Category Archives: how to be a good ex spouse

Changes – not mine….

My kids’ lives are about to change. My youngest will no longer perceive himself as the baby of the family, yet he always will be my baby. My oldest will soon be the oldest of five, not four – but not in my house.  See, the boys’ father and stepmother are eagerly awaiting the birth of their first child together.

It’s taken me a long time to be able to sit down and type this post – and even after so many months many of my emotions still make no sense to me.

Months ago, my ex called me to let me know they were expecting, and that he was going to be calling the boys later that day to tell them. He wanted to give me a heads up.  I so appreciated hearing it from him – even though I was totally knocked for a loop. I managed to wish them both well before ending the conversation.

I went up to the KoD’s office to tell him, and I burst into tears. Actually, I sobbed my heart out. As KoD held me, and mopped my tears, he asked why I was so upset, and even to this day, I cannot verbalize it. My ex and I have moved on with our lives. While we may not exactly be friends, we are civil and friendly and I was happy for them. But still – my children were going to have a new sibling that would have absolutely no biological tie to me whatsoever. This baby will be their brother (or sister – I hadn’t considered that!) yet have no connection to me. That sounds so tremendously selfish.

But the tears were for more than that – and I am still not sure why it hit me so hard. I guess part of me didn’t consider the possibility that they would have a baby – it just didn’t occur to me. Not that it would have been my business either way. Was it a type of jealousy? I don’t think so – My baby making days are over, and I am beyond blessed with the children that I have. I love the independence that the KoD and I have these days with the kids being older and becoming more self-sufficient as time progresses.

Maybe part of me felt insulted that our 4 boys were not enough for him? (As I write that I know it isn’t true. He loves his boys more than anything – but feelings don’t always make sense).

Even as I write this I know that the real reason for the tears is just not explainable. My reaction was a purely visceral one – as if I had been punched in the stomach. And after months of soul searching I still don’t get it.

Now months later I am excited for them. The boys talk about the baby a lot. And I encourage this chatter. I have half siblings myself, and I know that there could be a great bond formed if all the parents are on the same page. But I wonder. When he calls to tell me the good news, how will I take it? Will I be able to wish him congratulations with a full heart, or will it reopen this old wound? I want to just be happy for them.

Have you been in a similar situation? Can you identify with anything I am feeling?

New relationship – advice for a friend

A twitter buddy of mine tweeted this today, and I figured that there are plenty of you in my diverse readership that could help her out.

Somebody who has kids, is divorced, and their ex is in a r’ship help me figure out how to deal with my kid already loving someone else.

What I told this friend was to be happy that the child has another person in her life to show her love and affection. That just because this beautiful little girl loves a new person, does not mean in any way, shape or form, that her love for either parent is diminished.

My kids have two parents, me and their dad. We are both remarried – they now have a step-father and a step-mother. And additional aunts and uncles and grandparents. So many more people to love them and care about them.  How can that be a bad thing?

When your ex moves on before you do it is very hard. It hurts. It burns. Especially if maybe you are not ready for it and have still not dealt with the fall out from the separation. Add children into the mix and there are a lot of worries and thoughts. Will the new partner be good to my children? Will they be supportive of my relationship with my kids? These are good questions to ask, and time will tell.

The one thing I must stress, to my friend, and to all parents – the children’s needs always must come first. You have to prioritize them. It is the only way for the children to grow up without extra trauma from the divorce – if both parents put the kids first, and are on the same page when it comes to raising the children they had together. Do not EVER use the children to fight your battles with your ex for you. Do not EVER use the children as pawns to get back at your ex or punish him / her in some way. This will only end up hurting the children more than anyone else.

If you love your child, dear twitter buddy, as I know you do, you will be happy for her that she has so many people to love. When she chatters on about the new partner, just listen. It will hurt at first, but the new partner is a fact of life that you have to accept. For your own sake as well as your child’s.

If any of my readers have some more words of advice, please weigh in.

Co-parenting after Divorce. It can be done.

There was a time, soon after we became a one-parent family, that I thought I would never be able to have a civil conversation with my ex, let alone be in the same building as him. There was a time that it hurt just sharing the same planet with him, breathing the same air – I was in so much pain that I couldn’t see past it.

We may no longer be married, but whether we like it or not, we are co-parents for life. We have four most awesome sons together who are our souls, our lives. Both of us are 100% invested in doing everything in the children’s best interests. Truthfully, occasionally our perception of the kids’ best interests differs, but we are always able to come to a peaceful resolution.

Time healed. Time allowed us both to work through our own issues and get past them. But that’s only because we were BOTH invested in doing so for the sake of the kids and for our own sakes too.

