I want to share this article from Peace not PAS. It’s a thoughtful analysis of the case of parental alienation provoked by Angelina Jolie with respect to her children with Brad Pitt. It does pose many questions that I have myself observed not in my shared parenting scenario but in other situations close to me.
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.
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.
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!
Some of the frankly weirdest conversations Bob and I have had as a divorced couple revolved around our adventures as single people. It’s probably hard for a lot of you to understand how we could discuss our evolving single-ness including sharing of some rather intimate escapades. It’s probably making you a little squirmy right now in fact. Like where the hell is this going? No worries. It’s really not creepy. At least not to me.
Perhaps it will make more sense to you if you consider that neither Bob nor I had spent any real time as adult singles before the point at which we divorced from each other. We were both mid-30s and single for the first times in our adult lives.
Bob had begun dating a woman right out of high school who he eventually married and then divorced within a year. I had pretty much paralleled this pattern. I met a guy two weeks before my high school senior prom and proceeded to date him for three and half years. I eventually married him when I was 21 and promptly separated from him six months later. About 8 months after that, I met Bob and the rest is history so to speak.
So I guess for us, our union developed rather prematurely, before we were done experiencing single life. Once the shock and sadness of our failed marriage had run a reasonable course and we had committed ourselves to remain friends, it was sort of natural for us to share about our single-life escapades. I think this was mostly helpful since it allowed our friendship to continue to evolve to a natural state of post-marital bliss and remove all the awkward overtones of sexual jealousy and disappointment that I think other couples harbor against one another long after the possibility of ever having sex again with each other has evaporated. It also helped us to truly learn from our experience together. Basically, if you are sharing as friends do about relationships with others of the opposite sex, it becomes natural to offer opinions on what might work or not work. It also offers a weirdly safe audience since no one knows your dating habits and style better than one who actually experienced it.
Of course, these conversations weren’t possible in the early days of our separation or divorce. But Bob and I both accepted the fact we were happier not cohabiting pretty quickly, probably by the time a year had passed, and began to cheer for the happily-ever-after ending that we each felt the other truly deserved in spite of our failure with one another.
Of course, I didn’t approve of all of Bob’s dating choices and he downright opposed at least my first choice – someone who I met the weekend before I announced my intention to separate from him. I have to say, given this circumstance, Bob put forth an amazing effort to be cordial to this man for the proceeding three years during which I continued to date him. Thinking back on it, I really don’t know if I could have done the same. But I truly do thank Bob for doing this in spite of the pain he must have felt every time he had to look at the man he considered the “other guy”. By the time I had moved on from this first new someone, Bob had remarried and seemed to want me to find someone too. We even got to a point where Brandi, his new wife, and I talked about my dating situations. Not in vivid detail mind you. But rather on a more general “found anyone special?” level.
To clarify, sharing your dating experiences with your ex isn’t advisable for everyone. And you certainly should not do it if it is even a remote possibility that it may inflict pain on the former spouse. That will only do harm to your efforts as a happily divorced couple. In my case, I didn’t consider sharing these types of things with my ex until he did it first. Now of course, this assumes that I was in a position to handle it. And I really couldn’t tell you if Bob considered that or not. Either way, I was. So it worked out.
If you are on the receiving end of this scenario – your ex is sharing his or her dating experiences with you – try not to assume it’s an attempt to hurt you but rather may be an effort to normalize your relationship as friends and remove the awkwardness. Look, the fact is you’re not likely going back there. Some people do this. But I guess what I’m saying is if it is over for the two of you, why not move on to a place of comfortable non-awkward friendship which includes sharing our successes and failures in dating. And if you’re lucky enough to have an ex-spouse who is as funny as Bob when telling a story, you might even derive a bit of entertainment out of it.
If I had to pick a pivotal topic within our marriage that changed the course of our future, I would pin it to decisions that evolved around motorcycles and boats. Maybe this sounds lame to some people – that our marriage hinged on what happened relevant to two inanimate objects. Well first, I must inform you that there is nothing inanimate about boating or for that matter, motorcycling. Both in fact add animation to life. Or at least I’d say they add “living” to life.
