Archive for October, 2011

I had a conversation with my daughter last night just before bed that gave me the idea for this entry.  The details of the conversation do not matter, but the concept became something fascinating, as I would have never thought it would evolve in that way from where we started.  I love to talk to people, just anyone, about anything, for this very reason.  You never know what will unfold.

The concept I moved into a teachable moment with was:  Are we responsible for another person’s happiness?  My answer to that was an unequivocal “no”. 

From a position as a divorced parent, this can be addressed from many facets.  As we move through the divorce process, is it the responsibility of our friends and family to make us happy?  While we were married, did this concept play any role in what happened?  As we move on with life, regarding our kids how does this affect us?  Can God make us happy?

I really come at this from the perspective of “God helps those who help themselves”.  But as I discussed this with my daughter and found her struggling with the concept I realized that is because it is so intertwined with how we really look at things.  I think being around happy people makes us happy, but that is very different than them accepting responsibility for our or another’s happiness.  So when we are down from all the garbage from our divorce and friends and family are being nice and trying to cheer us up, whose fault is it if it fails?  I think the key to working through this is to understand we always make choices about how we react to another person’s interaction.  When someone cuts us off in traffic, we can curse them out, or we can wish them a better day in wherever they are headed off to in such a reckless fashion.  The power of that choice is entirely in our hands. And therefore the emotional reaction we have to it is all in our control as well. 

Teaching our children this key fact is our responsibility.  To me this process is the core of God helps those. By making positive and proper choices and therefore impacting your emotions in a productive way, you allow God to work on your spirit and provide you with the guidance to find the way forward.  The helping themselves therefore is not this monumental task of figuring out exactly how you are going to pay the bills this month, how to get the kids through college, how to deal with your teen daughter’s pregnancy; it is simply focusing on having a productive reaction to whatever happens.  Then trust God to institute his help as He sees fit.  To me this is a lot less daunting.  You are not reliant on having a superior intellect, wellsprings of finance or powers of clairvoyance.  You bring to the table yourself and your mindset and He does the rest.  And you now can clearly see why you are never responsible for another person’s happiness.  Only they can control that by the choices they make.

At the danger of sounding like Zig Ziglar, Anthony Robbins , Joel Osteen or any of the cheerleaders of success, the key to happiness in anyone is to get rid of stinkin’ thinkin’ (I am not claiming this as an original phrase.   I heard it somewhere).    I believe the responsibility for your happiness is squarely on your shoulders, and most specifically a bit higher up, in your head.  The food pantry gave you a fifty pound bag of onions?  Make French onion soup.  The car broke down on the way to the job interview?  Figure out what is most urgent and do it, but don’t kick and curse and scream and ask “why me?”  I firmly think the act of taking responsibility and DOING something is the best medicine to being happy more often than being sad.  It empowers you to feel that something can be done, rather than wallowing in what happened.  It gives you the confidence that you are doing things rather than the withering feeling that things are being done to you.  All of this is a choice you make thousands of times a day.  Is your meddling ex going to irritate you or just be something you have to choose how to react to?  Does trying to figure out why she does it really get you anywhere other than more miserable?  Then why are you doing it?  Do you really think God is going to strike down your ex, make him move out of state never to be heard from again, or fall into a drunken stupor and get arrested?  Then why do you wish for it?  Does it really help make you happy? 

As hard as it is, I accept responsibility for my life and getting to where I’m at.  I do not look for others to blame as it just leads to feeling powerless and sad.  I take the high road in difficult choices as often as I possibly can, because when I think back on those choices, I’m happy.  When I make a poor low road choice, I reflect on what I can learn to do something better later, and that helps make me happy.  Food will not make me happy.  A pill will not make me happy.  Alcohol or drugs will not make me happy.  Screaming at my ex will not make me happy.  Bad mouthing them to my kids will not make me happy.  Wishing or cheering when they fail or “get what’s due” will not make me happy.  They all are low road choices, feeling good in the moment, but bitter later on.  Most importantly, I realize no one can make me happy.  It is my responsibility to build that feeling between my ears each and every moment (waking or sleeping) of each and every day of my life.  Just realizing I have that control over this makes me happy.  I hope it does the same for you.

What is lost?

Posted: October 26, 2011 in Divorce, Kids, Loss, Parenting, Recovery

I for one always hate the phrase, “You don’t understand how I feel. You’ve never xxxx.” In this particular case the xxxx would be replaced by “been divorced”. In many cases I like to think most of us can understand more than someone gives us credit for. With a divorce however, now that I have been through it, I do feel it is more relevant than for other circumstances like “You’ve never had kids” or something like that.

