There is no word or title to describe me

It occurred to me recently that there is no title for me that my ex-husbands new children can use when referring to me. There is not a single word to describe ‘my-half-siblings-mother’ or ‘my-fathers-ex-wife’ in the English language.  This made me think of how important titles are to me and that each one comes with a built in group of expectations and beliefs — mother, daughter, sister, friend, partner, step-mother, cousin, niece, woman, professional…ex-wife.

Yup…despite trying to fulfill as well as I can on all of the expectations of all of these titles, I still ended up as an ex-wife. Which is a title that I did not want. I am keenly aware of the beliefs and expectations that people have of someone with the title of ‘ex-wife’. Especially my ex-husbands’ beliefs and expectations.

So this thought that I need a title for what my ex-husbands new children can call me seems important to me. These titles tell us and the rest of the world how we relate to one another and what they can expect from us. A title is helpful and makes it simple and straightforward for people to lump us in to their own thinking so they can move on with their day.

I most certainly don’t want to take up anyone’s time by trying to describe the complex-messy-fullness that is my life and the relationships and people in it. It would be so much easier to just say a word and everyone – including me – can immediately understand the relationship.

The fact that I am thoughtful about what my ex-husband’s children will call me is a sign of my growth and progress.

6.5 years ago my thoughts were occupied with my immediate survival of being heartbroken.  With two very young children I was worried about waking up each day and doing the next thing required of me. I had a new title – single mother.

And then, as time went on, my thoughts and energies were devoted to the process of living each day and trying…trying, to fulfill on these new titles that I grappled with wearing. Separated, ex-wife…high-conflict divorcee. I was living each day doing the best I could trying to wear all of the new expectations and

beliefs about these titles that I would never have chosen for myself. This violent shove into a new reality was more than I thought I could handle. I did my best.

We were stuck for years in our roles and titles as ‘ex’s’ in a ‘fight’. Not ‘fight’ in the messy yelling kind of way (although we’ve had our moments); more a ‘fight’ in the legal wrangling kind of fight. We added ‘client’ to our list of titles. Our divorce lawyers happily became our guides through the family court system.

We had a couple of legal issues, but mostly we just didn’t have the skills to

resolve issues with our enemy — a new title we both wore. Enemy. Nemesis. Again, living up to the beliefs and expectations of these titles for one another.

We both believed that we were doing a great job of insulating our children from our battle. We didn’t argue in front of them. We were exceedingly polite when we did speak. We effectively ignored each others’ spouses, but again, we would never be overtly rude! We did not think we spoke badly of the other parent. We both believed we were doing a great job protecting these beautiful children from our inner, legal and financial turmoil. We were both fighting the good fight. Doing what the family law system tells us is the right way to serve our children. This allowed us to add “martyr” to the long list of titles we were accumulating through this process.

We ended up being very angry, bitter, broke, suffering – all titles I wore proudly to show the fight was worth it. Fighting endlessly with the only result being that one of you loses is stressful and painful. It’s frightening. For some reason, we also felt like our children didn’t see or feel our fear. After 6+ years in the family court system we were at an impasse.

Family counselling became a way out of the wet paper bag that was our lives…no judge could solve our issues. No two lawyers would encourage us to just speak to one another! We were ingrained in our titles of warriors and enemies. Then we began family counselling.

The humbling experience of family counselling began in earnest…with bi-weekly appointments and tension that you could cut with a knife. We all met together, the four of us; me and my spouse with my co-parent and his wife. We had to deal with our titles and our beliefs about one another. We had to learn how we would speak to one another and the basics of human interactions. We said our fears out loud. We listened and heard one another for the first time. We got angry. We got resolution. We got to laugh. We cried. We reached…agreement. An agreement about how we wanted to co-parent going forward.

