Post-Divorce Finances Are Still a Joint Venture

One way in which divorced couples may not consider they will continue to be tied is through their finances.  “What?” you say.  Why is that?  Simple.  If you have kids together, whatever your ex-spouse and you achieve or don’t achieve financially will impact your child’s life.  So if you think your times of fighting about money are over, they probably aren’t.  And even if you don’t fight about them, your spouse’s choices will affect your choices and vice versa whether you like it or not.

For some, this plays out in the forms of failed child support payments or the inability (or maybe even unwillingness) to pay half on basic expenses such as childcare, school supplies, clothing, etc.  For most of Ian’s youth, this wasn’t the case for us.  Bob and I were both gainfully employed… most of the time.  And we were both very generous with our son and interested in him having a balanced experience at both homes.  However, there were a couple of occasions where each of us made choices that impacted both of our financial pictures.

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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!

Happily Divorced – Splitting Thanksgiving

Enjoying the holidays has probably been the biggest challenge for me.  As moms (and maybe dads feel this way too), we feel it is our duty to create family traditions.  Yet that is very difficult to do when you’ve agreed to alternate holidays.  At best, your tradition is either only executed in alternating years or you carry it out on a different day from year to year.  While this may work fine for you and your child or children, it is hard to pull off when considering the broader family.  Grandma and Pappa may always host Thanksgiving at their house.  A particular holiday event may only take place on Christmas Eve each year.

Even more complicating is when there are multiple divorces, remarriages, step-children, and even pets that have to be worked into the equation.  So my best advice is to not get too caught up in your own feelings.  This will just drive you crazy and honestly… it isn’t just about YOU!  Hell this is the case even if you’re not divorced.

Of course, Bob and I were divorced.  Bob’s parents were divorced – and both remarried.  Bob eventually got remarried, and his wife’s mom got remarried.  Bob’s sister was married but her husband’s family was from another town 2 hours from here.  My parents were still married but lived in Texas.  In fact, none of my relatives lived in town.  This actually ended up being a Godsend of sorts.  Sure it was tough not having them close by and I hated that we couldn’t share more of our lives with them.  But had they too been local, it would have just been one more difficult choice to have to make when it came to dividing up our time.

When Ian was between 6 and 14 years old, I mostly conceded Thanksgiving to Bob and his family.  It was just too sad for me to make dinner for just Ian and I and it didn’t seem right to keep him from enjoying a big family gathering that Bob could provide.  So I would do something else.  I’d have probably been better off in these years before Brian, had I went to volunteer at a homeless shelter or elderly home.  I don’t know why I didn’t do that other than to say I think I just got caught up wallowing in my own despair.  Instead, I usually met up at a bar on Thanksgiving evening with friends trying to escape the family scene.

I remember once Ian called me and asked what I think may have been the saddest question a child could ever ask a parent… “How can a son not see his mom on Thanksgiving?”  It was just awful.  Yep, there was that half Bob said I’d miss.  It’s in my eardrum right now thrashing at my heart.  Seriously, what a waste all that self-pity was!  If you end up alone on the holidays, don’t do what I did. Do something that involves you giving your time and energy to someone else’s needs.  I think you’ll feel a whole lot better.

When I finally started seeing Brian seriously, we began alternating Thanksgiving.  Of course, this introduced more complications – Brian’s kids, their mom’s wishes, her new husband, and her parents’ schedule.  Ian is now 24 and we still haven’t really conquered Thanksgiving successfully.  Given that I consider Thanksgiving the quintessential family holiday, it just comes preloaded with anxiety year after year. Still, alternating seems like the kindest choice for all involved.

One other thing I would caution against in the case of holidays is giving the kids TOO MUCH control in deciding how their holiday time is spent.  It isn’t all about them either!  Certainly strive to make it fair and not too frantic to enjoy.  But seriously, burdening a child with the decision of who to spend time with and how much and who to pick between is more unfair.  Make it your burden to figure out.  Not theirs.  Be the adults.  Be fair to yourself too.  Being a martyr doesn’t serve your or your children’s interest.  After all, they want to spend time with you… unless of course you’re an abusive asshole, in which case, you should lose all rights to ever see your kids until you decide to be a decent human being.

