Extracurriculars, Family and divisive parenting with your ex…
I get it. I do. I understand that my ideas for parenting seem “different” than what other people think. Ultimately, I truly don’t care what anyone else “thinks”. At the end of the day, they are my kids during my custodial time, and I am graced to be the one who gets to be the Mother for my three amazing kids. You all may think, “she’s crazy, she’s not supporting her kids in what they want to do, she is acting so selfishly, she’s just doing this because she’s mad at her ex, “ etc. etc. In actuality, you don’t know how well thought, reflective and strategic in long term thinking that my choices around my parenting are. But I’m getting ahead of myself, please read on.
Sports and other extra curricular activities are wonderful. They are a playing field for learning so many things: how to work as a team, how to work with people or coaches you don’t get along with, how to stick through something that you aren’t feeling accomplished at, how to handle loss, how to handle winning, how to work hard and persevere through practice and diligence. I truly love watching who my kids end up with on their teams and who their coaches are. Each experience is new and different, and they get something important out of it.
Family is the MOST important thing. I am really clear about this. Family is the most important thing, and you notice, that even I listed it after sports and extra curriculars. I listed it that way because honestly, that’s how our society lists it. All of these other external things have infiltrated our psyches and we have forgotten family.
I am most certainly not the first to write an article about how fast paced our lives have become and how we let our “schedules” run us instead of letting us run our schedules. However, I am one of the first to put this spin on it. How, as Mothers or Fathers, do you step in and begin slowing it down. How do you put the breaks on so that there is more time to connect? And more specifically, how do you do that when you are divorced?
The Pluses of Family
We have become obsessed with why all of these extra curriculars are so important and forgotten why family is important. So to be fair with all of the pluses I listed about Sports and extra curriculars up above, I will do the same for family. As the Mother of my children, when they are with me, I am their anchor. I provide a safe and loving place for them to explore who they are. There are dependable boundaries and there is space and time to relax. In our daily schedules as family, we have routines that we all know support all of us in being family team. We have chores that we do to clean and tend to our wellbeing as family. We have games and shows that we watch and discuss together as family where we all learn about life choices and our responses. We spend A LOT of time making sure schoolwork is planned out and managed for the week and that assistance is given, not just by me, but by the children helping eachother. There are repercussions for poor behavior and limits to what the children are allowed to do and activities and friends that they are allowed to be with. There are also many activities they are permitted to do and friends they are allowed to be with and have come over. The children get to understand the choices I make as Mom and the limits that I put on them. Sometimes they understand, sometimes they don’t. I do NOT cater to what they want. As their Mother, I am not meant to be their best friend. I am great friends with my kids, but they know and I know that above all I am their Mother. They know it is my responsibility as their Mother to look out for their health and wellbeing overall and if that means saying NO or setting other limits, than that’s what has to be done. My kids love this about me. And because I am excellent at communicating with them and also knowing when not to communicate with them, another fine line of dancing as a parent, they are gifted in their relationships with other people in their lives (their friends, teachers, their father and other family). They are able to read the subtext more so than many and their deep understanding has made them incredible kids and budding young adults.
Being surrounded by this strong environment creates young adults who are strong in their understanding of what is right for them. They have the skills to say yes and to say no. So when peers come along and they feel pressure to participate in something they are unsure of, they can more easily feel comfortable in knowing how to say no. If our children are always supported and loved and told YES, “Yes, of course you can do this. Yes, of course, I will take you there. Yes, of course, I will help with your assignment. Yes, of course, I understand that you are tired and can’t help with chores.” Etc. Then they are not learning NO. They are not learning the power of NO.
As women, Mothers often are challenged with teaching NO. We have been YES machines. If we say NO, it often is followed by an apology. This is not ok for our kids to learn. They can not learn that they are shamed or unworthy of their opinion or decision. Apologizing creates a sense of unworthiness of not owning your choice.
Look, I’m not going to beat around the bush about this. I completely own that I am an EXCELLENT and I do mean capitals…EXCELLENT, Mother. I am really amazing. It comes very natural to me and I have been fortunate to have many wonderful teachers pop into my life to open the depths inside of me that really bring forth my best. I am NOT an excellent Mother for anyone else’s children. Why? Because they are yours or theirs or someone else’s . They aren’t mine, I’m not their Mom and I’m not going to even pretend that I know what’s the best for them. If they are yours, YOU do! I will not judge your decisions. I will make note of how our choices may be different, as this helps me to establish more what works and doesn’t work for me and my children. You may find that I get frustrated sometimes, but that’s usually because I feel alone. I feel very alone in some of the choices I make as a Mother as they are choices that society doesn’t’ necessarily understand because we have different values.
