Living apart together and parenting apart together (Sort of)

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For us, the main reason for living apart and maintaining our own households is a difference in parenting styles and working on ourselves and our own households before combining them.  The alternative, of course, would be to just jump right into it and pray that everything works out for the best.

From the very beginning of our relationship, it has been clear that Gabe and I disagree on A LOT of issues regarding parenting and how a household should be run.  He is a lot more detailed than I am on some things.  He bases a lot of what he focuses on on what he believes others’ perceptions of him will be.  His focuses differ greatly from mine.  He will run around bleaching toilets and cleaning kids rooms before someone arrives (his house smells wonderful, by the way), yet he will not notice whether his kids have said hello to his guests or being unkind to the children guests.  I have known this man to change his bedspread in fear that people may notice that he always has the same one on his bed every time they visit.  I, on the other hand, will graze over my house quickly, pick it up so it’s neat (not necessarily bleached), threaten to ground the kids until their room is clean (enough) and give them a ten minute talk about how they are to greet everyone, be polite and include the children who are visiting.  He focuses more on being presentable and making sure everyone knows that dad has his stuff together, I focus more on guests feeling comfortable and having a good time.  If only it was easy enough to combine these qualities into one household.

We have two different experiences and two separate points of views.  I have been a single mom for about ten years.  I have had to force the boys to be independent when need be to a certain extent and to improvise.  Sometimes, there was no other choice and it has forced me to not count on perfection.  They need to make their own cereal, they need to get themselves dressed, they need to entertain themselves as well.  Over the years, I have not had the time luxury to do all of the little things for them that they can do themselves and I’m most definitely not their personal clown who has something to entertain them with every time they are bored.  They understand these things and they are still happy and well adjusted.  The best part is, when I do have the time to do something special or out of the ordinary for them, they appreciate it and they know that they are loved. Yet still, I have lots of room for improvement, I do try to focus more on smaller things and being a bit more detailed, it just makes life easier sometimes.  He, on the other hand is a widowed father.  His wife did all of the parenting when she was alive and he was the provider and the ‘hero’.  People don’t change overnight.   Understandably, to try to somehow compensate for the kids’ loss, he overcompensated with them by trying to become the perfect dad and caregiver.  To add to this, he is a people pleaser, he loves to make people happy and he loves being a hero to his kids.  The kids, again understandably, have become accustomed to being catered to and not being accountable for their own responsibilities and behavior.  He focused so much on the short term (cleaning the kids’ rooms for them, keeping them happy by not giving them consequences when they were rude or downright mean to him) that now, in the long term, he is slowly trying to undo these things and well, it’s hard.

Over the years, we have gone back and forth with each other about ways that we feel the other should change and also things that we would like to change about ourselves in order to become better partners and parents.  I am so grateful that we have been able to do this in separate homes rather than in a shared household where we would be making unnecessary and unfair comparisons out of frustration and anger.  We have been able to implement the changes with our own kids and households on our own, without the other parent having to be blamed or labeled the bad guy responsible for these changes in order to make life together not just bearable, but happy eventually.  It’s an ongoing process and I do believe that one day, we will get there.

 

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Are ‘Red-Carpet’ kids ruining your marriage?

I sent this article to Gabe last week and I found it absolutely fantastic.  One of the best parts about it were the comments and all of the readers who were offended by it and did the classic defense phrase, “Just don’t have kids then if you can’t put them first!”  Wait, so I should treat my kid like royalty and turn him into a selfish jerk who thinks he’s the center of everyone’s world or just not procreate?  I love it.  Here’s the article:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2413638/Child-proof-marriage-Dont-let-red-carpet-kids-ruin-relationship.html

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You see, I AM that parent that the defensive reader is telling not to have kids to.  I don’t think it’s best that I put them first at all times and make them feel that they are the center of the universe and we should all just stop what we are doing while they interrupt us so that they can tell us how they absolutely need that new wrestler or whatever.  Screw what we were in the middle of, right?  Nope.  My friend who I haven’t seen in a billion years who is visiting from out of state will surely understand that she is being put on hold while telling me about her infertility struggles so that my kid can complain that he doesn’t like his food, right?  I feel like some parents really don’t understand that by putting their kid first at all times and everyone else on hold, and essentially, on their kids’ schedule, they are being rude themselves.

