Separation/Divorce Agreement — Part 1

After all the schisms, projectile crockery, navel gazing eventually you have to come to a contractual agreement.  You have to break-up the partnership and put it all down on paper. You think you sign your life away to a mortgage?  T’aint nothing compared to a divorce agreement.  Image

In our contemporary world there is little that is considered real except what is measured.  And the metrics of divorce are money and – if there are kids involved – time.  Roles that may have taken years to evolve and, left to themselves, would naturally adapt to changing circumstances must now be set contractually until adulthood with the time/money parameters set to check action against commitment.

Just the act of setting the parameters is more than a bit ridiculous… but I’ll talk about that in another piece as this is already way too long. —

Typically one party is always the provider.  The other party is the supported.  Or should be supported…. again I’ll deal with that one later.

Hold it…. What about co-parenting?  The even split of parenting responsibilities between each parent?

Having two homes equally suitable for raising children is by definition an exercise in redundancy.  If there’s only one kid, it isn’t nearly as an expensive bit of redundancy but as soon as you have two or more kids and different genders then the cost and commitments escalate much more than simple doubling.

I’m in Canada but I’m pretty sure the same can be said for US, Australia, the UK and many other countries, but the system overall has been shaped as a way to guard against men being bastards.   Co-parenting is a mitigation that has been tacked on our inherently adversarial system.

Guys who leave and don’t want to pay child support — that’s what shapes the standards, the rules and the means of enforcement.  Trying to work anything else in this adversarial set up and you’re bashing square pegs into round holes and the parties to the divorce are the pegs.  Granted the peg is made of flesh and bone.  So with enough bashing you can get the couple in there – but be prepared for a lot of bits get to get painfully shaved off in the process.

So no matter how co-operative things are, in terms of a contract, things still have to be stated in the time, money context. 

In trying to make parenting fit to those crude parameters – how much damage is meted to the parties involved and how much of the genuine parenting is lost?

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Pavlov’s Dog Rips Freud A New One or On Unruly Digestion and That Thang

Pavlov

Pavlov (Photo credit: sclopit)

If there has been one great comfort in the trials of the past year, it’s confirming the fallacy that lies at the heart of classic psychology.

Needless to say, I have neither the resources nor the professional wherewithal to carry out research, and my mind is almost entirely uncluttered by professional or academic acumen in the field of psychology.

But I won’t let that hinder me from making broad generalizations.

Who needs sample sizes?  I’ve got the platonic ideal of the psych subject (at least from my admittedly subjective perspective) — moi!

So classic Freudian psychology — all bunk!  I declare that Jung, Adler and everyone else in chp., 1-3 of your psych 101 textbook can be sent down the chute.  Why?  Because at the heart of their treatises…

… okay I digress temporarily to all who may now accuse me of ill-informed reductionism. (those not bothered can skip this bit and go to the next paragraph).  Bluster armoured ignorance is the very meat of contemporary discourse.   There are far more life effecting systems subject to its cloggery, then psychoanalysis. eg, the governance of our land — Rush Limbaugh anyone? —  or the adjudication of our collective or individual creative output — would someone please “like” my blog or are you too busy taking a look at the highest starred of the top 5 box office grossers — or the education of our children — iPads Revolutionize Education.  So I will attempt to reductio ad absurdum with the best…

…lies the premise that by knowing rationally the reasons for one’s emotional reactions, one can then mitigate if not change them altogether.   So, understanding the irrational, can set the irrational right.

Hogwash!

I present myself as primary research subject (and the only one I’ll ever need).

In my house (still sounds weird saying that, but you know, getting over that too) when the Leaver is at close quarters, I get the tingle.

You know, down there.

That thang that should not be named.  Because it feels more than a little gross now.  And that is not out of mere frustration and lack of sexual or intimate outlet in my life.  I actually do have that covered but I won’t get into the details here.

But in equal measures to the primordial arousal my digestive processes, get, overturned and undisciplined.

These are primary reactions.  They occur right when we are in the same space and it is regardless of how peaceable or aggressive our current interactions are.

Look it, the two should cancel each other out for one.  And I can understand, analyze and even discuss the causes to death and it still doesn’t go away.

