Happily Divorced – The Real Modern Family

When I typed this title into my book outline, I really wasn’t sure what I was going to specifically write here and even as the words hit the page, I’m not sure where they will take me.  So let me start with this as I think it demonstrates the point…

When Bob’s wife planned his 50th birthday party, she of course included me and Brian in the celebration.  I contemplated whether or not to go for about a half second as I considered seeing all the old softball friends and their wives whom I really hadn’t encountered much in the preceding 17 years.  But just as I’ve always done, I considered the fact that what they thought wasn’t as important as the fact that Brandi wanted us to be there.  Plus, I relished another opportunity to spend time with my son and my beloved ex-in-laws.  So I easily put my brief hesitation aside.

When I arrived at the party, it must have taken me twenty minutes to make it through the venue out to the back patio where the celebration was actually being held as I was greeted by countless members of Bob’s family and friend group who made me feel right at home with all of them.  Honestly, it was so genuine and well beyond an obligatory “hello” or “how have you been?”, but rather, real interest in talking with me and knowing how my life as going.  I hope I returned the feelings of acceptance and interest in them that they afforded me.  It was so comforting to feel so loved by those who for so long I felt I had fallen out of grace with when I left Bob.  See it is one thing to celebrate your child together and for everyone to focus on that.  But when the “ex” shows up at the former spouse’s birthday party, it is because they want to be there, not because it is expected due to parental responsibility.  And it’s true.  I really did want to be there and I really did enjoy it.

As I made my way to the patio, I came upon a poster board full of photos throughout Bob’s life that Brand had created.  Ahead of the event, she had asked me for some snapshots that pre-dated her and I had a supplied her with a stack.  I wasn’t sure how she would feel about including them.  So I told her use what she felt comfortable with and left it at that.  I included pictures that Bob’s mom had given me of Bob when he was in high school and pictures of him with Ian when he was a baby, toddler, and preschooler – all which predated Brandi.  I also chose to include one other picture that probably was the most controversial choice if you were an outsider to our special relationship.  It was a picture of Bob and me together after a softball game when I was about seven months pregnant.  We both looked so happy and young and Bob had his hand on my pregnant belly.  I really didn’t know if Brandi would be willing to put this one in the collection she created for public viewing.

As I scanned the board, I didn’t really look specifically for this picture because I had convinced myself to have no expectation and to harbor no judgment either way she went with that.  But then my eyes locked on it and I was filled with joy when I saw that this particular image made the board.  See, not only did it represent the happiest time of our marriage and of course the impending birth of our only son, who is amazing, but it also was us in the element in which we had enjoyed so much fun with friends celebrating softball wins at the local pub after the game.  I had lost all those friends in the divorce if you will and many of them were there that night.  Having that picture on the board made me somehow feel even more like a part of the celebration – a key orchestrator in the creation of our family 2.0 and a genuine friend… still!  I probably spent more time talking with Bob’s friends that night than I had even when we were all hanging out at the pub after all those games.  I was no longer a person separate from the group who was just tagging along.  I was a member of the group… for that night at least.modern-family-3

As the party progressed, Bob asked that someone “take a picture of his modern family” and grabbed both Brandi and I to pose with him.  It was a really cool feeling and a proud moment for both of us.  I just love my real modern family!

 

Co-parenting and Birthdays

Ian 16th Bday.JPGWhen it came to celebrating Ian’s birthday, Bob and I traded off on this responsibility just like any other.  One year I planned and paid for the kid party, and the next year Bob did.  And when the special birthdays came up, we joined forces.  This would sometimes mean going in on a nice gift together that we agreed on.  And sometimes it meant we would have a party at one of our houses and invite the other parent and their family to attend.  Of course, since none of my family” lived close, for me, this consisted of close friends and my boyfriend and his children.  We each welcomed the other and their family into our home as we would any other friend, again able to put aside our otherwise competitive nature.

bday Ian 18On Ian’s 18th birthday, we decided to play a little practical joke on him and jointly packed his car with tons of balloons.  We both took turns writing funny sayings in washable car ink all over his car.  Really, we had entirely too much fun with the whole thing.  And when Ian saw the sayings, there was no doubt in his mind who wrote what as we both have our own unique flavor of humor.

When it came to our birthdays, we also honored each other and kept things on positive footing by taking Ian to shop for gifts for each other and giving him the money to pay for them without hesitation.  This may sound easy enough.  But I don’t think it is all that normal among divorced couples.   In fact, none of the other divorced people I knew either bought for the other parent or had gifts bought for them.  I guess they just couldn’t get passed themselves.  But for me, it was important for Ian to have the opportunity to buy his dad a gift of his choosing and get to see the joy on his face when he opened it.  I couldn’t take that from him.  It wasn’t my place.  And I always tried not to let our divorce dictate how my son interacted with his father.  If we had stayed married, I would have expected Ian to want to give his father a gift.  So in divorce, this expectation was no different.

