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.
When I typed this title into my book outline, I really wasn’t sure what I was going to specifically write here and even as the words hit the page, I’m not sure where they will take me. So let me start with this as I think it demonstrates the point…
When Bob’s wife planned his 50th birthday party, she of course included me and Brian in the celebration. I contemplated whether or not to go for about a half second as I considered seeing all the old softball friends and their wives whom I really hadn’t encountered much in the preceding 17 years. But just as I’ve always done, I considered the fact that what they thought wasn’t as important as the fact that Brandi wanted us to be there. Plus, I relished another opportunity to spend time with my son and my beloved ex-in-laws. So I easily put my brief hesitation aside.
When I arrived at the party, it must have taken me twenty minutes to make it through the venue out to the back patio where the celebration was actually being held as I was greeted by countless members of Bob’s family and friend group who made me feel right at home with all of them. Honestly, it was so genuine and well beyond an obligatory “hello” or “how have you been?”, but rather, real interest in talking with me and knowing how my life as going. I hope I returned the feelings of acceptance and interest in them that they afforded me. It was so comforting to feel so loved by those who for so long I felt I had fallen out of grace with when I left Bob. See it is one thing to celebrate your child together and for everyone to focus on that. But when the “ex” shows up at the former spouse’s birthday party, it is because they want to be there, not because it is expected due to parental responsibility. And it’s true. I really did want to be there and I really did enjoy it.
As I made my way to the patio, I came upon a poster board full of photos throughout Bob’s life that Brand had created. Ahead of the event, she had asked me for some snapshots that pre-dated her and I had a supplied her with a stack. I wasn’t sure how she would feel about including them. So I told her use what she felt comfortable with and left it at that. I included pictures that Bob’s mom had given me of Bob when he was in high school and pictures of him with Ian when he was a baby, toddler, and preschooler – all which predated Brandi. I also chose to include one other picture that probably was the most controversial choice if you were an outsider to our special relationship. It was a picture of Bob and me together after a softball game when I was about seven months pregnant. We both looked so happy and young and Bob had his hand on my pregnant belly. I really didn’t know if Brandi would be willing to put this one in the collection she created for public viewing.
As I scanned the board, I didn’t really look specifically for this picture because I had convinced myself to have no expectation and to harbor no judgment either way she went with that. But then my eyes locked on it and I was filled with joy when I saw that this particular image made the board. See, not only did it represent the happiest time of our marriage and of course the impending birth of our only son, who is amazing, but it also was us in the element in which we had enjoyed so much fun with friends celebrating softball wins at the local pub after the game. I had lost all those friends in the divorce if you will and many of them were there that night. Having that picture on the board made me somehow feel even more like a part of the celebration – a key orchestrator in the creation of our family 2.0 and a genuine friend… still! I probably spent more time talking with Bob’s friends that night than I had even when we were all hanging out at the pub after all those games. I was no longer a person separate from the group who was just tagging along. I was a member of the group… for that night at least.
As the party progressed, Bob asked that someone “take a picture of his modern family” and grabbed both Brandi and I to pose with him. It was a really cool feeling and a proud moment for both of us. I just love my real modern family!
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.
When 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.
On 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.
Another 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.
We 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!
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
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?
Beyond 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 years 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.
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.
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.