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)

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!

 Get Help and Protect Your Children From Conflict

Once the decision to end a marriage is made, a whirlwind of emotions and a multitude of decisions spring up for all family members. Never having a marriage breakup before, couples will quite often wrestle with what to do, how and when to tell the children, the family, friends and employers.

They also may say “we are going to get along and work out the details” amicably. While this seems rational and reasonable at first, tensions around the unknown, legal matters and practical decisions that need to be made begin to press in on parents from all sides. Children feel and are impacted by this stress.

Managing the complexities of marital separation without experienced, professional coaching can be quite risky, especially when children’s emotional health is at risk.  As arguments build and hurts compound, a pattern of adversarial and conflictual interaction develops. All too often, sides begin to be drawn up, extended family join in the fight and getting along begins to seem “unrealistic”.

Peace is possible as is cooperative and  parenting after separation and divorce.

Our Oshawa counsellors at Jeff Packer MSW & Associates are trained to assist parents by developing co-parenting plans that address communication strategies, access coordination and schedules and coach practical ways to discuss issues with children, family and friends. Rather than risk your child’s health and well being, consider hiring a coach to help you with adjusting, developing effective negotiation and problem-solving skills and by reducing the time and money spent fighting unnecessarily.

Contact us today

Peace_TieDye_LG

 

 

How many times do you hear this phrase from a spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend?  “We’ve grown apart”.

I wonder where and when we first heard this phrase? Was it in a movie or on a TV show?  Is it really true? Do people grow apart?  This sounds like an excuse to leave. Like the person who says this no longer has a say in the relationship. Perhaps they feel they have no ability to change, grow, develop and adopt new behaviours that will spark up and enhance the relationship.

Change in ourselves changes the way we relate with others. I don’t really think we grow apart as much as we make choices, a series of decisions that are not supportive to the relationship. Choices can be made arbitrarily, without considering the other’s opinion. Maybe we are not open to getting their feedback?  These can certainly take away from intimacy and reduce closeness. Another behaviour or action that is harmful to romance and dating relationships is not really hearing the other person’s concerns or feelings. These are just a few ways we can be choosing, whether we are aware of it or not, to create distance in the relationship.

Long before the break-up, the realization we are no longer close, both partners have usually made thousands of decisions against closeness, detrimental to the construction of a wonderful and amazing intimate romance.

Making positive choices and taking action for the relationship include politeness, calm negotiations, hearing one another and acting upon what is heard, punctuality and sharing of day-to-day tasks and chores to name just a few. Additionally, reading a few good books on ways to build a healthy romantic relationship (e.g. The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman or Love and Respect by Dr Emerson Eggeriches) can greatly assist couples in their journey toward romantic joy and satisfaction.

Combining this with coaching, before things are “too bad” is also a good idea. Our counsellors located in Oshawa are professionally trained to guide you to healthier communication, interpersonal skill development and toward the quality relationship you desire. Like the roots and branches of trees intertwined, gradually over time, so too can couples learn how to become closer, more caring, empathetic and understanding. Each person can choose to develop more positive and optimistic views which in turn increases positive feelings and behaviours toward one another.

To find out how we can help you grow together Contact us todaynature

While many researchers may indicate yes to this question, it doesn’t have to be so.  The initial turmoil and emotional upset following separation and divorce impacts all family members to some extent disrupting family stability, emotional balance and even parental effectiveness.  Of course this may not come as a surprise. When we experience significant loss, grief and the associated increased stress levels we do not usually function as well, both physically and emotionally.

In his article in The Future of Children, Paul R. Amato expresses this concern;

Many single parents, however, find it difficult to function effectively as parents. Compared with continuously married parents, they are less emotionally supportive of their children, have fewer rules, dispense harsher discipline, are more inconsistent in dispensing discipline, provide less supervision, and engage in more conflict with their children.” VOL. 15 / NO. 2 / FALL 2005  

Many parents in this situation come in for counselling feeling “overwhelmed”, at their “whits end” and even like they’re “losing their mind“.

What can be done?  Fortunately, for those parents (even one) who are open to assistance, and willing to put the marital dispute aside, cooperative parenting coaching, is quite beneficial for improving family functioning.  Learning what is useful when adjusting after a separation and developing an effective co-parenting plan that is specific to your situation can greatly reduce stress and improve social, emotional, cognitive and academic or vocational functioning.

Both, children and parents can do better at school and work, and with each other , with a clearly defined and equitable co-parenting agreement.

Our Oshawa counsellors can assist you with adjusting after separation and divorce and help you develop great co-parenting ... Call us today !

So many people make this decision far too quickly and with very limited and or biased information.  After working in the counselling field for over twenty years, I have grown increasingly “pro family”. We often hear the following two main thoughts about separating… “I might as well leave and be happy” or “If I stay, we’ll only fight and be miserable”.  That negative voice in the back of our heads doesn’t want us to think about the other two possibilities… “I could leave and be miserable still” or “I could actually stay and work out things so we’re a happier couple/ family”. What happened to those options?

What can you do about it? There are lots of things we can do to change ourselves, thereby changing those around us (Social Systems Theory).   We receive ongoing training to be great at our careers, hobbies and sometimes even get trainers/coaches for great physical fitness and sports. Great relationships are constructed over time and with plenty of effort.  How about getting coaching to improve mental fitness and great relationships. There are numerous books and professional counsellors that can help you assess your relationship and achieve your goals.

Before you make any major life changing decisions, get accurate and objective information about your options.  Ask us what you want to achieve in relationship and we will draw upon your strengths in the training and effort required to negotiate issues better, problem-solve more quickly and communicate concerns more effectively so you and your partner can have a satisfying, magnificent  romance and family. . Please reach out and call us today

Most of us take parenting skills for granted – that we will somehow instinctively “know” what, when and how to parent. We are gifted with the sage advice of “elders” and (at times) conflicting words of wisdom from friends who claim to have “been there and done that.” Parenting is challenging as both parents and children are faced with more complex and difficult tasks to negotiate at home, work, and school.

Just as the world we live in demands that we constantly upgrade our knowledge to deal with the ever changing technology, parents are finding that they need new tools to cope with the explosion of choices that both they and their children face. Co-operative and Positive Parenting are two such tools. Co-operative Parenting is a skill set that fosters a satisfying parenting experience between couples who are dealing with a degree of conflict. Many separated or divorced couples experience this.

Positive Parenting is a skill set that promotes a parenting experience that utilizes the positive aspects of the child/parent interaction to instill a more harmonious home environment. Both of these skill sets can be obtained through individual, parental and family counselling programs.

Contact Jeff Packer MSW & Associates Inc. for more information.