In case you haven’t heard, Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin called it a day, and then took heat for calling it something other than "divorce."
I have been separated for two years and I’m finalizing my own divorce. And, yes, while "divorce" might be the legal terminology for the process of returning to an unmarried state, I would gladly use the words "conscious uncoupling" to describe my split. Here’s why.
Even prior to our separation, we were working through issues. For months. We cried, we sought help, we read books, we made changes, we tried to deal with crisis. But it didn’t take. Regardless of why, or why not, it just didn’t play out the way either of us had envisioned. We couldn’t go back. And when we finally made the heart-wrenching decision that the marriage was over, it felt like there was a rip in the fabric of time.
Everything stopped. Half the time I remember our conversations flanged by tunnel-like echoes, half the time wrapped in stifling silence. Sometimes every word hurt. Sometimes we wanted to hurt each other. Sometimes ourselves. But we consciously put this aside.
As parents, we managed to connect consistently through the haze of "he said, she said." Baby Girl Above All Else became a mantra. Not a competition, mind you, but a mantra.
We didn’t fight each other to see who knew more about our child, or use tallies to see who did more of what. We stayed conscious in our actions, and we put all our joint effort into co-parenting, and exploring our new lives and testing the bridge that we knew was going to link our lives forever, regardless of our status. As part of that team effort, we realized that we were happy with many aspects of both friendship and parenting, but we wanted different things as a couple. We wanted to keep the good stuff, so all we really had to do was un-couple. Consciously.
Sound cheesy so far? Want to sling mud? Or is my case different and somehow ok because I haven’t graced the cover of People magazine as the world’s most beautiful woman? Because I’m a "regular mom"?
As we all know, heartache, illness, devastation, loss, death . . . these things don’t review bank account statements and celebrity clout to make informed decisions about whom they’re going to pop up for next. And neither should our empathy.
I’ll tell you, I don’t have a multi-million dollar enterprise (yet) or the simultaneous adoration and scorn of the media. But I do know that my separation was emotionally exhausting, and god knows I sometimes think it would have been easier—or at times more satisfying—to just lunge at each other’s throats with law suits, custody battles, and melodramatic fanfare. I’m sure we both fantasized about it at times. Hell, I’m sure even our families felt surges of protective anger and brewed secret nail-them-to-the-wall vendetta day dreams. And that’s ok—it’s important to acknowledge those feelings and work with them or through them. But it’s not ok to stay there. It wasn’t for us, anyway.
Putting your kids first also means putting your pettiness aside, and yes, the only way to do that during separation, and during divorce, is to stay conscious.
For the record, none of that is easy.
Staying conscious through our break up (or uncoupling—yes, I just saw you roll your eyes) was, and still is, about being good parents, about loving and trusting ourselves and our potentials, and trusting each other to hold on to the same morals and values even beyond separation. It’s hard work. And it takes effort, love, acceptance, and continuous dedication, which can try your patience at the best of times.
So, before you slam someone for their use of semantics, remember that "conscious uncoupling" is not a luxury re-brand of divorce, nor is it an advanced yoga pose.
It’s the way that two hearts in pain are breaking apart while still trying to keep all the beauty they created as a family together. And I think that’s commendable.
And if you have a problem with it, I dare you to take it up with Gwynnie’s kids directly, or maybe even mine.
Explain why the world should be black and white.
Explain why we should only use legal terminologies to describe the efforts in our hearts.
Going through a tough divorce? Check out "5 Ways NOT To Fight With Your Ex During A Separation" and "Divorce Doesn't Mean Failure."
Introducing your kids to your new partner doesn't have to be scarier than farting in yoga class. Here's my second post about how I handled the Big Intro. If you missed the first part, you can check it out here.
Don't Force Interaction
People react differently. Some relationships are strained because one half wants desperately to meet the other’s kids. Some are strained because there are reservations about moving ahead.
