Last week, I took one mom’s question and broke it into two parts. Part 1: How do I heal when I still have to deal with my toxic ex? This week, we’ll cover the second part:
One single mom asks:
“ . . . I think I am doing well and then BAM, I am sucked in by something my ex does (or most likely, doesn’t do) and I feel like I take several steps back.”
After the hard work it takes to reach agreements with your ex, it’s discouraging to face repeated disappointment when they fail to do what they have either agreed to, or should do as the father of your children. Worse still, seeing your child suffer disappointment because of your ex can be crushing after they’ve been through so much with the breakup of the family.
In general, we suffer disappointment in life over two things: people and circumstances. We set expectations (whether spoken or not) and when they aren’t met, disappointment follows. Sometimes we are able to move past it and realize that our expectations were simply too high (or unrealistic) to start with. But when someone in our life repeatedly fails to meet the minimum expectations that other people easily attain, prolonged disappointment can circle back again and again, to the point of despair.
The truth is that neither people nor circumstances are in our control. Repeated disappointment really comes when we try to control these to no avail. Last week, in the first part of this discussion, I pointed out that you can only control one person in this life. That is still true: You.
So what can you do?
As moms, there are always two points of view in our minds: ours and our children’s. So let’s talk about both.
Your Child’s Disappointment
When an ex lets down our children, it can be so much more painful than when they simply let us down. You can’t be both parents and aren’t called to be. But, you can make up your mind to be the strong person in your child’s life that comes alongside them in solidarity no matter what.
- If plans are made with your child by an unreliable ex, see them as fluid rather than set in stone and try to encourage that same mindset in your children.
- Don’t overreact when plans fall through—especially in front of your child—but rather, have other plans that you choose to do instead.
- Don’t cover for your ex with a lie. Instead, explain that sometimes people make choices that we don’t agree with and they may not realize that it will hurt us. (The harsh reality is that some people are so selfish they just don’t consider how their actions will affect others. But, that’s between us moms.)
- Make it clear to your ex that when he backs out of plans with the children you will not cover for him and that it may harm his relationship with them.
Your child may still face disappointment, but they will also learn that having one person who has their back can make up for a lot from those that don’t. This isn’t asking you to make up for a lacking on your ex’s part. It’s asking you to simply be the strong parent in your child’s life. God is fully aware of what is going on with your child and will step in as a Father throughout the life of a child who doesn’t have one. I have personally lived this and can attest to the fact that He will, and is amazing at it. You don’t have to cover both roles.
While our disappointment may not be any less than our child, we have two advantages that help us manage it more effectively: history and wisdom.
We know our ex. We know their strengths and weaknesses. And we should prepare ourselves accordingly. If they have always been flaky with money, relying on them to be our sole source of income will lead to serious disappointment. We have to make decisions based on the reality of who they have shown us they are—not some false hope we keep putting in them. Make peace with what you are up against. Then face it.
Another way to define this history is knowledge. It’s information that we’ve gathered through experience and time spent with this person. It’s entirely possible to be very knowledgeable about someone, yet to be unwise regarding them. That’s where our next advantage comes in.
God gives us knowledge of how He expects us to treat other people. But, having the wisdom to best use that knowledge is a gift from Him. If we are in a difficult and confusing situation with our ex that feels out of control because we are being repeatedly manipulated, who better to ask than God? When we ask Him for wisdom about the situation, He happily gives it without looking down on us for asking or for not being able to handle the situation well. But, we can’t ask Him for wisdom and then go back to trying to manipulate the situation. We are specifically warned of this in James 1: 5-8:
“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.”
Trying to take the situation back out of God’s hands and control our ex is wasting energy on something that doesn’t deserve attention in our lives. Isn’t control really just manipulation? And manipulating people and situations not only sets us up for failure, but can consume our minds with plots and schemes that we’ve already been shown won’t work with those people. While we can’t always see what’s coming, an unreliable ex is reliable with one thing: their unreliability. Offset being disappointed by accepting ahead of time that they are unreliable and that you are going to rely on God to help you handle it by giving you direction and wisdom.
Know that You Can’t Change Them
Only God can change a person’s heart—even He won’t try to control them. Accept that whatever happens is under God’s control. He is orchestrating everything with the bigger picture in mind. Don’t think for one second that He can’t use the repeated disappointments in life. He will work every single bit of it for our good.
When we set our sights on God and allow Him to work in our lives (on His timeline, of course) we are actually given the gift of exceeding expectations, surprises, and pure joy when we can look back and see the overall picture and how beautifully He designed it. There are people in our lives that will repeatedly show us what they are willing to do, and that it is far less than we need from them. Managing our expectations and believing that what they are showing us is who they truly are is difficult. But, doing so sets us free from the cycle of disappointment and puts the focus back on how God can use even this for His plan in our life.