 

                                                           Picture by 

Through this process I have come to accept that we all carry another title…a title that overrides any of us as individuals. We are a SYSTEM. Each part of the system is critical. We all have roles in the system. We each have impact on the others. This was a humbling thing to accept  because you can not stay enemies with someone your system/team depends on! You need them to be happy and healthy so that your children, and ultimately the system can thrive. We are a family system. None of us chose it. None of us know how to do it well. We are all learning. We are all figuring it out as we go.

Through the process of accepting the system  I could still name my roles in the system. Mother. Partner. Co-parent. I was defining how I wanted to look and feel in these roles and with growing confidence we were all wearing our titles with some pride. We were developing new expectations for those titles in our system.

Which brought me to the realization that started this entire thing…there is not a word for me and my role in the lives of my ex-husbands children. What do Luke and Emily call someone who loves them simply because they were born my children’s sibling? What title would apply to someone who values and cares for you as part of a family entity that all works together?

I have heard that the number of words a society has for something indicates how important it is to the society. Is it true that my role in their system is not important? That can’t be because I have seen evidence of the fact that we are a system. And I have empirical evidence that all of our lives are improved with the acknowledgement that we are a system. A living and breathing and evolving system that must work together to the benefit of everyone in it. Does everyone else get a title except me?

Looking back on all of the titles I have worn during this process I have to wonder…do these titles actually help us? Are the beliefs and expectations for each role even true? Do titles alone describe the value of each role in the system? Have these titles and beliefs that society puts on all of us helping us forge ahead in this new world of blended families, problem solving with the enemy, and embracing the fact that we are a system…that no individual is more valued than another?

No!!! Living up to these titles might be the reason we stayed so long as a failing system.

I choose to see this lack of a name and title as liberation…we can all define my role in their little lives in a way that works for us in our system – no expectations or set beliefs. If my role is not immediately clear and understood by others, that’s okay because maybe in describing the role I play to others we can all move the needle on how we understand and name people in a blended family system. How we can move past the titles and become valued parts a system that thrives. It is not perfect, but it thrives. It is not our choice, but it is our reality. I, for one, am ready to break out from the titles and beliefs and expectations everyone has of divorce and blended families and I want to say….”I’m ready to try this in a way that honours everyone in the system. In a way that honours me”

Who needs a title when I have a name. They can call just me Karen  🙂

 

(editors note: this post was submitted by a mother, co-parent, person … who was brave enough to imagine, seek, find and adopt a different outcome after separation and divorce)


Photo credit: Darnok from morguefile.com

Addiction to Sex Hurts

Perhaps one of the less understood and less talked about addictions, the addiction to sexual activities can, just like drug and alcohol addictions, leave a path of destruction in the lives of those connected to the “one addicted”.

The following is submitted by a brave young woman who tells of her healing process and the importance of family and forgiveness.

“I was in a relationship for three years.  In the latter part, I got pregnant.  Needless to say, the relationship ended.  I was overwhelmed with feelings of hurt, anger, and sadness.  I could express the ups and downs of being in a relationship with a sex addict, however why bother? Why go back to those times?

One thing I could mention is the support I had from my family and friends. They saw my efforts to fight for that relationship and even his efforts to try to overcome his addiction.  Although there were subtle (and obvious) hints for me to get out, my family provided me with unconditional love.

So as the pregnancy progressed, I began to realize continuing to dwell in hurt and pain was not a healthy option.  To cope with the break-up, I kept busy, read books, wrote in my journal, and had my support system to lean on.  As the sad feelings subsided, I knew I was ready to start the forgiving process.

Many counselling professionals may suggest that the process of forgiveness is to benefit you and not necessarily the other person.  In addition to this, I knew that for the sake of my child’s growth and development, forgiving her father was non-negotiable.  My family and friends, on the other hand, have not been able to reach the point of offering forgiveness to him.  So how do I help them get there?