In this entry I want to focus on a particular issue that from the outside looking in leads to most of the reinforcement we get from out never-divorced friends and family. “You’ll be good in no time.” “Get over it.” “It’s no big deal. People get divorced all the time.” This issue that is not properly understood is loss.

Most people understand the obvious outward things. Through the divorce we lost a spouse. We lost income. We usually lose savings and/or assets. The well wishers looks at these things we lost and think well, you may have wanted to lose the spouse even if you were not the one initiating the divorce. After all, if they do not want to be with you and behave miserably because of it, good riddance, right? The other items are just material things and can be replaced over time. Sure they set you back, but life is hard, so you didn’t expect a smooth ride did you? In many cases those feelings might be very accurate in how we process those things.

For those “never have beens” they look at us and do not understand what is going on. That’s because they think the losses are limited to that short list, and for some divorced parents that may be the limit of it if they are not really involved are short-sighted and narcissistic. For the rest of us there is a litany of things we are processing. If you are new to this process, just thinking about getting divorced, or recently divorced but not knowing what’s going on, I hope this helps but some things in perspective.

A big one is the loss of the dream. Did you sit there on engagement day and think, “One day I’ll be divorced”. If you did and you still went forward, then I just shake my head in sadness. When you had your children, were you thinking about how the visitation scheduled would look when you divorced? We all enter into a marriage with the best intentions and the belief that it will be forever. I’ve yet to hear or see a set of vows that said, “Till boredom do us part”. Even those that might feel that way seem to at least embrace the fantasy I guess. Getting divorced shatters that dream. We have now failed where we made a covenant not just in front of man, but with God. As a Christian I struggled with this and took a long time to understand that I did my part to stay true, but a marriage is not fully in one person’s control.

You lose the future plans. Unless your marriage ended very quickly, you most likely had conversations late at night about how you would grow old together, where you would be, what you kids would be doing and any myriad of other futures. The longer you are together the more serious those discussions become. Early on you talk about the trips you will take. Later on it is about what you will do in your golden years. You probably saved for at least some of these future plans. A divorce shatters all that by dividing the savings, eliminating the person you were going to do those things with, and replacing them with tremendous hurdles that may seem or may actually be insurmountable. Many studies show that a divorce is the single most stressful thing and individual can go through in their life and in this particular case I feel you have a big part of that reason. This loss for many can never be corrected. Especially if you are in a long-term marriage (15+ years) it is virtually guaranteed that your status of retirement will be different than if you had never been divorced. That’s a big issue to deal with and it takes a lot of hard work. I believe the only way you can make it through that is with help from Jesus. If you do not have that grounding you will be pulled back to the worldly as the sole measure of value and you cannot ever replace what the divorce took. No matter how successful you are, you would have been that way if you stayed married and you still are missing everything you lost in the divorce, so the plans are forever altered.

You lose relationships. Like it or not people choose sides. People are uncomfortable. People do not know what to do with you. I have heard some churches requiring that divorced women drop out of groups they have been involved in for decades because it would be inappropriate for a single woman to be involved. I’m not sure if the stories are only about women because men’s groups let them stay, or because men just don’t stay involved that long. I feel it is very wrong for a church body to take this stance as this is the support that is most needed at this time, and pushing them away just makes the loss more profound. Even your own family may choose to support the ex because of past relationships and what happened in your divorce. Friends may pull away. This is one of the losses that I think is hardest for most “never have beens” to understand and see. We all like to think people are more capable of compassion than they turn out to be in many cases. As we experience the loss of relationships we do not share because that just lowers us further, so it’s hidden.

In many cases you lose belief in yourself. This can be the most devastating and the most insidious depending on how you process it. The one person in the world who loved you just tossed you aside. Are you that terrible? Are you that unworthy of love? It can tear you up. It can cause you do doubt everything about yourself. Are you good enough at work, or is that all just a façade too? From a Christian perspective you could not hold a marriage together. That failure can tear at you as you heal.

