Hot Topic Tuesday – When did the switch flip?

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This is a tough question for me because it really makes me look back at and analyze my past behavior.  Who likes to do that?  I am not perfect, nor have I ever claimed to be.  My answer to this question may be more honest and forthright than I am comfortable with admitting.

When we got divorced, I had a very hard time separating my feelings from my behavior.  Although I was the one who left, I still had glimmers of hope that he would fight for the kids and me.  I would dream about him showing up at the front door like a character in a Nicholas Sparks novel and “make things right again.”  That never happened.

Obviously, we didn’t get along.  If we HAD been able to get along, then maybe we would have stayed together.  Although we didn’t get along, I think we were always child-centric on certain things.  I believe the small child-centric things we did are just common sense, but it seems that most people who are newly divorced do not do these simple little things..

When we moved into our new house, the first thing my ex did when he brought the kids home was to let them give him a tour of the house.  He spent time looking at their rooms and swinging in the backyard.  So immediately they were comfortable in their new home because Daddy approved.  He may not have supported my new home, but he came and showed his solidarity because it was in the best interest of our kids.

We were also always good about sitting next to each other (or at least very near each other) at events so that the kids would not have to divide their attentions.  It would also prevent the other child from having to choose which parents to sit with which would only cause the kids anxiety.

The kids have pretty much always had one birthday party too.  One of us would have the party and the other parent would come.  Again, common sense.  Kids only have one birthday, so why have more than one party unless the priority is the comfort of the parents and not the child with the birthday.

With that being said, even through all of that I do not believe I was truly child-centric.  We just did what was right in front of the kids, but my heart was ANGRY.  I was mad that my ex called the house multiple times a day to talk to the kids.  I felt like he was imposing on MY custodial time (although they were with me all week, every week).  THAT was me being selfish and wanting to punish him for not coming to bring us home.  I didn’t give him extra time because I was afraid he would someday use it against me like I didn’t want the kids.  I printed out every email for years and argued about everything I could argue with him about – haircuts, money, his girlfriend, etc.

I would still cry every single time I dropped the kids off at his house (our former marital residence).  Even after he remarried, I would cry when I pulled out of the driveway.  It was like my life had moved on without me and I had to see what it looked like.  I would see my kids with my ex and his wife and my dog and I would feel REPLACED.  That was a miserable feeling that I think that most first wives can understand.  And not only would I feel replaced, but it would make me acutely aware of how alone I was.

It was not until my ex and his wife bought their current home that I truly felt like it was no longer about me.  They bought a log home out on a farm in the country and my kids wanted me to come see their new home.  I called my mom en route to the house and told her what I was doing and she said, “WHAT are you thinking??? You know that will only upset you!”  She was right… I knew that it would upset me, but I knew it would upset my kids even more if I did not show interest in their new home.

I drove up the long gravel driveway and let the kids walk me all around the house and the pool and the gardens.  It was absolutely beautiful.  Their rooms were cute and well decorated and even though some of my old furniture was in the home, it didn’t feel at all like it was mine anymore.  I hugged my kids good-bye and I got in my car to drive out the long driveway.

I remember thinking, “Here we go… the tears will come now,” as I pulled away.  Instead, I realized that I had a huge smile on my face.  I was seriously grinning from ear to ear.  It was in that moment that I realized that I could never in my life be happy living out there, no matter how beautiful it all was.  I am a city girl and I would have been miserable for the rest of my life.  At the same time I recognized that my ex finally had everything he had always wanted…

In that moment, the switch flipped.  I knew that he was where he needed to be and I was where I needed to be…

AND I WAS HAPPY FOR HIM.

From that point on, I never thought any more about custodial times and schedules and questioning his intentions.  If I needed a night to myself, I would ask him if the kids could stay.  No trades, no calendar negotiations.  We just did it.  I tried to establish a friendship with my ex’s wife, which has been positive since that time.  We are even friends on Facebook!  I would have never dreamed of that back when I thought he was “out to get me.”  We always try to sit together at games and during football season we would even all go out to eat together after the games.  I would ask the kids if they had talked to their dad and have them call if they had not.

After that point, I think life improved for all of us.  And I know in my heart it is because I stopped thinking about how all of this was affecting me and I stopped protecting what I considered to be MINE.  We started living life as one family all in support of and focused upon those amazing children.

And the kids are better for it too.  There is no playing one parent off the other in our family.  It used to be that the kids would tell me something about what happened at dad’s house and I would automatically believe the kids at their word.  Now I pick up the phone and call their dad, because most of the time they are trying to pull something over on us.

We may not be married, but we have a successful business partnership… and our business is making sure our kids grow up to be happy and healthy.  There can still be stability in a family, even if the family resides in two separate homes.  We are proof of that.

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One of My Biggest Weaknesses May Actually Be One of My Biggest Strengths

I think my biggest weakness is that I require structure and routine.  And when I say “require,” I mean CANNOT survive without it.  Like EVER.

