Steps…Hard Work but Beautiful Views

Have you ever climbed the steps to the top of a lighthouse? It is really tough climbing those steps. But when you get to the top, the views are beautiful. But those are not the steps I am writing about today.

Most of my girlfriends are divorced. The idea of their exes bringing a new woman into the lives of their children is scary. Every experience is different, but I can share mine…

I can remember when I came to terms with the fact that this new person was in my ex’s life, and would be in my kids’ lives. I can’t lie. I was angry, hurt, scared. How is it fair that some stranger gets to spend half of my kids’ lives with them? I am their mom. It is unfair that I only see them half the time. I was hurt that my kids accepted her into their lives. I was scared they would love her more, and forget I was their mom. Reality has a way of slapping you in the face.

I can also remember when she first started coming to watch my kids play sports. It was the hardest thing in the world. I would sit in the bleachers, quietly, with tears in my eyes. When my daughter would look up to her, in the stands, my heart sank. I felt like I was losing her. Like my fears were becoming reality.

My daughter started coming to the house with cute new clothes. Was she taking her shopping? It broke my heart to think another woman was taking on a maternal role for my kids. It was probably the scariest thing I have ever faced.

My first step to acceptance, being grateful that she was coming to support my kids in their sports. She must like my kids to bring her very young daughter out, close to bed time, to support my kids. My daughter, looking at her in the stands, means my daughter feels loved. It was a step forward.

But then my daughter said it…she called her her stepmom (they weren’t even married yet), and she called her daughter, her sister. Honestly speaking, those words were so hard to hear. The fear started sinking in again. I mean, the word mom is in stepmom, so I was being replaced, right? My insecurities said yes. It was time to regroup.

I had to step back and realize, I was in rough shape. I wasn’t capbable of having a meaningful relationship. It was clear in my insecurites when dating. All my baggage was stopping me from opening up to anyone. It was the same with my kids. My insecurity was toxic. I cried a lot. My kids had a hard time seeing me so unhappy. It was never supposed to be their job to make me happy. That was something only I could do.

At the time, I relied so much on my parents and my sister and her family. I really didn’t have anyone else. I had friends at work who I could talk with openly, but when I did talk, I would cry, and that was not condusive for working. So, I found some girlfriends…nope, a tribe. A group of other divorced women who were going through or had been through this. These friendships were so fulfilling. They brought happiness to my life. I had to step out of my comfort zone to meet them and I had to open my heart to trust them. But the reward was true happiness. I became a different person….

I became a person my kids felt comfortable to be around again. I become fun. I smiled, I laughed. By this time, my kids were both in college. But I could look back and see, I never lost them. They never replaced me. What I learned was that they did not have to replace me. Someone new was brought into their lives who respected me, as their mother. I can remember my daughter’s graduation party. Her little sister was so excited to meet her mom. Kids are funny. They can’t pretend. So, when she was so excited to meet me, and gave me an adoring look, my heart melted. All this fear of being replaced was silly. Not only was I not being replaced, but I was very much a part of my daughter’s life and the life of her sister. Not because she knew who I was, but because I was a special place where her big sister would go for a few nights. And the look she gave me, told me she felt it was a happy place. It felt pretty special.

When my daughter was struggling, emotionally, with her Lyme, it was her stepmom that had connections in State College to get her the help she needed. The reality was, my kids didn’t just have someone new around them. They had her, her daughter and family and friends around them. More people to love my kids. More people to look out for them. And I am so grateful to her for what she has given to them.

I have had friends that are in the same boat as I am. Thrilled for the kids to have someone new in their lives that loves them. Others are still coming to terms with it and still frightened. The climb up those steps is a long hard climb, but if the steps are right and you can figure out how to get to the top, believe me, those Steps can lead to something beautiful.

How Do You Do Holidays/Birthdays With the Father of Your Children?

I can remember when I first got separated. It was the Sunday before Mother’s Day in 2015 and two weeks before my ex-husband’s birthday. The very first question that came to mind was, how do I do this? Can I do this? Well, I put on my big girl panties (and yes, they are Wonder Woman panties) and spent Mother’s Day with my kids and my family, but no husband. He went out of town. My kids were 15 and 16 at the time and knew enough to make sure I had something for the day. Neither could drive. My daughter used my Cricut machine and made a beautiful, homemade box. They went through the pantry and put 3 Hershey Kisses in it. The look on their faces broke my heart. They felt terrible about what they gave me. They have no idea what that gift meant to me. After 24 years of being with the same man, less than a week after we split, he could not find the courtesy to help them feel good about Mother’s Day, yet they did everything they could to make me feel better about one of the toughest days of my life. What I learned that day was that I would NEVER allow my kids to feel guilty for not having something for their dad.

