I am having an existential crisis, of sorts.
I preach, constantly, about building other women up. I have hammered into Avery’s brain that we, as women, have a duty and responsibility to promote and lift up other queens - those in our lives, acquaintances, and even strangers we come across in our day-to-day activities. I have spent a great deal of time in my teens and adult life warding off the voices in my head placed there by men and at times, my female counterparts. Which has led me to develop a mantra or philosophy of sorts that I’m passing down to Avery: This world will do everything in its power to tear women down, so be the kind of person to build someone up. Don’t gossip. Don’t spread rumors. Avoid catty behaviors, and girls who exhibit them.
So why does my current co-parenting situation have me on the brink of a “Yo mama” battle and ready to throw fists?
If you were expecting this blog to be one where I talk candidly, but reservedly and with heavy doses of positivity, about co-parenting, well, here’s your chance to get out. Shit’s about to get real.
I’m so freaking happy for those couples out there who are able to amicably separate and find ways to share holidays together, their new partners in tow, all “for the sake of the kids.” My ex and I share no such arrangement. Three years out, and we still exchange jabs. I’ve heard all the tired pieces of advice, taken undoubtedly from the pages of Divorce for Dummies: it’ll get easier over time, you’ll find your rhythm, the first two years are an adjustment period, once you’re both in new relationships things will run more smoothly.
I call bullshit.
It has not become easier. We have about as much rhythm as Carlton from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” We’re well past our two-year mark, and no improvements on the horizon here. And we’re both in stable and committed relationships, presumably happy ones (I know I am, at least). So why does it feel like it’s getting more difficult to parent?
I have a decent theory as to why. My ex’s new girlfriend moved in about two months ago, just after the holidays. The first woman to step into my marital home since me. Avery told me she saged the house on her second day there.
“We need to get rid of all the bad energy,” she said as Avery arrived home to her, stick in hand. Cue the single-finger sign language. Me, she meant me and my bad energy.
If you haven’t inferred already, I don’t care for her much - and that’s as nicely as I can put it. Now, I am a teacher and I work with many different personality types throughout the day, with very little issue. But this chick rubs me wrong up, down, and sideways. She opens her mouth, I roll my eyes. She messages my daughter, I wish a plague of ingrown hairs upon her. Call me immature, call my petty. But before you write me off, hear me out.
If you cut me open, you wouldn’t find an ounce of love left for my ex-husband within. That man mentally fucked me so badly, I could never feel a likeness, let alone love, toward him again. I barely have any respect left for him. A decade’s worth of angry outbursts, holes in the wall, smashed objects, comments about my weight, gaslighting, and other forms of narcissism and verbal and mental abuse left me with only one emotion: anger.
I am still healing from the damage he did, as are my kids. Occasionally, he tries to exert some sense of control over me and bully me into decisions about our children (like forbidding them to go to the school family dance or allowing my son to play football). Throughout our marriage, I learned that giving in was the best way to preserve and restore peace in our household. So I caved, often. But in the three years since I’ve left him, I have found my voice. And it’s loud.
Which brings me back to Her. For those of you who have experienced any trauma or abuse, there’s like a whole ‘nother level of untapped Mama Bear energy when you’re protecting your children from a spouse or partner. And in another post, I’ll go into more depth about abusive relationships, why it’s so hard to leave, and what protecting your child really looks and feels like when you’re left feeling like there are no options. But back to Mama Bear energy. One of the reasons I tolerated the abuse and stayed with my ex for as long as I did was out of fear. I had rationalized that at least if we were still married, I could shield my children a bit better from the actions of their father. If I left, well, they’d have to fend off his abuse, snarky remarks, and temper tantrums all on their own. So I stayed, until I just couldn’t any more.
When we officially split, I had high hopes for what our co-parenting might one day look like. And as He argued that there were already pre-determined sets of rules on how divorced families operated, I tried to convince Him otherwise. “We get to decide how this looks, no one else. If we want to have Christmas morning together, we can.” Ha! I was naive. I, too, had drank the Divorce Kool-Aid and convinced myself that we’d get to a stable place, in time, where we’d be able to co-parent together amicably.
