When You’re Divorced And Your Child Doesn’t Want To Live With You

As someone who went through my own divorce, it was excruciating enough, even though all of my children seemed to adjust really well. They were fine going back and forth, and not once in the past few years has any of my kids expressed a need or want to live with just me or just their father.

The joint custody arrangement has worked out well for us all.

It never occurred to me how hard it would be if one of them wanted to live with their dad and not spend time in my home any more. I still have no clue since I haven’t lived it, but I can only imagine seeing how hard it is to not be with them when it’s their dad’s night, or he takes them away on vacation.

But one of my friends hasn’t been so lucky with her joint custody situation; she has a teenager who let her know he wants to live with his father now. While they still see each other, it’s not the same and has been so very hard on her.

She doesn’t want to get the court involved, as she feels like her son is a young man and should be able to make this decision on his own. “He’s not eight anymore and I can’t physically force him to come with me,” she told me the other night when he let her know he would be staying with his father on her night once again.

Every situation is different. My friend’s son seems to want to live with his dad because he’s not made to do chores and has a very long leash without curfew or phone restrictions; she’s always been the disciplinarian. 

I think her son is a typical teenager in that he cares about his social life very much and wants to be where he can do what he wants. There’s no abuse or danger for the child. She feels her ex is a pretty good father who loves her son, but he’s much more lax than she is when it comes to making sure he gets his school work done on time and he lets his girlfriend spend the night.

However, when they agreed to divorce, their custody agreement states he would be with her for half the time — and her ex husband isn’t supporting this agreement in any way, simply saying, “He wants to stay with me for a while.”

In order to file an official complaint, it will cost money, and she was told by DHS that it may be weeks or months before the complaint officially gets filed. Even then, they couldn’t promise they could really do anything about it.

Nationally-recognized mental health expert Ned Presnall, LCSW, told Scary Mommy that as hard as this may be for the non-preferred parent, it might be a time to let them go a bit. “There’s no one right way to negotiate custody issues with teenagers. If we assume that the basic structure and support provided to the teen in each household is equitable, then there should be quite a bit of deference given to the teen in choosing where they spend their time.”

Basically, that is what my friend has decided to do right now, even though it is tearing her up inside and she feels completely dismissed. 

If this is happening to you, or someone you know, there are steps you can take to ease your pain. Again, this is very different from having an ex keep your child away from you on purpose, or you wanting to keep them from their other parent because there are horrible things going on in that household and you feel like they are in danger.

Those are examples when you absolutely should get lawyers and the court involved.

Presnall reminds us the teens years are a time when they really aren’t focused on spending time with their parents in the first place. 

Naturally we want to pursue them and ask to spend time with them, as my friend has. While her son did have dinner with her, he didn’t want to stay at her house. They talk on the phone and text and she continues to ask him to do stuff with her all the time. 

There are times he says “yes” but many times he says “no.”

Presnall says in order to get the best results from your teen, “You should engage in a supportive, affirmative relationship with the teen no matter what.” Be their cheerleader, send them positive notes, have as much involvement in their life as you can, such as going to games and taking them to appointments.

“But when a teen doesn’t live in your household, you don’t need to micromanage them,” he says. “Instead, you can give them the unconditional positive regard that they crave as they grow to be the primary source of authority in their own lives.”

I have another friend who went through this with her son years ago, although she was on the opposite end. Her son only wanted to stay with her and didn’t want a thing to do with his father. Their relationship was nonexistent for about a year, and she told me, “The worst thing my ex did was to stop pursuing him. He didn’t reach out, he didn’t come over, he didn’t call him for a year.”

Looking back, she realizes her son was hurt and rejected and needed his dad in many ways, but as a teenager, he didn’t know how to express it. 

Erik Wheeler is a mediator who does a lot of post-divorce and divorce mediations, and teaches a class on parenting that is required in Vermont for parents going through divorce. He told Scary Mommy, “From a legal standpoint, it’s unlikely the court will enforce a schedule when it pertains to a teenager, since they are relatively independent anyway. The court knows that if they force the teen to visit the other parent, they likely will leave on their own.”

He suggests the best way to deal with the situation with your child is to talk, listen, and try to understand what their objections are to spending time at your house. Pressuring the child isn’t the answer. “Don’t use guilt, as it will not work and won’t benefit either of you,” he says.

Wheeler has seen the most success with parents who give the child some time and space, and “invite her or him to do different activities. Eventually you may find that you’ll either understand better the reasons why they aren’t staying with you, or the child may have more interest in staying with you. At this point they just need reassurance that you will always be there to help and support them.”

These are tools to hopefully make the situation a bit more bearable, but there’s no denying this is a heart-wrenching situation. I’d do anything to make this better for my friend, but she is handling it well and is determined to stay in her child’s life no matter what. It’s all you can do as a parent of a teen who wants to live with another parent.

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I Will Always Have Big Feelings About My Divorce

My ex husband and I decided to separate four years ago. It was a mutual decision. We tried to work on our marriage, but the writing was on the wall: our hearts weren’t in it. It was like we’d outgrown each other and wanted to see what was out there.

He told me he’d been unhappy for quite some time, and I wasn’t crushed. However, I told him I didn’t feel the same. “I am happy,” I said.

“You are happy with your life and the kids. You are happy about our home, your friends, and your family. You aren’t happy with me. You don’t miss me, you don’t look forward to seeing me. We are co-existing; it’s all business.”

I felt like he’d seen the very thing in me I’d been hiding from myself. It’s a really hard thing to admit and come to terms with, and the guilt twisted me up inside. I didn’t want to let go of our life, but he did.

My ex-husband did something for our family I couldn’t do. He made the decision to leave so we could both move on, and feel okay to let go of the life we thought we were going to have forever.

