Recurring Living Nightmare

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

This is going to be one of those long-winded experiences, so please bare with me. I work from home everyday from my home office as a software developer. I also take care of my three kids during the day. I make dinner every night. I make sure the kids get up in the morning and get to school on time. My wife works all day and does the laundry on the weekend. That’s pretty much the gist of our every day life. My wife and I argue constantly about money and about the kids. She argues with me about how I’m never making enough money (I make more than she does). I’m always arguing with her about how I’ve always the “bad guy” with the kids. I set down rules for the kids, she never follows through with them and the rules with me. She never cleans up after herself, always leaves dishes about. The kids to the same. Shortly after the birth of my oldest child, we’d gotten into several arguments that left me frustrated and angry, I lost control one morning, shaking my son and putting him in the hospital. He spent a month in the hospital but is fine now. I have been convicted of a felony, did my jail time and still on probation. I know it was my fault, but I can’t help but think that she was partly to blame for the situation. Since then, after proving to everyone that I wasn’t a threat to the kids, I’ve been put as the primary care giver. We’ve since had another baby and everything’s been fine with me and the baby. It was a one-time incident and I’ve done several voluntary counselling programs as well as three anger-management courses. However, I don’t think things will work unless my wife can get into anger-management courses and/or counseling herself. We were able to get her into counseling several years ago where she was diagnosed as bi-polar and started medications. Things were fine for a couple of months and then she decided she didn’t need to be on the meds and quit going to her sessions, stating I was the problem. She wants to take the kids and leave (of course the kids want to go with her, because with her there are no rules or structure). I’d let her go, but I want the kids. I know I’ll have a hard time getting any kind of custody with the felony, but I think she’s very manipulative and finagles her way into getting what she wants. I don’t know what I should do. I’m scared that if I let her take the kids, they’ll end up as bad, unstructured kids. Do I even have a chance?

A: I’m sorry for all that all of you have been through. It sounds like you are doing the hard work of learning to control your anger. However — although I agree that your wife is partly to blame for the “situation” – no one but you bears the blame for shaking a child. You are still trying to shift some of that blame. That’s a concern. Of equal concern is that your wife is non-compliant with her medication and isn’t following through on her own course of therapy. You are both so hurt and angry with each other that you can’t or won’t work as a team to be the parents these kids need and deserve. Ideally, the two of you would find a way to love your kids enough to work through your differences, to each continue to get the treatment and support you each still need, and to work with a parent educator or family counselor on how to get the children out of the middle of your fight with each other.
Your question is a legal question, not a psychological one. You should probably confer with a lawyer about your chances in a custody hearing. Some couples manage to be better parents apart than they were together. If you divorce, I certainly hope that will be true for you. But I also want you to know that a divorce won’t necessarily solve your problems. Yes, you won’t have to deal with your wife’s bad house-keeping. But chances are she will still undermine you, you will still feel that things are unfair, and the kids will still be torn between you. Whether you stay married or divorce, you and your wife have some serious work to do if you want your kids to grow up okay.
I wish you all well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 3 Jul 2007

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2007). Recurring Living Nightmare. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 20, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2007/07/03/recurring-living-nightmare/