T.H. and Rebecca Stern’s special guest appearance with the group OPLM (Other Parents Like Me)
Other Parents Like Me is an online parent to parent support community designed for parents of teens struggling with mental health issues.
FULL INTERVIEW – SEASON 2, EPISODE 54
Welcome to another episode of the exEXPERTS’ Divorce etc… podcast, where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it. We’re Jessica and T.H. And keep in mind you can get exEXPERTS in your inbox by signing up for our newsletter. Get the latest news and find out all about our events before anyone else, plus, access to special discounts and prices. Head to exEXPERTS.com to subscribe.
Casie: Hello, everyone. Welcome and my name is Casie Fariello. I am a co-founder and chief executive officer here at Other Parents Like Me. Many of us here at Other Parents Like Me have met along the way because of our children’s struggles and want to get back to the world of parents coming after us. One way is here at OPLM, and another way is writing a book or creating a podcast, which T.H. and Rebecca do.
Additionally, you can become a certified parent coach, education consultant, or you can join us as a Peer Parent. No matter how many people step forward to help families in crisis, there will never be enough places for all of us to turn to for support. We hope that with Other Parents Like Me, parents and caregivers will find an anonymous support group to turn to, or an expert to listen to, or resources to search or tools to help on their path to open healing.
That is how I feel when I’m hosting our Speaker Talks. It’s very helpful, and also, I always feel like I gain so much out of it. We are a group of like minded folks who understand the struggle within our family like no one else. I’m so excited to have T.H. Irwin and Rebecca Stern here today. I will give you a brief bit of background on them.
T.H. Irwin is co-founder of the exEXPERTS, the divorce media platform. She previously worked as the Director of Events Marketing at the Gannett USA Today Network and is the host of the podcast, Divorce etc…
Rebecca Stern is a licensed divorce mediator and founder and principal of Pearl Mediation LLC. She previously worked as a special education advocate where she guided parents of children with learning and behavioral disabilities towards the best clinical services and programs.
This evening, T.H. and Rebecca will be discussing how they negotiated their own contentious divorces all while supporting the individual needs of their children during the process. I’m going to hand this off to Carrie so she can share with you a little bit about herself as well as how to do the Q&A.
Carrie: Hi, everybody, I’m Carrie. I’ve been on this journey for about three years. My son went to a residential treatment center, came home, crashed and burned, and then we started the process with an educational consultant. So my son has been through Wilderness twice and two therapeutic boarding schools. He currently is at SL and doing fabulous. He’s finishing up his high school and he’s planning on going to U of A in the spring, and he wants to be a psychiatrist. So, lots of good things going on right now, so there’s a lot of hope. I love being a part of OPLM. I love having the support in the peer group. I feel that a lot of our success as a family has been gained because of this group, as well as the friends and support that we’ve gotten along the way.
Casie: Thanks, Carrie. All right, without further ado, T.H. and Rebecca, take it away.
T.H.: Well, first of all, thank you so much for having us here. I heard about this group through Rebecca, who I met at a bar, so we’ve got our own little fun meet-up story. But God, how I wish you were around when my son was going through everything that he was struggling with. But I’m so glad that you’re here now because I get calls for referrals all the time. Now you’re on my list of people and places that people can go so that they know they’re not alone and they’re not afraid to talk to people about it. Because how do you know? Are people are going to judge you?
So very quick, Rebecca and I met because I started this platform with my best friend called exEXPERTS. I’m also extremely happily divorced and separated for 14 years, okay. It’s not an easy thing, but I was ready to run, and I got my ticket to freedom. Which was awesome, except I had three kids – eight, six, and four, who were not happy at all with the fact that I was divorcing their dad. So anyway, Jessica and I created this platform because there was nothing out there to support us going through divorce. You don’t know what you don’t know, just like you guys don’t know what you don’t know, and I didn’t. But we do now. So we’re paying it forward to help other people going through divorce with everything that we have to offer. So that’s now why I’m here.
But that’s how I met Rebecca because there is a group out there called “Divorced over 40”, and Rebecca is an ambassador for them in Northern New Jersey. So they did a meet up. Jessica and I came and we figured we’d meet all these divorced over 40 people and showcase them and all this great stuff. Rebecca and I were sitting at the table, and we’re sharing a little bit of our stories. Part of my divorce post-separation journey included my son and my ex-husband, because my ex-husband and I were very adversarial. We had a four year divorce. It was just awful. It was everything that you don’t want and you’re not supposed to do I got suckered into, because you don’t have the options.
