Just as I didn’t think about getting divorced when I got married, I also didn’t think about raising children in the midst of a divorce when I gave birth to them. Parenting is already a challenging gig. Plunge the process in the icy waters of divorce and get ready to gasp for air.
Without warning, or training, the world of parenting while dismantling the family is about as easy to navigate as the Fire Swamp. Or the north face of Everest. Or the waters around the Farallon Islands right about the time the Great White sharks venture there on holiday. (I desperately want to swim from shore to The Farallons.) And doing so while dealing with an angry, soon to be former spouse can feel like being dehydrated at 13,000 feet.
Coincidentally (wink, wink), our move to Bolinas was kicked off with nearly two solid weeks of daily commuting back to our old town due to the travel schedule of another. I’m certain it was unintentional. (Is today Opposite Day?) And a timely experiment to thrust upon me after running hard to pack and move and struggling through the quicksand of unpacking.
At the risk of boasting, I’d like to share with you some major achievements:
I have found clean underwear to don each day. I said underwear. Not socks. (And I sure as H didn’t say panty.)
I don’t hit the snooze button anymore.
The last time I witnessed the sun rise so many days in a row I was on a Spring Break trip in Ft. Lauderdale. I feel so grown up!
Thanks to the bento boxes my thoughtful and divine Mom purchased for the dudes, I have managed to pack rainbow lunches for them. They have managed to mostly eat them.
High Maintenance Kitty has not been eaten by a coyote.
(High Maintenance Kitty has also not eaten the mouse that rules the kitchen in the wee hours. He’s too busy hogging my pillow.)
I have not run out of gas. But I did have to get two gallons in Bolinas for the small sum of over $5 per. (I need a mathematician to calculate the best financial move for me – hybrid or high gas mileage? Must sell my beloved 4Runner.)
I have maintained a decent shaving schedule. No braided pits here.
I have only missed one event – a T-ball game. For which I was spanked via text.
The dudes are super happy. (Although this morning the tall dude did say, Mommy, It will be refreshing when all the boxes are unpacked. Refreshing...)
I survived the So You Think You Made the Right Move, Do You? experiment and am grateful to have had the opportunity to be put to the test during what can definitely be called a rambunctious time. Without a doubt, we made the very best decision to move to Brigadoon. Living in Bolinas far outweighs the challenges of living in Bolinas. With the exception of the sulfur water. Yes, it’s soft, it’s really good for our skin and hair, it has healing properties. It also smells. Some days not so much and other days my nose is perpetually wrinkled. A plumber is in my future and he’s carrying an industrial filter.
If I want sulfur I’ll get naked at a hot spring. (Note to self – get naked at a hot spring soon.)
While this move has tested me, supported me, and brought me to a magical place brimming with bewitching opportunities for encounters of the human and animal variety, the most valuable house warming present I’ve received has been a renewed focus on boundaries. As a bonus, the right sets of circumstances to test them out have presented themselves.
Boundaries are as important as breath.
Boundaries need to breathe.
Boundaries benefit from a very active Observer Self. (She totally digs her new digs.)
I need boundaries with the dudes, too.
Boundaries make people angry.
As I said, I missed a T-ball game. The dudes weren’t bummed. They got to stare through massive telescopes set up on the mesa and spot Jupiter and her moons, get up close and personal with our moon, and learn how to spot Orion. They also played tag in the dark and bonded with a gaggle of new friends.
They were particularly stoked to hear about the black panther that lives just down the road. While this could be a Bolinas legend, I’m considering it fact. Perfect way to get them inside at twilight.
But The Genius wasn’t pleased.
The reason I raise that not surprising point is because it perfectly illustrates the tricky nature of boundaries, establishing them and enforcing them, in the midst of divorce.
Pre Pocket Call, back when The Genius was calling me Angel and telling me how excited he was to be on this adventure with me and how blessed he was to have me in his life (there is no more perfect time to say, blah, blah, blah), he would have been fine with missing a game, and not surprised that we instead experienced a special event like our unplanned trip through space, courtesy of the scopes of visiting Astronomers.