You lose your children. I challenge any one who says “kids do fine” after divorce to find one valid, tested circumstance where that is the case. Any study I have ever seen shows children are impacted in every single case and are worse off for the divorce. In most cases it is for all the reasons cited above. They suffer the same losses, but they have the added burden of have zero control. They did not choose to get divorced, we did. They did not chose how their lives would change, where they would go to school, how much money they would have to be raised, go to college, we did. It is rare that the family home can be kept for any length of time any longer and so who choose to sever their relationships with friends by changing schools? We did. But the real loss, is except in rare circumstances you share custody in some way. That means you are not with your kids as often as you were before. Events will be missed. I don’t care what happy, misguided divorced parent tells you that having two Christmases is better, nothing shows that to be true. Your children will almost never have the combined guidance from both of you together, at the same time, as they would in a married household. I never understand the parents that walk away and never talk to their kids. They choose to lose their children. But for many divorced parents, they lose them even while trying to keep them. Before I get all kinds of comments that I’m off base here, I do not mean that the kids want nothing to do with you, or that something else horrible happens. I mean that even in the best divorces, the realities of two households create a loss that cannot be avoided. And even if one parent has sole custody the time they can now spend with their children is lessened by picking up the added responsibilities left by the impacts of the divorce and the removal of another adult from the household. Even if they remarry the situation is not fixed, it is just different.

There are other losses as well, but these are the big ones I think that are important to focus on. I hope sharing a bit about these helps those of you on the cusp of why you need a recovery group and a support system in place to get off the fence and not just walk, but run, to find them. I believe having a strong spiritual foundation, or building one if you have not had one, is the best way to move through this process successfully. It is in service to others that humans shine. Asking for support is not weakness but shows strength, especially to your children, who have a model for their lives that you are not required to go it alone as an adult. Knowing when the burden is too much is important.

I think a great explanation of this comes from the book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud. In Galatians 6:2 it says “Carry each other’s burden’s and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” The Greek word for this in the original means “excess burdens” or as Dr. Cloud explains, it boulders; things no one can carry on their own. In verse 5 it goes on to say “each one should carry his own load.” The words in English are different and in Greek they are too. The Greek means “cargo” or “the burden of daily toil”. Think of it as a knapsack, says Dr. Cloud. The losses in divorce are a boulder. Asking for help in that circumstance is not weak, it is intelligent.

For these reasons, I feel very strongly that Scripture, and an understanding of it, helps us push back against the pressures of secular society. Especially in the American culture we are always taught to handle things ourselves. But God himself leaves us rules that say that is not the case. Who are you going to believe? I for one know who’s direction I will follow.

I have had several conversations this week with friends from my divorce support groups and the troubles they are having with communication with their exes. If I had to point to one thing that I have seen as the biggest surprise from the divorce process cited by people I talk with, it is what goes on with regards to communication.

I have no statistics that I can cite from studies I’ve done, so I have no real idea how many divorced people would place themselves in the camp of “I communicate well with my ex” versus “I communicate poorly with my ex”. It does seem from the people I talk to that we tend to lean more heavily to communicating poorly.

If we look back on human evolution we see communication as the great enabler of things to move forward, of progress to be made, or understanding to take place. Based on that it should be pretty obvious when communication does not exist or exists in a non-constructive manner that things can go downhill quickly. When involved in a divorce it seems that we revert back to caveman days, with grunts, gestures and general unintelligible sounds that convey no real meaning whatsoever. The problem is we have children to raise with our ex and the only way to do so effectively is to communicate.

For many who have poor communication or almost none at all, the dynamic they face is truly amazing. For effective communication to exist we sometimes fail to realize there is an underlying assumption or trust, or at a bare minimum the belief that the person we are communicating with bears no ill will to us in particular. Imagine if the Girl Scout knocking on your door to sell cookies, the pastor at your church asking you about your day, or the stranger on the plane next to you were all assumed to have hostile intent. Your conversation style would be very different, wouldn’t it? Passing through a divorce almost always puts that type of assumption with our ex. Even those of us who think we get along well, will guard conversations about certain topics to avoid giving the other side an advantage.

Even that term, “other side”, is confrontational. You are either on my side or the other side. Your friends and family see it. Your kids see it. I think it take a superhuman effort to not show it and most of us walk around telling ourselves our kids don’t know. I think that is naïve. I believe our kids are much more perceptive than we give them credit for. The clipped phrases, the body language, the lack of interest to talk about our exes, all show that something is different. Sure, they may not get “what” is different, but they know something is. For those of you who are convinced this does not apply to you, ask yourself some questions and really be honest with yourself in the answers. Do you talk about your ex with the same sort of excitement and emotion as you do your best friend? Have you set up barriers around your emotions to avoid being hurt by topics that you know strike too close to home when talking about or with your ex? When your kids come back from visitation are you as open and excited to hear what they have to say as you would be if they had just come back from a week visiting your family, summer camp or staying over the weekend with their best friend? If we are honest with ourselves, I would venture that none of us can answer anything other than,”no, yes, no”. If we could we would probably still be married to our exes and not trying to figure out how to communicate with them. They are forever the “other side”.

