Divorcing a NPD, part 2

When you divorce a NPD, and the support is several weeks late as usual, and you write a pointed email to ask when it will arrive . . .

you very well may get a garbled and rambling email in return, informing you that you should be thankful for all the money he is providing for you, and that in addition to this court-ordered money, he is paying for food and clothes and medicine when the children are visiting him during his court-appointed time, in his home.

The email might even go on to say the he pays for sporting equipment for the sport that you don’t want your child to play, expensive Nike basketball shoes that your child doesn’t need, and a camp that is an hour away and again involves the sport mentioned above. Of course you will think “But I didn’t ask for these thing. I don’t even agree with them. I disapprove of them.”

And then you will start to wonder why he is so proud of paying for those basketball sneakers when he hasn’t paid his court-ordered portion of healthcare expenses for his children . . . ever.

And then, as a kicker, you will see the last line of his email, chiding you for putting your son in snow boots that are growing too small.

And then, if you are like me, you hit the ceiling, thinking of how beautifully dressed your children are every day. It is thanks to you, even though you go to work now, full-time at an office, unlike your ex who has mysterious clients and elusive and wildly fluctuating sources of income. You think of how your sweet children always show up with their homework and signed permission slips and book reports and class projects and sports equipment and new ballet shoes and and multiplication drills and new books and haircuts and ballet buns and proper vaccinations and white shiny teeth thanks to the dentist appointments you take them to. And the teacher conferences and the extra trips to the school with forgotten lunch boxes and the countless hours clocked with other moms anguishing over and redshirting and little girls with summer birthdays and big boy bullies and mean girls and organic food and everyday math and building resilience and self esteem. And the things you’ve taught your children like folding a sheet and making a bed and how to do laundry and hold a fork and say please and thank you and use the microwave and tie their shoelaces and brush their hair and floss their teeth. And the playdates and parties and endless carpooling and the hugs and family meetings and values and lessons learned and pep talks after a lost soccer game and all the talks about love and values and self-esteem and doing right and how we don’t practice perfect in this house because anyone who tries their best is doing good enough.

And then you will remind yourself to stop, because otherwise you will go crazy. If your son’s boots will soon be too small, it is okay. You will remind yourself that your ex is not well. And that his goal is to gaslight you and undermine you and start a long fight. But you will not rise to the occasion. You will write a short email correcting the facts only to make sure the truth is documented because you will never forget the words of your attorney: “Madness, even though this divorce is technically over, this guy is going to bring you back to court again and again because he’s so crazy.”

And so you write the note and then you call a friend or have a glass of wine or laugh with your kids or go for a walk or run. Or you blog and vent and hope you’re not the crazy one, as your NPD ex wants you to believe.

And because you didn’t engage with him and continue the fight he wanted, you’ll have the energy to step back into the light again, moving forward into a bigger and happier world, full of possibilities.

I Said It

“WHEN YOU LIVE IN MY HOUSE, YOU WILL FOLLOW MY RULES!”

I was mad. And it flew out of my mouth, and it felt so good.

Of course it did . . . it was so familiar. How many times did I hear these words when I told my parents they were the worst, meanest, most unfair parents in the world?

I don’t even feel bad about it. Listen kid, I don’t care if all your friends are watching the second half of an Ohio State football game that starts at 8:30 on a school night.

You need to follow my rules. We go to bed on time on school nights. (Okay, we don’t, really, but we try. Or I try, at least!) You don’t need to respect me all the time and be perfect. But when you don’t follow my rules, and you don’t show any respect for me, you need to go to your room. (And I probably need to go to the laundry room to stamp around and shove lots of laundry into the dryer.)

But you need to follow the rules of this house.

Life Happens at Safeway

I was told tonight by someone, a lovely stay-at-home-mom, that she would never dream of bringing her children to a supermarket. Her children never entered a supermarket until they were 8 and 10 years old. Bringing them to a supermarket, she said, would have just made “everyone miserable, cranky, and mad.”

I had to bite.

“What did you do with your kids when you shopped?” I asked.

“My nanny watched them,” she explained.

And then I remember my own early stay-at-home-days, running up and down the aisles of Safeway, screeching for my toddler son to stop running away. God he was fast. The second I turned my back to reach for cereal or flour, he unbuckled himself, slipped under the bar of our double-wide stroller, and bolted as fast as possible. Sometimes I ran after him, dragging the stroller behind me. Sometimes I just left my infant daughter sitting in the middle of the aisle. I knew she was safe: no one but me could maneuver that stroller out of the store.

The lovely mom tonight also told me she would never dream of bringing her children clothes shopping – for herself, or for them.

And then I remember the time we went to the Gap and my son spotted a Darth Vader tee-shirt. He couldn’t have been older than three.

He took it.

I found it much later. While I returned it to a sales clerk with absolutely no sense of humor, my son and his little sister hid under a rack of clothes until a stranger heard them giggling. I lectured them about running away, and about hiding, and about stealing. A man passing by remarked, “wow, they look a little young for jail.”