Parenting in Divorce
All that being said, being a divorced and single parent has many challenges that are very very different than parenting with two parents living together, even if the parents whom are living together have different styles.
What’s different? Well for one, the children go back and forth between two houses and if you are my kids, they go back and forth at present 2 times during the week each week. That’s A LOT of time going back and forth. Pluses? They are extremely flexible. So they have to readjust to completely different physical environments. They have different houses and rooms. They eat different food and sometimes wear different clothes. Additionally, they have a different parent in each home. Each parent is mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually different, has different ways of organizing the children’s lives, different views, opinions and ways of discipilining, etc.
My children also have the added challenge of working with and understanding that their parents don’t get along with eachother. I’m not here to debate whether parents of divorced children should just suck it up and get along or not. I’m here to say that in my situation and I know there are MANY others in my situation, that my ex and I don’t get along and that’s that. If you are married and know of couples who have divorced and get along and have an idea in your head that this is something that can happen for everyone, you are mistaken. There are many of us who have tried diligently with perseverance and great sacrifice to create a relationship that would be friendly in nature and easier on the children and yet the other party made choices that showed they were not willing to work together in that capacity. I encourage you to consider that sometimes it is what it is and the parents simply can not get along.
As it relates to scheduled activities, in divorced households, not only do we have the challenges of schedule, we also have the following challenges:
- Agreeing with your ex on which activities and how many that the children should be involved in.
- How to share or not share the cost of said activities
- How to schlep the gear between houses
- Understanding with clarity the desires for the activity as expressed by the child/children. Knowing that the activity they say they would like to do is one they truly like to do and not one that the other parent is telling them they have to do or that they feel threatened in someway by the other parent and therefore are saying they want to do it.
Are you exhausted yet? I am. It’s exhausting enough to live it, let alone attempt to describe it; however, it is my wish by describing this, it will ring true enough with those in the situation that they will be inspired by my story to find their power as the parent of their child within this challenging situation. It is also my desire to shed light on the silence of the issues and every day challenges in divorced families, as I believe that the silence keeps many people living in divorce disempowered by the external pressures. By exposing this, they may feel more confident in finding their voice and express their own choices.
So back to my original question? How, as divorced Mothers or Fathers, do we step in and begin slowing it down. How do we put the breaks on so that there is more time to connect in order for the children to experience the strength of character developed through family time?
I’d like to now share my story regarding my recent journey to put the breaks on during soccer season.
A brief background
In April of 2011, my ex and I went to co-parent counseling for the duration of about one and half to two months. Though there were a handful of things that were helpful about it and another handful that weren’t, I will focus on the pertinent information as it relates to our children’s extracurricular activities. It was agreed upon there that we would split the cost of one extra curricular activity per season per child. It seemed reasonable to us both.
This Last Spring 2013
After a year of relentless sports and other activities ending in swim season with two kids, that bleeds into the summer, and baseball with one child, I was wiped out. Trying to manage a new business, their schedules, gear, the back and forth with their Dad, etc. I was really feeling done. I know the kids enjoyed it; however, we had no family time. I decided that I was going to suggest to my ex that we come up with activities for the Fall that only had a weekday commitment and therefore we would have the weekends free. He disagreed and went ahead and signed them up with the local soccer club for recreational soccer.
If you haven’t lived this, you can imagine it. I am sure you are already feeling the pressures that I felt in your mind.
- No one wants to be involved in your yucky relationship with your ex, so trying to keep their involvement to a minimum is key. This is two- fold. First, involving the soccer club, you have the Veto power that you can use with the soccer club if you refuse to have your child participate on your time, Secondly, your friends, you have a crap situation and talking to a friend could really help, but no one wants to hear this. You have no sounding board but yourself.
- The kids are stuck in the middle of Daddy saying “Yes” and Mommy saying “No”. That’s a little confusing.
- What about the coaches and their teammates? It’s a bit unfair to the teammates if one of their players doesn’t show up every other weekend, etc. It’s also disappointing to the coaches who want to have a team that works together. They usually work all season to develop a really strong team.
Over the Summer
Here’s what I did. I was very clear, as I said before, that family was the most important thing. I told the kids that I disagreed with signing them up for soccer. I told them that I understood that they wanted to do this; however, Mommy was in charge on the weekends they were with me and if I decided that we would go to the game, we would go to the game, but that if I made other plans then we would not go to the games. I also told them that I would support their participation in soccer during the week and would be sure to take them to practices on the days they were with me. I made it clear that I would communicate this to their coaches and if there was a problem then I would go from there.
