Self-awareness. Simple concept. Challenging accomplishment. As much as it seems like we should all be able to assess our actions, an astonishing number of people go through life and relationships without any idea how their own behavior can impact their decisions, relationships and ultimately, their happiness.
I have written several articles that address those things in life that can hold you back from relationships. From deciding to be or not to be a victim to deciding tosettle or not to settle, I have tried to highlight decisions that we all have control over. After all, we all know that the only behavior we can control is our own. The problem arises when our self-awareness is low. In my book, Sweeten the Deal: How to Spot and Avoid the Big Red Flags in Online Dating, I identify it as “those who fail to embrace their own reality.”
We all know the person who thinks that every bad thing that has happened is someone else’s fault, and, really, someone else’s responsibility. And do you know the person who is willing to date anyone to avoid being alone? Yes, you do. And what about the exhausting friend who continues to participate in old relationships that are supposedly “over” but by the continual communication with these “over” relationship-people and the subsequent regurgitation of the trauma of these “done” relationships, it is obviously not OVER! The ones who have BIG GLARING RED FLAGS in their relationships are the most frustrating... how can you not see what the rest of us see? Help!
But what about ourselves? How often do we take the time to look honestly at our own behavior and decide if we are getting in our own way? Probably not enough. I mean, that’s not fun. And once we become aware that we are getting in our own way, we actually have to change! Ugh! Again, not fun!
So here are some questions to help you start your quest toward self-awareness and your effort to embrace your own reality.
1. Are you unable to spend time alone and feel a need to fill every minute of your time?
2. If you are not dating someone, do you feel inadequate or like a failure?
3. Are you generally angry in your life?
4. Do you find yourself blaming other people when something goes wrong?
5. Do you feel helpless to change your situation in life?
6. Do you continue to communicate with past relationships?
7. Do you find yourself stalking former relationships on social media?
8. Do you overlook flaws in a date/relationship that make you uncomfortable?
9. Do your friends tell you that your date/relationship is unhealthy for you?
10. Do you agonize over your current situation and look back to figure out whose fault it is?
If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” you may need a little self-reflection. When you are aware that you may sabotage your relationships with behavior you can control, it is time to take a break and figure out what is driving your behavior and work on it. If your fear of being alone or willingness to overlook deal breakers is driven by insecurity, that will require some work. Insecurity should not be a driving force in any relationship. If you react to situations in anger, especially misdirected anger, then you need to accept your life as it is now. Take responsibility for your future and release the blame of wrongs past. It only hurts you and your family. Whatever the reason for self-sabotage, until you become aware of it, you can’t stop it. When you acknowledge it and in turn, embrace it, you become empowered to know what you want and make the good choices that will lead you to it! Not easy. But definitely doable!
“You can only do the best you can do. Sometimes that is survival and sometimes that is stellar. And that’s okay.”
This has been a mantra of mine for years. Until my twenties, I had always marveled at how charmed I felt my life was. Things generally went well if I worked hard. When they weren’t as great, I knew that it was temporary and soon I would feel back on top. I was lucky. I had a good family, good friends, a good education. And then, really for the first time, life got in the way.
When I was 24, my first husband and I decided to have a baby. We went through almost 4 years of infertility and 2 miscarriages before I finally had a successful pregnancy. My husband was deployed for about half of that time, so I was left to cope on my own. This was my first real survival mode. I got up every day, went to work and went out with friends. But emotionally, I was just trying to get through the day. I was grieving the miscarriages every moment of every day, and all I wanted to do was to get to the end of the day so that I could go to sleep and not think about it. I did what needed to be done and only what needed to be done. And that was okay.
Over the next few years, we had a baby, he got out of the Navy and went to law school, we had two more children and moved back to my hometown. When the boys were 2, 4 and 6, my marriage fell apart. He moved out on Halloween and confessed his infidelity on Christmas. I filed for divorce the first week of January and by early February, my youngest son began to have seizures on the hour every hour for two weeks. This was real survival mode. If my children were clean and fed, that was successful day. And that was okay.
The process of the divorce and getting my son healthy both took about a year. Once we got a good diagnosis (epilepsy) and the right medication, his seizures slowed to once each month for a year and then were well controlled for nine years. He is now seizure free and has been released from his neurologist.
There is nothing wrong with survival mode. When life gets tough, we need it to kick in so that we can get out of bed each day and do the things we need to do. We need to survive. We need to keep putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward. But we also need to be aware when it is time to move out of survival mode so that we can get back to life.