There have been days I’ve felt so wild and free, a kind of exhilaration I’ve never had before. I love being the only adult in the house with our kids. I love not having to consult with anyone about what I’m going to do, how I’m going to spend money, and I love that my name is the only one on the checking account.

But the dark times are really dark. Divorced friends have told me it gets better over time and doesn’t hurt so much, but I’ve found a different truth.

The angst may disappear for hours, days, or even a few weeks. But it always comes back and kicks me in the gut so hard I’m not sure how I went from dancing into my clothes to get ready for the day, to being tied to the sofa feeling like I’ll never be able to get up.

When the pain comes, it doesn’t feel any better than it did four years ago.

I don’t care if I wasn’t happy with my ex-husband, and yes, I know it’s been four years and there are people who think I should be “over it” by now — but I will always have big feelings about my divorce.

It’s changed me in ways no other experience in my life has.

I’m better for it, because it’s taught me how capable I am and I don’t need to rely on anyone to fix things for me.

It’s taught me that it’s okay to not want it all, and to outgrow the container of what I thought my life should be when I was 25.

It’s taught me that change is hard, but there is so much growth that happens when you are trying to figure a new life out. And that all of the bad things you think will happen, rarely do.

It’s also forced me to look at my faults: I struggle to let go and just let life unfold. I need to work on being more compassionate to others. It’s too easy for me to shut down and walk away from people when they hurt me instead of talking to them about it. 

But with the good comes the bad.

The guilt I have for not wanting to be married anymore has made me feel like if anything good comes my way, I will probably ruin it.

I often have flashbacks of our old life, especially on Sunday morning when I wake up without my kids because they are with their dad on Saturday nights. Sunday was always a family day in our house.

I don’t even know how many Sundays I wake up with my heart pounding, feeling so sad and wondering what I have done with my life.

Meanwhile, my kids are having a wonderful time with their dad and his girlfriend and probably aren’t even thinking about me.

People will tell you things will get easier and that your “new normal” will feel normal before you know it. You will look back at the end of your relationship and see how far you’ve come. You will realize that if you made it through a divorce and rebuilt yourself, you can do anything.

I believe all of that. I do.

But (for me anyway) the feelings I have about my marriage ending, my ex moving out, and not seeing my children every day have not gotten any easier. I’ve gotten used to it, but that’s not the same thing.

I know I’m going to cry when I drop them off to go on vacation with their father. I know I’m going to wake up on Sunday with a pit in my stomach. I know I am going to let the guilt rule some of my days.

This is my reality now and I can’t escape; believe me, I’ve tried. If I could turn it off I would.

So, to anyone who is struggling now, I want to tell you something; You may get used to this, it may even feel easier over time, but you also might be like me and always have big feelings about the fact your marriage and your life didn’t turn out the way you thought it would. You don’t go through something like a divorce, regardless of how amicable or freeing it may feel, without being pushed into a different version of yourself. 

And it’s more than okay to accept the fact that it’s a huge part of who you are now, but it doesn’t mean you have to get over it. There is nothing wrong with you if you find yourself feeling the same way you did when you were in the most difficult part of your marriage, and there’s no time limit on healing — whether it’s been six months or sixteen years.

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The Dumpster Fire Of Post-Divorce Dating

I have found myself in a position I never thought I would. Like, ever. When I got divorced, I was so mentally and emotionally exhausted from a tumultuous decade of what (in retrospect) I can see as a toxic relationship, that finding someone else to live life with was not even a consideration. Placing one foot in front of another, I packed up my belongings, negotiated custody through a rigorous legal process, and started my new life.

It took a long time. Dating was something that lived in the far recesses of my mind – a consideration, but not an actual possibility. Starting from scratch financially and re-entering the workforce with three young kids having popped in and out employment (mostly by choice) since my firstborn, as well as the healing process of leaving a very difficult marriage, took every ounce of my time as well as my mental and emotional energy.

I sat with everything that had happened for a long time. I had no desire to bring another element into my life that would further tax me. I wanted to focus on my children, and I wanted to focus on myself. What made me happy? What made me a better mom?

After some time, I decided to dip my toe into the dating pool. Living in a suburb, surrounded by married couples, and having very few social outlets during a pandemic, I decided to try online dating. I wasn’t very invested. I was just curious to see what was out there.

I tried two different dating apps, and in the beginning, it was incredibly exciting. It reminded me of a video I saw online in which piranhas in a fish tank are tossed a chicken breast. It was flattering and exhilarating. But once you pass the initial “fresh meat” stage, you begin to realize online dating for what it is. I’ve found that the men are either fatigued in their searches and strip you bare via rapid-fire questions to quickly move you to the next level, or they pass on you. There are the men who prompt your attention with a “How are you?” and then ghost. There are the men who immediately ask you on a date or for your phone number just a few lines into the conversation.

I’ve been on dates with two men. The first quickly escalated our conversation into sexting, which was horrifying. I liked him at first blush and kept trying to redirect him onto a course that was less of a horndog missive. Honestly, the sudden change from kindness and interest to a determined sexcapade rhetoric left me so defeated that I immediately got off the app and decided that online dating wasn’t for me.

I gave myself a pep talk, though. I said I couldn’t give up without trying a little harder. It’s the exact type of spiel I have in my arsenal for my children when times get tough. So I got on another dating site and again experienced the fresh meat stage, the culling stage, and narrowed down my suitors to a decent handful. One seemed eager to meet, and although I found his pictures unappealing, I decided to go in with an open mind.