Bob and I are passionate people with strong opinions and a commitment to living life to the fullest. Some people may be okay just cruising through life on autopilot. Not us. We want to experience life. It is fleeting after all. Our strong passions for life could have been a great asset to our marriage and I’d say early on it was as we shared many common interests. But as time marched on, the strength of our desires evolved with different emphasis.
Bob loves motorcycles and I like them ok. I love boating and Bob likes boating well enough. But both of these things were catalysts for each of us to make decisions that were self-centered at the time. Although, looking back over the past 18 years, I can conclude that it was inevitable. You see, Bob had to become a Harley rider. And I had to become a boat owner. We just had to. But each got in the way of the other and this is when the trouble started.
When Ian was about 2 years old, I got a substantial raise at my job. I wanted to buy a boat that we could all enjoy together as Ian got older. Bob thought it was a good time to buy his first Harley. We could have finally afforded either, albeit a modest selection of whichever one we chose. But we certainly couldn’t afford both. I don’t really know what the market is for Harley’s now but back then, there was a waiting list for the most basic Harley you could get. And the type of boats we both liked was Mastercraft brand. They are what our friends had and what I felt most comfortable in. Bottom line, neither of these items is cheap!
So a few months into my new job and income, Bob didn’t so much ask me as much as he announced to me that he had put himself on the wait list for a bike. What? I was pissed. How were we going to enjoy this investment with a two year old? Three people do not fit on a motorcycle! Bob’s response was that we would get his mom to watch Ian when we went on the bike. I just saw this as a completely selfish move and one that took money we could use for so many things (eh hem… a boat!) and divert it to this extravagance that only Bob could truly enjoy. Still “we” proceeded with the purchase of Bob’s first Harley.
Conversely, a few years before Ian was born, we had developed a circuit of friends who owned and/or enjoyed boating and waterskiing. I fell in love with the sport and everything about being on the water. Waterskiing was really the first sport I felt reasonably good at. It was freeing and boating itself was simultaneously energizing and relaxing. Bob was actually a much better skier than me back in the day. So it motivated me to get better, to keep up. But I wanted more rope time. So we went with friends as often as we could. We started going on houseboat trips to Lake Cumberland where one could get in several opportunities to ski each day. I looked forward all year every year to these houseboat trips and being back on the lake. As soon as we got in our cars to leave the lake each year, I looked fondly upon my return. Then in the fall of ‘97, our friends who we’ll call Bill and Crystal and who also happened to be both boaters and Harley riders, bought a house on the Scioto River in Columbus. … in the ski zone! It was awesome because we enjoyed each other’s company and they were very gracious in sharing their amenities with us.
As spring ’98 approached, it was time to plan the houseboat trip which usually took place in June. Instead, Bob announced to me that he and Bill had been talking and that they wanted for the four of us to forego the houseboat trip this one year and instead go to Milwaukee for the Harley Davidson 95th Anniversary celebration. Well it wasn’t a houseboat trip but it was only one year we’d miss it and this would be a different type of memorable experience. So I agreed. Just this one year.
The next spring, again it was time to plan the houseboat trip and I had heard no talk of it. So I asked Bob and he announced to me that this year, he and Bill were instead going to go to Sturgis for another Harley thing. I suggested I may not be interested in doing that and Bob informed me that it was going to be an all guys trip anyway. No women allowed. Really? When confronted with my displeasure of this situation, Bob said, “What’s the big deal? We can ski on the river anytime we want with Bill and Crystal.” What? That is NOT THE SAME! That’s not the lake NOR a houseboat trip!!!
So faced with missing a second year in a row at my beloved lake, I asked Bob if he minded if I tried to find another houseboat trip to go on. He said he didn’t care, a decision he would live to regret for quite a while. I knew of at least one other friend who was going on a trip and promptly made a call to ask her if there was room for me. Of course there was. So both out of spite and desire, I packed my bags and was on a houseboat on Lake Cumberland in about three weeks.
