Lessons I Have Learned as a Step-Parent #5 – Putting Others Needs Before Your Own

I thought I knew what it meant to put someone else’s needs before my own. I really did. I mean, I live with 3 kids and a man with a difficult ex-wife. I have broad shoulders and I take on things I shouldn’t have to in order to make their lives easier. I put all of my time and money and effort into making our family strong and I pulled back on my hobbies because the kids are in sports. I’m putting them first every day, right?

Well… not exactly. Sure, every day I make choices that are in the best interests of my family and to find that life balance that needs to exist. I make choices that make things easier on us all. I’m not knocking my own commitment to my family, but what need of my own have I really put aside, except maybe the need for sleep and the occasional missed social event? I make choices in conjunction with my own needs and with what I can handle.

This week I had to make a choice, for the first time, that I hate with every fibre of my being but I had to make for my family – one of the kids is allergic to my cats. And their HCBM is loving that I have to make that choice, which makes me resent it even more, but it doesn’t change the fact that his doctor sent us a note saying that removing the cats is the best course of action. So I had a choice to make.

Curtis doesn’t understand it, but I love those cats almost as much as I love those kids (let’s face it, some days I certainly LIKE them more than those kids). Those cats are my family. I don’t have my own kids and I think of those cats as my fur children. We’ve hard to rehome pets before, and that’s been hard, but those situations were because the pets weren’t faring well in our house. Our one cat didn’t take well to moving in with 3 boys and we didn’t have enough time for the dog. Those two are in way better situations now and they are thriving in ways they never would have had with us. It feels like it was worth my own sacrifice to give them a better life… with the two we have now, they’re thriving with us. They’re healthy, happy, and loved. WE give them a good home and a good live. It may sound stupid because he’s a cat and doesn’t understand, but I promised Calvin I would never give him away and I hate breaking my promises. This is breaking my heart.

Luckily, I have amazing people in my life that will step up and give those cats great homes. They’re going to end up being just fine, better than fine. Both cats are struggling with the changes, which makes it harder, but they’re cats, I know they’ll be ok. They’re both going to be in wonderful, loving homes once they stop freaking out. It’s still hard right now. Hard to say goodbye to part of my family and stress them out when all I want is to have them there with me and snuggle the crap out of them.

I don’t think I have ever had to make a choice like this. And I would be lying if I said it didn’t make me question things. With my wedding only a few days away, I had to do some serious soul searching. The boys are my family now and this isn’t just the whim of a spiteful woman, no matter how much she is enjoying my pain. I legitimately have to put aside my own feelings for the health of one of our kids. I have learned a lot of tough life lessons since becoming a step-parent, most of which have made me a better person, but this one is definitely the toughest.

 

 

 

 

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The Real Cost of the Ex-Wife, Part 2

To follow up on my earlier post about the real (mostly emotional) cost of the ex-wife, after another tense Mother’s Day, the ex continues to dominate our lives. She has us boxed into a high-road walking corner because she is not afraid to do what it takes to get her way, and she knows we are bound by wanting to do what’s best for the kids. She knows we will always cave to spare them (and ourselves) the drama. She is a part of our life every day, we really get no breaks from her. Curtis just said last night how exhausting it is. He’s tired. On the one hand, it’s better than when she only wanted to parallel parent and wouldn’t tell him anything; on the other hand, there are times I miss the quiet moments where she was MIA and we could just focus on our lives.

As for the literal cost, well, we’re selling our house. We weighed the pros and cons and, in order to pay the ex-wife the increased support amount as a result of her mat leave (with her new husband’s baby), we have to sell our house. There are no good options, only bad outcomes.

Option A: We could take her to court and win. We could ask to pay status quo for the kids support because she doesn’t need the money. She says she puts all the money from Curtis into the kids’ college funds so it doesn’t go directly into their care. Her car, her house, her amount of disposable income is more than what we have (even with putting the support payments in the bank) so we could argue that this would actually make the quality of life more equal in both houses, which is supposed to be the point of support. And there’s a good chance we could win, given that we’re selling our house to pay for the kid she had with someone else.

The risk in that is that she would fight us and lie in court. Further to that, she already told us that she would “tell the kids the truth” about why he’s not paying her and she would stop letting them go to their sports on her time. We don’t want to put the kids in the middle and we don’t want her to control the narrative about us. We don’t say bad things about her so the only “truth” the kids would hear is what she said about us

Option B: We could take her to court and lose. The judge could side with her because that’s what the table for Ontario says we should pay for 50/50 custody for 3 kids based on their incomes.

