Things Are Looking Up

I gave Bob an updated copy of the book manuscript for Happily Divorced and he’s been through a lot of it. So far, we’re on a MUCH better path. And to come through my rewrite, I did what I’ve always done since we divorced. I honored the golden rule. I did my best to put myself in his shoes and read it through his eyes. Then I edited it dramatically while preserving the story.

I am convinced this is the secret folks. This is the ingredient that can improve all of our interpersonal relationships. Just don’t wait too long before you apply it.

Big things are coming this year for this book and the message it carries. I hope you’ll all accompany me on the journey.

Peace and love,

T

Shared Parenting Vacation Planning

Vacations are absolutely about a thousand percent harder to plan for a family where divorce is involved than where it is not.  Why?  Well let’s see… first you have to consider your schedule, the child’s schedule if they are involved in sports or other activities, and the other parent’s schedule.  Then, if either parent is remarried or in a serious relationship, you have to consider the other partner’s schedule and desires.  If they too are divorced with children, you have to work around the schedule of the other parent and the other children’s schedule.  Then finally, if the said vacation is a group event based on years of tradition, you may not even be at much liberty to dictate changes to the vacation schedule.  Seriously, scheduling a family vacation is among the most challenging of acts to pull off when all of these dynamics are simultaneously in play.  And I haven’t even added in the considerations for the location, the weather, and modes of travel.  What a fricking nightmare!

Scheduling family vacations has offered me one of my most profound lessons when it came to learning about compromise and also standing up for myself and my relationship with my son.

The years preceding when I met my fiancé Brian were easier on vacation scheduling since I didn’t have all the extra schedules to consider and I could be more flexible on my end.  Bob, on the other hand, never seemed to be in a position of setting his own schedule.  As Ian entered high school and I met Brian, things became more challenging.  Between Ian’s marching band schedule and Bob’s unmovable vacation schedule, we started to face some real challenges.  Ian had about one month off from band each summer during which Bob and I would both scramble to fit in the family vacation.  Brian’s family had a 50 year standing tradition of vacationing in upper Michigan on the same week each July.  Of course, this week conflicted directly with the schedule Bob’s friends had also kept for years.  The first year we faced this dilemma, Ian spent the first week of a two-week camping venture with his dad.  I hung back in Columbus until Ian was driven back with someone who was returning early.  Then I drove up with Ian to Michigan to join Brian and his family about four days later.  This was a hectic grind for Ian and made me feel a bit awkward.  I didn’t like making him leave early from his vacation with his dad and I didn’t like us arriving late to our family vacation either.

When the next year rolled around, we faced the same dilemma and I didn’t want to have the same awkward outcome.  So I asked Bob if he could shift the dates of his vacation.  At first, he couldn’t believe I was asking him to do this since, in his mind, he had no say in the dates and I could have picked any other week.  But once I explained the long-standing tradition of Brian’s family and the fact I could not after 50 years attempt to impose a drastic shift in the schedule, he agreed to talk to his contingent and negotiate a different set of dates.  Had I not spoken up, Ian might have missed out on several years of enjoyment with his future step-siblings and extended step-family at a wonderful location in northern Michigan wakeboarding, swimming, and enjoying these precious years with his mother at his side.

As the years progressed, I came to appreciate Bob’s quick rectification of the vacation schedule as our family vacation became the victim of many battles between Brian and his ex who, every year, seemed to find some activity that his daughter or son absolutely couldn’t bear to miss and that would inevitable interrupt our vacation schedule.  Of course, as step-parent, I simply didn’t have the same influence over this situation and had to all-too-frequently just grin and bear it.  But more on that in a future writing.

So as we head into summer vacation season, I have a few suggestions to offer based on my experience.

  1. Plan ahead

I’m sorry but you need to concede your spontaneous nature if you expect things to go smoothly in this department.  If that bothers you, I’ll just ask you to consider if you like it when people spring things on you and impact your schedule without even thinking about how it might affect your life.  So be kind and discuss the plan even if it’s just the dates, as soon as you know them.  That way if there are conflicts to overcome, you can start resolving those issues now and head into your vacation relaxed… as nature intended it.

