Monday, April 26, 2010
I originally had this posted as a comment to Kirsten's post "Co-Parenting in Divorce: Sometimes We Get it Right" but it was too long so I decided to just create a new entry in the blog. Here goes ...
Wow! Reading this does really bring it all back again! Here are just a couple of notes from my perspective ...
First of all let me say that Jordan is a pretty smart kid ... in many ways. He has the ability to do very well in all of his subjects in school. But he does indeed have some motivational issues. The problem for me is that when I see him struggling it reminds me so much of the struggles I had in school at that age that it sometimes freaks me out just a little. If I have my Zen on I can deal much better with this type of situation. But this week I had some anxiety or mildly unsettling emotional noise going on under the surface. So when he showed me the test I did not handle it well ....
So here is what happened. Jordan comes into my office and tells me that he needs to have something signed (this means he has done something wrong either behaviorally or academically) . He is quick to point out that he got (2) 100's and a 64 or 61 (I can't remember for sure, not that it actually matters). I brush over the 100's to get to the failing grade. I ask him what test it was. He tells me it was the open note history test.
When he says "open note" I could barely restrain myself. A few days earlier before the test he assured me he would not need to study because, well, it is open note! I suggested that it never really hurts to go over the notes a little anyway. Well he would have none of that. No way he will put any effort into the open note test!
So not being in the best of emotional places myself I rant and rave. And I am pretty sure there was nothing of value said. While ranting and raving I am also signing the form acknowledging the poor grade and writing a fairly scathing note to Jordan's teacher suggesting, among other things, that it would be fine with me if he gave Jordan a detention for failing an open note test. At one point Jordan has the wherewithal to point out that he did bring home (2) tests with 100's. And I was able to pause and congratulate him on those. Of course, after all that ranting and raving I am sure the few kinds words I said about the (2) 100's were meaningless to him. (Sorry about that little buddy ... :-( ...).
So now I am frustrated and trying to work in my office. And Jordan is feeling hurt and unheard and is not working on his homework in the living room....
I get this text from Kirsten:
"Just got this from Jordan. He's feeling very misunderstood. I told him to talk to you from his heart and this is what he said. I'm not going to respond to him anymore. It's up to you two."
and then she pasted in Jordan's text to her:
"No fricken way! Hell litteraly freak out at me!! Ugh!! U really need to do something NOW before he starts like hitting me"
So I read this and know immediately that I need to take a couple of breaths, re-assess my mental state and try a fresh approach. After a moment to collect myself I give Kirsten a call. We chat for a bit about the scathing note I wrote on the form and that it may be misunderstood by the teacher and that Jordan is feeling bummed out himself. We get off the phone and I reflect for a few more moments before I go speak to Jordan again.
So by now I am fully aware that I have overreacted. The diatribe that I wrote on the form he had to take back to the school was over the top and out of line (both to Jordan and his teacher). And my reaction to Jordan did nothing to help him grow and learn from the situation and everything to help him shut down emotionally. *big sigh*
So I tear the bottom half of the form off (the part with my diatribe) and take it into the other room to talk to Jordan. I say, "Hey buddy can we talk for a minute?" He says, "Sure." I show him the form with my diatribe. I tell him that I am sorry I overreacted, I crumple it up and tell him I am throwing it away. This opens the door for a conversation with him where we talk about what went wrong with the test, and how to correct that for the future. It gives him an opportunity to speak and me an opportunity to really listen. He no longer feels misunderstood. And I get to throw a little genuine praise at him for the (2) excellent grades that he also brought home.
It’s birthday time in our family. John’s birthday is on April 28th and mine is on May 7th. And so that brings up the question of gift giving after separation and divorce. John and I first confronted this issue shortly after he moved out of the house, since it was October and we were heading into the holiday season. At that time we were hardly speaking to each other, except to make arrangements for handing the kids off from household to household, and money was very much an issue, since we were in the thick of divorce negotiations. I’m not sure how he summoned the emotional reserves, but John approached me a few weeks before Christmas with the suggestion that we each help the kids get Christmas gifts for each other. In other words, I take the kids shopping for a gift for John and he take the kids shopping for a gift for me.
I was surprised that John came up with this idea, since it seemed that he had nothing but animosity for me at the time, but he explained that he thought it would be good for the kids, and I couldn’t argue with that idea. My own parents were divorced, and I remember many Christmases and birthdays when my siblings and I scrambled at the last minute to do something nice for my mother. We often felt guilty because we didn’t have much of our own money to spend, and we often didn’t really know what to get her. So the idea of making sure our kids didn’t have to go through that, regardless of our feelings for one another, was very appealing to me.