The paths this can all lead us down are varied indeed. Do some of us stay away from any conversation that might be truly cordial and build rapport for fear that we might get pulled back into what made us fall in love with them in the first place? Do some of us keep the animosity ratcheted to a high level to keep a low ebb of pain there so that every time we communicate with them we feel we made the right decision? Do some of us just handle our communication that way because we know the “other side” better than almost anyone else in the world, having lived 24x7x365 with them for maybe years on end, and we know their true character and have true distaste? I think this last question is the true challenge of the most cordial divorced couples. If things were manageable they’d still be married, but there was something fundamentally wrong that caused them to separate. In any other circumstance the two individuals would have gone their separate ways and never communicated again. You do it with unpleasant co-workers all the time. Anyone with even a medium sized family has relatives they avoid or barely communicate with because they know they are fundamentally different. Friends come and go in our lives as we determine who has the same values and beliefs that we do and who really does not. But in a divorced parent situation we are forced to maintain communication with someone we would otherwise walk away from and this creates that underlying uncomfortable, guarded, maybe at times hostile stance we all take. And it is very, very unpleasant.

I have seen several support pieces talk about treating the communication between your ex as if you are running a business. While that seems absurd given that you used to lie naked next to this person, share your innermost hopes and dreams, and do a whole lot of other things you probably are not doing in the office, it is probably the best analogy we really have. In business you may need to maintain a relationship with someone you really do not like because your company wants to do business with theirs. They may be dishonest, manipulative and do whatever they need to get their way, but you are required to communicate with them and make progress. It can be painful, frustrating and downright maddening at times, but if you want your job you press on. In that way the analogy fits. However, in a business you always maintain the right to change jobs, or perhaps there is a new contact you now have to deal with, or in some way the party you communicate with changes. In parenting that option is not there. You will not suddenly be granted a different ex. You children will not one day wake up and have different parents. This dynamic is forever. And that is what makes the communication so hard, yet so critical.

How we handle this will determine not just our happiness, but also flow down in ways we cannot truly imagine or more importantly, control. In the same way lying has unintended and far reaching consequences, how we handle this communication stream will affect our children’s lives, their children’s lives and perhaps go further than that. There are stories I have read or heard about children choosing not to marry in a ceremony because they did not want to deal with both parents in a public space together. So they got married in a courthouse or eloped and had Elvis marry them in Vegas. What if your poor communication caused a further rift and your child just decided not to get married at all? It could be because of all the bickering they witnessed while you were married and then continued after. What if they did get married but were upset that they had to forgo the ceremony they had dreamed of as a child? What is that resentment fostered pain in their marriage and led to divorce? Can you begin to see how what we say and do today has ramifications far down the road?

I for one do not ever expect to have a fully open communication style with my ex. I know things about her, no one else does, and possibly no one else ever will. These keep me guarded in some situations and I do not see how the defensiveness ever goes away. It may cause more heated arguments than with anyone else I deal with just because I am reacting to past emotions. Every day I do my best to try to move further forward and handle the situation in a way I can be most proud of. And at the end of the day I’m not sure we can hope for anything more than that.

I have been thinking a lot about this lately and felt I should summarize my thoughts in my blog at this time. It’s a topic I will come back to often I’m sure in various forms. The reason for this is I do think it is one of the biggest, if not THE biggest issue that comes up for divorced parents. For divorced men, I think it is even more of an issue because there is more pressure to “get back on the horse” applied from friends and family. Women are vulnerable, more publicly accepted to show hurt, pain, loneliness and all the other feelings that strong men are not so open to showing. As such, men tend to shut down, avoid or ignore those feelings and jump back in the saddle way too early.

So my spin on this topic today is to focus on what I see as a topic of many, many posts on divorce forums and blogs no matter what I look at and of course offer my own version.

My view on this is highly colored by my Christian worldview. I believe we are made to crave relationship, and I do not use that term lightly. It is not a tugging at the back of our mind, it is not a still small voice that we hear once in a while. It is a deep seated desire to see and be seen, to know and be known, to love and be loved. I firmly believe God created us to be single but not alone. But my version on single is not the traditional one, it is one based on the teachings of Dr. Myles Munroe. To be single in this regard is to be unique, complete and fulfilled in oneself. This does not mean you cannot be married, but it does bring you to marriage in a different package than the typical Jerry McGuire tainted worldview many have of “You complete me!” If you plug into this view and say, “Yeah, that’s what I need!” then I humbly beseech you to stay as far away from the lure of dating as is humanly possible. The sharks are there and they will eat you alive in the dating pool if you wade in with this outlook.

