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!


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.

Co-Parenting and Discipline – A United Front

Of all the parenting topics I cover, this one is central to why we needed to get this co-parenting thing right.  I refused to let Ian be a casualty of my choices.  And I have to say, I think both Bob and I tackled the subjects of limits, responsibility, and discipline beautifully.

One of the saddest things I’ve witnessed in observing other divorce situations is the inability of divorced couples to effectively discipline their children and teach them how to make good life choices.  The divorced parent becomes so fearful of the possibility that their child will reject them that they choose not to engage in any conversations that might jeopardize their relationship.  I have seen it so many times.  Fathers with limited visitation who cannot fathom making even one precious moment unhappy with their children during the short hours they spend to have it taken up by confrontations of any kind.  Mothers who buy their kids everything they ask for so that the children don’t consider whether they may have more material rewards if they lived with Dad.  On and on it goes.  The child isn’t given any responsibilities and is never told no.  They are constantly showered with compliments on how great and beautiful they are and never denied anything.  From having no household chores to never living without something because “mom said so”, the kids of divorced parents are running the show.  No wonder we now have the “me” generation.

You may be thinking, “So what if everyone’s happy all the time?”  Is it so bad to have only positive interactions with your child?  Frankly, YES!  First of all, if you don’t teach your children about things like washing the dishes and doing laundry, who do you think is going to do that?  Or are you planning to supply your child with a staff of household servants after they move out?  Or maybe you’re ok with them wallowing in filth later on because they never learn the value of basic home cleanliness and how it can affect their physical and mental health.  Could you be unwittingly raising a future hoarder to be featured on the cable series Hoarders, Buried Alive?  Maybe you too were raised without being expected to help around the house and think this is just fine.  Afterall, look at you.  You turned out fine.  But I bet if you think about it, you had more responsibilities than you are willing to admit since it challenges your current course of action.

But this is about so much more than learning how to clean the house.  What happens to a person who is never told no, denied anything, or challenged on their thinking?  You got it!  They grow up to be spoiled, self-serving narcissist.  Even if they somehow escape their values descending into complete self-absorption, they will be ill equipped to deal with the real world where they will most certainly be told no by someone.  There will eventually be someone who disagrees with them or denies them something they desperately want.  And you have failed to prepare them for this event.  They will be devastated and have no idea how to respond appropriately and productively to failure, going without, or having to think of others first.

So if you think the above is a lot of preaching from me without a lot of evidence that it doesn’t have to be this way, I’ll share with you our experience.  You might recall in my earlier blog posts I mentioned that it will be much easier to effectively co-parent if both parents share foundational values.  This is probably more important in the areas of discipline, setting limits, and teaching responsibility than any other.

Remember when you first learned you were going to be a parent?  If you’re like me, you probably were profoundly struck simultaneously with fear and excitement at the prospect that you would be raising a human being that with God’s grace would someday positively influence humanity.  Sure you may have dreamed of them growing up to be famous or rich or beautiful.  But I doubt anyone hopes their child grows up to be a self-absorbed asshole.  So we must be careful not to raise one.  In fact we need to live in fear that we may very well do that if we don’t take responsibility ourselves for ensuring that doesn’t happen.  Again, if you don’t do it, are you expecting someone else will?  Why the hell are they going to do your job for you?  This is the cornerstone of parenting.  Beyond the contribution of your DNA, this is your next most important responsibility.  And I take it VERY SERIOUSLY.

When Bob and I divorced, I was fortunate enough to know that we shared very similar core values.  Of course there are nuances.  Otherwise, we might have never gotten divorced at all.  But we both took and still take the responsibility of parenting very seriously and personally.  We both realize that while we want our child to like us, liking us is not more likely because we give him everything he wants.  We accept that it is our responsibility to teach Ian kindness, generosity, and responsibility as well as providing him opportunities to succeed in life.  However, I have known many people who were seemingly given every opportunity to succeed by way of paid college tuition and financial assistance of all sorts who still fell flat on their face precisely because it was given to them.  I know multimillionaires whose children seem to have no idea what it means to be responsible or make good life choices.

I grew up in a home where my dad had a convenient excuse to give me when he and mom didn’t want me to have something.  “We can’t afford it,” he’d say.  It’s a perfect alibi.  Growing up I always said to myself that when I had kids, I didn’t want to have to tell them they couldn’t have something because “we couldn’t afford it”.  So I set out to make sure that wasn’t going to be the case only to find out that it is much easier to say, We can’t afford it” than it is to teach some more difficult life lesson to our child such as you can’t have it because it is bad for you.  If you simply say you can’t afford it, that pretty much shuts down all debate.  So in one sense, it’s brilliant because the end is the same and maybe the child is less distressed than if you tell them they can’t have something because you think it is too extravagant.  Aren’t they important enough for you to part with your precious money over?  Let the parental guilt trip begin.  Stop with the need to explain.  Revert to what our parents did or our grandparents before them.  They said, “No.”  The end.  If you dared to ask why, you got the ever popular “because I said so”.  And if you dared challenge this reasoning, you might well have ended up grounded or worse yet slapped, spanked, or even beaten.  What is this obsessive compulsion to over-explain our parental logic to our children?  Give it up.  Because they ARE children, they cannot be expected to understand.