And so my second date attempt was launched. This time, it was a far too lengthy dinner with a man who revealed himself as a complete narcissist by talking nonstop about himself and his ex-wife. It came to light that he had begun dating immediately after his marriage ended and was on a mission to find a partner at all costs. He spent the evening edging closer and closer to me, giving me light touches on the arm and knee to communicate his interest – none of which I reciprocated. His radar was so tuned only on himself and his own wants that he failed to recognize my lack of interest. Which is why the evening culminated with him attaching his face to mine out of nowhere. The horror I felt froze me like a statue, but I was able to extricate myself. Needless to say, it didn’t work out.

I started engaging in a lengthy back and forth with another local man who I found good looking and intelligent. We exchanged phone numbers and proposed a time to meet up. I thoroughly enjoyed talking with him, but he would dip out of conversations for hours at a time, and I would see that he was periodically checking my profile while also remaining online in the dating app for long, black hole hours. I began to wonder if he was comparing me to other women, trying to decide if I was worth it, ignoring our conversation in pursuit of other women. It made me feel like shit.

And there’s the crux of it. It was making me feel like shit. I’m not complaining about the echelon or behavior of men. I knew attempting to find someone via online dating would be a diamond in the rough type of situation and that I wouldn’t be bombarded by eligible bachelors who were perfectly suited for me. That takes more time and effort that I put into it. What wasn’t going to improve over time, however, was the shit feeling that online dating platforms were giving me.

I’m not an image-conscious person – I live life at the comfort level of someone who has three young children and isn’t necessarily motivated by fashion and beauty. And yet suddenly, I have become increasingly aware of my long nose peppered with large pores, my lack of beautiful, thick hair, the fact that I have a stomach marred by stretch mark and loose skin, that I have cellulite on my thighs and that my breasts aren’t round and perky, that I haven’t bought a new article of clothing that wasn’t intended for work or comfort in literal years.

I don’t like being dressed down online and categorized or shunned because of my appearance. And worst of all were the rejections based solely upon my children. Men my age frowned upon the number of children I have – three. Men older than me rejected me based on the ages of my children – elementary school and below. Other men liked to pretend I had no children at all, never mentioning them, never asking about them.

I understand the nature of online dating, and I was a willing participant. No one thrust this on me. I knew going in that it was a rapid-fire series of judgments based on appearance. Am I being fragile? Yes. Am I being overly sensitive? Likely. But to judge me based on my children – whether in acknowledgement or lack thereof, is where I draw the line. Do not dismiss me because I’m a mom of three young children. What do these men expect dating to look like as you reach middle age?

So where does that leave me? Where does that leave a mom of three young children who is intelligent, confident, relatively attractive and fit, who refuses to settle but is hopeful to the thought of being coupled?

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Dear Single Moms, Asking For What You Want In A Relationship Doesn’t Make You A ‘Diva’

When I started dating again in my 40s after being with the same man for a very long time, it was a whole different playing field, to say the least. I had kids, there were more dating apps than I could count, and word on the street was to “not ask for too much.” 

Ahem, what?

I had friends who were divorced and dating who didn’t even list they had kids on their profile, because they figured men didn’t like that and they wanted to get to know them before breaking that news. PSA: Being a mother is a huge part of who you are, and it’s not baggage. It’s a part of you.

I talked to women who would do all the leg work and say things like, “He travels a lot for work, so I always go see him.”

I also know a woman who’s been with a man for years and has said many times, “I really want to spend time with our kids together, but he doesn’t want to do that.” 

And it kills me every time one of my best friends I’ve known since high school (who’s been with the same man for over six years) says, “We never fight.”

Well, that’s because she’s not speaking up and telling him that she really does want to move in together and get married, because she knows he doesn’t want that with her.

She does backbends for him while he does, well, nothing but enjoy the fact he has everything done for him while he puts in zero effort. Her reasoning? She doesn’t want to be “too high maintenance.”

If I sound irritated, it’s because I am.

For almost four years now, I’ve watched single mothers make excuses as to why they are putting some dude’s needs before theirs and saying they are fine with it.

Um, they really aren’t fine with it. I can read their tone and the tears that are running down their face. Their mascara that’s streaked on their cheeks practically spells out “I WANT MORE.”

No. Fuck no. 

I am an independent woman who can take care of myself. I don’t need anyone, but when I’m in a relationship, I have needs and expectations just like my partner does. That’s normal, secure, and there’s not a damn thing wrong with that. 

I’ve seen too many successful, kind women shrink themselves and not ask for anything from their man for fear of seeming too needy. I’ve fallen victim to it myself, and I’ve never been more miserable.

Then, I wake up and smell the sex that we had last night and realize that if I am letting a man into my bed and my life, I am allowed to have a voice in what the fuck is going on between us. He can stay or leave, his choice; it’s beautiful how that works.

From someone who has dated a lot these past years and is in a loving relationship now, this is what I’ve experienced through myself and my single friends: You can sit, stew, and not ask for what you want for fear of being too high-maintenance and a diva.

You can keep living a fake life with your invisible needs and not say a damn thing while your man caters only to his own needs, wanting you to always bend and weave and fit into his life until you literally can’t take it anymore and you explode. And then get called “high-maintenance” and “a diva.”

Or, you can be very clear about what your needs are from the beginning and ask for what you need — whether it’s for your partner to please stop watching football during your date nights once in a while or to tell them that sexual position they seem to love actually hurts you — and to realize this is what makes you who you are. And no, it’s not too much.

This is how relationships work, right? We speak up, we talk it out, we compromise. It’s funny how many women I’ve watched sit for hours and suffer through something they don’t want to do to please their new romantic partner (myself included) simply because this isn’t their first rodeo, and they are now dating moms. Like, why does this make people think they should lower the bar? I say raise it.

Moms need to feel comfortable enough to say, “Hey, actually we are going to watch a Golden Girls marathon while you give me oral tonight, honey,” or “Hey, I’d really like it if we just stayed in with the kids tonight,” or whatever it is they need.

