vulnerable path

Make yourself a stronger woman.

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Closing doors and setting boundaries

There was a knock at my front door last Saturday.  From my seat at the kitchen table, I could see who it was.

It was the person who said that I was the trash that belonged on the curb.  It was the person who said I moved my daughter to the ghetto.  It was her Father and my ex-husband.

This was a moment that I had thought about many times.  What am I going to do if he knocks on my door one day?  What will I say?  Will I let him in?

door_editedHe chose to stop speaking to me over 4 years ago.  The last lengthy discussion we had was right before Christmas of 2009.  It wasn’t really a discussion though.  It was just him accusing me of all sorts of infractions as a parent and partner.  I mostly sat there listening with my jaw agape the whole time.  It was impossible for me to respond; I was simply so shocked.  And my responses wouldn’t have mattered anyway.  No productive conversation was going to take place.  He needed to berate me with my failures to make him feel better about his own.  His ego had been waiting for this opportunity.  I remember this clearly as the point in our relationship where I had finally reached my limit.  Enough; I’m done.

Since then, we have avoided being around each other.  We have not spoken on the phone or face to face.  Some of the most uncomfortable moments of my life happened during our support conciliation meeting and the closing on the sale of our house.  I don’t think anyone has ever despised me as much as he does.  I ruined his plans for a happy family life.  Never mind what he had done to me.

And in regard to our daughter, we have only communicated by email.  He has put a great deal of effort into scrutinizing my every decision, looking for ways to judge and criticize.  I have tried to keep him informed of anything that affected her, such as school work and extra-curricular activities.  All questions and answers have been documented electronically.  It still gives me a slight bit of anxiety when I see that I have a new email from him.  I spent years walking on eggshells.

During stressful times, my home has been my sanctuary.  It’s my own private refuge.  When I literally needed a place to hide from the world, this was the place.  Choosing it didn’t involve him, although he thought it should have.  I chose what neighborhood to move to.  (The ghetto, remember?  I overheard him saying this to our daughter, who was 8 at the time.)  But I did not move us to a ghetto.  We have lovely neighbors, on a nice quiet street, in a good community, with a quality school system.  Our house is cozy and warm, with the comforting smell of soup cooking on the weekends and large planters full of flowers by the doorstep.  I am proud of the space I have created for my daughter and I.  It’s not Park Avenue, but it meets our needs.  So I think I should be selective about who sets foot in it.

That front door to my home is a very real symbol for the boundary that I have needed to establish with him.  I didn’t always understand boundaries.  I was raised to be open and truthful.  I grew up believing that other people value truth the way I do.  I was taught to “turn the other cheek” when someone did me wrong.  In church on Sunday mornings, I was urged to forgive.  But without understanding where to draw the line, I contracted the disease to please.  I wanted to make people happy all the time.  Even after being hurt and betrayed, I always tried to give people another chance.  This really wasn’t working for me.

In order to set boundaries in our relationships, we need to evaluate what we stand for and what we are willing to accept from others.  When we set a boundary, we have to be ready to disappoint others.  This is hard for a people-pleaser.  The haters will see this as bold and selfish.  But there is nothing wrong with making yourself a top priority.  Ask yourself, “what do I need to do to re-gain my personal power?”  The answer might be that you need to remove someone from your life.  It takes bravery to set and enforce a boundary.  You should not feel guilty about it.  You can be kind and even compassionate without letting people take advantage of you or walk all over you.  To stick with it, it helps to surround yourself with those who love, support, and respect you.

So I bet you are wondering if I opened the door and let him in.

Yes, I did.

I failed to enforce my boundary.  I let the disease to please creep back in.  He was there to pick up my daughter.  We have been getting along better lately.  We have been able to speak to each other face to face and be somewhat comfortable around each other at events that she is participating in.  This is certainly for her benefit.  That sounds like a whole bunch of bad excuses, doesn’t it?

He sat rather humbly on the edge of the couch and politely declined a beverage.  We made idle chit-chat about our child until she was ready to leave with him.  Benign as this was, I still knew immediately that I shouldn’t have allowed him to cross that boundary.  I was uncomfortable.  This is not someone I trust.  Being a good co-parent is one thing.  Opening up the door to the possibility of being bullied, manipulated, judged, or criticized is another.  He’s not welcome to do any of that to me.   He needs to stay on the other side of that door.

© Vulnerable Path, 2014






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How a failed marriage made me a better role-model

Even the least prepared parents have some inkling of how they hope to raise their children.  When we think about starting a family, we have idyllic dreams about laughter and joy and watching our off-spring grow into happy, successful adults.  It must be natural for us to not think too much about the tough stuff of parenting.  We naively have no idea what we are getting ourselves into.