It’s the same for kids. While I’m writing this as the mother of a 4-year-old, kids are going to react differently based on how old they are, how much they know of your dating life (whether you think they do or not), and what their own personal feelings are on the matter. Which of course might have already led to a zillion uncomfortable interactions.
So when you finally do have a situation where everyone’s all together, don’t force it. Just let it unfold naturally. It might be awkward. It might be awesome. It might be anything — but you won’t know until it happens, and you can’t control it when it does.
Let your kids react the way they are going to (regardless of how you primed the experience together beforehand), and let your partner engage the way he/she knows how. In other words, get comfortable with not having control over the scenario.
And remember, regardless of the experience and how you rate it, the direction for your next steps, or what you want to address with your kids or your partner will be exposed. And that is progress. And progress is good.
Don’t Expect An Insta-Family
I introduced Vee to Cap about 1 year ago, and we are still working on our family dynamic. This is something I hope we never stop doing, whether it’s regarding Vee, our own future kids, or our relationship in general.
The first time Vee and Cap hung out was for about 1 hour. They chatted briefly as only a 3-year-old and a man ten times her senior could, and then we were gone.
As our relationship grew, more walls came down.
I could leave the room for 20 minutes to take a client call and know they were playing together happily. He knew Vee’s schedule. We’d have dinners together. We’d go shopping at the market in the summer. We’d read bedtime stories together…We started cultivating our own little rituals, routines, and grooves together. And we still do that. Consciously. Presently. Mindfully.
It wasn’t an overnight integration —and I never expected this kind of seamless, blended family environment as a result.
Being a family in any context takes work. Period. It takes even more work when you are cobbling one together from existing parts. And even more when you are redefining roles from a previous relationship.
I’m lucky because I have an amazingly amicable ex-husband, I’m in an incredible relationship, have a fantastically intuitive daughter, and supportive friends and family — and we all work together, all the time, to have the kinds of relationships we want to have.
Cap likes to say something fairly often. It’s something he adopted from one of his favourite acting coaches. Something that helps keep me in the moment and paces me when I’m frustrated or want to quench my Type A need for results.
“Love takes time.”
None of us know what will happen when we bring certain puzzle pieces together. When we bring people together. When we have to start all over again.
None of us know how our children will react to our lives intersecting with theirs, or to others intersecting ours. None of us know if one date will turn into a future of substance. None of us know how to juggle all the moving parts, or even how many parts there are.
But without those leaps ahead we don’t learn about our selves, about each other, about what we really want, and about what is really important in life.
If a relationship is important to you and it’s scaring the pants off you to take next steps; if you want to bring your kid into the picture; then start the ball rolling.
Have the potentially awkward conversations with your partner that are going to make you feel more confident in your relationship. Ask them the questions that you want to ask. Talk to your kids about dating again. And if it’s all lining up, then let worlds collide.
You might end up rethinking your relationship. You might find yourself on a tough road. You might, like I did, find the kind of relationship that blooms beyond any expectation.
Come from a place of love —not fear. Be patient. Don’t expect too much. And see what happens.
Everything is just a starting point.
Every relationship takes effort, understanding, and patience.
And yes… love takes time.
Check out the first part of my article on The Big Intro here, or, for more awkward relationship conversations, try this on for size.
Introducing your kids to your new partner can be one of the most nerve-wracking experiences. Ever.
When I was first single (post-separation), I was not thinking about dating. I didn’t once consider myself "available," I wasn’t getting out there, and sex was never on the forefront of my mind.
Those topics felt surreal and off-limits to me, somehow.
I’m not going to say that I didn’t swish ideas around in my head, or that I didn’t allow myself to have any fun, but when it came to the social hemisphere of my brain, the hot topics were:
When I did go on dates they were the result of mechanical "yes-saying." The guys were super nice, good-looking, funny . . . and the first thing going through my head was still:
When relationships end we manifest our most vulnerable selves. We are exposed. Our natural tendencies are to react protectively and/or defensively when it comes to our hearts and things close to them.