I was telling a little bit about my story, and all of a sudden, Rebecca’s like, wait a second, I have a son who struggled like that. How old was your son? Then we started connecting not just from the divorce, but we both had sons. We wanted to hug each other. Like, there’s another one of me out there and you’re right here at the table with me! Like, what are the odds of that? – Wilderness, therapeutic boarding school, therapists, all of it. And Rebecca lives like 15 minutes from my house. So I live 15 minutes from her house.
Rebecca: Everything–we have in common.
T.H.: Yeah, so we were like instant friends. Aside from everything else, she’s totally my girl. So that’s how Rebecca and I came to be friends. She told me about OPLM, and that’s how I got here today. I’m just really, really thrilled to be here. So Rebecca, do you want to do a quick intro for you, and then we can get into our stories?
Rebecca: Sure. Yeah I also would like to thank you so much for having us, and thank you so much for doing this. Because just like T.H. said, I just think it’s amazing to bring everyone together, because these are some of the most isolated experiences.
You have no idea what you’re doing, no idea who to talk to, no idea how to get good information. What are the right questions to ask? What on earth is going on? Where do I go? What happens when I hit this dead end and that one? To talk to other people that have had that same experience is so essential. So I just think this is incredible, because again, to echo what T.H. said, I wish I had had you guys. I didn’t know who to talk to. I had no idea what I was doing. My career, similarly, has followed my personal experiences. I have two boys, and my older son has high functioning autism. The shit was hitting the fan. I went through Wilderness, therapeutic boarding school. And as I learned the special education system, I became a parent advocate and helped parents in IEP meetings and getting services, due process claims, all that kind of stuff. But originally, I was a divorce and family mediator. So ultimately, I went back and put those two things together once I could come up for air from everything that was going on with my son, and picked up where I left off doing divorce mediation, but now with some expertise in helping families, in particular, that have kids with special education needs, so that we can figure out how to have those two things go smoothly together, rather than one making the other worse.
T.H.: So I’m going to tell you a little bit about my journey, and then Rebecca is going to get into hers.
There was always something about my son.
I was in an emotionally abusive marriage where I really believed that I needed to be fixed. There was something wrong with me, and if I just did this, then things would be better. Or if I answered that way, it would turn out better. I am a very strong, confident woman is who you see today. That’s who I had been, but it was a slow burn. I started to believe that everything that was going on with my son was really my fault. Temper tantrums, violence, abuse, all of it was only in my home. I didn’t have other parents to tell me it’s not you, and you’re not crazy, and you’re not a bad mom – your son is just wired differently. What I would have done to hear those words starting at age two would have been great. But I didn’t. And I had two other daughters. They’re older than my son. We all really struggled together, because we separated when my son was only four, so he didn’t know anything. But this became a learned behavior, the way that we engaged together, and it was just very destructive for all of us.
As I’m sure many of you feel, he held our family hostage. We couldn’t go to dinner, or guess what, the vacation screwed up, or he’s the worst kid in the world, or we hate him, or whatever. I’m the mom, and I never wanted to feel that way. But you know what? Sometimes it definitely did. I was like, what do I do with this kid? I don’t even like him. What is happening here? How could I be such a bad mom? Maybe I’m a bad mom because I was so miserable in my marriage I couldn’t be a good enough mom for him because I was suffering. I was just not where I should be where it was healthy for me.
So I separated from my husband. At this point, a few years go by and the tantrums get worse. But he’s super social. He’s not on the spectrum. But for insurance purposes, he suffers from severe anxiety leading to depression. But he’s got his own special bag of shit. He’s got dysgraphia and dyslexia, and he’s insecure, and he had delayed speech. That’s his special mess.
