Happily Divorced: Bringing New Adults into Our Child’s Life

I have to say that one of the most threatening aspects of our divorce was the prospect that some other woman might someday claim parental rights – even mommy rights – over my child.  To me being a mom was and still is the most important contribution I will ever make to this world.  How can I bear the thought of that being taken from me?  I agonized over this possibility as Bob began to embark on new relationships.  Of course at the time, it didn’t even occur to me that Bob was facing this issue already since I went straight from our marriage into a four-year relationship with another man.  Shit this stuff is really painful to write about.

I feel Bob’s pain as I type this and the fears I had for our child at that time all over again.  I wish I could have stepped back from the moment to observe the situation with empathy at the time and consider our options a bit more.  But now nearly 19 years removed from these events, while recognizing I didn’t handle them in a way that would leave me with the most resolved emotions, I do accept that it still all had to happen as it did.

As explained in Chapter 10, the first lady that Bob dated seemed pretty shallow to me.  She had big boobs (something I lacked and which Bob desired) and she seemed to care for Bob.  But I had this nagging feeling that she was going to turn into some evil bitch from hell one day.  The thought that this might happen in front of my only son terrified me.  Bob really didn’t seem to wait very long before he introduced this woman to Ian either which I thought was completely inappropriate, unnecessary, and risky.  What if Ian liked her and then Bob ended it?  Ian would be hurt.  What if she was careless?  Could Ian get hurt in her care?  After all, she was not a mom.  What if she physically or mentally abused my son?  All of us know at least one person who experienced this from a step-parent, boyfriend, or girlfriend of a parent.  That would be all she wrote.  I’d have to kill her.  Then I’d go to prison and my life would be over.

Also in Chapter 10, I covered that I chose to wait six months to introduce my first post-marriage boyfriend to Ian.  I didn’t want a constant parade of potential step-parents being put in front of our son.  I wanted to be careful.  I wanted Ian to see that his mom was using good judgment and that I intended to protect him.  And I wanted to find out more about this person before putting my son at risk.  I really wanted to feel like Bob was exercising the same caution.  But all I kept fearing was that he would rush to reestablish the comfort he enjoyed being in a relationship.  Bob just never was much of a loner.  He liked being part of a couple.  I, on the other hand, enjoy solitude and only wanted to be part of a couple to the extent that it enhanced my otherwise happy loner existence.  This all sounds very ironic to me now since I’m the one that went straight into another relationship; but honestly I really didn’t want to do that.  I wanted to take time to be on my own.  Yet, I needed a ticket out of my current situation and going into another relationship, in some twisted way, seemed to justify me asking for a divorce.  After all, I had been telling Bob for years that we were headed for divorce and he would tell me I was stupid or just respond sarcastically, “Yeah, right.”  If I had taken up with another man, he had to believe it was happening for real and accept it, right?  Geez, I sure did find the most painful way to make my point.

Anyway, Bob continued to date this woman for a bit and I continued going to therapy, reflecting frequently on her advice to me that if I believed Bob was a good dad, I’d just have to trust him.  I had to accept it and put my trust in knowing he would continue to be a good father.  Fortunately in my case, I really did believe above all else that Bob would protect our son from any harm – either physical or mental.  He himself had grown up in a situation where his father really didn’t afford him the same concern and I knew Bob would never let that be the behavior his son saw him exhibit.  So with that I released my fears about that first woman and those that followed.

I continued to date “the other man” who also had a daughter a couple years older than Ian.  She and I met fairy soon after that relationship began.  That was her father’s choice and given his odd situation with his daughter’s mom, I can understand why he made this choice.  The couple had an excessively tumultuous relationship with restraining orders, an eight-year long custody battle, withheld visitation, and one instance in which she fled the state illegally with the child moving the two of them to Maryland.  The father had to hire a private investigator to track them down and force her to return with the daughter to Ohio.  What a mess!  So dad had been through a lot to remain in his daughter’s life and I think he really just wanted her to see a man and woman together who were not fighting.

