On life, divorce, custody and Measure 6.

I’ve been trying to figure out what, if anything, I can write that might make a difference in the war being waged right now in North Dakota over the upcoming ballot measure on Shared Parenting. I don’t know that this is it. But it’s the first of several blogs I’ll probably post this week on the topic, because watching and reading some of the material that’s being perpetuated on the issue by opponents of shared parenting reform, is terribly sad and frustrating. And part of our daily conversations right now. And I can’t sit idle and watch anymore.

We’ve been following Measure 6 closely, as there is still a long way to go in shared parenting reform in most, if not all states. It has countless others across the nation watching as well as the discussion unfolds in North Dakota. Why?

Measure 6 really has the chance to do some things right. And do right, by our kids, should it pass.

Opponents (it appears this is most often lawyers, custodial parents themselves and women who just want to support other women who have custody of their kids because, according to so many of their comments, how could a man possibly care for a child nearly as well as a mother) would have you believe it’s the worst thing ever for any child. That Measure 6 will only hurt children who don’t deserve to be stuck in the middle. I hate to break it to you, but they already are. Can we at least agree to start there?

Measure 6 asks judges to consider before knowing anything else, that the best possible scenario for a child caught in the middle of a family separation or divorce, would be 50/50 time and placement when two fit parents are involved. The final ruling doesn’t need to be 50/50, but Measure 6 encourages judges to use it as a starting point. If 50/50  obviously won’t work for reasons of say, perhaps distance between homes, demanding jobs that require a lot of travel or time away from home or for any other logical and proven reason, that the child be offered the chance to maximize time with both parents, however that may look. Along with this, standards need to be met for both parents to be considered ‘fit’.

This law is asking North Dakota voters to agree to a different future for the children of that state and quite honestly for adults, attorneys and judges in the state’s family law system. It asks that everyone try and play better in the proverbial sandbox that more and more families find themselves in. And it also asks that there finally be some accountability for why good parents are otherwise, often completely or nearly completely, shut out of a child’s life.

Why would I care about a shared parenting measure in another state? Well, because important, relevant and universal issues know no boundaries. The conversations on any broad social issues don’t stop at the state line. (If so, you might want to gather those parenting magazines you have lying around the house offering advice and chuck ’em because chances are they weren’t written by anyone in ND.)

I also care because, our family is a prime example of how shared parenting can work, does work and could work even when parents don’t get along or live in different states. At least on the one side. On the other, is an ongoing reminder of why the system needs to change.

Here’s the deal. I’ve tried to limit the number of parenting/shared parenting/etc posts on this blog because, well, because I don’t want the issue to define our lives. But, I could write a post daily. Stories about the beauty of co-parenting. About the challenges along the way. About how we work through them, or not. About how easily 50/50 can work. And if not 50/50, as close to that as possible when it isn’t possible. About how important it is a child feel they’re able to equally love both parents. About, how when that is their norm, having that taken away from them is what tears them up versus starting from that unequal split and trying to reverse it. And what happens when none of the above is present. About the trials and hurt children face when shut out of one good parents life. About the questions they ask when one parent is minimized and how, as a parent, you struggle to find the right answer without putting the other parent down. About the gut wrenching hurt that’s visible in a good dad’s eyes because every attempt to help raise his children is met with a no, you’re not welcome here, but your money certainly is. (Check please!) And about how the only recourse you know you might have when you are consistently shut out or denied time or phone calls or holidays, is to go back to court, to be told once again there aren’t any issues here, mom is doing her best and oh by the way, because she’s such an upstanding parent and seems totally willing to offer you your six days a month and two phone calls per week, you should pay her attorneys fees.

Doesn’t apply to you? You’re lucky if it doesn’t. But chances are you, a family member, a friend, even one of your own children have gone through it on some level. If not, they will. And when that time comes, should you choose to ignore how flawed the current system is, you had better hope you’re on the right side of the current law if you ever want to see your kids or your grandkids. Especially .. especially if there is a vindictive, self-centered, egotistical, self-righteous or narcissistic custodial parent in the mix.

