How to say “no” gracefully and uncommit

Remember my last conversation with the Doctor? Well…

“No he is not gay but can get caught up in that or any other type of activity that you might consider not normal,” the Doctor corrects me.

“How can I stop the rumour?” I am frantic to know. “It is living at school and at the hockey. Also the hockey are very defensive and seem to be laying the blame with Winston.”

“You need to teach him not to do those things,” the Doctor informs me. “He needs to learn that the bravado David is teaching him is wrong and people don’t like that. Also he needs to learn to respect women or he will rape someone. Teach him right from wrong. I know asking David’s help is pointless as he is a moron. The rumour is set in stone.”

“This is very encouraging,” I sigh. At this I find myself confused as I was sure that I had always been taught that nothing is set in stone.

“Sorry,” the Doctor offers compassionately.

“This is a losing battle,” I despair. “Can’t say anything about David or Winston gets defensive. And you are right, he is teaching him wrong, and David also has a bad halo effect on Winston. I see where this is heading and it is out of my control. Wish David would just damn well disappear. I do teach him right from wrong but not succeeding. Okay how… what should I be doing that I am not?”

“What about Wim?” the Doctor offers as alternative. “Does he have a sort of relationship where Winston looks up to him?”

“Yes but it is not as if Wim is around that much, right?” I sigh again as everything seems doomed right now.

“Move to the UK,” the Doctor throws at me.

“When we do go to Wim then Winston is playing on the PS, like Wim’s boys,” I ponder over how much of a relationship my son actually has with my other half. “David will never let me take the kids to the UK. The UK has lower living standards. Kids are rough in the UK.”

“Ok try Gent,” the Doctor tries again.

“Same thing. I can’t change the kids’ school as I need David’s approval,” I tell him annoyed he would come up with such idiocy as a solution. I am sure I can think up something much better. And it dawns on me that that’s what the Doctor wants. He wants me to find my own solutions as I will perceive them to be more valuable than if he came up with them. “Running away isn’t an option and won’t solve this. I need to find a way around this.”

“Court with a backup from Prof Adriansen or a good behavioural psychologist,” the Doctor gives me another one of his fony solutions.

“What will the prof say?” I throw back at him. “David is bad, give full custody to Fiona?”

“Possible,” the Doctor says with a tone of reluctance.

“Winston is going to be 12 soon, then he can choose and he might end up choosing David,” I give voice to one of my greatest fears.

“Ok then his future will be what it will be,” the Doctor shrugs.

“Really?” I cry out.

“I don’t think David can cope,” the Doctor goes on nonchalantly.

“You are asking me to give up on my son?” I am appalled. “Never!”

“I am not asking you to give up anything,” the Doctor attempts to calm me down. “You have every excuse possible as to why you won’t fight for him. David is bitter and hates women. He is also mentally unstable. What’s he going to teach his children? David is also a pervert.”

“He is, but this is Belgium and I have no money for a lawyer…” I tell the Doctor what my situation and options look like. “So I go to this professor and ask him to assess my son and to blame David for it?”

“Then talk to Winston as an adult,” the Doctor’s first sound advice of the day.

“Tell him what?” I retort.

“You are also to blame,” the Doctor points out.

“Your dad is this and that?” I cry as I know that approach won’t work. If anything it will backfire as people tend to attribute the values to you when you talk bad about someone else. “I am? If I mention his dad, he will only close up more.”

“So don’t mention his dad,” the Doctor says decidedly. “This is a problem Winston needs to understand. He can’t behave as a pervert or idiot or do wrong things. He needs to learn to say NO when needed.”

“He says no often enough but in the wrong context,” I realize.

“Exactly,” the Doctor nods.

“It’s difficult trying to talk to Winston,” I say to the Doctor. “He won’t engage, and no eye contact.”

“Try talking as an adult, a friend,” the Doctor repeats. “Eye contact is not necessary.”

“Ok,” I feel that this is something I can do. “Feel like I am constantly nagging and preaching to him.”

“Watch your tone,” the Doctor repeats his best advice again. “It must be different from your mommy voice.”

“Oh. I am doing my best with my mommy voice,” I exclaim confused. “You told me to be a mommy and I am doing that. So now I try the adult friend approach. Right”

“You know there is a time for mommy and time for a confident moment,” the Doctor explains the difference.

“I will try to figure that out,” I nod back. “Will it work?”

“Ok. Don’t forget to tell him he is great and tell him all the wonderful things he does and then tell him about things that people don’t do,” the Doctor gives me the best approach. “Get the difference? Teach him to read tarot too.”

“Cool,” I enthusiasm. I love sharing hobbies with my kids.

“I sent you 700 Euros,” the Doctor changes the subject.

“Haven’t received it yet,” I tell him checking my mobile banking app.

“No Friday should do it,” the Doctor confirms.