The risk in that is we still owe her all the money, plus lawyer fees and court costs, and she still does all the things she would have done if we had won. Our lawyers says we could definitely still lose. It’s a really big risk to take and feels like our luck.\

Option C: We sell our house, pay her, and keep things on an even keel.

The risk in this is already our reality. We both have good jobs (and budget every penny) and we still can’t afford to pay her the new amount and keep things status quo for our family. So we lose our house and all that we worked so hard to build where we are. We still risk that she will take us to court in the interim, even if we promise to back pay everything she is owed. We have to hope that she’s so happy she caused us to move that she leaves it alone. We also risk that the kids hate that we’re moving and hate the new house and that drives them to their mother’s. There aren’t a lot of options in our price range so we’re going to end up leaving our beautiful new home (and our friends and the kids friends) and move into a fixer-upper. All to live in that tiny high-road walking corner that shields the kids from the drama.

There are no good options here, but the one option that lets us remove the kids from the middle of the potentially nasty fight. The proverbial lesser evil. So we move and hope for the best. We still have each other, right? Any house can be a home if we’re all there. We take the highest of all high roads and take the hit so they can have a normal life. And hope they see it one day.

And to be honest… if these kids can have a normal life, it’s a cost we will keep paying.

Lessons I have learned as a Step-Parent #4: Respecting Your Step-Kids Privacy

Privacy was something that was hard to come by in my house as a kid. My mom was always going through my stuff. I largely stopped writing because I had no privacy. I remember this one time vividly: I was looking for something that was missing from my room in my mom’s nightstand (yes, I found it there). I also found various notes and poems and other writing in that drawer. The one thing that stood out is that my mom had picked up a doodled note that said “Help me” clearly thinking that it was a cry for emotional help… it was actually that I was struggling with an algebra problem. She never asked anything about it, she just took it and assumed she knew what it meant. I know what it feels like to know you have no privacy.

I remember at my first wedding my cousin was upset that I wouldn’t let her speak – she was going to tell a story about how I would come to her house and start going through her room. I clearly didn’t understand the boundaries between what was appropriate and what wasn’t when it came to other people’s private things. I suspect I have my own mother to blame for that. She still doesn’t understand what is appropriate in that regard.

Those two incidents, especially, have really shaped my views on how to handle other people’s privacy. Almost too far the other way because, at one time, I felt guilty for checking on which girls my ex-boyfriend was having illicit chats/meetings with (note: girls, plural). I also now tend to get cagey about my own privacy, even though I have nothing to hide.

The boys’ mother has always instilled a real fear of sharing in the boys. They have said to Curtis’ mom on many occasions that they aren’t allowed to tell Dad (or me) something. They’re afraid of getting in trouble  with their mom if they tell us, for example, what trip they’re going on or that they were told not to say hi to me when they saw me at the store. If we ask them about something as simple as school, they often are uncomfortable talking about it, like they’re doing something wrong in telling us. And what kid doesn’t want to share what fun things they did on the weekend? These kids never do. We never want to put them in the middle, at times, again, probably going too far the other way. Other than asking what fun things they got to do at school that day, we don’t ask them to tell us anything. We listen if they share, but we don’t pry.

So now, the oldest (11) has a cell phone – only on wifi, but a cellphone nonetheless. The cellphone doesn’t have a password and we already know that BM looks at his ipad and his social media accounts and this phone. She’s already deleted me once from his Instagram after he, at his own request, added me. She asked Curtis if he had looked at the phone, and he said no. And I know he never will. Because that’s what she wants us to do. So, there’s the crux. Where is the line? Should he be keeping an eye on what his son is doing on this phone? It’s mostly Instragram and Sports notification from what we can tell without looking at it. Is Curtis doing it for the right reasons? How much privacy is too much for an 11-year old?

But those are parent problems and not for me to determine… For me, as a step-parent, I wanted to look. And, if I’m being honest, it was 100% not for the right reasons. I wanted to see if he was talking to his mom and saying things about our house. I actually imagined all the terrible things he could be saying about me or our house and I wanted to look. I wanted to know… But I didn’t look. I remembered how I felt as a kid and I did some real soul searching. The kids are going to say those things to their mom if they want to, there’s no value in me knowing that. All it would do is make me feel bad and affect my relationship with them. Not to mention, if he ever found out that I was looking through his phone, that would be a huge violation of his trust. I know that kind of behavior from my own mom has made me very defensive when I feel like my privacy has been violated. I don’t want to put him in that position.

