I’m Divorced, But I’m Keeping My Wedding Dress

Nineteen years ago on a cloudy Saturday in October, I took a road trip with my mom, my sisters, and one of my best friends. We were headed to the next state over to look at wedding dresses and have lunch. When I got to my mom’s to pick everyone up at 7 a.m., I was in a state of simultaneous bliss and panic — I didn’t want to be late for my 9 a.m. appointment at the bridal shop and there are a few people in my family (who shall go unnamed) who have been known to be a little late. They weren’t on this day, though. 

My cheeks were flushed, my hair was still wet, I was wearing an orange silk shirt, and the sparkly ring that had only been on my finger for a month still felt heavy and new.

We all piled into the dressing room, and my dress was the second one I tried on. I didn’t need to check anything else out. I knew what I wanted, and I said, “This is the one,” as my friend smacked my ass and said, “YES! I knew it!” She’d known me since 7th grade and probably could have picked the perfect wedding dress for me without me there.

My mom bought the dress for me which was a huge, unexpected surprise — my ex and I paid for our entire wedding and honeymoon ourselves, and my dress was in our budget. It came zipped up in a pink garment bag, and my mother held it as my sisters, my friend, and I dissected the long, $500 veil I was drooling over. After studying it hard enough, I knew I could make a replica for myself. I did that evening, sitting cross-legged on the floor of my apartment, with $2 worth of tulle from Walmart. 

Courtesy of Katie Bingham-Smith

After the dress was carefully draped across the back of my trunk, we all piled in the car and had lunch at a local pub and ate potato skins, nachos, and cheese fries. We were so loud and bursting with excitement I almost choked on my food a few times. 

That dress is still in the pink garment bag sitting in the back of my closet. When I see it, I think of autumn’s chill and the scent of rosewater when we walked into the bridal shop. I can taste the nachos we ate that day and remember the feeling I had when I saw my mom and sisters looking at my reflection in the mirror as my dress was being buttoned up the back. 

It makes me remember that sense of accomplishment I had when I walked around with the veil on my head, alone in my apartment, after it was complete. I held a bunch of celery from my fridge like a floral bouquet and practiced my wedding walk to make sure it was the right length. My cat kept chasing me, almost ruining my masterpiece. I carefully melted the edges of the tulle to give it that professional look and felt so satisfied with myself. 

And now, even though I am divorced, the memories associated with my dress haven’t turned sour. In fact, the dress has caught my eye more these past four years since my husband has moved out than it ever did for the sixteen years we were married.

I know I will never part with it, and sometimes I wonder why. You hear about women selling their wedding dresses, and some who just want them out of their sight. But I don’t feel that way.

I love my dress. It is a representation of how I felt on my wedding day — I was incredibly happy and so sure of what I was doing. I was surrounded by my best friends and closest family members. We got married in a barn and the small train turned gray from dancing all night. 

It makes me remember the long talks I had with the woman who did my alterations. She had an apartment with huge windows across the front and you could see people walking on the sidewalk outside. I’d stand in her living room as she’d pin away and talk about food and she’d make us a cup of tea.

My daughter loves my dress. She’s unzipped the pink bag several times and looked at it, running her hands up and down the two-dozen buttons that adorn the back of it. She may want to wear it someday or have it made into a dress especially for her. That would make my heart burst.

But if she doesn’t, and that dress sits in the back of my closet for the rest of my life in its pink bag, that will be just fine too.

My ex-husband and I couldn’t get our love back once it went cold. But we had a great love once. That love was the vehicle that brought me to that bridal shop with some of the best women I know, which is still one of my favorite days of my life. 

That love gave us a glorious wedding day we both worked hard to make happen. 

And though we are no longer married, that dress is still the symbol of so many good memories. And every time I see it, those memories come alive and fill my soul with peace and gratitude. To me, that’s reason enough to keep it.

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The Silent Suffering Of The Divorced Mother With The Toxic Ex

Every day, I lie. I lie to my friends, to my children, to much of my extended family, to my sons’ teachers, to their little league coaches, to strangers on the internet.

It’s the same lie, day after day — that my divorce was friendly and that my ex and I still love and respect one another. We put our differences aside so that we could truly put our children first, and though things are not perfect between myself and my ex, they are as good as could possibly be given the circumstances. My ex and I are still friends, we get along, we’re nice to each other.

Lies.

I can barely tolerate my ex-husband. Our divorce was not pleasant. It wasn’t pleasant three years ago and it isn’t today. My ex is a classic example of latent toxic masculinity — the guy who is perfectly nice until his power or ego is threatened, and then he becomes the guy who thinks stay-at-home moms are only taking advantage of their hard-working husbands.

During the divorce, he was cruel, hateful, and used my love for my children against me every chance he got. By that I mean, he threatened constantly to make the process more difficult — to drag out the divorce, to demand full custody of the kids, to be purposefully unreasonable in any way possible — in order to keep as much money as possible. He knew I would do anything to avoid putting our kids through a lengthy court battle, and he took full advantage of that. He told me I’d never make it without him, that I’d better learn to live the life of a pauper. You won’t get one penny. I own everything in this house. Your free ride is over.

And now, three years after our divorce has been finalized, he continues to make cutting, passive aggressive comments when he’s sure no one is listening. He withholds money at every possible opportunity. Per our divorce agreement, we are supposed to share expenses for extracurricular activities for the kids, but first we have to agree about what those activities are. No matter the activity, he says he doesn’t agree the boys should do it. Usually, when confronted with our sons’ disappointment about not being able to do an activity they were excited to sign up for, he finally gets on board. But, to me, at the outset, the answer is always, always, always the same: I don’t agree to this so, according to our agreement, I don’t have to pay for it. Every single time, without fail, no matter what it is, his first answer is no. Every single time, there must be an argument first. I must beg and plead.

