My mother is mentally ill, add to that the years I spent married to someone with adult onset bipolar disorder, and well, I knew how to bite my tongue. I was good at avoiding conflict. I thought (mistakenly) keeping the peace was more important than proving my point so I would either keep my mouth shut or I would quietly voice my opinion and then back down.
In the events that led up to my divorce I learned my silence had been extremely detrimental to my family so I started speaking up. Voicing my opinion, making waves, whatever you want to call it. I refused to be a doormat any longer; this of course threw my ex into hysteria. We had 16 years together, 16 years of him walking all over me because I allowed it; 16 years of his mother controlling him and our home. I can’t imagine how he felt when I started standing up to him.
Of course, once I found a little bit of backbone I thought I needed to stand my ground on every single issue. I didn’t win the arguments but I certainly didn’t back down. I needed to find balance for my safety, for the health and safety of our children. He was used to running everything, when I drew my line in the concrete and told him DON’T you dare cross this line – what do you think he did?
He ran, jumped, crashed his truck over my line. This made me even more irate, so I drew another line and yelled and screamed and lost control. It was pathetic. As time went on (we had a long long divorce process) I realized some things are worth the battle and some things just aren’t.
Discerning the difference was going to be vital in the relationship with my ex. It was a learning curve but I finally found what works for me.
How do you know when to stand your ground and when to let things go? It is really a pretty simple formula. I made a list of non-negotiable things that were worth the emotional drama, if something doesn’t fall into one of these categories then I let him have his way. It is better to bite my tongue, set a mature and loving example for our children than it is to prove I am right. I am the sole custodial parent, I could force him to follow my rules all the time. But that wouldn’t be beneficial to our kids. They need to see at least one parent trying to cooperate with the other.
Here is my list of questions I go through before speaking up:
- Does this affect the safety and well-being of our children? I don’t mean do the kids need a home cooked meal instead of McDonalds every day. I’m talking real life safety and well-being. As long as he follows physicians orders about our kids medication and keeps them in relatively safe environments/situations, then I bite my tongue. He makes choices that I think are unsafe; however he is fully aware that I wouldn’t make the same choice. Unless it is something the court says is life-threatening, I leave it alone. I choose to ignore and pray for their safety. I teach my children to make safe choices no matter what adult they are with, that way it reduces my worry.
- Does it matter in the long run? Will it matter next week or the month after that? Seriously, will your children’s lives be permanently affected because he lets them wear clothes more than once? Because he makes them go to a church that teaches nothing but B.S.? What about meeting girlfriend after girlfriend after married girlfriend? What about when he runs his mouth about me in front of or directly to our children? I used to speak up in all of the above mentioned situations, however a little time and wisdom helped me realize I can be a better mother if I don’t start anything with him over these situations. He is going to do what he wants to do, especially if he knows it upsets me. A better way to handle these situations is to talk them over with our children, teach them to think for themselves. Give your children credit, they are much smarter than you think. If you teach them how to question things, how to think things through they will come to you when they have a question. They will know when things are right. Even my 7 year old has figured out daddy’s church is weird and his girlfriend has a husband. I didn’t say anything and I don’t. I tell him he needs to ask his dad about the GF situation and I walk him through the strange things his dad’s church teaches. If I were to force my opinions and beliefs on my children I would be no better than their dad. Teach your children to think and bite your tongue.
- Why do I feel the need to say something? Is it so important to win an argument? Will winning change anything?
- Will speaking up benefit our children? Will it win the war? Forget the battle, this is about the war.
- Silence is golden, I can let my dissent be known even in silence. My silence used to mean you were going to get things your way. Now my silence means you need to watch out because I am outsmarting you. No dirty looks, no immature behavior. I figured out that keeping me upset empowered him. If I was upset I wasn’t thinking as rationally as I needed to. When I stay calm and silent I can think things through completely. Trust me – this is a priceless.
Take some time, make your list and then the next time you are tempted to wage a battle instead of winning the war, is this a time to bite your tongue? Silence is golden after all.