Years ago, I started writing this particular blog because I felt so alone with my separation and divorce. I was losing friends left and right, and the few I had left just couldn’t relate. Same thing with family members. So I started writing to see if maybe by sending out a signal, I’d reach others who’d understand. Maybe I’d get some great advice. Maybe I’d learn something that would help someone else because we all feel alone at one point or another, don’t we?
And that’s what happened. I was really focused on single motherhood for a long time. And it worked. I had a good group and we were learning from each other and helping each other.
I stopped writing. Looking back, I don’t really know exactly what happened but I can sort of theorize. Here I was writing about my experiences as a single mom but I wasn’t actually getting anywhere positive. I was always a mess. Things just kept coming at me.
Growing up in a Cuban home, the best metaphor I can give you is dominoes.
Premature Whammo, Image from WikiMedia Commons
For the past several years, before my ex and I separated, my life felt like a constant domino rally. Here I was oh so carefully placing my dominoes, working towards my big design, and then WHAMMO! Something happened and before I could finish placing my dominoes, the whole thing would come tumbling down right before my eyes. And just like dominoes, sometimes it felt like every single one came crashing down, and other times it felt like maybe just some, or maybe half. But there I would have to go again, carefully standing them up one by one. And then again, WHAMMO.
I felt like I wasn’t learning anything. I wasn’t making progress. All of the good blogs are about people who succeed somehow. They made themselves lots of money, they became debt-free, they found love in a hopeless place, they created successful businesses, they survived and thrived, they got tenured.
I felt like I never made it anywhere. Up Up Down Down Back Forward Back Forward. Repeat. Repeat. My life, the never-ending Konami Code.
Ultimately, I felt blogging about it wasn’t helping. It was making things worse because writing about all this BS just made me have to face it more often. I was grossed out by my own life and the blog felt like a funhouse mirror– it’s supposed to be funny and good but it’s actually kind of scary.
Scary-ass image from WikiMedia Commons
But I can’t let it go. Life is ugly it turns out. And what keeps pushing me to honesty and to openness is not all of the blogs I read are success stories. When I get down, I tend to exaggerate how much success is happening around me. I downplay those who struggle and yet they continue to lay open their messiness– sometimes in heart-wrenching honesty, let me tell you. Reconnecting with those blogs is what has pushed me to openness. Remembering that once upon a time people used to thank me for sharing MY mess. I had a friend tell me not too long ago that she missed my blog. She would read it, never comment, and so many times she’d find herself nodding as she read thinking, “Yes, me too!”. I have felt that reading other people’s blogs and it feels good. I was deeply touched that someone, ok more than one someone, had connected with me that way.
So here is my mess.
The last time things went really topsy-turvy was the child support modification order the ex submitted and won. That was like someone kicked all my dominoes down and then grabbed them and flung them all over the room sending them skidding under furniture and flinging them into faraway, dark places. It has been really hard to put the dominoes back together.
I started to try and put things together and make something again but it was an overwhelming mess. That’s what happens when $1500 a month vanishes. It wrecked me. Not to mention, it looks like the stress of it all just completely shut down my immune system and I have been catching every single illness I have come in contact with– colds, pneumonia, strep throat, more colds. I gave up on the damn dominoes and have sat still for a while crying, whining, and staring absentmindedly at the mess not sure what to do next…
In an email, the ex informed me he sent me paperwork in my oldest son’s backpack. He wants to modify the parenting plan. He is not happy that he gets the kids every Wednesday and every other weekend. He wants them every Monday, every Wednesday, and every other weekend. He didn’t see that I would have a problem with this so he wants me to sign the paperwork with him in front of a notary next Monday and file it with Self Help on Tuesday morning.
When I saw the email, I knew one thing– I needed to talk to someone who was not biased. I needed to talk to someone who didn’t know me, who didn’t know him, who was all about the kids.
So I went and had a meeting with the school counselor.