Did I mention he works in a career that places him in the top 10% of earners? Or that I am still the parent who does all the organizing and managing and driving around for the kids?

Fueled by anger that I would dare part ways with a catch like him (I was the initiator of the divorce), his goal to punish me was and is to leave me as destitute as possible. To make sure I cannot do fun things that cost money. I gave up a lot financially in our divorce because I desperately wanted to avoid a court battle. I couldn’t put my kids through it, and my ex knew that and leveraged it every step of the way. Fine, I guess we’ll have to go to court, he would say if he wasn’t getting his way. And he would have. I attempted to call his bluff in small ways, and every time, he proved he would follow through.

I couldn’t put my children through that. I don’t judge anyone who feels they must go to trial, but I just couldn’t make myself take it there. And yes, my attorney did think I was bonkers. I took far less than what I was legally allowed to, and my wealthy ex walked away with the bulk of the money and possessions we had accumulated over the years.

And my sons, my extended family, our shared friends, have no idea.

I never took the bait when my ex threw out hateful words and threats. I never raised my voice, never gossiped about him, never said one negative thing about him to anyone who knows our sons because I don’t want it to get back to my kids. The thought of them having to spend almost half their time in a house with a parent who they know tried to financially destroy their other parent … I just can’t do it.

So I kept my mouth shut then, and I keep it shut now. My sons adore their father and would be confused and heartbroken if their vision of their father was crushed. They have no idea he behaves this way when they’re not watching. The wild thing is, despite his animosity towards me, my ex truly loves his children, and though he doesn’t do everything the way I would, he is overall a good and attentive parent. The boys worship the ground he walks on. His anger is directed only at me.

But, I admit, it makes me sick to watch my ex-husband turn on his charm and act like a good guy for others. He keeps in touch with my extended family, smiles and laughs and says all the right things to maintain that image of the nice guy. Same with mutual friends. They look at us and wonder, sometimes even out loud, how in the world we managed to remain so civil through our divorce. We’re a model divorced couple. More people should put the children first the way you two have, they tell me, and I want to vomit.

I can’t be the only mother taking the high road and watching my ex garner sympathy and goodwill from people who have no idea what a fragile-egoed shithead he is all because I would literally do anything to protect my kids from the hurt of discovering the parent they thought was good and kind is neither of those things, at least not to their mother. I can’t be the only mother who has precious few people with whom I can be honest. I can’t be the only mother sick on the inside from hearing people compliment my “amicable,” “mature” divorce.

So, to the other mothers out there putting on a brave face and lying every day to protect their kids, I want to say: I can’t see you, but I know you’re there. I know the lengths you’ve gone to protect the image of someone who doesn’t deserve it, and that sometimes it makes you feel like you’ve gone insane, and like you’re so, so alone. But you are not alone. I’m here, if only anonymously, and I know what you’re going through. I know you did what you felt you had to in order to protect your kids, and I support you, even if I — we — have to go through this together, in secret.

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The Divorcer

It sucks being “The Divorcer.” It’s kind of like being The Terminator but, well, you won’t be back.

It’s interesting when you are filling out the paperwork for a divorce as, even in a mediation situation like mine, they still ask you to choose a “plaintiff.” You just wanna scream: “Okay, it’s me, but I tried. I really tried. For years!” I think what hurts the most is that there seems to be a public perception that the people who want the divorce are in less pain than the other. I can tell you that, in my case, I truly don’t believe this is true.

I wasn’t the type to say, “I’ve dreamt of wearing that white dress since I was five years old.” I will say, however, that as I reached my low to mid-30s and was still single, I was getting pretty panicked, as I never pictured myself as the non-marrying type. More specifically, I really wanted kids. I was living in LA and babysat my two nieces and nephew every week. I loved and still love those kids like they are my own.

I remember one morning, waking up hungover at a friend’s house right by my brother’s place. Dehydrated and miserable, I hoped to catch a greasy, bacon-y meal at their house … I was known for this move. When I walked in like Kramer from Seinfeld — hair every which way and unannounced — my brother and his family were in their family room watching home videos. I felt ashamed. I’m sure I reeked of last night’s shots and looked like a mess but, as always, they welcomed me with a cup of coffee and I grabbed a seat to watch the show. This was what I wanted. I would have given up partying right that very moment if I had control over that sort of thing.

During that time, I met my now-ex-husband, and it was a bumpy ride. In fact, when we announced that we were engaged, no one even knew we were dating because we had kept it to ourselves to avoid our embarrassment after all of our previous breakups.

In hindsight, I do feel like I forced the issue. I honestly think this man was made to be an eternal bachelor, but I was determined to mold him into my future mate. I know you’re probably shocked, but this didn’t work out. In fact, the deacon that “interviewed” us during our Pre Cana weekend told us that, based on the inventory you take, we pretty much saw almost all topics completely differently.

We laughed awkwardly and went on our merry/marry way, but that moment stuck with me. We ignored all the signs, including a sewage leak in our tiny apartment on the morning of The Big Day. Is there a bigger sign than a river of shit running through your place? I have an image burned into my brain of my ex carrying my wedding dress above his head as we ran out of there as my family members used a wet vac to try to control the situation.