The question asked countless times on forums around the internet frequented by divorced people is some variation of “When am I ready to date/for love/for marriage?” To me the answer is simple: When you are fully embraced of your singleness (as defined above) and your desire for romantic relationship can be met in a healthy and uplifting way.

The first step that many neglect on this road is to really heal from your past marriage. I have been involved, both as a participant and now a leader, in the DivorceCare program. I cannot recommend enough for anyone in a divorce to go through this program as many times as you need to fully go through the process in yourself. I have attended with people who are on their third visit from the same divorce, and I have attended with some who are on their third go round from three divorces. In the latter case, one can ask, “How can you say it works then?” My personal experience is when I met those types of individuals they were the first to admit that they went to the program but did not work the program in their own lives. Just as with anything like counseling, advice from friends, inspiration from God; if we only pay lip service to the message but do not work to make it a part of our character, the value is only skin deep.

As you heal I think it is important for you to understand yourself. Do you really want a marriage in the future, or has the process helped you find that you want to stay unmarried and just minister to others and help them? How does your soul find fulfillment and allow you to live out God’s purpose in your life? For some having a like-thinking partner in the form of a marriage is that tool, but for others it is having relationships to enrich others lives but not pursuing anything romantically with another person. Neither answer is better than another. Listen to God’s guidance and He will point you in the way you need to go.

Moving back to the single discussion, if you are needing a romantic relationship to provide you with happiness, stability, direction, or any other supporting benefit, I will argue you need to wait. Dating someone when you have a need becomes a search, a hunt, a quest for who can meet my need. Dating someone when adding someone to your already complete life would be a welcome addition or a glorious blessing is a completely different experience. It is freeing and wonderful and truly removes a lot of the drama associated with relationships pushed on us by society today.

A big part of this equation of entering into the dating world is setting boundaries on your sexuality. This is a very, very uncomfortable topic for many people because the pressures are immense in the American mindset. Media bombards us with the “need”, the expectation even, that sex is just part of the equation in dating today. Going through a solid program like DivorceCare can give you tools to think differently and understand some of the inner emotions that can send you false signals if you get involved sexually at the wrong time. Many of us in a divorce can look back and see that we were deceived by the feelings we felt and looked past problem areas with our significant others in the past that may have led to long and ultimately painful relationships because of the connection that was so much more difficult to sever. Dating is hard enough with all the other things going on. Don’t make it even harder on yourself by not establishing a sexual code you will follow in your new relationships. I know this can be challenging or even seem foolish and old-school to many, but I firmly believe it is a key to finding success in dating and remarriage.

When you are truly prepared and ready, dating again can be a wonderful, exciting experience. It is no longer fraught with all the superficial trappings of our teenage years when we truly did lack the maturity to understand the depths of human love. I urge you to not turn your back on a tougher recovery to do it right and not use dating as a part of your recovery. Dating should only be embarked on AFTER you are recovered, not during. You will find you need to back away from many people who you can tell are not ready. This is to avoid getting hurt and to avoid ultimately hurting them. This is hard. But it is easier than going through another messy break-up of a marriage or a long-term relationship because you entered in without a healed heart, spirit and mind. Then you start the process all over again, and it gets harder the more times you do it.

So promise yourself that you will do what is right for you and your children. It will be so much more fulfilling.

One of the biggest impacts you face as a single parent that hits you square in the nose very quickly if you have school age children or any children that are mildly involved in anything is how scheduling figures into your life.

Sure, when you were married, the kids had the same issues.  The difference is that it is amazing how much having two adults to work around the logistics really makes things easier.  This seems to me, at least, to be one of those exponential situations.  Removing an adult and becoming the sole person tall enough to reach the pedals in the car and actually be able to use the steering wheel somewhere else other than playing in the driveway, does not make scheduling twice as hard, it is at least four times as hard.

Things that were not a big thing, the drop-ins, suddenly become live grenades thrown into the middle of your family life.  One of the kids missed the bus?  You used to be able to talk to another adult and divide and conquer.  Now if you already had your schedule planned out, this drop-in can kill you.  For many years you knew you could not be in two or more places at once, but this new reality suddenly captures that fact in magnificent glory, frozen in the klieg lights outside the camp known as “your life”.  No longer is it something known but not really manifest in your life.  It surfaces like an alligator in the quagmire of your daily schedule.  You know it’s there under the surface, but when it pops out everyone scatters in a panic.