But not anymore.
Had we still been married, and he was traveling, and I told him that I missed a T-ball game but the dudes got to look through massive telescopes and get all cozy with the moon, he would have said, It’s a T-ball game, not league sports. Instead, it’s a directive that they’ve made a commitment and must keep it. And I’m bad for not having seen to it that they did.
Of course he’s focused on keeping commitments. Now.
He wants a say in everything, and if that say is an opportunity to criticize me, well that’s irresistible. My every move is scrutinized. The tall dude lost his baseball hat. My fault. The little dude left his at the playground. Instead of talking to him about being responsible for his T-ball hat, a fine lesson for him to learn at this stage so that he doesn’t expect everyone to run around and clean up his messes as he gets older, it’s on me.
A comet explodes over Russia. I’m staring at the sky too much. I must have launched it off course.
The Golden Gate Bridge no longer accepts cash. I’m the root cause of that evil integration of technology.
The Pacific Plate and the North American Plate are at odds. Over me. And my recent move to Bolinas.
When the next quake hits (I believe I have felt a few shimmies since our arrival), you know where to place the blame. Here, let me spread my arms wide so the blame has plenty of surface area upon which to splat.
Somehow, some way, I am the root cause of everything.
I had no idea I was that productive.
I accepted responsibility for missing the game – even though it was not listed on the calendar TG creates for co-parenting purposes and vowed to be aware of all their commitments from this point forth. Yes, I do have an email sent by the team manager with the schedule and shame, oh! shame, for not triple checking. It’s not as if I’m juggling three major life changes at the moment.
Oh, wait. I am.
I think the dudes will survive. They won’t be blackballed. T-ball will go on. And if they have to run a few extra laps, I’ll do them, too.
I broke the cardinal rule and engaged with TG via text over my utter failure to make it to T-ball. In so doing, I solved a mystery! When I put up my hand and say, this isn’t right, acceptable, appropriate, he says I’m rude and mean, and wrong. This has been going on for months.
I just figured out why.
It’s the boundaries.
Throughout the build up to the move and since our arrival at The Calmmune, I’ve taken great care to create a fun, adventurous mood for the dudes. From wake-up through the many drives, in the midst of looking for shoes and socks, and while eating dinner on crates, I’ve gone out of my way to up the fun. Too far out of my way. As a result, I’ve gotten in the way of proper parenting.
At some point the whining and complaining moments after an adventure, or having a nice meal or treat began to weigh on me.
They’re not being grateful. The dudes are creating expectations I can’t meet.
I have created expectations that I shouldn’t be meeting.
This realization hit at the exact same time as the ‘you’re rude and mean’ grenades were being lobbed in my direction from TG.
These are trying times for the dudes. Especially the tall dude. He feels the divorce. He told his principal, during a meeting called by his teacher because he was being disruptive in class, that ‘it was so right’ when Mommy and Daddy were together. For him it was so right. It was all he knew. He was sad. He has every right to be.
In light of the emotional eruption that has spewed all over him, there is the danger that I will over-compensate. That I have over-compensated to make up for the implosion of the family he knew and loved. And to insure that this move to Bolinas helps to create adventures and fun, and not anxiety.
To over-overcompensate is to take away his freedom, to hijack his journey.
So there I sat. On the patio. A curved extension of the kitchen, wrapped in Calla Lilies that surround a young, blossoming apple tree. There’s a dip in the bank of trees at the bottom of the lawn. Through it the Sutro Tower blinks red and the city glows amber. The rich, earthy shade colored a low blanket of clouds tumbling in from the Pacific. Above me the sky was ink. As I looked south, over Stinson, amber streaked the black, east to west. It was the most gorgeous night sky I’ve seen in West Marin.