Now that I’ve laid down the hardline, I will dial back a bit to the reality of my personal approach which I think in the majority of situations worked.  I said no when I thought something was not in my child’s best interest AND I offered my reasoning for this in simple matter-of-fact terms.  While I didn’t allow Ian to debate me on my decision, I did listen to what he had to say in response as an opportunity to confirm whether or not he understood my rationale – even if he didn’t agree with it.  And therein lies the difference.  I was NOT focused on whether or not my child agreed with me.  I was most concerned with his wellbeing and conveying to him that regardless of anything else, my priority had to be to protect him from harm of any kind.  That was my #1 job even when it made me unpopular with him.  It’s the risk I had to take.  And I knew it’s what Ian both wanted and expected from me too.  All our kids us to protect them.  And this requires setting limits.  So I sat limits and stuck to them and I shared those limits with Bob.  We would sometime negotiate on the finer details such as video game ratings or curfews.  And we didn’t agree on all these details either.  But our foundation was the same.  First priority – protect Ian from harm – physical, mental, and emotional.

Here’s another problem I see with the idea of never having a negative experience with your child.  What happens when they eventually have that imperfect day?  Are they going to be equipped to handle it or are they going to shatter into a million pieces and be unable to recover or learn from the experience?  We must teach our kids how to deal with disappointment and rejection or it will be a shock that will potentially devastate them when you are not around to catch them as they fall back to Earth from the high perch above the rest of the universe.  Ian and I most certainly had our negative days.  Some because he pushed it and some because maybe I had a bad day to work, was too exhausted to think straight or was PMSing.  But these were invaluable exercises in communication, problem-solving, self-control and compromise for Ian.  Sure they also offered these benefits to me as well.  But this was his first rodeo and I was the clown protecting him from being trampled by the bull.

But what do you do when you and your child simply can’t get to common ground?  When you’re still married to the other parent, you can call them in for reinforcement.  But what about when you’re divorced?  Can you still do that?  You can but you have to be very secure in your relationship with the ex.  Calling in the other parent for reinforcement isn’t a workable plan if they are going to use the event against you either to badmouth you to the child or to build a case that you are an unfit parent.  Unfortunately, I know for many divorced parents this is the reality.  But for others, its simply a fear, a personal insecurity.  If your spouse has not brought legal action against you seeking to reduce your parenting time or interaction with them, I implore to partner with them in matters of discipline.  After all, I’m pretty sure they don’t want to spend their days with an asshole of their own making either.  So herein lay an opportunity to find common ground – a precious commodity among divorced co-parents.

There was a time during Ian’s middleschool years where he and I had the most trouble communicating.  I think Ian was sure he was being judged by everyone including me all the time.  He, like any other pre-teen, lacked confidence and at the same time felt compelled to wield control over something, anything, even if that was a heated conversation with mom.  Now I’m going to say something I’m sure some of you will hate me for.  But it’s what I believe based on my own personal feelings and observations.  Children fear dad more than mom… at least in a physical harm sense that is.  Sure, mom can make you feel like a piece of shit in words, but you won’t bleed or lose a limb from it.  So the pain she can inflict just doesn’t carry the same fear factor as the potential damage dad can do with that extra weight and muscle to throw at you.  Even if dad has never touched you.  I know this because I felt this way.  My dad had never laid a finger on me but at one point during my teens, I pushed him too hard and he grabbed both of my arms and shook me.  It scared the hell out of me, not because it hurt but because it reminded me that he had the capacity to hurt me if he so chose to.  With that, my human survival instinct kicked in and forced me to shut my smart mouth.  I’m sure there are exceptions where the mom is more physically intimidating than the dad.  But I’d venture to say that with dad’s deeper voice and larger stature, most kids can’t battle the human instinct to protect themselves from physical harm by acquiescing to the one that is physically superior to them.

Anyway, after arguing with Ian for several hours about helping out around the house and him doing everything in his power to fight me on the point, I had had enough.  We were getting nowhere.  I don’t really remember the details of our actual argument.  But I do remember feeling like we had devolved into a circular conversation that was simply not going to resolve without a radical change in strategy.  So I called Bob and asked if he would talk to Ian.  Bob of course didn’t hesitate and came over to my house immediately.  He laid it on the line with Ian and told him he was not to talk to me in the tone and manner he was.  He reinforced my points telling Ian that mom was right and that he needed to do what I said.  In short, Bob was being a good father.  I don’t really get why this was so effective.  Maybe it had nothing to do with the male versus female presence at all.  Maybe it was simply the fact that bringing the other parent in tipped the opinion scale.  Once Ian saw that Bob and I were on the same side, he realized he was outnumbered and was not going to win this one.  So he conceded and life returned to normal for everyone.  Yea for us.  We didn’t raise an asshole!

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?

Shared Parenting

Of course the most important decision we had to make with regard to our future lives as co-parents was how we would split our time with our son, Ian.  Again, the words “you’re going to miss half of his life Teresa!” replayed in my head over and over again cutting through my soul each time I allowed the thought to enter my head.