So then my son starts middle school and he stops going to class, and he’s in the guidance counselor’s office more and more. Teachers love him. Everybody loves him. He’s such a nice boy, but he is not able to get through the school day. Again, it’s my fault, right? I have to fix this. So my ex wanted nothing to do with this problem. This isn’t his problem. This is my problem. So when this behavior started presenting itself in school, I finally said, you know what, I’m getting a therapist for my son, who has never gone to a therapist at 10 years old to talk to a stranger. He doesn’t even talk to us. But we went and I told his dad, which I really tried not to do, because when you’re getting a divorce, you don’t tell your ex anything. So I finagled my way through the school. Maybe this would be a good idea? Jason had people doing his evaluations. Can you put something in there that maybe this would be a good direction? Because coming with my voice behind it was never going to happen. So we ended up with this therapist who was terrible for my son, but ultimately helped my ex realize that our son is just programmed differently. I don’t know how he did it, he’s a total wackadoo.
To the point now, when I think back, I was just telling my son today he called him Jase. His name’s Jason. I’m thinking God, now that I know so much between exEXPERTS and all the stuff I’ve been through, the first thing you do is you ask the kid, how would you like me to call you? Do you go by Jason? Do you go by J? Do you go by Jase? Automatically that eases and shows that you want them to be comfortable. So my son was never comfortable. It was me, my son, and my ex. So this little wacky man did help significantly in terms of having my ex realize what was happening. As far as me co-parenting with him, I would be happy to have zero communication. But we’ve got three kids, so that’s not realistic. Then there’s handling business, which is also fine and I can do that. But when it comes to your child and their health, it’s very emotional. So it was very hard for me to show my emotion to my ex because he could care less how I feel. To be vulnerable in front of somebody like that, with all that history, was very hard. It was very, very hard.
At this point now my son is 11, and we have to put him in the hospital because he’s had three attempts at suicide, because he was so upset and lost that he felt like in his little brain at that stage, this is what I have to do because I’m making everybody so unhappy. But we didn’t know anything about anxiety leading to depression. You know what? I got three kids and a dog. Everybody get in the car. We’re going now! Jason needs a special invitation? Yes, Jason needs a different kind of invitation. So I ended up making the hard decisions, and my ex allowed me to do that. He wasn’t going to make tough decisions. He was standing there with me, but as long as I took on the responsibility of making decisions like he’s going to be transported, and he’s going to Wilderness today. There were no other options for us. I didn’t want him rotating in and out of the hospital where, to be honest, they’re serving Boston cream pie and chips. Like, what are you doing for him here? The only benefit of him being in that hospital for five days is it gave me time – I don’t know about my ex – to get my shit together. I knew he was safe. I knew he wasn’t going to run away, and he wasn’t going to hurt anybody. And it was five days in his whole life. I really needed that time. I will say that I had people in my neighborhood here, and I was very quiet about it, nobody knew anything except my closest friends, but people were recognizing the behavior that my son was exhibiting when we would be out in public. They reached out to me and said you need an advocate. My kid went through this, I know you don’t know me, but this is what you might want to do. That’s honestly why I help so many people today because I recognize it like they recognized it in me at the time.
I feel obligated to pay it forward. So now, my son is 18 years old. He went to Wilderness over Thanksgiving, his birthday, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s Eve, all of which I was upset about. But the truth is all of those holidays would have sucked. They would have been me hoping something great was going to all of a sudden happen. And it was not going to happen.
So that’s his journey. His father was there, and we did a transition course through the Wilderness program from the Wilderness to a therapeutic boarding school where we lived with our son and two therapists and our daughters, as if we were the family that we were. That was like everything. We learned that our son, the boy we knew inside, is there and was just like trying to figure out how do you help me to come out? Help me. I want to be like my sisters and I want to do all this stuff. I just don’t have the tools. So Wilderness really helped him.
First of all, I think the biggest lesson he learned is that you can be pissed, and you can be angry, and you can be frustrated, you just can’t hurt anybody when you do that. It’s normal. You are so normal. We just have to teach you how to handle it a little bit differently. So then Jason went on to a therapeutic boarding school. It was like Hard Knox going through the emotional roller coaster and everything, but that’s where he belonged. We were not equipped. My ex was trying to get the Wilderness people to validate him and say, sure, you can take Jason home now after nine weeks in Wilderness. He was begging them to be like, he deserves to be home. I said he does, but I’m not prepared. I’m telling you right now, he’s all yours. Don’t even call me. I am not trained for this. We had eight weeks, two parent workshops. This isn’t for me. I can’t do it.