I prayed that He’d meet someone - a woman who would be a better fit for Him, but also add value to my kiddos’ lives. Someone who wouldn’t complain about going Disc Golfing, but would also cuddle my children at night. A Queen who would be just as fierce as their Mama, her friends and the aunts.
But here’s what I didn’t account for: as much as I didn’t want to date anyone REMOTELY like Him again, He didn’t want to end up with a Nicole 2.0 either. And therein lies the problem. This new woman is nothing like me. She doesn’t share my parenting philosophies. And she’s got a fresh set of eyes and knows nothing of the man I was married to. And all of this makes me furious.
The fact that she’s a therapist and can’t seem to pick up on my ex’s red flags makes me lose any and all respect for her as a professional. How can you specialize in family relationships and anger management and date him? From the beginning, she was doomed in my eyes.
Let’s go back to the fact that she’s the polar opposite of me. Not usually a big deal. Would she be the kind of woman I’d gravitate toward on my own? The kind of woman I’d strike up a conversation with at the nail salon casually? Unlikely. And as I’ve told Avery, that’s OK. I don’t have to LIKE her. All I need to do is respect her. And for the most part, when it comes to my kids, I tell them I do respect her.
But I don’t. We’ve had a series of run-ins. She’s called me immature and claimed I made passive jabs at her. I assured her they were not passive. I don’t like her, therefore they were direct. Another lesson I’ve impacted on my two? Never say anything you’re not willing to put your name to. I was and still am fine with everything I’ve said to Her.
But for me to respect you, that might be asking too much. In the two months She’s been living in my former marital home, my children have reported that their baby pictures have been removed from the walls (to make room for Her artwork). My son isn’t allowed to play Legos before She awakes in the morning (sometime between 9-11 a.m.) because they make too much noise. They’re not allowed to enter the master bedroom. And they’ve confided in me that they feel like their dad loves Her more than He loves them.
I know what you’re going to say: You’re taking the kids at their word. Kids can be manipulative. Yeah, I am. And normally I’d agree. But the three of us have always been pretty transparent with each other - a side effect of living through our shared trauma.
I want to like Her, I do. Liking Her would make my life, and the kids’, so much easier. But I can’t. Maybe part of it is jealousy? I’m not super fond of this grown woman coming in and trying to buddy up with my daughter. She’s my bestie and carbon copy, bitch. Back off.
But maybe it’s also the fact that I don’t trust her judgment - how can I? She’s with my ex. How can I entrust my life’s work, my reason for breathing, with a woman who can’t seem to understand that texting a 10 year-old at 9:30 isn’t acceptable? How can I trust you to impart life’s lessons and your wisdom on her very impressionable brain when you don’t have sense enough not to to make comments about their mother in front of them? When it comes between you and them, how can I feel confident you’ll choose them every time when you can’t even wake up before 11 a.m. and give them the attention they’re craving?
My ex has always been more stable, happier, and less likely to have an outburst when he’s in a relationship. And, quite frankly, the kids and I have been holding our breath for the last two months wondering when He’s going to snap, if She’ll experience it, and what Her reaction will be after. Avery’s already nervous She’ll leave Him. I’m hoping, to a degree, that she remains ignorant. A very small sliver of me holds onto the hope that maybe He has changed finally. Though, that hope is fleeting.
I understand that, at least for the very near future, this woman and I are linked. And, whether I like it or not, she has my kids’ virtually undivided attention for 40% of the week. And if I’m being completely honest, I am happy that my kids have taken to her. It makes their time at their Dad’s more bearable.
Avery said the other day “I thought after you got divorced, the fighting would stop.” You and me both, Kid.
Using a jigsaw puzzle analogy I tried to explain it to her. Blending a family is messy. It’s like each of us is a piece of the puzzle, and now we all have to figure out how we fit and what roles we play as we try to make this picture work.
My role? Mother. Mama Bear. Fierce protector of my life’s joy and greatest accomplishments, my legacy. I know my role. My children know my role. Now the question remains - what is Hers? And will I be Bear enough to let her in?