My son was diagnosed with epilepsy for ten years. I also had two other boys who went through the normal ups and downs of childhood. And I was a single mother for eight of those years. But there is a point at which you realize that you are through the worst or at least managing it, and survival is not enough. For me, it took some time after the seizures were controlled to get out of survival mode. I still had to grieve the loss of my marriage and accept my own situation and new reality. I probably spend most of 4 years in survival mode. This is not to say I didn’t have stellar days or experiences, but mostly I was getting through. When I began to realize I needed more, I started dating and started writing. I started putting myself out there to market my writing and eventually wrote my book. I got married. I blended a family with my new husband. And I am still going.
What I learned is that survival mode is a necessary part of life. I learned that the more you survive, the less you feel set back by life getting in the way. I learned that when you decide it is time to get on with it and live your life, make plans, set goals and then go after them, you start to achieve stellar. Stellar is defined by knowing it is time to step up and take charge and then doing it.
I tend to be a perfectionist. This quality is both productive and destructive. When you are in survival mode and you are beating yourself up for not excelling every day, you are destroying your own self-esteem, and it becomes self-defeating. You have to be able to accept that survival, when that is all you can do, when life gets in the way, is an accomplishment. But when you are headed into a stellar period, that same perfectionism acts as drive to do more, learn more and keep pushing forward. The key is to recognize when it is time for these shifts. You know when survival is all you can do...but you also know when it is time to do more than just survive. So do it!
I have a very typical divorce story. The details are unique, but so often, we, men or women, get caught up in bad marriages that take us away from who we are meant to be. We find ourselves consumed in a game of emotional survival and get lost from our own dreams and goals.
As women, mothers, men, fathers, we often find ourselves caught up in the busy tasks of daily life. We often prioritize the needs of others thinking, “I’ll get to it when I have time” with regard to our own goals. And weeks, months and years go by.
One of my biggest fears in life was not that my dreams would go unfulfilled, but that I would allow myself to let life go by without fully pursuing them. I could accept that I may not achieve every goal that I set, but I was determined to make sure that I showed up for my own dreams - and that I showed up prepared.
There were many years when I did not pursue any of my dreams. I was caught up in a bad marriage, a divorce, a sick child, raising three young boys by myself. These are all really good reasons to put things off. I didn’t have time to write. I didn’t have energy to write. I didn’t have the creative space in my mind to write. These are the thoughts that steal your dreams. And guess what. You can change them.
As I recovered from my divorce, I began to reevaluate what I wanted in my life. I wanted healthy and happy kids. Obviously that was and is the most important priority. I wanted a healthy relationship that filled me instead of depleted me.
I wanted to be a published writer.
And so I began to write. I became very intentional about writing consistently. I would put the boys to bed, and sit on my bed with my laptop on a pillow in front of me, and I would write. I had no specific goal in mind for what I was writing. But I started with blogging. And then I started with promoting the blogs on social media. And then I began communication with Huffington Post. And then I began to blog for the Huffington Post.
I realized that my blog about online dating resonated with people. After all, who hasn’t had a bad date? So I put the blog in book form. I expanded it and began to send out queries. I was rejected - a lot. I kept writing and kept trying to find my voice. I kept updating and editing. I knew that persistence was the key, as I had read many writers’ stories of rejection and perseverance.
Many times I wondered if I needed to define a more linear path. I was scattered in many directions blogging about online dating, divorce, blended families and more. Should I try to slow down and focus more? Should I stick to one specific topic? I couldn’t answer that, so I just kept on keeping on. And I kept writing.
So when I volunteered to write a script for a local pageant, I was prepared when the essay judge asked to see my book. He just happened to have a publishing company. And he agreed to publish me a week later.
Here is what I have learned by putting my own dreams aside and then rediscovering them. You have to be on your own priority list. People say that all the time. But if you don’t prioritize your dreams, you are doomed to regret. First, you have to know what they are. Self-awareness is a big thing for me. I think very few people have it, and I want to be one of them.
Know what you want. And then charge toward it. This means you have to take time, even if it is a miniscule amount on a regular basis, to pursue your dreams.
Be prepared. Do the work. If you do not put in the time to know what you are doing, when the opportunity arises, you will not be ready. I didn’t know exactly how to pursue my writing, but I was working and editing and tweaking continually so that when something happened, I was ready.