I also explained to them that this was very tricky because I could see that it would be unfair to their teammates and their coaches. I told them that I preferred that they not do this activity at all, but I couldn’t control what their Dad signed them up for on his time.
Next I explained this to my ex and attempted to allow him to see what might happen with our differences in weekend commitment to soccer. That went nowhere. I then contacted each of the coaches when I found out who their coach was and explained the situation. Though I was heard, they seemed to think that it was just a matter of not wanting to take them to their games which was totally not the point. They offered to drive them if I needed that, etc. Clearly this idea of family time is not well understood. I tried again to explain that it was about creating special time set aside just for family and that we would be doing activities together that we don’t normally get to do in Fall since we are always rushing to games and getting ready for the regular week. Again, they didn’t really understand, but that’s ok. I am different! I suggested to each of them that they might ask the league for another player on their team so that they would never be short players. I even sent an email to the Director of the soccer club to be sure he understood my situation. He was very understanding and supportive and reminded me that it was recreational soccer and not competitive and that it would fine.
Come Fall and the Big Doozy
So we went through the season and to all of our surprise, the games that they had when they were with me were always clustered closely together and we could still plan around it in order to do some fun things. All until…the Jamboree weekend. The Jamboree weekend is a tournament structure that allows for the teams to compete one last time in order to come up with who will play in the playoffs for 1st and 2nd place in the league the following weekend. Well, Jamboree is on my weekend. Jamboree is scheduled for THIS weekend. If we were to go to the games on Jamboree weekend, I would be taking kids on both Saturday and Sunday to a total of 8 games. This is after a long work week and a big week of school.
There are four things that I wanted to do with the kids on this one weekend. A special Women and Girls only event, a Day of the Dead celebration, where I can take my daughter and teach her the importance as the woman of the family in honoring family and those who have passed. Secondly, there is a wonderful home high school football game where I grew up. In the community in which we live, they do not allow night games for home games, so being able to go see a fun high school game at night is a real treat. The boys will go to this with my parents. Thirdly, I want the children to see the Monarch Butterflies in Santa Cruz. Every year, the butterflies migrate through here and rest on the Eucalyptus trees in Santa Cruz. They have never seen this. And lastly, I want us to have an AWESOME time carving pumpkins with my parents.
My uncle was admitted to a cancer ward just 4 weeks ago . He was diagnosed with Leukemia and over the month received intense treatment where he lost all of his hair, etc. It was very sudden. He is scheduled to go home today; however, when you have someone you are close to that has something happen to them you become more in touch with the importance of being in that moment, of taking time to appreciate each other. As this weekend came closer and closer, I knew in my heart that going to visit my parents for 2 nights in Los Gatos was truly the right choice.
First thing this Tuesday morning, the Jamboree schedule was posted. I saw it before one of the coaches had even seen it. I was unsure if I would change my mind and we could maybe come to the Sunday game at least. So, I sent an email to the coaches telling them that we were out for Saturday, but possibly Sunday could work. Two of the coaches were understanding. One of them was not.
Before I had even shared my decision with anyone, one of my boys called me to tell me how he wanted to go no matter what. He would do anything to get there. Ugh, can you imagine, now?
Second guessing yourself and The Icky Divorced Mind
Of course, I had to think very carefully. Am I being selfish? Is this about me just doing something I want to do? Aren’t I supposed to support my kids in what they want to do? When they show incredible motivation shouldn’t I be 100% behind them? And then of course, maybe he is just saying this because he has been with his Dad and his Dad’s parents all weekend. Maybe they were convincing him to call me and get him to beg enough that I would give in. Or, alternatively, maybe the other parent is just empowering the child to speak up for what he wants. Oi Vey!
The Coaches Email
The one coach that was not understanding sent a very inappropriate email. Now I have strong opinions about engaging poor behavior. My sense is that responding just asks for more. Truly, it does. However, I decided to respond and explain that it was inappropriate. Of course, I received a response. The response was not good, not bad, indifferent enough that I could leave it and move on.
Listening to my Kids
The kids returned to the home they share with me for one night and were filled with all of their reasons why they should play in the games this weekend. I was bombarded in the car when I picked them up from school. One of the reasons was that the field was a pretty field and wouldn’t that be nice to play on a pretty field?
Kid #1 – Wanting to play but really understanding of the importance of family and that I had told them at the beginning of the season this would happen.
Kid #2 – Wanting to play, but I could tell that she would be disappointed but alright if she didn’t play.