It would be so easy to look. I could learn so much about my step-son by doing that, really. Good, bad, or otherwise. But I am not going to. I am going to respect his privacy because THAT I am doing for the right reasons. Because I don’t want to violate his trust. Much like I don’t need to know what terrible things his mother says about me, I also don’t need to know what he says about me. What’s important is what he says to me in the time we have together and I’m going to focus on that. When I got home last night, he greeted me cheerfully. And when you live with an angsty, attitude-filled 11-year old… that’s a pretty big win.

 

Lessons I Have Learned as a Step-Parent #2: Co-Parenting and Extra-Curricular Activities

I think that most parents want their kids to be involved in sports, or the arts, or some kind of lessons. They want their kids to find something they enjoy doing, be a part of something, make friends, learn new things, you name it. I’m sure there are dozens of studies that extoll the benefits of kids being involved in various things. This is one area where I’ve learned a lot of things about because, while there are a lot of ways to skin the proverbial co-parenting cat, there are also a lot of wrong ways to go about this.

Picking an Activity

How do you decide what your kids are going to do, particularly if there is a date or a time conflict? Do you work together and decide? Do you make decisions based on “your time” vs “their time”? Do you ask what the kids want to play? Honestly, do you try to influence what your kids “want” to play?

For us, it started out that the boys’ mother wanted nothing to do with sports. They played baseball in the summer and hockey in the winter, only on our time, she wouldn’t allow them to go on her time because that was her family time. It didn’t matter that the kids told us they wanted to play, her time was her time. And the courts agreed. Eventually, she realized that the kids wanted to play sports, so she signed them up for soccer in the summer and tried a few different things in the winter. On our time, they played our sport and on her time, they played her sport.

Then last summer, we tried to switch time. Two played “our sport”, baseball, and “her sport”, soccer, and one just played “her sport”. If all that particular kid had was one sport on a given night, that parent would take the child to “their sport”. If there was a conflict, the person whose night it was took them to “their sport”. We don’t know what was said, but their mom explained to them why Daddy couldn’t take them to soccer and why Mommy couldn’t take them to baseball. And for the most part, the kids seem ok with it and it actually worked reasonably well.

In the winter, we didn’t have a sport to trade, so I keep a spreadsheet with the times we take the kids on “her time” to hockey and it totals all of her time they boys are at hockey and we give that time back when we can. It has also worked pretty well.

This summer, we are trying to make decisions together, as two separate families, co-parenting. It’s a slow road, and really stressful, but it’s the first time they are having real conversations about what the kids want and we might even end up having a sport that is truly a “kid’s sport” and not “hers” or “ours”.

If I’m being honest, the boys’ mom is not the easiest person to deal with, so I’ll admit I find the segregation less personally stressful. It works much better for me, as the outsider. Do I think it’s what’s best for the kids? No, I don’t. And so the only thing I say to the kids is that they can play whatever they want and I will support them the best I can.

Attending an Activity

Being there is one of the best things you can do for a kid. There’s a line from the movie “Blended” that really resonated with me. Adam Sandler says, “it should be boring to your kids how reliable you are”. I think that is spot-on. The kids always look to see where we are in the stands. We sometimes only get a nod or a smile or a half-wave from those too cool to actually wave, but it means something to them that we are there. And when Nana comes… well, that’s just the best. We would be at everything if we could be.

It’s not totally true to say that the boys’ mom never came to any sports. She came to a handful of baseball games the year their dad and I started dating and both families watched the youngest play soccer because Dad was a coach. Honestly, it was a bit awkward, she stayed very close to the kids or would take the kids who weren’t playing far away from the rest of us. A few different people said it felt tense. She clearly felt it because she stopped coming or, if she did bring the kids, they weren’t allowed to talk to us, they would look away. That’s where the start of the separation began.

For us, the separation kills my fiancé, he wants nothing more than to watch the kids play soccer or basketball or whatever else they want to play. And when he can’t, it really hurts him. And when they don’t say hi… well, it cuts him really deep. And it hurts the kids. We’ve had to talk to them about not saying hi and you can tell just how in the middle it puts them and it hurts all of us. And what hurts more is they really don’t know any different… but we are trying to find a new way.

Be there, cheer loudly, be so reliable it’s boring.

