Today’s guest post/public service announcement is brought to you by my sister and reader, Andee.
Andee: When people talk about “fight or flight” I admit I am little confused. I go into this mode on a too regular basis, but it’s the “flight” part that is foreign to me. I don’t run. I dig my heel in, square my shoulders, and get ready to fight. There is a reason I am routinely referred to as “mama bear” and I consider anyone I love to be a cub.
So when I go through a traumatic family event vicariously through one of my cubs, I have to reign mama bear in, and remember that while I may be the person standing right behind the person going through the life event, it is not MY event. And what that person needs is one part teddy bear (giving them a soft place to fall), part elephant (really big ears and a closed mouth) and only a small part of mama bear.
I have learned this like I have learned virtually everything else in my life, the hardest way possible. I became educated on the subject only after I had screwed up royally, and there are too many cringe worthy moments to list. In the hopes that you can become educated without the list of ways I messed that one up, here are what I wish I had known then…
1. You are clueless. You don’t know jack. No really, you don’t know a thing, and you need to accept that fact before you open up those pretty lip glossed lips. Even if there was absolutely no embellishment, no expansion and 100% of the truth told 100% of the time, you still only know 50% of one person’s interpretation of an event. Think of it as that person’s facebook feed in reverse, instead of the highlights, you’re only hearing the lowlights. I am not suggesting that the person you are talking to is lying, but there are only two people in that relationship and you are not one of them. No matter how much experience you have co-parenting yourself, understand that their situation is different.
2. There is going to be fallout you don’t expect. When my sister and brother-in-law got divorced, my children lost a beloved uncle. I had to answer questions about my own marriage – in short, if they could get divorced, doesn’t that mean you and Daddy could too? Holidays where we had hard fast traditions needed to be modified, and sometimes we were less than thrilled with those modifications. Suddenly I had to be sensitive to rules my nieces had that were new, and I was expected to honor just like their mom was. There was a learning curve for all of us.
3. Learn how to listen. Really listen. No using this as an excuse to complain about your own problems, or how this issue is better or worse than yours. Use your big elephant ears and shut the heck up.
4. Never plan anything without synchronizing your calendars. In a lot of cases today, parents are splitting custody 50/50 which means the person you are supporting may only have their kids every other weekend, weekday whatever. Plan your activities around their custody schedule. Asking them to move it around is insensitive, makes them “owe” the other parent one, and is usually so stressful whatever delightful activity you have planned is simply not worth the hassle. Give them that courtesy.
5. Understand you might be a little jealous. And insensitive. And dare I say it again, clueless. When I talk to my divorced girlfriends there is a little part of me that wonders what it might be like to have a night off. Like an entire night where another adult was responsible for the health and well-being of my kids. I image rainbows, and unicorns, and bubble baths, and sleeping in until ten. There is not one single girlfriend I know who wouldn’t give up that illusion to have her kids 100% of the time, and will clarify the nights she has “off” are usually spent watching Supernatural and going to bed right after the laundry is dry. That’s where the insensitive thing comes in, there are times when I am complaining about my kids being up my butt, my husband being a sloth and watching a Top Gear marathon and they will say something to the effect of, “Well, at least they’re there with you.” Open mouth and insert everything you own. Don’t stop talking about your own problems, but stop and think before you speak (which is kinda good advice in general.)
6. Be a constant for the kids. Even the most successful co-parenting relationships have some areas where the kids get caught in the middle, despite everyone’s best efforts. Make an extra effort to be stable, consistent, and normal for them. Don’t buy them off, they’re too smart for that, and you won’t benefit from the relationship either. Invest in the them as people. Call them. Mail them little notes. Remember what they tell you. Play on-line games with them. Cluelessness is not ok here.
So where does mama bear come in? Right here. Put mama bear to bed. She needs her rest. Relationships are marathons, not sprints. Firing up your friend, alienating their ex, telling them what they should be doing is completely ineffective. It also makes the person feel like they have to explain themselves to you, or worse have to decide between you and their ex. Don’t do that to them. You can want to mama bear them, you can even tell them that, but channel your inner teddy bear instead.
~Andee Myatt – Guest Post Author (April 1, 2014)
Mandee comment for #5: If you are a single parent, Please do not say things like, “at least they are with you”. I
may will smack you…hard. Everyone has issues and co-parenting and life in general needs to be filled with tolerance. Married parents have issues too, they are just different. It’s not appropriate for married couples to look down on you for being a single parent, but it is equally shitty for single parents to insinuate that because another parent is married that they couldn’t possibly have a hard day. As Ian Maclaren once said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” (now widely misattributed to Plato or Philo). What the world needs is tolerance.
Thank you for tuning in today for this public service announcement. Say “no” to drugs, and I’ll see you next week.