And all I could think about was how mad the dudes were that I wasn’t as fun as I used to be, and how angry The Genius is at me. For everything.
While I may be capable of redirecting an asteroid with only my gaze, I am not capable of resurrecting that which was killed by deceit and betrayal. I am, however, massively motivated to make certain that I raise the dudes the way I would have raised them while married to The Genius. In the last 48 hours I have learned that to do so requires me to be absolutely present and steadfast with boundaries.
So, with all the benefits of establishing and enforcing boundaries, why does it feel so bad?
Because I was raised to not hurt other people.
Flipping over a fence that was never there, at full tilt, hurts.
This should sound harsh – That’s not my problem. It’s supposed to hurt. That’s why they shouldn’t be breached. That’s why they’re boundaries.
Over the last 24 hours I’ve implemented a few boundaries with the dudes, (using manners at all times, asking, not telling, and daily gratitude are must do’s) and I censored any language like, I can’t believe you would do this after I just got you that treat, or How could you speak to your brother that way? I now understand how those types of phrases complicate the situation. And worse, create a codependent relationship. As if our state of being is affected without invite by every word, emotion or act of the other.
Parenting should not be an emotional tug of war.
Life should not be an emotional tug of war.
Setting boundaries goes deeper than a consequence for a bad behavior. Boundaries are reflections of our self respect and self love. If we allow them to be climbed, and weakened and finally destroyed by another, we contribute to our own demise. And we don’t do any favors for those who scaled them. We set boundaries for own selves. Out of love and a desire to simplify and create peace.
But be prepared for anarchy first.
If it’s like what I experienced, the worst was over in 24 hours and the best started right away. The dudes became centered, happy and actively worked on improving their behavior through thoughtful communication. After being mad at me, angry and telling me they weren’t having any fun. At all. Ever. In life., they smiled, laughed, and enjoyed themselves in age-appropriate ways. They weren’t testing or pressing buttons. Just having fun and being responsible.
I felt like I had arrived at a parenting milestone. Having boundaries not only makes me feel good but it also makes the dudes feel good. After making them feel bad. For a little while. I learned to be okay with them feeling bad.
In my quest to become consciously competent with boundaries, I’ve also learned that focusing on the creation of boundaries is like hiking – serene, grounding, fun and productive. When those who collide with my boundaries get angry, it’s not because I did something wrong or hurt them in some way. I don’t have to fix it. Or make them feel better. Or apologize their behavior away. I did something right. I got engaged with life, and demonstrated self-love and self-respect, which I have every right to do.
I feel free. And I’ve never felt more confident.
No wonder I urged Mr. Viking to move to Los Angeles, and straight into the home of his former wife, so they can spend hours together writing a masterpiece.
Cleo, I’m having the hardest time not snickering at The Genius. Because, obviously, none of this is funny. But let’s review: He travel extensively while you were living in the same home, so I imagine he missed many games and performances and holidays and visits from the tooth fairy. He only had to worry about himself and his things because he had a wife (who was not living out of boxes, I might add) to see to it his boys hats and uniforms, etc. were always at the ready. I don’t think that the Dudes missing one T-BALL(!) game will alter the outcome of the World Series this year. But that’s just a hunch. And it wasn’t like they were laying in front of the TV with a Snickers and a Mountain Dew watching Scooby-Doo reruns. If the HDC makes him so deliriously happy, then why is he angry all the time!?! Makes no sense.
I would like to make a request of you: since you are so omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent – could you PLEASE send so warm weather to the Midwest?? I know you have comets and earthquakes to schedule, but if you find the time, we’d greatly appreciate it!
So glad you’re back – I missed you voice, my friend!
You are fabulous. Frosty, perhaps, but oh, so very funny. Let your laughter melt the icicles around you. I send you heat, babay. Nothing but heat. And a suggestion that you venture west or south, or somewhere else where the climate is better suited to humans! I don’t know if I can fit in a heat wave right now, I’m a little backed up, but I could ask Vulcan for a favor. He owes me. Nothing like the Greek God of Fire to stoke it.