2 months post separation, when he was 11, our eldest asked about his barmitzvah. I can still taste the bile that rose in my throat at the thought of celebrating this momentous occasion with the “other side” of the family. It scared me. It frightened me. There was no way that I saw that it could possibly happen.

You know what? We made the barmitzvah together and it was awesome. It showed the children that their parents are willing to put them first. It showed the kids that they are our number one priority (or as they say, numbers 1 thru 4) and we would do anything for them. Sharing the simcha hall with my ex was fine – there are awesome benefits to mechitzahs!! We’ve since made another barmitzvah and have one coming up in 8 months. (We had three sons within 31 months!!). We have celebrated graduations and birthdays together, and sat holding our broken-legged child in the ER together.

Today we are able to pick up the phone and talk to each other like grown-ups. We don’t talk about anything other than the kids, and that’s ok. But I am so thankful that I am able to have this kind of “relationship” with him – that we have left the past in the past. Accepted that it is over. We have moved on with our lives. We are both remarried with stepkids. Our lives are an amalgamation of families and in-laws and relatives on four sides. As my kids say – so many more people to love them (and give them presents!!).

I just wish that all divorced couples were able to do the same. That at some point they come to the realization that they need to move on with their lives, and leave the nastiness and bitterness in the dust. It is even more important when there are children involved. I wish the divorce court could mandate some kind of co-parenting class for divorcing parents. Make them sign some kind of agreement that forces them to do what’s best for the child. There have been many things I have had to just accept, because being angry and bitter would not change them.

Had I not accepted my lot in life, the fact that I was getting a divorce – had I allowed myself to be consumed daily with anger and resentment and every negative emotion known to womankind – I would never have been able to move on with my life. I would never have been in a position to meet the KoD and realize his true value. I would have cheated myself out of this fairytale that the KoD and I have recurrent starring roles in.

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As I wrote the other day, the boys are spending some time with their dad. I miss them more than I thought possible, but I am so thankful and grateful that they have this opportunity to spend a good amount of quality time with him. Ever since he and I split we have both made it a priority to encourage the relationship between each parent and the children. There has never been any trashing of the other parent in front of the kids, nor has there ever been anything negative said or even hinted at about the new spouses and step-siblings that entered the picture.

Sure, there have been fights and arguments and lawyers – we DID get divorced after all – but we kept all of that away from the children. We may have chosen to no longer be married to each other – but that divorce does not include the children. They did not ask for this. As the primary care giver for my children, it is my responsibility and my role to encourage and foster a good relationship between my kids and their dad. I cannot force it, but thankfully he is more than willing and loves his sons unconditionally.

I guess when both parents are on the same page – putting the children’s needs first – there can be a civil relationship, an entente cordiale. It is so tragic and sad to read about and hear stories of divorces where parental alienation is happening – where one parent does all s/he can to trash the relationship of the kids with the other parent. I just wish all divorced parents (maybe even all parents) could put their kids’ needs first at all times.

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Loyalty and step-parents

I remember the weekend after my ex remarried. The kids had spent Shabbat with him and his new wife and her kids. They came home, and we sat together talking. The little one, who was five at the time, said to me, “I am so lucky, I have two mommies now”. I understood his sentiment, and was glad that his new stepmom was someone he liked, but boy did it hurt to hear him say that. It felt like a knife in my heart, even though he totally had not intended it that way. I couldn’t stop the tears from welling up in my eyes, even though I tried to smile through them. I had to leave the table to get busy with something so I wouldn’t break down.

Squiggy, who was all of ten then, decided to take his youngest brother to task. He reminded him, none too gently, “THIS is your mother, Ima is the one that carried you in her belly for nine months, this is the woman that gave birth to you, this is the woman that has raised you. Don’t you dare forget that!!!” So many emotions coursed through my mind at that moment. Pride in Squiggy that he defended my honour, so to speak. But I felt bad for the little ChatterBox – his intent was not to hurt me. He was just telling me he was happy – what more does a mother want for her child?

Once I had regained control of myself – it was a rough time emotionally as I am sure you can understand – I sat down with the both of them. I explained to the older one that he doesn’t have to choose sides or show more loyalty or anything like that. He can like his step mom without it hurting me. I explained to the little one that I am glad that he likes her and she is nice to him, because that’s very important. I explained to all the kids that there is no choosing one over the other. They live with me, they know who their mother is, but that does not mean there is no space in their lives to like or love their step mom. She is now a part of their family, and as such they have to at least respect her and treat her right. It was tough to explain to small children, who have a fierce love for their mother, that liking their step mom doesn’t discredit me in any way, shape or form.

In the years since then, the kids have learned a balance that has stood them in good stead. They adore the KoD, their step dad, and are not conflicted about loyalties. They understand that they can love him AND their own father at the same time. My children are so fortunate in having so many people to love and who love them. At the end of the day, they know who has raised them, they know from whom they learned their values and principles. But I also know that each of us who spend time with the children have had a hand in forming them into who they are, whether it’s a big hand or a small one, we have all contributed.