Talk about it. Don’t be afraid to put it out there. Some people feel like putting their dreams out in the world front and center is too big of a risk - that if they don’t achieve them, people will think they are a failure. To that I say, “Who cares?” You are trying. And when you put it out there, who knows who will be listening? I had no idea the essay judge was a publisher. Thanks goodness I put it out there.
Don’t be afraid to make adjustments. We all have ideas of what our dreams should look like. Sometimes life takes you down a path that looks different but still takes you where you want to go. Be open to different views of the same dream.
Don’t let setbacks set you back. They are going to happen. I never expected to be divorced. I never expected to have a kid with a chronic illness. Get through it and get back to your goals.
Don’t give up. I started writing about online dating more than 5 years ago. I had time where I was more active than others because, let’s face it, sometimes life just gets in the way. But when you prioritize your dreams, even when life gets in the way, you make the effort to get back to it. Five years later, I am published.
To find out more about my book chronicling five years of crazy dates and tips I learned along the way, please visit my website www.sweetenthedeal.com.
have learned a lot in my 43 years — more than I really thought I needed to learn. I learned that people are not always who they seem. I learned that people who are supposed to love you can hurt you the most. I learned that when you try to do all of the right things, things still go wrong. I learned that when everything goes wrong at once, you just have to hold on for dear life. I learned that perspective is a beautiful thing. I learned to trust myself. I learned that doing the right thing may not get you what you want, but you will be able to look in the mirror. I learned that I, and only I, am responsible for my happiness. And most of all I have learned who I am and what I am capable of doing.
Many of these lessons came from my divorce and the ensuing hell that followed. I will not go into specifics for the sake of my children, however, I was with the wrong person. I was with someone who was not who he had claimed to be for the entirety of our marriage. After 10 years, the mask came off. About the same time, my youngest son began having seizures. On the hour, every hour for two weeks and then once a month for a year.
That exact period of time during the divorce and the seizures was the single most difficult time I had ever experienced. Life felt like everything was falling apart at once. Looking back, the seizures couldn’t have been predicted, but the years that led up to this moment telegraphed the end of my marriage. I was with someone who tore me down rather than built me up. I was with someone who minimized my goals and dreams while he went to law school and followed his. I was with someone who wore me out needing validation while offering the opposite of that to me.
Finally, I was with someone who was ambivalent about my writing. The response was always, “Eh, it’s okay.” I was told that I couldn’t write a book or make a living writing at all. I was discouraged from following my path. It was generally a subtle blow off, a disregard for what I thought and felt, but over time it seeped in and infiltrated my life.
The fact that I listened to this discouragement is my responsibility, but I think a lot of people, when told over and over how inadequate they are, begin to internalize some of this thinking. It’s almost funny to me because I am generally not someone to suffer a crisis of confidence, but life was busy. We had three kids in four years. He was in law school and studying for the bar exam. I just put my priorities aside and when I received negative feedback, it was easier to keep them aside.
Believe it or not, the thing that woke me up in my life was my son’s seizures. As I said, perspective is a beautiful thing. And with his condition, came an immediate shift from the difficulty of my divorce to getting this 2-year-old child well. And after that, being able to take care of my children. And after that, regaining my confidence and happiness.
The evolution for me occurred over the next eight years. My kids and I had to move in with my parents for a while until my son’s seizures were controlled (he is now, 10 years later, seizure-free and has been released from his neurologist.) I got a job. I healed. It was no easy task. When things settled down I realized that my own path had gotten derailed. With my divorce came freedom to rediscover my dreams and reevaluate what a good relationship should be. I worked on becoming a whole person by myself so that my path would be strong with or without a partner.
When I began online dating, I had one crazy date after the other — married guys, criminal guys, toothless guys — who knew this was in store for me! I learned how to date (especially having kids to think of), what I wanted and how to get it.
My friends began telling me I needed to write these dates down. So, I began a blog. It was originally called You Can’t Make This Shit Up. I chronicled all of my funny and horrifying dates for everyone to read, and began writing again. After about five years, the online quest finally met its demise when I met my now husband. My husband is supportive, caring and encouraging. He met me when I had learned that I could be happy on my own, when I knew what I wanted and when I was ready to go after it.
With his support and encouragement, I turned my blog into a book. I added in all of the dating lessons I learned during some hard and crazy times. I began working as a freelance writer while working to promote my book. I am helping to support my family as a writer, and I am happy and whole. The book will be released on April 1, 2015 and is now called Sweeten the Deal: How to Spot and Avoid the Big Red Flags in Online Dating. My first book signing is scheduled, my family will be there. I am excited and ready for the next adventure! Onward!
