What is it? What causes it? What can you do about it? Let's start doing something today.
I got married young. I remember always wanting to be married and wanting to have a family. I got my wish. Years later, however, as I celebrated my first Valentine's Day single, I received a gift I didn't know I wanted: self-love.
Like many stories I've heard, I went from relationship to relationship without much of a break. This is something the brilliant Elizabeth Gilbert talks about in Eat, Pray, Love. After my divorce, there was no relationship, but I thought there should be. I read the books, tried the dating sites, went on several first dates and even a couple of second dates, but it wasn't until I stopped and learned to love spending time with me that I really found love.
Entering a crowded room alone and spending Saturday nights or the Hallmark holidays (like Valentine's Day) alone took practice, but I can tell you that it became some of the best times and today, re-married, I can tell you that my marriage is very different in part because of the time I took to really enjoy being alone.
They say that you won't find true love until you learn to love yourself. While I had found true love early on (I'm married to my high school sweetheart), we have both commented that our marriage would not have worked if we had stayed together after high school. We had to become the best versions of ourselves before our marriage would be what it is today. For me, that meant falling in love with myself as a person. How could I expect him to love who I am if I can't love who I am?
Divorce redefined love for me. It didn't just change my relationship with my husband now, it changed who I am as a Mom. Because I took the time for me, I was more patient with my kids and had the energy to do things with them that I wouldn't have if I didn't take the time to love me. It's also taught them that it's not just OK for them to love themselves, it's necessary.
Love isn't always between two people, love starts with you. Today, I have a Valentine and I'm so thankful for him, but I'll never forget that I'm my own Valentine first.
A few months ago, there was one extremely angry moment that a woman I worked with had. It was recommended by her GAL that she take a course of mine, so she did, but she made it clear that she had nothing to learn and she was only there because it would help her case as she divorced her husband. I get that a lot and it's OK because most of the time, people walk away learning something to help them anyway. While in the class, we started to talk about forgiveness and why it's important. At that point, this already angry woman became angrier announcing that she will happily learn lessons from her marriage and will let go of whatever comes her way, but she will absolutely not forgive her soon-to-be-ex because he doesn't deserve that. Tears were forming in her eyes, her chin was quivering and her voice shaking. I wanted to reach out and hug her, but I didn't.
Have you been there? This is familiar territory for a lot of people here. What it usually sounds like is:
My ex doesn't deserve to be forgiven for what he/she has done to me and to the kids. They should have to live with their actions for the rest of their lives. Forgiveness is too good for them.
If we're being honest, I think a lot of us have been here. Right where this woman was. Maybe some of you are in that spot right now. As a therapist, I have to ask myself why.
Why is it so hard to forgive?
Here's what I've been able to come up with. We're all rational enough to know that forgiveness isn't letting the other person off the hook, but it feels like we are, doesn't it? It feels like if we forgive them and move on, they don't have to pay for what they did to us. We are taking on the role of judge and jury and we're sentencing the ex to a lifetime of having to pay for hurting us. What they did was bad enough to earn that, wasn't it? We went through years of heart ache, they should have to go through the same!
What I've learned is that when we take on that judge and jury role, it leaves little room in our life for any other roles we may want to take on. The woman in this story was smart, driven, and a dedicated mother. She talked about many things that would bring a lot of parents happiness, but I didn't get to see that happiness in her. I believe with all of me that happiness will shine through, but not until she quits her role of judge and jury. That doesn't minimize any of the pain she and her daughter felt prior to and throughout the divorce process, it just takes the pressure off of her to be the person carrying out a sentence.
Life does a great job of giving us what we focus on. When we're focused on ensuring a sentence we've placed on someone is carried out, life gives us more and more reasons to turn our attention and our focus onto that person, instead of away from them.
Where do you want your focus and attention to be? Isn't divorce a chance to move on after pain of a divorce? I know for a fact that there is no chance of truly moving on until you have quit your job of judge and given up your seat as jury. Which do you want more?
