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.

Growing Up in Two Homes

When we decided neither of us was keeping the home we had built a mere two years earlier, I looked at many neighborhoods, many homes, and a couple of other school districts.  Fortunately, I made enough to afford to buy a home on my own.  So I didn’t have to consider apartments.  Bob too could swing a home mortgage and expenses on his own.  We would both have to downgrade on the luxuries slightly and not have as much money left over for extras after the mortgage for sure.

I decided to stay in the exceptional school district we were in and I got lucky enough to find another home in the same neighborhood, about a quarter-mile away on a street that I knew had several boys Ian’s age.  It was on a cul-de-sac and backed up to a ravine.  No neighbors and plenty of woods and stream behind us.  While the home was smaller, the lot was an upgrade, something that eased the pain of losing our other home that we had built.

Bob, being in the building industry himself as a subcontractor in the glass and mirror sector chose to build a home that was in an up and coming neighborhood through a thin line of trees and across one main road directly behind my house.  It was only about a quarter-mile as the crow flies.  So I knew as Ian got older, he’d eventually be able to go between our two houses on foot or by bike.

Of course something I didn’t think about as much was how much easier that living so close made things for everyone.  Since we were in the same school district, there were some years where Ian could take the bus from and to either home.  And when that wasn’t the case, Ian’s dad was so close, he could drop him off to me in the morning since he worked earlier and I could put him on the bus.  This gave me a chance each day to see my son before school.  Yet another strategy for regaining some of that “half of his life” I was missing.  Then there was the ongoing transfer of clothes, toys, sports equipment, homework, and music instruments in between homes.  When he was young, of course I or his father packed his stuff up.  As he got older, Ian started doing it himself.  Whether it was us or him, there were hundreds of items over the years that had to be retrieved from one house or another.  His dad used to get pretty frustrated with Ian for forgetting stuff but I reminded him that it couldn’t be easy living in two places at once.  I had never done it and was sure given my crappy memory that I’d have been running back and forth in between houses at least daily and maybe even hourly to get a particular jacket, book, or stuffed animal.

To minimize this madness, we bought duplicates of some of the main items.  We also used this strategy to offer roughly the same experience at each home.  We even bought him the same bed.  As much as Bob and I had competed during our marriage to win every conversation, neither of us was interested in seeing the other one lose in the parenting game.  We had finally found a motivation to be nice to one another.  So we purchased two swing sets, two bikes, plenty of clothes for both houses, and two drum kits.  Oh there had to be two drum kits!  Otherwise, one of us would have never seen our child or we would have been stuck carting that set back and forth for years to come.  As it turned out, when Ian reached 5th grade and created his first rock band, we did end up carting around the drums a lot.  Except rather than it being between homes, it was from the house to a show and back.  And yes, we both helped load in and load out.  When Ian got big enough to carry the drums himself, we chose solidarity and both declared our days as roadies over.  Cue the frowns on 5 adolescent boys’ faces as they realized they weren’t rock stars and would have to carry their own shit.

Also with adolescence came some other benefits to the close living arrangement we had chosen.  Since there was literally only one house blocking my view of Bob’s backyard from my back door, I was comfortable allowing Ian to walk between our homes since I could watch him walk most of the way and his dad could see him on the other side when I lost sight.  This was very handy not only when items were forgotten at the other home but also worked out quite well during the middle-school years when Ian got along much better with the kids on Bob’s street than on mine.  This was great.  I never wanted Ian to prefer one home over another because of circumstances.  And I never wanted him to be bummed out that he had to go to another home and leave his friends behind for a week.  Oh sure, there was some of this.  Especially when our inter-district boundaries were different and the kids in Bob’s neighborhood ended up at a different middle-school and high school.  In general, though, I think this arrangement’s benefits went a long way to improve the circumstances of our separated family.  But it didn’t happen by accident.  We chose to make it happen this way.

School Days

One of the first things we had to encounter as recently-divorced parents was the school system.  Ian entered kindergarten about 2 months after we separated.  You would have thought divorce was a brand new concept.  Everything from emergency information forms to grade cards was designed to accommodate parents that lived at the same residence. And this was the year 1999!

