My daughter's baby mama called in the lawyers

Can't we just get along? I'm doing my part, but I also want to get on with my life

Published November 11, 2011 1:00AM (EST)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

I'm a 41-year-old intellectual-property paralegal from the New York/New Jersey area. I lost my job two weeks ago. It was a job I took in June after working for a small firm for four years. I had been trying to get a better job for over a year.

I felt great when I started but afterward, my "baby mama" (I have a 5-year-old daughter whose mother and I were never married) got angry because I wouldn't be able to have my daughter over as much as the recent past (we never had a child-support agreement).

Beforehand, I had my daughter every other weekend, overnights during the middle of the week, and I would have her stay with me for up to a week at a time when her mother would travel for work (which was four to six times a year). I have been consistently paying support without complaint.

That schedule changed to just every other weekend. And even though I was making more money, I was being called a "deadbeat." And she was angry I took a job "without consulting her." We were never married. Why should I have "consulted her"?

So she got a lawyer. And I had to get a lawyer. This caused a lot of stress since I was trying to work myself into a new job at the same time. Since being a paralegal at a new firm requires concentration, my performance wasn't what it should've been.

The good thing about all of this is I have been with a wonderful woman for 18 months. She was the one who inspired me to get a better job in the first place. She is standing by me. But I don't want this to go on for long. I have been seeing recruiters and actively job searching. But Christmas is coming and I don't want my little girl to miss out. Nor do I want to disappoint my girlfriend.

In the end, I want to find a job, settle this child-support case and marry my girlfriend. But I'm afraid. I know it will turn out better in the end, but I want to get this over with as soon as possible.

I've had problems with anxiety and self-esteem and I've often felt isolated at workplaces. The firm where I worked for four years was low-paying, had a crappy environment and no future. I wanted better. But it was a little overwhelming and I didn't want my personal life to become part of everyone's else space.

Do I just keep trucking and not worry? I've been trying meditation and wish lists, and they've helped in general. But I just want to move forward to the next phase in life.

Trying to Move Forward

Dear Trying to Move Forward,

Your daughter's mother's reaction to your getting a new job without consulting her is interesting. You may feel she wants control, or veto power. But involving her in, or at least giving her advance notice of, decisions that affect the childcare arrangement is an excellent idea. When you don't involve her, it increases her sense of mistrust and fear. When she receives surprise news, she is more likely to escalate because she feels powerless. If you keep her in the loop, she will feel less urgently compelled to attack.

Generally, if there is anything you can do to improve the relationship with your ex, I suggest you try. It's a terrible drain to be fighting like this. It's expensive, too, when lawyers get involved.

There may be certain things whose disclosure would put you at a disadvantage or expose you to harm. But where possible, keep her informed. Make an effort. Show her respect. It can only help.

When it hurts, remind yourself that you're not really doing it for her. You're doing it for your daughter, and for your future.

You may not see any immediate benefits. But keep at it. You two will be raising your daughter jointly for the next 15 years or so. That is a good reason to start now on a long-term effort to improve the emotional tenor of your relationship.

Your current girlfriend may well view such attempts with alarm. But try. Pay attention to the emotional side of it. Trying to ease the conflict will at least ease your conscience. Trying to do the right thing without thought for personal gain is great for self-esteem.

Progress in life is often slow. While slogging it out, stop and take stock. You have love in your life. You love your daughter and she loves you. You love your girlfriend and she loves you. You have skills that will land you another job soon. And you have plans to marry. These are all great things.

So keep doing the things that work. If meditation helps, keep doing it. Keep making your wish lists. Whatever works, keep it in your life. When frustration or low self-esteem tempt you to give up on some of these things, just do them anyway. Build strong habits. They will help you through tough times.

You're going to be at this a long time. You'll be in your mid-50s when your daughter is ready for college. So think long-term. Paradoxically, that means paying attention to the now. Think long-term but stay in the now.

If you get that, you'll be fine.

By Cary Tennis

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