I talked to a few friends who were divorced to ask what their arrangement was.  Mind you, since we were in our early 30s, many of our friends hadn’t even married yet much less had kids or gotten divorced.  So I had few people to ask.  There was the typical arrangement of the State of Ohio (common in many others as well) which the majority of people still defaulted to, probably only because it was easier than taking the time and energy to discuss the situation with your soon-to-be-ex.  That would require communicating with one another after all – the very reason many end up in divorce to begin with.  The default arrangement works like this:  The mother is granted full custody of the child or children with the father getting visitation every other weekend and Wednesday evening from 6-9PM.

For me, the word visitation just pisses me off.  It is so negative, evoking visions of either prisons or hospitals.  It is not an appropriate term to associate with the hopefully happy time a father spends with his children.  And the allowance of time?  I was heartbroken when I thought about taking that much time away from Ian and his dad.  I just couldn’t do that.

For those that opted for arrangements other than the default, one option was the six months in one home and six months in another approach.  No way was I going to do that.  I would rather die than be apart from my son for 6 months at a stretch.

Then a friend told me about “Shared Parenting”.  Now this isn’t a legal definition.  So please consult an attorney.  But the general idea is that you really are sharing the parental experience and responsibilities.  Many do a week on / week off arrangement where one parent has the kids Sunday to Sunday and then they trade off.  My friend who had this arrangement with his ex decided to modify this to a Friday to Friday arrangement.  That way, they could start the weekend off happy to see their kids rather than spend Sunday dreading they were leaving.  As a bonus everyone could get ready to start their work or school week without the added turbulence of switching locations that evening.  This sounded pretty good to both of u.  So Bob and I went with a Friday to Friday arrangement.  Although we did make one more modification.

I simply could not come to terms with not seeing my then six-year-old boy for seven solid days at a time.  So I suggested a mid-week switch.  We lived close enough that this was easy to pull off.  Yes, our residential choices were already about to pay dividends.  So either Tuesday or Wednesday each week, Ian would go to the opposite parent’s house to spend the night.  He would then return to the other house for the remainder of the week the next day.  As I usually became uncontrollably weepy by Monday night due to separation anxiety, we opted for Tuesday during most of the time we maintained the midweek swap.

When Ian got into middle school and was involved in a few activities, we all mutually agreed to forgo the midweek swap.  Sure we had duplicated a lot of things.  But not everything.  So it was a consummate challenge to make sure the soccer gear and band equipment – especially the small yet significant stuff to a 7th grader was in the right house at precisely the moment he needed or wanted it.  And let’s be honest, at least from my experience, most guys and boys don’t check if they have everything they need for any activity until about 5 minutes before they actually needed it.  As such, there was the inevitable panic that set in for both child and parent when either realized 10 minutes before the start of practice or, worse yet, game arrival time, that the only set of shin guards for soccer were at the other parents house and that parent was not at home.

Of course, thankfully do to our carefully orchestrated arrangement, we had even found a way to deal with these last minute snafus which seems like yet another obvious solution but not one everyone is either comfortable with or thinks about.  We gave each other a means of accessing the other parents home either with a key or using the key pad on the garage.  Now you have to have a pretty high level of trust in your ex-spouse to literally give them the keys to your home and granted this isn’t for everyone.  But if your only hesitation isn’t a trust issue but rather an unnecessary belief that this isn’t appropriate or “people just don’t do that”, you’re just making life harder on yourself and your child for no good reason.

Some might also say that you could just deal with the issue by giving the child the access and of course you could.  However, let’s be real.  If the child has the key or code, then the ex-spouse has the key or code.  Going further, if the other parent is forbidden from accessing the ex-spouse’s home and the child is young, there are at least a couple of situations you could encounter, some of which we did.  There were times Ian would go into his dad’s house to pick up something he needed ABSOLUTELY NOW and in full blown panic, of course, couldn’t find it.  Mom (or dad) was there to calm the situation down and help him focus on finding this item that, to him at that moment, was the difference between life being perfectly fine and the impending end of happiness as we know it.

On the more extreme end of the spectrum, one that fortunately we did not encounter, what if the child goes into the home without the parent and something awful happens?  Maybe he injures himself as he climbs a piece of furniture to grab something.  Or maybe he turns something on that, if left unattended would cause a fire after we’ve left.  Sure we try to teach our kids how to avoid these situations.  But everyone can make a mistake and one of our biggest responsibilities as parents is ensuring the safety of our children.  So you have to consider that a young child is not mature enough to be saddled with so much responsibility without as much as a second set of more mature eyes walking behind him in such situations.  At least that’s my belief.

In addition to our week to week and mid-week swap arrangement, both Ian and I, and Ian and his dad spoke on the phone every day for several more years to further perpetuate the parental bond during absence.

I can’t express here how far this arrangement of week-to-week shared parenting, the midweek swap, and shared access to each other’s home contributed to a smoother, more relaxed, and happier existence.  But hopefully, this gives you some idea of what can be gained from considering it.  If you have younger children and are in the throes of deciding on your child-parent visitation, or as I like to call it, shared time, I would highly recommend trying it out to see if it works for you.