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As a survivor of divorce, I often feel like there are two parts of me that make up the whole me. One part was developed during my childhood and first marriage–40 years made me who I was. The second part of me is the part of me that has evolved post-divorce. The stronger,more confident, survivor that I am.

Sure, I suppose that some of the qualities I’ve developed along the way could have taken shape during the first 40 years of my life–the confidence ebbing and flowing and retracting throughout my life is something I’ve seen come and go. But for the most part, the second part is the real me. It’s the me I fought hard to become. It’s the me I gave myself permission to believe in.

For those of you that are going through divorce, or are fresh out of the war of court hearings, I urge you to take a moment and look at yourself. ONLY yourself for a moment (not the kids, not the family as a whole…you).

Ask yourself this question:

Was I really happy in that marriage? Or was I just comfortable?

There is a huge difference between the two.

While you’re in the trenches, duking it out with your soon-to-be ex, you’re either in survival mode, kill mode, or eff him/her mode. Whichever mask you’re wearing to hide the pain, don’t fool yourself into thinking your “happy marriage” is coming to an end. If your marriage was a good one, it wouldn’t be ending, really, would it.

I used to think me and my ex were happy. I used to think we could have made it work. Even as recently as last week, when Brandon and I were having a particularly rough day, I wondered if my life would have been easier if I just would have never gotten divorced. Short answer to that question: um, hell no.

Choosing to be with someone and be in a relationship takes work. Getting married takes work. Getting married for a second time takes more work!

After a divorce, it’s easy to go into shell-shock mode and lose yourself. Don’t do it. The main reason you’re probably getting divorced in the first place is because part of you is probably already lost…at least to some degree.

Each day after divorce is a day to discover who you really are. My divorce has not been a smooth one. I still deal with abusive power struggles and I get bumped around a bit. I did not see this side of my ex until I blew the whistle on his misbehavior and ended our marriage. But rather than letting it make me who I am, I remember why I’m on this journey. To find the real me. Not the husband-pleasing me. Not the take care of everyone and forget about myself me. But the real me.

At times, that may feel like I’m selfish. That may make me sound like I don’t care about anyone. But really, what life is about is growing and loving people and growing into the you you are meant to be.

Divorce can be a blessing. Divorce can be hard as hell. Divorce can be both things all at once. But if you peel away all the masks you’ve worn along your path to divorce, and you take on each day as a new day to have a good day, you’re bound to go to bed each night and be thankful for the opportunity to live your life. And guess what? You may live that life on your own… Or maybe, you’ll find a “happy marriage” along the way.

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I was thinking about my first marriage the other day. I remembered at one time telling my then-husband, “I could never marry someone who was divorced. Especially with kids.” I was young at the time, twenty-three, and it was hard to wrap my head around the idea of caring for someone else’s kids when I didn’t have any of my own.

My judgement came from watching my older brother leave for weeks at a time during the summer to go spend time with his father in Las Vegas. To me, my brother was part of MY family. My family only. He called my dad “dad” and he was my brother–not “half-brother,” brother! I wasn’t born when his father was married to my mother, and his dad never came to visit him (I don’t remember one visit). So to be told that he was going to see his dad for a few weeks was a strange thing for me and hard to watch.

Fast forward 20 years and here I am, married to a man who’s been divorced. And he has 4 kids…3 by one ex and 1 by another. The math and the logistical issues can sometimes be hard to swallow for some people. But we make it work. It takes some creative scheduling, but we do it.

When Brandon and I were first dating, my heart ached for Brandon’s youngest son. He was only a year old, and drop offs and pick ups broke my heart. You could tell he was so confused and saddened to leave his mom when we picked him up, then sad to leave his dad when we dropped him off. It wasn’t easy. I just wanted to fix things for him so he wouldn’t have to be so confused.

I remember on a few occasions I told Brandon he should try to work it out with his ex–for the baby’s sake. He needed both parents, and in a strange way I felt like I was in the way (even though they had broken up months before we got together). Brandon would grab my hand and remind me that the water under that bridge was too deep and there would be no chance of reconciling.

As a step-mom, seeing those tears has been one of the most difficult things for me.

I have loved Brandon’s kids as my own for quite awhile now. I respect their mothers and the relationships they had with Brandon, and I hope they know I care for the kids. I’m right there in the trenches through broken teenaged hearts, potty training and other issues that the kids face. I may not know what it’s like to have my parents broken up, but I do know the hurt that kids go through during the back and forth.