  1. Be flexible

Yeah, I know. This one is hard because when I say flexible, it may require you bending over backwards to make everything work out.  But don’t assume your large group, ex-spouse, or new companion is inflexible on dates.  Explain your circumstances rationally to decide on the best dates that will present the least conflicts for everyone.

  1. Stick up for yourself and your child

It’s important to understand that when I say be flexible, that doesn’t mean you should always give in to the ex-spouse and forego your vacation desires. If your conflicts are impassable year after year, suggest alternating.  One year he gets his way and the next year you get yours.  If this doesn’t work, ask him for suggestions that don’t call for you being the only one to compromise.  If this still doesn’t work, you may have to be a little more assertive with the situation by expressing to the ex-spouse that all you really want is to spend a nice family vacation with your child and to make sure he gets to do the same with his dad.  When the father sees that you are trying to consider him in the equation, he may back off or offer up reasonable solutions.  If not, then you’re probably struggling with them on a number of fronts which requires a deeper conversation with them to get on a path that is more conducive to cooperation.

  1. Remember what you really want

What do I mean by this? Well you don’t want to get your way if this means your child will be left feeling awful about the situation.  If they are going to miss a monumental family event or a once-in-a-lifetime experience by not joining a particular vacation, you’ll want to do everything in your power to ensure they are included.  Later on when the whole family is sitting around the Thanksgiving dinner table together reminiscing about that time in Paris, your child won’t be the only one who wasn’t there.

You don’ want to get your way if it means destroying future prospects of cooperation with your ex-spouse or others with whom you are still connected within his group.  Like so many other circumstances in our lives, we have to think of others and the impact our actions have on them and decide if the way they feel as a result of these actions makes us happy or not.  If our child isn’t happy you’re probably not going to be either.  So this may mean that if your child could go to Disney with dad or on the annual family camping trip with you one year, they might enjoy Disney more and you should probably let them choose Disney guilt-free.  Now if this happens every year, to me it signals that the other parent is manipulating the situation intentionally and that’s not cool either.  When this happens, refer back to #3.

In any case, be sure not to turn the family vacation into a weapon used to guilt your child or your ex, to win favor in your child’s eyes, or to worst of all, deny them unforgettable childhood experiences just so that you impose your will.

Soccer Mom (and Dad)

To Go or Not to Go – That is not a question!

Like the parents of most elementary-age kids, we wanted to give our son the opportunity to try lots of different things to let him figure out what he is good at and what he likes.  Of course, every time one of these activities is added, it’s another situation the divorced parents must face where they will inevitably be in the same place together lest they miss out on the whole experience that their child has.  So what do you do?  Do you figure out an alternating schedule?  Do you just not go and disappoint your child by not being there?  And don’t forget, it’s not just the ex you’ll have to face but probably other family members, and maybe a girlfriend or new spouse.  Sounds like another trip down Misery Lane, doesn’t it?

ian-soccer-2006Well it doesn’t have to be!  How about you just go and enjoy watching your child do his or her thing?  I personally never considered any other option and I don’t think Bob did either.  We both went.  Of course, we did more than this to enhance the overall experience for ourselves, our son, and all those around us.  We usually sat together and marveled in our son’s greatness.  Oh stop it!  We all do that!  But look, in this case, it’s a valuable bridge between your child’s other parent and you.  It’s something you are likely to have in common – maybe the only thing.  So consider this an advantage you can use to enhance the situation.  You will actually enjoy the experience more by exchanging thoughts about your shared admiration as you revel in your child’s efforts.

What do you mean by “he should try another sport”?