IMG_1985.JPGAnother thing that we always made sure was possible was for our child to spend the day with the parent enjoying the birthday.  Again, this seems obvious and logical, doesn’t it?  But surprisingly, I’ve seen way too many parents who don’t even consider ensuring this simple courtesy – either planning a vacation or other activity that inhibits the child from spending time with their parent on their birthday.  There is simply no excuse for this childish and thoughtless behavior as far as I’m concerned.  For me, it is also important that the child learn to honor their parent’s special day.  It is important they learn to not only receive but to give.  The world does not in fact revolve around them.  They best learn that now so as not to be devastated by disappointment later.  Or worse yet, grow up not knowing how to be generous and giving of themselves to others.

img_1953.jpgWe did the same for each other on Mother’s Day and Father’s day.  I didn’t even consider scheduling something that would interfere with Ian spending time with his father on Father’s day and I received the same treatment in return.

If you’ve read my chapter on Practicing the Golden Rule, this is what I’m talking about.  If you always keep in mind how you would want to be treated, you will not stray from appropriate choices in matters of co-parenting.   Remember, you get what you give.  It is the universal law!

Co-parenting at Halloween Can Be Tricky

Happily Divorced Halloween
Ian was Robin two years in a row. This was also pre-divorce. But can you blame me for including it here?

Holidays are supposed to be a time for joy, fun, and celebration.  But when you are divorced with kids, it is a minefield of anxiety.  How do you get it right?  How do you build traditions when you constantly have to consider the forces outside your home?  How do you balance what your child wants with what you want to experience as a parent?  I can only speak for myself.  But I didn’t work on getting pregnant for 2 years only to miss all the significant memories in my son’s life.  My dreams of building that vast photo album of costumes and pictures with Santa didn’t end with my divorce.  I know there are people who let these things go.  But honestly, I just don’t relate to this type of parenting existence.  I couldn’t let Bob’s prophecy of “You’re going to miss half of his life” come to fruition.

So not unlike the tangled web we had to maneuver to pull off family vacations, we once again had to exhibit selflessness, flexibility, and compassion to provide the best holiday experiences to our boy while still getting to enjoy being his parents.

Don’t be Haunted by Halloween Missteps

Co-parenting at Halloween can be tricky
Ian was only 2 years old here. Bob and I were still together. But the photo is just too damned cute to leave it out.

The first key to a Happy Halloween whether you are divorced or still married is to let your child pick their own costume.  It’s one of the few things they can control.  So let them have it.  Pick one costume that they will want to wear to both parent’s house.  That way there is one experience – not only for them but for the two parents and everyone else around them as well!  Remember, your parents are building a photo album as well.

Now you might be saying to yourself, “Well of course you let the kid pick their costume.  What crazy control freak would deny a child such a rite of passage?”  But I can tell you first hand with another couple that I know that this is not the case.  In the ongoing obsession to control every aspect of every experience her children have, one parent I know always picks what the kids will wear.  The outcome of course is that IF the kids are allowed out of her sight for a millisecond, they strip down the costume to the point that you can’t even tell what they are dressed as.  Take that you control freak mother!  Happy now?

Divorced with kids at HalloweenBeyond the costume, I’d say the more tricky part (pardon the pun) for us was how to deal with the logistics of trick or treat.  And in our case, we lived very close making it a little easier.  Still, will they go to both neighborhoods?  Will they just do one?  Is there time for both?  Will they have anyone to go with in both neighborhoods at different times?  What do they want to do?  What if I don’t get to see my child in his costume this year?  Oh hell!  This part sucks.  Looking back, I guess we did “ok” with this one but I think we could have done better.

Ian did pick his costumes OF COURSE and also which neighborhood to start in.  But the other parent always wanted to be part of it and so Ian would have to stop halfway through the first neighborhood to switch houses.  Of course, he didn’t get to go with the other kids in the second neighborhood because they had started way earlier and were either done or on an entirely different part of the neighborhood.  I think in some Halloween Co-parenting Coach Tressel Costumeyears he picked one or the other neighborhood but still had to make time to share his costume with each parent.  As parents and the “adults”, we should have made all this inconvenience more our affair and let him just enjoy the experience in one location or the other.  Of course, being the true Libra sun sign that he is, Ian probably felt obligated to give each parent and friend-group equal time anyway.  So I’m not sure that he would have chosen any differently.  But looking back, I feel we should have done more to relieve him of this burden.