So Jason spent three and a half years there, then went to a mainstream boarding school in Vermont that he picked but that we made sure had therapy and someone monitoring his medication and go-to people for him if he was feeling frustrated, but he was ready. He was mature, like almost finally as mature as his actual age, instead of being 11 and acting like a five year old. Honestly, I couldn’t care less if Jason didn’t even finish high school I have to be honest with you. I just wanted Jason to be happy. I just wanted him to find something that made his heart happy. And that’s it, I don’t care.
But he decided that he wants to go to college. He is going to the University of Denver in the fall. He is going to be in an amazing place where the air is like Vermont, but he’s not stuck in the middle of nowhere. He can practice his independence and advocate for himself. We’re embarking right now, finally, on a healthier relationship. He and I have always struggled to rebuild a new relationship, and so we’re working through that. But it’s all because of our ability now to communicate, whether you want to hear it or not, and for him to know that he’s heard. So I have tons of things that I–think my two biggest takeaways, and then I’ll let Rebecca take over,
what I learned from all of this is being a fixer is not fixing anything. I was the ultimate fixer. Let’s mobilize. Can I rub your back? You want a drink? You want to go for a walk? You want to take a bath? You want to sit down? You want me to stand up? What do you want me to do? He just wanted me to shut up, just be quiet. He had so many voices screaming in his head already, he didn’t need me on top of that. And so I learned a lot. I’m no longer a fixer on anything in my life.
I am present. So if my son is struggling, I just sit there and I’m quiet. Then after a few minutes, I ask him if he needs support, and then I don’t say anything. So being present and being a good listener and not fixing anything, so that he can fix it himself, those are my biggest takeaways of our journey now. I do still very much collaborate with my ex as far as my son. It’s so funny because we can’t collaborate on anything else. But whatever, I don’t need him to bring other stuff. This is the most important thing. But I mean, if our son, God forbid, were sick with some crazy illness, we would move heaven and earth. That was ultimately how it had to be explained to both of us, so that we could validate our decisions, and I was fine with my choices. So that’s my story. Thank you. It’s all him. He put in the work. I just put him there.
Rebecca: I feel the same way. So many things that T.H. was just saying, I’m just sitting here nodding my head, because a lot of it’s very similar. But I think I’m going to actually start at the end and then go back. Because what you were just saying about not being a fixer was so resonating with me. Because I think my big realization in the end was his wellbeing was not in direct proportion to how much I was suffering and turning myself into a pretzel and looking for every single answer. It wasn’t if I found the best clinician for this, the best program for that, and didn’t work, and didn’t have a life. That wasn’t going to make him better or something. It was about him realizing the other thing you said, about that he’s amazing. We just have to get tools to be able to handle these obstacles that are in his way so that his best self could come out. So my journey kind of started when my older son Ethan was about three. I was a new mom and had no idea what I was doing. But at some point, it felt like this is not just normal tantrum behavior. There’s something else going on here. I started with the pediatrician, who sent me to a child psychologist, who sent me eventually to go get evaluated. And as the years went on, my list of professionals and diagnoses and then medications grew.
While that was going on, my husband and I, I think, had sort of dueling philosophies about how to handle him. While I was trying to get him in the car, he was trying to bubble wrap him and coddle everything thing, and neither one of us was 100% correct. The worst thing about that was that we weren’t doing it either way. We were just in conflict about how to do it. We also had a lot of outside opinions from extended family that complicated things. But yeah, it just really hijacked the family. It sucked up all the oxygen. I think the more I tried to help, the more he felt like I was trying to fix him. The communication was terrible. Except on very rare occasions, everything was fine in school. It was mostly at home. So like you said, I felt like everything was my fault because it’s just all going on at home. I really just kept hitting different dead ends. We would have a good stretch for a few weeks, and I would think, ooh, maybe we’re turning a corner. But no, then the other shoe would drop. Those stretches sometimes were two days. I think we had a stretch that was like eight months.
