My kids spent this weekend in Maine with my ex-husband. Again. Second weekend in a row. Another one next week.
These weekends are very hard for me because my kids are part of a Brady Bunch family: two parents and their kids combined to make a new family. My children have a new family that doesn’t include me. And it sucks.
All weekend I had been looking forward to spending today with my daughter. Yesterday she informed me that because they hadn’t made bus reservations they wouldn’t be back to NYC in time for our date. Our plans for today were shot.
I was furious. I wanted to scream and yell. But I didn’t.
Here is the story of what I did instead.
#1 – I learned what was really upsetting me.
When I found out that my kids weren’t going to be home when they said they would be I flew off the handle. All I could think about was the incompetency of my ex – how if he had planned ahead with bus reservations this wouldn’t have happened. How unfair it was that he left me and that he lured the kids up to his house with alcohol and shotguns.
And then I thought about how my kids took me for granted and that I gave so much to them and that they gave me very little back. They didn’t respect how upset the whole thing made me. If they did they would behave differently, my angry mind told me.
And then, because I couldn’t reach anybody on the phone to yell at, I was forced to calm down. And when I calmed down it all became clearer.
Yes, I was frustrated at the lack of planning but that is nothing new and nothing that I could change. What I was really upset about was the fact that I wouldn’t be spending the day with my daughter. I so enjoy the time we spend together and I wouldn’t get it. (It didn’t help that she would be with her father instead of me but that is for another blog).
I also realized that, to a certain extent, I felt like my kids really did take me for granted. I felt like I was always available for them and that they were rarely available for me.
Both of things were making me sad. It manifested itself as anger but I was sad.
#2 – I learned what I really wanted.
I asked myself next what I would want if I was in charge of the world?
I know I would like to make my ex and my kids better planners but I knew from experience that that wasn’t likely to change. And I also know that I can only change my reactions to their behaviors because I can’t change them.
So what did I want that I could have?
I know that I want to spend more time with my kids and I wanted to not feel taken for granted. I wanted them to make a little bit more of an effort to respond to my texts, to show a little more respect for my presence in their lives. And to spend time with me when possible.
Not too much to ask, no?
#3 – I learned how to share what I wanted in a non-critical way.
Okay, so now that I knew what I wanted I had to figure out how to talk to my kids without appearing critical or making them defensive. I knew that they weren’t making me feel this way on purpose and I really just wanted to let them know how their actions were affecting me.
To do this I talked to them about how I was feeling. I told them that I felt like I was being supportive about the time they spent with their father (and they agreed) and that I felt sad when their lack of planning with their father interfered with the limited time I spent with them.
I told them that I knew I couldn’t compete with the amusement park that was their dad’s house but that I just wanted them to make a little more effort with me. And made clear to them that a little more effort was as simple as returning my texts. And maybe spending some time with me when possible.
And that was it.
#4 – I learned how to ensure that the message landed.
After I shared with them how I felt I encouraged them to respond to anything I had said. That they could push back in any way and I was open to talking about it all. They did both speak up but only to say that they understood exactly where I was coming from. That they were still trying to navigate the new world their parents divorce had put them in and that they would try to make a better effort in the future.
They did have a few excuses, as kids would have, and I let them speak them and pushed back enough for them to understand that excuses didn’t make it better. They got it.
After lunch I thanked my kids for listening to me. My son said “Not only did we listen to you but we heard you.” And then I got hugs.
#5 – I learned that speaking up for myself felt really, really good.
I walked away from the whole situation feeling on top of the world. Instead of railing on my ex-husband and my kids for their lack of planning, I was able to turn this painful occurrence into a vehicle for change. The situation was not a new one to me and I had been biting my tongue about it all for a while. I finally stopped doing so.
And because I stopped doing so it is possible that something that has been causing me a lot of pain for a long time might be resolved.
How amazing is that?
So many of us, myself included, have a hard time speaking up for and advocating for ourselves. A big part of that is because we don’t know exactly what it is that we want and without that knowledge it’s hard to ask for it.
Follow my steps. Figure out what exactly it is you want and ask for it. Ask for it in a way that’s not critical but that speaks to how you feel. You might be surprised at how much people want to give you what you want and will if they know what exactly it is.
Try it. You might feel like I do this glorious afternoon. Amazing.
If you got the far it must mean that you have something to say?
Let me help, NOW, before you go silent for good.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or click here, and let’s get started!
I am a NYC based Certified Life Coach and mental health advocate. My writing has been published on The Huffington Post, Prevention, Psych Central, Pop Sugar, MSN and The Good Man Project, among others. I work with all kinds of people to help them go from depressed and overwhelmed to confident and happy in their relationships and in their world.