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Victim of A Parentectomy!

From the Yated Ne’eman newspaper

Dear Editor,

Having been raised in a home with divorced parents, I am thrilled to have an opportunity to share with the Yated readers a happy ending to a sad an unfortunate childhood.  I have, Boruch Hashem, finally reunited with my alienated father and now we, and his new family, have established a warm, solid relationship together.

I am now 20 and happily married.

I was a product of parental alienation by my mother, who kept me away from my father.  She fed me a host of lies, false allegations and sheer drama, and thereby robbed me of a relationship with him due to her selfish personal war that she waged with him all the years.  It was almost an obsession to completely blot him out of our lives.  She should have sought help for herself, since this was about her own selfishness and not about what was right for her child.

It is only fair to mention that I had a loving mother and I have many fond memories growing up, but despite all of that, there was a steady sprinkling of lies relating to my father’s whereabouts, which left me quite confused.

How I finally sorted things out is a story too long for this column, but when I started dating, issues about my father kept creeping into every conversation with shadchanim and I was stunned to discover that my father was, in fact, an outstanding human being, quite well known and respected, with a loving family.  I set into motion a plan that ultimately led me back into his life.

The grief he suffered is indescribable.  He shared with me his own journey with rabbonim, dayanim, friends and family who were all equally helpless in effecting some sort of visitation due to my mother’s relentless compulsion with revenge.

Unfortunately, rabbonim are not equipped with much to enforce agreements.  Despite their best efforts to reason with my mother, pointing out the wickedness of such alienation and the impact on my childhood, nothing changed.

What she caused, a parentectomy of sorts, is unforgivable.  The emotional manipulation I suffered for nearly 20 years will take me a lifetime to make sense of. Couldn’t she have seen that this would backfire?

I am happy today beyond words.  I have a new family, siblings and grandparents who embraced me and my husband.  I am trying to make up for lost time.  I am trying very hard to focus on that and not on the resentment I have for my mother who caused so many individuals so much pain.  She is now suffering the backlash, the wrath of her child, for having precipitated this enormous loss, because our relationship today is cold at best.  In time, I honestly hope things will improve on that front too, but for now it comes down to my own personal healing experience and my newfound happiness.

It is my sincere hope that by sharing my story, I will encourage others in similar situations to seek professional help to try, at all costs, to avoid a lifetime of unresolved pain and regrets to their children.

Name withheld, Montreal, Canada

I read it through and of course had to try and think if I knew who it was, us both being Montrealers. I don’t and I am kind of glad. This type of letter breaks my heart. So many missed opportunities on all sides. I have heard versions of the same type of stories way too many times to be surprised. I am so thrilled for the writer that she managed to find the truth and is working on moving on.

I just have to wonder how come her father didn’t go the legal route to try and see her and spend time with her – whether he lives here or in the States, or any civilized country, a father has a legal right to see his child, divorced or not. It’s all well and good that he consulted the rabbanim and dayanim et alia – but it did not help. Rabbanim cannot enforce visitation. The legal system is there for a reason, so I would love to understand why there is no mention of that in this letter.

I feel sorry for the mother. I am sure in her mind she thought what she was doing was right. Maybe she felt like she was protecting her daughter. I am sure she didn’t do anything with the intent deliberately to hurt her. I feel bad that right now her child is angry with her for the choices she made and for the experiences she missed out on. The father missed out on knowing his daughter for many years – years that cannot be replaced.

Parents may not like each other any more after divorce, but the children must come FIRST. Every. Single. Time. Everything I have done, every decision I have made since my divorce, has been with the kids front and centre in my heart. It isn’t always an easy answer. But we want our children to grow up as well rounded individuals – to do that they need exposure to both sides of the family. There is no excuse for alienation except perhaps in the case of molestation – but even then, supervised visits are sometimes mandated by the courts.

Children are not weapons. They are not to be put in the middle of a battle between ex-spouses. They are innocent in the whole divorce scheme of things. They didn’t do anything to cause the divorce and they don’t need to be used as pawns for the agenda of either parent. So many people don’t get this, and they are hurting their children.

If the writer of this letter is somehow reading this – Kudos for you for working to finding out the truth for yourself. I hope at some point you can find it in your heart to forgive your mother and move on. It will take time but time WILL heal. Enjoy and cherish your new-found relationship with your father and his family. You have been given a second chance – make the most of it. B’Hatzlacha.

To my readers – how do you feel reading this kind of letter? With whom do you sympathize the most? Do you also wonder what legal steps were taken? Talk to me…

[note from HSM: My dear friend Lady Lock and Load brought this letter to my attention. It was printed recently in the Yated Ne’eman newspaper. (She actually typed it in herself so she could send it to me as this letter is not online. She knew I would be interested.)]