As I was designated as the residential parent in our arrangement, everything school related was based on my address.  Nothing was ever mailed to Bob.  And this is where demonstrating kindness begins.  I know plenty of divorced parents who struggle with this most basic right.  I never hesitated for a second. I assumed Bob was entitled to all the same information about Ian’s education as I was.  How could I expect him to otherwise be a good parent.  I had to remember what I wanted my son to have and what I wanted in a father for him.  I always made sure Bob was offered the opportunity to purchase school pictures.  And I made sure he got a copy of every grade card.  The school didn’t do this.  I did!  They, it seemed, never even thought of it as a service they should offer.  This doesn’t make any sense to me.  Nor do the women who refuse to consider how they might feel if they weren’t even given the opportunity to get school pictures from one year of grade school.  All too frequently, divorced fathers miss out on a lot.  And this benefits no one.  The father suffers.  The child and father connection is weakened as the father receives less and less ongoing information about the child’s evolution.  And ladies, if you think you get out of this unscathed, you’re absolutely wrong.  Have you heard of karma?  Ever wish people would treat you better?  Well maybe you should practice the golden rule.  Also, ask yourself how it could possibly be of benefit to your child for their other parent to be denied information and experiences with them.

I remember the first night conference during which we met Ian’s kindergarten teacher.  We had separated about 6 weeks before.  Of course, we both wanted to be there.  So we did this crazy thing.  We talked about it.  Then we did another crazy thing.  We agreed to both go and let the teacher know that even though we were divorced, we weren’t one of those dysfunctional couples that hate each other and yell all the time.  Kind of an interesting evolution since one of the reasons we split up was because of our incessant arguing.  We argued about everything from life philosophies to how to play a Euchre hand.  God forbid I stray from Hoyle.  Yep divorce, or at least living separately, seemed to fix our dysfunction as a couple (and as Euchre partners).  Oh the irony!

As we squeezed ourselves into tiny little kindergartener desks, I made my pronouncement to the new teacher, Mrs. Joseph that we had recently divorced but that we get along and she would not have any problems with us.  As it turned out, this was Mrs. Joseph’s first year teaching anywhere.  So she was probably simultaneously concerned, skeptical, and relieved.  Disbelieving or not, Ian had this teacher for two years and as we approached the end of the second year, Mrs. Joseph pulled me aside to tell me not only how special our little boy is (yep, Mom already knows that) but also how lucky he is to have two parents who work so hard to make this whole divorce thing into a positive experience for him.  Now there’s two words that don’t normally appear in the same sentence.  “Divorce” and “positive”.  See the pattern that is starting to develop?

In Laws

Some people like their in-laws.  Some hate them.  And some simply tolerate them.  I love Bob’s family.  Always have and always will.  It’s not because they are perfect.  Who is?  It’s because I have a natural chemistry with them, which unfortunately I cannot say I have always felt with some people in my own family.

Some people like their in-laws.  Some hate them.  And some simply tolerate them.  I love Bob’s family.  Always have and always will. 

Yet, let me be clear, my family means the world to me… even though they sometimes make me crazy for one reason or another.  Whose doesn’t?  My mom and dad are two of the most genuine people on the planet. You have no doubt they are who they say they are and mean what they say.  They are honest, hard-working, loyal people who just want the best for their children.  And they’ve sacrificed much in their pursuit of that goal.  It’s taken me a long time to really appreciate the depth of the love they both have for me.  And certainly that was made more difficult by my decision to move back to Ohio from Houston when I was 20 years old, leaving my parents behind.

My Mother-in-Law

So being on my own in Ohio, while even at a distance of 1200 miles, my parents were and always have been there for me.  Yet, it’s denied me the simple pleasures of enjoying casual family dinners, playing cards, or just having a cup of coffee together on a cold winter weekend morning.

When I met Bob’s mom, I felt an instant connection with her.  Sandy shared many similarities beyond her astrological sign, Sagittarius, with my mom – solid values, unwavering honesty, refreshing authenticity, and a mother’s protective attitude toward her children, which she extended without hesitation to me.  In effect, Sandy was my “local” mom.  So while my parents lived far away, Sandy and her husband Dick along with Bob’s dad and stepmom Charlotte lived within a reasonable drive.  This made it easy to join them for dinner, holidays, and other family gatherings both planned and spontaneous.  And it never felt forced or awkward with the exception of the many times we arrived after we had fought in the car on the entire drive to their house.