The shuffling from one house to the other is something they’ve known since they were all small. Unlike my kids who ranged from 12 to 6 when I was divorced, they’re quite used to this arrangement. That doesn’t mean one way is better/easier than another. It’s all hard. And it’s hard as a parent to watch. I’ve learned to empathize with the kids, and let them know that I know it’s hard. And I’ve also reminded them that even though we don’t see them all that much, we still love them and are their parents who are here for them just like the parents they live with.

Being a step-parent has brought me blessings I cherish and I’m happy I can play a part in Brandon’s kid’s lives. It’s taken some time for me to understand my role, but I’m feeling like I’m settling in.

Today, Brandon’s youngest (who just turned 3) heard me telling my daughter that Brandon and I may go out tomorrow for our anniversary and said, “And me too!”

I laughed and asked, “You want to come too? How come?”

He looked up and said, “Cause I love ya…I love you, and my mama, too.”

“I love you too, buddy,” I told him.

The back and forth may be hard, and it may be hard for me to watch, but he knows I love him and I know he loves me. I’m a pretty lucky girl.

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Z-at bat

The last few weeks have brought so much reward to me and hopefully to my kids as well. Now that I’m working from home, we’ve spent time together. We’ve talked. We’ve been busy with sports and other things, but we’ve also had some downtime, which has been great for all of us. Last night, my oldest son had a softball game and he asked me if I would go watch him. Last year, he played on a team with Brandon and I and we all had a great time. Brandon and I are much too busy this year to play, but his dad asked him to play on a team he’s played on for a couple years and my son wanted our whole family to go and watch.

“Sure,” I told him. There was only a small part of me that didn’t want to go, and that’s because my ex has been pretty difficult with me (again) lately. But I’m not one to let my ex separate me from what my kids want, so of course we went. Our family sat out on the grass, and I was respectful to give my ex and his wife their space. My son wanted us to sit closer, but I was fine out on the grass having a picnic with Brandon and the kids.

My son had a great game, and it was so great to see him out playing ball again. And ya know, I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all watching my ex husband play in the same game my son was playing in. Some people would think I’m crazy to go and sit there watching my ex play–with all of the drama that man has brought to my life–but I was really there only to support my son, so it wasn’t strange at all. If anything, I watched with an appreciation that he and my son could play ball together. Now, I’m sure it could have been strange for my ex and his wife to have me on “their turf” but again, I wasn’t there for them.

The sun was setting just as the game was ending, and Brandon and I piled all the kids into the car to drive home. We all sang Flo Rida songs at the top of our lungs while we were all squished into the car, and it really was a memorable night.

The emotions started rolling in for me once we got home–after I replayed the evening in my mind. My heart began to break as I thought about how my son has to live his life with a gap as wide as the Grand Canyon right down the middle. Dad on one side. Mom on the other. Why does it have to be like that? I really don’t understand why it needs to be that way. Brandon and his ex’s are friendly with each other when they’re at the kids things. Why can’t my kids have the same?

I have longed for a “normal” co-parenting situation for so long. One where my son’s family goes to his games and support him and parents can be friendly and the animosity is void. But I know that will never happen for my kids. I’ve tried to be friendly with my ex. I’ve tried to speak to him as a respectful adult. He insists on acting childish and still won’t make eye contact–4 years later he still refuses to make eye contact with me. It’s almost as if he’s on a pedastal and he can’t bring himself to “stoop so low” to even look at me, the mother of his 4 children.

A few weeks ago, my daughter played ball on a Friday night during our “drop off time.” I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to pick up our older daughter from soccer that night or if he was going to so I walked over to her father to ask if he would be picking her up. He and his wife sat there staring off into the distance and wouldn’t acknowledge me standing next to their seats. He continued to stare off into the distance and replied, “it’s my parent time–I’ll handle it.” My response was calm and clear, “I just need you to communicate that with me so I know what’s going on.” His eyes rolled and he formed his hand into a puppet mouth pointed at my face and opened and closed his fingers and thumb to mimic my talking, and he didn’t respond again to me. This man is so mature.