I had delayed becoming a parent until my mid-thirties.  I was in no hurry.  For a long time I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to have children.  Then I realized I might regret it if I don’t.  I was married, I owned a home, I had a secure job.  I was ready to become a Mom.  Yet, I really had no clue how I was going to take care of a child’s needs.

Being a somewhat well-educated person, I went straight to the books.  I read everything “parenting” related that I could get my hands on.  I looked to my friends and family who had children for advice.  And when our little bundle of joy finally arrived, I felt prepared.  Full belly, dry diaper; we should be good.  Uh, no.  The poor child was crying every two hours and not napping long enough.  I went through about two weeks of this.  Finally a dear friend said, “Just feed her!”  I was trying to stick with the pediatrician’s advice of 2 ounces per feeding, rather than letting her eat until she was full.  The advice worked.  Good Lord, if I could barely feed a baby, how was I going to shape her emotional well-being?

Almost a year went by before I faced the realization that I will have to discipline my beloved bouncing bundle of joy.  Then she started to crawl, to pull herself up on furniture, and take those precarious first steps.  I distinctly remember this as the turning point.  My laughing, smiling, happy baby had to hear the word “No.”  Suddenly, there were a lot more tears.  And so we went through the terrible twos, potty training, tantrums, and so on.  We now have the job of teaching lessons.  For me, the tool kit included Sunday School and Girl Scouts.  I wanted to raise my daughter with the same values that I was taught as a child.

The thing is, life happens.  And as adults, we are still learning lessons.  Our values are put to the test everyday.  And as tough times began unraveling my life, I found myself wondering what I was teaching my child as she observed the way I dealt with it.  I not only had to police her behavior, but also my own.  “Role Model” had a whole new meaning.  My daughter was just 2.5 years old when I discovered my marriage was irreparably broken, but somehow we managed to hide this fact from her for several years.  She was so young, that when her father began spending extended time away from home, she didn’t seem to notice.  We maintained our home, and I took care of her and it, while he lived elsewhere most of the time.  He would come to visit on weekends occasionally.  Somewhere deep inside of me I had stuffed the question: did she realize this was not how other families live?  Was she somehow already scarred by our weird life?  We kept this arrangement functional until she was 7 years old.

Then the arrangement fell apart.  And it became much more of a challenge to keep negative emotions hidden from her.  The day came when I needed to explain to her that he and I could no longer stay married and keep our home.  It was certainly not an easy decision to break up my family. I had not come from a broken home.   And I had hoped that my own children would not know it either.  How do I put a positive spin on this when I feel so much anger, resentment, and pain inside?  I struggled a lot with how I was failing as a parent.

One reason it was important for me to leave my marriage was to make sure I was setting an example for my daughter that fit my values.  It became clear to me that in my efforts to keep peace, I was really allowing myself to be a doormat.  And while it’s important to be empathetic to others and to show compassion, I also had to set boundaries. I had avoided confrontations with my husband throughout our marriage.  I tolerated the silent treatment, which is really a form of emotional abuse.  We would have disagreements, and he would end up not speaking to me for weeks.  Then one day he’d come home and act like nothing had happened.  Stunned, I would simply accept it rather than make waves again.  There were secrets and lies that eventually all came out.  Was this what I wanted to teach my daughter about how to have a relationship or a marriage?  That would be a big, fat NO.

I had to accept that my idyllic dream of family hadn’t worked out.  Whatever hard work I had to do emotionally at that point, I kept in mind that I was also setting an example for my daughter about how to face life’s challenges.  I scraped up what was left of my self-esteem and started nurturing it back to health.  I refused to be bullied.  I tempered my anger and pain with trail runs and bike rides.  I took us on new adventures like kayaking and zip lining.  I let go of possessions that I realized were not as important as my spiritual well-being.  I made us a new home that met our needs.

There will be (there are!) people in her life that role-model good marriages and relationships.  I was disappointed that it wasn’t her father and I to be that example.  But I learned that I was able to model something more important – courage and self-respect.    She is 12 years old now.  She has a good relationship with her Dad.  My boundary with him is set at successful co-parenting and nothing more.  I still am not sure if we damaged her.  I guess only time will tell.  So far it seems that she has turned out to be a pretty awesome person.  She is certainly, in spite of ourselves, our greatest accomplishment.  And I am dedicated to giving her the tools she needs to stay that way.