After an incredibly difficult and emotional divorce (and aren’t they all), I came to the conclusion that I did not want to live a life filled with anger. The most treasured people in my life, my children, deserved to live with a mother who was happy, calm and peaceful rather than one who was carrying around anger, irritability and tension about a situation that was unchangeable and permanent. The way I found my peace was by acceptance. It is not easy, but it is possible and necessary if you want to nurture your children to find the happiness they deserve and to foster their relationship with the other parent that they deserve.
The first step to acceptance is to recognize that the situation is what it is. You may not like it. It may not be easy. But it is what it is. You are divorced. Your children will now travel between parents. Your financial situation may be less than ideal. But too bad. That’s the way it is, and it’s up to you to make the best of it. Being angry and resentful will not change the situation, but recognizing it and moving forward will change the way you look at it.
The second step is to recognize that your former spouse is who he/she is. He has not changed, may never change and may never want to change. This is not your problem. Once you recognize that your perceived faults and limitations of this person are most likely going to remain status quo, let go of your expectations and accept what is. I am not saying that you will not have moments of anger or frustration. They should just be situational rather than your way of life.
The third step to acceptance is to take responsibility for your life the way it looks now. My whole life changed because of decisions I did not make. It is very difficult not to be pretty ticked off about that. But when I realized that I, and only I, was in charge of my future, I was able to let go of that ticked off feeling and embrace that I was in control of my future. I knew that there was no going back. There was no changing the situation. The only thing I had control over was how I chose to move forward. No matter how I got where I was (and it was pretty low) no one was going to alter my future but me. That is scary and empowering. Be empowered.
The fourth step to acceptance is to recognize that your children do not deserve a life filled with anger and conflict between you and your ex. This is not their problem to own, to fix or to endure. Anger is one of the most destructive emotions to relationships, but the harboring of this feeling can and will destroy any ability to communicate effectively and therefore affect all relationships involved, including relationships with the kids. Any decent parent who truly wants the best for their children will find a way to gain perspective and put kids first. This means fostering a loving and healthy relationship between the kids and the other parent. This means allowing the kids to feel free to love, free to spend time with and free to talk about the other parent with no negativity from you. Do not put adult problems on a child. If the other parent disappoints them, the only response you have is this: “I am sorry that happened, did you talk to your mother/father about how you feel?” If the kids have a great time at the other parent’s house, your response is this: “I am so glad! Tell me all about it!”
I don’t think any of this is easy. I make a conscious effort to continue to feel acceptance And when things come up, it is difficult. But now, when I get angry, I am able to isolate it to the incident at hand and not dredge up all the years of anger and frustration from the past. Letting go of the past and our anger about it often feels unfair. We want to feel validated or compensated for the ways we feel we were wronged. But that is not life, and as all of our parents told us...life is not fair. As parents, we have no right to surround our children with our feelings of anger, resentment and inequity. We have an obligation to be mature adults who accept responsibility for our own situations and surround them with love, joy and peace as best we can.
I am a planner. Google calendar is my friend. I have five kids’ and two adults’ calendars on my phone, with alerts programmed to mine and theirs (though the youngest two don’t have phones yet). If you don’t put it on the calendar, I make no promises. Even with the best laid plans, in my life, in a blended family of seven, I often resort to hanging on to the top, spinning with controlled chaos, and waiting for the slow steady revolution of a calmer day — if it comes, it lasts only until you have a split second to breathe, and it spins again.
It started on a Friday afternoon around 4:00 p.m. Up to that point, my day had been relatively uneventful. We were going to have the three teenagers scattered for the night, but rides were arranged and I was planning a low-key, dinner-and-a-movie evening at home with the younger two. Then I got the email. And the chain of events, thought not all directly related, unfolded over the next three days and the top began to whir.
“I am not going to make it home in time to go get the check, so can you go by and pick it up? I will send directions. By the way, I forgot my phone at home today.”
Okay, so, I knew he forgot his phone at home since he drove two hours out of town and I hadn’t heard from him all day, and when I checked, it was still on his night stand. And I knew I might have to go pick the check up. But considering it was 4:00, and I had not heard from him (after all, he was with people with phones) and since he had to pick the girls up from their mother’s by 6:00, I thought he must have gotten out on time. When I got his email at 4:20, I was at the grocery store getting dinner. I flew home, dropped the groceries, got back in the car and raced to his office. While reading his email telling me to hurry up so he could get to the girls, I missed my turn, drove 10 minutes out of the way, because I am still learning my way around my new city, and barely made it to get the check by 5:00.