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.

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

Happily Divorced: Single Life

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.

Happily Divorced – Helping Each Other

So I guess I could have started with this topic because really this is at the core of it all.  Bob and I have consistently and willingly helped each other through big life events and the little things.  At first, I think Bob would have probably rather not helped me.  He was very angry with me, which is to be expected.  But he was the bigger person, putting his feelings aside to make sure his son had a comfortable home to live in with his mom.  He gave me a basic set of tools so that I could pound in a nail or screw together a piece of furniture.  He bought and installed a high-end bathroom shower door from his business in Ian’s bathroom.  And he was consistently there to pick Ian up, drop him off, and spend time with him on a regular schedule without fail or complaining.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked Bob to borrow a tool or small appliance, costume, or really anything else I might need but didn’t have.  If I needed a referral for anything – and I mean anything – Bob would always know a guy.  In fact I’m pretty sure Bob is the consummate “I know a guy” guy.  Whether it is a painter, plumber, mechanic, or limo driver, Bob knows a guy.  And he always invited me to use his name.  “Tell them I sent you and you’ll get a good deal,” he would say.  There was never any hesitation or trepidation.  Every request was readily accommodated without ever making me feel like I owed him something or that he had something over me. Probably a good thing since I seem to have fewer things he needs or maybe it’s just because he has everything and knows everyone.  But if there was something, I too gladly shared my stuff and my referrals – need a musician or a psychic? I know some of those – and felt good doing it.

Of course, besides being there with the “things” and the referrals, we were there to help each other through life’s ups and downs.  I’ll admit I didn’t help him move.  But I did help move a lot of sound gear and music instruments between our homes.  I babysat his daughter when he and Brandi had somewhere to go.  I’ve went to every viewing of every relative of Bob’s who I knew that has passed since we split – even one that I didn’t know very well.  I’ve offered help to his parents emotionally and would gladly do so physically if called upon.

And when Bob got in a very bad motorcycle accident in the spring of 2016, I got up as soon as I received the text and never went back to bed.  I went to the hospital to see him twice.  I consoled his worried mom and sister and ate with them (or actually watched them eat) in the hospital cafeteria.  I talked to his stepdad the day after and let him talk me through a play-by-play of the accident which obviously he wanted to tell someone.  It only took about 45 minutes. I went to Bob’s house to visit him after he got home just to let him know I cared and was there for him.  I told Brandi I’d cover whatever she needed – let out the dogs, bring them dinner, take Gracie, or whatever. That’s how you treat friends.  You don’t judge them.  Ok, you might.  But you put that shit aside to take care of them and realize it could just as easily have been you in the situation.  You are there for them and their family and offer your support.

Finally and probably most germane to the topic of this book, we helped each other to be better parents.  We talked about the issues parents deal with. The difficulties our son might be going through and how best to deal with them and help him.  How to cover the Christmas list?  How to pay for an expensive gift?  How to help him get along better with neighbor kids?  What sports should Ian try?  How do we best support our aspiring musician? Who will go to curriculum night?  Who’s going to talk to the coach?  And of course, we could gush all day long to each other about how wonderful our son is without annoying the other person.  You really can’t do that with a non-parent.  Not even a step-parent past a certain point.

If you’re reading this blog because you are recently divorced or because you are not having a “happily divorced” experience, you may find all of this to be a lot to take on in your particular situation.  All I can offer is to remember the golden rule.  You know the one our parents taught us.  Treat others as you want to be treated.  I promise you even if it feels uncomfortable, the dividends of a positive relationship and moreover positive parenting experience for you and happy childhood for your offspring is SO worth a bit of discomfort now and then.  After all, it will certainly be less uncomfortable than when you lived in the same house.