Neither of us planned this. I never asked for my family to fall apart and for my Dad to move out. I never asked for a new woman in his life, someone who made peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches differently, who doesn’t know I don’t like the door all the way closed at night and for a different woman too hug and kiss my father. I didn’t ask for this but this is my new life. You married my father and you’ve started a new family. Now there is a whole and complete family that lives at your house…I mean, our house. Is it still my house if I only live there four days a month? Because when you decided my room was going to be the baby AND my room it made me feel like you didn’t actually want me there anymore. Having a new baby sister was my birthday wish for the last 10 years come true. Except for the part about how she’s really my Dad’s daughter and I’m just the daughter that comes and visits a couple times a month, at least that’s how you make me feel. The names “Mom” and “Dad” are now both echoed through the house even though they aren’t said by me. When it was just my brother and I, it felt like you both couldn’t wait for us to come visit…you made us feel that your life must literally stop when we left to go back to Mom’s. But now when we leave, it feels like nobody notices we are gone…you have your family still intact even if we aren’t there. You called my sister an only child to that friend you saw at the grocery store. Do you not think of me as her sister? The truth is, you didn’t choose me but we now belong to each other. We are family. I may not have been the daughter you dreamed of and my face may remind you of a woman who shared a previous life with your husband, but I am my father’s daughter and that can’t be undone.
I know this isn’t what you would have chosen. I know your dream-man and your fairytale future didn’t include two children from another woman. I know you didn’t ask for frustrating schedules, weekends of driving, co-parenting with a woman you wish didn’t exist and knowing a piece of your husband’s heart is always missing when his children are away. I know you wanted your daughter’s birth to be the first time both you AND your husband experienced such a miracle. That you wanted her first step, her first words, her first everything to be his firsts as a father too, and not the third. But is it fair to resent a 10 year old girl? Is it fair to make her feel the underlying tension? Are you going to make her feel like a guest in your house for the rest of your life? Did she ask for this? No, I didn’t. I realize you didn’t, but please remember I didn’t either.
When you sent out the Christmas card of your daughter and didn’t include my brother and I, it hurt more than words can even say. You put her name, your name and my father’s. But what about us? Are we not part of the family too? Did you know how much it would hurt when you mailed it to us at our mother’s? How every time I looked at my sister’s precious smile it made a part of me ache and that ache hasn’t stopped. I used to save and collect the holiday cards. But I never could bring myself to hoard those ones.
Years and years have passed. We are both grown women now. Sometimes I can’t even imagine how you could have treated that sad little girl in such a way. I try so hard to put myself in your shoes. To think how I would feel if I were you. I get it. I really do. But can we put this to rest? I have children now and they love you as a grandmother. I make sure they know you are my bonus mom - the extra mom I was lucky to get in my life. Are they not your grandchildren? They love you without conditions, will you love them unconditionally too? Because I’m so afraid to open them up to that hurt, I never want them to feel like you don’t want them to belong to you.
The holidays bring us all together. Please hear me when I say, despite it all, all the hurt, I love you. We didn’t choose each other, but you are the icing on the cake of my life who gave me an amazing little sister and brings my father love and happiness. No matter what happens, I always try again to make you love me. I always will. I hope one day you will love me the way I have always hoped you would.
Happy 2018! For the first post of the year, The Family Community is sharing a great new resource that is about to come on the scene - with your help. Single parents, together parents, stepparents, grandparents, anyone who has young children at home. Sara Morris and her husband Sam have cofounded a company called PopChart.Family. Sara and Sam are about to kick off a KickStarter campaign tomorrow! To tell you all about it, here is their short video:
I was 6 years old when my parents separated. I was 9 when they divorced. I’m 35 now and for all intents and purposes, I am over it. I had years of counseling, two amazing parents who made sure every emotional and physical need was met, and two wonderful step parents and sisters that sweetened the deal. My parents’ separation was the best thing for them, I can see that now as a married woman myself and a mother of two. Marriage is hard and children, while pure miracles in their own right, add another level of challenge to the delicate web of marriage. I can understand how pressures of work, finances, household responsibilities, and hopes for the future can directly impact the health of a marriage. My brain can logically understand all of that, quite simply actually. But the heart, oh the delicate heart of our soul and being that rests deeply inside, that isn’t motivated or ruled by logic, sense, and reason. It feels what it will and the older and wiser I get, I try less to dominate these emotional waves and instead lean into them. Feel them. We are supposed to. The disintegration of a family is sad and tragic and it’s anyone involved’s right to process, heal and move on in their own time. There are wounds that heal quickly with thick layers of scarring and new skin grows over it, perhaps even more beautiful than what was originally there, but other wounds, some may never fully heal.