Measure 6 may not be perfect. Nothing ever is. But it follows the logic of what social science experts studying this issue for decades seem to feel is best for our kids. And given what we’ve seen personally, time and again and not just in our home but countless others – shared parenting can work and works well. Far better than the outcomes I’ve seen in families where there is a desire to equally parent but a hefty imbalance of time available for whichever parent it may be (most often, dads). But two parents have to be willing to be okay with it. And the process shouldn’t just get shut down because mom says, ‘I don’t want to’ or ‘this is terrible for our children’ without any proof that’s the case. When a shared parenting agreement is tough to work through initially, that is when parents need help and a voice of reason the most (chances are, you’re already in court for those who say the state should stay out of such decisions – oh, the irony), and that is where a law like this would step in and encourage what’s truly in the best interest of a child. Besides attorneys knowing that co-parenting reform often leads to less litigation (among the reasons the ND State Bar is fighting this measure tooth and nail whether you care to admit that or not), two adults agreeing to act like two adults in this situation appears the biggest hurdle of all.

#VoteYesOn6

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” .. children and families deserve better.”

On any given morning while I’m working, the Cowboy is sitting across from me at the table talking with other parents – both men and women – who are struggling with the parenting situation they’re in due to a divorce or family split. He does this for awhile. Goes about his day shoeing horses. Then does a bit more work on shared parenting each night. He’s not getting paid. He knows the likelihood it will change his own situation is slim. In fact, we’re told right now from a judicial insider, it may be one of the biggest hurdles we face in regard to getting anything to change in our case. The State Bar wants nothing to do with Shared Parenting and South Dakota judges don’t want to be told they have to consider it’s in a child’s best interest to spend as much time possible with both parents. We’re told they know the Cowboy’s been one of the most vocal advocates for the cause.

Just want to be a dad

He does it though because he prays others won’t have to go what he went through as time marches on. Essentially removing one parent from a child’s life, unless there is really good reason, the Cowboy says to me, is just not right. I wholeheartedly agree. But it is more often the norm in our world than the exception. And until moms (the majority of the time) realize they have a role in this as well, recognize it’s in their kids best interest to spend as much time as possible with their dad (or the other parent when roles are reversed) when and if possible, to bring that discussion to the table in resolving custody issues instead of waiting for it to be forced on you as if somehow it’s a horrible thing or something to be ashamed of – that you’re sharing custody and placement, and for both parents to get along and drop the perpetuation of drama and ongoing conflict, will anything change. It’s not about you. It’s what is shown now time and again, when you can work together, to be best for your kids. So why, when the conditions are right, are we doing things so wrong? Would moms sit back and take it if the majority of time there were custody decisions made, they were told it was in their kids best interest to only see them every other weekend? Why, when the roles are reversed, does it seem to be okay? Most dads don’t want to be shut out of their kids lives, nor do the majority of kids want to have little contact with their dads.

Sure, there are exceptions. But they are exceptions.

“If there are two really good parents willing to parent, why don’t you let them?” the Cowboy says as I ask him why he keeps doing this.

I knew this group was out there, Leading Women for Shared Parenting. I read about the group’s launch earlier this year. But after some recent discussions within our own family and with some others, this group and what we might do to be more vocal on the cause – has been on my mind. I don’t know that this is the answer, but it’s another great place to have the conversation. Please consider joining. http://lw4sp.org

LW4SP’s mission:

“We believe, in the absence of abuse, neglect or abandonment, children’s desires, needs and interests are best served when they grow up loving equally, and equally loved by, both their parents.  Further, children benefit equally from the diversity of both mothers and fathers and from the maximum involvement of both parents.  Millions of family members, both women and men, have silently suffered the loss of children they love and care deeply about as a result of misguided laws and family court practices which systematically restrict a child’s access to one parent and half of their extended family.  Both children and families deserve better than to be forced into an adversarial process with policies that encourage the minimization of one parent in the lives of their children.  It is our aim to change this system.  The first step is endorsing the statement below.  The next step is inviting your friends and family members to do the same.”