I was really hopeful then, and then all hell broke loose. It was just very up and down. For him, I think, ultimately, when he finally got an autism diagnosis, it made sense. I kind of knew it all along, but everyone was hesitant to make that diagnosis because he didn’t meet all the criteria. He can look you in the eye, he understands sarcasm, he wasn’t a kid that you would have a conversation with and immediately think was on the spectrum. But that rigidity of thinking that’s part of his neurology was at the core of everything. He was very demand avoidant, and that could mean my asking him to do something simple that everyone does every day, or it could be pressure he was putting on himself in some way. Just everything was no, everything was an argument.
As he got older, the tantrums that were violent when he was five, they’re very different at 15. Eventually, he was not going to school. He was incredibly depressed. We had gone through everything, and there was nothing left to try except for Wilderness. It took a while to get his dad on board with that. But eventually, what actually happened was after we separated and his dad moved out, he was with the boys alone one evening and an argument ensued, and my son took out a big kitchen knife in the middle of the argument.
That finally was the rock bottom that got him to agree that he needed to be away from our whole dynamic and just try what seemed like the last thing to try. We did the transport thing and he went to Utah. He was there for I think it was four months, then from there, transitioned to a therapeutic boarding school where he was for about six months. He had a very rocky start, but then decided, okay, I guess I’m stuck here. I should see how this works. He gradually really started to get something out of the program, really started to become introspective and see that he had the freedom to choose how he was going to look at things and look at himself and what he was going to do to try and change things. While he was doing that, he didn’t know it at the time, but in the background, we were in the midst of this very tumultuous divorce.
Right after my son left for Wilderness, instead of being on board anymore, it became I will consent to everything he needs so long as you pay for all of it. We got involved in that kind of a mess. So then I was working to get reimbursement from school, reimbursement from health insurance, a discount from program, and just pasting everything together to keep him there every day that I could keep him there. Because I knew if he came home too soon, it would have been for nothing. So I really fought hard to keep him there for as long as I could. It was a struggle, but we went on therapy calls together and acted like everything was fine and just focused on him.
I’m happy to say by the time he came home, he seemed, I don’t want to say like a different person, I want to say like himself finally, who I hadn’t seen in so long. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop because I just didn’t believe it was going to last. And it has lasted. Like every kid, he has bad days, but he really understands himself now. It’s incredible how much more maturity and perspective he’s gained, and I’m so grateful for it. Yeah, I really felt like the age he was he was either going to go to college, or spend the rest of his life on someone’s couch in a basement, if he didn’t kill himself. He’s making his college list. Our relationship has changed so much, and the communication has changed so much. I think a lot of what Wilderness did in terms of not letting you talk to each other and having you write letters back and forth, that changed the way we heard each other. But yeah, I think the entire journey took me meeting the right people, hearing the right thing, and there were so many wrong things mixed in there. But I feel like I got lucky, he worked hard, and we got here. Feeling like somebody has your back and gets it, and it is okay, and it’s not your fault, and you’re actually a completely kick-ass parent, because look what you’re dealing with, that is just something that’s invaluable and that I want to help give other people answers and direction and support. Because that, where I found it along the way, I mean, I think that’s the only reason I’m still standing.
Carrie: Thank you guys for your stories. It really, really touched my heart. Rebecca, can you share with everybody where you have ended up going, because you and I have had such a great conversation about your mediation, and some of your thoughts for people who may have a future divorce? I loved what you had said, so not that I’m planning that for me, but even co-parenting is difficult sometimes.
Rebecca: I’ll put it to you this way. I think whether you’re in this situation or not, there are things that can help everyone. They’re a common denominator. When my son was in first grade, he could not come in off the playground and go right into science class. The teacher and I decided he needs 15 minutes of reading in the corner before he makes that transition. That worked really well. But it worked really well for the whole class, so she started doing it with everybody because it was just common sense.
I think it’s the same with a lot of the planning that goes into divorce and divorce with special needs, because if you don’t have a roadmap, things are going to get dicey, especially if emotions are high, which of course they are. Whenever I have clients in that situation, planning ahead is really the number one thing that I suggest. The way I do that with clients is to come up with a special education plan that we put right into a divorce agreement. So if you think about it, the same way that you have an IEP in school where you’re going to identify what the issues are, figure out different accommodations for them, how are we going to support these problems, make sure that everyone’s actually applying that, it’s the same thing at home, really.
