I had the strength to rebuild my life when my marriage went to depths of shit. That experience has given me the ability to know myself. It has given me the ability to not care about a lot of things that aren’t meant for me in this world. Most importantly, it has taught me that you have to prepare for the life you actually have. Not the one you wish you had.
People change. For better and for worse. I think that’s why such a key phrase is in one’s wedding vows. Life is going to give you beautiful moments, but it will also give you pain, heartbreak and unfairness. These moments– the degrading and uplifting– become the tapestry of your life. The fabric of it all can give you comfort or it can rub you raw. I found my peace with the patchwork pieces that make up my life. I own it. The messy, awful, naive mistakes. The imperfection. The awkwardness of never having a family with children from only one man or a only one mother. This is the life I was meant to have.
It is a mess. But here is the thing… messy mothers, daughters, sisters, fathers, sons, brothers… we are all a mess sometimes. It is the great equalizer. Not one single person we share this earth with has had their shit together every minute of everyday. We all choose poorly at some point. And, as such, we all learn. Some of us learn after each ordeal to be a little broken and then some of learn to grow stronger from it. And each ordeal in our lives leads one way or another.
I’ve learned I have things I may never be good at. I have poor spacial and geographic skills. I can not close my eyes and picture where the states are or make a mental map of landmarks. I will never be able to parallel park with confidence. I am not the person who should be giving you directions anywhere to anything. I often transpose in my head “left” and “right.” GPS is my technology crutch and I embrace it fully. I have lived in the same town my whole life and still can get lost here. It is just not a thing my brain processes for me. Which is fine. It isn’t meant for me. I still try. But when I drive past the place I wanted to go three times, I have learned to forgive myself, rather than wallow in the fact I wish it was different. I’ll live to try again another day. That’s all the hope I need.
Right now, in this chapter of my life, I am trying to learn how to navigate Exes. My oldest is about to turn 9 years old… and I am still figuring out how to do this part of my life authentically. I’m trying to learn to tame my wild heart who wants to forgive and be friends with caution that that does not actually help any of us. Friendship only exists when the other person participates fairly. I’m trying to tame my vengeful tongue with the fact, I don’t need to respond to everything nor provide insight. I can just let my fingers take time to craft a response and then D-E-L-E-T-E it. These two people have not earned my counsel any longer. They no longer are worthy of any defense to their accusations. They do not need answers to questions that outside of raising children together. They will not ever respect boundaries. They will always ask for more than is reasonable or fair to give. The will never be tempered with gratitude that their children we share are in a good home here. There will be no consistency or constant peace as things are. And so, the only thing I can keep modifying, is my reaction to things as they unfold. This is what I keep trying to improve.
Life keeps piling on challenges. Conflicts keeps coming like the tides, but often one washes out to sea before you can resolve it. A new one finds land and floods the landscape. We are flooded in problems lately. Therefore, this process years in the making already, is a work in progress. The lesson has not been learned. Putting it into words here– which, I apologize, can be repetitive– helps me. It helps me see myself clearer. To free up space in my heart and head. To unload so I can make room for the other things in my life.
My Ex says mean things. Things that are born of kernels of our old, broken half life together. They aren’t especially true. They are barbs meant to hurt me. And the difference is this: I never begin my day, an argument, a conflict in hopes of hurting him. My heart is not made like his. My defense mechanisms are not to lash out or demand or bully. I am made of different fabric. And such, I can only control how I respond to his behavior. I’ve run down a bevy of responses:
I have corrected inaccuracies.
I have tried to reason with him.
I have defended myself.
I have given him compassionate understanding whether he deserves it or not.
I have asked for boundaries and respect.
I have pointed out hypocrisy.
I have yes’d him.
I have ignored him.
The very last one seems to be what give me the most peace. When it doesn’t have a lick to do with our daughter… then I leave it there. I let it be. And some moments, my breath catches over the words. Sometimes I feel my ire bubble up. Sometimes I find the absurdity funny. But I have stopped giving him permission to take my time and my energy. We are divorced. He is only allowed on the periphery of my life because we share a special, wonderful little girl. And so, I take each event with a deep breath and what I hope will be a clear mind– and I do what I think is fair and best for Miss M.
Miss M deserves her Dad and to love him. But she also deserves to know the real him. Just like she gets to love the real me. So we talk about the realities of navigating this life together. Her life. The one with a mother who gets lost all the time and the Dad who can’t drive past 7 PM because he has been convicted of two OUIs. I have to teach her the best I can for the life she actually has.