So, when we finally meet someone who we feel we can be open with, who we trust and *gulp* have the potential to love, the stakes go up. They seem to go up even more with every milestone in the relationship. Sex, staying over, meeting friends, meeting parents, and the most important—meeting your own kids.
Even if you’ve been open from the get go about being a parent, you will likely still feel weird about that moment, and that’s ok. Because that’s a make it or break it moment where you see your kid interact with someone who could actually be in their lives in one way or another. It’s stressful. For all parties. It’s kind of like watching for a toddler’s first reaction to shellfish. Are they going to like it? Or is someone going to die?
But that’s ok. You’re not alone. My next two posts are all about how I tackled The Big Intro.
Don’t Schedule The Time Before You’re Ready
So, many people have asked me how I knew I was ready to introduce my kid to Cap, but the truth is the answer is going to be different for everyone.
I knew I trusted him, I knew he was going to be part of my life (at the very least as a close friend), and, most importantly, it just felt right. It was also just a natural crossing of paths that—after some self-searching—I decided was totally cool to let unfold.
Of course, I just casually let Cap know that I’d have Vee with me. I didn’t say anything to Vee either. Because I didn’t feel like I needed to. I simply said, “Vee, this is mummy’s friend, Cap.” And that was that. I figured I’d field any random inquisitive preschooler questions on the fly.
I’m sure in different situations and with different kids, different degrees of talking about dating again with your kids is in order, but I just dove in.
When in doubt, follow your gut. And if you’re not ready, there’s nothing wrong with pulling the rip cord until another time.
The last thing you, your kid(s), or your partner wants is to feel trapped between a blind date and an observation lab.
So, instead of creating an event specifically to introduce them, bring your partner over into your kid’s environment or into part of your regularly scheduled activities to be part of some of the regular family dynamics.
For example, invite your other half over for dinner like you usually do, except this time, let them know that your kid will be there.
Ask them if they want to come and catch one of your kid’s soccer or hockey games.
Heck, ask them if they feel like tagging along as you all go grocery shopping.
The beauty with something this simple is that your kid and your kid’s routine serve as the itinerary. Your parenting isn’t on display, your kids aren’t on display, whatever your partner does or doesn’t do with them isn’t in the limelight.
It doesn’t have to be long, it doesn’t have to be perfect or scripted. Let it just be what it is. Hanging out with you and yours in your natural habitat.
Don’t Censor Parts of Your Life
We all do it. You’re in a new relationship and you skim over the glitches at work. You gloss over the way certain things make you really feel. You quirk where you could kvetch. It’s not lying, because you know eventually you’ll tell them, but for now it’s part testing-mechanism to see where you stand trust-wise, and part ego to make sure that you retain your smooth, have-it-all-together veneer for just a while longer. You know. Until the crazy breaks through.
So, we censor. So what?
The problem is that if you want someone to be giving you 100% of their energy, and you’re only giving them 70% of who you are (regardless of the motivation behind it), you’re still pushing them away. And they’re going to pick up on that.
Likewise, if you draw a clean line down the centre of your life and establish your relationship on a 50/50 breakdown where you’re half "fun new boyfriend/girlfriend" and half parent (that they never get to see), you are really only letting them get to know 50% of you.
If you’re at the point where you want your other half to meet your kid(s), you need to commit to being 100% upfront with them. I’m not saying you have to be 100% sold on the relationship, but let’s face it—you have to be 100% "in it." And I know that’s terrifying.
As a matter of fact, there are only 3 things I can think of that embody complete vulnerability in relationships. The first is being seen naked. The second is saying, "I love you." And the third is letting them meet your children.
If you are still trying to shield either yourself or your kid(s) from any residual or potential repeat of relationship heartbreak, censoring is even more common. But a real, stick-to-your-ribs relationship is not going to crumble because they know your kid peed on the floor, or that you had to shift dinner an hour later because of homework.
Keep reading to check out part 2 of my 'Big Intro' tips, or check out some things you can do to help your toddler lower their stress (and yours) if they're adapting to new developments in your life.