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Does the pain of divorce ever ease up?

I was recently asked the following: Does the time ever come when you can see your ex’s name or photograph and just not have a deep visceral negative reaction? When you see you received an email from the ex and your heart doesn’t sink to your feet? That when the kids talk nicely about the other parent you don’t feel angry and jealous? That when you bump into him / her in shul or at the store that you aren’t overcome by a haze of rage?

My answer was a resounding “Yes”. That time does come, but it doesn’t come on its own. You have to work towards it. It’s called letting go of the past, and embracing the future. Moving on. Forgiving. You will never forget, but you need to forgive in order to move ahead.

My ex and I have been divorced for a few years. It took a while to move past all the hurt and anger and resentment. I had to want to move past it. I had to want to not be a bitter vindictive ex wife looking to make her ex husband’s life a living hell. There are women and men who do not want to move on. Their raisons d’être are all about making the ex suffer for what happened. I just wanted a peaceful life, a life where I could raise my kids in a positive environment. You cannot undo the past, but you can improve your future.

Even since we split we were never rude or nasty to each other. We were always hyper aware of how we spoke or communicated with each other. Behind the other’s back I am sure neither of us was so saintly. I think it was on the second Yom Kippur since our split, I came to a point where I just wanted the pain to be over. I needed to let it all go so I could move on with my life and be a person that I could be proud of. I spoke to him after Yom Kippur and we made our peace with each other. We both promised to continue to put the kids first, and just move on with our lives without blame. The past would stay in the past. Thankfully we are both on the same page, I know that isn’t always the case.

I won’t say it’s easy. You don’t forget the hurts. There are times that you do get angry and mad. But when you have truly moved on, their name in your inbox or on your phone shouldn’t send you into paroxysms of anxiety or rage. Letting that happen means you haven’t taken back your own power, that you haven’t allowed yourself to even begin to heal. When that visceral reaction happens over and over, you are giving your power to your ex. If you are no longer together, you need to let that go.

Caveat / Disclaimer: Of course, moving on is so much easier when both parties wish to do so. When the ex is hell bent on making life miserable – it brings other things into the equation. When you have moved on, and the ex sends multiple texts, faxes, emails, voicemails etc just to tell you how disgusting you are, then I think there is justification for your blood pressure to rise upon seeing their name on caller ID. I don’t know what I would do in such a situation…..

What helped you to move on? What advice can you give people starting out on this long road toward co-parenting / co-existing with one’s ex spouse?

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How to be a good ex spouse / co-parent…

(Part one of a series)

I have often been asked how come I write nothing about the other parent in my children’s lives, how come I don’t blog about him and the divorce and the whole nine yards. I have to admit there are times when it is extremely tempting to do so, but I am not perfect either and I would hate for him to take to a public forum to discuss me and my faults. Even when a couple is happily married there are disagreements – they don’t need to become fodder for the masses. I figured I would share what works for me, and maybe someone somewhere will learn something.

My first tip is to be respectful of the other parent’s role in your child’s life. Just because you guys got divorced from each other, doesn’t mean that you divorced the kids, or the non-custodial parent did. Don’t bash the other parent in front of the children, and don’t yell at the other parent when the kids can hear. What is between the two parents has to stay that way. You are ticked off at the ex because of a perceived slight? Deal with it away from the kids. But deal with it in a respectful manner. You guys are allies, you are co parenting these precious souls. Belittling the other parent, calling names, and making threats – it’s so unhelpful, and emotionally so unhealthy. Make your point politely and move on. I find that it’s helpful to use email – although the tone doesn’t always come thru, which can be a blessing and a curse. But people, one email to say what you need to say is sufficient. You don’t need to send 10 emails to make the same point. That borders on harassment.

Let’s have an example. You believe that your ex needs to stop yelling so much at the kids because they have complained to you that it bothers them. You have a few choices here, ok? You can email ex and say “I hate you, you piece of poop, you made my kid cry, I won’t ever let you see them again”, you could even call to give the same message. Or you could email “the children have mentioned to me that it upsets them when you raise your voice, I just wanted to make you aware of this”. The first two scenarios guarantee a scene and a full scale yelling war. The third option, while seemingly mild, gets the point across that there is a problem, it needs to be addressed, but that there is no anger and resentment boiling. That you trust the other parent will deal with the issue in a timely fashion.

Of course, this only works if you are both committed to behaving civilly toward each other. I think it is helpful to remember that you once loved this person, you had kids with him/her – do not disrespect your own past by perpetuating the anger cycle. It helps no one.

More to come – if you have any tips, please email me at hadassahsabo at gmail dot com.

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