I don’t want “normal” co-parenting as much for myself (but Jesus, that would be nice) as much as I want it for my kids. Imagine the love my son could have felt last night if BOTH of his parents were talking and communicating and cheering for him at his game. Imagine how safe he would feel if his mother could walk up to him and his team after the game and speak to his father about how well he played. Imagine if we acted as if we were two old friends who shared a child and the anger and insecurity was gone. Imagine if the two of us could stand with our son and tell him how amazing we thought he was–together–as his parents. But then I remember that my ex is a narcissist, and he cannot put the needs of his 4 kids above himself. And his insecurities, anger, and immaturity will always take center stage.

My ex’s lack of compassion and respect towards me doesn’t really affect me, but it DOES affect his children. They feel the discomfort. They have been told that during “his time” they sit with him and he has drawn the line in the sand. He has painted parameters and boundaries around their relationships with each parent and they are expected to stay within each boundary, seperately. My heart breaks for the way he has changed their lives. They are four innocent people who are trying to love and repair, and they won’t ever be able to fully heal until their father does. And I’m not sure that will ever happen.

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A dark cloud has rolled in tonight–it’s wrapped around me like a cloak I can’t break free from. I’m not sure why the sadness has hit me like it has, but I’m trying to allow myself to feel it. Trying to reach out, slowly touch it and examine what exactly it is and how I can move through it.

Some of what I’m feeling are emotions I’ve stuffed deep down inside me for the past 4 months. Almost like the way you smash the wrappers and cans into the kitchen garbage so you can crowd more junk and garbage into the container–cramming it all down so you don’t have to take a trip to the can outside, alone, in the dark.

The emotions I’ve avoided are unhappiness–both with my family life and my job. I was miserable for quite some time, but I trudged through the discomfort and went to work everyday and left my family and felt as though I was failing in all areas. I swaddled up the pain in chocolate, caffeine, sleep, and shutting people out–all typical coping tools that are unhealthy and irresponsible. I haven’t been working out. I haven’t been going out. I haven’t been laughing or exploring or challenging myself. At all. I’ve buried myself in being busy–ignoring myself and my pain.

It’s landed me in a familiar place. A place I know very well from my first marriage. I’ve given up things that make me happy: working out, going out with friends and being creative. I saw a photo of myself my son took last weekend and I didn’t like what I saw. I know that woman–that’s the woman who went on auto-pilot for years in her first marriage–numbing the pain and unhappiness.

Reaching out to my husband was my first step at finding happiness again. Quitting my job was the second. Now, as I write through my sadness, anger, and frustration tonight, I know the third step is to begin to love myself again. Eating healthy again. Working out again. Putting myself first on the list again and believing in the woman I am. I want to cry because I’ve allowed myself to get lost and veer so far from the path I found after my divorce. It makes me angry at myself and wonder how I lost my way. In one year, I’m disoriented in the forest again.

A friend of mine helped me to see that my job was a large reason for my unhappiness. My work situation had put me, once again, in a place where a man in my life wasn’t listening or validating me or my needs. I was “checking out” as a coping tool. At first I thought the idea was a bit “out there,” but it’s true. I was in a “relationship” (a work relationship) with a man who didn’t listen. He didn’t listen to my ideas. He wanted to always control the decisions and wanted to see everything I did (sound familiar?). Once I saw the unbalance in my life and the effects on my emotional health, I made my needs very clear–telling him I don’t work well at the last minute (working til 2:00 am multiple times to launch websites etc), and explaining that I had many initiatives on my plate and his lack of follow through on the items I needed from him were causing me frustration–the needs were ignored and disregarded and he continued to work the way he was used to.

I’m sad I followed the pattern I’d learned in my first marriage–allowing myself to be unseen and unheard. I’m even more sad that the only way I new to cope was to detach from myself. I still have much to learn. And I still have more healing ahead.

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K_soccer

There’s an amazing thing that happens when you start feeling like you are in control of your life again. Okay, maybe “in control” is too bold of a statement–let’s say more in-tune with who you are and your family. Almost every parent has felt like they run around like a mad man/woman trying to get everything done, but unless you’ve been a divorced parent with multiple kids, you probably won’t understand the level of craziness that we parents hit post divorce.

You bust your ass at work to do a good job, bring home a somewhat respectable paycheck, and try to maintain balance with the kids and their activities, school, homework etc. All the while you’re at work, you end up missing the 4th grade program, the 6th grade field trip, and the kids are often left home alone after school and on non-recognized holidays at work like Halloween, Veteran’s Day etc. You feel like a schmuck. And when you take-off work because of dentist appointments, state fair presentations or to volunteer in class, you feel like an even bigger schmuck because you’re gone from work. It’s a lose-lose, really. And it sucks! It’s a battle that never ends.