Okay, I have to admit, you will also be faced with some other possibilities.  Like maybe your child won’t be great at something.  Maybe he will struggle.  Maybe he will not enjoy a particular activity.  Ian wasn’t particularly fond of playing Lacrosse.  Maybe there will be nothing marvelous about what the two of you witness together.  Guess what?  This too is a positive.  What do I mean by that?  Well you will both witness it for yourself and not have to rely on the opinion of another.  You may also talk about it together to form a unified strategy for addressing the situation whether that is to provide opportunities for improvement, allowing your child to bow out of a given activity, or consoling her when she faces disappointment.  It is always better to be fully armed with the truth and it is usually better to put two heads together to address a problem.  Again, you have common ground.  You want your child to be happy.

The gangs all here!

Ian played baseball for a few years and then focused his attention on soccer through the end of middle school.  During that time, Bob and I went to the games and usually sat together.  When he remarried, Brandi went to most games and we’d all sit together.  When I became serious with Brian, he attended the games and we all sat together.  On many occasions, Bob’s mom and step dad, sister and her husband, Ian’s cousins, and Bob’s dad and step-mom attended games.  Each time, without hesitation or trepidation, we sat together and drank in the moments of my son’s childhood together.  Who knew this is what they really meant by “for better or worse”.

I believe this experience served not only our purpose but also provided a great example to others of a choice they too could make.  On several occasions throughout the years, I was told by other parents that they thought it was great how Bob and I got along and sat at the games together and enjoyed each other’s company.  Not only did they appreciate the fact they weren’t dealt an awkward situation, but they weren’t forced to choose between us either.  They could freely communicate with both of us without some weird aura.

Communication – Still required for a happy divorce and happy child

Now we did a really good job but we weren’t perfect.  There was a year – I think it might have been 4th grade spring season when Ian complained incessantly about going to practice.  Every time we’d get ready to head to practice, it was a battle.  “I like playing games.  I don’t like practice,” He would say.  I told him time and again, “This is part of the deal.  You made a commitment and if you want to play the games, you have to go to practice.”  Finally, exasperated after having this fight repeatedly over the course of almost an entire season, I told Ian he wouldn’t be playing the next year if he continued to complain.  He dug in his heels and complained anyway and I announced to him as the season was coming to a close that I had every intention of following through on my threat.  There was no way I was going to sacrifice precious time dragging him unwillingly to practice for a game he enjoyed playing.  So I had made up my mind that I wasn’t going to sign him up next season.  He didn’t complain.  He seemed to accept his plight.

Flash forward a few months until fall sign ups rolled around and Bob informed me that he had signed Ian up for soccer.  I told him that I had not intended to have Ian signed up this season.  He said well it’s already done and paid for now.  I guess I had failed to communicate my plan to Bob. At first I was angry that I wasn’t going to be able to follow through as I am careful to always do so with Ian.  Whether it is what I will reward him for good behavior, penalize him for bad behavior, or just commitments I make to him in general.  I think people accept outcomes and consequences even if they don’t like them if they have been given fair notice in advance.  Too many kids are threatened that they will lose a privilege if they do a particular thing only to have the parent chicken out and give in.  What this teaches the child in my opinion is that they are no consequences for the choices they make.  And this is just not real life.  So they better learn that while they’re young or face a lot of disappointment that they feel was thrust upon them by someone else rather than by their own actions.

I am such a meanie!

In spite of my concerns about not following through with consequences, I decided to make sure Ian understood that he was getting one final reprieve on this but that I would not stand for his continued behavior which led to the earlier decision to not sign him up for the next season. I told him in no uncertain terms, “Your dad signed you up for soccer this season because he was not aware of our deal. So here’s how this is going to work.  Complain one time about going to practice and you will be done with soccer immediately.  I will take you home and neither your father nor I will take you again. You’ll be done with soccer.  So make your choice.  If you want to play, go to the practices and don’t complain about it. It’s that simple.”  Ian never complained about going to soccer practice again and enjoyed another 4 years of playing the sport.   And we enjoyed watching… together… with the whole family.