would sit in the car and go over spelling words, take practice tests and just be together. My daughter's grades on spelling tests went from the D's and C's to all A's! It was an amazing turn-around. (Another thing that came out during this whole time was that she wasn't getting the homework help she needed...and my Mama shackles once again stood tall, but that's another issue altogether).
You may be thinking at this point, "WIN WIN"!, "GO MOM!", "YOUR RESCUE WORKED"! Sadly, you'd be mistaken. My ex husband found out about my rescue and he. lost. his. shit. He told me that I was being intrusive and disruptive of their time with our daughter. He said I had no right to show up there and take on the responsibility that I did, and to have my Mom in on it too was even worse. I was to stop it immediately or else...(insert here random threats). I offered to have her dropped off at my house since I was home anyway in the morning (and live a block away from the school). I could drop her off on my way to work and she would be cared for by her Mom during the time adult supervision couldn’t be provided on his side. That suggestion was a NO go. He spoke to my daughter (she still refuses to tell me what was said) and made her feel it was wrong to see me or her grandma during "his" days. And from that day on, she could barely make eye contact if I came around when it wasn't "my day". It was heart-breaking to witness. So for instance, during extra-circular events where it's normal and expected that all parents be present, she wouldn't even come over to me for a quick hug anymore or look in my direction without also looking shameful and afraid. That was the hardest part; seeing my child ashamed of a bond so beautiful and sacred. But, some things can not be controlled and some things you can not rescue your children from. I don't think parents realize the side effects of what is put into their children's very impressionable minds (or they do...and that is just reprehensible).
Awww, the rebuke from her Dad was cute, but no cigar for this Mom. I went ahead and stood my protective ground. I was going to show up regardless unless other arrangements were made. Long story short, and many texts and harsh words later, he had our daughter put in "breakfast club". She now had a safe place to go before the school is open, and as a bonus for him, he also was able to keep me at a distance as to not be a part of my daughter's day when I am not "supposed" to be. It was even alluded to that it was a problem I was helping out in her classroom on "his" days from this whole thing (ridiculous; don't worry I help out whenever I want to and now especially on his days lol). So, I guess in the end it was a win in the most important regard, her safety. But, it was a total loss in the confusion and shame that our daughter succumbed to. (And also a total co-parenting fail in my opinion.)
So as with any issue I am a part of, I have to define my part of the problem (my role in it) or I will never learn and grow - and I really don't love repeats of hard situations. As a divorced Mom, it is very important to me that my kids feel the least amount of negative side effects as possible from their family being torn apart. In this case, I know now that I should have gone immediately to my ex husband and co-parented this situation (or tried to anyway) as soon as I found out what was going on. I should have given him the opportunity to fix it before I just rescued our daughter all on my own. The truth is, she isn't just mine. How I handled this situation was sneaky and disrespectful as a co-parent. My rescue was a band-aid. I have learned that it takes both parents being on the same page (whether court-ordered or not) for a solution or "fix" to really ever happen.
You can not co-parent like you are trying to rescue your kid from your ex; that is NOT co-parenting. The "co" in co-parenting infers a certain level of working together towards a common goal...as part of the same team. You are undermining the very meaning of the term when you try to take away from the equal role you share with their other parent.
It has taken me a while to accept, but kids need to have their struggles and separate experiences in the other home. They need to be bored, annoyed, mad, and frustrated. They need to have the space to work through conflict in their other household. It isn't okay to 'cock-block' with attention. They need to be able to be fully present with their other family so that they can learn their family and bond with them appropriately (bonding occurs when you are immersed in life with others). When you are always trying to rescue your kid(s) either by providing a distraction through constant communication when they are away from you, or by undermining their time by showing up where you are not supposed to be, or commanding their attention when all families are in the same space for some sort of school/sport function, you are being disrespectful of the relationships that are forming. If your ex has legal shared custody with your child(ren), then you need to honor the relationships they are building with that family by not rescuing your child(ren); that is what is in the best interest of your kids and that is what matters more than your differences with your ex.
And remember this: Always coming to your child's rescue (divorced or not) is not doing them any real favors in life anyway.