Happily Divorced – The Overhaul

This weekend’s goal… FINISH HAPPILY DIVORCED BOOK OVERHAUL. You all might be wondering if I’m every really going to publish this book I’ve been talking about and working on for years. The truth is I shelved it for about 8 months while I contemplated how I might rewrite major portions of it. If you’re friends of mine or my son’s dad, you may have noticed that Bob became very unhappy with some of the things I had written and released on my blog. He was very distraught and found that he could no longer endorse this project going forward. He also questioned our entire friendship.

I nearly scrapped the whole project. What good is telling our story of success as co-parents and preserving our friendship all these years if when it is all said and done, publishing a book about it wrecks all of that?

So I stepped back and began rereading each chapter trying my best to put myself in Bob’s shoes. As I did this, I rewrote substantial portions of the book. I have removed several posts which have been substantially rewritten and left the ones which were more benign… I think.  I will be finishing my edits this weekend. And then I will ask Bob to take another look to see if he can support it. I really hope he can as I do think our story could help so many divorced parents and children of divorce who may be struggling to have positive relationships and achieve happiness. I also want my friend back. Wish me luck. I really do have the best intentions at heart.

-Teresa

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!

 

Revisiting My Mission

I haven’t written in a while since the last post I put out there was met with a bit of a backlash from some.  So I needed to take a timeout to revisit the reasons why I decided to do this in the first place and to also get clear on what I am not trying to accomplish with this journey I’ve found myself traveling.

First, what I don’t expect these writings to accomplish…

I DO NOT expect my accounts to be met with full agreement from others who were part of these experiences.  I said at the beginning that I am presenting my perspective and that I fully expect my ex, my son, or others to remember these events and how they felt about them differently.  Of course they will.  They are not me and while we all know each other well, we all own our personal reaction to the events in our lives.   So I am NOT shocked to get a response of “That’s not how it went at all” from anyone at any time.  What I did not expect was to provoke genuinely new anger or sadness toward me from anyone for events that took place 17 years ago.  Why do that?  I certainly can’t change any decisions I made back then now even if I wanted to.  So I guess when Ian and a few of my friends referred to me as brave for doing this blog, now I kind of get what they were talking about.

As for the desire to relive painful events from the past, it’s not that I want to do that but it is not something I can worry about either.  I have a mission to accomplish.  I’ve cried enough tears for shit that happened a long time ago and it hasn’t changed any of it.  So how about let’s just take account of the lessons we learned, recognize that some of what we chose worked out pretty well, share our experience with the world, and move on with it.

I am not writing this blog to suggest that this way of doing things is the right way or even a good way of handling anything.  It was just our way and as a result, I have a well-adjusted son that feels he had a happy childhood in which both parents were involved and loved him.  I also have an ex-spouse, ex-in-laws, and even his new wife and many of his friends to call my friends too.  So even if some of us saw things differently, we stuck with it and ended up on the good side of the equation overall.

As I write about certain topics, I seek to evoke in my reader the emotion that I felt at that time.  But to get there, I do more than call upon one experience in my life.  When I write about the emotions that surround a particular event, I’m not necessarily drawing up how I felt in any one moment with any single person but rather I draw upon my collective experience with that emotion – all the times I’ve felt love, happiness, pain, or sorrow.  In fact, I might even draw upon imagery of love stories from movies I’ve watched to describe to you the reader the emotional depth that I hope you will feel as you read a certain passage.  So not everything I write is a purely literal account of what happened or what I felt in any given moment.  Hopefully this serves to allay any discomfort some feel as they read events to which they were close in those days.

So again, why am I doing this?  I’m sharing our story, or at least my version of our story, because this is important.  Raising a child is a big responsibility.  And we as parents will leave our mark on this world through our kids – good or bad.  If you hope to contribute to the greater good, raise a responsible, kind, and caring human being. Just because a marriage ends doesn’t let you off the hook.  If your child treats people with disrespect or anger, no one is going to give them a pass because their parents got divorced.  If your kid doesn’t have a childhood on which they can look back and reflect fondly, you don’t get a do-over because you handled a divorce situations badly.  But if you handle it well, you may still end up with a child who has happy memories to reflect on. If your kid has a failed marriage in which children are involved and doesn’t manage to maintain a good relationship with his ex-spouse or children, that may not be your fault.  But you will know you did what you could and didn’t leave him or her to guess what that would look like.

Parenting is tough.  Divorced-parenting may be tougher.  I’m not really sure.  And being a single parent or remarried parent certainly complicates the already difficult task of raising a child.  So I feel that the more we can learn from each other, the better.  What works for one may or may not work for another. But sometimes just the act of thinking about something from a different perspective brings about new ideas one might have never thought of otherwise.

Am I brave?  I don’t really know. But one thing is for sure.  In the face of some pretty hurtful criticism, I’m going to forge ahead to share this story.  It is just too needed in this world to go untold.