This was my first meeting with him. I had attended some of his parenting seminars last year and we knew each other by face because I’m an active volunteer, but he didn’t know me or my situation so I felt that he was my best bet. Especially as he is a parenting coordinator and a divorce mediator. Our school counselor is awesome.
I told him about the email I got and that I wanted the perspective of someone who was truly about the kids first. I’m going to share the key points of what he said to me because maybe they’ll help someone else in the same situation who can’t access a professional like I was lucky enough to do.
It was his feeling due to the suddenness of the request, the fact there was no prior discussion about it, the amount of time he is requesting, and the swiftness the ex wanted it handled, this was most likely financially driven. When he added the number of days the ex is requesting, it comes to half the year. In Florida this has a severe impact on child support. To what degree, he couldn’t say but most likely he is attempting to reduce the amount of child support he is responsible for or eliminate payments entirely. He said this was important to keep in mind because I should prepare for that to come in at some point even though in his email he stated he was not changing anything else including money.
However, he said despite what a person’s motives are, you need to look at these things as to what is best for the kids and make decisions with that in mind and nothing else. So with that in mind…
First of all, he felt more time was needed. Any change to parenting plans has a significant impact on children and should not be rushed into. He was especially concerned about the youngest because at six there is a lot going on and this kind of change would be most heavily felt by him as children of that age tend to be more attached to mothers. So he asked me to really take some time with this one. To give it a couple of weeks so that when we reach a decision, I can sleep at night and am not a mess every time I see the kids. If I’m anguished every time the kids see me, the kids are going to have a really rough time.
When it comes to divorce, he feels it’s the parents who should pay the consequences and his ideal parenting plan is one where the children remain in the family home and mom and dad move out into separate apartments and take turns moving back and forth between the house and the apartment. Of course, no one takes him up on it. I considered it big time but financially, I can’t swing it. One rent in Miami is difficult enough, one rent and a half? Paying half a rent and living in my car is more realistic. My mother approves of this plan for the record.
So what’s the second best situation?
One where disruptions are kept to a minimum and transitions are kept out of the school week as much as possible. He thinks our current situation– every Wednesday and every other weekend is OK, but still sucks because the Wednesday is disruptive. He felt that the ex’s request to throw in every Monday is a recipe for disaster as it just chops things up even more and requires more packing up and moving around from the kids. He felt very few judges would grant it because of that.
The other major issue with his request for every Monday and Wednesday is that it lays the burden of the two busiest days of the week on me. Tuesdays and Thursdays are karate nights. Karate starts at 6:30 and the kids don’t make it back home until after 8:00 PM. They have to eat, shower, and be in bed in an hour. It’s insane. And because I get home late from work, the kids go to Karate directly with my mother. This means I see them for approximately ONE hour Tuesdays and Thursdays. So while I technically have the kids more nights, I actually tend to have very little time WITH them during the week.
So what are some alternatives? We discussed two.
One would be to keep every Wednesday in place since the kids are used to it, but to add in every other Thursday. So that when it’s his weekend, the kids are with him Wednesday night through Sunday night. This gives them five nights at Dad’s house which is a good amount to feel settled. It’s still a little choppy every other week but it’s actually an improvement to the current situation. Dad would have to be responsible for the extracurricular activities those days as well (Wednesday soccer for the little one, Thursday karate for all three, Friday gymnastics for the girl and soccer games for the boy).
If he is not content with that and wants to have the kids half the time, the counselor said the only way to make it work in the best interest of the children is to do one week on, one week off. He explained 15 years ago he and many of his fellow psychologists did not approve of that method. They felt 7 days was just way too much time away from any one parent. However, over the years they have seen that children who are in this pattern fare the best by far. They do much better with the divorce and report they feel better about it more than the choppy splits. These kids just do better overall. And the older they get, even longer blocks do great. One social worker from a high school told me the divorced teens in his school are almost all on two week blocks. And they love it. The judges love week-long blocks too and are pushing for it more and more. Last year in Florida, legislature was introduced requiring judges try and push for it as the primary parenting plan for every “normal” divorce. It died in legislature, but the fact it was introduced shows the momentum behind this.