Stayin’ Alive and Kitchen Table Discussions About Divorce

I’m sitting at the kitchen table, like most nights, with the Cowboy. To set the scene, he’s making fun of me because I’m in my ‘get stuff done mode’ – trying to get this written, have it make sense, not piss anyone off and have an ounce of valuable takeaway. Which I can’t be sure of if I don’t focus on this before I hit publish. It’s not all that p-c to tell you what he’s doing to get me to laugh .. I can tell you however, he’s been laughing at himself as he rocks out again tonight on his guitar to Stayin Alive. We are apparently in a Bee Gees phase.

Playing Guitar

I want to write about co-parenting, what it is and how some experts advise doing it well. Because, it’s a constant struggle to do well in divorce, if parents consider doing it at all. Because it’s an ongoing conversation in our home. Because we have children and we are challenged to always be doing things better for them. And because we see so many of our friends (and quite honestly complete strangers who share way too much with us at times, which is okay, don’t get me wrong) that struggle with it and often want advice. 

Having said that, I feel perhaps it’s important to start this conversation with the following information:

I have done my best over the past 13 years now, to be a good co-parent. My ex may argue with me, but I’ve tried. To me, that journey started well before our child was even born.  

My efforts didn’t stop with our divorce. I have always felt my daughter needed my ex husband as much as she needed me in her life. We both bring different personalities and traits and skill sets to the table. And, she loves us both. 

We have shared equal time – split absolutely down the middle, almost this entire journey post separating. We agreed to this in what’s called a collaborative divorce process where we sat down at the table together, with our attorneys and literally discussed how we would work together on everything – and never say anything negative about the other in her presence, because it was and is in the best interest of our only child. Equal time. Equal say. Equal rights. Equal everything for the most part. 

We’ve worked over the years on a weekly basis (every Monday), to email each other with any and all updates in regard to anything involving our daughter. It was recommended as a good model for contact and communication because we were struggling with our communication otherwise. 

Those emails weren’t perfect – on either side. We’ve had our share of other issues as well. Issues that, no matter how much love was behind the root cause, ultimately became detrimental for our daughter’s overall well being. 

But we’ve tried always to do what is right by her.  What does that mean though….  

My Mother …

Apartment is cleaned up.  Laundry is going.  Coffee is on.  Running clothes are on too so that I’m motivated to workout after writing this, before I run off to work.

Life’s been hectic lately.  A good hectic at times and at other times, exhausting.  More emotionally than anything.  But finally feeling like I have a moment to sit and write.

I wrote most of last week about the mom’s in my life.  And while Mother’s Day has come and gone and this was to be my post on Sunday .. my 100th post .. I’m actually thinking my mom would appreciate that I’ve been trying to take care of some other obligations and things that needed tending to, before taking this break.  Plus, she’d appreciate, I believe, the fact I’ve done nothing but think about her and what was important to write about her now for over a week.

There isn’t a day though that goes by, I don’t think of her and wish I could pick up the phone to actually call .. she was and will always be the woman who became not only my mom, but also eventually my best friend.

………………

Those of you who are a daughter or who have one now .. can imagine it wasn’t always that way.

………………

“I don’t have to listen to you!  You’re not my real mother ..” I remember saying to her more than once when I was growing up.

I’m not sure what she ever said or expected of me that warranted that response.

But I remember saying it.  And regretting it then and now with everything I have.  How often we say things, especially as children, we wish we could take back.  Thankfully I had the chance to make amends for that and any other trouble I may have caused her in her far too short a life .. over and over again.  I did my best anyway.

And even though my mom isn’t here to walk me through how she might handle some of the parenting issues I am now blessed and challenged with .. I believe I have some wonderful insight, hindsight and foresight .. as my daughter tries to get away with some of the same.

🙂

Back to my mom.

I may be looking at this through rose colored glasses .. but I don’t think so.  And even if I am, I don’t care.