Lessons Learned

So… here’s what I have learned through all of this:

  1. You MUST listen to your kids and support their decisions. As hard as it is, you can’t take it personally if they don’t choose “your activity”. My fiancé’s youngest didn’t want to play ball last year and that was ok. He wants to play ball and soccer this year, and that is also ok.
  2. Both parents should be able (and absolutely must) come to the activities and support their kids. Not only is it important for the kids to feel that love and support on the most basic of levels from both of their parents, it’s important that the kids see their parents getting along, and it’s most important that your child doesn’t feel caught in the middle. These activities are supposed to be fun and not a cause for pain or confusion.
  3. If you have multiple kids, don’t pull the kids not involved in the activity away or stop any of the kids from saying hi to the other parent/family. The kids aren’t “your kids” on “your time”. They will always have two equally important parents.
  4. Trying to balance two busy activities is hard. Don’t sign your kids up for too much to protect your own interests.
  5. The other parents WILL judge you if you only show up half the time, figuring you are half of the reason the kids don’t come, even if you are not. You are in between the rock (telling them the truth and making yourself look spiteful) and the hard place (looking like you can’t make it work for the kids). The parent who isn’t letting them come might look marginally worse, but you lose, they lose, the kids lose. The kids fall behind, don’t make those bonds, and don’t have as much fun. There is no winner in that scenario. Been there… and lost.
  6. You also look like a much better parent when you can work it out.
  7. It takes BOTH parents supporting the kids’ decisions. It really messes with a kids head when you put down the other parent or try to influence them to play “your activity”. Both parents need to be willing to work together.
  8. If you or your ex has a new partner (and it’s serious), you as a parent have to be able to accept that new presence in your kids’ lives. You are only hurting the kids to put that other person down.

I’m sure there are even more lessons we can learn and I will keep learning them as we navigate our way through this. What’s key is to make it about what the kids want and what’s best for them, and not best for you. This is not about your comfort, but theirs.

In closing, here are a few of my favourite sports pictures of the kids from this year so you can see our reasons for why we fight for them to be able to do what they want, and why will keep on fighting until we can make this what is truly best for them.

Lessons I Have Learned as a Step-Parent – #1

When I hit the one-year mark on this blog, I had a hard think about what I wanted it to be. I called it Step-Parenting 101 but I never talked about any of the lessons I learned, and I thought… that’s a great idea. I should do that! And then I promptly got writers block because… what HAVE I learned? I read other people’s blogs and they can list 10 things that all step parents must do… and I mostly agree with them, but… what have I actually LEARNED? I can regurgitate what they have said but, in my real life, I mostly just go with things and try not to screw it up too terribly. I think, for the most part, I succeed at this. We have been together for 3 years now, this month, and I have definitely grown as a step-parent.

Last year, much to my partner’s disappointment, I decided to take a step back in the parenting role. I needed there to be more of a delineation between him, as the parent, and me, as the step parent. I think that is the one thing I can say I learned so far… I have to be the one to set the boundaries as to what I am comfortable doing. For example, I am NOT comfortable picking up the kids at their mother’s. One time I did it (without incident, I think), and a couple of other times, in a dire situation, I was willing to do it (but thankfully didn’t have to), and a few other times, I have gotten someone else (i.e. Curtis) to do it because the thought of dealing with that woman has left me with anxiety so crippling that I reach for my Atavan and try my best not to cry. While things have improved between her and Curtis, she’s still nasty to me and it makes me really uncomfortable. I have to be the one to set those boundaries. No one else can decide for me what I am comfortable doing. No one else can decide when it’s time to put my big girl panties on and do what I have to do, or else when I need to take that step back for the sake of my sanity. And sometimes it still causes fights (which, btw, ALSO causes anxiety… but you win some, you lose some). At the end of the day, I am being true to what I can handle and that’s been better for my relationship with Curtis (overall) and with the boys.

I have also stepped back from being the punisher. That is in every single blog and advice column you will find out there – the parent has to be the disciplinarian. Now, that’s hard to do in reality when the kids are acting out and you’re the one in charge, but I’m trying. That’s caused some tension between me and Curtis because now I expect him to be the bad guy when he gets home, but I think he’s slowly starting to accept that it’s the right thing (I like to send him those blogs to show him I’m not totally coming out of left field), and we’re working on finding a middle ground. He doesn’t like to punish them and he’s patient and kind with them and I’m learning to accept that when I leave the discipline to him, I have to be ok with him doing it his way. Stepping back has created a new set of problems because I’ve opened up a bit of a power struggle at times because I am see as more lenient than Dad and they really try to test it. But I no longer have to worry (as much) about the phone call to Dad from Mom saying that one of the boys hates me. And I am finding some middle ground, slowly but surely, where I can keep things under control without it turning down into a mess of crying, yelling, and telling Mom about the wicked step-mom.

