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!

Teresa

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.

Step Parenting

Of course we’re all evil!

The story of Cinderella pretty much sealed the fate on this one.  There shall be no admiration for any step parent anywhere so help us God.  They are all evil I tell you.  Mean to the core.  They hate their step children and want only the worst outcomes for them.  Ok, I’m calling bullshit before this gets completely out of hand!

Most, not all, stepparents feel many of the same emotions with regard to their step-kids as blood parents do.  They feel their pain and their joy.  They take pride in their accomplishments and worry about their futures.  They want the best things in life for them.  They just don’t have a lot of say in the matter.

Having been a parent for 23 years and (unofficial) step parent for almost ten, I can say unequivocally that step parenting is much harder and far more frustrating.  You still feel all the burdens of parenting but wield next to no influence over the situation.  Now I’m sure the nature of this experience depends greatly on the other parents involved.  But certainly attempting to blend parenting styles that may have already fully developed into their own beasts is difficult to say the least.

Parenting Styles

I like to think my parenting style is well balanced.  I nurture but I don’t coddle.  I make sacrifices for my kids but I refuse to be a martyr. I support and advise but I don’t impose my freewill on them.  Then there are the other kinds of parents.  You might have heard some referred to as helicopter parents or maybe tiger moms.  But I would venture to say that there is a breed even more imposing than these. It’s the mothers who orchestrate their children’s popularity in school by buying them ridiculously lavish clothes, cars, and stupid shit that only people from a first world country would even value.  It’s the fathers who, so afraid of alienating their children during precious visitation hours, allow the kids to dictate food choices, select every TV show, and never never never ask them to do anything uncomfortable such as picking up a dish while at their house.  I know many well-intended parents that do way too much for their kids only to wonder why they are so self-absorbed and incapable of adjusting to life beyond the home when they head off to college.  If only they realized that their children’s love really is unconditional.  They are going to love you even if you are not perfect.  To be fair, this seems to be happening not just with families of divorce, but across all types of families these days.

I’ve pondered the reasons behind all of this crazed coddling for some time now.  And now we’re starting to see these kids enter the work force and sit in a cube right next to us.  You’ve probably encountered the millennial.  I’ll tell you that my son hates that label.  Of course he hates all labels and I would tend to side with him on the whole judgement-based identity-labeling pandemic that has taken over our culture.  If you ask me, people are way too focused on splicing who they are up into these little identity cultures causing them to lose sight of the fact that they are part of the human race.  One must identify their race, heritage, religion, gender, sexual preferences, and diet choices to define themselves.  Then they complain when anyone describes them using these very same adjectives.  Listen up.  We’re all in this together.

Anyway, with regard to parenting styles, I believe there are many things provoking this incessant need to ensure our children never have a bad day.  For one, maybe we remember having bad days and our parents just telling us tough shit.  Life isn’t fair so suck it up. As it turns out, that wasn’t such bad advice after all.  But at the time, it left us feeling disconnected from them.  We thought they didn’t understand what we were going through.  Or we thought they didn’t care.  But they did and by telling us to suck it up, they were arming us with the tools of adaptation that would benefit us as we traveled through this thing called life.  So with good intentions at the heart of it, we as parents try doing things differently so that our children might feel more loved along the way.

Of course, there are the homes where both parents work and they of course feel guilty about the slivers of time and energy they have left to do family stuff.  There are the over-scheduled homes which seek to expose their children to every sport, art, and childhood activity imaginable so that their kids don’t someday blame them for their lack of agility, talent, or popularity among their peers.  Of course, what they will end up blaming them for are poor eating habits and a lack of cooking skills since these same kids are too busy to ever sit down for a home cooked family meal, much less help prepare it.  And clean up after it?  Forget it.  How do you load a dishwasher anyway?

Blending Parenting Styles

Okay, so I’ve gotten a little off-track.  What I’m trying to say is that there are lots of parenting styles which are molded in us by our own parents and for better or for worse, by the parenting styles of our ex-spouses.  By the time many of us end up in blended family scenarios, we’re pretty set in our ways.  And the last thing we want is someone who hasn’t known our child his or her whole life telling us how we should or shouldn’t raise them.  So back off step parent, future step parent, or potential step parent.  Your services are not welcome here.