Happily Divorced Tip #2 – Practice the Golden Rule

Honestly, doesn’t this tip apply to everyone?  Imagine if everyone solidly stuck to this approach in every encounter with others.  What a world it would be.  People would be less likely to insult one another, to disregard the consequences of their actions on others, or to inflict physical pain on another human being because they would always remain steadfastly focused on a knowing of how that would feel if they were on the receiving end.

When it comes to divorce, I think all too often we abandon this very simple rule to happier lives.  I’ve witnessed varying degrees of parents who act out such behavior from those who simply don’t think to let the other parent know about their child’s sports schedule or school picture ordering deadline to the more extreme examples of parents who withhold visitation from another parent or speak badly about the other parent to their children.  If only they would stop and think how they would like it if they were the one who had to endure these situations.  And for those that have such great disdain for the ex-spouse that they just can’t give them any consideration, if only they would consider how the child feels when they are denied the attentions of another parent.

I’m sure neither of us was perfect in this regard but here were some of the things I did in my quest to honor the golden rule:

  1. Share all extracurricular and school schedules including photo ordering deadlines and forms with my son’s dad. Going one step further I also tried to extend the sports and performance schedules to Bob’s family as well to make sure the grandparents and other family members would continue to be integral to Ian’s life and get to share his special moments with him.
  1. Give dad a copy of all report cards
  1. Make sure my son always got to spend his dad’s birthday and father’s day with him according to his dad’s wishes
  1. Trade off the opportunity to host my son’s birthday party year to year
  1. Remain flexible to allow for family vacations with dad
  1. Honor the conditions of your divorce decree. If you said you would abide by a certain visitation schedule, honor it.  If you said you would pay for certain things or provide particular types of financial support, pay it.  If you agreed to live within a particular distance of one another, then don’t move beyond that distance.  Conversely, if your ex is slightly late returning your child from a tradeoff between homes, be reasonable.  Don’t freak out over 5-10 minutes unless it is habitual, avoidable, and causes you real (not imagined or exaggerated) consequences.  If a payment is less than expected, ask questions and find out why it happened before assuming the worst.
  1. If you don’t have a financial arrangement with the other parent, expect to split reasonable expenses for your child. Plan to pay for half of the school supplies, clothes, camps, and more extravagant purchases such as cars, college tuition, and large family celebrations honoring your child (as long as you both agree to the choices).

Now I am not condoning spending beyond your means.  So the flip side here is that you jointly discuss expenses and share with each other the limits you can live with for cash outlays. There may be some things that one parent thinks are necessary that another either doesn’t agree with or can’t afford.  In these cases, the parent who really wants to make the purchase has choices – go it alone and accept that it is your choice to pay for it without assistance, choose something less expensive, delay the purchase, or decide not to make it at all.  I’ve made all of these choices at one point or another and I don’t get pissed at my ex for the choice he made.  There have been times when he had more money and times when I did.  If I wanted my son to have something and his dad didn’t agree with the purchase, I listened to his perspective and then usually would find a compromise that still worked for everyone.  When I wasn’t making any money, Ian’s dad agreed to front some expenses and allow me to pay him back when I had it.  Of course, this presupposes that one has established a record of doing such a thing.

The other thing I will say about buying things for your children is this.  Don’t use it as a weapon or to buy your child’s affections.  Don’t lavish your child with extravagant gifts to make your ex look bad or to make your child like you more.  Don’t set out to put your ex in a position of overspending as that one will surely come back to bite you in the ass when they can’t afford to maintain your child’s standard of living on their end anymore.

Finally, it is only fair to alternate claiming your child as a dependent on your income tax returns – especially if they are splitting time between your homes.  This can amount to tens of thousands of dollars over the course of a child’s life.  But be smart about this.  If you taking the deduction doesn’t save you anything because of your particular tax situation, then why waste it?  Give it to the other parent and forge an agreement that any refund will be split between you.Throughout Ian’s childhood, we maintained a spreadsheet of expenses between us.  And I swear even when we might go six months without updating it, when we each finally got around to it, it would balance out almost to the dollar in what each of us had spent on Ian.  I always got a chuckle out of how that worked out.

  1. Share special moments in your son’s life with his other parent. From the little things to more significant events, this bank of memories will not only be priceless to the other parent who may not have been able to be there, but also strengthen the parental bond with the child.  And this can only benefit your son or daughter in the end.
  1. Be kind to each other in the presence of your child. This may be hard for some divorced couples.  It was actually easy for us or at least me if I’m only speaking for myself because I like Bob as a person and friend.  For others this may be hard.  But continuing to ask oneself how you would like it if they took a certain action will make this abundantly easier and help to keep actions and words spoken in check.
  1. Don’t take your child’s side against your ex. If my son complained about his dad, I listened and then, if I thought Bob had acted reasonably, even if I disagreed with the specific approach, I would offer insights to Ian in support of his dad’s actions.  If I didn’t particularly think the choice Bob made in a certain situation was the best, I simply suggested to my son that he should talk to his dad about it and work it out between the two of them.  I tried very hard to respect that each of us is an individual who has different styles and desires.  I also tried to remember that there is more than one way to solve most problems and maybe in some cases, Bob’s approach was possibly a better one that I might have taken.  And actually, when I came at it in this way, I found that it sometimes offered me a learning opportunity hearing how Bob handled something differently than I might have and still precipitated the desired result.  That doesn’t necessarily mean my son always saw it that way.  What I absolutely refused to do was bash his father or show a lack of support for the decisions he made in our sons life as long as it was at least reasonable even if different from the one I would have made.
  1. Don’t try to manipulate your ex’s post-marital relationships because of your feelings toward a new someone. We all have free will whether you like it or not. So you will not get to choose who they have relationships with.  And this may be hard to take, but you also won’t be able to completely block your child from developing relationships with that new someone assuming they aren’t a real physical or emotional threat to your child.  After all, your ex chose you at one point.  So you have to have faith that they will choose wisely and in the interest of your child in the future.