By the end of the class, this woman softened enough for me to let her know that this will pass, that life will turn out OK for her and her daughter, and that there's something happier and better ahead for her. I believe the same for you, too. Life is going to be OK, but the best part of it will start when you're ready to move onto better roles. Which roles are you ready to take on?
Whether you were married or not, you had a plan! You were supposed to be parents together for your children! You were supposed to raise them together, make decisions together, and be there for each other and for the kids.
Now you're not.
My co-parent and I had plans for after our divorce. We were not going to be co-parents who fought, argued, or put each other through hell. We were going to be there for the kids.
Then it changed.
Are you in the same boat? Did you have plans like this? Are they gone now? It sucks.
Let's talk about it for a bit. Let's get through it together. Here's my list of ways to get through it:
- Be angry. It's ok. Anger gets a bad rap, but it's a perfectly normal emotion to have. In fact, in this case, it's a justified emotion to have. You have my permission to be angry about this! Here's the trick, though, you cannot let the anger come out in communication with your co-parent. That brings us to the next step.
- Figure out a way to manage your anger. After you go through these steps, anger will subside, but it'll come back, too. Figure out what works for you. A song, a walk, writing, a workout, quiet space, candles, whatever it is, make sure you use it.
- Grieve. The loss of the plans you had is something to grieve over. This means starting over! You had it all figured out and now you have to simply trash those plans and start over? No, I don't think so. Take the time to grieve what you had planned, then move onto the last step.
- Make new plans. This is acceptance part. Accept that what you had is gone, but it's not the end. It's a new beginning, so take the lesson learned in this and make a new plan. It's not ideal, but it is reality. How do you make the best of the situation.
That's it, those are my tips for moving on with grace. It's not a magic pill to bring back the plans that are gone, I can't give you that. It is a step towards happiness, though. When you're stuck in the anger that comes with the loss of what you had, you can't be happy. This is propelling you forward.
How do you move on? Share your tips in the comments below.
No one plans to get a divorce or to co-parent with their ex. I don't think there are groups of people who think co-parenting is the ideal way to raise kids. Yet, here we are.
Do you feel like this is where some of us get stuck? We knew what we wanted, many of us planned it out, but we're in this place that sometimes sucks.
It's a New Year, but even if it isn't, it's time for a new attitude. Rather than getting stuck in a place of regret, frustration, or even anger, let's go through the steps to create our new life.
Step 1 is to accept where you are. Yep. We're divorced. We're co-parenting, and potentially with someone who refuses to co-parent with us. The stressors of a bad marriage are gone and are replaced with a tough co-parenting relationship. You know those signs with a red dot saying, "You are here". Like it or not, we are here.
Step 2 is to grieve what was. You cannot get closure without grieving. The life you wanted and planned for isn't where you are. It's ok to be sad about that. It's ok to say goodbye to the plans you had, in fact it's healthy to.
Step 3 is to move forward. OK, Plan A didn't work out, but there are many more letters after that. Where do you want to go? Go back to last week's post The Co-Parenting List and make your plan.
It's a New Year. It's time for a new attitude, a new way to think, and a new place for you to be emotionally.
It's a New Year. Many see this as a time to review, a time to make plans, and a fresh start. I agree! For years, I've made this a time to reflect and renew. The Type A part of my personality likes this to be neat and orderly so I can easily review later, so I start a list. OK, I start 3 lists. This year, I invite you to join me in this exercise.
First, start with the positive. What's working? You know there are things that work, so now is the time to list them. They say that life is categorical. This means that different parts of your life fit into different categories like: relationships, career, spirituality, health, financial, and fun (do not forget the fun!). Take a look at those categories to find things that are already working and take a minute to appreciate that.
Next it's time to look at what isn't working. Personally, I go through the same categories I started with and find what isn't working. Though I have an incredible relationship with all of the kids in our house (my biological children and my step-daughter), my husband, and my immediate family - a list of what's working, I still don't have the ideal relationship with my co-parent - something that isn't working. If this is your first year after your divorce, maybe it's health or career that you're still working on. Whatever you put in this list, it's ok, no one is perfect so don't worry about what's on the list. This is a time to be aware, not a time to get down on yourself.
