Co-parenting trouble : what you don’t know can haunt you

Something happened to my son last weekend when he was with his dad.  I don’t know exactly what happened, but I do know that my son has been more reserved, hesitant, nervous and clingy ever since.

My son is just over two and hasn’t got the language to tell me.  My ex hasn’t got the courage to tell me. 

I could tell straight away that something had happened.  My ex delivered my son home as usual.  I gave my son a kiss and a cuddle.  Ordinarily, he would then run off into the lounge and check that all of his toys were there.  Ordinarily, he would pick one or two toys out and show them to his dad.

Last weekend, my son would not let me put him down after our kiss and cuddle.  He screamed and clung to me when I tried to release him.  He refused to say goodbye to his dad.  He refused to give him a kiss and a cuddle.  He turned away from him and buried his head into my shoulder. 

When his father had left my son started crying, but he was crying in a way that I had never seen him cry before.  My son cries when he is having a tantrum and these cries are obviously fake.  My son cries when he has hurt himself and these are genuine cries of pain.   The cries of pain are always short lived, but my son has great stamina for a tantrum.

He had sadness written all over his face when he cried last weekend.  I had never seen him cry like this before.  He cried quietly.  As I held him in my arms the tears welled up and started streaming down his face.  He looked over my shoulder at the wall behind me.

I asked him what was the matter.  After a bit of questioning we established that he had done something naughty.  When I asked him what naughty thing he had done he said “throw mud”.

I’ve since established that he threw a car and that it hit his 13 year old cousin.  I’ve also established that his cousin was crying.

My son wasn’t just with his dad last weekend.  He was with the whole family.  He was with all of my former in-laws.  What I don’t know is how my in-laws reacted when my son threw a car and hit is cousin.

co-parenting trouble

I don’t know, but I can imagine.

I can imagine that my ex’s twin sister, and mother of my son’s cousin, went berserk.  She has always been volatile, and being around her is like walking on egg shells.  I imagine that she screamed and yelled at my son and at my ex.  My son is not used to shouting.  This will have scared him.

I can imagine that faced with his sister’s yelling, my ex felt obliged to take a hard line with my son.  Ordinarily my son is allowed to throw things, climb the bookshelves and jump on the sofa when he is with his father.  He is not allowed to do any of these things when he is with me.  I imagine that the sudden change in what is acceptable and my ex’s hard line approach, which could also have involved shouting –  my ex has a short temper – will have scared him.

I can imagine that a conversation ensued about how I, as my son’s mother, am to blame and am doing a terrible job, and that my son is disadvantaged because he is from a broken home.  In my in-laws’ minds I am  to blame, because I made the decision to leave my ex.  Although my son wouldn’t have understood everything, he understands some words and would most definitely have picked up on the atmosphere and tone of the conversation.  This will have scared him. 

I don’t know what I can do about this. 

I can cuddle my son, and reassure him, and allow him to be clingy and try to encourage him out of his nervousness and reticence.

I can’t be sure what happened, because I know my ex will never tell me, and I know that my son can’t. 

What I don’t know is haunting me. 


  1. October 16, 2016 / 12:17 pm

    It’s such a shame that an already delicate and difficult situation is made worse by others who proclaim to do things out of ‘love’. Families are complicated enough without the addition of separation. This would haunt me too. At least your son clearly knows he can get the emotional support he needs from you.
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    • thesingleswan
      October 16, 2016 / 9:34 pm

      Thank you! Pen x

  2. October 16, 2016 / 12:25 pm

    I cannot imagine how you must be feeling. In the same situation I would struggle to greatly to let it drop. I hope your son starts to feel better soon x

    The Tale of Mummyhood recently posted…A Controlled Crying DiaryMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      October 16, 2016 / 9:33 pm

      Thanks for your comment. I don’t really want to let it drop, but I cannot raise it overtly with his dad because he will either a) lie or b) getting angry or do both. This has to be a long and delicate game as far as his father is concerned. Tips always welcome. pen x

