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Over the years, I’ve handed out advice, more to myself than anyone else, to do my best in maintaining firm boundaries. Like:
When you get a demand-y, barely civil (or outright rude and jerky) email or text, do not rise to the bait. Decipher if there’s anything in the demand-y, barely civil (or outright rude and jerky) communication that has to do with the children’s healthcare, education, childcare, visitation logistics/scheduling. If none of those things are within the communication, ignore it.
If there are items that have to be addressed regarding healthcare, education, childcare, visitation logistics/scheduling, then do your best to keep your answers civil, succinct, and to the point.
Everything else is smoke and mirrors. To be ignored. Like white noise on the old TV screens, in the “olden days” when if you didn’t get a channel, salt and pepper dots covered the screen and generated noise like a high speed fan.
Over the years, I’ve honed this skill, and because of it, the outright rude and jerky emails and texts have lessened. Instead, I get thinly veiled accusatory emails, gaslighting ones that are meant to record that he’s advising me to think about “what’s in the best interests of the children.” Some cite genuinely mistaken facts; facts that unfortunately need to be corrected, even though he will insist on having the last word. I know better than to let “alternative facts” hang out in the written word unaddressed, even if he comes back with a “response.” Whenever the “last word” comes, it can usually be ignored.
I say "honed," but I am far from perfect, and even with my best effort, I fail at keeping the stress, worry, and nastiness of dealing with Exie at bay.
On my better days, I feel sympathy for my ex. That he is mired so deeply in unhappiness and suspicion that he can’t recognize compromise or good faith efforts for what they are. I realize it is merely confirmation that it is a good thing I’m not married to him anymore, and it doesn’t matter if he charms the tennis parents or the girl scout parents or whomever. What matters is that I know, and will always persevere to create a safe and positive space for my kids.
On my worst days, I fear he’ll brainwash the kids somehow, especially when they come back to me about how daddy doesn’t have any money (he has a truck, he lives in a nicer house than we do, an iphone, etc.), how poor daddy doesn’t get to see us (visitation just increased), how poor daddy wants to go get his own house instead of sharing the family home, and can’t I give him some money to buy a house?
On my worst days, when arguing with my tween about how the rules are different in my house, I want to hang my head in my hands. Why do I have to wake up so early for YOUR work, mommy? Why do I have to clean the bathroom at YOUR house, mommy? What do you mean I have to pick up my socks, get water for the dog, do the dishes after dinner, do my homework, [fill in the blank]. You’re so MEAN.
Inside I’m crying, outwardly, I remain firm. Inside, I stress that somehow my job of being firm with rules for the girls and helping them grow up to be responsible tweens, teens, and adults (hopefully), feeds into his manipulation of how it’s easier at his house, even though there’s arguing and yelling at his mom, and constant strife with his brother. That they will lean into the “poor daddy” and lean away from firm mommy rules, and in the end, somehow I’ll lose them.
On my worst days, I worry that the other parents will fall for his charms and like him and sympathize with him. And yes, in my 6 year old way, that they will like him more than me. I wake up in the middle of the night, worried that when explaining that we are a divorced family to a new parent in our solar system of extracurricular activities/school events, somehow I came across as unfeeling or uncaring, when actually, as this blog can attest, this is more difficult than I could have ever imagined.
Better, though, a life better than what I had imagined, but so difficult.
On my better days, I’m able to take deep breaths and realize that the best that I can do, is all I can do.
On my better days, I realize that it doesn’t matter what other people think of our situation, it only matters how I approach it and try to improve it every day.
On my better days, I understand that my tweenster does not have the capacity to regulate her emotions like an adult, and it’s my job to teach her with patience and empathy. Sometimes the best I can do is love them, hug them, kiss them, even if the tween is enraged at some injustice (like picking up her dirty laundry from the floor).
On my better days, I know that despite his words and actions that color his perspective of me with the kids, I am their mother from the beginning until the end, and I’ll do everything I can to nurture our relationship. And part of that is being supportive about their relationship with their father, whether they share their happiness, confusion, or concern.
On my better days, I know that I have to be there to do the mundane things, like teach them how to pick up after themselves, fold laundry, as well as celebrate the big things, their school award for literacy or their dance recital. Or shlepp them to field trips and girl scout events and tennis or gymnastics practice. To invite their friends over or send them over to their friends for sleepovers even though I’ll miss them, because it’s easier if they go on mom days rather than dad ones.
On my best days, I know that I am not in control, but that I can lead with love and light and hope that they will grow up feeling supported, protected, and safe.
Please, dear god, please let this be true, that it will be enough. Please let love win.