Much like our dating, our marriage had its ups and downs. We had some absolutely wonderful times and brought two boys into this world that are everything to us. And, again, we tried. Two separations later — one when I was pregnant with my youngest son — it just didn’t work out. It wasn’t a shock to anyone — including us — but it was painful regardless. And, yes, I led the charge on making it official, but I didn’t see any other way. You only get one ride on this merry-go-round and living in this kind of misery just didn’t make sense.

I did not think any of this process would be easy, but what happened, in the end, was not something I expected. It got extremely ugly and, as our mediator said, the fact that we were trying to live together to save money throughout the separation process made us like a pressure cooker with no valve. He turned into someone I didn’t recognize and then turned a lot of people against me.

I lashed out, too, at friends who I thought were coddling him, so that didn’t help matters. But people believe what they want to believe, and that’s the low hanging fruit. No one wants your life’s narrative to inconvenience them or, worse, to force them to look at their own marriage in a way that’s painful.

It’s equally interesting and excruciating that I — The Divorcer — sit here four years later in this much pain. The way people reacted was not something I anticipated and has hurt me beyond measure. I am utterly and completely alone when my boys are not with me.

When I open up about this on social media, I always get a few “Move on, babe” messages from well-meaning friends who live elsewhere. I know I need to move on and I desperately want to, but I’m so, so stuck. As my therapist has told me, I sit in wait for apologies that will never come. I rarely date because I’m just so damaged. I have an official PTSD diagnosis. I can’t move to where I have a support system because he won’t let me. I’m terrified every minute of every day. The only times I sleep through the night are the few times a year I get to see my parents when I can let down my exhausted guard.

Add to this the pandemic and that I’m essentially a zombie, or a collection of terrified cells willing themselves to move forward. I also have to call my ex when I have issues, including flat tires, overdraft fees, and what was presumed to be the coronavirus a few months ago. It’s a pride-swallowing, soul-sucking endeavor I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

I guess my reason for writing this is twofold—to those who think the people who want the divorce are not suffering, you are so, so wrong. No one in their right mind takes breaking up a family with a grain of salt. Many of us have agonized for years over the decision and to make that final leap takes every last bit of grit within us.

And to my fellow Divorcers—I see you. I hear you. I am you. This is not easy. There is no timeline or manual for our healing process. It’s one day at a time, and even one step at a time, but we can do this.

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What Will Divorce Look Like After COVID-19?

As a person who divorced amicably, I can tell you the entire process was a struggle. My ex-husband and I agreed to all of our terms on our own, without the involvement of two different lawyers — we had one write up our custody agreement and how we’d split our assets. I realize that’s the best case scenario, and I feel lucky. 

I’ve heard from divorced friends who went through litigation for months (or longer), and it sounds like it was three times harder.

Throw a global pandemic into an already heart-wrenching situation and I can’t even begin to imagine the pain and suffering. I never thought I’d have to say this, but I feel lucky my marriage ended while we weren’t in the middle of a crisis.

Our battle with COVID-19 has literally changed every aspect of our lives: how we grocery shop, how we socialize, how we work, and how we sanitize. It will most definitely change the divorce process as well. 

 ABC News reports that family law attorneys predict an upswing in divorces caused by this pandemic, based on a recent surge of inquiries and an increase in electronic filings. Susan Myres, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, tells ABC, “We are fielding calls right now from people who are tired of being in the same house with each other.”

But those trapped in unharmonious home life may have to wait ever longer than usual. When jurisdictions do reopen, things will be delayed for some time. As Penelope Hefner, family law attorney and Principal of Sodoma Law Union, told Scary Mommy via email: “We normally tell people a divorce takes about 90 days to complete, but since divorces aren’t moving forward at this time, we can expect to see a much longer time frame, which could theoretically put us into 2021 by the time it is complete.”

A delay won’t be the only difference those seeking to part ways will have to face. There will be other snags we’ve never had to contend with.

Hefner explains that the party leaving the former joint residence may have issues with seeking new housing: “Landlords are hesitant to show properties and are worried about a tenant’s ability to pay, and lenders are going to tighten up criteria for mortgages.” It may not be as easy as it once was for one person to move out, so she advises that people may need to look at staying in the same home longer than they would have liked, or consider a “nesting” situation for custody purposes, at least temporarily.

For those who have kids, lawyers are seeing a lot of custody disagreements already. “We have some parents strictly following guidelines as to social distancing and sanitization. And then other parents who are quite comfortable operating as they did pre-COVID,” Hefner states. These disagreements are only going to escalate as society lifts restrictions, with parents arguing about when (and if) it’s safe to resume things like extracurricular activities and worship services.

The current and future job market will also affect those looking to split, explains Hefner. This may make it “difficult to set a long term amount of child and/or spousal support without knowing for sure what a person’s future income will be, or even if their recent employment or earnings will be what they once were.”

If your partner plans on seeking a divorce in the near future, Hefner suggests getting started now to avoid further tension. Mediation and arbitration can both be done virtually; these options not only provide quicker relief for parties, but help alleviate the backlog that’s to come.

She also advises preparing ahead of time by gathering documents and information that attorneys almost always ask for that may take a long time to obtain, such as bank, credit card, and investment statements, deeds, and titles.

A divorce is already a long and painful process for most, and going through it in the midst (and the aftermath) of a pandemic adds further complications. COVID-19 hasn’t left any aspects of our lives untouched, and for those seeking to make changes to their marital status, it’s just another unpleasant ripple effect to endure.

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I Was Headed For A Divorce Before Quarantine

My marriage had been sick and dying long before a pandemic arrived.