And then there was the ill-fated time we went Christmas shopping to LL Bean at the mall and my son decided to hide. To this day, I don’t know how he disappeared into the crowd so fast. I ran around, panicking, yelling his name, and soon other shoppers were doing the same. When the store management heard, they started screaming “Code Adam” into their microphones and told me they would lock down the entire store.

That’s when an old lady showed up, dragging my little boy behind her. “Does he belong to you?” she asked. For a moment, I considered saying no. Then my son looked at me, put his arms out so I could pick him up, and started to bawl. I scooped him up, and he [hardly] ever ran away after that – at least in large public places.

I don’t know, I guess it might have been nice to pay a nanny and go shopping by myself a few days a week. To have lots of help. But I don’t know, think of all the moments that would be lost. My children singing in the car. Pointing and asking, “What’s dat?” Explaining why Cocoa Puffs are not okay. Sitting quietly and reading a board book while I pick out shirts for school. Talking. Hugs. Lessons and love.

Life happens in the most unlikely places.

“Broken” as it applies to my family…

“Broken” as it applies to my family….

(A post by thewanderunner on Brieflections.)

 

^^^^^I love this so much.^^^^^

I could say x’s family is broken because her husband is an alcoholic, and she has an eating disorder and likely a personality disorder.

I could say y’s family is broken because her husband calls his children fat and lazy and no-good.

And I could say z’s family is broken because she openly despises her husband because he travels all the time and cheats on her with a younger colleague and possibly many others.

But I would never say those things. So why is it okay to say them about divorced families? My children are doing okay, and in my heart I know they are growing up to be two wonderful, caring human beings who know they are loved and cherished.

My children have been knocked around a bit. And life will knock them around more, like it always does. But I think they will be more prepared than most. They are not broken, and they will not be broken easily.

 

Does it Spark Joy? (a post-divorce primer)

Home organizer Marie Kondo sparked a little controversy last week when she was quoted in a New York Times article saying that people should clear out their closets by looking at each item and discarding it if it does not “spark joy.”

The article has created a little sensation – and some outrage. But I get Ms. Kondo. In fact, I will take it further. There are a lot of things that we can discard in our lives if they don’t spark joy. I don’t mean a job, or a house, or the bills, or exercise. I’m talking about the little things in life that drain your spirits and drag you down.

My high-conflict divorce bulldozed through my existing life, creating intense havoc and chaos. My old normal is gone. I am no longer a stay-at-home-mom. I have no hopes of joining the famous country club where friends spend their days beating each other up on the tennis courts. (Okay, this is a blessing in disguise.) My children will need to leave their sweet, wonderful school. My children have no college funds; my retirement money was long ago passed over to divorce attorneys.

Most of us lose a lot. But at the same time, I’ve learned that something has to move in to replace the loss – at least if we want to move ahead and rebuild a better life. Things must be discarded; new things must take their place.

So I like Ms. Condo’s philosophy: Does it spark joy?

In fact, I’ve been following her philosophy unwittingly, dropping the things that I really hate in my life, and also the little things that cause me stress or a very distinctive lack of joy.

So here’s my Spark of Joy Manifesto – a work in progress.

  • I will no longer buy ugly wrapping paper from the PTA. It is cheap and it rips, and I resent the shakedown and all the emails I receive about it. I will use the money towards my annual contribution to the school instead.
  • I will no longer fill every awkward pause in a conversation with babble, just to make someone else feel less uncomfortable. I have been doing this since childhood, and I’m done.
  • I will take my children out of town on an occasional weekend – even if my nine-year-old has to miss a soccer game. (I know, I know, the horrors!)
  • I will no longer listen to gossip about people that I haven’t even met. I will no longer listen to tirades against people, period. And I will go out of my way to stand up for every single working mom and divorced mom when someone starts dishing on them.
  • I will say no. No, I can’t give 20 percent more to the school fund than last year. No, I can’t leave early from work to drive your child home from soccer. No, I cannot find 20 bottles of authentic Japanese soda for Japan Day for a bunch of seven-year-olds.
  • I will be more honest with friends. “Yes, I’m still going through a bit of a difficult time in terms of finding enough hours in the day to do everything I need to do,” would be a good start. “Yes, I do need help.” And, “Yes, thank you for the offer of help.”
  • I will no longer attend any parties or social events unless I want to. And I will leave when I want to leave, even if I’m the first one out the door.
  • I will no longer be the first person to volunteer to bring all the food to every school and sporting event because of working mom guilt.
  • I will not even consider doing a joint parent-teacher conference with my ex. Ever.
  • I will start taking an hour of lunch at work every day – for a run, for a yoga class, for a lunch with friends, or even just a drive.
  • I will do everything I can in life for my children, but I will also start taking better care of myself. And that might mean that I miss a game or two. It might mean that I can’t stay at an event if their crazy father is there. And it might mean that we need more babysitter help around here so I can go for a run after work or take a writing class one night a week.