When it’s a one week on, one week off scenario, the best system they have found has pick-up take place every Sunday at 4 PM. No drop-offs because it makes shuttling things around harder. When you pick up you have time for BOTH parents to do the audit and if you catch something is missing, the kid can run back in and grab it. When you do a drop-off, you are placing the burden of putting everything together and verifying it on one parent and it creates a problem. By having pick-up at 4 on a Sunday, the kids have a chance to have dinner at the new house, get ready for school, and settle in. They start their week on a positive, calm note.
With this system, each parent is 100% responsible for the kids during their weeks. School projects, homework, school forms, extracurricular activities, illnesses, etc. all have to be managed by that parent. Yes, you can and should reach out to your co-parent for help but you’ve got to own the issues that week. Also with this system, parents are encouraged to attend extracurricular activities and school activities during their off weeks. This way the children at least see the other parent. Communication between parent and child should happen daily. And finally, the parenting plan should include a provision where for one night a week (usually Wednesday nights), the “off” parent picks the kids up, handles homework and dinner, and drops the kids off at the “on” parent’s house. He also encourages a weekend playdate (Friday night or Saturday afternoon)– a trip to the park, a movie date, etc. Just a few hours where the other parent picks the kids up, takes them out, and brings them back to the “on” parent’s house.
As you can imagine, this system demands 100% teamwork and that’s why it’s the hardest yet, ultimately, the best solution. Communication is essential. There is no room for frosty relations between the co-parents. Significant others and family members have to get on board. It doesn’t have to be a hippie lovefest but, there is just no room for bullshit.
That’s why it’s terrifying. And yet, that’s why it can be so good. It forces a lot of healing. Oh there are going to be fights and arguments and back forth. There is going to be a learning curve. Mistakes are going to happen. Feelings are going to get hurt. Oh well.
Either change we make, the counselor said that I could let him know and that if I was OK with it, he would meet with the kids for a while to check in with them and see how they were handling it to help give me some peace of mind and to help us manage issues as they arose.
So, that’s the latest tumble over here. I am refusing to think about the potential financial consequences here. Why bother? That’s not what’s being modified RIGHT NOW and if I try and think about all angles I’ll go crazier. Besides, once I make it about money, it’s not about the kids. I freaking love my kids. I am going to protect my kids. I don’t care what their father’s motivation is. Maybe he’s going to get married. Maybe he’s having a mid-life crisis and is realizing he’s been pretty shitty. Maybe he’s getting pressured by his family. Maybe it IS about the money. Either way, I’m going to force this to be about the kids and nothing else.
The counselor is right. If any of this is going to work, I need to be OK with it. And that means I need to sit with it, think about it, consult with others. Let the idea gel in my head. I need to wrap my arms around it, maybe cop a feel. I need to get there.
There is one last thing the counselor bestowed upon me.
I admitted to him part of the reason the request was so hard for me was because of the instability of it. Once again, good things have happened in my life (boyfriend got a new, better job AND his AA) and whammo! A BIG CHANGE! I told the counselor all I want is some stability. I want things to stop shaking on me for just a while.
You know what he told me?
Maybe I need to just accept I am not going to have a stable life. It’s just not what I’ve been given. Maybe I should just let go of that desire.
Man. That has been echoing through my head nonstop.
Let go of stability?
Confusingly, that makes sense. I just don’t really know how to put that into practice.
Right now, I’m sitting with my messy dominoes. I’m trying to visualize the new plan. I’m trying to consider different angles. I am consulting with others.
I have an appointment with another psychologist Monday morning. This one isn’t a children’s specialist, she’s for grownups. I’d like her take on the situation, on the options, on communication, on how to get there. I’d also like her input on the counselor’s suggestion to relinquish my desire for stability and what I can do to get there and how I can learn to see the good in the constant upheavals.
I’m in a better mindset today. And I think I’ll be in a better mindset every day. The only real thing I can truly try and exert any sort of control over is myself. Sometimes, to help others, you have to help yourself. Maybe even most of the time.