And I don’t think “lust” or “anxiety” are relevant to this discussion.  It’s not like that.  I don’t have the emotional reactions I have the physical reactions.  We’re talking not just Pavlov’s dog, we’re talking the kennel.  Stimuli disassociated from any thought.One_of_Pavlov's_dogs

What quashes these reactions is spending the time with the Leaver.  After about 15-30 minutes of communication these things pass (well with the digestive issues they tend to take longer before as mechanisms have been set in motion and things must… well…. pass). All the issues, attitudes and myriad detractions from any intimacy come to the fore.  It doesn’t take a lot of time to confirm or remind why we broke up.  But time spent together or apart do not in of themselves mitigate or cure the physical reactions.  What does mitigate that is simply time and number of times.  Like any learning of a new skill or function — repeat activity, then rest time to recuperate and incorporate.  But it has to be relevant activity that has some value — there’s no point in straining yourself for little reward.

Illustrative Story — The Perfect Question

My niece was having her child baptized and the little party afterwards was to be at my house.  The Leaver asked me — bless her — the perfect question.  “Would you prefer I wasn’t there?”

Not “Can I come to the party?” or “Your sister invited me, is it okay with you that I come?”

Both perfectly valid and considerate questions. But nuanced.  Well rationally, morally, of course it’s okay if you’re there.  And I wouldn’t forbid you to not be there and be some sort of ogre.  But she didn’t ask those questions that have multi-dimensional answers.  She tossed me an easy one.

I have been accused in the past of on occasions like this of setting aside my own wants and needs suggesting either a tendency towards passive aggressiveness or sheer obtuseness. Not, however, on this occasion.

“Yes.  I would definitely prefer you weren’t there!”  I said with cheerful enthusiasm.  Of course I’ll have a much better time without you around.  Indeed, how could she doubt the answer, only whether or not I’d say it.

My sister, when I recounted this story, was surprised and taken aback at my bluntness. “You shouldn’t be so mean. I understand but…”

Ah but you don’t.

And I don’t.

Because it has nothing to do with understanding, it’s all about that pioneering Russian behaviourist and his pack of canine research colleagues.

And because the Leaver wasn’t there, I was not distracted by my bowels or “that thang” and any other possibilities across the spectra of raw physical reactions.  “When’s the rain going to stop?” and “did that overweight young lady from the father’s side of the family get what I meant when I erroneously enquired ‘is that your first?'” were the only internal  struggles to be dealt with by me that evening.  And I had a great time.

I don’t have to rationalize everything and I can come to terms with my instinctual reactions.  Even if it makes sense on a rational level, doesn’t mean I have to make it work.

Do I have to get used to her coming to parties at my home?  I have to get used to saying “my home,” but parties at my home to which she will be invited will occur rarely if ever.

Some things rooted deep in the core of the primordial instincts will take time to be mitigated.  And dealing with the situation repeatedly will help to get there, just like in any sort of rehabilitation process.

But to anyone out there looking for advice, don’t try to be an emotional daredevil.  Some things you never need to do in ordinary circumstances and it is okay to capitulate and just not bother to even try.

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Viv Eliot on the “Browbeaten Wife”

From the recently published The Letters of T S Eliot, Volume 3: 1926-1927
By Valerie Eliot & John Haffenden (Faber & Faber)

Vivien Eliot wrote to her brother-in-law Henry after recently separating from TS Eliot:

I just want to point out to you that of all the ‘rôles’ a woman enjoys and delights in, that of the browbeaten wife is the most delicious. Every woman hankers for it and thrives on it. There is no length to which an egoist will not go to enforce on her husband the reaction of a bully.

 

 

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We (Wii?) Made It

Barry Manilow references aside, and all my screaming spider senses that say don’t pat yourself on the back, don’t say anything, you’ll jinx it (hopefully cancelled out by by me saying to the kids as they marched off to their last day of school “try not to get expelled!”), I think we made it.

The we being me and the kids and the “it” being getting through the school year.  Lunches, cleaning, homework, after-school arrangements, piano lessons, field-trips, permission slips, sick days, doctor’s appointments, getting them to bed and getting them up in the morning etc. etc.  People keep telling me the first year will be the hardest year and the first year, the school year, the only year (as opposed to calendar, fiscal, liturgical) that really counts… is done.  And really…. it wasn’t that bad. At least the parenting part.

fanfaronade

From the Project Twins brilliant images of obscure words.

I got the report cards back and the kids’ marks are up over last year considerably and same or better from the beginning of the year.