Here’s what I remember of my mother:

She went by A. Eileen because she hated her first name.  And she never wanted anyone to know it was Agnes.  But I kind of like it.  Family name.  She was born in Maryland but raised in Madison.  Her own father, Paul died while she was very young of tuberculosis.  She ended up with TB because of it.  Scarring her lungs as a very young child.  She was lucky to have survived, herself.  But it would eventually make her more vulnerable apparently, to the cancer that took her life.  She grew up in both a single parent home and when my grandmother remarried at one point, from everything I understand, in an abusive environment.  She attended Business College.  Met my father in a soda shop on Madison’s east side.  Married and moved to the small town of Poynette where she .. and they would live and work and raise our family, most of the rest of her life.

Our first home was tiny, but from what little I remember of it, she made it a home.  Totally 70’s decor.  Sweet flower beds around the house.  Lilies of the Valley out the front window I still remember the smell of them as they would bloom each spring.  A play set in the backyard.  She was always very proud of how things looked, including herself.  She wasn’t a workout queen.  But she was slender, always kept.

And despite the fact she wore little other makeup, there was always bright pink or red lipstick that went on.

She was simple.  Didn’t need much.  Her closet was minimal.  I stood looking at mine the other day and even now, mine is half the size it was a couple years ago (in part because I keep most of my work clothes now at work because I have no closet space in my old school apartment) .. thinking about how I would like to get down to a wardrobe the size of the one she had.  Life.  More Simple.  I love the thought.  And I am going through my own things little by little doing what I can right now to minimize.  (How and when did we as a society ever go from something four-feet wide being enough to closets the size of an efficiency apartment being the norm?)

She was a wonderful woman with an infectious smile .. and a laugh that seemed to be heard around every corner.  When she was happy.  When she was stressed.  When she would hear us say things we shouldn’t .. knowing the consequence was coming.

She was stern, yet vulnerable.  Beautiful.  Outspoken yet often quiet, introspective and kept to herself.  She was helpful.  Had great penmanship.  I love how she wrote her name.  Is that silly?  Whatever.  She was hard working.  Always wanting to pitch in to help wherever it was needed but knowing when it was time to rest and ‘just be’, as well.  She was all about family.  And community where she could.  Volunteering.  Getting involved.  But she was equally good at hiding out and tending to her own well being .. and that of our family.

She preferred my dad do the cooking, she’d do the dishes or get us to do them.  She and my dad both worked hard.  And in turn, expectations of what we could do and how we could pitch in as a team were high.

Especially as we got older.  Older .. interestingly enough, meaning probably my dear daughter, about the age you are now.

During the summer and on weekends especially, mom wanted a clean house.  With or without company coming.  We were expected to keep our rooms clean, have the laundry done and folded, vacuuming done, floors scrubbed with a rag – not a mop, have the lawn mowed, weeds pulled, the garage swept out, toys put away and whatever our other jobs were, done.  We were expected (ahem .. encouraged strongly if we ever wanted money of our own, ever) to work on top of any of that.  We mowed neighbors lawns.  Had paper routes.  De-tassled corn.  Babysat.  My first ‘real job’ I’m pretty sure was at the flower shop/convenience store in town, where my mom would go everyday for her Pepsi and Hershey’s candy bar for a break from work.  It was right across the street from her office.

Work.  Then play.

Which we were given a lot of room to do as well.

(I had written a bunch about that, but thinking I’ll save that for a post all its own.  The importance of play.  And another .. about having a job when you’re young.  Both are so important, I believe.)

In having many expectations of us, we were also given a lot of freedom to mess up.  Figure things out on our own.  And reap the rewards of being good and doing well, earning trust.  Or suffering the consequences of not making wise choices.  And grounded.  For like .. most of my high school years.  All were gifts that helped us both grow into the people we’ve become.  Like us or not.

Travel.

Mom loved to travel.  But hated to drive (flying wasn’t an option back then on a budget).  And she was terrible about reading maps.  One of my fondest memories though is of her, wherever we would be, in the passenger seat with the map.

My dad would say to her, ‘Where next?  Where do we turn next?’

“Well, I think .. here,” she would say.  And she would almost instantly start laughing.

“You think there?!” my dad would say getting frustrated.