On Valentine’s Day 2020, my husband and I called it quits. He packed his bags and left. I’d poured myself a glass of wine and stared emotionless at his empty side of our clothes closet. I’d announced our separation to my parents and cried over my failed marriage. I’d hinted to our five children about a looming divorce by telling them, “Things are a hard for mom and dad right now so we are taking some time apart.” I’d told my therapist that I was planning on starting a new chapter in my life. I’d sat a hotel bar watching the news of a rapidly spreading virus overseas while holding the hands of a man with whom I was having an affair. By that time, I figured my marriage was fractured beyond repair. So, I sipped my Manhattan, planning for a life without my husband.

Then COVID-19 entered the U.S.

As a precaution, my husband and I agreed that he should come back home, with the prerequisite that he’d sleep in one of the unoccupied bedrooms in the basement. We set up invisible parameters, avoiding one another during daytime hours but gathering for brief family dinners to keep some sense of stability within the family. We sat at opposite sides of the dinner table and exchanged few words. We didn’t kiss each other goodnight but returned to our individual bedrooms, him in the basement and myself in the master bedroom. I bathed in my solitude, soaking up control of the TV remote and texting the new man in my life until late hours.

Social distancing became a regular habit between my husband and me long before any official orders had been put into place.

Then stay-at-home orders took effect. Jobs closed. Colleges shut down. Classrooms were emptied. Our adult and college-aged children trickled back home one at a time. To make room for everyone, I reluctantly gave up my personal space and agreed that my husband could share the bed with me. His clothes returned to their original place in our bedroom closet. The bedcovers blanketed the two of us at night. Except, we still managed to keep our distance, keeping a safe six feet apart in the comfort of our king-sized bed.

I laid awake late one night and stared at my husband’s back while he slept, trying to pinpoint when our relationship had taken a turn for the worse. Maybe it happened when I discovered I was pregnant only a few years after falling in love during our senior year of high school. Maybe it happened when we decided to place our child for adoption and I was left with a bucket of guilt and shame to deal with alone. Maybe our relationship fell apart when we started having one child after the next, and I threw all my energy into motherhood while he rapidly climbed the corporate ladder. Maybe it happened when we agreed to adopt our fourth child, and feelings of overwhelm took its toll. Or maybe our relationship cracked under the pressure of re-adopting our birth daughter when she turned eighteen because of a fractured relationship with her adoptive parents.

Regardless, stress replaced our affection for one another. The passion in our marriage had not only disappeared, it’d been stomped on, beaten and kicked to the curb. There was nothing left to give. I was spent. With my husband in my bed, clutching his pillow instead of me, I just felt alone.

To my surprise, our marriage began to mend more subtlety than the drama that unfolded with a rising pandemic. As my husband was forced to work from home, I realized there was no where that I could escape, and no one that I could escape to. In the beginning, I missed the sound of my husband’s car keys jingling as he’d leave for work. I sighed with resignation as I made an effort to include him in my home life. When I made morning coffee, I reluctantly poured him a cup, too. When I went out for an afternoon jog, he joined me. When I made lunch, I offered him a bite to eat. When it was happy hour, we both reached for a bottle of wine and clinked our glasses. At night, we’d lay together in bed and binge-watch Breaking Bad. Slowly, I began to count on these small, but significant moments together.

Conservation opened. Our hands intertwined. The arguing subsided. Our friendship was renewed. And soon enough, my husband and I resembled a team. It felt like us against the rest of the world. Quarantine became our saving grace.

I don’t know if there’s a happy ending in store for the two of us. I can’t say if our marriage will survive indefinitely. All I know is that relationships can be mended in the wildest of times. Glimpses of hope can be found in the middle of terrible circumstances.

For now, a divorce lawyer hasn’t shown up on our front door step. And maybe, just maybe, they never will. Only time will tell.

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A Divorce Attorney Answers FAQ About Child Support In The Wake Of Massive Job Loss

Even if you heeded the warnings for the COVID-19 pandemic and felt prepared, most people still felt blind-sided by the swift after-effects that followed in the wake of shutdowns and stay-at-home orders across the country. Within days, many people were laid off, furloughed, or saw their income substantially cut. Many people worried about whether they would simply be able to be pay their rent. And for those paying or receiving child support, another question loomed. What happens next when the first of the month rolls around and a child support payment is due? Family law attorney Robin Lalley has some advice.

Communication Is Key

You’ve heard this before, but it bears repeating. When people withhold information, mistrust builds. From the perspective of the parent who is receiving child support, if the due date comes around and no payment is received, some may assume the other parent is taking advantage of a crisis.

For divorced, separated, or otherwise estranged parents, it is possible you aren’t privy to the other parent’s daily life. You may assume that the parent owing child support is already receiving unemployment or has funds saved up so that they can pay child support. You may assume they are still going to work. Instead of approaching the non-paying parent with patience and understanding, it can be easy to default to demanding payment in full immediately — or calling your attorney to talk about filing a motion for contempt (seeking the court to punish the other parent for violating a child support order).

If you are the parent who owes child support, starting a conversation about your current financial issues – even if this task seems daunting — is a better way to address the potential inability to pay child support rather than just not sending the payment and assuming the other parent will simply understand what is going on.  Having that conversation, as difficult as it may be, may save you both a headache in the long run.

Consider The Short-Term, But Plan For The Long-Term

Another part of the discussion that should be taking place is about what the long-term looks like. Has unemployment been filed? Was the loss of employment permanent or temporary? Are there other job options during the pandemic in that parent’s field of work, even something temporary to offset the loss of income?