The nuances of this new reality are many.  Most of us never really understood that there tends to be a balance in a marriage of two people who may work, but one of them has a lighter schedule, or in some ways is more flexible.  Susie wants to join the art club and get picked up at five?  One of you was able to do that.  Two of your kids have two events on the same night about a half hour apart?  You could split them up.  Now you may find that you can’t get to the school at five, so they cannot participate.  Studies have shown that children of single parents are significantly less involved in activities due to the conflicts of scheduling.  The two events may now not be within sufficient driving distance for you to be able to make the trek without a transporter beam, so one of the kids must drop out.

Another change to the logistics with the schedule is that you may now need to bring all the kids with to activities that before they did not come to.  Joey had martial arts and then Susie had music lessons, but there is not enough time to get home, or enough money to pay for that extra gas, or any other myriad number of issues.  Now Susie sits through Joey’s class and Joey had to doodle while Susie toots away.  This introduces added stress into your life since invariably at least once in a while Susie just really does not want to go early, or Joey’s tired and just want to go home but has to sit for an hour.

So what can you do?  Here are some strategies that work for me.

“Open” nights — I look ahead for the week and determine which nights are “open” and make sure I have them in the back of my mind as magic buckets I can fill with the beans of reality that fall out of God’s basket of disruptions to keep us humble.  You think you have this week all laid out?  Well, ha!  Here’s an extra shopping trip you need to make because they need an outfit for the band concert this weekend.  Knowing you have Thursday open helps make those things a minor annoyance rather than a full-fledged fire drill.  If you look at this strategy as something impossible because you have no open nights, then you need to really focus on the next one and free your family up.

Enforce limits — The kids may not like it in this go-go world society has created, but as a single parent you may need to tell them they cannot participate in every activity on the school and social calendar of a tween.  I promise, there is enough research out there now, to show us this hyper parenting does nothing to help our kids be more successful adults.  If anything, I think it hinders their ability to be creative.  With no free time, kids have no idea what to do when they just have two hours to themselves.  They whine and moan they’re bored.  Have each child pick one activity a semester or year, or whatever time section makes sense for you, and then that’s all they do as a formal, structured weekly or every other week activity.  It’s tough in the beginning especially if you were an active household, but the inner peace simplifying brings to your family’s life is a Godsend.

Get kids to step up —  If your kids are still under five, this may not be an option, but for anyone else, it should be a goal to have your kids share some of the burden of their schedule demands.  If you only have time to get from work to have them pile into the car to head to practice, then it is perfectly reasonable on that weeknight that they need to eat dinner on their own before you get home.  Too difficult?  Then it’s too difficult for me to get you to your activity and you will need to not continue.  You’ll quickly start to see which activities really matter to your kids and which ones were just wasting everyone’s time.  It also teaches responsibility to your kids, and that there are consequences to our choices in life.  One of our jobs is to raise children who become functional adults, and most of us do not have a personal valet following us around and doing all the mundane tasks for us so we can just have fun at the party.  Learning this early prepares them for life in the real world.

So I hope this helped you see that your situation is shared by almost every other single parent out there.  We have to make tough choices every day with what we do with our time.  Being a single parent just amplifies that need.

Last Thursday was a great example of that situation we all face as divorced parents.   Even though you are divorced and each have your own lives, we are still connected to our exes till the end of our days through our children.

I was at work and got pulled out of a meeting because I had an emergency phone call.  It was my ex letting me know that since the school could not get me, they had contacted her and our oldest daughter was in an ambulance on the way to the hospital because she had been knocked unconscious.  No more details were known, but the normal parental panic set in.  Was it a fight, an accident?  How serious was it?  When you hear your child in unconscious as a parent, you start to fear the worst.  I had to calm myself down and just get myself back to that place of “Let’s just deal with facts and go from there.”  From my daughter’s health standpoint, it turned out to be not too bad a few days later as I write this.  This incident will probably take a few weeks to work through all the other threads that have spun off from it, but the most important thing; that my daughter is OK and I thank God for that.

In my circumstance the interactions during this process were amicable.  My ex and I were able to meet in the hospital room and not scream, yell or claw at each other.  We have been able to have conversations about the follow up issues in a manner that is peaceful from the perspective of the feelings from the divorce.  What I mean by that is the conversations may not be peaceful, but that is because the topics we are talking about are serious and weigh on us and bring out some emotions.  For many divorced adults I know the situation is much more hostile.  They cannot even talk to each other or exchange written communication without launching into a firestorm, let alone be present the same vicinity physically.  This is a situation that causes countless amounts of stress for themselves, and those around them.