Phew! Now the relaxing evening can begin, I thought, as I drove at a more reasonable pace to drop the check in the ATM, and stop to get a bottle of wine at the Rite-Aid, and get $20 extra for the one going to the movie later. Wrong. When I got home, his phone rang and it was daughter number one. She began to explain a change in plans that included her mom dropping her off at a birthday party (this was planned) and then bringing daughter number two to our house instead of him picking her up as usual (this was not planned). Apparently, the ex had left him an unreceived message indicating this change earlier in the day. I explained the forgotten phone situation to daughter number one, and told her I couldn’t get a message to him, but if needed, daughter number two could be dropped off at our house, and he would just realize it when he got to her mother’s house. Long pause for relay of this information to the mother, followed by the mother taking the phone. A repeat explanation of the forgotten phone and she is dropping daughter number two by our house. Daughter number two gets dropped by (late) and I race to the mother’s house to try to catch him so that he doesn’t worry why she is not there. Before I make it, my phone rings and he is calling from our house. Oh well, I tried.
I fixed dinner (late) and fed those that were home. Son number one was at the football game playing in the band, daughter number one was at the birthday party, and son number two was headed out to the movie. Husband and I caught each other up on our day before I started son number three and daughter number two toward bed. By the time they were in bed, husband leaves to get oldest two home by ten. All go to bed and I lay half asleep waiting on son number two to get back from movie that he shouldn’t have been allowed to attend, because the 8:00 p.m. show was sold out and the 9:00 p.m. ended past his curfew. Oh well. I tried.
The next two days went something like this: Son number three (who is kid number four) and I arise at 5:45 a.m. to get to his swim meet an hour away. Husband and kids one, two, three and five get up thirty minutes later to squeeze in every ounce of sleep and meet us at the swim meet. Meet ends by noon, we grab lunch and everyone goes to get a Christmas tree since the next time we are all together will be two weeks away. I skip the tree purchase to run by the store to get hot chocolate and jeans for son number two who told me the day before that he only had one pair for his upcoming week-long trip with his father.
Husband bought tree with lightning-quick speed, and calls to see where I am. I rush home to get decorating started. Son number two thinks that everything is taking too long, and moves from the couch to couch lamenting this torture. Son number three and daughter number two are giddy and “helpful” getting into everything and impatiently waiting to be able to put the ornaments on. Son number one keeps disappearing to play guitar and/or text his girlfriend who he is trying to arrange to come to the movie in the street downtown later, because we are trying to fit some “fun” into the weekend. Daughter number one helpfully puts lights on the tree in the foyer, only to discover when she gets to the end that she has a receiving end plug for the lights and can’t plug them in to the wall.
“I have a problem,” is followed by her walking off and leaving me to re-do the lights. We finally got things decorated with EVERYONE pitching in, like it or not, and in the midst of me making popcorn and daughter number one making hot chocolate (or should I say “burning” hot chocolate) to take to the movie. I realize I have not considered that this brood might need to eat dinner, and we are minutes away from leaving for the movie. We stop to grab dinner at a drive-through and eat on the way to the movie. We get to the movie and set up seven camp chairs, distribute popcorn and burnt hot chocolate, console son number one whose girlfriend cancelled to get her ears pierced, and shivered though an unusually cold (for Lower Alabama) night.
Sunday, son number three and I got up at 6:00 a.m. to get to day two of the swim meet an hour away. Husband and kids one, two, three and five slept late and went to church. Son number three and I grabbed a calm lunch on the way home, arrived home to get son number one ready for symphony practice, and then youth group (which he now will not miss due to the girlfriend’s attendance of the same group), got daughters one and two ready to return to their mother’s and got sons one, two and three to shower and make lunch boxes before hitting the bed.
Husband and I hit the bed not sure how we were going to get up the next day, and realizing that we have not gone to the grocery store for the week. Oh well, we tried.
“As long as you think that the cause of your problem is “out there”—as long as you think that anyone or anything is responsible for your suffering—the situation is hopeless. It means that you are forever in the role of victim, that you’re suffering in paradise.”