If the job loss is temporary and there are assurances of being rehired, then it may be best for both sides to come up with a short-term plan. That may include temporary suspension of child support, reduction in the amount, or a plan to pay back the difference in what is paid and what is owed once things get back to normal. One common thread in a crisis is that a little creativity likely goes a long way. Think outside the box as to how both sides’ needs can be met without causing more stress in an already stressful situation. And, remember, child support is intended to be a benefit for your children.

But what happens if you can’t reach an agreement with the other parent and you find yourself unable to pay child support? If you have a court order, you will need to file a motion to modify your child support obligation. Many child support obligations are established through a court order, and you do not get to choose if and when you follow a court order. Failure to comply with court orders could subject you to contempt motions and possibly to the consequences of being found in contempt of the court’s order (which can be as serious as jail time).

Generally, a person who pays child support pursuant to a court order cannot just stop paying child support amount without essentially asking the court’s permission first. Filing a motion to modify may be critically important as we continue to cope with our new reality as the result of COVID-19. For many, unemployment and loss of income could continue for months to come, and if you fail to file a motion to modify child support, a large amount of child support arrears (past due child support) could build up quickly. In many states, the child support payments will continue to add up and still be owed until a person actively seeks to stop them by filing a motion with the court. If that is true where you live, then time is of the essence in getting that motion filed once your income is impacted.

It may feel like addressing child support or filing a motion to modify child support is going too far, especially if you are hopeful that your employment may start back soon. If that’s the circumstance, then maybe you can pull together the funds to catch up on your payments or meet your monthly obligation. Or, pay what you can. That may even be easier in some cases if dealing with the other parent often proves confrontational.

Keep in mind that COVID-19 is a new situation for our entire country. Some businesses may not bounce back as quickly as others, and many may choose to voluntarily stay closed due to public health concerns.  If you are not 100% confident that you will be re-employed soon, it is probably better to err on the side of caution and address the possibility you might not be able to pay child support long-term.

Document Everything

Regardless of whether you are receiving support or paying support, there are things you can do to protect yourself and prepare for any issues that may come up in the future. Memorializing any agreement is important, and under some circumstances, the agreement to temporarily modify child support may not be legally binding unless certain formalities are taken. Additionally, keeping records related to the child support matter is a wise way to be proactive.

For the parent receiving child support, document your efforts to gain information and work with the other parent regarding their support payments. For the parent who owes support and is facing a loss of income, keep track of your partial payments, applications for jobs, attempts to receive unemployment, and make your best efforts to keep the other parent informed in writing so those texts, emails, etc. can be used to show your good faith in resolving the issue.

Some of these things you can do on your own, such as communication and making efforts to work together and compromise. Some of these options require legal expertise and counsel. Whether you find yourself needing to take things to the next level by hiring an attorney to file a motion with the court or negotiate on your behalf, or if you are just doing the best you can on your own, take a step back to think about how the other parent is being affected and try to focus on the fact that we are all being impacted in some way during these extraordinary times.

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9 Ways My Ex And I Rock Co-Parenting

My ex and I have been co-parenting successfully for a long time now, and as the kids get older and more complicated issues arise, it seems our co-parenting relationship gets even stronger.

I was recently asked why I thought I’ve had success navigating the treacherous waters of parenting with an ex post-divorce. I wish I had a silver bullet to our success. It’s not been an easy road by any means, but even though we were flying blind, I think we’ve worked out most of the kinks.

I sat down with him to talk about our success and to see if we can figure out the steps we took (and are still taking) to rock co-parenting.

We prioritize the kids’ emotional and mental health.

From the beginning, we knew that despite the failure of our marriage, we would do everything in our power to insure that the kids were as healthy emotionally as the situation could allow.

We constantly checked in with the kids, talked through their feelings and let them know they were loved every single day. We listened to their grievances and made adjustments accordingly. All of our own personal issues were set aside so that we could focus on them.

We support each other’s decisions.

This one is not always easy. Was I okay with my eight-year-old watching that PG-13 movie or standing that close to the edge of the hiking trail? Um…no. And I let him know that. But the key was to not let the kids know that I disagreed with any of his parenting decisions or allowances during their time with him.

Creating any doubt or insecurities about his parenting choices would have been a detriment to their well being and attitude while they are with him. They need to feel that they are in safe hands when they are not with me and there is zero point in involving them in any small disagreements we may have.

Their dad and I have evolved over the years and so has our co-parenting relationship. Now, if we are ever in doubt, we check in for approval from the other parent. Which leads me to the next point …

We ask each other’s opinions.

Ok, so not for everything. Who has the time for that? But we have built up enough trust as co-parents to really regard the other’s point-of-view on important rules or life decisions. Is 14 too young to attend a high school party? Should we consider out-of-state colleges for the oldest? We treat each other as sounding boards and here’s the key word…respect each other’s thoughts on parenting issues.

We don’t sweat the small stuff.

It’s tough to not have control over what your kids do, eat, drink, watch, read, etc., when they are not with you. Have you heard the term “part-time parent”? Yeah, it can kinda sucks sometimes. But let’s be real — going to bed an hour past their usual curfew isn’t going to wreck their lives. Having ice cream every night for a whole weekend won’t either.

We just don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. And P.S. — you know how not to feel like a “part time parent”? Have a great co-parenting relationship! I always feel engaged with the kids even when they’re not with me because of the communication I have with their Dad throughout the week.

We never put the kids in the middle.

We keep discourse between ourselves. Let me tell ya, putting the kids in the middle of disagreements will just breed resentment and anger in your kids. Just. Stop. Children of divorce love both of their parents. We never vent to the kids about something we are disappointed or upset with. We don’t play angry voicemails or show them texts. We have friends for that (and therapists). There’s also always pets. I’ve had many a vent session with Zollie. He’s the best listener. We try to remember, these are our issues, not the kids’.