  3. October 16, 2016 / 5:12 pm

    That sounds horrible. I hope he can come to terms with and make sense of it in his head with your help. What a confusing and troubling set of circumstances.
    x Alice

    • thesingleswan
      October 16, 2016 / 9:32 pm

      Hi Alice,

      Thanks for your comment. Pen x

  4. October 16, 2016 / 10:10 pm

    It must be so difficult being apart from your son and not knowing how your ex and his family are handling him – and what influences he’s exposed to. I hope that he forgets about it soon and it doesn’t have a lasting impact. x #KCACOLS

    • thesingleswan
      October 17, 2016 / 8:31 pm


      I hope so too! thanks for your comment. Pen x

  5. October 17, 2016 / 11:08 am

    This sounds such a difficult situation and I really feel for you. I would be the same in your situation – it is so hard when they are little and cannot articulate what has happened. I hope you can both move on from this upsetting situation. #KCACOLS
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    • thesingleswan
      October 17, 2016 / 8:28 pm

      Hi Sharon,

      thanks for your comment. I appreciate it. Pen x

  6. October 17, 2016 / 5:50 pm

    Ugh this gave me the heebie heebies. I really don’t even know what to say. I think you sound like you’ve thought about it in a very balanced way. Is there ever a time you may get one on one time with your ex in a neutral environment where you could express your concerns and hope he would tell you exactly what happened? Or a way you can pretend you emigrated perhaps? Just kidding. This must be really difficult. Cwtch him up x #KCACOLS

    • thesingleswan
      October 17, 2016 / 8:36 pm


      thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, even if I were able to get my ex in a neutral and quiet environment I would not raise this issue directly. My ex gets very defensive when criticised or questioned. I need to work out how to raise this subtly and over time. Pen x

  7. October 17, 2016 / 8:16 pm

    I completely sympathise with this. My ex husband and I split when our son was four so although he could talk and tell me what was going on, it was still tough to lose him every other weekend and miss out on so much of his life. We’ve had problems over the years with the discipline being different at his Dads than it is at ours, bedtimes being later, being allowed to play out further from home, etc, and it does make it difficult to parent. Now, eight years after we split, we have finally reached a place where I *think* we might just be friends. We are on the same page, focused on parenting our child together with our new partner, and it’s a huge relief to be a team again. I hope that you reach that point. #kcacols

    • thesingleswan
      October 17, 2016 / 8:24 pm


      thanks so much for your comment. I am really glad to hear that you have reached a stage where you are focussed on parenting your child together. It is a relief to think you can actually reach this stage. At the moment, I cannot imagine that we ever will. We split 18 months ago nearly. Only 6 and a half years to go until we reach your stage! Wish me luck. Pen x

  8. October 17, 2016 / 8:58 pm

    This is such a tough situation! Its is such a shame that it is not being discussed with you – fingers crossed your little guy cheers up and forgets about the event soon. Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next Sunday
    OddHogg recently posted…Menu Plan Monday – 17th October 2016My Profile

    • thesingleswan
      October 22, 2016 / 6:50 pm


      thank you very much. Pen x

  9. October 19, 2016 / 9:55 am

    I’m so sorry you’ve had this experience. It sounds just awful. Is there anyway to try and ask your ex. Perhaps a very calm email explaining that your son’s been clingy and normally he isn’t so is there anything that happened. Explain how important it is not so you will be angry with anyone but so you can help your son work through it. My son has experienced things with his nan which if I didn’t know about from my mum directly I wouldn’t have quite understood what he meant and wouldn’t have been able to reassure him (like a fire and stuff). If you can convince him its all for your son and these things are going to come up it might help. Can you share things about his week which show things happen and no-one is to blame so he feels more confident sharing back?