I was so giddy the morning of the trip I couldn’t contain myself. It was like I was overwhelmed with a sense of freedom. I was deciding how to live my life rather than someone else dictating it to me. I ended up riding down with a friend of the friend who planned the trip along with a few others. None of which I knew all that well. All the way there I felt a connection developing to this person – not as a love interest. Not at all at that point. He was just someone who shared my passion for boating, philosophy about life, and who was excessively easy to talk to. He got me! Bob used to get me but somewhere along the way, he stopped getting me and just became critical of me. Why wasn’t I more this or less that?
This new friend and I proceeded to spend endless hours talking about everything from family to our academic backgrounds, our professional backgrounds, to our mutual dream of living on a body of ski-able water. Oh and did I mention he had a Mastercraft ski boat?!?! We also ventured into the turbulent waters, quite literally, of discussing my current marital strife. As we talked, I felt this urgency building inside of me that if I didn’t choose to start living my life my way now, I was going to be one of those people lying on their death bed suffocated by regret. It weighed on me like a ton of bricks. And I was so pissed that Bob, so caught up in his own desires, couldn’t see I was missing out on my life. So, while I gave a lot of thought during that trip as to what my life could be as someone choosing my own path, I gave little thought to what it wouldn’t be… what it could no longer be.
I returned from the houseboat trip to announce to Bob three days later that I wanted a divorce. And that was that. Bob and I split up over motorcycles and boats.
Of course, this isn’t true. We didn’t split up over things. We split up because we both stopped treating each other as we wanted to be treated. We stopped honoring each other’s desires and wanting each other to be happy. We had both become consumed with our individual dreams and forgot to listen to each other. We forgot about our little dream family we had created. Bob wanted his boyish freedom to roam the country with his buddies. I wanted the freedom of skiing behind a boat any time I chose. Although I also wanted to introduce my son to the boating experience as I’m sure Bob wanted to indoctrinate Ian on the ways of the Harley rider. In the end though, it was really about each of us wanting the right to live the life we wanted to live, not one that was thrust upon us.
After our divorce, Bob got his Harley and free time with the guys. I got my boat, more rope time, and a whole new group of friends. Friends that liked me for me, not because I was Bob’s wife. Friends that shared my love of boating and the lake. I don’t think either of us regrets having these things in our lives now. They are the fabric of who we each have become. But it’s unfortunate we couldn’t figure out how to make room for both of these things in our family.
Ian liked, but I wouldn’t say loved, boating when he was very young. He tolerated it and liked the swimming but didn’t really get into watersports until middle school at which point, he started wakeboarding and grew to like that a lot. As soon as Ian was old enough to hang on to his dad securely, he road with him on the back of his bike. I’m sure he enjoyed that just as I did as a child with my dad riding on his Honda with him. I’m glad Ian has gotten to experience both of our passions just as we’ve shared in his passion for music. And maybe our divorce was the only way that was ever all going to happen.
If you are struggling in your relationship with conflicting dreams, I think it is key to understand your partner’s passions and support them. Nothing will kill a relationship more quickly than denying someone their dream. If you don’t know what they are, you had better ask. If you think you know her dreams, you better make sure you’re right and are paying attention. If those dreams conflict with yours, you must work through it. Don’t leave it to chance and don’t make assumptions. We know what that does.
This doesn’t mean you should allow your partner’s dreams to keep you from living yours. If someone loves you and wants to be with you enough, make sure they know what your dreams are. You can’t be pissed that they killed your dreams if they don’t know what they are. And for God’s sake, make sure they’re listening. If your partner doesn’t work with you to help you achieve your dreams or worse, stands in your way of them, you’re probably headed for trouble or already in it. Likewise, if you can’t come to terms with the dreams your partner holds and find room for compromise, you’re going to struggle. Best to move on from the relationship because one or both of you will always be haunted by your unlived dreams.
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.
Thankfully, 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.
Next 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!