For the children in a relationship this can be extremely difficult.  In my situation, I work hard to take the high road in disagreements and avoid bad mouthing my ex even when the conversation I am being forced by my child to have at the time is being shown to be a complete fabrication of the truth.  I’m not saying my way it right and the only way, just that at this time it seems to me that it is one that works the best in the situation I find myself in.  Each of us needs to find our own toolkit to work these situations through.

I have heard stories of grown children who have chosen not to have weddings, or other public events which would obligate both their parents to appear in a public setting together for fear of the embarrassment, global chaos and outright warfare that might surface from these two combatants appearing in the same zip code together.  You have grown adults avoiding doing what they want to do with significant events in their lives, and in some cases lying, hiding or acting in ways they prefer not to, because it is the easiest path they can think of.  I cannot even begin to imagine the resentfulness, hurt and pain that these decisions can cause later in life when a woman looks back on her wedding day and says it took place in a judge’s office because she felt her divorced parents would yell at each other in a church so they skipped the traditional ceremony she had dreamed about as a girl.  I never want my children to feel that way so I make conscious choices every day to take the high road when the opportunity presents itself even at the expense of emotional and mental pain on my part.

Our children make us think in these directions.  I feel that as a good parent, it is part of my duty to rise above my selfish nature and continue to sacrifice my feelings for the greater good of theirs.  I’m not saying I am letting them run my life, or dictate my decisions, but in the case of how I interact with my ex, or IF I interact with my ex, I have made the choice to make those decisions in a way that I, and hopefully they, can look back on the in future and be proud of.  That while I was unable to keep my marriage together, at least I did not use that event to mark the beginning of when I drove countless unnecessary wedges into my family.  I am saddened every time I hear that others have chosen the path of bitterness, revenge, one-upmanship, and other low road behaviors.

This moment in my life was an unexpected and certainly unwanted one.  I have work to do to get myself and my daughter through it.  I firmly believe that had I not made the decision earlier, in a calmer time, to approach interactions with my ex a certain way, that it would have been easy to succumb to the temptations of the dark side and take this moment to point out certain shortcomings in my ex just to make things feel good for a short time.  I challenge all of you working through similar experiences in your life to sit down today, or whenever the stresses and pressure of life are at a low point for you, and make a conscious plan on how you will act.  How will your kids look back on how you treated your ex?  How will they look back and think of memories that your behavior impacted?  How will you look back and explain to new friends and maybe new family your actions at certain milestone moments in your life as a divorced parent?

I fully expect my children to outlive me and my ex.  I think most parents believe and hope that in their deepest hearts.  This is what places these choices in their proper light of being one of the most important you will need to make for the rest of your life.  The kids bind my ex and I together, even on the days that I may wish I never needed to talk to her again.  Right now they are underage and reliant on both of us to guide them into the world the best way I can find.  Decades from now they will still be asking my opinion on things and wanting to proceed with their lives with the two people they love most in the world there for them.  It helps no one for me not to handle my ex with basic human decency.  Even if I felt otherwise on a given day, the victory of doing otherwise would be short lived and I would feel terrible for letting myself stoop so low.  Divorce makes life complicated and this is just one area where we all need to look in the mirror each day and say, “Am I proud of what I just did today?”

This is my life

Posted: October 5, 2011 in Christian, Dating, Divorce

So starting out, the big choices loom….  Do I begin with the “start” of this episode in my life, when my marriage started breaking down and leading me to the path I am walking now?  Could I truly even determine when that start was?  Was it when things began to get to the point that it was obvious my spouse and I were not on the same page on so many things in our lives and that it was not fixable and therefore the marriage was on life support?  Was it when we first met and as a young man I just did not have the tools to assess what I needed in a relationship?  Was it the day she first talked about getting divorced?  Was it the day she first threatened divorce?  Was it the day we actually divorced?  Or do I begin with where I stand today, right now, at this keyboard preparing to begin to share my experiences in the hopes that doing so will help others who come after me? 

Given the confusing landscape of determining where the stake goes in the ground for “start”, I decided I would avoid that and just start my story right now.  I can bring in the relevant back story as needed.

