An Absence of Time with My Kids: The Gap Years

My kids are both teenagers so they are clearly on the path of separation from their mother and me. The experience, however, could not be more different and some of it is my fault.

Several months ago, as a relationship ended, so did my ability to house and feed my kids on the alternating weekends that had become my primary opportunity to connect with them. Truth was, I was a little ashamed and disconnected from them even when they were with me. Something about not being a success, not being as close to them as I was when they were kids, and something about putting my priority on my primary romantic relationship at the expense of some of my conscious parenting. I was punting the major duties of guardianship and discipline to their mom. I was imaging that I was staying close, but I can see how I was responsible for the drift.

As we were sliding into the end of their 14th and 16th year I was content to keep mainly to myself. I no longer had a place for them to stay on the weekends, but the alternating housing routine had become a tedious exercise that no one appreciated. And as teenagers, one with a car, they wanted to be elsewhere every weekend anyway. And I was okay with that. Kind of. I was also sad about it, but didn’t know what remedies were available. Certainly some of it was my own sadness at the loss of my younger kids, the kids who needed and depended on me for everything, including entertainment. Now, they needed nothing from me. Of course, I knew they needed love and my continued expression of desire to be connected to them and their activities. But needless to say, we were drifting apart as we muddled through the summer and began what would be their Freshman and Junior year in high school.

My relationship to both of them has been reduced to “dates” and “dinners” scheduled with semi-regularity. And the requests and ideas for these meetings was up to me. We were all happy to coast along in our disconnected relationship. Me as a parent, clueless how to rebuild. Them as teenagers with very different priorities and goals. Still, we needed each other. But the value of the relationship was much less obvious to all of us.

And much of this disconnection I have to place at the foot of the divorce and my loss of time with them from 5 and 7 until now. Those years when bonds and confidences and closeness are welded together, I was a 1/3 presence in their lives. I was also struggling with my own demons of depression and looking for high-level marketing work so I could both support them (child support) and afford a place to live.

As the years wore on, the gap became more obvious. Weekly decisions, weekly chores, and weekly activities were exclusively the domain of the mom-kid relationship. Their bonds grew closer while I learned to function as a bit of an outsider. Weekends with dad were different from the core of their lives. We all worked it out as best as we could, but there was a huge gap in our communication and bonding. As they grew closer and more connected to their mother, my relationship with my kids took on a more dutiful role. They were obliged to come to my house every other weekend, but there were no significant advantages to this arrangement for them. We were always having to “stop by mom’s” to pick up clothes, retainers, sports equipment, and books. They were saying with me, but more like a hotel with a good driver and less like a home. And I get it. Packing every other weekend for four nights (Thur-Sun) at dad’s was a pain in the ass. More so as they grew older.

I don’t blame their mom for this disconnection. In fact, I think she has done a fantastic job or stepping up to the plate to become their best friend, confidant, counselor, and caregiver. I have nothing but respect for her.

But this past weekend, as a major event unfolded in our lives, with my son ending up in the hospital, I was again struck at just how far out from their orbit I had become. So many items came up in the process of getting a grip on my son’s situation, items/issues that I had never been told or asked about. Huge parenting issues that had been overlooked and not shared with me. It was not the time to confront the secrecy, but it pointed out a huge gap in my parenting intelligence: the relationship between the mom and dad (especially after divorce) about core parenting issues, like drugs, school, relationships, sleep habits, discipline… I had been left out of the loop on some significant data points and in this moment of family crisis, I learned just how out of the loop I was. I was purposefully discarded as a resource and counsel on major matters concerning my son and his wellbeing.

I’m sad. I’m scared for my son and his future growth through this experience. And I’m not looking forward to the eventual conversation/confrontation with my ex-wife about these gaps in our parenting narrative. She’s got reasons for leaving me in the dark. I have to be ready to step up to the plate for the requests that may come out of my readmission into the family structure.