When you put two parents together who developed their parenting styles along independent tracts, there are bound to be conflicts.  It’s just different than when you become parents for the first time and learn how to be parents together.  I think in those first terrifying days when it occurs to you that you are responsible for another human life, you become supremely aware of how woefully unprepared you are for the job.  But at least in my case, those were the happier days of our marriage and Bob and I got through that stuff together acknowledging our inexperience and helping each other out rather than judging each other’s parental missteps.

As young parents, in some cases you developed bad habits which you will inevitably carry forward beyond your divorce as you become an independent parent.  Then suddenly when you join up with another partner to create that perfect blended Brady Bunch family, stark differences in style begin to emerge.  These differences may be so vast between you and a new mate that you wonder if you can even stay with the other person (or if they will stay with you).  No one can answer that but you.  However, attempting it might give you the opportunity to grow as a parent and improve on your own parenting style.

Now some may get lucky and have very mature new partners who recognize your superior parental guidance and gladly accept it.  But more likely, the first time you tell your significant other’s child to pick something up off the floor, you’re going to get the stink-eye.

Some of the preceding situations may or may not describe my own personal experience.  To protect the innocent, I’ll leave it at that. But enough about me.  Let me tell you about Ian’s step mom, Brandi.

Brandi

In November, 2002, Ian met Brandi, his then-future stepmom.  I also met her in relatively the same time period.  She seemed nice and normal, thank goodness!  It was also obvious she liked Bob a lot, which I was happy to see since after all, I still considered him my friend and wanted him to find someone that could give him the love I felt I could not.

As I got to know Brandi a little better I often thought that she was the kind of female that had I met her out by herself, I’d want to be friends with.  We have a lot in common besides our red hair too.  She is in a very similar line of work as me.  She was previously married.  She is very rational and strong.  Even her relationship with her mother shares some similarities to my relationship with my mom.  Of course, there are many differences too.  Brandi is crafty, has what seems to be a more nurturing personality than me, and unlike me, does not belong to the IBTC.  I used to joke with Bob congratulating him on that last point.  For those of you who don’t know what the IBTC is, you must not be a member.  Ha!  Finally, as they are still together after 10 years, I can only assume that Brandi has far more patience than I in dealing with Bob’s sarcastic approach to conversation.

As Bob and Brandi’s relationship blossomed, I never once felt like she was working against me or trying to take my place as mother to Ian.  This is really important because it’s very difficult to not feel threatened by the new woman in your young son’s life.  What if he ends up liking her more than me?  What if he chooses her over me?  What if I lose his heart to her?  This is what I believe is at the root of so many divorce conflicts.  Mom (or Dad) is threatened by the new mate and what that person’s role is in their child’s life.  A self-defense mechanism kicks in.  You want to crush your competition and win.  Of course, the fact is nobody wins in that type of competition but there will definitely be losers. And it is usually the child.

Fortunately for me, I was able to discern this rationale very quickly and refused to let my competitive nature rear its ugly head.  I instead chose to be happy that Bob had picked someone to share in my son’s life that is a good person with a caring heart and mothering qualities that I admire.

Through the years, Brandi has been there to support Ian in so many ways.  In addition to going to soccer games and band performances, she’s helped plan and host many birthday parties, graduation parties, and other celebrations for Ian.  She’s hand-sewn Halloween costumes, something I never bothered to learn from my amazingly talented seamstress mother.  She’s given him many other experiences to add to his album of childhood memories.

When I fell on difficult financial times, Brandi was there to support me by ensuring Ian always had medical insurance and contributing financially to other things he needed that came up during those rough times.

I will always be grateful to Brandi for being there for my son and for me.  We are both very fortunate that she came into all of our lives.  So Brandi, if I am your “favorite ex-wife”, I guess that makes you my favorite wife.  All the best my friend!

Have I left anything out?

Absolutely!  I have witnessed some really atrocious parenting and step-parenting behaviors.  To be honest, I think I could dedicate an entire book to this topic alone.  Everything from the unintended slights to the completely calculated lengths some parents go to in order to prevent the step parent and step child from developing productive and loving relationships.  And of course, there are tragic stories of the step-father or step-mother who treats the step-child horribly either emotionally, physically or both.  But I really believe these are the outliers rather than the norm and that most step-parents really just want to have a happy family and to be loved.