It depends what’s going on, but things that I would put in there are: think about your child at home as opposed to in school, what do they need all day? What kinds of things can’t they do/must they do? How do you have to approach certain things? Is there any kind of regiment with food, medication, sensory stuff? Whatever that is, write it all down and put it in there.
Anyone who is caring for your child has to be capable of and willing to implement all of those things. They have to be. Otherwise, it’s all going to fall apart. While you can’t make somebody do something, having that conversation and putting it on paper and putting it in there highlights how important it is, and at least makes you have that conversation.
Then when it comes to what I call the “homework” of divorce, most of which is financial, there are so many things that you can do to put your child first and make sure those things aren’t in conflict. So, how are you going to pay for therapy? How are you going to pay for whatever the program is? How are you going to plan for what might be needed in the future? Is your child necessarily going to be emancipated at the normal age? Or are they not because maybe they’re not going to be living independently or completely supporting themselves, and you need to recognize that? So maybe child support goes on longer than it would have otherwise. People save for college and they put aside maybe a 529 plan.
There are different plans for special needs. There’s something called an ABLE account that most people have never heard of, where you can put money aside, it’s tax free, and that child can use it not just for tuition, but for almost anything. I want clients to talk to people who are financial planners who specialize in divorce and who specialize in special needs, so they can get all of that practical information. Because if you’re not on the same page, if somebody doesn’t want to do something because they don’t think it’s necessary, or they don’t agree, or they don’t want to hear it from you, maybe they do if they know it saves them money. That’s a whole other component to it. There are just a lot of things you can put into an agreement to shape these things. Who’s going to make the decisions? You talk about different kinds of custody.
Legal custody is the decision making part. How is that going to work when you’re deciding big things like where your child is going to go to school? And that’s not just the usual kind of question. Who decides that? What happens if you have a disagreement? One thing I like to put in a lot before there are problems are if you’re using a clinician that you both trust, or even if you’re not, you could say we’re going to pick one of mutual selection.
Maybe if you have a disagreement about what support your child needs, you agree if we can’t come together on this, we’re going to get a recommendation from so and so, and we’re going to abide by what that doctor says we should do, because in the past, we’ve trusted that doctor’s advice. That then takes the argument away and puts somebody in the driver’s seat who you know has your child’s best interests at heart and doesn’t have any other reason for giving an answer to something. There are just a lot of things that we can talk through and figure out how to work into an agreement so that it brings you together and you’re on the same page. Because most people want to be a good parent, they want to do right by their kid. So if we start there, then all the other stuff starts to really come together anyway, because we’ve already dealt with the biggest thing.
Carrie: I love what you were saying, because one of the things you said was that you may be on the same page and co-parenting okay, but that doesn’t mean that in the future they may disagree. This is kind of a protection of that, like if things go south. And T.H., I want to ask you, because you talked about how you are able to co-parent now for your son, tell me about how you got to that part. Tell us, because I’m sure all of us would like to hear it. How did you get to that place?
T.H.: Well, it’s a journey. I think the number one thing that I did when I separated was figure out how the hell I got into that mess in the first place. I mean, what the hell was I doing being in a relationship with someone who treated me like shit? So that took a little while. And to be prepared to go through a divorce with a narcissist, I mean, people throw that word around a lot now. I do know the difference, and he is. And so that’s not just being a jerk, that’s just how he’s programmed. And so I had to learn, like with my son, to not take it in. There would be things that would be said, and it’s my response to him, because he’s never going to change, my ex. He still has it. It’s amazing that when I change the way that I respond or don’t respond, or react or don’t react, it’s so much more freeing. He doesn’t have control over me anymore. There’s no more power over me, which I allowed him to have. I fully take responsibility for that. But now I take responsibility. So that’s my power now. I control how I feel about things and nobody else does. And so I’m very careful when I talk to him about sensitive things, especially about my son. But it could be my daughters too. I know how now to communicate with a person like that for it to be productive. I’m very careful with the words I choose. Like I said, I really don’t tell him what to do. I say, this is why I’m calling, and this is what I’m thinking, and I’d like you to think about it. So then he’s taking ownership. I’d like you to think about it and let’s talk about it tomorrow, because I think it’s really important, and I want to know if you think it’s important too. So making him feel like he’s still in control, which he needs to, but me knowing that he’s not, that is that’s the technique I use anyway for dealing with my ex.
