Friday, December 29, 2017

Children of Divorce

Hayley came home the other day and was jealous because a friend of hers had gotten special attention from their teacher.

I'd like to say that 9 is the "age of jealousy" but Hayley has struggled with this her whole life.

Jealousy is such a hard feeling.

I remember being a kid and celebrating my older sister's birthday one year. She was unwrapping presents and opened something that I had been asking for.

So of course, I lost my ever-loving mind! Right there in the middle of her party. I made a huge scene and I'm pretty sure I spent the rest of the party in my room.

And two months later, when my birthday came around, I unwrapped the same gift and sheepishly thanked my parents.

Because what I hadn't known two months prior was that they had bought us both that present but planned to give it to us on our respective birthdays.

Quite honestly, I'm surprised they still chose to give it to me after that episode...

Anyway, as I was listening to Hayley complain and feel hurt that she hadn't gotten any special attention, she gave me the name of the other child and I immediately knew why this girl had gotten that special attention.

And then Hayley yelled, "And it was all because her parents are getting divorced! MY parents are divorced too!!!"


And so I sat down with my sweet and sour little girl and we had a conversation about how divorce affects children, especially in those painful beginning stages.

I explained that four years ago when her dad and I were getting divorced, she got to move her desk to be right next to her Kindergarten teacher. Also during this time, I took her on numerous extra special date nights. And my parents and siblings and friends poured extra time into my children's lives.
And although those things were the most important, my kids were also showered with extra gifts during this time to help them feel loved and remembered.

And then she turned the conversation more personal and asked me why we got divorced---a question I have answered for her many times but that does not make sense to her still.

I think that's why she keeps asking even though she gets some kind of answer every time. 
I have never shied away from this question but I also only answer what is appropriate for her age and understanding.

So we went over it again. How people have their agency and we cannot force them to stay. How sometimes people make decisions that hurt others even when they don't mean to. How these same people can be good, loving people.

I explained that hurt people hurt people. 

And her response to this was, "Well I never hurt anyone when you guys were getting divorced." 

Which wasn't true. 

Because sometimes when you are the safe person, you are the person who takes the brunt of a child's confusing anger and instability.

And I was that person for my kids. 

The instability that Hayley was feeling when she was 5 was very real and scary for her and she would often lose her temper and tell me she hated me and kick me and smack me. And usually, these tantrums would end with us both laying in her bed and me promising that I'd always be there for her.

Of course, as I told her this, she began apologizing for her 5-year-old behavior. And then she asked me why I didn't get angry and hurt her back.

And so I explained that when you love someone as much as I love her, often times you can see beneath their reactions. So when she would kick me, I knew she was reacting to her scared feelings. And I knew what she needed was a mom who would prove to her that I wasn't going anywhere, no matter how many times she screamed.

Sometimes I felt like Hayley was testing me during this time, like she was testing to see what the boundary was where my love for her stopped.

And I'd like to think that I proved myself throughout that first year. I hope I proved to her that nothing can change how much I love her.

This conversation ended like most of them do---I laid next to her in her bed and promised her that I would always be there for her.

But as I sat on her bed and watched her fall asleep, I kept replaying all of the ways that divorce has affected my children.

---Anxiety. The confusion of waking up one day and one parent just being gone. I can't even imagine being 5 and having this happen and trying to make sense of it. Because before August 24th, 2013, I don't believe my children had ever considered their parents NOT living in the same home.
This confusion created anger and sadness and instability. It created attachment anxiety and my kids needing constant affirmation that I wasn't going anywhere. Andersen started to have pretty bad anxiety during our divorce and reverted back to a lot of 'baby behaviors'. He still can be pretty clingy at times and we often lay his schedule out ahead of time so he knows where he is going and what he is doing.

---The negative impacts on extracurricular activities. Scheduling Hayley's dance stuff can be really stressful for me and in turn, she gets stressed out sometimes. There are times she accidentally leaves a dance outfit or dance shoes at her dad's house and we can't go get it before it is needed. Andersen also goes through this when his soccer games are every weekend and he switches houses every weekend so we have to make sure everything is ready to go days ahead of time so he is packed and won't be missing anything.

---Heartache when interacting with children of NON-divorced parents. Sometimes my kids come home from a friends house or from church and they seem to have this reoccurring realization that most families aren't like ours. Most families have a mom and a dad who live at home and go to church together with their children and attend activities together. And every once in a while, my kids will get sad about this realization and will experience a range of emotions that are hard to feel.

---The worry that they are going to lose more family members. This rides alongside the attachment anxiety. My kids used to ask me questions like, "Is grandma going to leave the family?" "Will my cousins always be my cousins?" "When you get remarried, do we still get to see our dad?", etc. because to them, these are valid concerns. If one person can just move out of the house they've always shared, what stops other people from leaving?

---Guilt. My kids have struggled with feeling guilty. This one especially affects Hayley. She is always concerned about her dad's and my feelings. She will retract a sentence if she thinks I'll interpret it as her loving her dad more than me or vice versa. We work on this a lot because I want her to know she can love us both and that saying something good about one of us does not negate her love for the other person.

For me, the hardest part of divorce has been not being able to take away the pain my kids feel. It is so hard to watch your children experience really difficult emotions and not be able to take that from them.