And let me tell from firsthand experience, if you do try to deny your child of a relationship with a new partner in your ex’s life, it will likely backfire by either driving a wedge between you and your child or denying them what could have otherwise been a very rewarding an loving experience for them. It might even result in both.  Always remember, what if your ex were to attempt to impose these behaviors on you.  Would you think that was right?

Fortunately for me, I wasn’t faced with any circumstances where I thought Bob’s choices were truly damaging to our son or worse, dangerous.  I know some parents face these situations.  And in those cases which can vary greatly I won’t try here to suggest how one should always respond.  But it probably should start with addressing your concern with the other parent – not with the child.  It is unlikely the child will be in a position to provoke a change for the better in these situations anyway.  So this could just frighten them or put them in a tougher situation.  While you can bring your concerns to the other parent’s attention, you can’t make them choose differently.  Of course, if the situation is a downright dangerous one for your child to be in, you may have to take preemptive or even drastic measures to protect the child.  But even in this case, bashing the other parent in front of your child does nothing to this end.  So just don’t do it.

Divorce Tip #1 Honor Yourself

Contrary to conventional wisdom, there is no honor in martyring oneself for a relationship.  How many times has a friend said to us that they are staying in a relationship either for the kids, for their family, or for the other person?  And how many times has that ended well?  Oh sure.  The relationship may continue and they may very well celebrate years of anniversaries.  But will they really be celebrating the relationship or just the fact they survived another year?  Is this all they deserve?  If this is you, is this all that you want from your life?  To survive?  Or do you want to thrive?  If the latter, my friend, I must tell you that you will never find the path to thriving by living or doing things solely because it benefits someone else.  To thrive, you must by definition do those things that benefit you whether it is financially, emotionally, physically, or spiritually.

Now some will think this sounds selfish.  But if you are a parent, consider thinking of it this way.  If your child were to make a decision that didn’t benefit him or her in one way or another but only enhanced the life of another person at his or her expense, would you want your child to make that decision? I doubt it.  We all want what is best for our kids and we know that their only path to having what is best for them is to act in their own self-interest.  So why do we consider it a bad thing if we act in our own self-interest?

To be clear, I am not saying there is no honor to sacrifice in the service of others.  Our military heroes, police officers, firefighters, and countless others die or are injured in the service of others.  And their parents probably questioned at least momentarily if their child’s decision to take up such a profession served them.  This must be a tough concept to contemplate.  But only the individual can answer for himself if his choices served him.  There are many heroes that derive such great spiritual benefit from their service to others that the physical injuries are a small price to pay to gain such immense payback.  Of course, we don’t all feel this way which is why we don’t all choose such professions.  And thankfully, there are many patriotic souls among us who do.  But I don’t think we should call them selfless.  That would actually dishonor them by implying they are without self… an empty shell.  I think not.  So bottom line, even those that befall seemingly negative circumstances did so in the pursuit of happiness derived on their terms and according to their definition of the word.

Now back to my point about martyrdom and its destructive path.  Going back to others in your life whom you watched engage in this truly selfless endeavor, how many did you perceive as being happy?  How many did you feel had just conceded their desires to another?  How many of these relationships ultimately ended anyway?  And for those that eventually ended, how much time was invested into the sinking ship they were on? What did they deny themselves in the process?  And if this is you and you just can’t get past the idea that you acted selfishly to leave the other person, why do you feel it is your right to deny them the opportunity to have the quality of relationship that they really deserve?  That’s right.  You’re actually not benefiting them by forcing the relationship to continue.  You’re either delaying their happiness or outright deny them of it.

When Bob and I first got together, there is no doubt that the relationship served both of us and continued to do so for a many years.  But sometimes even when a relationship is great at the beginning or for a certain span of time, that doesn’t mean it will always continue to server our happiness.  We are all continuously evolving and changing.  As Bob and I grew as human beings and evolved, in our case our service to each other as spouses waned.  There is no shame in ending a marital relationship when it ceases to serve up happiness to those involved.  In fact, doing so may be the kindest thing one can do for another and for oneself.

I will leave you with one more thought on this topic whether you have already divorced and suffer from guilt or are considering ending your marriage.  If you stay in a relationship strictly “for the kids”, what does that teach them about creating a successful romantic relationship in the future?  Does it truly teach them a valid path to happiness?  Does it teach them real compassion for others?  What do you want them to learn?