How important is that measure?  Probably not very.  Certainly if their marks and everything else had gone South I’d immediately dismiss it — “ah, it’s not that important.” But whether the marks ultimately have meaning or not, the fact that they’re good is the best possible outcome I could have hoped for.

That has been a consistent default barometer of circumstance for me this year.  I don’t have omniscient perspective so one has no idea what the ultimate significance of anything is in life’s grand scheme.  So I just try to size an outcome measure against what I’d reasonably could have expected that outcome to be;  I hoped for an improvement in their marks and a sign that my daughter particularly wanted her marks to be good and that’s how things turned out.

Socks and Other Plagues

“Made it” usually means getting through some trial and getting out the other end.  But in our case, the relevant meaning is the literal one. We did make something – a new life together with its new routines, habits, expectations, rules, conventions,and all the rest.  It is ours alone – mine and my two children – and for my 8-year-old son, particularly, I doubt he will remember much of his life when his mother made that world.

The house got me down every once in a while, when the crap would pile up or the bathroom looked gross or no one could find a clean pair of damn socks.  (what is it with me and socks…).  But the bad days were not ever as bad as I dreaded they might be, and they happened with much less frequency then I thought they would, better than I reasonably expected on the outset. The tasks of necessity were described to me by the Leaver as soul-destroying, Sisyphean drudgery.  I cannot speak to her spiritual integrity, but mine has taken far more damage from attacks of more animate and decidedly human origins.

We made it, and what we made is completely passable home life.

Yes I know, in many ways, big hairy deal.  It’s not like we did it on a desert island.  There are no soldiers looting my village.  There is no locust plague or wildfires.  My company is not going bankrupt… well, actually, come to think of it, it was but we got through that one too.

Nonetheless my challenges are hardly memoir-of-the-week stuff.  It is trivial and a little grim and very mundane and banal.  But it’s the adversity I know and have to deal with and this is where we’re at — pretty much the best result we could have hope for under the circumstances.

Collective, Personal and Possessive Pronouns

However, the most provocative part of “we made it” is the personal pronoun and who isn’t collected into it.

We are the three who went for an ice cream to celebrate the report cards.  That is the we that takes precedent.  And no matter what changes may come in our circumstances, that will never alter.  We all went into this a year ago with egalitarian goals.  But the kids very quickly attached primacy in almost all things to the grouping that had the primary care giver.  One of the surprises for me in this year is to learn that the “we” doesn’t seem to shift.   The we was supposed to shift depending on which parent the kids were with.  But it didn’t turn out that way.

There was a home where children felt secure, where things were done, work was completed, life was lived.  And within the mundanity of the lunches, the getting up, the going to bed and the chores achievements were made and bonds were reinforced.

With the Leaver, despite all her efforts otherwise, she could not quarantine her struggles with self-definition in her new context (as she’s communicated to me many, many  times.)  She did as much as she could and unfortunately, that fell far short of where she wanted to be and what she thought was necessary and reasonable expectations.

Those struggles, at the very least meant the children were almost perpetually reminded of her lack of confidence, lack of certainty and her resulting constant distraction.  Children at this age are especially sensitive to these things.  With that foundation of security they then feel free to explore and discover rather than hunker down and do the bare minimum.  The truth of the matter is that with their mum, they had few experiences of significance to the world outside of the “we” with her.  The “we” of mum and the two kids after a year of struggles, has nothing tangible or consistent to show for it that they can call “our.”

Wii

It’s 8 am.  It’s a Friday. I just found myself instinctively checking the clock and calculating how much time I have to make lunches and cursing myself for waiting fifteen minutes too long to make sure the kids are awake.  But this last Friday is a PD day  — no school for the Raving Rabids Go home wii imagekids.   Now, I sigh, with relief, imagining the coffee I’m going to have on the deck in the summer sunshine, basking in the peace of a kid sleep-in.  And a millisecond after the thought, I hear the soft irregular “plop, plop…  plop plop plop” of my son’s bare feet coming down the stairs.  The primal cerebellum habit driver of Wii, overcoming the conscious wish of sleeping in.