The last list is the most important list. This is the list you have control over. I don't have the ideal relationship with my co-parent, but I am doing everything I can and that's all I have control over. What wasn't working for you? What do you have control over? If you don't have control over it, then it's time to put that aside for now and focus on what you can control. You can create a health practice to make sure you're focusing on you for awhile. You can increase spirituality in your life. You can make changes to propel you in your career. You cannot control other people or the past, so it's not worth spending time on it. Once you have your list of what you can control, it's time to decide what you're working on.
Where are you taking your next year? What's your focus going to be? In the next week or so, you'll have the chance to join me and others as we work on it together. Stay tuned.
Why wouldn't they respond? Why would they just say that? Why is this so hard? Why can't we just get along? Why do they always have to do this? You get the idea.
Do you find yourself in a constant loop of asking, "Why would they do that?" if so, I totally get it. I was there and still get there, sometimes. I got so stuck in asking 'why' that I lost sight of my own options after the situation that triggered the 'why'. Do you get that way, too?
Here's how I've seen this cycle play out in my life and in others. Something happens with your co-parent that triggers the question, "Why would they do that?" You start running through all the possibilities as to why they would do whatever triggered the question. None of the answers make you feel any better. In fact, they make you feel more frustrated and angry. You then stop seeing the situation for what it is and see it through anger-tinted glasses. You cannot wrap your mind around the 'why' so you react.
If we're honest, we've all been there a time or two, haven't we? You get so caught up in it, you lose sight of the situation. There's no chance of positive co-parenting at that point, and that's the goal, right? Here are my tips when you find yourself getting caught in the circle of "why":
- Know that asking 'why' isn't necessarily bad. I'm a counselor. My job is to ask why. It can be really helpful to understand where the other person is coming from so you can work to understand and respond with empathy.
- Know that all of your answers are based on assumption. None of us REALLY know what's happening in our co-parent's heads, we're only working to try and understand. We all know our co-parents really well, but can we or should we try to assume what's going on in their heads?
- Know that the 'why' may not matter. Are you coming to the same conclusion every time you figure this out? If you're coming to the same answer over and over, then the question no longer matters. It's time to face the reality of the situation and move on instead of getting stuck in the same cycle. Even if you guess their 'why', you don't have to agree with it which means the answer may not matter. (Again, abuse aside, each of the co-parents has a right to their own thinking, right, wrong or indifferent - and that's a hard pill to swallow.)
- Know that you can move on without the 'why'. Yep. It's that simple. You don't have to understand it to move on from it. If this is Plan A, there are Plans B-Z to get through, yet, and trying to get to the 'why' only prolongs starting the next plan. Stop making yourself crazy (and angry and frustrated and upset, etc.) and just move on.
- Know that sometimes asking why has more to do with you than them. If you're trying to figure out why so you can make sure they don't get their way, then I recommend starting with some emotional healing. Figure out why YOU'RE asking why and decide if it's with good motives or not so good motives.
When I finally put this to use and got out of my head, it was so much easier to get things accomplished. You already know that things don't need to happen on your time and in your way, co-parenting is about compromise. Trying to figure out why your co-parent wants what they want can literally make you crazy. Today is the day to try it out. Instead of asking why just go with it. That doesn't mean giving in to everything, but it does mean that rather than guessing at their reasons, you move on based on what you believe is right. The key words there are to move on. Now that sounds like an excellent reason as to 'why' it's worth giving it a shot.
Each year, I get to work with more and more co-parents. Each year, I learn something more from them. There are many differences between each of the co-parents, but there are also a lot of similarities. One of those similarities is that each of the co-parents spends time telling me all their co-parent has done to hurt them in one way or another. I get that.
