Tag Archives: Mothers

Healthy Co-Parenting with your Ex

Crystal

Let’s face it folks, times have changed. The traditional family is no longer that traditional. More and more often couples are finding themselves in a position where they no longer want to ‘couple’ but are, regardless, looking ahead at years of obligatory interaction due to their children.

For the past 6 years my ex and I have been called things like: weird, surreal, amazing, and the ‘poster children’ for divorce. As much as I enjoy praise, (come on, who doesn’t?) it also breaks my heart a little that our situation is so uncommon.

I have questioned what it is that makes our relationship one that, while never perfect, has always been equitable and pleasant. Is it because one or both of us are perfectly rational, emotionally mature individuals who should be therapists in our spare time? Uh…nope (shush Dan, I can hear you from here).

What we have found together, though, is a friendship that has grown roots in today, and plans for tomorrow, rather than lingering in yesterday. Here are the lessons we learned along the way, in the hopes that our style of healthy co-parenting becomes the norm rather than the exception.

1) THE KID COMES FIRST

This is the foundation upon which every decision we make is based. It is non-negotiable. This is, unfortunately, also where so many relationships go wrong. Anger and resentment gets in the way, people want to hit back, or score points. Stop it! This is not about you. It doesn’t matter who did what to get you there, the fact is you’re there. Take responsibility for the child you created, and their well-being. What is in their best interest? What kind of life do you want for them?

2) COMMUNICATE (PLEASANTLY)

Whether you are talking to or about your ex, be civil. Do not bad-mouth each other in front of your child. You once loved this person enough to procreate with them. Point out their positives when you can to your children, so they can recognize them as well. Every child starts being told “oh, you have your dad’s nose” or “you’re so your mother’s son”. Don’t let them have a negative association with that half of themselves.

Communicate regularly when possible. Before my ex was able to move closer, we used to meet up at a coffee place every weekend to exchange our son. We spent an hour or so chatting about our weeks and what was going in our son’s life. While you might not be there, consider what small changes you can work towards to make the situation less adversarial.

3) BE A FAMILY

Yep, you heard me. Do stuff together. No, it’s not going to ‘confuse’ your child. It’s going to help them understand that while there is a new living arrangement, being part of a family doesn’t stop. We do birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s/Father’s Day, even Halloween. Camping and road trips, while not common, have been done. This is something that I give my ex SO much credit for. Over the years he has always gone out of his way to ensure he is present. On my end, I have always ensured he knew he was welcome in anything we do.

This feeling of family extends though. His parents stay with me when they come over from England. They want to spend time with their Grandson, and I love that! My mother and he have a hilarious relationship that involves shameless flirting. We all come as a package, and if a step-parent comes into the picture, they will absolutely be wrapped in that package.

4) BE THE GROWN UP

SO many aspects of healthy co-parenting fall into this category. Often, when parents split, the relationship shifts from parent/child to grown up/buddy. They don’t need you as a friend. They need you as a guide, a rule-setter, a loving pair of arms, and a safe place to land. Don’t try to use them as a sounding board to vent your venom over the injustice of it all. It is NOT their problem, it’s yours. Call a friend, or a hotline. Open a bottle of wine after you’ve finished ‘adulting’ and have a Facebook rant. By trying to force your child into the role you want them to fill, you are denying them their childhood. Be the grown up they need you to be in this difficult time in their lives.

All of the small choices we’ve made through the years have all fallen into one of these categories. It has made our lives so much more positive, and frankly, so much more enjoyable. Kudos to all of you out there right now who are doing your best, and keeping your integrity in difficult circumstances. I wish you smoother seas ahead.

Just remember, when in doubt, go back to #1.

Two Enormous Resounding Yeses

Yesterday, my coworker and friend, Kaitlyn, wrote a blog entry about her decision to not have children. Now, before I continue with what I hope people read as an entry that complements hers, let me tell you that Kaitlyn is an intelligent, compassionate, principled woman, who doesn’t need my validation.

I agree with what she’s written, and I come at this from a different perspective. Continue reading

A Million Little Yeses

Have you heard of Harambe? If you haven’t, you may be one of the few who has resisted Facebook or internet sensationalism in general this past week. Harambe is the 400lb gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo who was killed after a child “fell” into his enclosure. What has stirred such controversy is that “the internet” is looking for someone to blame: the zookeepers for being too hasty in their shot? The zoo for not having a proper enclosure? Or the mom of the boy, Michelle Gregg, for not keeping an eye on him. Continue reading

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY! OR IS IT?

For most people Mother’s Day is a happy time to celebrate their mother.  The woman of many titles: mommy, mum, mother, friend. It’s a day to honour the woman who brought you into this world and raised you. It’s one day a year that’s set aside to show appreciation for the woman who willingly makes sacrifices for their family. It’s a day for mothers to relax and be spoiled by the people who love them the most. Children make cute cards and homemade crafts at school. Adult children form new traditions with their own family, while still paying homage to their beloved mother. There’s luncheons or dinners at restaurants with special gifts and sometimes even some delicious cake.