In fact, I had already made arrangements with a friend to take them out to shop for me. As I recall, she had already taken them, and they were very clear about what they wanted to get me. She told me the amount that the gift cost, and I reimbursed her. And she even helped them wrap the gift. I didn’t mention to John that this had already occurred because I didn’t want to dissuade him from what I thought was a better long-term solution to the question of ongoing gift-giving. We decided on a budget for each other, and then helped the kids figure out a suitable gift within that range. As it turned out, that was the Christmas of The Blender. I think the kids were really into smoothies, and they had blenders on the brain, so they got one for John, and they ended up getting two for me – one with my friend and one with John. It was sweet, and the kids seemed happy.
Since that time, John and I have continued this tradition. We have a basic set amount that we earmark for Christmas and birthdays, but we have been flexible with that amount as life circumstances have dictated. There have been times when money has been particularly tight, and so the gifts have been less expensive, and there have been other times when we have had more money to spend. The best gift I have ever received was actually during a time when John was particularly tight on money. He told the kids before Christmas that he didn’t have any money to spend on a gift for me, but he helped them come up with a creative idea. Jordan plays the guitar, and James plays the bass, so John suggested to them that they practice a song to perform for me. I don’t know how long it took them to decide on the song, but they chose one of my favorites – Blackbird by the Beatles – and they must have spent quite a while practicing because the end result was impressive. I’ll never forget Christmas morning that year. We had opened all the gifts under the tree, and then the kids said to me, “Mom, you go upstairs and entertain yourself for a while. We need to get ready to give you your gift.” Truthfully, I sort of suspected that they were going to play something for me, and I even suspected which song because I had overheard Jordan picking the tune on his guitar in the previous few weeks, but when they called me downstairs and they were all lined up with their instruments, looking expectantly at me, I was already blown away. They told me to sit on the couch, and as soon as Jordan started playing the first notes of the song, I was in tears. They were so sweet, singing and playing, and hearing the lyrics of the song, which speak to me of resilience and hope, just took my breath away. I wept and wept. Here is a link to a YouTube clip of them performing the song (during a practice session). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Jdi4uXFabE Incidentally, I discovered a little later that day that the kids had placed bets on how long it would take me to cry.
So I guess the takeaway here is that, regardless of how you feel about your ex, remember that your kids love that person and they want to show them their love through gift-giving at special times of the year. If you have it in you to support them in their desire to honor their relationship with their father or their mother, you will actually strengthen your relationship with them – because you are supporting their expression of love. It’s worth the effort.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Co-parenting is not always easy, even in the most ideal circumstances. Kids try to play one parent against the other, and unless the mom and the dad have spent a lot of time working out their joint parenting strategy, often the kids end up running the show. Well, for those of you who are divorced and parenting, you well know the many complications that divorce heaps on the already-challenging job of parenting. In this entry I’ll be sharing a recent success story, but rest assured that we don’t think we have all the answers. In the coming months we will also be sharing many of our less stellar parenting moments (in fact, they would probably qualify as flops). Our philosophy is that if we get more moves right than we get wrong, then we’re doing okay. And okay is fine with us.
This past Tuesday I had a date. I asked John if he would be willing to have the kids so that I could cook dinner at home, and – being the nice guy he is – John said sure. Even though he had had the kids for almost 2 weeks while I was away on business earlier in the month. The kids normally go to John’s after school on Tuesday while I work anyway, so we just planned for them to stay through dinner with him this week. So far, so good.
The trouble began when I was at work. I received a text from Jordan (13) that said, “CAN U TELL DAD TO COOL IT?!”
Since I was in the middle of tutoring, I ignored the text, intending to respond when I was finished work. But after about 2 minutes I received another text from Jordan that said, simply, “MOM!!”
At this point I was getting a little distracted from what I was doing, wondering what in the world was going on, but I knew that if I responded to the texts the floodgates would open and I would get sucked into a conversation that I wasn’t ready to have yet. So I maintained my no-response posture, and I didn’t receive any more texts until I was leaving my tutoring job at 5:15. At this point I got another text that said, “Mom.”
Good, I thought to myself, He seems to have calmed down a bit.
I decided I needed to know what was going on from John’s perspective before responding to Jordan, so I gave John a quick call on my way home. What’s important to keep in mind is that I was feeling guilty for having asked John to have the kids, wondering if he needed more of a break after my long absence. And I was also feeling anxious about my upcoming date, wanting things to go well on that front.
John was clearly frustrated, explaining to me that Jordan had brought home a failed open book history test. We have been trying to help Jordan to become a better student this year. He has the ability to do very well, but often lets things slide. This seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for John. John had written a diatribe on the note he was supposed to return to Jordan’s homeroom teacher, indicating that he had seen the failing grade. His rant expressed his frustration with Jordan and with the teacher, and John invited Jordan’s teacher to give Jordan a detention for the failing grade. Needless to say, when Jordan saw this note he was not motivated to dig in to his homework. L
Knowing that the way I phrased my next comments could mean the difference between escalating or defusing the situation, I spoke slowly and deliberately. I first acknowledged John’s frustration, and then I reminded him that he should be careful in his phrasing to the teacher (who would take very seriously the irritation expressed by John). I then reminded him that the problem we are facing with Jordan is a motivational issue, and my guess is that he isn’t likely to be motivated by a tongue-lashing. I knew I was on the right track when John chuckled at that. My parting comments to him were to remind him to take several deep breaths (he practices rhythmic breathing and gets a lot out of it), and to paint the big picture: Jordan will be fine, and as much as we need to take this overall issue seriously, one failed history test is not going to be the end of Jordan’s academic career. John thanked me for the perspective. I hung up from the call feeling greatly relieved that all would be well.