My Sister

Bob’s sister was still in high school when he and I first started dating.  I remember attending an orchestra performance watching sister Debbie as she played first chair all city flout.  I was so proud of her.  She was beautiful, very shy, kind, and straight-laced.  She also seemed to really enjoy having someone to call sister in her life.  Through the years, we laughed and cried with Debbie as she graduated high school, lived with us while she attended college, broke up with boyfriends, and then eventually met and married the love of her life.  In fact, Debbie and I were so close that I was the matron of honor in her wedding.  This meant a lot to me as of course I didn’t have a sister either and was never terribly good at keeping female friends.  Of course, I thought I had ruined that friendship forever when only a month after her wedding, I announced my separation from her brother.

A Life Unlived

When our son Ian was born, the bond with Bob’s family continued to grow – especially since Ian was the first grandchild in the family.  He was showered with love and gifts enough for ten kids and enjoyed his “only grandchild” status for a long 7 years.  Of course for us, it meant we had eager babysitting options in Grandma and Aunt Debbie.  This should have truly afforded us the alone time needed to continue building a solid bond as husband and wife.  Yet we didn’t do that.  We both were very good at focusing on Ian and being good parents.  But somehow we couldn’t beyond our own egos enough to focus on being the best to each other.

Meanwhile, I couldn’t quite shake an undeniable sense that I was leaving some part of my life unlived.  I felt like every decision that determined what type of life I would have was being made by someone else.  What type of job, house, friends, and hobbies we participated in were being dictated primarily by Bob’s preferences and priorities.  That wasn’t all bad, though.  Bob encouraged me to get back to singing, something that was my personal passion and talent.  He even hooked me up with some guys he was friends with to jumpstart the idea.  Of course, it felt like even that couldn’t be left to me either.  Bob formed a band to play one year at his self-arranged birthday party.  And of course, he one-upped me as parent on that one having given our son backing vocals duties at the age of 4, which Ian handled quite well.  Why didn’t I think of that?  This is how we both were toward each other as a married couple – ultra competitive, more concerned with being the best “whatever” and being right or having the last word than with being thoughtful or kind.  Or maybe we both just took some of these actions way too personally.

I felt like every decision that determined what type of life I would have was being made by someone else.

If it isn’t obvious yet, I was very tormented by the idea of decimating my much loved family unit by declaring my own independence from all of it.  What would become of me?  I lived five states away from the only family with whom I communicated other than Bob’s.  They were the ones I celebrated most holidays and special occasions with.  It was Sandy and Dick who shared in our joy as we watched Ian eat his first birthday cake, collect Easter eggs for the first time, and beat on his first drum kit.  They were my local support in times of crisis or despair.  Who would be that support if I struck out on my own?  Who could get to me in a 10 minute drive if I needed them?  Who would be my emergency contact?  Hell, for that matter, what type of social life could I hope to have with no one to babysit?  I didn’t have any real friends to call my own and would most likely lose all of our shared friends to Bob in the divorce.  I had coworkers who I barely knew and an aging Yorkshire terrier.  That’s what I had.  I was a mom working a 50+ hour-a-week corporate job.  I was no longer in a band with people I had come to call friends, but rather was trying to form a new band with a bunch of guys in our basement that neither Bob nor I knew well.  They were all but strangers to us at this point.  I had virtually no savings and was not sure if my parents were able to help me if something came up even though they always had.  Bob’s family, while not rich but comfortable, supplied an added sense of security in this area should an emergency arise.

How could I do this?  How could I consider this?  How could I risk this most wonderful family?  Yet, what choice did I really have?  Could I continue going through life living according to someone else’s plan?  What was I going to miss out on and was it worth it?  All this support and security ironically seemed to be smothering me.  What could I be?  What experiences might I have if I took charge of my life?  Oh so many questions.  I couldn’t leave them all unanswered.  They would drive me insane!

Divorcing the Extended Family

So the announcement was made and Bob’s entire family was of course, there for him.  Maybe they were there for me too but I didn’t dare ask.  Suddenly I saw myself as an intruder on their family.  I felt like I had betrayed everyone’s expectations.  They were devastated by my decision and really didn’t understand what was so awful about my life.  But the truth is it wasn’t awful.  It was just unlived.  And my life I felt couldn’t go like a Christmas package that never got opened.  It wasn’t something I was going to have much luck explaining to anyone.  Not Bob and certainly not his loving almost-perfect family.

But the truth is it wasn’t awful.  It was just unlived.  And my life I felt couldn’t go like a Christmas package that never got opened. 