It’s an exciting time filled with opportunities to learn. I am so grateful you are here for the ride. Here’s an extra blanket…
Truly inspiring and brilliant!!! You my love are truly brilliant bold and beautiful!!! Well done
Blessings and love
Barbie with Brains, you beautiful, delicious being. Thank you. We will toss our manes in laughter together soon. You are so missed.
Dear Cleo, I see a novelist as well as a parenting book author in your future!
I have been struggling to set boundaries without being mean to my 10 year old dude, who, living with parents in the brink of a failed marriage, has learned that making mommy the “bad guy” is beneficial for him! Standing your ground in the gentlest of ways is so hard.. especially when you are being called the meanest mom in the universe : )
I hope the dudes didn’t have to switch schools, one less thing to worry about for you.. It’s wonderful that you moved to Bolinas, I am sure living in the midst of such beauty will nurture the dudes in wonderful ways, and they will grow up loving nature and not being addicted to their DS! And even though going through these changes may be an ordeal for them, they will respect you for the strong person and the wonderful parent you are!
Thank you for your kind words, N! Dr. E and I were talking about a parenting book for the divorcing set. Filled with humor. There is no other way.
The dudes are staying in their school. It’s a perfect fit for them. So grateful they can remain there.
We’ll work on healthy boundaries together. Just knowing that there are so many benefits to setting and enforcing boundaries, in the short and long term, is enough incentive to weather the storms. Stay close…
Karen Muir says
Found your site months ago – enjoy your journey.
Check out “How to Talk so Kids Will Listen” – it is a wonderful communications book for parents and kids…….works with sulky adults as well.
Thank you for the suggestion! I have almost no time for reading just yet, but for the dudes I will make time.
Sulky adults…so aptly named. Thank you for being here and for taking the time to give me a tip. Muir means everything to me.
What’s that saying, “We train people how to treat us…”? Setting boundaries is about respecting yourself. Brava C, keep loving and respecting yourself. While TG continues to demonstrate what a “great swimmer” (editor’s edit – using the words of my fabulous Mom) he is; you keep proving what a beautiful being you are. Carry on.
You sweating, gorgeous, brave lady, you…I took the liberty of gently editing your comment by using the words of my Mom. I know all the kittens will appreciate it. Setting boundaries is so very difficult when we are trained to not hurt people. When someone gets angry I assume I have done something wrong. But in this case, I have done something so very right. Only by remaining ultra present can I see that. The anxiety from knowing I have upset someone bubbles within until I realize that it’s a trained response and not fitting anymore. Discernment will show me the difference between someone feeling hurt or angry because I have taken a stand and someone feeling hurt or angry because I have crossed a line.
So here I am, taking a stand. How do I look? Not as fabulous as you, hotness.
Your column on child boundaries inspired me to write. As a divorced parent of twin boys, I have to say that I heartily agree that consistent boundaries for kids are not only important and mandatory, but are absolutely essential. I think that kids (whether in a divorced family or not) really want to know two things: that they are safe and that someone will take care of them. (Actually, it’s probably only one thing). By setting boundaries, you tell them that you are in charge, that you are the adult, and that you care enough to make sure that they do the right thing. Kids will always test the limits– its their job– and part of that test is seeing how resolute you are in maintaining the limits. And kids are good at pushing the limits. When they say things like, ‘you are the meanest mommy in the whole world’ as one of your earlier posters wrote, I believe its designed (intuitively designed, but designed nevertheless) to see how you react. If you stick with your limit, they may pout, cry act upset, or do any number of things to try and move the line. But if you stick to it, they’ll love you for it (although it won’t seem like it), because they’ll know that you are there to take care of them and are willing and able to do so.