We ended up in places we should not have been traveling on more than one occasion because she would break down in a fit of laughter and tears and not be able to even read the map.  Ultimately ending up in the drivers seat while our dad tried to navigate us out of a mess.

I hear her laughter everyday ..

.. as I glance at the photo I took of her on one of the last road trips we would ever take together.

We were in Montana.  And while at this particular moment we weren’t lost, we were laughing.

The photo reminds me each day of her simple nature, her appreciation for life and finding beauty in the everyday little things, for exploring .. but also in coming home again.  And in being with family.

Love and miss you.

“Let there be more joy and laughter in your living” – Eileen Caddy

(A quote not my mom, but apparently another wise Eileen.)

It all comes back to being a mom ..

It’s been kind of a rough week on the home front for a few reasons.

One, I’m pretty hard on myself when I don’t feel like I’ve been the best mom I can be.

Two, sometimes so are others.  Hard on you, that is.  Certain that – if put in your shoes they could live your life and do the job better.

Three, it’s been an insanely busy week.  One where I’ve had much more on my plate than usual.  And usual is already ridiculous by most people’s standards.  On top of it, I haven’t felt well.  I do believe my nose is bleeding at the moment from blowing it so much, darn this cold/sinus infection/whatever it is.  So I’m sure I’m looking good to boot.

I sincerely don’t mean in any way to complain.

Everyone around me is sick.  Busy and hard on themselves I think at times, knowing if they had more time to do it all, they could do any of it better.  Some, I know are far more sick and challenged than I am at the moment so I try to rise everyday thanking the good Lord for whatever level of health I do have.

Just stating the facts.

But, everything this week:  event-wise, situation-wise, health-wise and otherwise, has come back to the whole issue of parenting for me and what I want for myself and my (and my ex’s) daughter.

Big picture stuff.

And big picture can be tough when you and your spouse or ex or whoever else might be in the picture .. can’t seem to ever get on the same page when it comes to even the little things.

(It sure is interesting, though trying to get it all worked out.  Thoughts to be shared perhaps, later.  For now, the Cowboy and I are off to solve the world’s problems over beer and a fish fry.  Isn’t that where all good problems are solved?)

A good marriage …

The grass is not greener on the other side of the fence.  It is the greenest where nurtured and cared for.  If your grass is not green, what are you doing – or not doing – to have it that way?‘  –  Wedding Ceremony Sermon

…………….

The Cowboy and I had a wonderful weekend together .. filled with family and friends and more friends and family.

And some drama.

Fortunately, not between us.  But it was .. surrounding us.  And as we were caught between conversations (and this is just in one 48 hour period); 1) of a friend miserable in their marriage, wanting to know about a single friend 2) of a married couple we are close and spent time with but who were at each others throats 3) of a single friend over the phone wondering why the only people who want to date her are married 4) catching up with another couple who plans their week scheduling as much time apart as possible because its easier than being together and 5) of another couple in the midst of an affair and very open about it ..

The Cowboy asks me as we’re trying to navigate phone calls and how to respond to any of it, “Who do you know that really has a good marriage?”

I paused .. and when I went to answer, I paused again for a long time.

…………….

Thinking about the question posed, now almost a day later and as I write, I do know quite a few friends who are in wonderful marriages.  Not that any union is ever without its challenges.  But when challenges come, from what I have ever witnessed, they face them together, with respect, love for each other and a commitment to stick together.  And they have come through it stronger.

Far too many of us know …

… That’s not always possible.

Having been through divorce myself though, I get it.  I know the feeling of hopelessness. Years of it.  Of, no matter what you do, it’s not right.  Of defeat.  Of trying everything you can to save it.  Then being told its never enough.  Of counseling.  Finding hope.  Of a few months of things going well only to have the cycle reverse itself again.  Of knowing there is more to life than the misery it seems two people bring out of each other.  Seeing the pain in a child’s eyes of what the two of you are when you are together.  And imagining the sorrow and confusion in that same child’s eyes, of what it will be should you part.  Of wanting to run your car into a tree versus return home at night because it would be easier than making that decision.  Of knowing that’s not the answer.  And then, of getting to the point you know the pain of staying is worse than anything else you will have to go through to get to the other side.