She will never have two biological parents who live in the same house. Like many of her peers, that is just gone. The alternate life with two parents who no longer are together, but remained friends is gone. The one where we co-parent is gone.
That trap where I compare the life I am giving her to the life her friends have is gone. It is no less bittersweet than the kids who get to do travel soccer or expensive camps or who have a dog. We all suffer sometimes. We all have joy filled days as well. We all are raising kids with what we can do. And none of us have it all. All parents struggle with giving their kids everything they want to give them, but realizing we all make concessions. Our wallets, our time or other commitments limit what we can give our kids. Not any one of us in this parenting gig can do it all. For my own peace, for my daughter’s peace– I just work with what I have to give.
I am wary with visitation because she has been put in situations that are less than safe. We do not have a normal, everyday situation. I prepare her the life she has:
– I make her take a mobile device to call home with when she’s with Dad in case she needs to.
– I explain if she ever wakes up alone on an overnight, not to leave the house looking for her Dad. Call home for help instead.
– I explain that grown ups who ask her to help them or keep secrets are usually sneaky people who are not safe. Those are the things she should absolutely tell me about. Even if they say something bad will happen. Nothing that bad ever happens when you just tell the truth.
– I explain that private parts are hers and no one should ask to see them or touch them.
– I explain she never has to get in a car with a grownup who has too much to drink. That this a time she does not have to listen to an adult. She can call home or ask someone to call the police.
I have to tell her. These are the things she needs to know for the life she has. These are facts that keep her safe. I prepare her for things she might face and how else will she know what to do? So I tell her. And we go over it again and again. Awkward and messy– but real and important.
Yet, there are some things that I used to make issues out of that are not in the same box, that make me wary of parenting with my Ex.There are things that are just normal friction from having a father with visitation and residing with her mother. I have this year, begun to disentangle the two. Despite how he treats me, I want to do the right thing. Everyday. As best I can. Because that’s between me and my God/conscious/soul.
Extracurricular activities are on my time. I want to give her those things in her life. My Ex does not always want to sacrifice his time with our daughter– which is smaller than mine– for birthday parties, extracurricular activities, or events she might want to attend. I feel differently. I do things differently as a result. I used to think that this willingness to sacrifice made me a better parent– but that’s not a real truth. It is not a less or more situation.
It makes me a shitty mother to impose my philosophies on his household. To demand more or impose on his time. I’m not advocating for the life she has in two homes when I do these things. I’m not fighting for her reality. I’m making a mess over a life she doesn’t actual have. I am making a stink over her having “more,” and doing things like some other families. I had this realization that I was chasing something I don’t need to. Our family is fine exactly how it is. Limitations and all. What we are is simply “enough.” Enough is a rather lovely concept. Especially if you feel like you have to make amends for a broken start you gave your kids.
I am learning Miss M is not entitled to having more. She is not entitled to anything other than time with her Dad. A concept that requires some caution given our history and his judgement. Yet, my grandiose ideas or resentfulness that he doesn’t do certain things for her– are my issues and perceptions. They just aren’t actual truths. I judge unfairly. I learned to let this and other things go, because I get to see Match struggle trying to parent his daughter with his Ex. I don’t want that for Miss M. The divisiveness. The inferred blame. The pain of some parental-guilt-induced unfairness that I’m failing her. I am not. Her life, her real authentic life, is not damaged by a lack of extracurricular activities in elementary school. I have to look at the big picture. I have to prepare her for actual life. Not the one I sometimes get caught up in wishing I could give her. The imaginary one was never meant for her anyway.
I am raising a daughter who has two biological parents who live in two homes over half hour apart. She gained two other parental figures in the process. One was my doing. The other is his. She has friends in spades. She loves hard. She listens and takes heart to what I teach her. She was given the gift of sense to know her Dad ins’t always a reliable adult, but the grace to love him anyway and the wit to want to do better than that in her own life. It is a long road there, but we have everything we need as we are now.
It is the beginning of a new year in my life. I am trying to not waste these precious mistakes in this life by ignoring the fact I can learn. I mean, the universe is talking. Sometimes it takes me a few attempts to really understand the message though. I no longer advocate, but communicate. I explain options, but don’t advise. I state how invested Miss M is to certain things. And I leave the rest– because that is this life. And it is a life far more stable and happier and healthy than the one where she has both her parents in the same home. Her actual life is better despite the hardships. She was made for it. The real, actual life. She was given the tools to live it.
I just have to light the way. One right, grace-filled step after another. It will take us all the way home.