I admit I’ve been a bit self-absorbed trying to get my own shit together. I had no idea how far the breakdown had been progressing on their side of the orbit. And today, I am left wondering when and how to both support and renegotiate my relationship with my ex-wife. Parenting is a journey best shared by both partners. I am strong enough to engage with love and caring and the knowledge, that somehow she believed leaving me out of the loop was the best option for my son.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

image: hospital image, creative commons usage

Losing Everything Again, And Finding Happiness Anyway

I’m in a rough place. At the same time I can’t say that I’ve ever been happier. But I’m just beginning to realise happiness is about my relationship to myself and not someone else. Sure, I’d like to be in a relationship. I really miss the physical contact, the camaraderie, the checking-in at all hours of the day with little texts and messages. I love being in love. And I love being in relationship. Until it’s not working. Then I’m not all that good at expressing what I need to make things better. So I suffer. I moan. I get depressed. What I should get is ANGRY. But I suck at that even more.

Two months ago I was asked to move out of “her” house. I was broken. I was freaked out and scared that I was retreating to my mom’s house to die. I imagined myself sleeping all the time, fighting with my mom about not getting up, like a teenager. I knew the sadness was going to be overwhelming. I mean, I loved this woman with all my being, and she was everything I dreamed I wanted in a relationship, and now she was going away? I was almost as afraid of the darkness I was going to descend into, more than the darkness I was in, but I knew that staying was not healthy. I was anxious and depressed at the same time. And I needed to get out of the house and get on with the grief and healing that would come from losing it all again.

And for the first two weeks I suffered. Very differently than I thought I would. I was sad. I was grieving. But I was also relieved. I relaxed a bit once I was alone again. I slept better. I napped anytime I felt tired. I took back control of my schedule and my priorities. And one thing I did, for sure, was I exercised every day. It was a commitment I’d made over a year ago when I was struggling. No matter what, I can walk. Even if it’s only 3 miles or so. I can walk. And while that won’t make me feel better in the short-term, in the long-run I knew it was as good for my soul as it was for my health.

I also attended a boatload of Al Anon meetings. I was going almost to keep from being so alone. But I was listening too. And I spoke a few times about the struggle of giving up on a relationship. And I got a lot of phone numbers of people I could call when I just needed someone to talk to. It was the best support network I could’ve asked for. In ways that were different from friends, these “friends” had experience with what I was going through. Most of them had years in the program and gave pretty sage advice when asked for it. But mainly they were sounding boards for my recovery thinking, about the relationship, about where I was going, about how sad I was, about how I couldn’t see my future at all. And mostly they listened. That’s really what we need more than anything, someone to listen.

Well, as it turns out, I never really fell apart. I was expecting it to happen at any time, but I simply kept going on with my life. I kept walking. I read and worked the Al Anon program. I went to meetings. I talked to some people on the phone. I got a sponsor. And I really just struggled on with my normal life, except that I was alone and not living with someone. (Well, my mom, but that is different. And we worked out a pretty good relationship around privacy and sharing resources.)

I sought out the grief. I watched sad movies and cried. I read books about breaking up and grieving. I wrote goodbye letters to my former fiancé. I dug into my feelings and sat there, not really sure what actions to take. So I stayed still. I sat with the feelings. I prayed and meditated. I ate three meals a day and walked in the brutal Texas heat. And I kept going.

I wasn’t feeling better during those first few weeks. I was feeling liberated, somehow, but sad and alone.

And about three weeks in, something happened. (I think my new meds kicked in.) I started to see possibilities for the future, my future. alone but surviving. If you’ve never experienced true depression you don’t quite understand the depth of the helplessness that happens. I didn’t really see my demise, I just couldn’t imagine my survival. But a new dawn began to break as a result of my work, my time away from a toxic relationship, and the help of my chemical altering drugs.

