Posts from the ‘co-parenting’ category

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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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ECatching

The fear that a narcissist creates in their child is immeasurable. The narcissist’s insecurities, positioning worries, and less-than feelings all roll downhill to their small children and continually clobber them through their childhoods. The narcissist’s child could be the most talented, articulate, and intelligent child on the planet, but because one of their parents (or, heaven forbid, both parents) is a narcissist, they believe that they aren’t good enough–always.

I’ve watched this game evolve around all of my children. Each of them is talented in their own way–all play sports, some are artistic, some of them are great students. But every day, whether their father is present in their life every day or not, his words echo in their ears and they hear “You’re not good enough.”

My youngest daughter has been playing organized softball since she was 4 years old. It’s in her blood. She learned to love this sport at an early age and by 6 years old she was playing all-stars with 8 year olds (the photo above is of her at age 6). She is now the starting catcher on her 10-and-under competitive team. Her team is so good, they play in the 12-and-under leagues and tournaments, and she easily keeps up with the 12-year-old catchers–she’s 10.

She’s experienced a small set-back this month, because she’s dealing with a shoulder issue–posterior capsulary impingement. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? Basically, the range in her arm is so great (she has a cannon!) that when she reaches back to throw, her bones pinch her muscles and nerves and her arm hurts. Because of this issue, she’s had to take some time off and begin physical therapy.

She’s sad to not be playing catcher as much, but she understands that resting her arm and retraining herself and her mechanics is important so she can reach her goal of playing in high school and college. Her coach supports her taking time off 100% and believes her health is most important. I’m so thankful she sees that, because previous coaches would push and push and not really care.

I’ve updated her father on this situation, and he’s very aware she’s injured her arm. But guess who’s in her ear telling her she’s going to lose her starting spot if she sits out? Guess who’s scaring her and making her feel anxious to get back in and start playing hard again? Her father! This man is so insecure that he pushes and prods and makes her feel afraid and not good enough even though this is not a performance issue. It’s a damn injury!

It’s so unfair! These children are merely extensions of the narcissist’s self. They see them as a direct reflection on them or they remember their strive for perfection and want their children to be perfect as well.

So how do we, the “other” parent help our children of narcissists? We remind them that perfect is impossible. We remind them that mistakes are how we learn and that our bodies are more important than a starting spot on a childhood softball team. It’s difficult at times to get them to see past the harsh words and blankets of insecurities they’re experiencing from the other parent, but our words can soothe them.

My hope is that I can give my children strength to see past the insecurities. I dream of a day where they feel proud of who they are and their father’s words aren’t the first words they hear when they are developing into wonderful human beings. Each of them is wonderful just for being who they are…bumped, bruised, broken even.

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You’re missing so much. Don’t you see it?

Being a parent is full time, whether you’re the custodial parent or not. Why don’t you see that? Because, I now know the only person you can see is yourself. It’s always been that way. Everyone else in your life is an merely an accessory.

Do you know that our son is completely in love? He goes to his girlfriend’s house and hangs out with her younger brother who has autism. That boy makes our boy smile. Do you know that her parents think our son is awesome? Her parents are nice. I met her mother and we chatted about the kids. You sent our older son to pick him up at their home one night. I bet you don’t even know where she lives. Do you talk to him about the photos they take together? Do you have any idea how his heart hurt and practically broke to pieces when he saw a friend kissing her on the cheek on Instagram, but they talked through it and it was a misunderstanding and our son could breathe again once he found out?

Our daughters told me that you are making them miss their games and tournaments this weekend because you and your wife planned a weekend away with them. You’re traveling only 45 minutes away, and yet you won’t take them to their activities because “your time” is more important. I’m sure you don’t want to spend the gas money to run them back and forth, as that was your usual gripe for not running the kids to their things. While it’s nice you’re taking them on a getaway, did you ever think that spending time with the kids on the ride to their games is more valuable to them than some activity you’ve planned? They work so hard with their teams, and you’re making it so they have to let their team down and miss their games. Their sports can be bonding time, too. That’s the stuff they’ll remember. You don’t see the disappointment in their eyes because they have to miss things because you don’t plan around their schedules. Instead, you schedule activities they really don’t care about just so you can take pictures of them and post them on Facebook letting everyone know of your “super-dad” status.

You’re missing the real things.

You don’t make them a priority, and they see it.

What I see is a man who is all alone because he was too blind to see.

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These four little faces are my world. From the moment I became a mother, I knew that I would never do anything more important than be a good mother to these kids. Of course, this photo was taken almost 4 years ago, so these faces aren’t so little anymore, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need me as much now that they’re older. If anything, I find that they need me more!

I’m sure most of you moms are a lot like me, and you struggle each night as you lay your head on your pillows and ask yourself Did I do enough for my children today? Boy, have I been asking myself that question a lot. This is not an easy world we live in. Our kids face more pressure now than we ever did as kids. Pressure to be perfect. Pressure to keep up. Pressure to get good grades, have expensive clothes, have the newest iPod/Phone/Pad, you name it, they deal with it. I’m not the type of mother to shelter my kids and have them live in the ever-protective-bubble, but I want to make sure I prepare them for what’s out there.

Children of divorce have all of those typical pressures on them, but they’ve also got many, many more that were added to their plates when their parent’s chose to divorce.

For instance, my kids are shuttled back-and-forth to their dad’s house every Tuesday, every-other Thursday, and every-other weekend. They’ve learned to pack quickly, to schedule friend time on days that aren’t their dad’s days, to communicate to their dad if they’ve got something they’ve got going on so they can “negotiate” their time, and they’ve learned to live an adaptive life that can be mobile. If they left their soccer shin guards at their dad’s, forget it. He won’t run them down to my house. If their charger was left in their room at dad’s, they ask mom to borrow hers. It’s a different kind of stress in their lives, and it frustrates me they have this extra layer going on and I can’t take it away.

On top of living out of a suitcase, children of divorce deal with their parent’s breakup, their parent’s new activities, new friends, dating, then marrying a new person who comes into their lives. Their time is already limited with each parent, and now they have to share the rare time they do have with mom/dad with an adult that is in the picture, too (and, possibly, step-siblings as well).

How do we, as divorced mothers, make this back-and-forth and added stress easier on our kids? How do we give each child special time, attention, and validation so they understand how important they are to us?

I spent a lot of my childhood hanging out on my own–I had parents that were very busy. They were busy working, working out, golfing, bowling, vacationing, or spending time with friends. I’m not super-close with my parents now. We’re close, but not like I had imagined it would be. I always I wished I had a family where we had Sunday dinners, family gatherings, and cousins hanging out together. We don’t.

I often wonder if I’m doing enough. Do I make my kids lives a little easier or a little harder? Do I really listen when they come to me or am I busy with other things and nodding because I hear them talking?

Today, I’m recommitting to be present–to be aware. Today I’m not going to try to check off the items off the list, be right on time, or keep the trains running. Today, I’m remembering that mom is the best title in the world. It’s not VP, CEO or Director. It’s mom.

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