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.

 

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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: KellyP42 from morguefile.com

Probably one of the most important interpersonal skills we have is listening. But, wait a minute, don’t most of us have ears so aren’t we listening all the time? Apparently not, according to the post below submitted by a frustrated and tired woman, wife and mother.

I am a middle-aged married woman whose adult son lives with us. Do you find that when you come home, everyone is waiting for you at the door (including the cats) wanting your attention or something from you right away and you don’t even get through the door? Why is it that I get so irritated by the habits of others around me? When I am feeling overwhelmed or stressed, these habits can drive me crazy!!! No matter how often I say to my husband or son, “Please pick up after yourselves” or “Don’t tell me how to drive”, these annoying habits always occur and make us have arguments. In our day to day lives, we are so busy just trying to keep a clean house and worrying about what to have for supper again. Most of us work out of the home at one, sometimes two jobs. Life can get overwhelming and when you are dealing with difficult people, it can sometimes be stressful to the point of wanting to run away. This is how I feel sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family but I have a tendency to want to run away to recharge. I need some “Me” time.

Above is an excellent example of a few common problems or challenges in families.

First, her complaint is loud and clear yet those living in the home don’t appear to hear or a least respond to it. This may be due to poor communication practice in the home. Turning a complaint (what we don’t want) into a request (what we do want) is an amazing difference in communication and a “game-changer” in others’ ability to meet our needs. Rather than complaining and telling others what to do, perhaps this woman can clarify her expectations of others, by calmly making clear requests, and then await an acknowledgement that she has been heard.

Second, on their part, those not following through with chores or tasks are likely listening and not hearing. This is a common dilemma in families. Truly hearing requires an action that confirms receipt of the information “picking up after yourselves”, versus listening and then failing to respond.  It is critical, in healthy communication, to both acknowledge and validate the speaker or the person making the request. What better way is there to do this than by actually doing what is asked, either right then or fairly soon afterward. This is LOVE.

It is far too easy to say “I Love You” thinking it is only an emotion. Love is a verb as well! It takes real strength and fortitude to follow through with behavioural requests from our loved ones: to set aside our desires, our plans and our wants in order to satisfy and please our loved ones.

Finally, “me time” is important to recharge and renew, however, it is a serious problem if it is used to “run away” from a bad situation. After all, isn’t that precisely what people say about drinking, drugs and affairs; that it was to escape the negative reality of their day-to-day lives.  Rather than running, we are much better off sticking around to resolve our issues, negotiate new patterns, roles and communication strategies and, then, heading out for some truly relaxing “me time”.

If all this sounds too difficult to accomplish on your own, there are professional and confidential counsellors (books as well) to assist you and your loved ones to listen better, negotiate more effectively and to resolve the challenges you are facing.  Contact one of our registered therapists for your confidential consultation today.

 
Photo credit: jdurham from morguefile.com

 Photo credit: click from morguefile.com

When a mother holds her daughter for the first time, a number of overwhelming thoughts and feelings accumulate. We love our daughter so deeply and unconditionally.

As our princesses grow, we watch our daughters blossom. We observe them in their playgroups, we watch them play pretend housewives or have tea parties with their stuffed animals. Then they grow out of pretend play and school hours and then peers occupy the majority of their time. We may feel a sense of loss. We now learn more from our daughters and begin to realize that many other sources now influence their lives and choices.

As mothers, we might struggle with how to protect our daughters, concerned with exactly how to help them make it in this world. Becoming too lenient or too strict is easy and can quite quickly negatively impact parenting. Increased confrontations between mothers and daughters can stem from having fewer and fewer open, calm and honest conversations.

Common assumptions made by both can include:

  • Mom: “She doesn’t know what she’s doing!”
  • Daughter: “She doesn’t understand me!”
  • Mom: “I just don’t want her to make the same mistakes that I made.”
  • Daughter: “When is she going to realize that I can take care of myself?”
  • Daughter: “She should stay out of my business.”
  • Mom: “Maybe I should just leave her alone?”

With these assumptions, many miscommunications can form. This can lead to increased confusion, uncertainty and even hostility toward one another. Hurtful things can be said and done making it more difficult to mend an already tenuous relationship.

Relationship coaching for mothers and daughters who are having difficulty communicating can be very helpful. Boundaries may be adjusted, roles clarified and relationships reconciled in the counselling process. Counselling helps family members voice concerns, relate to one another differently, resolve problems effectively and listen to each other’s needs in the relationship.

Book an appointment with us today to improve your relationships.