As much as I would like everyone to believe that I am a free-spirit, someone who can hop on a jet on a whim and travel wherever the hot deals will take me, I’m just not.  I thrive on predictability.  I like deadlines and schedules and consistency.  My favorite time of the year?  When the new calendars come out and I can start filling each box in with all of our “stuff.”  My second favorite time of the year? Back to school.

When I was a first year law student at the ripe age of 35, my young classmates looked over my shoulder in awe at my calendar.  One of the 22 year old guys behind me said incredulously, “Is your calendar (cough, cough) COLOR CODED?”

Yes, I am THAT girl.

And now that I have two more kids and a husband to keep track of, my obsessive need for planning and scheduling is in overdrive.  This whole fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants summer may work for some people, but I am craving order and structure.  Chaos makes me want to run and hide.  It’s especially daunting right now since two kids are back in school but the other two are still living the carefree life of summer.

Yeah, I even have a copy of the tide chart when I go to the beach.  Predictability...

Yeah, I even have a copy of the tide chart when I go to the beach. Predictability…

I just want life to get back to normal.  Is that too much to ask???

If you’re an anxious person, then you know what I am talking about.  Predictability and structure and guidelines are what get you through the day.  I have been like this since I was a child.  All of my friends went to Camp Seafarer and loved it, but I went to Camp Thunderbird.  At Thunderbird, you were given a schedule and they would tell you when you were supposed to move to the next activity.  I thrived in that environment!  One summer I decided to try Seafarer since it was closer to home and all of my friends went there.  Seafarer, however, did not have the schedule.  I was let loose and could do whatever activity I enjoyed.  I was a wreck.  I didn’t know where to go and I absolutely floundered.  I couldn’t wait to get back to Camp Thunderbird the following summer.

My first summer at Camp Thunderbird

My first summer at Camp Thunderbird

In high school, my roommate at boarding school can confirm that I was up until the wee hours of the night before a big paper was due, typing in the closet on my word processor.  I would still be working on the paper right up until class time and then I would turn it in and get a good grade.  If I attempted to write the paper well before it was due, then I could not focus.  I needed the impending deadline to make myself get it done.

As an adult, I see this anxiousness come out when I do not have a plan.  My mood is much better when there is a weekly menu and I would never in my life go to the grocery store without a list.  I plan dinner parties or invite people over because that’s the best way to make me clean the house (gotta have that deadline!).  As I have written previously, Joe knows that I need to know what time we are leaving the house, whether it’s for church or dinner or heading out of town on a trip.  If I don’t have a schedule to work with, then I cannot possibly be ready on time.  The absolute worst thing to say to me if you want something done is, “Just get to it when you can…”  Because if I do not have a timeline, then it likely will not get done.

Weekly menu...

Weekly menu…

Over time though, I have learned that this structure I require is not always a bad thing.  Although I often consider it a weakness, structure doesn’t have to be oppressive.  There is a great sense of security that comes from a structured environment.  There is little “unknown,” and it’s the “unknown” that can cause a great deal of anxiety for a person like me.

In January of 2012, I fainted in my driveway.  When I say the word “faint” you may envision me crumbling to the ground, but that would be far from reality.  I fell like a tree and my face was the only thing to break my fall – not my body or my shoulder – MY FACE.  Straight into the pavement.  I looked like someone had dragged me behind a car.  The doctors ran all sorts of tests from MRI’s to CAT Scans to blood tests, but they never definitively could say why I fainted.  As a result, the next few months of my life were truly my rock bottom.  I lived every minute of every day afraid that I may faint again.  Driving on the highway was terrible because I feared I would faint while driving and wreck.  I had terrible anxiety during that time period all due to the “unknown.”

The unknown can be an exceptionally scary thing to face.  For kids, the unknowns associated with the divorce of their parents can send them into a tailspin.  This structure and routine that I have often viewed as my weakness can actually be a strength when viewed as a way to help people through situations where there is an unknown factor.  For example, structure and routine can give children the ability to structure their own lives.  If they know what is going to happen next, then they can take ownership of their schedule.  It can become their own.

Having something that is their own can certainly be a major achievement when the chaos of divorce takes over in a family.  We have found that in our home having regular routines – dinner together at the table, homework, calling their other parent, bedtime – gives the children confidence in what comes next.  It’s like giving a three year old the countdown at the park, “We are leaving in TEN minutes,” “We are leaving in FIVE minutes,” “Wrap it up, we are leaving in one minute.”  It helps to eliminate the stress of the unexpected.  Children from an early age show that they respond better when they understand what is going to happen next.  If you walk up to a three year old and say, “We are leaving the park NOW,” then you will be dragging a kicking and screaming child to the car.

I’m hoping that my need for structure and routine will be a comfort to all four of our kids as we transition into our new normal.  Knowing what to expect and knowing what will happen next gives them less to worry about in an already stressful time.  Our predictability can make them feel loved without fear of any more loss.  We eliminate the unknowns and just focus on our family.

Maybe what I perceive as one of my biggest weaknesses can actually be my biggest strength in parenting our kids.