We follow the same lifestyle rules.

I know this one is pretty tough for a lot of blended families. It’s common for the more insecure parent to over-indulge the child to gain favor. We just don’t play that game. We keep our rules relatively consistent so that the kids know that the same behaviors are expected at both homes. We discuss things like social media accounts, allowances, chores, after-school activities, etc.

It helps that we have pretty much always been on the same page about what we expect from the kids behavior-wise. When we started parenting in two different homes, it would have been easy to drift away from common goals. It’s one of the things that we’ve learned through the years — having the same rules and consequences in both homes strengthens our co-parenting.

We try hard not to push each other’s buttons.

Listen — if you were married for any amount of time, you certainly figured out how to push each other’s buttons. You know what will prickle the other’s mood or what will trigger a certain unpleasant reaction. First of all, you’re not married anymore, secondly — you’re an adult! Don’t do it. And if one of you is having a bad day and says something regrettable, don’t let that lead you into an argument.

If my ex is feeling especially grumpy, I just choose to ignore that snippy little comment and make an excuse to get off the phone. There is no point in overreacting. I can call him later when he (and I) have calmed down instead of getting sucked into drama because we’re having a bad day.

We are flexible with our time.

We’ve been so lucky to have never needed an official court order to tell us when to see our kids. I know that in most situations post-divorce it is absolutely needed/recommended. For us personally, the thought of involving a stranger (i.e., a judge) to dictate our time with the kids was so unimaginable that we just never even considered it.

Now, we remain flexible with our time with the kids. We do have set days when the kids are with each of us, but we frequently switch days, give the other extra time or adjust as needed. We involve the kids when possible so that they never feel shuffled from one house to the other. They are part of the decisions and have choices.

We get the kids excited about their time with the other parent.

I know it can be tempting to talk to the kids about all of the wonderful things they will do upon their return to your home. We have always practiced the opposite. When I learn about their weekend plans, I get them excited to leave as opposed to excited to return. “Wow — you guys are going to love learning to surf this weekend with Papa!” As opposed to — “I can’t wait for you to get back! We’ll be taking this amazing trip to xyz, having a party and poopin’ rainbows!”

We want the kids to truly live their best lives, to look forward to and enjoy their time with the other parent. We don’t want to compromise the already limited time they have with the other parent. We are secure enough in our relationships with the kids and within our own co-parenting relationship.

We’re not perfect. Sometimes we mess up. We don’t rock co-parenting all the time. We do though, always strive for consistency and teamwork. We compromise whenever we can and we continue to care about each other as the parents of our kids. I mean, we’re kinda stuck with each other, after all.

We’ll be needing to make parenting decisions for a whole lot longer, so we try to remember that focusing on positive communication and cooperation is key. As is remembering that we chose for them to be our children’s parent in the first place.

This post originally appeared on Lights, Camera, Family!

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7 Things I Discovered About Myself After I Got A Divorce 

My ex-husband and I agreed to divorce over three and a half years ago. Back then, I was in survival mode living minute to minute. I had no idea of the emotional hills I’d have to climb. As soon as thoughts about how much my life would change would creep in, I’d shut them all down. Then something would come up to make me face them.

Those experiences were (and still are) the catalyst of me getting to know me, in a way I never would have if I were still with my ex-husband. I now know things about myself I didn’t before, and they have all been gifts. 

1. I am capable of doing this on my own.

For a long time, the idea of being married and having a partner to share a home and raise children with was what I really wanted. But I also believed I needed another person’s help because I didn’t think I was strong enough to handle it on my own — not emotionally or financially. 

You know what? I totally am.

I’ve been tested, scared, and made lots of mistakes, but I keep going. The true meaning of doing something on your own doesn’t mean there aren’t speed bumps in your way that set you back. It means you handle the speed bumps and keep going.

2. I have a lot of work to do in the relationship department.

All of my relationships with men have been pretty healthy. Not perfect, but nothing traumatic. I always thought it was because I was confident and had my emotional shit together. Now, I’m not sure if having your emotional shit together is even a thing. I have a lot of work to do when it comes to being in a relationship with someone.

I felt really strong when I wasn’t dating. Then when I meet someone, all my insecurities, anxiety, and self-sabotaging thoughts come out to play. 

I’ve realized that I tend to shut down when I’m upset or hurt, and I can do things to make my partner feel insignificant. I’m not the best communicator and can be selfish because I think about how I am being affected in situations without taking the time to look at their side. 

I can be very immature when it comes to love. For decades, I thought if my partner would just meet my needs, all would be well because I was stable, I was the voice of reason. Wrong. I’m learning to drop a lot of the expectations and realize I need to work on how I handle myself when I’m not okay, because it can make or break a relationship.

3. I am allowed to be more than “just” a mom.

I put so much of myself into being a mother, it was all I identified with. My ex-husband saw it way before I did and I ignored his concerns (see #2). It was damaging to say the least. My parents divorced, and I tried to make up for all I I’d lost when I had kids by investing in them so much, there wasn’t time for anything else. 

It wasn’t until I only saw them part-time that I realized I needed to build myself up more by doing other things. 

I am allowed to learn a new sport or hobby. I am allowed to be a sexual person. I am allowed to let loose a little bit with my friends. Being a mother isn’t a parallel universe, and I’m glad I stepped out of it because it’s been better for me and my children.