― Byron Katie, Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life
I have two scenarios for you to consider. In the first, you see a single mother. Her husband cheated on her for years. She is upbeat, she is happy and she goes through life smiling. She enjoys her children, yet she is able to enjoy the weekends they are with their father when she is able to do some adult things. She encourages her children to have a good relationship with their father and feels glad that they enjoy being with him.
In the second, you see a single mother. Her husband cheated on her for years. She looks haggard, scowls and goes through life just trying to get through the day. Her children are a chore, but when they are with their father she resents that they are gone. When they have fun with him, she sees it as a betrayal of her.
We all know people (women or men) who fit into each of these categories. How is it that some divorced people are able to have a sense of joy and ease about them while others seem to have the weight of the world bearing down on them? I believe that the difference lies in attitude. If you live as a victor, you will be a victor. If you live as a victim, you will be a victim. I believe if you empower yourself with the mindset of a victor and recognize it as a choice rather than a circumstance, the victim will fall off of you life like the chrysalis of a butterfly.
The first action necessary to embrace the victor over victim mentality is to realize that you have control over your future. Whatever has happened in the past was difficult. The nature of divorce is difficulty. Once you accept that you are the only person who controls your destiny, you can let go of any resentment from past trials.
The first step in controlling your own destiny is to relieve yourself from the burden of being invested in your ex. If you are invested in your ex’s behavior whether it relates to whom he dates or how he spends money, then it is difficult not to see a cause and effect relationship between what he does and how you feel. This is a two-fold problem. It leads to wanting to change his behavior (control), and it leads to thinking his behavior affects you (victim).
The fact is, once you are divorced, you have no say in what your ex does, who he dates and how he spends his money. After all, you don’t want your ex to have a say in your decisions, right? To think that you have a say in your ex’s life is to try and maintain some degree of control over him. When you try to maintain control and realize you can’t, it invokes anger, frustration and resentment. These feelings lead to identifying yourself as a victim of your ex’s behavior. Let go of control. The knowledge and acceptance that you can only control yourself and what goes on at your house is liberating and empowering.
The next step into victory is to re-learn how to communicate with your ex, particularly in the beginning. Sometimes old habits are hard to break, so in the first stages of separation and divorce, I recommend that you communicate only by email and only about topics specific to the children. These topics are health, schedules and the academic well-being of the children. This will eliminate the temptation to get into other conversations that may not be related to the children. Anything not related to the children is in opposition to you trying to become un-invested. Eventually things may evolve and communication may flow more easily, but in the beginning, when you are trying to re-learn how to think about yourself and your own goals, it is better not to drift into past habits and hurts.
Next, practice the Golden Rule. If you behave as you would like your ex to behave, you do not create conflict. Conflict leads to negative communication and that keeps you invested in the anger and hurt of the past. If you are the custodial parent, make absolutely certain to provide your ex with schedules, school notices and information about your child necessary for your ex to participate in every way. If you are the non-custodial parent, make every effort to gather information about your child from readily available sources such as school websites, sports team websites, etc. Again, practice the Golden Rule by providing information as you would have it provided to you. Otherwise, you are provoking your ex which keeps you invested.
Keep your focus on you, your kids and the future. When you take responsibility for your own feelings and actions, you are empowered to make changes and be happy. You are divorced from your ex. There are reasons for that. The reasons will probably not change. If you do not expect the reasons to change, and you can accept the way things are, your only option is to recognize that you and only you control your reaction to your circumstances. You and only you control your future. This is your victory. And this is the lesson to teach your kids. Empowering yourself to claim responsibility for your destiny and your happiness empowers your children to know they can choose happiness, too. And they will learn to choose to be victors of their own lives rather than victims. And that is the greatest victory of all.
An amazing thing happens to most of us when we become parents. We change for the better. The gravity of the responsibility and the intensity of the love that we feel toward our children hits us in the heart, and we do everything we know how to do to nurture them. We become better people, trying to lead by example. Often we start eating healthier, working out more, going to church, wearing seat belts. Many times we quit cursing, smoking or driving fast. We are keenly aware of our behavior and the influence it has over our children because we see ourselves reflected in their cherubic little (or not so little) faces.
And then, sometimes, divorces strikes. Divorce hurts. It angers. It scars. It can consume us to the point that it is difficult to remember that our every move, every word, every action is being recorded by the sponges that are our children’s minds, hearts and souls. To be in agony ourselves and to gather the strength to remember that we must put that agony aside for our children takes Herculean effort.