I’m 35 years old but my parents are still my parents and always will be. I will forever be their child. It sounds silly to describe it out loud, but I’ve always felt in some way my brother and I were orphaned. How dramatic to say such a thing when we had two devoted parents and two beautiful new homes. But there was no longer the one home we all shared. We didn’t have both sets of parents sitting together at our school performances and basketball game. There weren’t two sets of kisses goodnights. Instead, there were two new homes, two new step parents and a new step-sister and half-sister and that nagging feeling of always missing the other parent we weren’t with. We were two new beautifully blended families, arguably more special than the original for there was more love and less fighting and healthier models of love. And yet, where was our one true home where we belonged all the time? The original unit of the four of us was gone forever, and in our case, with the long separation, it was a bit of a slow and painful death. Although we were both in it together, my brother and I have very different ways in which our parents’ divorce impacted our lives and story. I obsessively treasure photos, mementos such as my mother’s wedding dress and their wedding album, items from our original home - so treasured and special to me not just because they were in our family home, but because surely there must have been a story behind it. I’ve hunted for and found many photos of my parents in the early years, snuggled together on a couch, holding hands on a walk, laughing together and holding each other. There in those old photos no one wanted is the proof that once upon a time there was love there. There was so much love in fact that they married and chose to have children. The immeasurable comfort I get from seeing these photos is in knowing that I was created in love.
My mother and I have had long and frequent conversations over the years about what life was like back when we were simply a family of four. Sometimes I can hear it in her voice, things may still be raw or tinged with resentment. But I can also hear the love and how it was a huge chapter of her life and story. She will always share children with a man she no longer loves and I can’t imagine how that would feel. There are rare instances in which my father and I are able to talk about our past, it’s not his favorite topic and I’m not one to push. This summer was a rare exception. The asked me to go for a walk with him and told me to ask him anything I wanted to know about him and my mother and the divorce. As we walked the length of my favorite beach I couldn’t stop the tears from running down my face and the refrained sob in my throat. Why was I still so emotional? I really am ok in my life, why in the world was I so upset? I asked the scary questions that were still nagging deep in my heart and I wasn’t even sure I wanted the real answers for. Did having children ruin your marriage? Do you wish you could have done it differently? Did you ever truly love my mother? Were we not enough for you both to fight for? (Silly me, there are even tears running down my face as I type this. It just goes to show how raw these questions still are.) His answers were private and sacred between us and truly irrelevant to share here, but what is most important for me to express is how special it is for children to be able to talk to their parents, to ask them questions. As the children, it’s our history, our story too. Most of us were very young and saw things through the lens of children’s eyes, often thwarting truth and reality. New questions inevitably arise the older we get, as we too get married, have children, wade through our own strains in marriage. Having parents that acknowledge children may continue to have questions, sadness and concerns is truly a gift. I have friends who aren’t as fortunate as I am or as close to their parents that they feel comfortable asking questions and talking things through.
The two sides of the story never match perfectly and of course, they wouldn’t as we all have our own truths. But those photographic pictures, those sacred images of a time when your parents were hopelessly in love and devoted to each other, those are the relics that are more treasured and should always be saved. Even though the love faded, a family dissolved, homes were sold and new families were born, to know that the start of YOUR story did, in fact, begin with love, that's the most important piece of it all.
Britt Emmons Ricardo lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband and two young children. She graduated from Bates College with a degree in English and obtained an Elementary Education Teaching License from University of North Carolina, Charlotte. She currently works as a toddler preschool teacher.
Right now in the United States, 54% of children under the age 18 have divorced parents. That number shakes out to about 40 Million kids. No matter the age of the children, divorce is an extremely emotional time. They are figuring out a whole new routine, navigating new parenting relationships, and trying to manage their own emotions. Some children going through a divorce or separation appreciate coming to school to ‘get away’ from it all. Keep this in mind when deciding if, when, and how to reach out to a child. Let them know that it’s ok to talk or want help but that it’s not required. Sometimes school is a refreshing change from the stress of home.
6 tips for teachers
Guest Post by Shoshy Starr Collins, who is a professor of education at Wheelock College, education consultant, and former elementary school teacher.
More tips? Let us know in the comments!