Then my brain kicked back in at about 4 weeks. It was as if I had been sleeping the entire time prior, and now awake I was capable of accomplishing anything. I wasn’t grandiose, I was just happy again. I was hopeful again. I was still doing all the same things, walking, napping, getting plenty of sleep, eating well, and boom, like a light switch was flipped, I was back.

That was six weeks ago and the reignition has stuck. I’ve gotten over the edgy side effects of the new meds. I’ve calmed down my fantastic ideas. I’ve watched my sleep schedule very carefully. And I’m still soaring what I consider my “normal” functioning self. I’m happy. I’m alone and living at my mother’s house and working a shit job, but I’m happy. And I’m writing. That’s one of the big tells with me, if I stop writing something is off. My brain likes to express itself with language. And when I clam up, I’m battling something bigger than just a temporary setback or disappointment.

I’ve learned to ride the edge of my good feelings too. And I’ve learned to laugh off the overused term “manic.” Sure, back in my teen years I had a manic phase. But since then, when I get high, I think I’m returning to my natural “high self.” There are psychological terms for this state as well, but I don’t even think hypo-manic fits for me. I could get there if I drank too much coffee, didn’t eat well, and didn’t watch my sleep. I could easily slip over the edge of mania and do some crazy shit. But I learned when I was sixteen, that this type of behavior only results in sadness later.

So I’m alone, homeless, and happy. How joyful I will be as things begin to turn in my favor. And it’s the season, fall, where I usually get stronger. I’m trying to relax a bit more. I’m thrashing a bit about being alone. But at the moment, as you can imagine, I don’t have many options for being in a relationship. And I KNOW that I don’t need another relationship right now. My relationship to myself is the one I need to nurture and continue to build. I’ve still got a lot of forgiving to do for my failures and failings. At the moment, though, I well on my way.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

image: cartwheel, creative commons usage

Developing Low-Reactivity as a Divorced Parent

My ex-wife does stuff that pisses me off all the time. The trick for me, has been to ignore the affront and keep moving along with my own agenda. I think sometimes she does things to upset me. Maybe she’s still mad. Maybe she’s spiteful and vindictive. Maybe she’s unhappy with her current situation.

I’m not sure what causes her flare-ups, but they are getting further apart and that’s a good thing. My winning approach has been to stay low-key.

Today and everyday until my daughter is 18, my ex-wife will be suing me for child support. Now, there’s no need for her to involve the AG’s office in this way, but she does. And with a phone call she could turn them off. But she doesn’t. Something about having the lien against me gives her pleasure, confidence, assurance, something. But, by law, I have to pay her 100% of what we agreed to in our divorce decree. Not even bankruptcy or death gets you out of your obligation to your kids. And I’ve never tried to get out of it. Still she keeps making the decision to let it ride on my ass.

Even this situation is done. There is nothing I can do about it. I’ve asked. I’ve offered alternative collateral. I’ve reasoned with her. But there’s no change. It gives her some pleasure. But I will not give her the pleasure of watching me thrash against it. So I let it ride.

I remember when I did a personality test for a job a number of years ago. The hiring manager was looking over my results and mentioned that my “sense of urgency” was very low. “Everyone on my team has a high sense of urgency. I don’t think you’d fit in very well.” She was right. I’ve cultivated a low sense of urgency. Why? Because I like to avoid conflict and I usually get my work done without the whip being applied. So, she did me a favor by not putting me on a team, her team, where are the projects were in crisis mode. No thanks.

So, that’s the way I deal with my ex as well. No crisis. No drama. Sure, she tries to make craziness out of minor issues. She tries to escalate mundane issues. But I don’t jump. I don’t take the bait. I remain in my low sense of urgency and ask her what she needs from me. “How can I help?” Is actually a very effective response. Often there is nothing I can do. That’s the point of being out of urgency. Still, she likes to include me in the excitement. It is my choice how I want to respond.