Putting our children first during a divorce means putting aside our own anger, hurt, betrayal and sadness, particularly when directed at our ex-spouse, and putting the emotional needs of our children ahead of our own. Unless there are real and grave safety issues, everything must be done to preserve the relationships the children have with both parents. No matter what your ex did or how you feel about him/her, that person will always be your children’s parent. And that is okay. You are responsible for making it okay for your children to love that parent when they are around you.
In eight years of being divorced, I have had a lot of practice in learning how to navigate co-parenting. There is no easy solution, but I have realized that, as bad as it can seem at the time, nothing is really the end of the world. This realization has helped me let go of control and anger and has helped me to make sure my children have a relationship with their father. I have recently remarried, and my husband and I must try to balance our children’s relationships with each other and with both of our former spouses. Here are some things we have learned along the way:
Going back and forth between homes is not your children’s fault and not their choice. Give them the freedom to be happy wherever they are. It is the greatest gift you can give to them after their family has broken. They will love you and respect you for allowing them their own relationships, their own feelings and their own time. So send them off with a smile and an “I can’t wait to hear all about it when you come back!”
It was Christmas Day. New just-played-with toys were scattered all over the house, wrapping paper was overflowing the trash cans, and the boys were still riding high from candy-filled stockings and the excitement of Santa’s visit. To keep things “normal,” I had asked my husband to sleep on the couch on Christmas Eve so that he could see the boys on Christmas morning. We had been separated since Halloween.
He was the textbook adult child of alcoholics. He lied when the truth was easier, he was impulsive, self-loathing, non-communicative and more. I began to see these traits in my children and asked him to leave to get help so that we could break this cycle of his family. I knew that with help, and because I believed he was a good person, we would get through it.
As he was leaving, I walked him out through the garage.
“Can we talk?” he asked.
“Hang on,” I said.
The boys were two, four and six years old. I couldn’t leave them unattended for more than a few minutes. I opened the door to peer inside. Through the kitchen and into the living room, I saw the Christmas tree lights shimmering, the stockings flung on the floor, toys and candy strewn about. The smell of the tree hit me as I scanned the kitchen still covered with Christmas morning donuts and cookies. The boys were quietly playing. The middle one was watching a Christmas movie, the youngest was riding his new tractor and the oldest was playing his new video game.
I turned back into the darkness of the garage and closed the door to see my husband sobbing. In ten years, I had never seen him cry. I looked around to see our life in the shadows. Christmas boxes were awaiting pick-up. Bikes, rakes and tools were haphazardly arranged. Boxes of outgrown clothes were awaiting the next boy’s growth spurt.
“Ask me any questions you want,” he said. “I have decided to be completely honest and tell you everything.”
“Have you ever cheated on me?”
We had many problems, but nothing I believed was insurmountable. I always believed he was good person. He kept telling me he was a good person, and I wanted to believe it. I wanted to believe that when he “worked” until 10:00 at night and didn’t answer his phone for hours, that he really had left his phone in the bathroom. I wanted to believe that when he shut off the computer every time I walked into the room, he really had just finished using it. I wanted to believe that the excessive cash withdrawals from ATMs were for lunch. But these doubts prompted me, and the question came out of my mouth without a thought or hesitation.
“Have you ever cheated on me?”
“Um, well, not really,” he said.
Not really? That was not a definitive answer to my question. That question should have a definitive answer, and at that moment, I knew. I felt invisible. Everything I knew to be true was a lie. As I listened to an endless description of what specific acts he believed constituted cheating, I felt as though I had left my body and was watching this scene from above myself.
“Hang on.” I had to come back to myself and needed to check on the kids.
I opened the door to check on the boys. They were getting a bit restless, running around the living room, flinging toys up in the air as they giggled and shrieked. Frosty the Snowman was blaring from the TV.
My mind replayed the last week as I watched them. The Christmas Eve service at church, the Sunday School Christmas party, making cookies with my parents — all of it seemed so normal. I told them to finish the movie and I would give them a bath.
When I turned back to the dimly lit garage, I began to ask questions with surreal calm. He started to sob harder and harder as he related a tale of infidelity spanning five years of our ten-year marriage.
“I don’t know,” he said.
“What do you mean you don’t know?” I could not fathom his answer.
“I don’t know who they are.”
“Too many to count.”
At that moment, my two-year-old came bounding out of the house, all grins and wanting to play. The bright light of the kitchen fell on my husband’s tear-streaked face. I stepped to block my son from seeing him, scooped him up and carried him back inside. I asked my 6 year-old to play with him for a few minutes before their bath and I would be right back.