Such thoughtful, spot on words of guidance that I will read and reread. As will many kittens, for sure. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and for sharing with us these words of guidance. You’ve made me ponder not just how I raise the dudes, but how the adults in my life have been raised and the impact on their adult relationships. If a mom is more concerned about being liked, if she finds her self-worth via being liked in real time by her children, then she will likely cave in far too often and to the detriment of her children. They will learn to play her and be trained to live their life by playing people.
It’s a slippery slope.
My sense of self-worth and love for myself are not altered by the dudes’ in the moment opinion of me. (I say that as a statement of affirmation – I’ve cringed many a time when the dudes are less than pleased with me.) If I cater to them now, in order to keep peace or to avoid anger, I will derail them for life. I aim to raise boys to men who are accountable, resilient, grounded, self-aware and honest. There will be no emotional tug of war (I’m saving myself for the Stinson Beach VS. Bolinas July 4th Tug of War – and I plan on WINNING!) and lots of healthy boundaries so they can grow up to be independent and without Mommy complexes.
I’ve seen how devastating those can be. It only just became clear to me with this post – a lack of healthy boundaries with children leads to co-dependent, narcissistic children. Nothing desirable about that! Please continue to share your guidance on this topic. It’s a tricky one, but SO essential! Thank you, J! You rock.
You are so right… and narcissistic co-dependent children leads to well, narcissistic co-dependent adults, never a desirable outcome.
Parents need to be parents to their kids, not their friends.
I think that all families struggle with how you create and maintain boundaries with kids, but in divorced families, there is an additional layer: guilt. The idea that ” if we were only still together” this would all be easier. For what it’s worth, my sense is that it wouldn’t be easier–just different.
When you think about the kids, its really about them and whether you are married or divorced, I think the decisions are the same. While it’s not easy to deal with the sense that things are ‘ your fault’–(whether the breakup of the marriage is or isn’t), the kids need to be treated with consistency and respect. Setting boundaries for your kids doesn’t mean you can’t love them and respect their individuality– your only really trying to get them to become good, well-adjusted individauls, after all.
Now, just hope you can convince TG that that’s the way to go.
Well said. Although convincing TG of anything is not going to happen. I’ve decided, with expert guidance, that I can’t interact with him anymore. However, I’ve noticed a tremendous improvement in the dudes – more open, honest, expressive, and a huge improvement in listening. I’ve had consequences at the ready and used them in a calm and matter of fact way. ZERO emotion. It’s made such a difference.
I’ve also dialed way back on purchases. And next week I will have the baking operation up and running. Getting back to basics and traditions.
I think I might even buy an apron. Maybe some kitten heels. Thank you for taking the time to comment. These conversations are SO crucial!
Thank you, J and thank you Cleo. Just what I needed to hear. I’ve been struggling with/practicing this with my fiery, four year old daughter and it has been so challenging when it’s just the two of us. Thanks for the pep talk. xoxox
I walked into my neighbor’s house last week to borrow something and she was in tears over her 13 year old (bat mitzvah in a week) daughter who just stood in Nordstrom and screamed at her that she didn’t like what she was picking out for the gifts they were making for the guests at the bat mitzvah. She stormed off in the middle of the Paramus mall leaving my neighbor embarrassed with the realization that she created that self-entitled monster that just screamed at her. In public. So what to do? You punish and move on . . . . my favorite word lately is perspective.
That’s a hard pill to swallow – not only are we capable of ‘creating the monster’, but sadly that means we failed at our job as teacher. I am grateful to have realized now that it’s my job to teach them how to succeed at life, not how to love me more. Nor is it my job to remove all heartache and lessons learned from their world. If I do that I will have failed them in grand fashion. I will have created narcissists who are only concerned with their own hedonistic desires.