4. I put others’ needs before my own for too long.

It was as if I didn’t even know who I was or what I wanted in my life because it was taken off the table for so long. My ex-husband is not to blame for this; I am. I wanted to be married and have a family so badly. I stopped looking for other things in my life that made me evolve and grow. I thought being a mom was the end-all-be-all, and I wasn’t willing to budge on making anyone else uncomfortable to say what I needed or wanted. 

I shoved dreams of mine under the table and ignored myself for too long just to stay in the everyday demands of making my family happy. Then I couldn’t do it anymore. That’s when my life started. 

5. I need to have more compassion for others.

Before signing my divorce papers, people would vent about their lives or say they felt too overwhelmed to do this or that. I didn’t vocalize this much, but I sometimes wondered whether they were contributing to their own problems. 

Now I know when someone can’t fulfill an obligation, it may mean they can’t emotionally be there and they need to take care of themselves. They may have a zillion other things going on in their life they just don’t want to explain. Or they may be so overwhelmed by anxiety because of a shift in their life that the only way they know how to get through the day is to be still, and they don’t have to explain that to anyone.

6. Screwing up doesn’t mean I am a screw up.

I got really tired of saving face or acting like I was fine. It used to be, if I made a mistake, I would put myself through the ringer and obsess over it. If I felt I’d said or done something wrong, it would be stuck on my forehead for the rest of my life, and no one would forget it. 

This is the very thing that makes us human. People screwing up and making mistakes doesn’t mean they are a screw up. It means they tried something that didn’t work. It doesn’t mean their life is falling apart.

7. Just because I know how to do something, doesn’t mean I have to.

I’ve run myself ragged a time or two trying to do things I have the ability to do regardless of whether I have time to do them or not. I’ve baked cookies for a school event instead of buying them because I let my ego do the talking. I’ve looked up videos on YouTube on how to change a broken shower head instead of asking for help or hiring someone. 

Most of my life, I’ve felt that if I knew how to do something, or if I could figure it out for myself, then I had zero excuse not to just fucking do it. Then my moods would head south and I’d be so irritable the tiniest duty would send me into a tailspin, or I’d cancel something that would actually be just the thing I needed like a girls’ night or having the energy to stay up a little late and read.

When you are the solo parent, you learn pretty quickly that you are better off if you are able to say no or ask for help. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

Oftentimes, we have to go through something that sucks to get to know ourselves a little better. When my ex-husband moved out over three years ago, I thought I knew myself pretty well. After all, I was 41 and a mother to three. I felt I had enough life experience under my belt and could keep living my life the same way I had been.

I’m glad I decided to pay attention to what my emotions were trying to tell me every time something I was doing or thinking felt off. Because if I hadn’t closed that side of my brain down and continued to plow through like I wanted to, I wouldn’t have gotten to know myself the way I do now.  And I have to say, I like myself more than I ever have.

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The One Question That Healed My Heart After Divorce: ‘Did You Feel Loved By Me?’

I didn’t understand our divorce. Today, a year after my 17-year relationship ended, I sit daily with a multitude of unanswered questions. They stem from my insecurities. These questions can range from interrogating my every thought to tearing down my intuition, my heart, the way I love, who I am, and the basic underlying context to how I chose partners. Maybe I never knew him. Maybe he changed. I allot myself some grace. There isn’t enough sugar to coat the facts.

The one remaining fact I can’t change is my marriage died. A friendship ended. It died long before a divorce decree. It died an unnatural death with more tears and heartache than I had ever felt. It died with me never feeling good enough. Always striving to be loved. It died with loneliness and being ignored. It died with resentment, because I chased my dreams. Sometimes, death comes in forms of transitions and change. It comes when we outgrow people. Death comes with situational changes and the hurt, the loss, is still the same.

I have spent time with my reflections. Looking back, and reconciling the parts where I failed. I chase dreams to the bitter end. I work continuously, because hard work pays off. I dive into self-sufficiency and rely on nothing but the strength I’ve always known. Maybe it wasn’t a partnership, it became me always writing the next piece. Ignoring things which probably should have been a bigger priority. And we can question the support I received. I question this often. Do I carry immense blame? Absolutely.

There is gratitude in witnessing my faults. Accepting them for the places I fell short. Two people came together, and two people let a marriage fail. I don’t play the blame game beyond these points. It’s a game without end. It’s a game constantly resetting itself in the past. There is no place to heal in pointing fingers. Even when I know a few point back at me. Blame is centered only the ‘you,’ I am concerned with only the ‘me’ now. It is my sole responsible to heal myself, especially after burying my marriage. After death is mourning. Along with the mourning sits grief, anger, shock, disbelief, hurt, and finally acceptance.

My fingers wrote the question in a text to my ex. Then I erased it, and I sat the phone down. I thought what does it matter? What will the answer to the question change? I realized it changed everything. The answer mattered to me. The answer said everything about me as a lover, as a wife, and as a partner. I wrote the question again, and hit send this time.

“Did you feel loved by me?”

Six words. Six words determining if I failed or succeeded in keeping the vow I promised many years before we buried our future. An answer to these six words meant I had either kept my commitment or somewhere I had fallen short in what I promised to be. If the answer was “no,” then I should look inwardly. I should look at the way I showed my loved, at the expressions I used. I should, perhaps, adjust my affection and criticism. The answer to the question would express to me if needed to change the way I loved.

I know my answer to this question. I never felt loved. It always felt like a chase. Like a carrot on a string in front of my face. My legs kept running for years trying to get the carrot. They walked and walked, never even getting a satisfactory nibble. Obtaining love felt like a game. Like an end goal. Even though we had the family, the home, the marriage, and the friendship. We had all the things which outwardly gave the illusion of love. But within my inner self, it felt empty. Did I know before I walked down the aisle? Yes. I thought our love would eventually fall into place. I realize the absurdity in this now. In writing how I hoped his love would find me. Love is there, or it is not.