Of course, life after marriage felt at times more like a game show than it did a Christmas present that I was finally going to get to open.  In the first round, behind door #1 was a group of new friends which would become my new surrogate family and bring joy to my life for years to come and still to this day.  In the second round, behind Door #2, I discovered more failed romantic relationships and a couple less- than-lucrative career moves.

I liken the early days of our separation to feeling like Bob’s entire family had been killed in some horrific accident.  I really thought it would just be too hard for them to remain in my life.  I certainly wouldn’t expect them to betray their family member for my sake.  And didn’t associating with me mean they would have to do just that?  Or did it?  Could Bob find it in his heart and everyone’s best interest to give his family permission to allow a continued relationship with me?  I don’t know how those conversations might have went but somehow through all of the hurt and pain he found a way to show me this mercy.

Putting it all back together

As the years passed, Sandy and Dick as well as Debbie babysat for Ian when I needed them to. Sandy continues to send me Christmas and Birthday cards to this day. In fact, I received the card pictured above from her yesterday. Now that’s what I’m talking about!  We call each other occasionally just to catch up and I try diligently to keep them apprised of significant events in Ian’s life so they don’t miss out on anything.  Men just don’t seem to do that as well.  We share pictures.  We attend family gatherings together.  And one year, Sandy and Dick even offered for me to join them one Christmas eve for a fun night of family cards.  When any of Bob’s family attended Ian’s soccer games, school concerts, or other activities, I would always sit with them, and in fact, save them seats. I felt no need or desire to separate myself from them.  It seemed so much more natural to be with them.   It wasn’t me and them.  It was us – Ian’s family!

Sandy continues to send me Christmas and Birthday cards to this day.  In fact, I  received the card pictured above from her yesterday.  Now that’s what I’m talking about! 

I’ve been there for Bob’s family too.  When Bob’s Aunt Angie was dying with liver failure, I stood in the hospital room with the family surrounding her as she took her last breath.  When Sandy’s sister and Dick’s son each passed, I attended their viewings and shared in the family’s grief.  When Bob and Brandy had their daughter and needed a sitter, I watched her for them.  When Bob was in a motorcycle accident, I offered whatever support was needed in the first minutes within which I was notified.  It’s just what people who care about each other do.  And why on Earth should I not care about my son’s father, grandmother, grandfather, or aunt?

I’m very thankful that Bob’s family has remained in my life and that I can still call them my family too!

And So It Begins – Splitting Our Assets

Now it wasn’t all rosy from the beginning.  There were ugly words, failed reconciliation attempts, and at least one call to the sheriff during our tumultuous early days of separation.  I feared I would lose my son, my home, and the rest of what was important to me at any given moment.  In addition to having to face the loss of my spouse, albeit my decision, I was also facing the loss of his family with whom I was very close.  While my family all lived more than a thousand miles away, his was local.  His mom treated me like a daughter and I was even the matron-of-honor in his sister’s wedding just a month before our separation.  So, yes, in the beginning (I at least felt that) they all hated me.  And I could see why.  He was their son and brother.  They saw me as the person who was ripping the family apart.  And I felt that burden deeply.

But that is not to say that the separation and the divorce was all my fault either.  I’m not writing this to fall on a sword here in some veiled attempt at redemption.  No.  While I may have been the one who called it, it almost always takes two to screw things up in a marriage.  For years I had warned that we were headed for divorce.  But those warnings did not result in resolution on either side to the problems that lied within.  So there was plenty of blame to go around.  I just ended up being the one who insisted on that final fateful move to a different life.

My then-spouse who I’ll refer to going forward as my son’s father, or Bob as he is known, warned me that if we divorced I’d be missing out on half of my son’s life.  The gravity of those words still haunts me.  And the reality of the time that has been lost over the years still brings tears to my eyes.  But feeling the time I would spend with them was going to be miserable for everyone, the quality of time that we would spend together and apart had to come first.

For me, it was the notion that I might miss out on half of my son’s life that motivated me to find a better way forward for all of us.  I didn’t want to lose that much.  I didn’t want my son’s father to lose that much either.  I didn’t hate him.  I just didn’t want to live with him.  And I certainly didn’t want my son to suffer that much loss.  So I focused on our friendship and those things about Bob that I like.  He had always been a great father and good friend.  He’s quite a comedian too.  And I was going to miss that probably the most in my daily life, that and the fact that he did most of the cleaning around the house.  Yeah, I know you’re probably wondering why I so desperately had to get out of this relationship.  But as that is not the focus of this book, nor anything that should have went any differently given where our lives have led us to now, I will just say I had reasons I felt were justified right or wrong.  It doesn’t matter now and everyone’s happy.  And I have no doubt that as I write this blog, the logic and emotion behind this decision will reveal itself.