“I don’t have any more questions,” I said. I turned back into the house filled with lights, music and the sweet faces of innocent, giggling boys and I shut the garage door.
Between the Big Confession and the New Year, I felt a bizarre sense of calm and relief. I had a defining moment of clarity that made my decision to leave my husband definitive. I didn’t flail in the limbo of indecision. I had no doubts and no regrets. With my decision made, I felt a bizarre sense of elation. Elation in spite of the fact that my husband called crying daily, sent flowers regularly (too little too late? I mean, really, the lack of self-awareness boggles the mind), and finding that I was buried under a pile of months of unpaid bills. Telling my children about the divorce and seeing their devastated faces was the hardest thing I have ever done, however, I knew I was doing the right thing. Not everyone knows that and knowing is a gift.
After the meeting with the lawyer on the first day he was available after the holidays, I went home. The Christmas decorations were still up looking haphazard and worn and the lights hadn’t been turned on in days. My children were with my mother. I cried harder than I have ever cried in my life. And then I got up, undecorated my house and went to get my children. I knew that my responsibility was for my children and myself. And I was free.
This is the article I wrote for the Huffington Post that inspired this website. Please comment with your thoughts.
In my book, I talk a good bit about “those who fail to embrace their own reality.” These are the people who struggle with acceptance of their situations whether it is divorce, custody arrangements, employment, dating relationships or any other area of life. I believe that the ability not only to accept your situation, but to embrace it is the only way you can begin to set and follow your own path and to find sustainable happiness.
What does it mean to embrace your reality? It means that you accept what is. It means you know who you are, where you are and what you want. It means you recognize that the only one who can make you happy is you. The only one who can change your life is you. That blame and anger only serve to defeat you, not the person you blame and have anger toward.
Acknowledging your reality equates to having self-awareness. It is a big part of happiness because when you lack it, you are fighting against where you actually are in your life. You have to own your situation, because when you don’t, you cannot make effective change. And then you have to embrace it. The difference is important. Acknowledging your reality allows you to understand, embracing gives you the power to change.
Let’s look at a few situations I have experienced and observed in the world of dating after divorce that taught me this lesson.
1. The guy who repeatedly said, “My wife, I mean ex-wife.” This guy has not accepted (much less embraced) the fact that he is divorced. How can he move forward? He can’t. He is stuck.
2. The guy who kept telling me what he lost in his divorce...his boat, his house, etc. He is still angry. He resents what happened. As long as he holds on to that, he can’t make change. And no one wants to be around someone who is angry and resentful. The power to change is thwarted when you embrace your anger rather than accept your now.
3. The guy whose profile listed his education as “college,” and upon meeting him answered a question about the nature of his degree with “technically, I didn’t finish college.” Why? Why misrepresent? You are who you are and if someone doesn’t like it, it is their problem. You have made it your problem by lying about it.
4. The woman who is so put upon by being a single mother that she feels entitled. “I am a single mother, so I should have...” Where is her power? Does anyone “deserve?” Or do you deserve what you work for when you take responsibility for your own life?
5. The woman who is so angry that she tells anyone who will listen about the wrong she feels was done to her. Where is her power? Is she allowing her perception to control her future relationships rather than being determined to make her own happiness?
6. The men and women who are victims of their own lives. If you believe that everything that happens in your life is “done to you,” you have effectively given your power away. Bad things happen. Often they are not your fault. But no matter whose fault they are, you have power in your reaction and in your determination to change your situation. If you are not happy, you are not choosing to make a change.
I experienced a divorce in which someone else made decisions that changed the course of my entire life without consulting me. So believe me, I get feeling angry and frustrated by that. There is a time when you need to allow yourself to feel that anger and frustration and then heal. At this point, you are not a fully formed person. You are broken and need time to put yourself back together. The problem occurs when this brokenness becomes a way of life. When you cling to the anger and frustration as a crutch and as an excuse not to move forward and get out there and redefine your path. When I decided to embrace the fact that I was divorced, that I was raising three kids as a single mother, that I had to find a path that was very different from the one I had been on, I began to feel empowered. I could decide what was next. I could decide what kind of relationship I wanted. I was in charge. And I embraced that. And when I embraced that, good things began to happen. I love this phrase: If you don’t like where you are, move. You are not a tree. Words to live by.