One week later…it’s their dad’s birthday. I invited him for a birthday cookout. My daughter made him a cake and I took the kids shopping and the three of us picked up a nice gift for him. We made it a lovely day, and the smile on the kids’ faces was so worth it. That would be the last of the holidays/birthdays we would spend as a family.

When my birthday came up I got an Ipad. It was nothing the kids would have ever picked out for me, and nothing I really wanted. I called it my good riddance gift. He had already shacked up with his girlfriend and just wanted to say he did something nice. Guilt. After that, the kids were pretty much on their own for gifts for me. I think he helped them if they asked, but, for the most part, they got help with ideas from my mom.

I was still determined to make sure they never felt guilty. He had one birthday that they did not have anything for him. My son was old enough to drive and I asked them about a gift. They assured me they had it covered. They didn’t. Boy did I get an ear full. I felt bad for a bit, but then I thought, he is living with his girlfriend and the kids live there half the time. At this stage, shouldn’t she be helping him? So, first question to you folks. If your ex has a live in partner with home your kids live half the time and get along with, shouldn’t the partner be the one to help the kids shop? I feel like it would be a bonding experience as well as something the partner would want to do for someone with whom they are in a new relationship. Well, she never helped. Honestly, the kids always said she had no clue what to get him. After not getting a birthday present one year, I physically took the kids out shopping to make sure they always had something. I’ve received so many thank you texts from this man, thanking me for the wonderful gifts I helped the kids get. From concert tickets to amazing cooking appliances. I never spent a dime on him. My kids were old enough that they had jobs. They told me their budget and I helped them. Had they been younger, I would have paid.

Now that my kids are adults, will send them a gentle reminder, but no more assistance. If they don’t do it, they can feel guilty. They have the means to do it on their own now.

For us, Thanksgiving and Christmas weren’t so bad. My family has a big football game every Thanksgiving. The kids come for that ever year and they alternate where they are for dinner. This year, they were with their dad. I had dinner with my parents and my sister and her family. Christmas was the easiest. We always celebrated with my family on Christmas Eve. I grew up celebrating on Christmas Eve in Upstate New York. When I asked about that, I was told New York is closer to the North Pole, so Santa gets the presents there earlier. Woot! Early Christmas for me. So, doing the whole family thing didn’t have to change that. Me and the kids still spend the day with my family. They get up early Christmas morning and head to their dad’s house. Christmas in my house is quiet. I go to my sister’s for breakfast and then head home and relax. I may watch movies or read a new book I got. This year, me and a girlfriend may catch a double feature at the movie theater. I’m looking forward to it.

The question comes up pretty quick when you first separate. How to handle the holidays and birthdays. My suggestion is to not worry about what the ex is doing when it comes to gifts. Be yourself and do what is best for the kids. Don’t feel like you have to exchange with that person. But there are many relationships that end amicably and gift exchanges may be in the cards. That is so amazing and kudos to you both. Either way can be done in a healthy fashion so the kids understand that life goes on and it’s going to be okay. They pick up on our cues. No matter how sad or angry we feel, don’t let the kids see. At some point, it’s okay to let them know you are sad or hurt, but let’s not make it the holidays. Let them be kids and enjoy it.

So, I’ve shared my adventures, but there are so many more ways it can be done, as opposed to my “everything is separate” way. One of my girlfriends spends Christmas morning with her ex-husband and their family. They do a gift exchange, but the presents they buy for each other are from the kids. They buy the kids’ gifts together. I think this is a great way for the kids to see that their parents can still get along. It makes future events, such as weddings, birthdays,etc much more comfortable.

I have another girlfriend who just got back from an overseas trip with her soon to be ex-husband. They took their kids out of the country to visit his family over the Thanksgiving holiday. I watched her post pictures of her trip on Facebook. It looks like they had a fabulous time. As for Christmas, they are with Dad, to celebrate as his family celebrates, on Christmas Eve. but go back totheir mom’s house that night so they can wake up Christmas morning there. Dad comes over super early Christmas morning in his PJs and they all spend Christmas morning together.

I love hearing what everyone’s traditions are. While my divorce was not as amicable, we make it work and try to make things comfortable. But hearing other traditions shows that there is definitely hope and they holidays don’t have to be a source of anger and sadness. Please share your traditions too. We would love to hear them.