I’ve learned so much these past few years when it comes to dating as a single mom. One, this is the hardest shit, ever.

But two, you are not too much for asking for what you want. You are just enough. And if you are clear about that from the start and state your expectations as they come up, the right person will meet you where you are and listen to what you need without writing you off as a “diva,” because God forbid you’d like it if they’d start cleaning up after themselves when they come over. 

In tolerating things and behaviors that don’t feel right, and putting someone else’s needs before yours because you are afraid they might leave if you say something (remember, no one can read your mind, you have to do the talking), all you are doing is feeding yourself something you don’t actually want to consume.

So, if you are a single mom who’s dating right now and you feel like you’re holding back in asking for what you want, stop that shit right now. No one is going to get you what you deserve except for you, and that only happens by expecting it — so start practicing that right now.

It gets easier, I promise. 

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Whether Or Not You’re A Fan Of Christina Anstead, Her IG Post About Divorce And Anxiety Is Gold

I’ve always been told I talk and share too much. It’s just the way I’m wired. I’ve tried to reel it in for a bit, but it feels like I’m wearing scratchy jeans that are crooked and give me a camel toe.

I hate that feeling–no one likes to feel like they can’t move freely in their own skin and they are holding things in so that everyone else can be comfortable.

There are those who share things about their life and those who choose to stay quiet. Either way is okay as long as it feels true to you.

I’ve written about my divorce a lot. There are some people who have looked down on that and think I should button it up. But for every person who has told me to shut my lips (I won’t), there have been ten who have told me that my being honest has helped them in a big way.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about people, it’s this: No one likes to be hurt, and no one likes to be hurting alone.

While scrolling my way through the internet the other day, I came across a headline about Christina Anstead. To be completely honest, I didn’t know who that was until I saw her picture. I’d watched her on television a few times, and heard about her first divorce, but other than that, I didn’t know anything about her. 

What caught my eye was the headline: “Christina Anstead candidly discusses divorces, setbacks in refreshingly frank post.”

I read it over a few times to discover she was going through her second divorce and she had feelings about it. It was incredibly real and honest and she admitted to feeling like she never thought anything like this could happen to her.

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For those of you who don’t know me (or think you know me) let me reintroduce myself. I hate crowds, I love traveling, all things spiritual, the ocean and deep one on one conversations. I never thought about being on tv. I wanted to be a sports agent like Jerry Maguire. But I always loved looking at houses with my parents especially model homes and I always wanted to be my own boss… So in college when I was called (intuitively) to get my real estate license at a local community college I followed my intuition. I got started in real estate at 21 which led to selling houses which led to flipping houses which led to Tv. Now while I never wanted to be on tv, stepping out of my comfort zone and into the unknown has always been my thing. I live in a state of anxiousness and I’m so used to it that when it’s not there I tend to feel a void and hop into something that causes the feeling I’m used to. This can be good and bad. And it’s one of the things I’m working on breaking the pattern of. Sometimes anxiety and pursuit of new dreams leads me down amazing paths, other times it leaves me feeling lost and in a state of fight or flight / or crying in my closet. Tv changed my life and I am grateful for the life it’s provided, the experiences, the friends I’ve made along the way. Sometimes our calling is bigger than our plans. I never thought I would have one divorce let alone two. I never thought I would have 2 baby daddies – but sometimes life throws us curve balls. Instead of getting stuck in these “setbacks” I choose to look at these challenges as opportunities to grow. So while some may judge me and throw around rumors about me, most of you support me. And that says a lot about this world and where we are headed. I’m messy, I’m real and I’m working on healing. I’m surrounded by extremely powerful women who help me cope, build me up and push me to be better. If you’ve DM me or text me – I haven’t written back because I’m taking time to clear the “noise” and focus on myself and the kids. I appreciate the support and I hope my story inspires you to not be so hard on yourself for the decisions / choices you’ve made. We are all a work in progress. ✨♥

A post shared by Christina Anstead (@christinaanstead) on

“I never thought I would have one divorce let alone two,” she shared. “I never thought I would have 2 baby daddies — but sometimes life throws us curve balls. Instead of getting stuck in these ‘setbacks’ I choose to look at these challenges as opportunities to grow. So while some may judge me and throw around rumors about me, most of you support me. And that says a lot about this world and where we are headed.”

I don’t think anyone walks down the aisle thinking they will get divorce. When it happens to you, it can make you feel like you’re living in a bad dream, even if it’s what you want.

As I kept reading her honest words, Anstead talked about her anxiety — and I found the way she explained it, and how she dealt with it, to be extremely relatable.

“I live in a state of anxiousness and I’m so used to it that when it’s not there I tend to feel a void and hop into something that causes the feeling I’m used to. This can be good and bad. And it’s one of the things I’m working on breaking the pattern of.”

I instantly related and didn’t feel so alone. It sounded like my life. For as long as I can remember, if things are going smoothly for a few hours (let’s face it, that’s about all we get), I start to get really anxious and think there must be something bad happening I’m just forgetting about. It’s like my mind is spinning in place, looking over and over for some kind of chaos, and I can’t settle into the fact that things are okay.

There have been so many times in my life I’ve done this very thing and sat there thinking, What the hell is wrong with you, Katie? No one else acts like this or handles their life this way. You are screwed up.

But oh yes, they do. Most of us just don’t feel comfortable talking about it, or we think there’s no one else out there suffering like we are and we’re deeply flawed. Which makes us more anxious, and so the cycle continues. 

Whether you are a fan of Anstead or have no idea who she is, her post is a must-read for people suffering from anxiety. It’s a hard thing to admit publicly, that you suffer and have to work on your mental health, but the way I look at it, it’s unbelievably resourceful.