Have you seen the movie War Room? There's a spot in the movie where Elizabeth is asked to write a list of things her husband, Tony, has done wrong. There are pages and pages of paper and she says she can keep going. Don't we all have someone in our life that we've felt like that about? For many co-parents, it's their ex. The divorce happened for a reason, right?
Getting this out is healthy. You cannot hold onto the list forever. It's important to get it out of your system and writing this list is a healthy way to do it. There are many other very healthy ways to get it out and I'll mention a few of them in just a bit. Here's the thing, though, what many people miss is that once it's out - you need to let it go.
Too often, I work with co-parents who present me with this list of things their ex has done wrong, but then they want to hold this list against them for the rest of their co-parenting relationship, or worse, they want to get revenge on their ex for this list. Have you ever wanted to make your co-parent "pay" for what they've done to hurt you?
All that's created in those situations is a constant angry cycle (which is explained in the Co-Parenting Course). There cannot be a healthy co-parenting relationship if one of the co-parents is holding onto the list. You notice I said one, not both, right? You can do your part even if your co-parent doesn't do theirs. You can let it go for the sake of the co-parenting relationship, for the sake of your children. You don't need to wait for your co-parent to do it first.
Whenever I've presented this to co-parents, there's always a fraction of them who give me a "HA!" which is usually followed by either, "You don't understand what they did" or "They're not letting it go, why should I?" Let me be clear. I don't need to understand how much hurt there was. I just need you to understand that holding onto the hurt, using it against the person that hurt you, ensures you relive that hurt every time you interact with the person who caused it. It's hurting you now more than it's hurting the person who created it. (Side note: if a co-parent tells me that they're doing it because their co-parent did it first or they're not letting it go because their co-parent doesn't, the only question they will get from me is "What do you tell your children when they give you the same argument?" With that said, it's not worth going into more detail here.)
You guys, it's time to let it go. Here's my therapeutic take on how to help you see exactly how beneficial it is to let this go. I want you to head to a craft store or a rock garden somewhere and get a bag of stones. These need to be big enough to write on. Then I want you to write down everything your co-parent has done to you on these stones. Write down what this pain has caused. Really get this out of your system. Now put these stones in a backpack and walk around with it for the rest of the day. It may sound completely crazy to you, and if it does, I dare you to try this. After you've walked around all day literally carrying the weight of the pain on your shoulders, it's time to let that pain go. It is very freeing to take each of those rocks and toss them. For added dramatic effect, take them on a hill or near water and toss them in. Literally drown out the pain you've been carrying around and replace it with a fresh start. Feel the weight being lifted off of your shoulders and know that's what it's like when you finally decide to let it go.
I get that this isn't easy. Letting it go does not, in any way, make what happened right or fair. It doesn't 'let them off the hook'. It simply let's YOU off the hook because you can't take the next step if your feet are stuck in the same position. Time to move on.
In my job, emotions are the biggest part of our daily discussion. Frustration, anger, hate, freedom, relief, anxiety, denial, hope, acceptance and the list goes on and on. The strongest human emotion is hope. It can overcome all of those on the list above and more. The emotion that rivals hope is fear. Fear drives anger. Fear drives anxiety. Fear drives so much of what makes co-parenting difficult. This makes it an important emotion to understand and manage.
Despite what the title of this post says, fear isn't exactly "What are you afraid of?" Fear is a deeply-rooted emotion that is based in what you're afraid of, but goes so much farther than that. For now, think about what it is you're afraid of. Is it something you'd lose? Something you'd gain, but you're afraid of the consequences of gaining it? Something you wouldn't gain, but want to? Think about what your deepest fear is and keep that handy.
If you've ever worked with me in emotion, I've likely told you that all emotion starts with a thought. In the co-parenting world, thoughts that create fear can include:
- I'm not as good of a parent.
- My kids will love the other parent more than me.
- I'll lose my kids.
- Everything my co-parent says is true.
- I can't do this on my own.
Of course there are so many more than this list, but as soon as your mind goes to one of those places; those thoughts turn into fear. I get it, too. I've certainly thought some pretty scary things.