Every relationship is different, your dynamic’s different with whoever you’re co-parenting with, but I think really understanding why certain triggers affect you in certain ways is really important, whether you’re going through a divorce or not. I mean, my son triggers me all the time. My daughter just triggered me tonight and then I apologized to my daughter because I got upset and I shouldn’t have. I was just feeling stuck. We’ve all learned to communicate in a different way. I think the more we do that, it allows us to work better together as this new type of family.
But for my ex, I think that you just really have to understand the person you’re co-parenting with and take responsibility for yourself. I’ve been coached and I’ve been working with therapists for a long time because I didn’t ever want to be in that spot again. Now, I’m in the greatest relationship of my life. But that’s only because I was in the best place for me to meet him. And so it’s a journey of self discovery, and you’re going to keep messing up, but anytime you’re triggered to co-parent with your ex, man or woman, you have to figure out why you’re being triggered that way, because that’s a past relationship. If you need to co-parent with this person, then you’ve got to clean it up. Because they’re always going to have your kids, and it’s not good for you to be anxious every time you see a text or he calls or whatever. We’re few and far between, it’s only when, like I said, we handle business. Then there was one time, it’s kind of a funny story, he calls me and he’s acting like my friend. I’m thinking, what’s going on here? He wants to shoot the shit with me. So I let him, and then I got off the phone and I laughed. I am laughing today because I could hear his voice like, so, you know, what’s going on? You know, the kids had this weekend and that weekend, and whatever. I’m thinking, okay, that’s awesome, great, okay, bye. I’m like I don’t want that relationship with him, but let him think that I do. I wasn’t going to be a bitch and cut him off. That’s also me just being fully aware of me and what not to do with him. Look, if I don’t want to talk to him anymore, then there are plenty of things I could do. But that’s not good for any of us. So those are some of the things that I that I’ve done. But it all comes back to me: how I’m triggered, how I respond to my son, to my kids, to my ex, and taking responsibility and learning to do it differently so it doesn’t hurt me.
Rebecca: I love that. I couldn’t agree with that more, because people say it all the time, but you cannot control anyone else. All you control is yourself and your own reactions. But it’s so true. I think the minute that we stop feeling guilty about focusing on ourselves, that’s when things start to change. Because we need to focus on ourselves and see how I got here, and see what am I doing, and how am I reacting to all of this. Because if we’re not in a good place, then we’re not in a good place to communicate, we’re not in a good place for our kids. The stronger we are, the better we are for them. I know it sounds cliché, but it takes a while for that to really sink in. I think once it does is when things kind of turn a corner. As far as the communication goes, just back to the mediation thing, I also love parenting apps. I think they are great for helping with that kind of communication. If anyone doesn’t know what they are, it works just like a regular text, but it’s an app. They’re all different ones, and you can chart your shared expenses on there, your calendar, your schedule, everything. But because it can easily be downloaded and sent right to the attorney if need be, everyone’s on their best behavior.
Nobody is saying anything that’s really going to trigger anybody else. They’re just getting to the point, saying what they have to say, and they’re doing what they should be doing, because it’s like someone’s looking over their shoulder. Maybe that doesn’t sound warm and fuzzy, but it actually creates better communication that is warmer and fuzzier sometimes I think, because it stopped you from reacting in the moment without taking a breath. Sometimes we all need to take a breath. I think my son, he said to me about Wilderness, that when he got out there, and this is a child who would not go in the backyard, okay, he was afraid of bugs, and I sent him, as he would tell you, to the barren canyons of Utah with a bunch of hippies in a cult. When he got out there, he said that that turned off all the rest of the noise. All the static went away. Nobody is telling him what to do. Nobody’s yelling. There’s nothing. You’re out there, and you need to do these things or you’re going to get left behind. You don’t want to hike? Okay, the entire group will wait until you want to hike. And if that means we’re hiking at two in the morning, then that’s what’s going to happen. It sounds brutal, but it was amazing because at home, you can’t put up a boundary like that. You have to worry about their sibling, you have to go to work, and you have to get on with your day. You can only have a conversation about why they’re upset for three hours before you fall down. Out there, they can really just think about why they’re there.
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