And here is the biggie: I will stop the guilt. I did the best I could. I am deeply and truly sorry that I married this man in my twenties and had children with him. I did not understand. I was fooled. He fooled me. I did not see through him until it was too late.

But I did not cause the problems in the marriage. I did not cause his issues with addiction or mental illness or serial infidelity. I did not cause the divorce. I will do whatever I can do for my children to make this the best possible life for them. But I will no longer live in shame and a constant state of feeling like I can never do enough for my sweet children because I failed them by getting a divorce.

I am working overtime at discarding most everything in my own secret closet, which consists of layers and layers of shame and guilt – if only Ms. Kondo could find a way to show us divorced moms how to do that. But for now, I’m sticking with her philosophy. If it’s not necessary and if it does not spark any joy, it’s going out with the trash.

 

Kissing Your Socks Goodbye, New York Times

 

Letting Go: How I Talk to My Children

Like every big revelation in my life, it came out of nowhere.

One day I woke up and realized that I’m doing my children a disservice by treating them like babies, trying to protect them from the big, bad, scary world out there. I have some serious helicopter mom tendencies, which I try to hide from my cooler, more freewheeling mommy friends.

Plus there’s the divorce, which breaks my heart a million times every single day for my beautiful children; makes every, single cell in my body want to grab my babies and protect them from any more pain and vulnerability.

But this summer my nine-year-old son asked to go to sleep away camp for a week with his friends. I agreed.  I hoped it would give him some male bonding time, which he sorely needs after spending three years with me and his eight-year-old sister. I also believed that this particular camp would have good male role models, another thing my son desperately needs.

And for once, I was right. When he arrived back home, he seemed more confident, more secure, more grown-up in the very best and most healthy grown-up way. I find myself standing back to watch him interact with his peers and grown-ups, and I feel awe of who my son has already become and who he may someday be.

I made the right decision by letting go.

It made me realize, with a terrible pang, that I need to keep pushing my children off into the world instead of holding them back. Within reason of course. And at the same time, I need to tell them the truth about things, so that they can protect themselves and learn how to make good decisions all on their own as they grow up.

So now my children Know Things. They know that there is a Big Mess in the Middle East. They are not allowed to watch images of dead babies and bombed-out schools on television, but they understand the basic facts about the history of Israel and Palestine. I don’t answer questions about who is right, and who is wrong. Instead we discuss how we would feel if we lived other people’s lives.

Today my children learned that because I’ve gone back to work, I sometimes have to carry my laptop over to the playground to finish up a project. They got bored after a while and started hanging over my shoulder. When they saw I was writing about a John F. Kennedy speech, they started interrupting each other to tell me they knew that speech. And then my son paraphrased the following words:

So let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.

We rushed home to find the speech excerpted in my children’s favorite JFK bio. They opened the book and read the president’s words out loud to me. I could barely breathe. My children are so wise, and it has nothing to do with me. They teach me.

And then my son looped President Kennedy’s words back to the situation in the Middle East. I hug him, and because he’s not quite ten yet, he hugs me back.

My children leaned other things recently. They know that their mom is tired at the end of the night. If they stay up too late, she will snap at them – she is no longer “nice mom” after 10 pm. They know that they must load their dishes in the dishwasher after lunch and dinner and they must empty the dishwasher while I’m at work. They must clean up after themselves. If they don’t put their dirty clothes in the hamper – rightside out only! – the cleaning ladies will not wash them and put them away in their drawers, all nice and folded, every Wednesday. They also know that the weekly “ladies” are a big luxury for our family, but that they help their mom keep the house running as normal while she works.

Maybe it’s terrible for my children to know these things. Maybe it’s even child abuse, or something that more privileged and enlightened people would never force their children to do, as someone recently insinuated to me. She told me that she expected her children to do “better things” like sessions with their tutors or lacrosse traveling team practice. Things to improve their bodies and minds. But what about their character, I wondered? What about cultivating grit and responsibility and a strong work ethic in our children? It’s only a few chores, I thought. But most of my children’s friends are encouraged to leave dishes on the table and would never dream of taking care of laundry. A friend recently told me that she didn’t know how to do laundry until she went away to college, and this is pretty much how she is raising her own children.

For now I’m betting that my way is what works best for my little family of three.

My children also learned this week that the funny scratchy thing on my arm is another squamous cell cancer – in situ. “Which means it won’t spread, right,” asked my son. “Absolutely,” I answered before explaining that it’s no big deal, really, and that my doctor will take care of it. Oh, and this is why I drive them crazy about rash guards and sunblock.

The next day my babysitter innocently remarks that both children put on their sunblock at the pool without any reminders from her – and they did it cheerfully.

I just smile. I think we’re finding our groove again.