Help For Eating Disorders Saves Lives – Durham Region

In a “sweeping” analysis of 77 studies, involving more than 15,000 subjects, University of Wisconsin researchers post-doctoral student Shelley Grabe and psychology professor Janet Hyde found that “exposure to media depicting ultra thin actresses and models significantly increased women’s concerns about their bodies, including how dissatisfied they felt and their likelihood of engaging in unhealthy eating behaviours such as excessive dieting.” (www.news.wisc.edu/15215)

My earliest memories about my appearance were of my mom and me (although I think I had insecurities about my appearance prior to these recollections). She would say that I would look prettier if I didn’t have my father’s nose. Absurd, I know now; however, that was a comment that stuck by me for the rest of my childhood and well into being a young adult.

So here’s how stinkin’ thinkin’ worked. It took that one silly comment from my mom and planted it into my head (like a seed being planted into the ground). Then, it would look at all my experiences to come and water the seed so that that one comment would grow and other related thoughts would sprout. Thoughts such as, “I’m ugly” “I’m not good enough” “I’m fat” “I don’t want to eat” “If only I was skinny like her.

Much of my experiences revolved around the media. Going to school and developing friendships, most of our conversations included the latest fashion trends, the hottest celebrity gossips or the fittest athletes. Body images were ingrained in me and consumed much of my eating, clothing, and activity choices.

I eventually became so tired of thinking about my body appearance. My body’s health and well-being now overshadow the superficial ideations exposed by the media. I’ve been blessed with education on disordered eating, self-esteem building, healthy body-image thought processes and family conflict and dynamics.  This has allowed me to discover that with healthy mind management, my external environment can have little to no control over who I am, what I look lik, and how I feel about myself. I learned that the cultural ideal of beauty is unrealistic and prejudice.

The authors of the study cited above emphatically conclude;

“We’ve demonstrated that it doesn’t matter what the exposure is, whether it’s general TV watching in the evening, or magazines or ads showing on a computer. If the image is appearance-focused and sends a clear message about a woman’s body as an object, then it’s going to affect women.” (Postdoctoral researcher Shelly Grabe)

For some of us, more help and assistance is required. And that’s perfectly OK! Some of us suffer from feeling powerless against our thoughts, images from the media, and difficult relationships in our lives. There are few safe outlets in our community that provide us with the strength to cope and heal. Disordered eating behaviours can develop unknowingly and unconsciously, often masquerading as our best and only way of coping within an unsafe and chaotic environment.

Disordered eating involves a wide range of abnormal eating behaviours, such as chronic restrained eating, compulsive eating and habitual eating. Eating patterns are chaotic and the physiological aspects of eating (like feeling hungry or full) are ignored (www.nedic.com).

Some people, even the ones who love us the most, have a difficult time understanding disordered eating or what is required to provide support during recovery. This is normal, however, the lack of understanding may create increased conflict and stress for the entire family. The process of overcoming disordered eating patterns takes a lot of work and a supportive and informed environment is essential for success.

Jeff Packer MSW & Associates, a registered, professional counselling service in Oshawa, Ontario, works with the individual engaging in abnormal eating and their family members. Treatment is catered to their individual needs and goals. It is important to include family doctors and registered dietitians in the recovery process. We also strongly encourage family members and loved ones to participate in family sessions.  This can help families improve and strengthen their relationships as well as learn to create loving and supportive environments for those in recovery.  To start your road to recovery, call us today.

Family: composed of many unique individuals, with varying thoughts, beliefs, opinions and pursuits for life. We don’t choose our family; they are pretty much assigned to us. We may assume that we were destined to be in the family we are in; that the individuals we are surrounded by from birth were selectively chosen for us.

So in times of turmoil, when family conflict arises, we question how we ended up in the families we are in. We may insist that we deserve better parents, or siblings.  To some  degree, we are absolutely correct! It’s not necessarily that we deserve a new and better family. It is more that, through our lives, we should always be working to enhance the relationships within our family (so technically everyone can strive to be better within their family unit).

A rebellious child, argumentative spouses, parent-child disagreements, controlling in-laws, demanding step-parents or sibling rivalry may all be extremely stressful and difficult to cope with at times.

Do you feel like you’ve tried everything to mend the relationships in your family? Have you felt that you are arguing about the same topics over and over again? Are you experiencing only temporary harmony and awaiting for the next eruption to take place? It is time to seek external resources when the intensity of conflict increases and impairs daily functioning and happiness.

Family therapy offers support to all individuals within the family unit. We encourage meetings with as many family members as possible to learn new, effective, and healthier ways to resolve conflict.

Contact us today for a family assessment and be on your way to improving relationships within your family today!