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Don't Sweat the Small Stuff (and it's All Small Stuff)



I was asked to write an essay about which battles to pick with your ex (or your spouse's ex) in 2010. At that time I was still in the thick of figuring this crazy thing called step-life out and didn't feel like I could actually contribute anything useful.

So now it is 2012, I still don't have step-life figured out, but with a few years under my belt and a lot of mistakes to learn from I wanted to impart my wisdom upon you. Unfortunately, it's so incredibly simple that it's going to frustrate you, especially if you are new to the step-life path.

If a judge won't award you (or your spouse) full custody for it, it is not worth going to war with your (their) ex over.

Any time I want to go all WWE on something I don't agree with my step-kids' mom about I picture a cartoon effigy of my husband walking into a courtroom and standing in front of the judge. I put a little comic strip word bubble above his freakishly large cartoon head that reads, "Your honor, I am asking for full custody because their mom does XX and YY and this detrimental to their well-being". If in the next pane of my comic strip fantasy the judge agrees that whatever their mom is doing is so detrimental that she deserves her time to be limited with the kids I craft my battle plan. If the judge tells my husband he is an idiot for wasting his time I seethe quietly (or rant about it on Steptogether.org) and move on.

Real life examples from our early days:

"Your honor, I am asking for full custody because their mother takes them to McDonald's before the custody exchanges every month and this is detrimental to their well being." Yep, the judge in the next panel tells my husband he is an idiot.

"Your honor, I am asking for full custody because their mother failed to serve me with the legally required notice that she was going to move 14 miles from her previous residence and this is detrimental to their well being." This one the Judge asks "Did she tell you she was moving?" Yes, he knew, she told him in email. With the strike of a gavel the judge yells, "IDIOT!"

"Your honor, I am asking for full custody because their mother puts temporary tattoos on my daughters and this is detrimental to their well being." All together now: "IDIOT!"

It works the same way from the other side. If the ex is picking fights over things that won't get a judge to award him or her custody let it roll off of your back.

More examples from their mom in the early days:

"Your honor, I am asking for full custody because their father puts hairspray in their hair and that is detrimental to their well being."  Judge stares at mom in disbelief and says "You're an idiot. Stop wasting my time."

"Your honor, I am asking for full custody because their father has a queen sized bed for our 3 year old and that is detrimental to their well being." Survey says, "Idiot." In those early days there would be email chains for days and days over these trivial little things from both sides. There was a lot of puffing up and boasting about parental successes while finger pointing at the other side's perceived parental failures. As things have went along things have gotten easier and less acrimonious. Both sides can now make requests for things and engage in meaningful dialogue about them without it being a full out war.

Yet, that knot in my stomach still clenches tighter when their mom does things that we don't agree with. I doubt that part will ever go away completely, but if the judge says "IDIOT", just leave it alone.

There are reasons to battle for things, but they are big things. I'm talking mom doesn't make them go to school, mom beats the holy crud out of them (and we have proof), mom leaves them unattended for hours at 6 years old. Those are the kinds of things that are worth battling over. Those are the things a judge would listen to without kicking your sorry butt out of the courtroom.

If you can engage in a meaningful conversation about things for the kids that don't reach the level of custody changing events that is great! That is something I think every set of parents should be striving for in order to have real co-parenting. Unfortunately for the kids that may not be possible for the parents right now (or ever). So in the interim (or forever) if the judge would think it's a waste of time there is no sense engaging the ex in a battle of wills over it.


This essay was written by ChangingTunes.