People may initially assume that a love relationship consists of just two people. It is true that it may start out like this, however, as the relationship evolves, we expose our significant others to our families and other friendships.  Years of involvement makes it more difficult for everyone to witness the loss of that person when the relationship ends. In the case above, her family and friends were probably exposed to more of the relationship than the average.  Setting healthy boundaries in relationships protects and provides clarity for how much to involve others in personal matters.

Involvement of family and friends in the couple’s personal struggles can actually serve to destroy family supports and eat away at the relationship as well.  While loved ones may have observed happy times, they likely find it easier to recall the stories of bad behaviours and not-so-good times before and when the relationship ends.  While focus on negatives is quite common, all it does is reinforce pain and foster feelings of anger.  Staying stuck in blame and judgmentalism blocks movement toward forgiveness. Unfortunately, this can stand in the way of a healthy relationship with the person about to become a co-parent.

In this particular case, the mother’s modelling forgiveness can be a powerful and influential message for her friends and family.  Most adults and children can pick up on the energy in a room and the emotional states of others from nonverbal communication (face and tone).

Given this, we are all responsible for the quality of relationships by our actions and choices… to forgive and extend grace or not. 

Individual, co-parenting and family counselling can help to overcome addictions, improve relationship skills and heal woundedness as well…  Contact us today!

 


 Photo credit: clarita from morguefile.com

Composure Under Pressure

“After months of not hearing from my co-parent [trust me when I say it is difficult to use this term ‘co-parent’ rather than other names which easily come to mind… including “ex”], he makes contact with meet regarding the baby I am carrying. Our conversations when finding out about my pregnancy were difficult and created conflict. He repeatedly indicated that he did not want this child. I eventually took those words as not wanting me in his life either.

For sure as days went by I questioned whether I’d hear from him again. Sometimes I hoped I would hear that he just needed some time to sort things out and has come to the realization that he wants this family we have created.  Only in my dreams…

Although I did not know how this meeting would turn out or what exactly would be discussed, I prepared myself. I read articles and books on co-parenting. I took advice from these resources to help minimize conflict. My goal out of this first meeting was to prevent future meetings from requiring lawyers, judges, or mediators.

This goal was achieved because although my now co-parent could not indicate what his contribution or role as a parent would be, I guided the conversation with my plans as a co-parent. I had organized what expenses to consider. I asked questions about his considerations of being a part of our child’s life. I focused on specific questions regarding the baby, leaving out the previous romantic relationship.

Now don’t get me wrong. A tiny voice within me wanted to rage out of my body, questioning his disappearance act. I wanted to ask, ‘what about us?’ I wanted to receive a heartfelt, well-deserved apology for his behaviour and disrespect towards me. However I had to ask myself if it was worth it. Would it really make me feel better forcing an apology out of someone who didn’t care to give it in the first place?

Articles and books on co-parenting indicate the importance of letting break ups, divorce, or separation go. Take time to grieve but move past this part of your relationship. This may be the most difficult part of the co-parenting process, especially when we tend to seek closure from our ex-partners. If we keep chasing for answers, we are not accepting the relationship has ended. Thus, we tend to dwell in the hurt and pain of broken relationships even longer and risk even higher conflict.

This can result in a high-conflict co-parenting relationship as well and, subsequently, be detrimental to the innocent children. Overcoming a break up or divorce as well as coming to a mutual partnership between co-parents significantly strengthens the growth and development opportunities of children. For more information and coaching on how to develop the harmony to co-parent effectively contact us today .

   LIVE HARMONIOUSLY!

Photo credit: timatkins from morguefile.com

Photo credit: presto44 from morguefile.com

Boundaries: What Does It Mean?

BBeing honest and

Oopen. Having

Uunderstanding conversations that

Nnurture positive feelings and thoughts.

Ddetermining your wants and values and

Aassertively helping others become aware of these.

Rrespecting yourself and others by making

I –  intentional efforts to improve your relationships.

Eempathetic and effective communication so all involved feel

Ssafe and secure.