Now that I’m at home, I’m battling another battle in my head–it’s an evil, mean little battle that creeps in every now and then. You’re being selfish–decreasing the family’s income to chase a dream and be home. How will you pay for braces/college/soccer and all the other unexpected things around the corner? Little shouts of doubt pierce my thoughts, and I shake them off and try to ignore that ugly lizard brain that tries to talk me out of something I know is good for me. But wow is it hard to keep the faith and push forward!

Two weeks ago, my oldest daughter tried out for the Elite Club National League team here in Utah. We got to the tryout, and she didn’t know a soul. We sat in the car and watched as girls were dribbling and talking and everyone seemed to know each other. As more cars pulled up, she saw a few familiar faces from school. I thought that may help ease her nerves, but she mentioned that the girls were part of a premiere club, and she was not. Tears welled up in her eyes. She was worried. “I don’t want to go out there,” she told me.

I watched as she immediately talked herself out of the team, because she didn’t have faith in herself or her skills. She was selling herself short, and she hadn’t even stepped foot on the field! Of course, I knew she was an outstanding player (she’s been playing a year up for 5 years), but getting her to see that is a different story. I watched as she fell apart–completely melting into the front seat of my car. “I can’t do it,” she said.

My heart broke. I’ve been there. I never tried anything if I wasn’t good at it–I wouldn’t be caught dead trying something I looked foolish trying. She is a lot like me. In that moment, instantly remembered my decision at 17 not to take my college volleyball scholarship, because I was terrified–terrified I wouldn’t fit in, terrified to live on my own, terrified to move far away from life as I knew it and step out onto unstable ground. Not taking that scholarship is my biggest regret in life.

With misty, tear-filled eyes, I looked directly into the eyes of my daughter–my successful, straight-A, beautiful, dedicated daughter– and told her, “Honey, sometimes you have to do hard things in life to get to the things that are great. You can do this!” It was a moment where my heart was breaking. I wanted to take away her fears and insecurities. I wanted to help her escape this moment with all my being, but I knew this was a moment for her to shine. She wiped away her tears, took a deep breath, and strode off across the grass and introduced herself to the coach. She made me so proud in that moment. She took everything she was and faced her fears head-on.

She is such an example to me. I know that quitting my job was doing that hard thing for me. But I also have faith that great things are going to happen. In the past 5 days since leaving my job, I’ve experienced some beautiful things…all because I’ve been AVAILABLE to see them. Here are a few that come to mind I’d love to share with you:

  • My daughter officially became a member of the ECNL team last week, and they played in their first tournament over the weekend. Both of her coaches expressed to me that she has “something that I just can’t teach.” I spent the day with her in Park City on Friday, which is something I wouldn’t be able to do if I was at my 9-5 job. And on Sunday, her step-dad, 7 siblings, and I watched as she and her new friends took 2nd place in the tournament. Her smile last weekend is something I wouldn’t miss for the world.
  • Today, I took my 17 year old son to the bank today and showed him how to withdraw money from his account–it seems like such a silly thing, but after landing his first job 2 months ago, he was used to seeing the money going into the account, but he had no idea how to get the money out. He was so proud to withdraw $350 and purchase a new Xbox system. It was like his Christmas for him. And seeing him becoming an adult is like Christmas (in a weird/strange way) for me.
  • Yesterday afternoon, I picked up my other son from his girlfriend’s house–the sun was out, the radio was turned up, and I looked at him and said, “Let’s go get a drink!” This boy loves his Mountain Dew. He beamed, and we rolled down the windows, turned up the tunes, and belted Maroon 5 at the top of our lungs. It was one of those “take a mental picture” moments I’ll never forget!
  • Finally, last night, my husband came home to a clean house, dinner on the table, and he and I and my youngest daughter went outside and played catch as the sun was setting. If I were working full time, NONE of that would have happened. Our nights were typically frantic, dinner at the last minute, and I usually was cleaning up or catching up on laundry each night.

These are the great moments that pay so much more than any job could. The moments that make me the most proud. And these are moments that if I’m not available, will pass by too quickly.

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