So as you finalize your plans for this year’s trick-or-treating, do everything you can to remember this is a memory for your child first and you second.  Be flexible and considerate.  And expect to do more than your friends who are married have to just to create the same level of kid-parent experience.

Happily Divorced – Celebrating Graduation

Ah, graduation.  Parents of many children probably celebrate this quite differently in their minds and hearts than those of us who have only one child.  And married parents too look to this as an opportunity to transition their relationship back to what it was pre-child.  For me, it represented the end of so many things I love about being a mom and co-parent never to be revisited again.

First there was high school graduation.  I started dreading that about halfway through Ian’s junior year when he started visiting colleges and taking college entrance exams.  He was going to leave home.  I wouldn’t be able to be there for him when he finished his day.  I wouldn’t be able to make a healthy dinner for him.  There would be no more high school football games or parades to see him perform at (not that there wouldn’t be more performances in his case of course).  The high school experience which I once loathed for myself but now looked back on fondly was coming to an end for him.  As for my relationship with Bob, there would be far fewer reasons for us to talk.  Would this mean our friendship would fade?  Would I never have the pleasure of hearing his funny tales or get to spend time with Bob’s family.  Quite frankly, I was overwhelmed with sadness for about 18 months.  I felt my worth and usefulness as a mom was fast diminishing.  My identity was coming to an end.  This may all sound overly dramatic but it really is what I felt.

ian-grad-entranceThankfully, Ian chose to attend college close to home.  So by the time his second semester of his senior year of high school rolled around, I no longer had to consider what I might do if he chose to head off to Southern California or Florida.  He would be able to drive 20 minutes or so from campus to home and I could do the same.  What a relief!

The first senior event Bob and I jointly participated in was senior night during football season.  Senior football players, cheerleaders, and band members were all honored by being given an opportunity to walk across the field with their parents, have their pictures taken at the other side, and be introduced over the PA to the audience.  Bob and I never considered doing it any other way.  In fact, I might even go as far as to say that other parents of Ian’s friends who had divorced later than us chose to follow our lead and do the same having been subjected to our example for Ian’s entire academic career.  I like to think we inspired others anyway.  So we proudly took the field together and have another snapshot of the three of us to take forward through our lifetime of memories.

OOHS Ian Harlow Snare DrummerNext on the list was to create a memorable graduation experience for Ian – one that both of our families could join in together.  I wanted Ian to have a graduation party.  I had not had one and honestly at the time didn’t miss it.  But realized not only did I miss out on marking this occasion in a special way, but I also missed out on gathering some much needed funding for what comes next in life through presents offered by those in attendance.

In our case, the last thing I wanted was to make Ian split time between families during his celebration.  And since we were all on such good terms and genuinely enjoyed each other’s company, why shouldn’t we hold one big joint celebration?  Bob suggested we hold the party at his house since the backyard was better positioned to set up the tents and tables for guests.  Since we were only a quarter mile apart as the crow flies, it would be easy enough for everyone to find it that may not know where Ian’s “other home” was.  We split the costs of food and decorations.  And I was free to invite my friends and family to Bob’s house, which I did without concern.  Bob’s wife Brandi helped with a lot of the details and making sure we got our guest list together and invitations made out in time.  I created an invitation using several pictures arranged into a collage and we jointly addressed and mailed them.  I created a couple of picture posters with snapshots throughout Ian’s life.  I was extra-careful to make sure that family members and friends from both sides were represented so that everyone would feel like they were included in this great celebration and were recognized for their significance in Ian’s life.  I would have not dreamed of doing it any other way.

Contrast this with the experience of my divorced friend when his daughter graduated.  Her mom created a board that had not one picture of the father represented.  This is unfortunately the path too many take when they divorce… simply forgetting to consider the feelings of not only the other person but of the child to whom that other parent is definitely important.

When the big day arrived, we sat together at the graduation ceremony and took pictures together afterward.  Then we set out to create our everlasting memories of the graduation party.  Bob’s large local family contingent was there.  And while my parents and other family members weren’t there, I did invite Brian’s family and several close friends and neighbors.  So there was a reasonable balance representing both sides.

During the party, I and Bob were both careful to make sure we intermingled the groups introducing those who didn’t know each other and encouraging cross-over conversations, if you will.  It was nice to see Ian so relaxed being able to enjoy himself and not worrying about having to leave to go to the other parent’s celebration.  He could do what all the other kids did and leave his own party to attend the party of friends while the parent celebration continued. Ha!