When you are suffering, it can be the loneliest place you can go. Not everyone feels comfortable reaching out or has the words to ask for help. It always helps to know you aren’t the only one going through something hard, and posts like this — especially from someone who is in the spotlight of public scrutiny — normalize anxiety in a huge way. 

The post Whether Or Not You’re A Fan Of Christina Anstead, Her IG Post About Divorce And Anxiety Is Gold appeared first on Scary Mommy.

When The Smallest Communication With Your Ex Triggers A Panic Attack

It had gotten to a point that the mere sight of his name in my email inbox triggered an instant panic attack. Would it be another rant about how he either still loves me/can’t stand me, or would it be an innocent note about one of the kids? Would it be a demand to change plans that would require a debate? A critique of my parenting? To what extent would this communication disrupt my day?

Every time I saw any kind of notification from him, whether it was a call or an email or a text, my body would instantly react before my brain could begin to step in and offer a logical solution. For the first time, I fully understand why the word “trigger” is used when discussing events that cause immediate violent physiological reactions. My heart rate would shoot up, my sweat glands would go into overdrive, and even my digestive system would go haywire. Many times a panic attack from having to deal with my ex would result in diarrhea for the next 24 hours.

There isn’t any real physical or material threat coming from my ex-husband. He can whine and complain and fail to keep his word, but he can’t take my children away or drain the bank accounts the way he used to threaten. Truly there is no immediate threat to my physical person. As to the psychological piece, I tell myself I should be able to set my emotions aside. I have fantasies of being able to roll my eyes and brush off his petty bullshit.

But I can’t seem to manage that yet. The confrontation, the needless disruption in my day, his hatefulness, his ego, his greed — all of this gets to me. It’s no longer even that I am afraid of the confrontation itself — now I also fear the ensuing panic attack and how it will disrupt my day and prevent me from doing my job as a teacher or being present with my kids.

At a recent therapy appointment, my therapist must have noticed I was especially uncomfortable because she asked if I was experiencing tightness in my chest. I told her it just felt really hard to get a full breath. This is one of the symptoms that has come up again and again — it feels like the lower half of my lungs are closed for business. My therapist walked me through a grounding meditation right then and there and also gave me a few techniques to take with me to help me manage this panic surrounding communication with my ex-husband. The techniques she gave me have been a huge help.

I’m not a doctor or therapist — just a patient who has found relief in the techniques my therapist gave me. If you are experiencing similar reactions, maybe some of these techniques can help you too. Still, consult with your doctor or therapist if you are experiencing disruptive panic attacks for any reason:

The Four Elements Grounding Exercise

This is the exercise my therapist walked me through during the session. Using the elements — earth, water, air, and fire — my therapist walked me through the exercise linked above. For earth (grounding), I connected to the ground under my feet and observed the room and its contents. For water (relaxation response), I did an exercise to increase saliva production in my mouth. For air (breathing), I focused on pulling air deep into my lungs. And for fire (imagination), I pictured a place where I felt safe and relaxed and whole and imagined I was there. I was measurably calmer after this exercise.

Gratitude List

As much as divorce has stressed me out, there are some huge positives to not having to deal with my ex every day. Listing two or three of these daily, even if there are sometimes repeats, can help shift perspective from anxious to grateful. Maybe divorce means you no longer have to argue with your ex daily, no longer have to put up with his passive-aggressive insults. Maybe you’re grateful you don’t have to sleep next to his loud snoring or smell his farts or consider his opinion on home decor. The things that go on this list can be big or small.

Remember the Future

My therapist said that especially on days when I know I will have to interact with my ex, I can “remember” the future. In this technique, you picture a future interaction as if it has already happened. You assume your ex behaves poorly, and you “remember” your calm, confident reaction. You remember taking a deep breath, controlling your heart rate, and setting appropriate boundaries. You remember being unbothered by his frustrated reaction to your calm. This helps when the moment of interaction actually arrives. You’ve already been through this, so you know how to act.

Increased Window of Tolerance

At first I thought it was strange that my therapist would ask me to simply tolerate my ex-husband’s shitty behavior. But she pointed out that my panic attacks are fear-based, and fear stems from a feeling of powerlessness. I cannot realistically control my ex’s bad behavior, but I can expect it. Expecting it allows me to prepare for it without trying to alter it. I have to accept that the only way I can “control” my ex’s behavior is by controlling my own. So I “tolerate” his shitty behavior — which really just means I refuse to try to control it and instead focus on my own reactions.

Boundaries, Boundaries, Boundaries

That last bit of advice is impossible to implement without boundaries. My ex sometimes wants to have long, drawn-out conversations about why he feels I am in the wrong about everything. Sometimes he’ll say something passive-aggressive in front of the kids, banking that because I don’t want to argue in front of them, I will simply let it slide. I am learning that I must have very firm boundaries with my ex. Every time I have allowed my boundaries to be moved, I have ended up disappointed and hurt. My therapist reminded me that I can still be civil and kind, but that I need to make it clear to my ex that a relationship beyond co-parenting, at this time, isn’t possible. She even gave me a script I can say to him when he presses and wants to know why I refuse to engage with him.

Remind Yourself That Your Ex Is a Flawed Individual

My therapist asked me to picture my ex as an animal and to name the first animal that popped into my head. I immediately said “snake.” My therapist asked what kind, and I said “Venomous. Deadly.” She then walked me through a visualization of my ex’s experience — from early childhood and onward, to try to understand his behavior. Recognizing that he is a person who is also hurting, who grew up with his own set of traumas that influence his current behavior, makes it much harder to see him as a snake. This is not to excuse his behavior. It’s to modify my reaction to help me to stop acting like a deadly predator is lurking around every corner. If I see my ex as a snake always coiled and ready to strike, I can never get out of fight/flight mode. We agreed that from now on I will picture my ex as an inchworm. He’s too small to hurt me. He’s fighting his own battles and struggling with his own weaknesses. I will not live my life fearing confrontation with him.