I got the Wii at Christmas which was a bit of a big deal.  My wife and I looked down on the whole idea of kids glued to games.  But not only has it been an effective motivator for everything from getting up early to saving allowance money (for games and stuff), it’s been a great levelling catalyst for the two kids to do stuff together.  They play games together all the time, coaching, cajoling competing.  Not easy to find something that will do that for an 8 and 11 year old, brother, sister on a regular basis. A wee bit of we via the Wii

Final Fist Pump

This year will never be like any other.  I could think that it may be the hardest.  But who knows.  May be for shear circumstance overload — yes.  My daughter, a year older, will be able to take on much more responsibility next year, and I probably won’t have to worry about after school care as much.  I probably don’t have to walk them to school next year.  I hope I still can.  The mornings with them, breakfasts, and the hug and kiss on the corner – my son waiting for it, my daughter, now almost as tall as I am, cringing every time I did it, but I couldn’t help but notice recently, her pausing before the cringe, waiting for the kiss whilst cringing — this I will miss deeply.  But they grow up.  Can’t be helped.  And taxing routines are soon looked back upon wistfully as fleeting opportunities.

They might very well still learn to loathe me and resent me and later become porn star drug dealers before moving on to psycho killer occult priests poaching gorillas in the Congo (then writing a best-selling memoir of the week that blames my parenting).  But this is right now, and we cannot have hoped for better results.

Nonetheless, no lunches, no herding out the door — the relief is incredible.  Combination graduation day and New Year’s.  When I looked at the beginning of this year I was overwhelmed with decisions and planning, not to mention the emotional turmoil of being dumped.  Now, here we are and here I am and I can excuse myself the triumphalism and a bit of a fist pump.  We bloody well made it.  And the we includes me.

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Oh God, Please, Just Shut-Up: On Speech as Loaded As a Sniper’s Rifle

For me, the most dreaded phrase in the English language:

“We really need to talk.”

No, I’m sorry to say, we really need to talk less.

Almost a year after ending a marriage and I’m wondering what I will have to do to get 24 consecutive hours with no communication from the Leaver.  No text, phone messages, emails.

But isn’t keeping the lines of communication open so important when there are children?

Sure but do I have to run the lines through my living room?  Can’t I use a switch and have the barreling steam train of incessant arched observations, dissolute rhetorical questions and small-talk baits glide past my house rather than through it?

Train metaphor, lost on you?

Okay, so how about a hardcore injection drug user analogy:  I do not need to mainline the lines of communication.

Even when the Leaver has the children  for periods longer than 24 hours in succession, the phone keeps buzzing with incoming texts like a Geiger counter on a stroll on the coast of Japan.

It is not merely the regularity of communication that is getting me down, it is the topics of conversation.   Truth of the matter is, I don’t want to know.  I don’t want to know about your job, what’s going on with your best friend, why the sofa is so uncomfortable or what your views on the upcoming election are.

Particularly if you reserve the right at your discretion to once again share that you hate my guts.

Now here’s a little Sociological Thought Experiment.

If the genders were reversed — I was a the female caregiver dealing with the husband who’d left — would the steady stream of texting, chatting, calling, emailing etc. be considered abusive behaviour?  Something akin to harassment or stalking?

Loaded terms indeed.  Here’s a few more:

  • victim
  • abandon
  • abuse

In the past I’ve easily applied them to my female friends who have had their husbands/partners, leave them.

However, with the typical gender roles reversed in the case of my own breakup — the wife leaving, the husband left in the home to care for the kids — has caused invisible unspoken asterisks to append the usual sympathetic certainties.

If I had been the one who’d left I’m certain the Sisterhood — the name adopted by the women in the cadre of neighbourhood moms who have watched their/our kids grow up together while organizing birthdays and book clubs and play dates — would be dropping by unannounced with casseroles and bottles of red wine and sympathetic smiles and sarcastic remarks.  I could imagine them throwing the words around — victim, abandon, abuse.  Perhaps the consoled partner might make some protesting remarks (“he’s not that bad… but”), rebutted in turn by emphatic “Don’t defend him!”

Hell, I’ve done it.  And I’ve never been on the side of the guy who left.

Come to think my son’s Godfather recently tried to get in touch with me.  His marriage broke up about a year and a bit before mine did and I just can’t bear to talk to him.  It’s completely unreasonable, I know.  But as little as I know about the situation, I still see him as Leaver and see parallels between him and my Leaver.   Don’t want to hear his side of it. I could easily picture commiserating with his ex, though.

But living through the breakup with a reversal of the traditional gender roles,has made me reconsider all the unshakable stereotypes in those words.  It has bulked them up with layers of self-conscious — even if the instant antipathy is hard to over come.