At this point I texted Jordan back. In the next few lines I will quote, verbatim, the entire text conversation I had with Jordan.
Jordan: Can u take me home or get me away from dad or something? Please!
Me: I have faith that you two will work it out…
Jordan: There is no flippin way! I cant take it anymore, hes basically asking mr **** to give me a detention, u HAVE to do something… This is what happens when HE signs my test!
Me: Take some deep breaths and know that you’ll figure it out. You really will. I have faith in you both. Talk to him from your heart.
Jordan: No fricken way! Hell litteraly freak out at me!! Ugh!! U really need to do something NOW before he starts like hitting me (Kirsten’s note here: I have no worry that John will actually hit Jordan)… I mean from my heart? Really mom? Thatl get me killed… Dont leave mom
I decided that my continued involvement in this discussion was probably counterproductive, so, although it was difficult to do, I ignored his final plea, knowing that the best thing I could do was to display my confidence in their ability to work things out.
After getting out of the shower I received this text from Jordan: Thank u so much
Me: Are you guys in a better place?
Jordan: Haha yeah kinda
Me: Good. I love you.
Jordan: I love u too
Win, win, win. John and Jordan were able to move on with a productive and enjoyable evening, their relationship intact, and I was able to turn my attention to my date without the worry that there was strife occurring in my children’s other home.
One final note: I really did have faith that John and Jordan would work out their issues, and so I didn’t feel the need to follow up with detail about what occurred between the two of them. I did check in briefly with each of them the following day, and they both reported a positive outcome. It was wonderful to see them be able to work through their difficulties. The role I provided, as I see it, was simply to be a nonanxious presence – to listen with empathy to each position and to offer the perspective that the problem was manageable. John has certainly provided this same perspective for me at times, and, as long as you don’t have good reason to fear that your ex-spouse will hurt the kids, providing that vote of confidence and the empathy goes a very long way.
John had a few things to add to this which you can read here: johns-reply-to-co-parenting-in-divorce
Friday, April 23, 2010
Divorce stinks. We have heard of people who have gone through it painlessly, but we have yet to meet such a person. All the people we know (ourselves included) would say it’s pure hell. You’re unsure about your financial stability, you’re worried about what this will mean for the kids, you’re angry about how your spouse has wronged you, and you’re mourning the loss of a life together (even if you no longer want your spouse anymore). Not a pretty picture.
So we are here, as exes who have gone through the hell you’re experiencing, not to tell you that life is peachy or to encourage you to look on the bright side, but to say this:
You may have every right to be angry. You may have every reason to grab every little piece of the financial pie that you are entitled to. And you may be scared enough about losing time with your children that you’re prepared to fight in court over custody or to badmouth your spouse to your children. But ask yourself – honestly ask yourself – will you end up a winner in the long run if you lash out now? What will really be gained? You may win the battle, but you’re going to lose the war. And the war is not against your divorcing spouse; it’s against insanity, resentment, and fractured relationships with your children, friends, and family members.
We’re here to be the stiff slap in the face that may be required to jolt you out of your temporarily chaotic life, to say, Get over it. No one wants to hear you retell (for the 50th time) how you’ve been wronged. Your moaning and whining sucks the life out of those around you – your family, children, coworkers, even your divorce attorney – and it’s simply unattractive. Not only that, but it doesn’t get you anywhere. Nothing will change as long as you’re stuck in a victim mentality. We’re here to offer you suggestions that will help you move forward – with your children, in your work, with your finances, with your friends, and even (God forbid) with your ex!
If our message seems a bit shocking, and perhaps a little heartless, please remember that we’ve been through it. And our divorce was as ugly as the next. We remember how painful the process was, and we will fully acknowledge and allow room for that pain. There are times when you must experience the anger, the hurt, the sense of betrayal, etc. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t have strong emotions at this time. But we wouldn’t be helping you if we encouraged you to stay stuck in those negative emotions. So we won’t allow it, for your sake, for your children’s sakes, and for the sake of minimizing the GSI (global suffering index). Because when you are overwhelmed with negativity, that influences everyone you come into contact with, and that’s not okay.
So build a bridge and get over it. Feel the pain, make the tough decisions that are required in the divorce process, and move on. We’ll be here cheering you on (and giving you a swift kick in the pants when you need it).
Kirsten and John