I’ve had a few appointments since this revelatory meeting with my therapist, and I’m making progress. If you’re in a situation where your ex continues to cause you stress and panic, know that it is possible to alter your own behavior in a way that helps reduce that panic. Get help if you can, but at the very least, know that you are not alone.

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Why I Don’t Say Anything When My Partner’s Ex Bad-Mouths Me To Their Child

For the past few months, every time I go see my boyfriend on Wednesday nights (he has his kid on that day, and I don’t have mine), it’s been awkward.

A few weeks ago, his ex-wife called him, telling him she was coming to get their child because I was always there and if he wasn’t going to spend time with her, she might as well be with her mother.

In a calm tone he told her that yes, I was there, and the three of us were going to eat together and watch a movie or something. 

That’s just an example of what’s been happening lately, which has been a twist. At the first sign of this shift, when the honeymoon was over and the newness of getting to know me had worn off for his daughter, I felt like perhaps I should leave and not come over there when she was there. 

I could tell her mother was having trouble with the fact her father was now in a long-term, serious relationship.

Having a daughter of my own, and being a daughter of divorce myself, I understand how this goes: She feels the need to be loyal to her mother. If her mother is upset about me, then so is she. I feel like a stranger coming into her world that maybe she wasn’t quite ready for. And I get it.

Of course, I wanted to grab the phone and tell her to shut her face because I wasn’t there all the time — seeing her child once a week is hardly “all the time.” But that is my ego talking, and I know it would serve nobody for me to feel like I have to get in between this. So I don’t.

Not to mention it’s my boyfriend’s job to handle it, not mine. 

He explained when his daughter was with him, I’d be there once a week or so. He also tells them both that I love his daughter, I have the best intentions for her, and I am not trying — in any way — to be any sort of a parent to her. I have kids of my own that keep me extremely busy, and honestly, I don’t want any more children to keep track of.

I know in the depths of my soul that I’ve let her know I’m there for her without being pushy. I’m polite but not aggressive when talking to her. If she wants to stay up in her room and not come down and say hello to me when I’m there, that’s okay. It has nothing to do with me.

Of course I wish things were different and that I didn’t have to wonder how tense it was going to be when I saw her, if she wanted to spend time with me or not, or if my boyfriend was going to get a phone call from his ex-wife because their daughter sent her a text letting her know I was there.

It’s clear when her mother talks about me it’s very negative, and she feels I shouldn’t be spending time in the home that used to be hers. I get that too. 

But it’s okay; I’m okay with it, because I know it’s really not about me. I am more than happy to have my boyfriend’s daughter’s company when she feels like giving it to me, but it’s up to her, and it needs to be on her terms, not mine.

I also think when she’s struggling with the fact her father has a girlfriend (which is very sporadic), her mother wants to come to her defense — and the only way to do that is to come get her and spend time with her. 

I understand because my own daughter has come to me many times about something that’s happened between her and my ex-husband’s girlfriend. My daughter wants to stew and say mean things about her dad’s partner because she’s in a situation she can’t control and she wishes her parents were still married. There have been times she’s wanted me to come get her, but that’s incredibly disrespectful to her father — that is his time with her and they need to work things out.

I decided a long time ago I wasn’t going to play that game with my daughter. I love her dearly, and all it does is stir the pot and cause unnecessary drama. Her father’s girlfriend treats her like gold and has taken such good care of all my kids. What happens in their home is their business, and I feel confident saying that because I know my ex is fair and puts his kids first.

Now, I realize not every situation is like ours and there are plenty of women out there who deal with an ex who isn’t like mine and who brings people into their kids’ lives that shouldn’t be there.

What I’m saying, though, is that just because my boyfriend’s daughter decides she wants me around sometimes, and there are times when she doesn’t, isn’t reason enough for me to let her know I feel sad or hurt — which I do, because I’m human.

But because I’m the adult, I keep it to myself.

I never want her to hear me bad-mouth her mother because, holy fuck, that’s her mother and that’s not what you do. There’s enough drama over the situation without me squeezing lighter fluid into the fire. 

My boyfriend’s ex doesn’t know me, and I don’t know her. What I do know is that the person who matters the most in this situation is their daughter. And over the years, I’ve learned and preached about supporting women. Who would I be if I lashed back?

I’m not saying it’s easy to keep my mouth shut; of course there have been times I’ve wanted to go rogue.

But I don’t, because my feelings being pricked by another woman could never justify the kind of behavior that could do damage to that precious girl. I don’t want to add an extra layer of tension. Kids who have gone through divorce have been through enough.

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Old Habits Die Hard And Make Sh*t Awkward — Especially After Divorce

My ex-husband dropped off the kids a few months ago and we stood in the driveway talking. It’s something we do every month or so to catch up on things, and I’ve always felt it covers more ground than texting or the rushed phone calls we manage to fit into our circus of a life.

After going over the logistics of how we felt the kids were dealing with not seeing their friends as much, not returning to school, and the zillion hours of the day they were on their cell phones, he said he had to go  he was meeting his friends and was running late.

“Don’t drink too much,” I said, half-aware that I sounded like his wife.

“You know I have the two drink rule then I call it a night,” he said as he walked back to his truck.

We both paused a moment and laughed.

It’s been four years since he moved out. He doesn’t need, or want, me to tell him how to spend a night with his dudes. I mean, he didn’t particularly like it when we were married, but it was in the brochure. He knew I did shit like that and married me anyway.