I got along with the daughter well and she seemed to enjoy my company.  After about six months, we felt it was time everyone met.  The daughter and Ian.  Ian and the boyfriend.  Ian was only six years old at the time.  So I didn’t want to make this some big life changing event – at least not in his young mind. I just wanted all of us to get together and have a nice time.  I figured Ian and the daughter might play and get to know each other and Ian might at least become semi-comfortable with the presence of another man around me.  So I planned a gathering of my closest friends to play cards and invited the boyfriend and his daughter to join us.  I asked our friends to make it seem like nothing more than a bunch of friends getting together at mom’s house with a chance for Ian to meet a new playmate.

Everyone arrived around seven or so and we had a lovely time playing cards while the kids played.  And played.  And played.  In fact, it seemed these two were long lost relatives so glad to finally reconnect.  They really were like best friends immediately.  All my friends noticed and commented on how natural they seemed to be together and how much fun they were having – pretty much oblivious to the existence of anyone else.  Finally, the friends left and it was just the four of us.  The boyfriend and I watched a movie on the couch in the living room while the kids continued to play in the next room.  The kids had the time of their lives playing with action figures together and giggling their heads off.  The night was a success and a relief.  Now we could all spend time together and maybe even become a spinoff version of our family.

Meanwhile, Bob dated a few women here and there and then after about 2 years, he met a new redhed.  Her name was Brandi and yes she also had big boobs.  But she also seemed to have substance.  I could tell she cared deeply for Bob and had patience for some of his antics that I simply lacked.  She also had an obvious maternal instinct of her own and clicked well with Ian.  I’m so glad that Bob dumped the first girl with big boobs and kept looking until he found Brandi.  We are all better off with her in our family’s corner.

Please Judge My Book by Its Cover

I am about to embark on the process of self-publishing my book Happily Divorced.  All along as I’ve been writing and self-editing my book, I’ve tried to apply one of the many valuable lessons I took from my time as a “student” of Wayne Dyer.  That is the notion that we must act as if.  We must visualize what it is we want to manifest in our lives.  Then we must live as if we already have it.  And in doing so, we will see it when we believe it.

In keeping with that thinking, one of the first things I did earlier this year as I started on the path of building an audience and preparing my writing to be submitted as a book proposal, was to print out the entire manuscript and place it in one of those 3-clip folders.  You know… the ones that cost about fifty cents and allow for the pages to be awkwardly turned?  The idea of this exercise being that it resembled a finished book.  It became real to me in the most literal sense at that moment.  No longer was writing a book just a theory.  It was a real thing sitting on the table right there in front of me.  I was no longer just thinking about writing a book or becoming an author.  I was one.  I am one.  And even if the book never gets published or if I have to publish it myself, no one can ever tell me I did not write a book because I have the physical proof that says otherwise.

Of course, no book is complete without a cover.  So about a year ago I did a very rudimentary sketch of what I envisioned for my cover.  Now, I may be a creative sort.  I write of course.  And I had my moment as a local musician fronting an incredibly talented group of musicians in a cover band. I even dabbled with some song writing back in the day.  But an artist in the sense of one who draws, paints, or sculpts, I am not!  Having said that, the image that came to me that day really felt authentic and perfect in its imperfection.  Given the fact I grew up in my mom’s bridal shop, it quite frankly seemed to fit like a glove – or should I say dress?  And with my rough sketch as complete as I was ever going to make it, I placed it at the front of my three-tab folder to give my book a cover.

Now that I will soon be getting a professional cover designed for my book, I asked my stepdaughter to upgrade my sketch to something that resembled the work of an adult.  You can see the product of her efforts above.  In keeping with the sentiment behind this book, it’s nice to have another member of my post-divorce blended family contribute to the effort.  I’d love to hear what you think of it.  Of course, I’ll hire a professional book cover artist to fine tune this image for the final product and make sure it hits the mark in terms of not looking weird or out of place within my chosen genre.  If there are any book designers out there that have an opinion, I’d love to hear that too.

So, will you indulge me and share your reaction to this image as the cover for Happily Divorced? I’d be very grateful for your feedback whether it is good or bad.

Thanks for your time and consideration!

Teresa

Step Parenting

Of course we’re all evil!