So right now I’m dating a wonderful woman with three children just like me.  The ages of the kids are very similar as are other things.  She and I have worked very hard to establish what we think is a solid relationship based on Christian values and avoiding as much as possible the superficial crap that pulled us in to our marriages.  We know and admit the mistakes we made in our previous marriages, have talked extensively on the healing we have each done since our subsequent divorces and are in a terrific place.  At this point in our relationship we have arrived at the decision that we both know we want to get married and have been working on the logistics of what society today calls the “blended family”; hence the name of this blog.

Now to set the proper tone for you, it is important to understand, I have not proposed yet.  We both know that’s coming.  I know when, she does not, but we’ve talked about and agreed on a timeframe for when the wedding would take place, so that necessarily places some basic boundaries around when the proposal will need to be unless I want to show her I’m not the wonderful guy she says I am.  Finances and other desires dictate that the wedding wll be a simple, small affair with just close family and friends and nothing lavish, after all we’ve both been married before though her experience was far less traditional than mine.  Regardless, she’s looking for something simple and inexpensive (read easy to plan), so the dictates on the proposal are not that of a celebrity wedding on the surface of the moon with lots of guests rocketed in from Earth.  In other words, we could pull it off pretty quickly.  Still, I am not looking to add stress to our already hectic lives by giving us just enough time to pull it off, so my timeframe allows for plenty of breathing room.

The kids have met and they are aware that marriage of their respective parents is in the cards and they are all coming to terms with it.  We’ve got ages from early teens to grade school in the brood, so they are all old enough to understand what is going on and all the expectant drama, and some unexpected drama as well, is a standard part of the mix.  I guarantee you’ll hear more about that in the future.  The kids have talked about how the living arrangements would work for them amongst themselves.  We’ve talked about it between the two of us.  We’ve talked about it as a group of eight, and in every other permutation imaginable.  In short, the cat’s out of the bag, and he’s running around because we felt that was the best for all of us.

The key word above is ALL of us.  I think that we are making decisions as much as possible with everyone in mind.  That does not mean we are letting the kids run our lives and decide what happens, but it also means we are not being two selfish divorced parents putting our personal needs front and center with total disregard for everyone else.  We’ve got exes that do that, so we figured we could do something different.  🙂  But seriously folks, the decision me and my girlfriend have made very early on is to do this in a way we would be proud to tell anyone about, therefore you’ll probably hear a lot from me about what decisions we made and why.  Again, my hope is that in some small way I can help other men, and perhaps women, or women helping their men, since most of us won’t stop and ask for directions, to navigate this same landscape. 

I am not saying that what we decided is the right way, the best way, the only way.  I am not that arrogant.  You’ll find I’m pretty humble and willing to look in the mirror and say when I’ve made a mistake.  I’m also a divorced guy and if that’s not indicative of a few huge mistakes, I’m not sure what is.  But I believe I’ve learned a lot from them, and I have three kids to share my life with me from the choices I’ve made and I don’t complain.  I made my bed and laid in it, and in some cases got kicked out of it and had to sleep on the floor.  Our goal at this point is to make choices and live our lives in ways that we can happily talk about in pubic.  In other words I’m not going to have a career in politics. 

In this process of healing and coming out on the other side, I have felt God calling me to give back and help others find the way out of the darkness of the divorce process.  I help lead divorce support groups and love the interactions and the growth I see over time as I do this work. 

I hope you tag along on this journey and learn from some of my mistakes.  I am who I am today, and am with the wonderful woman I am and know what a gem she is in large part because of them, so I’m not going to say I wish I hadn’t.  I am sure you’ll find you made some of the same mistakes.  I find that in the divorce groups I attend and help counsel that we all seem to have the same story.  I’ve actually heard people say “Are you sure you’re not talking about my marriage/divorce?”  It is because of this that I feel if you are open to it and in the divorce situation in any way, that learning what others did can truly help.  Our experiences are more similar than we might readily think.  I know I was surprised.

So I’m in a great place in my life right now.  I know I have God on my side and if I have nothing else that’s all I need.  I have been led by Him to a wonderful new relationship that I am confident will carry me through the remainder of my life.  I am also aware enough to know that that is what we all think whenever we are at this point in life, so I trust in Him to guide me on a path that makes this occur.  I also know I have learned a lot through the people that have crossed my path in life on what I need to change, how I need to move on, and many other things in life.  This blog will share a lot of that understanding and belief.  I hope to hear from many readers about what they think about my choices.  This is how we all learn.  I’m not perfect, nor will I ever be.  I strive to gain wisdom every moment I’m alive.  I believe God wants us to share that wisdom as much as we can, and so that’s why I am beginning this blog.

Thanks for reading, and see you next time!