My ex still says he wishes we had never married in the first place.  That it was the biggest mistake of his life and he should have known better.

While I don’t feel the same .. I get it.

And I’m not going to lie ..

There are so many reasons why one might choose the option of divorce over staying married.  Statistics show over half of our population now does.  While I was devastated to be the one to finally force that step we had both talked about for years, I have not regretted the decision to separate from my ex for one day.

But had there been any chance for us .. any .. to live in harmony and have the life we both wanted, I would have continued to try and make it work.

…………..

Marriage .. even just a committed long term relationship, is hard.  And as the Cowboy and I talk about where we go from this place we are at .. in life .. in location .. in any of this and we look at the challenges being faced by so many around us and the situations they are creating for themselves as well as having been in some of those places in one way or another ourselves, the question posed stumped us both.  At least momentarily.

We have something good.  But at one point, so did we with our -ex’s .. and so did all of these family and friends ..

How do you hold onto that, the good?  Or the great.  We have talked about this before.  Many times.

I asked the one married friend who was calling to ask about my single friend and if I thought they might have any chance to hook up with them .. first, I think I said, ‘Are you kidding?’  Second, I know I asked if they were willing to work on their own marriage.  Tend to the grass.  Work on making it green.  Had they even talked with their spouse about how devastated they were.

“No, not really,” they said.

“Wouldn’t that be an important first step?  Do you want to save your marriage or are you just done?  My ex and I went to counseling on and off for almost 8 years, you know that,” I said.

“I think I’m just done.  There is no love.  There hasn’t been for a long time,” this person replied.

……………

How .. how do you bring it back?

How do you make sure the grass is greener on your side of the fence than what it appears on the other.  And what can any of us do to regrow the lawn/a relationship when it seems so far gone?

Or are we just a throwaway society anymore and it doesn’t matter if there is still some life in the yard .. we just want to rip the whole thing apart, and start over with some fresh sod.  Because sometimes that is all you can do.

The Cowboy and I have been pondering all of this …

And they have been good, ongoing conversations for us, as we work to keep our own relationship strong and green and help others we love and care about through some pretty rough patches.

Something I need more time to think about .. before I write any more.  That will be tomorrow’s post.  Your thoughts in the meantime?

Calving season ..

Along with truly wanting to take some down time while here on vacation.. we have wanted to get a lot done this week at the Cowboy’s ranch.

My 10 year old has been out each morning ..

Chores in pajamas ..

.. doing what she can to help.  Not necessarily anything that we need or want her to do, but that she wants to do.  And the fact she is out doing anything .. I’m happy with at this point.

She’s actually learned how to do quite a few things so far this week:  Make a fresh pot of coffee.  Go out in the field and get her own horse to ride.  Or goat to rope.  Oil a saddle.  Pull weeds.  Hang laundry on the line.  Take better care to watch after the Cowboy’s twins (not that they need it) and .. today, she added .. give encouragement to a mama cow giving birth.

Offering words of encouragement ..

She took her job so seriously … that when the time came after about 45 minutes of watching, waiting and Neighbor J pulling on the two feet we could see, she almost missed …

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLI_AxJbNYY&context=C4eb3dfeADvjVQa1PpcFNgrE7DfEEyp6rtXAshDJjXHtVvAfksEEk=

A beautiful sight .. (if you don’t mind all the blood and other bodily fluids that come with a newborn calf/large animal.  Heck even a person.  It’s just messy.  But also, a miracle.)  Something I would recommend you be present at at least once in your lifetime, if at all possible.  Just remember to either stay back.  Or apparenty bring plastic wrap and duct tape for yourself (arms, especially) if you want to get up close and personal through the process.

Appreciate the call, Neighbor J.  We all loved it.  Plus, it was a nice break from a ‘hard days work’.  Especially for my daughter.

She was happy though, to get back to the ranch .. because there was still much to do.

At the top of the list .. concerned it was feeling neglected after all the attention and time spent with the horses this week, show the donkey some love.