Children of Ours
I think it’d require a book to cover the ups and downs of the journey for the kids so far. As you’d expect, mine were both devastated at the breakdown of our family unit. Even now, almost 2 years after their father and I decided to separate, they have their “I wish we were all still a family” moments, and I know Becky’s kids feel similar.
We’re pretty sure that, at times, there’s still that tiny little ray of hope for each of them that things will just go back to how they were before and that their mummy and daddy will get back together again 😦
From the very beginning – having read about how children internalise blame and (if they’re not explicitly and repeatedly told otherwise) they’ll think it’s their fault – we have worked hard to tell them none of this is their fault.
So what have we told them? I’ve focused on a few key things…
That mummy and daddy still get on and have love for each other, but not enough for us to want to be together as a couple anymore. That I will always be their mummy and daddy will always be their daddy and nothing or no-one can change that. That they get to choose how to feel at any given moment. That it’s ok to feel sad, angry and hurt. That none of this is their fault.
And that it’s important to me that they have a model of what (I believe) a loving relationship is between 2 adults, in as holistic and rounded way as possible. So yes, that means they see Becky and I arguing, that they see us kissing, holding hands and being physically affectionate, and that they see us prioritising our relationship too.
This last one has been the hardest to find the right balance. I do NOT want to raise entitled, bratty children who think the universe revolves around them but there’s been an inevitable reaction of jealousy as the kids have experienced us sometimes prioritising our relationship and doing things together while they’ve been with their fathers. They’ve all reacted as you might expect – with rudeness, a certain amount of aggression at times and all manner of ‘playing up’ which is basically them communicating their unhappiness and powerlessness at the situation.
It’s struck me recently (DUH), quite how much this has had an impact on mine’s little lives…
The life they previously had and knew – with 2 adults who very much shared the parenting duties and had a fairly decent balance when it came to division of labour – has been totally turned upside down and on its head.
They now experience their father and I individually doing our best to parent them on our own while still working together to be on the same parenting page, despite the ups and downs of separating from each other. Funnily enough, I think it’s been more of a shock for them to experience me parenting them on their own than it has been to have had their father parenting them on his own 😱
There have been positives though! One of them has been becoming far more emotionally aware of and tuned into what we’re all going through, emotionally. Both Becky and I have regular therapy sessions (separately!), mine’s father also has therapy sessions when needed and, as you obviously know by now (!!), Becky and I constantly process what’s going on, between us and with the children. Yes, it’s exhausting but it’s yielded some really interesting and useful things.
For a start, I now have a much clearer idea of the narratives both my kids have – it helps when one of them specifically has expressed some of her ‘stuff’ very coherently, eloquently and directly! As you’d expect, it’s almost always around rejection of some kind.
It’s rarely been easy – the children as a ‘theme’ have been one of the most challenging parts of the dynamic of our relationship. At the worst of times, I think they might still have the capacity to derail things in a major way as we each go into our ‘mama bear’ modes, and protect what is ours. But we work exceptionally hard to remain a strong and united front, and not be divided and conquered…
You’re right, you don’t embark on a midlife awakening – when you’ve got four children under 10 between you – without taking it seriously. However, if we’d thought about it too much we might never have done it!
Weighing up the pros and cons of splitting up the family dynamic my children knew, and acting ‘selfishly’ to ensure my own happiness and improved mental health wasn’t actually that difficult, when I could stop feeling guilty!
The bottom line was I didn’t want my kids to have the model of a relationship based on me and their father and I also didn’t want them to see me sacrificing my own happiness out of fear of the perceived consequences or to see me experience my entire life living a very ‘straight’ lie! (Not the greatest modelling…)
Lea and I figured that however hard they all found it, we’d deal with it. We were in love after all and with the right gender finally – so that felt like pretty big stuff in the pros column!
One of the things that gave me some confidence was the nature of my relationship with Lea. We don’t just talk about stuff, we process it to within an inch of its life!! We talk about our feelings around everything, where they come from, and why we’re triggered by certain things so we can understand each other and ourselves within the relationship better (and of course reduce the number of flouncings off, something we’re both highly skilled at!).
Between us we’ve done counsellor training, NLP, Louise Hay Teacher Training, and Lea has over a decade of coaching experience. We’re both interested in personal development and trying to understand ourselves better and we’re also both in therapy, still unravelling painful parts of our complicated childhoods. Basically, as someone once said, we’re pretty good at navel gazing (ok, that was the polite version…!)
So what does that mean for the kids? It means they get to navel gaze with us of course!
We talk with them about their emotions, their different personalities, their individual coping mechanisms and defences. We discuss the dynamics between us all, our triggers and how our individual triggers interact with everyone else’s (‘cos it’s so much fun when that happens!!).
We don’t ignore what’s going on for any of them, or hide from it. We deal with it head on. I confess I don’t always find that easy. I don’t like confrontation. Lea is the more direct communicator (except when she’s really in her stuff), I’m usually too busy feeling everything and anything.
We spend a lot of time and energy figuring out how to map a way through things by working out, together, what might be going on for the kids, seeing if our own stuff is involved, and discussing the best way to handle it as a united front.
For the kids – as much as they sometimes roll their eyes when their mummies start talking ‘about emotions’, I think they secretly get a kick out of learning skills at such tender ages that lots of grown ups, us included at times, are pretty rubbish at!
Giving them an idea of – and helping them verbalise – what’s actually going on beneath some of the angry, hurt responses has been empowering for them in a situation in which they’ve essentially been powerless and had no say in, and we’ve already seen changes in how they deal with things because of this.
Hahahahahaha! This makes it sound like we’ve got this ALL under control, that we know what we’re doing, that we get them and their stuff and everything is rosy!! That sure as hell ain’t the case, and we have many a tantrum (especially the grown ups!) and feel like we’re making it up as we go along on a minute by minute basis!
However, I would wager that most families rarely examine what goes on underneath the surface of each other’s behaviour and typical responses, what makes every family member tick, and the patterns and dynamics that develop. So, there have been advantages to our upheaval. I know it’s taken being part of this blended family to make me see an unhealthy dynamic that I had fallen into with my children (more on that later!).
So while it certainly isn’t ever easy, we remain committed to ensuring that all four children and two mummies feel heard, loved and respected as part of our six and beyond…
This Theme’s Soundtrack…
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