If you're like us, and look forward to the summer months to dive into some new "must read" lists, you may already be familiar with this top-selling memoir by Jen Waites. If not, go out and get this book right now. For a preview of the story behind the memoir, read the blog Jen wrote for The Family Community last year here.
"What do you do when you discover that the person you've built your life around never existed? When "it could never happen to me" does happen to you? These are the questions facing Jen Waite when she begins to realize that her loving husband - the father of her infant daughter, her best friend, the love of her life - fits the textbook definition of a psychopath. In a raw, first-person account, Waite recounts each heartbreaking discovery, every life-destroying lie, and reveals what happens once the dust finally settles on her demolished marriage.
After a disturbing email sparks Waite's suspicion that her husband is having an affair, she tries to uncover the truth and rebuild trust in her marriage. Instead she finds more lies, infidelity, and betrayal than she could have imagined. Waite obsessively analyzes her relationship, trying to find a single moment from the last five years that isn't part of the long con of lies and manipulation. With a dual time line narrative structure, we see Waite's romance bud, bloom, and wither simultaneously, making the heartbreak and disbelief even more affecting."
The American Association of Matrimonial Lawyers has published an outstanding book entitled: “Child Centered Residential Guidelines”. You can find it, view a copy online, and order a copy here.
I don’t say things like this lightly: in 20 years of working with families who are separating or divorcing, this is the best 50-page summary of kid’s issues, and especially age-appropriate contact schedules, that I have ever seen. The primary author, Dr. Robin M. Deutsch, Ph.D. is a nationally recognized expert on children, adolescents and divorce, and her experience shines through the pages of this book.
There are detailed model contact schedules with explanations for children in the following age groups:
24 months – 3 years
Pre-schoolers; 3 to 6 years
Early school-aged children; 6 to 9 years
Later school-aged children; 10 to 12 years
Early Adolescents, 13 to 15 years
Late Adolescents, 16 to 18 years
But, that’s not all. There are other topics that relate to parents’ actions around their kids’ contact, for example:
Additionally, a variety of special conditions that often arise are also discussed, including, Special Needs; Visitation Resistance; Never Married Parents; Domestic Violence; Substance Abuse/Mental Illness; Incarcerated Parents, Same Sex Parenting and Military Parenting.
If you are divorced, or going through a separation, you need to read this book!
Senior Policy Advisor
In a marriage things get tangled up: there's one house, one name (if you are traditional), 'your' stuff becomes 'our' stuff, 'I' becomes 'we'. You become a unit.
As things unravel during a divorce, not only do you have to figure out how to separate your assets, you also have to figure out how to untangle your identities.
Personally, prior to my separation, I had spent my entire adult life with my ex-husband. Therefore, when it came to untangling our identities, there was a lot to figure out.
Two weeks back my son had his final band performance of the year. He plays trombone and while at the beginning of the year, his future in instruments was a bit, shall we say, "uncertain", he's now making some music and has graduated to the 7th-grade band.
The auditorium was packed and as I looked around at the various families in attendance, it was pretty obvious ours looked a bit different.
Instead of one set of parents present, my son had two. While I know divorce is common, way too common, it still struck a nerve with me and I felt awkward.
Lori Lustberg is an attorney, mediator, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, Master Analyst in Financial Forensics, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst®, and writer based in Shelburne, Vermont. To check out her website and blog click HERE.
A couple of years ago, “Lucy” contacted me for financial assistance with her divorce. She was questioning her attorney and seeking a second opinion. When Lucy came into my office, she brought the spreadsheet her attorney had created that outlined a proposed settlement scenario, and I could fairly easily tell that her legal and financial interests were well represented.
Q&A From the Judge's Bench™: Does it Reflect Poorly on the Mother in Court for Refusing to Have any Communication with the Stepmom?
Question from a Reader:
My partner and I currently have full custody of my stepdaughter and I am the primary caretaker as my partner is often at work. I speak with my stepdaughter's teacher regularly, I take her to after school activities, and sometimes doctors appointments. I recently reached out to the Bio Mom on a few occasions to update her with school information and a doctor’s appointment. I also try to open up communication by sending an email based around my step daughter's well-being and expressing some issues that were brought forward by her therapist. I view this as just trying to establish some form of a relationship, but we've recently received a letter from her lawyer, indicating that she will only communicate with my partner when it comes to her daughter. I respect that is her choice, I was just wondering if the Bio Mom’s refusal to communicate with me, would reflect poorly on her in court when it comes to our upcoming custody and child support case?