The other big thing I’ve learned is that all things come in time, my relationship with the kids is slowly growing – and at different speeds with each kid. They all prefer Dad (obviously), and I’ve learned to mostly be ok with that. That was a real lesson I had to learn. I will have a special place in their lives one day and we’ve (unintentionally) tried to rush that. It’s not about me, he’s their dad and I’m still a bit of a stranger. The longer we live as a family, the more special moments we have, the more things that grow, the more the kids trust me, and the more we really are a family. It takes a lot of effort and I have to do things I don’t really enjoy doing (like playing in the snow), but those things, that commitment, pays off slowly. If they ask me to do it, I usually try to do it, to build those bonds. I practice saying yes where I can. And sometimes I suck at it. Sometimes I don’t want to play mini sticks again (they’ve all realized how bad I am at it) or sometimes I don’t want to play whatever convoluted game they’ve come up with… but I try to say yes most of the time. I know that’s important time. I can see the difference in our family photos. There’s more life to them, there’s more of a relationship there. I look at them and I can see the fun, the joy in them. And sometimes I look at those pictures to remind me WHY I’m going downstairs to be pummeled at mini sticks or WHY I’m suiting up to play in the snow. That is the reward for those lessons learned.

I don’t have many answers, even for myself, but I am going to try and share some of the things I’ve learned. Share more stories showing the things I learned. So I might not have as much to say, but if I can even help one person who is struggling to figure this whole step-parent thing out as much as I am… I will feel like I’ve done something good.

So that was Lesson 1, more lessons to come. Keep fighting the good fight, peeps.

 

Bah Humbug

It’s been a year already for this blog! I can’t believe it. So much has happened in a year. Thanks to those of you who read this 🙂

I’m not a Christmas person, that’s no secret. I hate the glut of it all. I hate the fact that Christmas decorations come out as soon as Back-to-School is done and Christmas music starts November 1st. I hate the fact that I’m writing about Christmas before Halloween. Every year it’s more, more, more. And with that comes obligation and pressure to buy gifts, buy the best gifts, buy the right gift, spend enough “quality time” with people you may or may not like, do the baking, go to the concert, send cards, do a family photo, visit Santa… More. More. More. Gimme. Gimme. Gimme.

Don’t get me wrong, there are things there I enjoy doing. More so when I can do them on my own terms and not when I feel pressured to be more festive or be a better parent but, still, I am learning to get some enjoyment out of the little things. Sadly, this is a vast improvement over when I wasn’t a step-parent.

The biggest struggle I have is that a big Christmas goes against everything I believe as a parent. I don’t believe in spoiling children. I believe that they need to earn things and appreciate gifts and be grateful for what they have. In reality, the kids compare what they got at our house with what their friends got, what their mom gave them, the things they wanted and didn’t get. I know Curtis worries about coming up short and the kids choosing their mom. They literally and truly do not play with one single thing they got last year. Does that mean we failed at Christmas?

It’s no secret that my step-kids are spoiled. Their mom spoils them and buys them whatever the want – and only the best of the best. Something we could never dream of affording, and probably wouldn’t do (I hope) even if we could. Seriously, what kid needs two bikes at one house? Her mom also spoils them. And so does Curtis’ mom. And his sister. The kids basically expect a gift when family comes to visit. I try to reign it in and it’s a little better, but they are all still always ready with toys, treats, and candy. And the kids act spoiled, they have full-on temper tantrums when they don’t get what they want. They act out when they’re “bored” (i.e. they’re not allowed on their ipads). They expect to get what they want, when they want it, or we will pay the price. I’ve started taking pictures of them when they do this (which they don’t like) to show them what it looks like. It’s helped a little, I guess. It also helps me to laugh at it, instead of getting frustrated. Here are a few of my favourites.

My father-in-law passed away recently and my mother-in-law said he wanted the kids to have a big Christmas gift. So I agreed that she can buy the kids the $3,000 four-wheeler they want and say it’s from him. I thought that was reasonable, given my thoughts on spoiling kids. Then we would attempt to go back to what I tried last year – One thing they want, one thing they need, one thing they wear, one thing they read. If we all did that, they would still get 20 presents each. 20 presents each?!?!? Plus a four-wheeler. Are. You. Kidding. Me? It didn’t work last year, his sister bought about 5 presents to go into each of the 4 presents so they actually got about 40 presents each. And this was less than normal. Yikes.