“Ok,” I smile then interrupt our Skype conversation to answer my phone. When I return to my Skype call with the Doctor, I am in a dark mood. “Hate David. Had him on the phone earlier on. In short he is about as present as if we were married. David hates hockey. Winston stops hockey. David hates the court order with my mother. He wants Winston to tell the judge he doesn’t want to go anymore. David hates me. He’ll get Winston to say he doesn’t want to live with me anymore. In short David is going to get Winston against everyone around him. I was 35 and very difficult to get away from him. The little boy doesn’t stand a chance. Wish he would drop dead. David I mean”

“Yes,” the Doctor nods. “Indeed.”

“What can I do?” I despair again. “Talk to Winston. Great”

“Move to where it is difficult for David to see Winston often,” the Doctor offers as if we are on a merry-go-round.

“Move to Mechelen?” I question him incredulously. “Seriously? Move house. Or is Mechelen not far enough? What about legal constraints?”

“What about them?” the Doctor wants to know raising an eyebrow.

“I don’t think I am free to move, and not free to move schools either,” I repeat again as we are having the exact same conversation as earlier on. “I have to stay within 15 or 20 km of the school. And I can’t unilaterally decide to change schools. If I move to the UK for instance I will lose custody.”

“Pity,” the Doctor shrugs. “He wants the kids for tax and kinderbijslag.”

“Yes he does,” I cry out happy that somebody finally understands. “Did I tell you about that?”

“Guessed,” the Doctor winks at me.

“Every now and then he harasses me that I should give him the tax cut,” I tell him the incredible things my ex-husband dares to demand of me. “That I have enough money and it would help him out. He pays nothing towards the kids. He thinks it’s scandalous that I get kinderbijslag.”

“Well take him to court about that or swap him for full custody for no maintenance,” the Doctor advises.

“Nice but no money for a lawyer,” I shrug off this idea. It’s useless going back to court and fighting again and again with the idiot.

“Don’t need a lawyer,” the Doctor tells me. “Go to police and make a case against him for your payments or go to the court and ask for a pro bono lawyer. You can ask the state to pay you and they will get it back from David. His folks are rich. It’s against the law to not pay. David can go to jail if he doesn’t pay. They will make him pay from day one. He might not like the idea and after a temper tantrum negotiate. Who knows.”

“He doesn’t have to pay anything,” I inform the Doctor of how things went during my divorce. The other case I lost. “That’s why I get full tax cut and he doesn’t. But he thinks he should get a tax cut even if he pays nothing.”

“That’s really what you agreed?” the Doctor fixes me with big eyes.

“No that’s what the court decided,” I spit out. How many times have I told the Doctor about this? “His lawyer played David’s low income. Nobody was bothered that he has 3 houses. And my accountant at the time gave me very wrong and disadvantageous numbers for court. In short I have been screwed. My whole life is just a screw up. And I try to make the best out of the cards I have been dealt.”

“Wow,” the Doctor whistles. “I am surprised.”

“Yes me too,” I add sarcastically. “But hey I lose at everything.”

“Well contracts are made to be broken,” the Doctor informs me conspiratorially.

“Apparently,” I raise my shoulders reluctantly. “Which part can I break?”

“If he owns houses and has an income you can change the contract,” the Doctor points out.

“Yes and risk he gets 7/7 week/week custody,” I point out the obvious down side of going back to court. I risk to gain in money but lose in distribution of custody over the kids. “And he will never pay. In a few years it will be over and I will have done my utmost best to protect those kids. I’ve got 9/5 days custody. That’s something”

“Yes indeed,” the Doctor nods taking it all in. “Yes. Well do the best you can.”

“Same with my mother,” I tell him. “I lost the court case but she only has a half day once a month. And that’s not forever either. I am doing my best”

“Ok,” the Doctor looks at his watch suddenly. “I got to run again.”

“If I had managed to attract a normal relationship, then none of this would be,” I think out loud. “David would leave me alone and Winston would have a male role model in the house. I am failing miserably.”

“You have been here before,” the Doctor answers in annoyance. “One more time. If you show a genuine interest and show trustability and sincerity you should have no problem finding a partner.  I know that’s obvious to you and not what you want to hear.”

“I hope so,” I sigh. “Don’t know where to start. Financially I have my back up against the wall. Winston is fragile right now. And I am to attract a new partner? Plus first cleaning up the mess it will be breaking up with Wim. I give up.”

“Why do you want to break up with Wim?” the Doctor asks surprised. This catches me off guard. Then what are we talking about? “Please I am not telling you what to do. Maybe you should stop trying to manipulate your life and just try and live it.”

“But I am living it,” I point out. “I just can’t see what you are saying. I believe a live-in partner would be good for me and my kids. You know that is not happening with Wim. Or I could attempt again and move to Mechelen?”

People who get things done are effective because they say “no”. I am still learning how to say “no” gracefully. Now most of us have trouble doing this in the first place. Sometimes it’s best to just cut your losses and uncommit in the aftermath of a premature “yes.”

This should help you shorten your to-do list and lengthen your not-to-do list. And bring clarity to your mind. It helps with me.

Love,

Fiona

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