In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps. Proverbs 16:9

Thursday, August 6, 2020

The Third Gift of Marrying My Ex

Just when I thought that I would get on a writing streak, I didn't.  Whenever, I get ready to write, I just HAVE to clean the kitchen!  Like, CLEAN clean the kitchen and I'm not even someone who keeps their house all that nice???  On the days I have a minute to write, I start cleaning the kitchen in preparation and then before I know it, I'm out of time.  Anyway, I'm living large and trying to write with three kids in the house and a semi-messy kitchen.  We'll see what happens???  

In my last post I asked myself, "If I could go back and not marry my ex, would I choose to do that?"   My answer was that I would skip out on those 2 1/2 years, because I like to avoid pain. However, I would, in turn, miss out on three HUGE gifts that I was given.  As a quick recap, I would miss out on full-on experiencing God's huge grace that I experienced at a whole new level when I was no longer in the "tidy Christian" category.  Second, I would miss out on my newfound gratitude for even the smallest thing. (The latest being the most delicious breakfast bowl from Rudy's - YUM!).  And now to expound on the third gift that I was given.  

My parenting changed and I think that perhaps I would have missed some important lessons . . . No . . . I'm positive I would have missed these lessons, had I not gone through that marriage.  

I have three kids.  All have their tricky sides, as we all do, but one of my kids has about 36 tricky sides.  When I was married to my ex, those tricky sides were loud and crazy and they became increasingly loud as the months of that marriage wore on. The interesting thing, is that my ex was particularly hard on her and now I believe it is because she saw right through his mask and she knew how to play his game of self protection about as well as he did.  Which served her well with him, but not with me.  She had been through layers of trauma and was now living in constant trauma.  Parenting her has been one of my life's greatest challenges.  But it would be much more difficult right now, if I hadn't change some ways of thinking and parenting. 

I always thought that I was pretty good at understanding her, but I REALLY began to understand her, once I started executing some of my own self protection tools and I started seeing myself do exactly what she would do.  

This was illuminated one week, when things were just soooooo bad.  And by so bad, it's still hard to explain.  Tensions were just high in my own self.  We were sitting at dinner and I asked what everyone's highs and lows were.  I answered mine and my ex got mad that I didn't not say that our date the night before (which was crazy miserable, BTW) was my high.  At that moment, I just wanted to departicalize.  Disappear.  I could not have an opinion even on what my highlight of the week was, without him making it seem to all of our kids like I was some kind of disrespectful wife.  I felt completely hopeless.  I went in my closet and hid.  I was positive that I was acting like a 3 year old, but I just didn't care.  I wanted to close my eyes and for everything to be different when I reopened them.   

Then the next day, one of my kids was hiding under her bed after some minor infraction and then one day after that, another one of my kids hid behind our bean bag for a reason I'll never remember.  We were all needing to departicalize and then reappear in a normal world.  We were crumbling, bit by bit.  Normally, I would have been irritated and impatient with their hiding, when I needed to talk to them.  As in, demanding that they come out.  But knowing how I felt when I was hiding just a day or two earlier, I only had compassion and a truly broken heart for them.  So, I just crawled into their hiding places and sat with them in their mad quiet.  That week, life changed.  Even if I don't always react well and with tenderness and compassion, I KNOW that there is hurt behind their behavior.  It may not be explainable, but the hurt took with me the lesson I learned about understanding the hurt behind the behavior.  

Let me tell you, I have read a fair number of parenting books and been to numerous adoption conferences on how to parent kids from hard places and I have heard it a million times that you need to see the hurt behind their behavior, but until I FELT it myself, I really had no concept of it.  When I was hiding, I knew I wasn't being the normal 42 year old person I always dreamt of being, but I was not capable of anything else in that moment. 

Since I left, my tricky child and I have been through another very tough season and a season of great progress.  The biggest jumps we ever make, always comes from when I don't react to her behavior, (which is easier said than done) but when I can just start to acknowledge her hurts.   When I do that, (which I truly feel comes from the Holy Spirit) her self protection begins to melt.  It's kind of like she gets hotter and hotter and hotter as I focus on her hurt, rather than her behavior.  It's like she wants me to look at her behavior, but when I look underneath to her hurting heart, she hits a boiling point and just begins to melt from anger to sadness to grief.  Even if I don't know what exact pain she is experiencing, I KNOW how pain makes you react in ways you don't want to be reacting, even in the moment!  

This is such a huge flyover of this concept, but I think I have captured what I wanted to say.  It's good for me to write it down and remember all of this, so that I can keep remembering the power of pain in my life and the power of pain in my kids' lives.  It even helps with little things, like when my kids leave their brand new water bottle at the park, (not that that happened yesterday or anything) I can say, "I know that feeling!  I leave things and lose things all the time and I hate it!" Or like the other afternoon I had an afternoon with a typically untrickier kid of mine, and boy was he/she ANGRY!   Without "Closet Week 2018," I would have felt way too overwhelmed by this child's unfounded (to me) emotions.  I would not have sat with this child as they fiercely scribbled on paper and just prayed, "Lord, help me not screw this up!"  He/She was definitely dealing with something???  My kids have a lot to be angry about!  I told this sweet child thanks for letting me see the pain, because normally he/she keeps it all wrapped up. About  30 minutes after the big flare, life was back to normal and our relationship was still fully in tact. Thank you, Jesus.   

I could not be more grateful for this particularly painful lesson.  I am a different mom after being married to my ex.  When I was in the middle of the insanity, it was difficult to employ compassion, because so much of my energy was used on managing my ex and doing the dances we had to do, in order to pretend things were normal.  But I was lucky and didn't leave too early.  I caught that vision change, right near the end, and I am so grateful.  I'm positive I have more to learn and I can't tell you how hard I pray for the Holy Spirit to help me out in my solo parenting, as I'm squarely in the middle of tween-ville right now.  When tween-ville feels like the Twilight Zone, the Holy Spirit often brings me back to lessons I learned when I was in my own Twilight Zone.  And when emotions run high, I always find myself asking, "Have I ever felt like that before?" and naturally, the answer is almost always a big fat yes, and then I can (not that I always do) parent from a different place . . . a place with, HOPEFULLY, more understanding and grace. 

P.S. - Now that I wrote this, I feel like I'll probably be the worst parent ever in the coming weeks.  So, maybe if I acknowledge that, it won't happen???