The story of Cinderella pretty much sealed the fate on this one.  There shall be no admiration for any step parent anywhere so help us God.  They are all evil I tell you.  Mean to the core.  They hate their step children and want only the worst outcomes for them.  Ok, I’m calling bullshit before this gets completely out of hand!

Most, not all, stepparents feel many of the same emotions with regard to their step-kids as blood parents do.  They feel their pain and their joy.  They take pride in their accomplishments and worry about their futures.  They want the best things in life for them.  They just don’t have a lot of say in the matter.

Having been a parent for 23 years and (unofficial) step parent for almost ten, I can say unequivocally that step parenting is much harder and far more frustrating.  You still feel all the burdens of parenting but wield next to no influence over the situation.  Now I’m sure the nature of this experience depends greatly on the other parents involved.  But certainly attempting to blend parenting styles that may have already fully developed into their own beasts is difficult to say the least.

Parenting Styles

I like to think my parenting style is well balanced.  I nurture but I don’t coddle.  I make sacrifices for my kids but I refuse to be a martyr. I support and advise but I don’t impose my freewill on them.  Then there are the other kinds of parents.  You might have heard some referred to as helicopter parents or maybe tiger moms.  But I would venture to say that there is a breed even more imposing than these. It’s the mothers who orchestrate their children’s popularity in school by buying them ridiculously lavish clothes, cars, and stupid shit that only people from a first world country would even value.  It’s the fathers who, so afraid of alienating their children during precious visitation hours, allow the kids to dictate food choices, select every TV show, and never never never ask them to do anything uncomfortable such as picking up a dish while at their house.  I know many well-intended parents that do way too much for their kids only to wonder why they are so self-absorbed and incapable of adjusting to life beyond the home when they head off to college.  If only they realized that their children’s love really is unconditional.  They are going to love you even if you are not perfect.  To be fair, this seems to be happening not just with families of divorce, but across all types of families these days.

I’ve pondered the reasons behind all of this crazed coddling for some time now.  And now we’re starting to see these kids enter the work force and sit in a cube right next to us.  You’ve probably encountered the millennial.  I’ll tell you that my son hates that label.  Of course he hates all labels and I would tend to side with him on the whole judgement-based identity-labeling pandemic that has taken over our culture.  If you ask me, people are way too focused on splicing who they are up into these little identity cultures causing them to lose sight of the fact that they are part of the human race.  One must identify their race, heritage, religion, gender, sexual preferences, and diet choices to define themselves.  Then they complain when anyone describes them using these very same adjectives.  Listen up.  We’re all in this together.

Anyway, with regard to parenting styles, I believe there are many things provoking this incessant need to ensure our children never have a bad day.  For one, maybe we remember having bad days and our parents just telling us tough shit.  Life isn’t fair so suck it up. As it turns out, that wasn’t such bad advice after all.  But at the time, it left us feeling disconnected from them.  We thought they didn’t understand what we were going through.  Or we thought they didn’t care.  But they did and by telling us to suck it up, they were arming us with the tools of adaptation that would benefit us as we traveled through this thing called life.  So with good intentions at the heart of it, we as parents try doing things differently so that our children might feel more loved along the way.

Of course, there are the homes where both parents work and they of course feel guilty about the slivers of time and energy they have left to do family stuff.  There are the over-scheduled homes which seek to expose their children to every sport, art, and childhood activity imaginable so that their kids don’t someday blame them for their lack of agility, talent, or popularity among their peers.  Of course, what they will end up blaming them for are poor eating habits and a lack of cooking skills since these same kids are too busy to ever sit down for a home cooked family meal, much less help prepare it.  And clean up after it?  Forget it.  How do you load a dishwasher anyway?

Blending Parenting Styles

Okay, so I’ve gotten a little off-track.  What I’m trying to say is that there are lots of parenting styles which are molded in us by our own parents and for better or for worse, by the parenting styles of our ex-spouses.  By the time many of us end up in blended family scenarios, we’re pretty set in our ways.  And the last thing we want is someone who hasn’t known our child his or her whole life telling us how we should or shouldn’t raise them.  So back off step parent, future step parent, or potential step parent.  Your services are not welcome here.