My point is, old habits are hard to break. Especially after you’ve lived with someone for two decades, they’ve watched a human come out of your vagina three times, and you’ve washed their underwear. At least that’s the excuse I make for myself.

There are no secrets and when you are deep in a relationship there are things you start doing automatically without thinking. Like saying, “I love you” before you hang up the phone or one of you leaves the house. 

I still call my ex “honey” sometimes. It was something I did a lot when we first divorced, even if I was angry with him. It was like a reflex that had a mind of its own and I had no say in the matter.

I had to concentrate really hard when to call him by his name and it still feels strange.

For almost twenty years, to me, he was “honey.”

My kids are over this mistake I make. But I tell them it’s kind of like when I call them by the wrong name. I know what their names are, but everyone is allowed to have a mind-queef every once in a while, for fuck’s sake, and that’s all that “honey” talk is.

He’d called me “Babe” for almost twenty years — and even though he’s been calling me Katie for the past four, it still sounds funny coming out of his mouth.

There are nights when I’m setting the table for me and my three kids and I’ll look down at the stack of five plates I’ve grabbed instead of four.

Last year, I made his favorite Christmas cookies (again) and my kids pointed out that no one likes those but Dad. Also, his girlfriend makes those for him now, so I can stop.

Just like many of us need to be on our phones in order to take a crap (hey, I’m not throwing shade, I’m right there with you) our ex-partners have instilled behavior in us that takes a while to go away. It’s like Pavlov’s dog, if you will.

You still fold the towels a certain way because it’s how they liked it done.

You still have pizza on Friday because it was a tradition you started together.

You still pull the sheets back for them even though you haven’t shared a bed for years.

You still get irritated at them when you’re reminded of something they did a decade ago because dammit, there are people who have that effect on us, and it’s usually a spouse.

I mean, I still turn the thermostat down to 62 degrees upstairs in the winter because he used to insist on it, until I catch myself and realize I answer to no one because I pay the freaking heat bill myself.

And if you really need to feel better about yourself, I’ve called my ex-husband my husband a few times … in front of my boyfriend that I’ve been with for over a year. So, there’s that.

We all get set in our ways and set in our routines. We all have something that can trigger an emotion or memory in us that causes us to call our ex-husbands by their pet name, or to give them an unnecessary lecture because it’s what we did for so long. 

It doesn’t mean you still want them to be your “babe” or “hon.” 

It doesn’t mean you have not moved on.

It doesn’t mean there is a hidden message in there somewhere and you need to go to The Googles to figure what the hell is wrong with you (please don’t do this).

It’s a slip up, it happens to a lot of people, and the only thing you can do is laugh it off in between feeling like an idiot and realizing you have a shit ton of stuff floating around in your brain and you are allowed to make mistakes.

It’s awkward, yes. But it’s also pretty damn funny. And if you think about it, having an “I love you” or a “honey” slip out of your mouth is a hell of a lot better than some of the things I know you’d like to say to your ex.

So, bravo to you for keeping those to yourself. If the most you let out is an accidental “honey,” consider that a win.

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I’ll Be Processing The Trauma Of My ‘Amicable’ Divorce For Years

It had been over a year since I’d seen my therapist. I scheduled a virtual visit with her a couple of weeks ago though, because even though I’d been divorced for over a year, and separated another 10 months before that, I am still really struggling emotionally. This emotional stress has taken a toll on me physically, and I wanted help processing some of the intense emotions I couldn’t seem to shake before I became truly physically sick.

It feels like divorce has changed me. It feels like I have aged ten years in two, in both the way I feel and the way I look, to the point I sometimes almost don’t recognize my own reflection in the mirror. I have put on weight in my midsection (as in, the kind that comes from stress) for the first time in my life. My memory is in the toilet. My sleep is intermittent, and my dreams are riddled with stress and panic. I worry about my kids constantly. Worst of all is the guilt. I can see that my kids are thriving and happy even despite the pandemic, but I still worry the divorce traumatized them in some secret, horrible way that I just can’t see yet.

I’m the one that wanted the divorce. From the outside, our split looked calm; we almost never yelled at each other. But in reality, our arguments were just very quiet. For months, my ex-husband quietly insisted that since I was the one who wanted the divorce, since that was my choice, I should leave with nothing. For almost a year, I stayed in the house with him hearing this reasoning almost daily—that since I had made a choice, I deserved nothing. He said I should rent a small studio apartment down the street, and he would allow me to visit my children to take care of the “mom stuff.”

When his attorney confirmed that this is not how things go, that I would in fact be taking half of our net worth, my ex was furious. He became even more furious when he learned he would also have to pay child support due to the fact that I would have to continue to carry more of the parental responsibility than him due to his demanding and extremely high-paying job. He earns three times more than I do but did not want to help with the care of his children when they were with me. I was afraid to even bring up alimony even though my attorney said our situation met the conditions.

It took many months to get him to understand and accept that he was going to have to pay. That regardless of who wants the divorce, regardless of the reason, marriage assets are split down the middle. Every day, my ex lashed out in quiet ways, always with his underlying reasoning that since it had been my choice to leave the marriage, to hurt him, to give up on us, that I didn’t deserve anything.

I had to remain in the house we shared for 10 months. I couldn’t buy a house until I had cash, and couldn’t afford to rent. I was trapped with my ex who went back and forth between asking me why I wouldn’t have goodbye sex with him and reminding me I didn’t deserve financial security. He never yelled, but he still succeeded in making my environment a living nightmare. 10 months of that will fuck with your head.