So we set about the messy business of separating while working together to minimize the impact on our five-year old son who we both loved more than life itself.  First there was the immediate need to relieve the tension that comes from cohabitating with someone from whom you are divorcing.  The negative energy is overwhelming and at times, all out debilitating.  It’s like watching someone die – that someone was our marriage, our cohesive family.  Very depressing.  But as neither of us could afford to just take time off from work to sort through all of this, we had to come up with another interim solution. We ended up splitting weeks in the house.  One week I would stay there with our son, and Bob would stay with family.  The next week Bob would stay in the house with our son and I would go to my girlfriend’s house and stay in her guest room.  We talked about what to do with our home and ultimately, we concluded that neither of us could afford it alone as we were a two income household by necessity.  So we sold it and divided the proceeds.  Selling it was hard since we had only built the place two years earlier and Bob had just spent a lot of time finishing much of the basement.  I loved that house.  But in the end it was better to leave the negative energy we had deposited there behind as we started our new lives.

We talked about how we would divide other things up too right down to the CD collection.  Fortunately, neither of us got super territorial over the small stuff.  I took the bedroom suit we had purchased with my last bonus.  Bob took the pool table that we purchased with money he had earned from side jobs.  And honestly, even though I’m a musician at heart, the CD collection meant more to him than me.  So I let him go through it and pick out for me things he either didn’t want or wanted me to have more than he wanted to keep them.  He was very fair.  Let’s see, I got to keep both the Prince and Steely Dan boxed sets.  So I was pretty happy with that.  He left me with many others to.  I think he couldn’t bear the thought of anyone not having music.  It’s very important to him.  Or maybe he just didn’t care that much for the ones he gave me.

I rather stupidly divided up minor things like our matching glassware and dish sets hellbent on the idea of being fair.  I don’t know what I was thinking other than that we both needed to live and would need the basics.  I can say that I didn’t want Bob, his family, or friends to ever be able to say that I had taken everything or left him in a bind.  But dividing up a matched set of dishes was really dumb.  I even for some ridiculous reason divided up our monogrammed towels.  What the heck were either of us going to do with those?  Display them?  And they were a wedding gift! Geez, those really should have just gone straight to charity.  I think mine did when I finally let go of them some 10 years later, not having used them once since the separation.

Looking back on it, I’m glad we hadn’t acquired a lot of valuable stuff by that point which kept the complications and arguments to a minimum.

Now on to the two remaining substantial items – the business Bob co-owned, and the 401K.  I think technically I and his business partner’s wife were listed as the owners for tax purposes or something.  But I had no active role other than opinions any spouse would offer.  I had a 401K that had been partially funded by my employer.  Bob had no retirement at that time.  What to do?

At one point I wanted to discuss a payout to me for part of the business since I had supported us financially when the business was getting started.  However, it still wasn’t producing a great deal of profit and Bob had not been able to sock away any extra savings from it to position him to buy me out.  I on the other hand had this 401K in which I was 100% vested.  I guess a little selfishly at first, I felt that was mine.  I had worked hard to earn that money giving up countless weekends and working late nights over long stretches of time.  And if I wasn’t going to get anything from the business, why should he get anything from my work?  As we discussed this topic, Bob expressed to me that he felt the 401K had built to where it was because of our joint earnings in all but a couple of years during his start-up.  The business he owned had more debt than equity and it was his only means of immediate income.  So putting it at risk created a whole other boatload of concerns for me around what might become of my son’s standard of living.  It just didn’t work.   I didn’t want to drag it out just to see that hard-earned money sitting in my 401K end up in the hands of divorce attorneys.  So I conceded on any rights to the business and split the retirement funds with Bob.

That pretty much settled our finances as far as the divorce went.  And, oh by the way, unless you have more complicated assets than I’ve laid out above, be weary of attorneys who want to charge you thousands for this service.  I provided my attorney with a spreadsheet that showed how all of our assets would be split.  He proceeded to charge me (or rather, attempted to charge me) an exorbitant amount for his “time and effort.”  And I proceeded to pay him much less than that as a settlement which, in my opinion, was still more than he actually earned.  He never sued me and I’m sure feels adequately compensated by the amount I did pay him.

So the “stuff” of our marriage was settled… just like that.