On more than occasion I have gazed into my second husband's eyes, sighed wistfully, and murmured: "I wish you were my ex-husband."
He smiles when I say this. Because he knows I don't really want to divorce him.
My husband Atticus is a stand-up guy. Despite the fact that he often disagrees with his ex-wife Erin's parenting choices, he has never once bad-mouthed her to their 8-year-old son Kevin.
Kevin tends to act out more with Erin. At times, he has tantrums, gets sassy, and refuses to do what she says. Erin then confides in Atticus. And Atticus sits Kevin down at the breakfast table and tells him he cannot disrespect his mother.
Atticus doesn't just say this because he's heeding conventional co-parenting wisdom. He says it because he genuinely wants Kevin to treat his mother well. And he wants Kevin to grow up to be a man who treats women well. Or anyone well, for that matter.
Erin knows that Atticus has her back, which goes a long way towards fostering good will. If Kevin misses Atticus, she'll send him to us on her timeshare days because she supports her son's relationship with his dad.
Because I have an ex-husband who, nine years out of the marriage, is still trying to undermine my relationship with my son, I marvel how much Atticus and Erin strive to do the right thing. The effects of my ex's hatred of me have been devastating for Luca, who is now in a therapeutic boarding school. Luca told me recently over the phone: "I like you, Mom, but there's no point trying to have a relationship with you. My dad won't let me."
So I wonder, when I listen to Atticus tell Kevin that he will get consequences in our house if he disrespects Erin, what Luca's young life would have been like if his dad had understood that Luca deserves, and needs, a relationship with his mother.
Another thing Atticus understands is that Erin needs child support to provide a good life for Kevin. When he divorced Erin, Atticus chose to give her more monthly support than she would have gotten had they litigated. He did this in part because he knew she needed it, and in part because he wanted to generate good will.
When she asks him to split the cost of an extracurricular activity for Kevin, Atticus does it. When she asks him to reimburse her for something Kevin-related, he does it -- without asking to see receipts.
The economy has butchered Atticus's business the past couple of years and he could legally modify child support. it's a hardship to continue paying Erin $2000 a month, but he knows she needs every penny to supplement her own income. He knows that if he creates more financial stress for her, that stress will trickle down to Kevin, who will suffer as well. He wants Kevin to stay in a nice house in nice neighborhood in a good school district.
As an ex-wife who has been on the receiving end of relentless monetary hi-jinks, such as my ex hiding enormous financial resources in order to eliminate child support, I often wonder how my two kids' lives might have benefited if I'd had less financial stress.
In the nine years since my divorce, four of which were spent as a single mom, I've tried not to let my worries about money seep onto the kids. But I'm sure they've felt the tension in the air. I spent half my life savings in a custody battle last year -- money that could have been used for family vacations, enrichment activities, and one day, an inheritance.
Because my ex is loaded, I don't worry that my children will want for anything in the big picture. But I do worry about the lessons they're learning about money. My son and my daughter will be rich adults. Will they feel a duty to help others less fortunate, or will they choose to buy yet another house, or a private jet? Will they choose friends because they genuinely like them, or simply because they travel in the "right" circles?
And if either of them, God forbid, ends up divorced, how will they treat their exes?
When I read the comments on the different blog posts in the Huffington Post Divorce section, I am frequently stunned by the degree of animosity exes have for each other. In particular, I am puzzled that so many ex-husbands resent paying their children's mothers child support.
Of course this resentment is justified in situations where ex-wives use the money for drugs, or choose not to work. But I don't understand the resentment in situations in which the ex-wife is working. I don't understand the belief that child support is going towards frivolous items when it is usually going towards keeping a roof over the kids' head and food in the refrigerator.
So as much as it would benefit our household if Atticus were able to modify child support, I don't want him to. I know Erin needs the money. I believe Kevin benefits having two households with relatively equal standards of living. And I know he benefits from having two parents who treat each other with respect.
And that's why, when I gaze into my husband's eyes and tell him how much I wish he were my ex-husband, he says he wishes he were too.