Still, because we resolved most of our disputes outside of court, I kept telling myself that our divorce was not “that bad.” Moving out and getting my own place was supposed to help me feel better, but it didn’t. In the beginning, we tried to be friends. I would go over to his house and hang out, have a family game night. It was supposed to be something good to do for the kids, and they did love those get-togethers. But when the kids weren’t listening, my ex never failed to say something passive aggressive or to quietly remind me that I was financially dependent on him or that I “destroyed our family.” When I stopped agreeing to these fun little get-togethers, my ex got mad about that too.

And now, going over to the house I used to live in, the house where my children spend several days of every week, just the smell of it turns my stomach sour. It’s a house that my children call home, and I want to have good feelings about it, but for now I just can’t get out of there fast enough. Every time I go over there I’m reminded of all those months that I was told I deserved to suffer, that I didn’t deserve to have anything, that I needed to “learn how to be poor.” When his name pops up on my phone with a text, my heart rate shoots up and I feel like I’m going to vomit.

Looking back, I don’t know why I expected to be over all of this by now. In the moment I explained my physical reactions to going over to the other house, to receiving texts and phone calls, my therapist informed me I am technically still really early in the process. She said that even in the best circumstances, it takes two to three years to get over a divorce. She reminded me that in my situation, though it may seem from the outside to be a “best circumstance,” that I know the truth. My divorce may have been quiet, but it was traumatizing. It continues to be traumatizing.

And I’m only a year out. I am nowhere near done grieving this thing. I’m still in the mist of trauma and have only begun to process. I spent almost a year of every single day walking on eggshells and being told I deserve to suffer. My therapist gave me a much-needed reminder that I needed to give myself more time, be kind with myself, and understand that divorce is a traumatic experience. It is a major life loss unlike any other kind of loss, with layers of complicated emotions that require time to process and heal.

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I’m Divorced And The Default Parent, But I Prefer It That Way

My son had a dentist appointment a few weeks ago. I was on the phone with the receptionist setting up four appointments for our family upon their reopening. We were all scheduled for the last week in March to get a cleaning, then COVID-19 hit.

Same with the orthodontist appointments. I currently have one child in braces, one with a retainer, and one with a palate expander that was supposed to come off last July.

I made all those appointments too. It took a while, but I was relieved when the scheduling was done and I knew I didn’t double book anything.

As a divorced mom, I’d like my ex-husband’s help when it comes to things sometimes, but it’s not how we roll. When I do ask for help (and I always have to ask), it’s more work to pull him in than it is for me to just do it myself.

But on the day my oldest had his appointment, he was working with his father, right down the street. It only made sense for his dad to take him rather than for me to drive fifteen minutes, pick him up, wait an hour or so, then drop him off again at work.

He can handle this.

I sent my ex a message about the appointment, telling him the day and time after I made it.

That morning, I reminded him and my son about the noon dentist appointment.

Lo and behold, five minutes after noon, I got a call from my ex. He was upset with me because the orthodontist didn’t have our son down for an appointment and he also wasn’t sure what the protocol was: Did he go in too? Did he wait in the car? Also, he forgot a mask and didn’t have one for our child to wear.

I had to interrupt him and tell him he didn’t have an orthodontist appointment, he had a dentist appointment and he’d better get his ass there because there was no way in hell I was going to take the time to reschedule. And, he best call them ahead of time and tell him he forgot a mask so someone could tell him what he needed to do.

Oh, the frustration of it all. 

My ex and I co-parent very well together and we are friendly with one another. But I am the default parent, and I prefer it that way.

It’s not because I’m a controlling, neurotic freak who has to have it all my way, either. And yeah, I do complain about it because it wears me the hell out and I feel like my mind never gets a rest.

My ex is happy to jump in and help, but what happened the afternoon of the dentist appointment is very par for the course when he “helps.”

There have been times when the kids are with him and he calls me to get my opinion on certain things: whether they should be allowed to go to a friend’s house we don’t know, whether they should stay home from school because they say they are sick but are acting fine, whether I think he should go through their text messages because they are acting strange.

The thing is, we started out this way. My ex-husband started his own business when I got pregnant with our oldest. I stayed home and literally did all the things, including packing a lunch for him to take to work every day, doing every chore, and calling someone to fix the roof, because I wanted to.

I was at home; he was consumed with his new career. We both wanted it to work so I could continue to stay home with the kids. He was supporting all of us financially, and so I took on the role of “I’ll do everything and you just work’’ because I thought it was the right thing to do.

I’m also kind of good at it because I like to be busy. Downtime can make me restless and there were times he’d say he’d take over paying the bills, or mowing the lawn, and I’d feel guilty because I was home all the time and could just get it done while the kids were napping, instead of waiting for him to find the time.

Then, they all went to school and I was happy to have the chores to keep me occupied.

Habits are hard to break. So are routines.

I’m the default parent. I’m the one who has “the talk” with the kids. I pay all the medical bills. I make their appointments and set up teacher conferences. I buy their clothes and know when my daughter is having her period and tell my ex to get her Advil, her favorite tampons, and send a warning to give her some space. If I don’t, I get a text asking me what the hell is going on with our daughter.

I’m not doing it because I think I am better, but my ex and I both agree I am better at being the default parent and he’s better at being the fun dad who can give them all his attention when they are with him because he doesn’t have to worry about doctor’s appointments and wonder why our daughter is being a little more emotional than usual.

It worked for us when we were married, and it works for us now. 

I like this arrangement (for the most part) because I like doing these things for my children. I like knowing they have what they need, when they need it, and not having to second-guess or worry that my ex might not remember.

I already have a visual schedule in my head and I know what’s going on more than my ex does. It’s just easier this way, so why mess with it? I think about the energy it would take to get the program reversed, or even just have my ex be a little more hands-on, and all I see is a shit tornado spiraling my way. The way I look at it, it’s also preserving our healthy co-parenting relationship because we each have our roles and it takes the guessing out of it.

At least this way, I know things will get done right.

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