Perspective…yes. Thank you, A. Again and again.
what if you are trying to counter act the creation of a monster? How do you do that? Let me explain, my Genius and his happy dance chick have taken my daughter under their wing so to speak. She is 6, and impressionable, and of course highly influenced. In order to feel better about himself, , my Genius with his narcisstic traits, have taken to spoil our daughter with whatever her heart desires to gain admiration and attention, and of course the ever narcisstic supply that he needs at all times.. New clothes, even when she has plenty? sure, how about a manicure (at 6) of course, you are special, what you didn’t get a lala loopsy doll for christmas? here are 2, and oh, a new Kindle HD so i don’t have to really spend any quality time with you playing board games!!! now run off and play with your new toys. In turn, this has become a HUGE problem at our house (mine and fiance) , my bio son with TG basically gets pretty much ignored from his dad due to he really can’t be bought or cares about material items, he just wants to spend time, leaving him always searching for it, my step children get constant abuse from bio daughter and her ever snotty, unsharing attitude, my way or the highway. she sets up the 4 year old to get in trouble, snickers and laughs, teases, you name it. This leaves me in constant counter act mode, it is nice to be nice, (respect of each other is the number one rule in our house) be a helper not a hurter, spending time together is more important than what we get etc. name a good deed we did today, when we gather to eat dinner. i could go on and on and on with the strategies i am trying. and when i feel like i am making progress, i see compassion, caring in her eyes, she goes and helps 4 year old, plays nice with her YES, she goes and spends a weekend with her father!!!. ugh, I have set boundries which are being followed, she is not allowed to bring her things home from his house (likes to flaunt) , attitude WILL NOT be tolerated, etc, but i just get how mean, nasty, uncaring I am, daddy would let me, daddy will get me ugh! ugh!!! there is no talking to Genius either, he is classic passive, agressive narcicisst and he would say if she is having any issus at my house it is my fault that she is that way. remember i pay you in child support to raise my kids, you wanted the job! (yes, he really said that) He thrives on creating a monster for me to deal with. that’s what people with personality disorders do. I love my daughter too much to allow her to turn into an adult female version of her father.
Thank you for taking the time to comment. Your situation is complex, challenging – for all involved, and an emotional big bang. You are not alone, but every situation is so unique that my opinion is only that, an opinion. Given with love. Big vats of love. But without a true feel for the nuances.
As I read your comment, I felt the need to breathe deep, often. I could feel the tension. All that rigidness is going to feed an adversarial relationship. It seems to be an unavoidable byproduct of divorce. Loud and clear came, Turn in. Turn Inward. Which did not surprise me, because on the drive to Bolinas today I acknowledged that too many recent thoughts involved TG. Which means I’m ignoring something about myself because it’s easier to pick him apart. I’m looking outside myself and not turning in. I’m not suggesting you’re doing the same thing, but it would be nurturing to spend time focused on you. With the exception of loving your children in the moment and feeding them, the balance of the time needs to be spent on you. Excavate, explore, ponder, question…get super clear about who you are because it’s who you were meant to be. Not who you have to be to manage in your current situation. You don’t have to counter-act, but rather create the environment that you need in your family, within your home.
Develop a relationship with your children that soars regardless of what your former spouse does. They have free choice and will develop relationships unique to each of you. Let go of any desire to alter their current set of circumstances. We are all creators of our reality, even kids. As parents, we can only set a good example.
Those who deal with adversity at a young age often grow into thoughtful, deep ponderers who take the time to know themselves and craft a life that supports their goals. They are independent, have a strong sense of right and wrong, and are far more in touch with their emotions than those who have the road paved daily. In short, they can deal and view life as one massive opportunity.
This may be simplifying it, but I feel it’s much easier to forget about him, her, and anything they do with the children. Consider that the children want to see two distinct ways of living life. You focus on showing them yours, without doing it as motivation to “show him!”, but just live authentically. No hidden agenda. Live beautifully, teach them to make their own magic. I suppose simplifying ‘it’ may be the secret.
Please, kittens, weigh in. How can we as parents make the experience of divorce for a children one of opportunity?
Again, thank you, N. I’m grateful you are here. We’ll figure this out together.