While each of these fears are completely normal to have, it's what we do with that fear that matters. This is where co-parenting can become difficult. One parent or the other or both of the parents will let fear drive every interaction with their co-parent and with their children.
When you get a text from your co-parent telling you that they're going to file for custody and placement, do you worry a little? When your child comes home and excitedly tells you how much fun they had with their other parent, does your heart sink or soar? What about your co-parent? Do you think they feel fear in those scenarios? There's no wrong answer to either of these. Simply know that if you did feel a pang of fear, it can lead you into the next stage.
When you feel fear, that fear can make you feel as though you're being attacked. If your children come home from time with their other parent and they're smiling, laughing, and telling you everything they did, does your mind think, "My co-parent only did those things to upset me."? If so, you're in the next stage. In that stage, when you feel attacked, you may either get defensive or you'll go on the offense and attack. The same goes with your co-parent. If they're feeling fear that's making them feel attacked, they will get defensive or go on the offense.
This is when fear starts driving interactions instead of hope.
I know that you cannot control what your co-parent does, but you can work to understand it. I know that you CAN control what YOUR reactions are and I hope you take a step back to ask yourself if fear has turned into feeling attacked. If so, the easiest thing to do is to ignore the fear. Do what your kids need you to do and laugh with them, smile with them, try not to take things personally, and simply be the best parent you can be because they love both of their parents.
When you notice it happening with your co-parent, you can be softer. You can understand instead of attacking back. When attack leads to attack, it's a never-ending cycle, I call it the angry cycle in the Co-Parenting Course. It only takes one of you to stop the cycle.
Today. Ask yourself what fears you have. Be honest with yourself. Then notice it when fear starts to drive your interactions and put some change in place.
If there’s one phrase I have heard over and over again, both personally and professionally, it’s the phrase, “It’s not fair.” You know what? It’s not fair! I agree.
It’s not fair that many of us see our children a fraction of the time especially when their other parent isn’t with them. It isn’t fair that some children don’t see their other parent because that parent refuses to get involved.
It’s not fair that the parent who does the most homework with their children can have the least amount of time after school with their kids. It’s not fair that the person who makes the children feel the most at home sometimes has the least amount of placement.
It’s not fair that some have to pay more in child support than seems fair. It’s not fair that others receive less in child support than what feels fair. It’s not fair that expenses aren’t always shared the way they’re supposed to be.
It’s not fair that we have to pay a lawyer (not a counselor or social worker) to decide what’s in the best interests of our children. It’s not fair that this person gets to make life-altering decisions on behalf of our children after meeting them and their parents for a couple of hours in between meeting with other families.
It’s not fair that working with a high-conflict co-parent means that a Judge will make a final decision on behalf of our children, simply because one of their parent’s refuses to work together.
The list goes on and on. And I get it. It’s not fair.
In that entire list, do you notice that these are things that aren’t fair to us as parents? This is about to get worse before it gets better. It’s not fair for our children to have to see their parents part of the time. It’s not fair for our children to have to be put in between their parents, and worse, sometimes have to choose between them. It’s not fair that our kid’s lives are a giant financial transaction for some parents. It’s not fair that our children know first-hand what GAL’s, lawyers, and Family Court is all about. It’s especially not fair that they have just as much anxiety and stress over it as we do.
It’s not fair, but now what?
The answer is simple. Accept the reality and make the best of it. If there is nothing you can do to change it, then it’s time to accept it. Make the best of it by getting creative, knowing it’s temporary, and focusing on what’s important - our children! Their adolescence is a fraction of their lives. What if we all decided to focus on building the best relationship with our children that we can, work to raise them to be the best adults they can be (even if our co-parent’s have different ways of raising them), and celebrate every success they have. It still won’t be fair, but it’ll be much more manageable.
Co-parenting is so much harder than parenting. You still have to parent, but you have to try and do it with someone that will not work with you. Hang in there. I feel your pain as do many others. Accept the reality and let’s work together to make the best of it.
Comment below with how you make the best of your reality.