Kid #3 – This one was working it. This one, I think, is working his angles between his Dad and I. I could tell that he would be very disappointed and this is a kid that I really strongly don’t like to disappoint. This one holds a grudge. Hmmm, what to do? I was feeling truly pained by this child. My heart tearing for sure.
I told them that at the end of the night, I would have my decision. They were going back to their Dad’s the next day and I felt like it was important that it be clean and understood what the plan was. I had a little bit of space in between shopping and a couple of soccer practices where I was by myself and I could hear clearly that the decision was that we would miss ALL of the games
Why and How I came to that conclusion:
I decided to not go to any of the games for a number of reasons. I had told the kids that we would only go to the games if they were convenient for us from the beginning of the season, and if I caved on this, it would actually present me as unreliable and inconsistent to them. As it relates to my ex, I felt something similar. If I caved on this, he would simply continue enrolling them in things and expecting me to take them all of the time. I would appear a pushover. Lastly, I knew that they wouldn’t remember the Jamboree games a year from now, but they would remember our trip to see the Monarch’s, the football game and Day of the Dead Celebration, and most of all hanging out with their grandma and grandpa and carving our massive pumpkins.
I knew the kids’ wouldn’t totally understand why I made this decision, but I could explain that a little bit to them. I told them, that they weren’t going to understand all of the reasons why I had made the choice I had. I told them that as they got older, they could ask me. I reminded them that I’m not just a friend, but I am their Mom and I am in charge of looking out for their over all health and wellbeing in the longterm and that I believed this was a better choice.
The Assistant Coaches Call
As if the nasty email from the head coach wasn’t enough, I received a call from the Assistant Coach, a woman. She claimed that she had not been in touch with the head coach, which seems strange . She said she was just checking in with a few people to see if they needed any help getting their kids to the Jamboree games this weekend. I explained most of the story above, more than necessary. I told her how it was very important that we spend family time together due to recent illnesses in the family etc. She then asked me if I could leave my son with her for the weekend (my son, barely knows her and is not even friends with her children). I explained that this would defeat the point of family time and that NO he could not. She went on to tell me how important it is to support our kids in their activities, oh the dreaded guilting. I’ll tell you, I wasn’t buying it. I wasn’t buying any of it. I now felt more assured that making my decision was the right one. I had hoped that we could at least see a glimmer of shared understanding, but that was not the case. She ended up hanging up on me. Bummer.
I decided that it was important that the Director of the Recreational soccer league know that these two coaches were behaving in such ways undermining the rights and decisions of the parents of the kids on the teams. That this type of behavior seemed out of alignment with the mission of the soccer club. The director, was very supportive of my parenting and grateful for my written complaint.
As I mentioned, Kid #3 was going to work this situation. He called me back last night, not to share his day with me, but to ask if his Dad could come get him from Los Gatos, about 50 miles away, to bring him back for at least one of his games. This type of interruption would interfere with the entire set up for family time. I told him to tell his Dad thank you for the offer, but it wasn’t going to work out. When he asked what it was that we were doing exactly, I responded that he didn’t need to know right now, but he would learn when we got down there. I sensed that this information would be manipulated by his Dad and made to be unimportant. I wanted him to experience the feeling of the activity with freshness, untainted.
There are many forces pulling on us. Many voices in our head and coming at us from the various players in our lives around us. Finding clarity by being strongly rooted in our core values can be our guiding light. From this place, we can make choices in our true freedom. Choices unencumbered by the sucking power of other’s views and opinions. Choices that support joy and love and freedom. The path to voice these choices and stick by them as a divorced parent is not for the faint of heart. It is a path that requires great fortitude and true stamina. It is my wish that my journey to pick pumpkins over a ball of black and white will help you and inspire you to feel the strength in speaking your true choices for yourself and your children in divorce.
Remember this, YOU are in charge of what transpires during your custodial time. No one can dictate what you can and can’t do with your children. As you grow into your voice, start by simply noticing the various voices of your self and others: your inner voice that doubts, your children’s voices, your ex’s voice, your family, friends and community’s voices and the very powerful and not to be forgotten, voice of society. Once you can begin to create awareness for these voices and see how they differ from your true values, you will be able to start to assert your own choices more effectively. The more you assert your own choices, the more successes you create for yourself and your children, the more self-esteem and self-confident you become and ultimately the more empowered you are. You will be unstoppable!
As for me, I am looking forward to a truly amazing weekend with my children. I anticipate complaints from Kid #3, but I can handle it, I am strong. I am the Mother. I am the Mother Rising.
Much love and compassion,
Honor femininity. Celebrate your strength, Empower your transformation.
Margaret Jacobson, The Mother of The Mother Rising