But the good news is that they can still live amazing lives. We can support them and listen to them and show up when they need us.

I don't quite understand what my children have gone through because I did not grow up in the same environment they are but I believe that if I continue to be there and love them and give them as much stability as I'm able to, they will be ok.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Me Too

You can tell her eyes are blue, even in a black and white picture.

But can you see her kindness? Her intelligence? Her compassion for others?

No. Because those are not things you can tell just by staring at her face. Those are things that come from within her soul.

She is my world and I plan on teaching her all of the beauty and heartache she may experience, being born a female in this world.

I worry about her because she will not grow up in the same world I did.

She will grow up in a world more perverted with sex and pornography being normalized.

And so I will start younger than my mother had to with me. I will make sure she knows that her worth is not based upon a number on a scale or a bra size or the shape of her face or the color of her eyes.

Because what I want more than anything is for her experiences to be different than mine, better than mine. I want her to have the self-esteem to say no and the knowledge to keep herself safe.

But it's sad that I even have to teach her these things. It's sad that we have to worry about safety and that we have to teach self-worth over and over again and hope it sticks.

Me too.

These are words you've most likely seen.

They've been on your Facebook news feed or you've seen them in articles recently.

After reading why my friends were posting this as their status, I knew I needed to join their voices.

I posted the status that I did for so many reasons. 

In high school, I had pretty low self-esteem. Attention from boys was my number one concern. And because of this, for the first three years of high school, I didn't say no when I felt uncomfortable. Luckily for me, the situations this placed me in were not as bad as they could've been but that doesn't mean they were non-existent.

And as a senior in high school, as my self-esteem started to rise a little, I said no for the first time that I can distinctly remember.  

I was sitting alone in a basement with a guy who I thought was my close friend. After a few minutes of talking, he leaned in and tried to kiss me but I pulled away and laughed a little. And then he tried it again {because that's apparently normal?!} and I verbally said, "No." but in a really kind voice. AND WHEN HE TRIED A THIRD TIME, I got pretty angry and fiery and I shoved him away and yelled, "No!" in his face, before running upstairs to be with the rest of our friends.

This rocked me for a while because I didn't understand why my polite "no" had been ignored. I didn't understand why it took me yelling at him and physically moving him for him to stop trying.

He was my friend. And I had trusted him before that moment.

And he betrayed that trust.

As an adult, I am so proud of 18-year-old Suzanne for shoving him away. I hope he learned as much from that experience as I did.

Sadly, what I learned is that I'm not always heard. I learned that sometimes the giggly "no" registers to the other person as "Not unless you work a little harder for it".

I didn't want him to work harder. I wanted him to stop. And he misread that---except it shouldn't have been misread. 

Because I used the word NO.

This was not the first time and it wouldn't be the last. But it was the most significant one in my memory.

Aside from this experience, I can remember a time in my life when I used to walk the 2-3 miles it took to get to work because I wanted to save money and get some exercise for my upcoming wedding. I remember how often a car would drive by and men would whistle in my direction or try to talk to me and I would ignore them.

I stopped walking because of how uncomfortable it made me.

They were never men my age. Always, always older. And I hated it so much that older men would find that appropriate or funny.

Because it wasn't.

So the "me too" campaign is personal. And I think it's something the majority of us can relate to.

We all want to be seen for more than what is on the outside.

I guess my hope is that we change.
My hope is that we continue to take a stand and say, "That's not right!" when we are put in positions that are uncomfortable and inappropriate.

Because I want better for the world my children are growing up in.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Christmas After Divorce

Christmas has always been my very favorite holiday---second only to my own birthday and my children's birthdays.

I love giving gifts.
I love how the world just seems brighter in December.
I love how religion gets simpler and the majority of religions focus on the same thing---the birth of our Savior.

It's a beautiful time of year.

But then you throw divorce into the equation and some of the Christmastime beauty is tarnished.

It just is.

Because after divorce, you have to give up part of your holiday time with your own children.

And that is the worst feeling.

I used to have this irrational picture in my head of us still spending Christmases together to give ourselves and our kids a sense of normalcy. But that wasn't well received and then I felt crazy for even bringing it up.

And it doesn't matter how many Christmases pass---I don't think I'll ever get used to it.
Maybe it'll be easier if I ever remarry and am not completely alone.
Or maybe when my kids get older, it'll be easier.

But because I have two littles who still believe in Santa and the magic of Christmas, it's hard to give them up.

A few days ago, I found out I won't get to see my kids on Christmas. And I found out there was nothing I could do about that decision.

And I'm a little angry but mostly heartbroken because I didn't have time to prepare myself for that. Three weeks isn't long enough---I swear, it isn't---to let it sink in that I won't be with the babies on December 25th, 2017.

And really, that just comes as one last punch in the stomach for a year that I have found to be incredibly difficult.

I'm trying to let it go. 

I'm trying to remember that the 25th of December is just a day and that we can make any other day of the year as magical as that day.

I'm trying not to be bitter. About divorce. About the events of this year regarding divorce.

But that is proving to be extremely difficult. 

Divorce {with kids} is truly the worst. It bleeds into everything. It makes easy decisions harder. And it makes harder decisions nearly impossible.

But I've made it through four years of harder Christmases and I don't plan on giving up now.