Still, I loved. And the answer popped up on my phone. The reply to the question I had asked. The answer to “Did you feel loved by me?” is and will always be for him a “yes.” I stared at the word. I processed what it meant. There are no winners in divorce, only losers. However, I finally gained some peace in the wreckage. A life boat where I can grab with assurance as I float  seeking my refuge in the uncertainty known as my new life. I found my answer.

Answers have reconciliations, and even the smallest word can give the right amount of closure needed. He’s never apologized for the end. For the really crappy, miserable days leading into dissolution. Yes, I have apologized. Owning my wrongs is my job. It is my accountability to recognize where I have failed. I should admit my failures. I should be sorry for them. I should acknowledge the hurt I caused and work solely on fixing myself for my future.

His answer showed me how only I have power over myself. It is not my responsibility to fix or be anything more than myself. I have absolutely no power in how others treat me, but my innate gifts come directly from me. I have power in myself and with my love. I am capable of giving and showing my love. This is what I promised to do from the beginning and I had achieved it. I loved another person with my whole heart. I loved them with the best my ability. I made them feel loved by me. When my love wasn’t enough, I walked away.

All the blame I had placed on my shoulders melted away in few weeks. I allowed myself to accept the answer. I allowed healing to come into my broken heart. I had done my best. Sometimes, in certain situations, your best will not be good enough. But you have to let yourself know how your best is good enough for you. There isn’t any power greater than the ones we have inside ourselves.

When I am sad… when I want to replay scenarios and heartaches, I look at a text. I know I did my best. I did all I could do. I shake off the internal negativity. And I ask myself, “Do you feel loved by you?” This is now the only answer which matters to me. If I can give my love to someone who I never felt loved by, then I can give the same love to myself.

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I Refuse To Use My Children As A Weapon To Hurt My Ex

There are times I want to yell at my ex-husband in front of my kids. Especially when he drops them off at my house and has a smug look on his face while he makes a comment that undercuts me, ever so slightly. 

He thinks he’s the only one who is aware of his limp-dicked passive-aggressiveness, but it’s something he’s done for a really long time. He always told me while we were married I read too deep into his words, then overreacted. 

While I disagree with him and think he knows exactly what he’s doing, I refuse to push back. I don’t want my children seeing their parents argue (we can do that in private), and I refuse to capture them in the middle of our differences.

My ex isn’t perfect, neither am I. We’ve decided the most important thing we can do, now that we aren’t a couple any longer, is to be happy parents for our children. That means not arguing about petty stuff in their presence. That also means not using them as a bargaining chip to hurt each other. 

That’s really damn hard to pull off all the time, and I have to admit, I have not always done a spotless job. Like when he decided to take off to Key West with the kids and his girlfriend and made all the arrangements without even asking me if it was okay. 

I sobbed after my son told me they’d booked an awesome hotel. “It’s going to be so fun!” he exclaimed, as I couldn’t hide the shock on my face. I demanded he tell me more because I had no idea this lavish vacation was even happening.

I marched up to my room with my phone, fuming with rage. I was so angry he had the nerve to book a trip and take my kids away for a week at the expense of me losing precious time with them.

He apologized and since then has consulted me with things like this, but in that moment, I couldn’t calm down. I screamed, “I’ll get them the entire following week then! I don’t care what your plans are!” Then I hung up the phone. 

I wasn’t proud of myself, and the relief I got from screaming at my ex quickly faded. My kids heard me and it tainted their trip. I could tell because they were constantly checking up on me, making sure I was okay. And it wasn’t their job to do so. Their job was to go away with their father who loves them very much and wanted to have this experience with them.

I felt it was my right to make things equal by not letting him see our kids the following week, but our kids were the ones who paid the price. I told myself, never again. I knew my anger was pushed off the cliff that day because it was just so typical of my ex-husband to undermine me and think he had the right to make all the decisions. I was mad I didn’t have the means to plan a trip to a warm spot with my kids. I needed him to know it wasn’t okay, and I wanted him to pay. 

The only way I knew how to do that was to use our children as a bargaining chip. And it was wrong.

It’s impossible to go through a break-up with the other parent to your children and not have a sour taste in your mouth. Even if you part as friends, you will still be tested. Your feelings will be stretched with each new situation: when they find a new partner; when they make a parenting decision you wouldn’t make; when they are acting out in front of your kids and you feel like your hands are tied; when they forget something really important. 

You will still hurt them and they will still hurt you. And it’s hard to have a healthy reaction to that hurt all the time.

Your kids know when you are using them as a weapon. They will feel it, they will remember it, and yes, they will blame you for it. If not now, later in life.

I refuse to have my kids remember their parents’ divorce as a constant go-around. I won’t let them have memories of being thrown in the middle and pulled in different directions. I never want them to feel like catalysts in a toxic mess they have no control over.

I want them to have enriching experiences that will improve their quality of life. If that means a little less time with me, so be it. I want them to have a say in how they spend the holidays and their birthdays. I will no longer play tit-for-tat or anything in between.

Because if I do, if I let my ego and my hurt win and use my children as weapons to hurt my ex, the only damage it will do is to our relationship — which is the most precious thing in my life.

So as hard as it is, I’ll bite my tongue and take up issues with my ex in private. And most importantly, I will never use them to as a weapon to hurt him ever again. 

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