Which also means reconsidering the easy release of righteous anger upon the Leaver.  Because it’s a woman, one instantly considers that there must have been profound reasons.  And then when you happen to know this particular Leaver as a loving, good, kind person that I know this particular Leaver to be — all the stereotypes need to be reconsidered. I remember right at the beginning — and I mean the first few days — fixating on the thought that everyone would think that I was abusive, that is why she left.  Then I realized that a mother choosing to escape abuse but leaving her children behind was unimaginable.  Therefore, no one could seriously apply abuser label on me.

But then there was the “v word” — victim.  There always has to be a victim in these things.  I don’t think it’s just paranoia to think that the Sisterhood aided and encouraged the Leaver in the application of words like — maneuverings, manipulations and strategies to me.

After getting together with the Sisterhood, the Leaver would once again take to the ramparts with renewed vigour.  Everything became a fight, a struggle, adversarial.  And when she spoke to me and what I was doing images of some Svengali puppet-master would be conjured up: the Leaver, pulled taut on invisible strings of guilt, and blame and parentalish power plays and other dark psycho arts.

As convoluted of a story-line as the above is to describe, nonetheless the  narrative arch of the manipulative puppet master does have its satisfaction.  And it’s certainly less threatening to one’s own picture of one’s family than the unthinkable.  Where the power dynamic is unclear and sympathy is tinged with a bit of embarrassment, a bit of shame, a bit of awkwardness.  That one partner might just chose to walk away — without falling in love with someone else, without a career pulling, without an abuser pushing is disconcerting to say the least.

Well, there has to be something!  It doesn’t just end.  Not when you have young kids.

Well there is the one thing. And there are also the many things, and somethings have gotten worse and not better in the ensuing months.  And yet none of those things that I won’t tell you about and no one in the sisterhood will ever know about on one day of the week, look paltry and insignificant.  And don’t explain anything at all.  Select details of our relationship  can be turned into reasons for the end of a relationship but finding rational “aha!” answers to questions of emotions makes me think of square pegs, round holes and a toddler with a wooden mallet.

And if I had left.  Or if we were discussing how some other man had left even if it was in the Tom Waitsian  mode — went out for a pack of cigarettes, and never came back — the words of accusation and certainty — victim, abandon, abuse — could only still be used in jeopardy.

Of course those are valid words and there are families who are victims —  victims of abandonment and abuse.  But the Leaving is such an incredibly difficult, painful, fracturing, terrifying thing to do.  It is such a horrible amputation or  euthanasia or murder to commit, that I realize now having lived it but outside the stereotypical gender division what mortifyingly obscure moral landmarks these easy words can be.

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I Need a Girlfriend

“Isn’t a bit early?”  my sister ventured.

“hell no.”

We were talking about dating.  But to be honest, notwithstanding what I said to my sister, dating holds little attraction for me.  I wouldn’t mind skipping all of that and getting straight to girlfriend.  But don’t hold your breath — if a whiff of desperation is supposed to be toxic to eligible woman, then I must be Bhopal.

But I could certainly use one, as much for my sister’s and all my close family and friends’ sake as for my own.

Of course,  holding hands with someone other than my children, someone to go with to that really neat play, oh and there is the sex thing — these are all good reasons for a bit of the proverbial crumpet.

Then there are those little things that never occur to you until your desperate.  “Someone at home can do this,” said the doctor cavalierly after my minor surgery on a completely inaccessible part of my back.   No actually….

That sort of intimacy with my partner-for-life had been gone for months before she moved out.  I’d say pretty much immediately after your high school sweetheart of twenty years says “I’m leaving” do requests like “can you rub some vitamin E cream on it before you put the new band-aid on” become somewhat awkward.

You find workarounds for these things (my 8-year-old son, as it turns out, rather than my icking 11-year-old daughter) and you suck it up and get used to being single.

However, I am becoming impatient over  how long it is taking for family and friends to remove my ex from the conception of me.  I’m thinking a replacement — no matter how jarring is the only way it’s finally getting them to that next step.

Hell maybe I should just walk around with a mannequin or dress up  a life-size doll — perhaps that would be sufficient to push my ex out of my picture.   Oskar Kokoschka — an Austrian expressionist painter at the turn of the century — did  a life-sized doll and used to take her to the opera.  Could be a plan:  a virtual girlfriend, surrogate crumpet, a bit of babe by proxy.  Of course, Kokoschka did it of his ex.  I bet ya if I did one of Kokoschka’s ex, Alma Mahler, that would be sure to do….  well… something.