For many couples after separation or a break up, or even those underneath consistent conflict, deciding to reconcile can be difficult to visualize. Sometimes reconciliation does not mean re-establishing a romantic relationship. Some couples choose, after separation, to establish a new relationship for cooperative and positive parenting to take place.

Without a doubt, it is quite difficult for most couples to reach an amicable closure of the romantic part of their relationship. This, however, is an essential step toward effectively developing a positive co-parenting relationship. For some, this may indeed seem almost impossible; moving from a couple once in love to negotiating and implementing a mutually respectful cooperative parenting agreement. Parents interested in the healthiest environment for raising children can benefit from professional coaching to reach this goal as soon as possible after their separation.

Feelings of grief, betrayal, hurt, confusion and disappointment can cloud perceptions, potential for forgiveness and severely limit healthy and clear communication. The identification and development of healthy communication and negotiation processes are central to building an effective co-parenting relationship. This is where boundaries come in to play. While emotions are high, and pools of uncertainty exist, boundaries establish clarity and safe measures to begin the process; deconstructing one part of the relationship while reconstructing another.

Examples of cooperative parenting agreements include guidelines for how and when to talk, what to discuss and with who (e.g. with children, family, friends), when to have flexibility and how to negotiate or renegotiate changes. Additional topics to be worked out include ways to stay child focussed, shared parenting time, drop offs and pick ups, extracurricular activities, holidays and the pre-planned calendar of events.  Boundaries that are firm, with modest flexibility, greatly reduce the chance for disagreements, enhancing the likelihood parents and families will have caring, calm and relaxed “post-separation” relationships. 

For experienced, professional guidance in this area, book your appointment today.

 

Ice Coated Trees – Dec. 2013

“I Hate to Admit It”

They tease each other, pick on one another, make fun, wrestle, and yell. Their confrontations always end up with one crying, or bleeding, or slamming doors.

Will they ever get along? Can we ever achieve serenity in our home? I’ve heard of sibling rivalry; but this is a bit much. How do I know when I need to get more help for my kids?

These are questions that many parents may ask as their children display increased conflict. Some may not know this, but conflict is actually a normal and healthy part of relationships. When the emotions and behaviours to express and resolve conflicts are carried out appropriately, both parties achieve closure. Conflict can teach us many things:

It can teach us how to appropriately present our perspectives.
We may learn how to confidently rebut other viewpoints.
When done correctly, we refrain from inflicting emotional and physical harm on one another. (both verbal and physical harm inhibits communication and learning and can fuel a variety of mental health issues).

So when is the right time to get help? Teaching children the appropriate ways to resolve conflict can become very overwhelming in the heat of an argument. When parties have had time to separate, breathe and calm down, examining their experience (Time-out), it can then be helpful to bring them back together to sort through the argument and develop solutions (Time-in).

Of course it is easier said than done, especially when habits have developed and conflicts are occurring frequently. Family counselling may allow all members to express their concerns in a respectful manner and learn new ways of resolving disputes.

In family counseling, families can establish goals for themselves as a family and individually. Together they learn to cope with stressful events that occur in their lives (relationships, school, work, etc.). In a safe, professional, therapeutic environment, families have the opportunity to enhance their relationships and create a strong support system for one another. Call us today … we can help.

Post Separation Thoughts and Behaviours Really Matter

Let’s consider why we think we may have a difficult time co-parenting with our ex-partners:

  • She/he has an addiction and refuses to get help.
  • Who knows who she/he will have around my child?
  • She/he has repeatedly lied and betrayed our trust.
  • We keep arguing.
  • I feel completely disrespected by my ex-partner, so why should I cooperate?
  • She/he has shown no interest in the care of this child!
  • We didn’t get along before so …

And BREATHE! Now that we have let all that out (and I’m sure we can express quite an extensive list of additional thoughts and feelings associated with our broken relationships), let’s consider just a few of the benefits of effective co-parenting:

