Last week, after the conversation I had with John in which he chanted "Fair!" at regular intervals, I decided I'd have to confront him. This always scares me, has always scared me since we first started dating. There are two reasons for this: One, I dislike confrontation if it has to do with relationships, especially romantic relationships. I'm a whiz at debating topics and theories and ideas, and I can confront just about anyone on those terms. But anything approaching a confrontation with someone I am, or was, romantically involved with? It's tough. I do it, but I hate it.
Part of the reason I've always hated it with John is that he is capable of turning the argument around in two seconds by attacking something about me, using something about me that is unrelated to the issue at hand as a means of gaining ground. I never feel safe confronting him, and I still don't. What could he possibly say to me? Anything. Anything. He has before.
But I knew I was giving him a terrible amount of power over me, and I knew I couldn't keep it up. I had to do something. Fatally Hip Single Mother gave me excellent suggestions* about how to approach the conversation, and I used them. I didn't get angry at him. I calmly stated my position. I didn't attempt to correct his "erroneous" thinking (or what I see as his erroneous thinking). Instead, I reminded him of the parenting plan we created, his obligations under that plan, and the fact it was a legal and binding agreement. When he spouted off about "fair!" I listened, breathed in, and then said I understood how he felt. And then I said, "but these are the facts as I see them: I have the kids 12 days out of 14. Those two days are the only 48 hour window I have to rest and regroup. You are legally obligated to take them for those 48 hours." He hemmed and hawed. He protested and whined. He claimed that he couldn't get off work early. I held my ground. "If you can't get off work before a certain time, I understand, but then it's your responsibility to make suitable arrangements. You cannot pick them up late and then drop them off early."
John hemmed and hawed some more.
And then I said, "And the one time I tell you that you need to pick them up on time, you need to do that. You need to be responsible enough to figure that out. I have more than fulfilled my obligations here."
John said, "I don't know what I can do."
I realized he didn't. He is irresponsible in a very specific way and lacks the ability to problem solve in certain areas of his life.
"Alright," I said, "I'll arrange for a sitter to have them from 5:30 or so until you can pick them up that Friday. But you will need to pay her. That is your responsibility."
"I don't have any money."
"And neither do I. And when I allow you to be flexible for months and months and then ask you to pick them up on time, for once, it is your responsibility to make that happen. I'll arrange for the sitter. But you're paying for it. I am not paying for a sitter the one time I need you to actually follow the legal plan."
He finally agreed. We also found a compromise for the weekends, so that if he gets them later, he drops them off later, with the standard being that I have 48 hours child-free. He implied, repeatedly, that I was being petty. I didn't argue with him on that point, just calmly repeated "I have a freelance career I'm starting, a full household, many responsibilities, and I need that time."
And you know? I felt an odd sense of power, something I've hardly left a conversation with him feeling. I stuck up for myself. I stuck to the outline in my head, remembered that I only needed to accomplish a and b. So that when he kept turning the conversation to old arguments (he always says that I promised to move to Portland and I haven't) I didn't take the bait. As soon as I realized I didn't have to change his mind to get what I wanted, everything sort of fell in line.
I did it. I actually did it. I'm sort of surprised by myself. And happy, too.
*suggestions, not advice, FYI. Because advice would be wrong.