This is why I’m so desperate as to consider an ersatz mate.

In the family unit the relationship management realm is stereotypically occupied by the female partner and it was certainly no different in my case.  My wife tended to arrange the dinner dates, who was coming to such and such occasions and designate social obligations of various descriptions.

To do this my wife often talked to another woman  — sister, mom, mother-in-law, another wife etc.   There is  a circuit of communication there that is often closed off to anyone with testicles.  Through that practical conversation much news is also shared.  Through “by the way’s….” and “didn’t you know…” and “of course, I’ll have to work around….”  Men tend to uncharitably refer to this as “gossip.” But apart from it being the reason why long distance phone plans are always a good idea in a marriage, it is essential to the function of the extended web of relationships that are family and friends.

Now I have to do it and am slowly getting used to the idea of making sure I’ve got a whole swath of time liberated before I make what I thought, in my male mind, should be a 2 minute phone call to arrange dinner.  Often enough these “quick calls” turn into an hour of contextualizing, catching up and gossip.

But there is also an “ex” as well.  No one in my family hates or wants to shut her out.  Which is fine.  And a part from some very particularly protective friends (and she has the equivalent on her side too, of course) most would be totally okay with interacting with her socially.

I’m okay if she’s part of the communication loop with my family or our friends.  She doesn’t stop being family just  because we broke up.  She’s the mother of my kids — she’ll always be family.  You know that old canard that you can’t pick family?  Well when the deal is sealed with offspring that extends to marriages, too.  Until you try to unbind,  you just don’t realize to what extent children are  “the ties that bind” and how far those binds extend.

But I don’t want to be the junction that connects my ex to that web of relationships.   It’s not like the family and friends are trying to get us back together or there’s some sort of grand denial or anything that complicated.  Just the habits associated with that history are very hard to break.

So I get asked about her coming to some dinner, or event, or about her job and life etc. etc. My wife asks me about them and their relationships and silly nitpicky stuff to do with who’s bringing which dish to whatever church function.  And then I get chastised that someone misunderstood something and why didn’t I make it more clear to whoever that whatever was supposed to actually be wherever at whenever and not thereafter as it actually did occur.

Here’s a thought.

Talk to each other.

On my side, everyone still expects me to know what my ex-wife is still doing.  I’ve said it repeatedly,  “I don’t know.  I don’t want to know.  You want to know?  Pick up the phone and talk to her yourself.”  They just don’t get it.

On the other hand my ex-wife gets annoyed when I tell her my family or some friend is “fine” and don’t want to get into a long involved conversation about them.  Sometimes it feels like its my family and wife who did the breaking up with each other and I’m supposed to be the intermediary to keep everything polite and cordial.

The only thing I can think of that will finally break everybody out of this is if another person materializes to fill that particular void —  new girlfriend.

So I’m considering signing-up the kids to a circus camp in the neighbourhood.  It’s not exactly anything they’re interested in.  Frankly they’d be terrified.  And there is the whole question of affordability, the answer to which is a firm and resonant “no! are you insane?!”

But that is balanced by the director — my meeting with whom was admittedly brief — an aerealist, with raven black hair and a bearing balancing ferocious strength, with Hellenic grace like she could have  stepped out of Minoan bull ring.   …And speaking of rings,  I couldn’t help but noticing you’re not wearing one… on your hand, I mean….

…eyes watering?  …gagging?  …skin crawling? 

Oh no, dense toxic clouds of desperation!

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More Advice to Leaver

Continuing the previous posts here are some humble suggestions for any Leaver and I emphasize any.  Many of these the Leaver in my particular case has followed, others she hasn’t and others, she has adopted with time.  On the whole I can imagine our whole process being much more damaging than it has been — so I am grateful.

Make a Home for Your Kids.

IPicture of escalator to ceilingnitially, in all likelihood, a Leaver is going to have crappier living circumstances.  Usually there will be that first bachelor(ette) pad while you’re sorting things out.

Kid – it – out.

Look at it honestly and do the best you can to make it comfortable for them.

This will take creativity and doesn’t necessarily mean a whole lot of money, but it takes consideration. They want to be with you. It doesn’t take much for kids to be happy.