This morning, my M-I-L started talking about going Christmas shopping this weekend with Curtis’ sister and all the toys the kids want. I mentioned that we wanted to stick with the 4-gift rule again (remember, 20 presents each) … and she ignored that and kept talking. When I said I guess I can’t actually enforce that, she laughed. When I got in the car to go to work, the anxiety kicked in. This is everything I hate about Christmas and everything I am against as a parent. So what do I do? I can’t be a part of that. With every fibre of my being, I can’t. Curtis and I already fight about Christmas. Our fight last year was so bad I wasn’t sure we were going to make it through the holidays… So I asked him to gently remind them about our plan for Christmas (aside from the four-wheeler) or, instead, if all of them want to have this big, unregulated Christmas, I’m can’t do it.. He’s in charge of all things Christmas – the presents, the decorating, the wrapping (but NO credit card purchases we can’t pay off right away).

Honestly, I feel bad about it – not about limiting them, I’m not sorry about that, I’m upset that I put Curtis in the middle. Unfortunately, it’s well-covered territory that his family will not listen to me. So in the middle he goes. And, being the good man he is, he chose my side. So we can try to avoid fighting through Christmas and so we can enjoy Christmas as a family.

Today I actually googled about spoiling kids at Christmas to see if I’m overreacting. To see if I should just chill out and let the gluttony being. What harm am I really doing in going along with the bacchanalia? Am I doing more harm by refusing them and will it push them towards their mother? Am I really doing them any good in being so stingy? Will they learn any lessons from this? The truth is that I don’t know. But I feel I have to try. And I also feel like the worst person ever.

So… here’s to being the Grinch and hating another Christmas. Fingers crossed it does them some good in the end.

tv-christmas-specials-grinch-heart

The Struggle Is Real

I took a day off today. I struggle with anxiety on the best days and, for the most part, I think I do pretty well. This past week pushed me past my limit. I was on the verge of tears for days. I went for a run last week and was crying when I started and felt lighter, happier, the further I got away from my house. When I rounded the corner to go back up my street, I started to cry again. There was no one home, but getting back to our house was too much for me. So I sat on the corner and cried. I decided I needed a day for me. And Curtis doesn’t understand. I know it hurts him to know I need time for myself. Real parents don’t get time off. He doesn’t get it to the point where he asked me to make him lunch so he can come eat with me. It’s lovely that he chose to come home and spend lunch with me, and I started crying because all I want is for one day to not be beholden to anyone. I even took off my Fitbit to not have to worry about steps. I just want to be alone, on my own time, on my own terms for a few hours. And he admitted he wasn’t sure if he should, and I thanked him for wanting to spend it with me. But I really wanted to just be me. No one’s partner, no one’s parent… just me.

I was in such a state, I was going to skip Reegan’s hockey practice. I was actively planning to not be home when he came to get Reegan’s hockey gear. I wanted to be alone. I’m not sure if it was from watching too many episodes of This Is Us, or if it was the exercise I did, or if choosing to miss Reegan’s practice was a step too far for me, but I strapped on my Fitbit and running shoes and chose to walk to the arena instead of missing out. I walked home, too. And stopped to enjoy the view. And I feel a bit better, not all better, but ready to face this week’s hurdles. And I will take that small victory. 

Our Summer

After my last post, I decided to post something a little more positive. I’m a little behind, but it’s a good problem to have to be too busy to write blog posts. I am actively trying to live in the moment and not document every little thing, lest I miss something by staring through a lens.

We had a great summer. I had really high expectations for the summer, and it didn’t work out to be quite as fun as I thought it would be, but it was a really wonderful summer. I try not to get hung up on my expectations, but it’s hard when things don’t go as you planned. As one of my favourite singers said, “Expectations are the killer of the good sometimes”, and it’s so true.

We didn’t do much without the kids, although we did manage to take a trip to Ottawa to see my brother and celebrate Canada 150. The celebrations themselves were a letdown, as was my mother, but Curtis got to meet some of the family members I hold the most dear.

The rest of the summer was filled with ball, ball, and more ball. 5 tournaments, plus regular games. We did have more success with the kids going as we could make a deal for soccer with their mom. It felt like progress. The boys improved so much this year, I am so proud of them. One of the coaches even said that he wants Reegan to come out for the Tier 1 team next year (provided he can come to all the games), so that’s a really big deal. All his friends will be on that team. It’s a long way away, but fingers crossed we can make it happen. We just have to think positively.

IMG_3375Notice the little monkey in the background. Best photobomb from Taitum!

We took one trip as a family to my family cottage. As with any family property, there are politics and rules, but we had a great time there with my aunt and uncle and even my mom. The boys are even excited to go back next year and have already requested my brother come with us. It really warms my heart that the boys like the cottage. That’s my favourite place in the world and it was really great to spend my birthday up there with my family. I got a family breakfast and a family pic by the lake so it was a pretty good day. We may have the opportunity to own a piece of the cottage property through my mom’s inheritance and we really want to find a way to manage that financially. I want to give the boys the kind of summers I had.