And that’s really the point of divorce relationships. You can’t control the other parent. But you can choose your response. If you can diffuse the urgency and your need to be right, smart, witty, or even a jerk, you will go along way towards lessening the drama and making things easier for both you and your kids. And in many ways, a low sense of urgency lessens the stress and drama in my ex-wife’s life too. But I don’t think too much about her wellbeing. That’s no longer my role.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

image: urgency, creative commons usage

What I’m Not Saying

I can’t talk about it yet. Well, I am talking about it, but over here http://wholeparentbook.com. But this place, The Off Parent is for the rad posts, the anger posts, the depression posts, where I can really let things fly. And I’m not ready to go there. In fact, I’m scared to go there. When I hit the anger about my lost relationships I know I will be furious.

So for now, if you’re waiting for the next chapter, head on over to my PUBLIC blog and take a read of what I’ve been up to in the last week or so.

I will be back here, I’m sure. And of course, some of that silence was my depression coming on strong and sticking around for a long fucking time.

I’m getting the varnish remover ready on my writing so I can give you the dirty truth about what I’ve been dealing with for the past 2.5 years. But not today. Today I just wanted to say “Hi. I’m here if you need me, and I’ll be back with my OFF writing soon.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

Kids, I Did Not Choose to Leave You Alone In the Divorce

screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-11-03-18-amDear Kids,

I’m writing this because I want you to know the divorce was not my idea. I did not choose to walk out the door to the house for the last time, I was asked to leave. While this may not mean much to you now that you are older, when you were 5 and 7, it was a big deal. And I couldn’t help but feel sad when I could not tell you the truth. It was not “our” idea. The divorce was against my wishes.

Today, it’s fine. We’re all friends. But back then, back when you were such vulnerable little kids, it was heartbreaking. I’m not saying we should’ve stayed together. As you could not have been aware, things were tough, things were unhappy, things were no longer joyful, more we had moved into a survival marriage. I agree, today, that’s no place to be. So in many ways I thank your mom for the divorce, but when it was taking place, I fought her, I fought for you guys, I fought to keep us together.

Of course, I can’t really come out and tell  you this today, either. I mean, I don’t want to damage your relationship with your mom. And, as they say, it’s water under the bridge. So why mention it?

The action of leaving the marriage was devastating to all of us. And one person made that decision and enacted the next path before we had a chance to even understand what was happening. It was May of 2010 and by August of 2010 it would be official, final, signed and delivered. And I would no longer be there to tuck you into bed every night. I would be living with my sister and looking for a new job and a place to live, once I had that new job. You’re mom was only concerned with you guys and your happiness. And as she should’ve been, she was letting me fend for myself. But I have to tell you, it was rough out there. Back then, there were days I wasn’t sure I was going to make it.

Of course, you know I suffer from depression from time to time. And the divorce brought this illness up in spades. Perhaps you were given this “illness” as the reason we were no longer together, or the reason I was living with my sister and no longer in the house. But that’s not really the full truth. Depression had been a part of our lives before and was a struggle both parents weathered from time to time. So it was no reason for divorce. It was a symptom of the divorce. And the divorce triggered the biggest bout of depression I’d ever experienced. I was destroyed.

What I want to say to you today, as you are now 13 and 15 years old, is things broke up because your mom decided she needed to do something different. She chose divorce. I was fighting to stay together. Today we are better off for having gotten divorced. You are stronger, less dependant, and more resilient. We’ve gone through some tough times together. But I want you to know, regardless of how it felt, or what you were told, the divorce was NOT “our” idea, it was her idea and I was forced to go along with it. What you’ll learn as you enter into relationships of your own, it takes two people to have a relationship. When one person wants out, that’s it, game over.

This post is on my anonymous divorce blog. I still protect you and your mom from the full brunt of my anger. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do. Nothing would come of giving you this piece of information now. Perhaps when you are older it will be a conversation we can have. But today, I just wanted to record, for the future, that the divorce was not my idea. Ever.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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