Think about when you travel with kids or even the relief you probably felt in shedding yourself of all the detritus you had accumulated for years in the process of becoming the Leaver — it doesn’t mean spending a lot of money on stuff.   It’s why we love our cottages/boats/trailer/camping/empty hotel room.  Don’t think you have to make a replica of their other bedrooms, with all the same comforts.  Kids have no problem sleeping on the floor when it’s a sleepover.  But you do want to give them space to be kids, to be comfortable.  A space that is their own.

Take games with you from the other home.  Take art supplies or Lego or model stuff — anything they used to use. Dedicate a wall for their pictures or things they do with you or pictures of your outings together. Put up photographs.  Make sure they have a drawer with their basics at your place — underwear, socks shirt etc so that you don’t have to disrupt everything if someone forgot pyjamas.  Leave some of their stuffed animals there.

If you have the wherewithal, dramatic bribery ain’t such a bad thing.  You and your spouse screwed them over after all, make it up to them a bit.  Buy a gaming system.  Maybe you don’t care about watching TV but have one there anyway, or some super amazing books etc.

You don’t have to bribe them every time you seem them with stuff.  But one or two grand things that makes them thing “Mom/Dad’s new place maybe it’s small but they’ve got….” will help you out.

Routines

You know this.  You’ve been a parent for years.  Kids (and really adults and that means you, too, in these new circumstances), need routines and structures.    Stick to a bed time for the visits, a get up time, an outing a whatever.  Stick to it or the kids will, see your weakness, fill the power vacuum and just try to get what they want.

Just be With Them

It doesn’t have to be vacation and outing every weekend.  Try to make it normal.  If that means doing some errands or them just sitting and doing nothing — watching TV, drawing, reading, — that’s okay.  But that means you have to stock your new home, so that you’re not scrambling for materials, books etc when you want to stay home.  Again that doesn’t necessarily cost any money — take the good stuff from their home.  The Leavee may protest, but this is accepted best practice in this situation.  They are with you a good chunk of the week, doesn’t the Leavee want them to be happy for that time?

Don’t Leave

I suppose that seems like pointless advice and I’ve offered it before, but I’ll say it again — reconsider the whole leaving part.  Make sure it’s absolutely the thing you have to do.

But if you have to Leave — make a plan first.  Of course I’m not talking about folks who are in an abusive relationship and the such, but if that were the case, you’d leave with the kids.  If you know you’re leaving, set aside arguing about whose fault it is — it doesn’t matter, it’s a done deal after all — and plan out carefully.

  • Where you are moving to — have you found the best circumstances.  Get lots of advice, research a lot.
  • How you will divide assets over what period of time.
  • Time allotment and commitment to the children before you physically leave the house.

There are only two ways to end a marriage — divorce and death.  Both are, by definition, traumatic.  But you have a lot more control over the former circumstances compared to the latter.  Take advantage of that fact.  But realize that because you are in a traumatic experience you are being buffeted by a maelstrom of emotions and instincts.  Do anything it takes to get control over the biggest project of your life that you are facing alone.  Make lists, a budget, read books, seek advice.  If you tend to deal with just the emotional stuff, set aside a specific time each week to plan and deal with the practical stuff.  Consider doing it in a specific place — coffee shop, desk, at work when everyone’s gone, or first thing in the morning. As much as you don’t want to think about it, that is the physical manifestation of all that is happening — deal with it.

You have to do all this because as soon as you depart the house the Leavee, will be left in a much better position than you.  I can’t speak to any other jurisdiction, but in Canada there is definitely a legal preference to keeping the status quo.  i.e. if you move out and the kids are doing well with the Leavee parent having primary custody it is very, very, difficult to get that situation reversed.  Sometimes people have a trial separation and are able to get back together — but you better frame it that way right from the get go with your partner and make sure they’re on board with that definition.

If not, if it looks like you’re ending a marriage, assume that the circumstances the day after your departure are in fact the way they are going to stay.  Don’t assume they are in flux until you adapt and sort your life out and then revisit.  If the Leavee is in the house, they will try to keep the house, if they are the primary care giver that is the way it will probably remain etc. etc.

But more importantly it is harder to change back to a different way emotionally.  A big wrenching change was imposed on the whole family.  Once everyone adapts to that, it is difficult to contemplate shifting to something else.  You will find you have defined yourself in a specific way, the kids adapt to you being out of the house.  They will miss you, absolutely, they will probably want things to go back the way they were (especially if they are young, they will forget the fighting, they’ll just know you’re not there), but they will adapt and function.

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