Ex-Etiquette Column

Articles on dealing with the "ex" in your life--anyone's ex--yours, their's, even "ex"tended family.

When Your Co-Parent is Mentally Ill

Q. My ex and I have shared our kids equally for five years. They are 10 and 12, and come home with such off the wall stories I’m thinking it’s time to take action. They tell me their mom wakes them up in the middle of the night because she is being told they are possessed by the demons. She wants to pray together at 2 in the morning when the kids have school the next day. The kids say it’s getting worse and they don’t want to go back to her home. There’s a court order and when I’ve tried to keep them she calls the police and they force me to send the kids back to her. What’s good ex-etiquette?

A. Good ex-etiquette is good behavior after divorce or separation. It’s a rational approach to co-parenting—and if you don’t have children, it’s a rational approach to dealing with someone you don’t particularly want to deal with, but have to. The rules of good ex-etiquette can be found on both the Bonus Families and Ex-etiquette Websites, www.bonusfamilies.com and www.exetiquette.com. Key word: ten rules.

Relying on “the rules” takes into consideration that both playing fields are equal. It sounds like mom is facing some serious mental health issues, and if this is true, it’s time to take action.

First, kids can tell some whoppers when they don’t think their parents are comparing notes. Knowing that, my advice is always to check with the other parent to see if what is being reported is accurate. If mom is suffering from some sort of psychosis, it will hopefully be obvious when you talk to her. I’m taking for granted from the age of your kids that mom is somewhere in her mid-thirties and it’s rare that mental illnesses like bi-polar disorder or schizophrenia begin to manifest at that age—but it’s certainly not impossible. Late onset mental illness is definitely something to consider.

There may be other physical things contributing to this, as well, so mom needs to be checked by a doctor immediately.
There are agencies to help you if she is uncooperative. The police or Child Protective Services will interview all the parties and intervene if necessary. If the kids confide in their teachers who are mandated reporters, Child Protective Services will again be alerted. You can always apply for temporary orders in Family Court if you have proof that the kids are not safe.

Be proactive. Don’t be afraid to intervene. So many parents in this situation tell me they drag their feet because they don’t want to get their co-parent into trouble. You are not being spiteful (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #5) or trying to take the children from her. If she is truly manifesting the symptoms you describe you are helping her when you report to authorities—and you are protecting your children, which is Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #1, “Put the children first.” Rule #2 is, “Ask for help if you need it.” You do. Ask.

Ex-Etiquette®, runs in countless newspapers and websites all over the world. It is written by Dr. Jann Blackstone, who specializes in child custody, divorce, and stepfamily mediation. Dr. Jann is the author of seven books on divorce, remarriage, and co-parenting, specifically, Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce and Separation, and other Ex-etiquette books Dr. Blackstone is also the founder of Bonus Families,501 c3 non-profit organization dedicated to peaceful coexistence between divorced or separated parents and their combined families.

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