“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off” – Gloria Steinam
By E. Quinones
We have a big beautiful blended family but it wasn’t always that way, as you may have learned in the last issue of Tumbleweeds. When my spouse and I got together, we had five kids under the age of 11 (10, 9, 8, 7, and 2), and we had three other biological parents in the mix. Now, our kids are in their twenties and the other parents are rarely in our lives. I’m sharing my reflections as I look back on our recent past with the goal of giving you hope for your future as you work to try to blend your families into one fairytale relationship. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t magically happen the way it’s shown in the movies, but it is possible.
When our kids were in middle and high school, we were constantly interacting with the other biological parents. The topics were often challenging and the conversations were frustrating. We realized early on that if we spoke negatively about the other parents, our kids would know. Not that we would speak negatively about them around the kids or that the kids would hear us complaining about them. It was about the energy they would feel from us when simply talking about their parents in a random conversation. Just like when you don’t like someone and the two of you happen to be at the same place at the same time—think of a family function, a work situation, or a social event with mutual friends. You don’t have to announce to everyone in the room that you don’t like that person; everyone knows because of the negative energy you are adding to the room. It’s uncomfortable to be around, for everyone.
In our clever minds we found a solution for our private conversations. We created secret names for them so we could speak freely without saying their names. And, the names actually emphasized how awful we felt about them. This was OK, right? We thought so—at first.
An example of a private conversation my spouse and I would have would go something like this: “Ugh, Ursula, the sea witch, called today and wants to exchange a day next week. We have plans that she knows about! I wish she would just leave them be!” or “Yuck, Darth Vader messaged today and asked what happened last week between the kids. I wish he would mind his own business.” It seemed pretty benign. We continued along with this for a few months, and had some laughs playing with other villain names. It wasn’t until one night when we were having this same type of conversation that we realized how we felt when we used the code names. At first, we had felt clever and a bit sly, but as time went on we felt worse. Because we’re still talking bad about them—the other parents—and inadvertently our kids.
My spouse and I had a few conversations about how we were feeling and we decided to stop talking negatively about the other parents at all. We agreed to do our best to speak factually, without adding in our judgment or drama. I know it seems like a little thing that, after all, our kids never knew, but it made a big difference. Simply deciding to remove the negative energy made interactions easier to handle. It didn’t change who the other parents were or what they were asking. But it did change the power we had unknowingly given them—and we had given them a lot. It was time to retake our power.
The very next time we had an interaction with another parent, it took us by surprise about how quickly we were frustrated, annoyed, and irritated from the moment we saw their name pop up on our phone. We immediately recognized the feelings of intrusion into our time with the kids. We also recognized the negative energy that took over our bodies at that moment. Wow, it was powerful. Now comes the hard part: choosing how to behave differently. It took practice, and we weren’t perfect. But over time, we were less charged when we had to deal with the other parents. Our conversations were less animated and honestly somewhat boring and matter-of-fact when we discussed co-parenting situations.
Fast forward to this week, as I was finalizing this story for submission to Tumbleweeds, my older son stopped by my office and asked me what I was working on.
I could have easily diverted the conversation and moved on to a different subject, but I paused. I made a conscious decision to tell him the general topic of this story and ask him if he wanted to read it. After all, this is me confessing to something that I’m not proud of to my adult son. And it was a topic that could have easily remained in the shadows of our relationship. But, it was time to bring it out into the open and release it.
He read it on my computer and quickly began providing editing suggestions. After a few moments he stopped and re-read the article, and then we had a conversation. He shared these sentiments: “Wow, I never knew this was going on. But I do remember feeling caught in the middle a lot while we were growing up. It was hard when you and my dad wouldn’t talk with each other and we had to be the bridge in between. It felt like I grew up quickly. I like the sentiment of your story, and I’m glad you are sharing it with others. A lot of kids now are in the same situation we were in then. And, if your story can help raise the awareness of parents now, then I think that’s a win.”
Hearing his words helped heal an old shame wound that I didn’t realize was still there. This interaction brought me closer to being the person I wanted to be all those years ago. I am thankful.
On that note, as people around you are making resolutions about how they want to be in the new year, I invite you to think about areas of your life where you are adding in negativity, drama, or extra negative emotions to situations that are unnecessary. You could make a resolution to do it differently in the new year, and the best part is that you will reap all the benefits. Others may notice you are slightly less grouchy or have a little smile when you had a frown in the past. Oftentimes, a small change can make a big difference in our lives. I hope you’ll try it.
Written by E. Quinones. This is a true story and reflection from the author, who has asked to remain anonymous.