IMG_3617My birthday present 🙂

Curtis and I both had a friend get married this summer – funny, though, it was HIS friends who kept asking us when we were getting married. It’s a bit of a touchy subject. I tried to make a joke about it once, and it didn’t go over well and I just ended up feeling bad about the fact that he doesn’t seem to care if we get married. I care. I definitely still deal with feeling like an outsider… most of the time, and it would really help if he would actually make me a part of his family, part of the kids family. I want to make a sign for our ice rink and I stress about what to call our family. Do I call us by his last name (even though I don’t have his last name and that is painfully, acutely clear to me)? Do I hyphenate the last name? It’s awkward. I think I’m going to avoid last names entirely. I know, though, he won’t do anything until he’s good and ready. Of course, we tried to pack too many things into those days and we had last-minute babysitter drama, but the weddings were lots of fun. I’m glad we made it work to go. It rained both days and, of course, they were both on nights when we had the kids, but we still managed to get all dolled up and go and have a great time. Definite wins.

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Taitum had his first real birthday party with friends this year, which was pretty cool. His mom had just had her baby so she didn’t do a party for him this year so we didn’t have to worry about who was inviting which kids. We did a fireman-themed birthday party so it was really cost-effective, too. We took them to the fire hall and they got to see the trucks and try on Curtis’ gear. We also took them swimming and had a fire-themed obstacle course in our backyard and cake and lunch… I think we’ll try taking it easier next year! It was fun (and easy) to have a party in the summer for once, though! What’s important is that he had a great time.

IMG_3869That face! Look how happy he is.

Curtis and I both have birthdays in the summer and we decided to not buy gifts for each other, just to spend it on our trip. We wanted to take the boys to Chicago to see the Jays play, but that didn’t work out financially, so we ended up at the indoor waterpark in Niagara Falls. The boys’ choice. I wanted to do Wonderland, because that’s what I did growing up, but they were more excited about the waterpark. (Their mom ended up taking them to Wonderland, where they had a great time, which irked me to no end, but they had such a great time with us, it’s hard to feel bad about the choice).

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The summer ended with the Fall Fair. As the summer progressed, we found that they probably had too much freedom because trying to get them back into a routine (even on our trip) was painful. (See my post about aliens stealing my step-kids). I was hopeful that we would have a drama-free fall as organizing that and back-to-school with their mom was (mostly) stress-free. So far, though, the fall has been pretty stressful as hockey will once again be a bone of contention. As we took Reegan into the arena this weekend, he said, “That was a QUICK summer”. That it was, Reegan, that it was.

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The Real Cost of the Ex-Wife

We all know the tales of the costs of divorce. Tens of thousands spent in lawyer fees. Especially for the good fathers out there, who the law does not favour one little bit, fighting for shared custody, fighting for equal rights in regards to their kids, fighting to enforce agreements, fighting what is best for them. We have spent a literal fortune fighting for those kids.

So, we all know that story and we all think we know the cost. But the cost of an ex-wife is so much more than just lawyer bills.

First, there’s the support payments. Even with 50/50 custody and her being remarried, we still pay his ex-wife $500 a month child support. She is currently on mat leave with her 4th child (with her new husband) and she is laughing to people about how much more we’ll have to pay next year because of her leave. And that’s money we don’t have. We will likely have to sell our house to pay her extra support to fund the mat leave for the baby she had with the man she cheated with and left Curtis for. The law is supposed to make it so that they kids have an equal life at both houses. She just bought a house worth way more than ours, she has tons of expendable income to buy them anything they want and take them on lavish vacations, where we scrimp and save and borrow just to give the kids something a little nice. We will have to sell our house to maintain her level of spending and she is laughing. How is that an equal life?

We could fight it, and incur more legal costs fighting it, and hope we can at least maintain the $500/month status quo, but the law doesn’t have a lot of grey to protect fathers in that way.

She tells the kids how much money we have and makes a big deal about buying them whatever they want, portraying us as the rich people who won’t buy them anything. They know they can have whatever they want at their mom’s. So we try our best to keep up in the ways that we can, the name-brand clothes they want, day trips.

We try to make up the difference as best we can with quality time and sports. We pay for all their sports and their sports equipment. She won’t let them go to sports on her time (because it’s more time with us), so we give up our quality time in recompense so she will let them go most of the time. We’ve already been told that one would be on a rep baseball team this year if we can get him there, so we are trying our best to find ways to make it happen. Those are costs no one figures. And their agreement says that there is no time to be given back, but what is agreed upon in court is not what happens in reality.