  1. Children will feel more secure, relaxed and confident growing up with two involved and cooperative parents;
  2. Enhancement of children’s social, physical, spiritual, intellectual and emotional development;
  3. Parents actually improve their health and development as well;
  4. Positive examples and role models for children by working together through difficulties;
  5. Both of us have the pleasure of being cooperative, compassionate and mutually involved parents;
  6. Extended family members are able to remain more involved;

In his extensive review of the literature on the impact of separation and divorce, conducted for the Department of Justice Canada 2001, Ron Steward highlights  “a study of 51 families with an arrangement for joint physical custody, Steinman et al. (1985) identified a list of factors that lead to successful joint physical custody. Families who successfully maintained joint custody had the following qualities:

  1. respect and appreciation for the bond between the children and former spouse;
  2. an ability to maintain objectivity about the children’s needs during difficult periods of the 
divorce;
  3. ability to empathize with the point of view of the child and the other parent;
  4. ability to shift emotional expectations from the role of mate to that of co-parent;
  5. ability to establish new role boundaries; and
  6. show generally high self-esteem, flexibility and openness to help.” 

Separation or divorce can be an extremely difficult time for parents, and the children and extended family members involved. Feelings are hurt, people often choose sides (even though there are no sides in a family), distance is created (which is a normal part of any separation) and the emotional intensity and practical logistics of separating can inhibit parents’ attention to co-parenting for some time.

Co-parenting does work and is more likely when parents dig deep to develop the qualities listed above. With appropriate training, coaching, planning and practice, both parents will have the opportunity to create amazing lives for themselves, their children and extended family.

To improve your co-parenting by learning the how to strategies – book an appointment with us today!

“New Dad… Nobody Asks Me What I Think?”

I spoke with a young girl today and we were discussing the excitement and anticipation of Christmas. It was approaching fast and this year appears to have gone by so quickly. This was not a counselling session; just a casual conversation with a young friend.

A lot happened in your life this year.

Yah! I guess.

What did you like the most?

Summer time and my birthday pool party.

What didn’t you like so much about this year?

[A lengthened silence prior to her response]

Like… I’m happy to see my mom happy, but I don’t like that she got engaged. I like it but I don’t. I like him, he’s nice. But I don’t know what this means for me. I hear all these plans being made and no one asks how I feel. I’m happy I get to decorate my own room when we move though. Do I have to call him ‘dad’? What about my dad? Now I have two dads?

Sometimes parents attend to their own needs for love and companionship without having open communication with their children. This is especially true when parents determine their children are too young to have these types of conversations. Although we may attempt to keep our children’s best interests top of mind, when selecting and bringing a companion into their lives, it is still important to talk with our children, explore their feelings and concerns along with their positives.

When significant events happen in our lives, the strength of a co-parenting relationship can allow for the entire family to understand and celebrate special times. When the entire family takes part in open conversations, we foster improved understanding of each others’ view points, strengthen our connection as a family, and make adjusting to new members go more smoothly. In other words, we prevent frustrations and potential problems in advance.

Merging families sucessfully and enhancing co-parenting is best done with coaching from professional counsellors.  After twenty years of working with families, experience helps families cope with and adjust to difficult life changes. At Jeff Packer MSW & Associates, areas of support include the following:

  • Helping couples cope with separation/divorce, grieving and adjustment issues
  • Family structure assessment and re-establishing effective roles and rules
  • Establish a co-parenting communication plan and strategy
  • Identify goals for raising children in the most healthy and appropriate manner
  • Create safe and healthy boundaries between co-parents
  • Develop positive relationships with co-parents’ romantic partners
  • Improve communication skills; specifically, conflict resolution and problem-solving
  • Assist with crucial conversations in a non-blaming and accepting environment

Call us today to improve post-separation adjustment and co-parenting relationships. Why? Because you and your children are worth it!