When you put two parents together who developed their parenting styles along independent tracts, there are bound to be conflicts.  It’s just different than when you become parents for the first time and learn how to be parents together.  I think in those first terrifying days when it occurs to you that you are responsible for another human life, you become supremely aware of how woefully unprepared you are for the job.  But at least in my case, those were the happier days of our marriage and Bob and I got through that stuff together acknowledging our inexperience and helping each other out rather than judging each other’s parental missteps.

As young parents, in some cases you developed bad habits which you will inevitably carry forward beyond your divorce as you become an independent parent.  Then suddenly when you join up with another partner to create that perfect blended Brady Bunch family, stark differences in style begin to emerge.  These differences may be so vast between you and a new mate that you wonder if you can even stay with the other person (or if they will stay with you).  No one can answer that but you.  However, attempting it might give you the opportunity to grow as a parent and improve on your own parenting style.

Now some may get lucky and have very mature new partners who recognize your superior parental guidance and gladly accept it.  But more likely, the first time you tell your significant other’s child to pick something up off the floor, you’re going to get the stink-eye.

Some of the preceding situations may or may not describe my own personal experience.  To protect the innocent, I’ll leave it at that. But enough about me.  Let me tell you about Ian’s step mom, Brandi.

Brandi

In November, 2002, Ian met Brandi, his then-future stepmom.  I also met her in relatively the same time period.  She seemed nice and normal, thank goodness!  It was also obvious she liked Bob a lot, which I was happy to see since after all, I still considered him my friend and wanted him to find someone that could give him the love I felt I could not.

As I got to know Brandi a little better I often thought that she was the kind of female that had I met her out by herself, I’d want to be friends with.  We have a lot in common besides our red hair too.  She is in a very similar line of work as me.  She was previously married.  She is very rational and strong.  Even her relationship with her mother shares some similarities to my relationship with my mom.  Of course, there are many differences too.  Brandi is crafty, has what seems to be a more nurturing personality than me, and unlike me, does not belong to the IBTC.  I used to joke with Bob congratulating him on that last point.  For those of you who don’t know what the IBTC is, you must not be a member.  Ha!  Finally, as they are still together after 10 years, I can only assume that Brandi has far more patience than I in dealing with Bob’s sarcastic approach to conversation.

As Bob and Brandi’s relationship blossomed, I never once felt like she was working against me or trying to take my place as mother to Ian.  This is really important because it’s very difficult to not feel threatened by the new woman in your young son’s life.  What if he ends up liking her more than me?  What if he chooses her over me?  What if I lose his heart to her?  This is what I believe is at the root of so many divorce conflicts.  Mom (or Dad) is threatened by the new mate and what that person’s role is in their child’s life.  A self-defense mechanism kicks in.  You want to crush your competition and win.  Of course, the fact is nobody wins in that type of competition but there will definitely be losers. And it is usually the child.

Fortunately for me, I was able to discern this rationale very quickly and refused to let my competitive nature rear its ugly head.  I instead chose to be happy that Bob had picked someone to share in my son’s life that is a good person with a caring heart and mothering qualities that I admire.

Through the years, Brandi has been there to support Ian in so many ways.  In addition to going to soccer games and band performances, she’s helped plan and host many birthday parties, graduation parties, and other celebrations for Ian.  She’s hand-sewn Halloween costumes, something I never bothered to learn from my amazingly talented seamstress mother.  She’s given him many other experiences to add to his album of childhood memories.

When I fell on difficult financial times, Brandi was there to support me by ensuring Ian always had medical insurance and contributing financially to other things he needed that came up during those rough times.

I will always be grateful to Brandi for being there for my son and for me.  We are both very fortunate that she came into all of our lives.  So Brandi, if I am your “favorite ex-wife”, I guess that makes you my favorite wife.  All the best my friend!

Have I left anything out?

Absolutely!  I have witnessed some really atrocious parenting and step-parenting behaviors.  To be honest, I think I could dedicate an entire book to this topic alone.  Everything from the unintended slights to the completely calculated lengths some parents go to in order to prevent the step parent and step child from developing productive and loving relationships.  And of course, there are tragic stories of the step-father or step-mother who treats the step-child horribly either emotionally, physically or both.  But I really believe these are the outliers rather than the norm and that most step-parents really just want to have a happy family and to be loved.