    That being said, I know advice on Co-Parenting when it just really can’t work is the absolute pits. Perhaps that’s completely not possible with your ex and I TOTALLY get that. And I’m sorry. It will get easier as your son can explain more. You sound like you’re doing an amazing job in a really difficult situation. Just keep on with what you’re doing and with time and your support he will learn to communicate to you what’s happened. xx
    Ellamentalmama recently posted…A Letter To My Rainbow BabyMy Profile

    • thesingleswan
      October 22, 2016 / 6:50 pm

      Hi Ella,

      thanks for your comment. I think the best way with my ex will always be softly softly. He cannot take questioning or criticism. I do share things that are not perfect with my parenting with him. He banks them and uses them against me. Pen x

  10. October 19, 2016 / 8:35 pm

    It is so difficult when we let them go and we have no control over what happens while they’re gone (or even knowledge of what happens). I completely understand. I find that JJ tends to be very rude about my parents after he’s spent time with my ex – that’s a bit upsetting because we lived with them for six months and they (particularly my mum) has been there from the very beginning (she was my birth partner) and provided regular childcare from the beginning too. I hope it doesn’t affect the attitudes of the children for the long term because it really isn’t fair. #thetruthabout Xx
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    • thesingleswan
      October 22, 2016 / 6:47 pm

      HI Sam,

      That is really upsetting for you and for your mum. It is really difficult when your children really aren’t old enough to make up their own minds about their father and about the support that your parents have given you all. It is really tough. Thanks for your comment and I hope all is well with you. Pen x

  11. October 20, 2016 / 4:35 am

    Awkward, a very difficult situation indeed. We all make mistakes but if your ex did over react, he should admit it and do his best not to let it happen again. #TruthAbout

    • thesingleswan
      October 22, 2016 / 6:45 pm

      Hi John,

      I agree, we all mistakes, my ex certainly isn’t one to admit them though… Pen x

  12. October 20, 2016 / 5:31 pm

    This is such a difficult situation for you and I don’t really know what I would do in your shoes. I do know though that it would be on my mind so much and it would be hard to move on from without knowing the detail to what went on. I wish I could offer more in the way of ideas but you know him best and how to deal with it in a way that will get the best result.


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    • thesingleswan
      October 22, 2016 / 6:45 pm

      Hi Mainy,

      thanks for your comment. It has helped that my ex went away for a week after the incident and hasn’t seen Cygnet. Cygnet has been able to settle down and it has been really nice to see.

      Pen x

  13. October 20, 2016 / 9:39 pm

    My heart goes out to you. It must be so difficult to deal with, especially as if you act negatively towards his family it would make things worse. Hope your son feels happier soon x

    • thesingleswan
      October 22, 2016 / 6:43 pm

      Hi Nicola,

      thank you!

      Pen x

  14. October 30, 2016 / 7:03 pm

    Aw the poor little mite. When you described how he cried my heart went out to him and you. A tricky situation made more difficult by your ex not communicating fully with you. Hope you get to the bottom of it and hopefully put your mind to rest #KCACOLS

    • thesingleswan
      October 30, 2016 / 8:50 pm

      Hi Becky,

      thanks for your comment. I think he has forgotten it now. He hasn’t spoken about it for a while. Pen x

  15. N
    March 28, 2017 / 7:40 pm

    I’ve just found your blog and I feel I will be reading it a lot. Your post here – only the second I’ve read – reminds me a lot of my newly separated prtner and I.
    I don’t know what to do to help my son. I worry about the issues this may give him in life. The manipulation that dealing with two different families will bring. I am, quite frankly, terrified.
    As a result, and as you can hear, I cannot offer advice. All I can say is that I understand and I wish you and your son were not dealing with this.

    • thesingleswan
      March 28, 2017 / 8:05 pm

      Thank you for your comment. We have been separated for over two years now. Things go through their ups and downs, but gradually, very gradually, it will get a bit easier. Good luck and come back soon. Pen x

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