On top of the physical cost and the loss of time, there’s also the emotional cost. So much time and energy is spent fighting her, or worrying about what she’ll do and adjusting our behavior before it’s an issue. We drive different ways to avoid seeing her (which is hard since she just moved around the corner from us), we fold the “M” clothes separately so we can send them in her clothes on her days and make sure she gets them back, we keep an extra set of everything (shoes, hats, mitts, boots, snow suits) at our house in case she doesn’t send them since it is difficult to get these things from her, (as I mentioned) we give up our time with them so they can play sports-full time… and these are just a few. The worst is that we let her get away with bad behavior where we have the legal and moral high ground (such as meeting with the school and teachers behind Curtis’ back, not telling him about doctor’s appointments, changing doctor’s appointments deliberately to make it work for her and not work for Curtis, not telling us she was in the hospital over night, and so on) because we’re afraid of the consequences. She’s mean and a bully and she doesn’t seem to care about the effect that will have on the kids… so we have to. And the emotional toll is great. Curtis tries his best not to let it affect us, but that doesn’t always happen. So sometimes we fight about her or because of her… sometimes we let her win.

If it was just her, that would be one thing. The ex-in-laws are in town as well… they go between spreading rumours about Curtis to make his ex look better, to complaining about her behind her back, to trying to fight for the kids when it comes to sports, to supporting her so they don’t have family issues (going so far as to turn the kids’ heads so they don’t see us)… Her sister and her parents will sometimes act like nothing is wrong and chat away like we’re besties (umm… seriously?) and will sometimes act like we have the plague. The emotional costs are never ending. I personally find the whole lot of them – the ex, the ex-in-laws, the new husband – terribly stressful. For me, the ex pretends I’m not there. Literally acts like I don’t exist. It’s less aggressive than it used to be, though. She doesn’t glare at me before putting her nose in the air anymore, or deliberately turn her back to me… I’m just not there. And for the most part I’m ok with it because it’s one less stress to deal with.

There’s one further cost that affects only me. And probably because I let it. She makes me insecure. About myself as a parent, about how I look… I feel like I constantly live in her shadow. It’s not that I don’t understand my role as a step-parent, I completely do. It’s little things like how she is organized enough to beat us to doing things and dictate the terms of it all (sometimes because Curtis doesn’t get his butt in gear and I have to be able to live with that), or how she had a baby and was up and about and taking the kids on trips the next day, or the fact that she had a baby a month ago and she is already back to being half my size while I sweat my butt off and swear off carbs just to lose 1lb in that same month. She is putting the image of a super mom out there and while I know it’s not that simple, I’m buying what she’s selling. She makes me question my worth… and that is one of the biggest costs because it affects how I act (for better and worse). I am trying to be the best I can be, I am always trying to compensate and be a better (step)parent… but I am also letting her win and make me doubt myself and that’s not good for anyone.

When Aliens Steal Your Step-kids

I have a bunch of half-written posts that I want to do and time doesn’t allow for it. Which is a good thing, but I feel like I have lots to say and instead I’m hiding in my bedroom, putting away laundry, listening to the kids fight while Curtis is on a fire call. So I thought I would start with that. 

Part of their custody agreement is that each parent gets two full weeks in the summer (as opposed to having full weeks with a mid-week access for the other person so no one has to go a full week without the kids.) Having the kids for a week at a time was awesome. We miss them when they’re gone and it’s so much easier to get in a routine when we have them every day. 

That being said, they just spent a week with their mom where they don’t have the same kind of rules and structure and they seem to get everything they want when they want it. Normally it takes a day to get back into our routine, but here we are, 3 days later, and it still seems like aliens have abducted the children and given us back monsters. Not listening, talking back, fighting, crying… who are these children? Two of them remind me of their mother at times, while one really reminds me of Curtis. And yet, while watching the parade and waiting for their dad to go by in the fire truck, I saw his mom in him when he talked down to another kid like that kid was dirt. It was a really eye-opening moment for me. 50% of the time, we don’t know these kids and, try as we might, we can’t negate her influence on them. (Good and bad – as much as we are frustrated, it’s not all bad.)

I just read an article where it said that no matter the relationship between the parents, kids do benefit from sharing equal time with both parents and I’m trying to take comfort in that. Fingers crossed that’s true. And all we can do is stick to what we do, try to be positive examples, enforce our rules, be kind, and not say bad things about their mom. 

But for today, I’m tired of trying to give time outs for yelling at me or each other. Aliens, if you’re listening, I’d like my step-kids back.