What if her love isn’t unconditional?

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But what if your mother isn’t the warm and fuzzy type? What if her love isn’t unconditional? What if you’ve tried your whole life to gain her acceptance and approval?  What if she hasn’t been there for you when you’ve needed her the most?  What happens when you are banished from her queendom any time you disagree with her? What if she gets angry because you don’t do things the way she does them? What if you can no longer tolerate or accept her hurtful comments and  negative behaviour? What if she isn’t like the mothers described in those sugary, flowery Hallmark cards? What if you can no longer bring yourself to try to please someone who refuses to be happy? What if the whole thing leaves you stressed out and overwhelmed? What happens when you can’t be a dancing monkey anymore? How long do you keep trying before you eventually give up?

For years I made a huge deal out of Mother’s Day because I truly love my mother and I wanted to make her happy. I would spend weeks shopping to find the perfect gift for her. I would plan a menu filled with her favourites. I would clean my house spotless and spend hours prepping and cooking food. I always bought an expensive, fancy cake to serve for dessert. I would spend the entire day focused on indulging and spoiling my mother and her husband. I would wait on her, seeing to her every need before she even expressed it.  When they eventually left I stayed up late, cleaning. My wonderful husband always helped me with the cleanup, but the whole thing left me feeling drained. After years of this routine, I started to feel resentful. Why did I think it was my job to provide the perfect day for my mother while essentially forfeiting my own Mother’s Day celebration? Why was I hardwired to believe that I was to always put my mother’s feelings and happiness ahead of my own?

I don’t need a card or a gift to validate their love for me.

Picking out an appropriate card for my mother is no easy task. Most cards are filled with positive sentiments about mom always being there for her children. The saccharine poetry is almost sickeningly sweet. I’m sure it’s because most mothers willingly make sacrifices for their family and deserve the accolades bestowed upon them. Most mothers would march through the gates of hell to protect them from anything bad. Most mothers give unconditional love to their children, even into their eventual adulthood. I am a mother and I can honestly say that there is nothing in this world that could ever come between me and my children. Even when we disagree or they’ve done something that upsets me, I know that we will work things out. I have raised my children to believe that they are fabulous, unique individuals who should chase their dreams and live their lives to the fullest. I have never made unreasonable demands of their time. I don’t expect them to check in with me everyday and give an in-depth accounting of the way they spend their time. I encourage them to pursue their interests and explore everything that life has to offer. I don’t expect them to shower me with lavish gifts or make a big production out of Mother’s Day. I don’t even expect them to buy me a card. I don’t need a card or a gift to validate their love for me. I simply try to enjoy every minute we get to spend together.

marilyn familyFrom left to right: my son Mark Anthony James, me, my amazing husband and best friend Mike, and my beautiful daughter Candice Lee.

I cherish the times we spend on the phone, laughing and catching up. I know that their time is valuable and they are busy adults trying to get through this thing called life. I know without a doubt that they love me and they know that I would lay down my life for them. I don’t expect them to compete with one another to impress me. I never want them to feel obligated to roll out the red carpet and make a big production for any reason. I am secure in knowing that I did the best job I could as a mother by listening to them and making myself available to them. I am content in knowing that our relationship is based on mutual respect, acceptance, and kindness. I never want them to feel bad about themselves by expecting them to live up to some pre-conceived notion of what I think they should be or do with their life. I want them to feel free to pursue everything their heart desires. I want them to know that as long as I am alive I will always be a listening ear and that they can unburden themselves without fear of consequence. I will never judge them harshly or view them with black-and-white thinking. I accept our differences and enjoy being included in their adventures. I am open to seeing things through their eyes and trying new things. I never want to impose my opinions or ways of doing things onto them. I never want them to question my love, affection and admiration for them. I will never pigeon-hole them by inflicting my ideas on them. I will never ask them to give up their identity to be what I would like them to be. I will never burden them with expectations of conformity or tradition. I respect their right to live their life however they see fit. I don’t want them to exist to merely be extensions of me. I want them to thrive in their own individuality and be confident enough to try new things. I never want them to define their lives by my standards or ideas. I just want them to be happy!

I will not be part of an imaginary competition between me and my siblings in a bid to win my mother’s love and acceptance.

So, this year I have decided to celebrate Mother’s Day on my own terms. I won’t be buying cards that don’t honestly reflect a very damaged and unhealthy relationship that has permeated my whole life. I won’t dismiss my own accomplishments and put my own needs at the bottom of the list any longer. I refuse to continue to engage in self-deprecating actions in the hopes that this year will be different. I will not be part of an imaginary competition between me and my siblings in a bid to win my mother’s love and acceptance. Instead, I will continue to commit myself to positive healthy relationships with people who also value the concepts of individualism and respect. I will continue to dedicate my life to being a better person and helping others. I will work even harder to be the best mother I can be to my children. I will willingly help my children and grandchildren in every way that I can to make their journey through life a little easier. I will be a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear without harsh judgments and unreasonable demands.

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