So, being the great partner that I am, I went ahead and read this article, point by point to him.  FYI, these are all situations that he and I have discussed before.  Herrrrrreeee we go…..

  • The couples’ free time was being all consumed with the kids and their social lives.  i.e.  skipping dinner together because we can NEVER say no to one of the kids activities or events, that would make us look like bad parents, right?
  • The couples’ relationship coming in last on the priority list due to the childrens’ demands.  i.e. Can’t go out to dinner together without the kids because the kids will throw a fit about being left behind with a sitter.
  • Not sleeping together because the kids have gotten into the habit of sleeping in the parents’ bed, so it’s just easier to sleep in another room than to put up a fight and end things badly with the little angels.

The reasons for allowing these things include:

  • It makes things easier in the short term.  (Better than having a full on fight before bedtime)
  • Guilt parenting.  Divorced, widowed, married but can’t buy your kid enough stuff.  Kids can sniff this stuff out.
  • Wanting to be liked, losing your kids’ friendship.  I don’t know why but I have pissed my kids off so many times but magically, they still like me.

Lastly, here is how the psychologist says to, “Roll up the red carpet and take back your marriage”:

1.  Put your children last. Prioritizing your partner over your children is good for your marriage and your kids. Of course, there will be exceptions – if the children are ill, or their first day at school and so on, but otherwise make sure you and your partner go out for dinner together, send the kids to bed early, do things the two of you love to do together. A happy marriage makes happy children.

2. Be a ‘good enough’ parent. Accept you’re not perfect, that every parent makes mistakes and it’s not the end of the world if you send your child to school in a hastily cobbled-together costume for the school play.

3. Recognize Your Needs. I have met many mothers and fathers who, after years of downgrading their own needs, felt ‘entitled to do something for myself for once’ – and had an affair. Always putting your children first can cause resentment to rebound in extraordinary acts of selfishness. Have a good think about what YOU want and need in your relationship and family life – and make sure you get it.

4. Talk. Make sure you talk through your problems – don’t silently hope they’ll go away. Problems fester if you don’t get them out in the open.

5. Put a lock on your bedroom door. You wouldn’t barge into a teenager’s bedroom unannounced, so don’t let your children do it to you. Give yourself some privacy as a couple – they can always shout ‘Fire!’ if they’re in trouble.

6.  Greet your partner first when he or she walks through the door – not your children. It shows how important they are to you.

7.  Don’t let your children interrupt when you are talking to each other.

8. Make unilateral decisions about your children. Parent as a team and don’t compete for popularity with your children.

9. Prioritize sex. Intimacy keeps a relationship alive. Send the children to the grandparents for the night. It’s important.

10. Make the children responsible for tasks around the house, so there’s more time for you to be partners rather than servants.

 

Maintaining separate households in blended families or Living Apart Together

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I’m engaged to marry a widower who is also a single dad this coming October.  We have been in a relationship for over three years and have seven kids between the two of us (4 for him and 3 for me).  We have maintained our own households over the course of our relationship and we don’t intend to change that when we are officially married in October.  I’ve shared this concept with friends and family, my mother thinks I’m nuts and my friends think I’m a genius.  I started researching this concept a few years back and there are a lot of success stories out there.  Here is one of my favorites:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/23/blended-family_n_5871060.html

 

I thought I would share a few of the reasons why I think this is the best approach for us, although it’s unconventional:

 

  • We have completely different parenting styles.  I don’t plan on parenting his children and he doesn’t plan on parenting mine, however, I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to live in a house with a set of divided rules.
  • Neither of us currently have a house large enough for everyone.  We would need a house with at least five bedrooms.  That’s not so common around here and when we looked around, it would actually only cost a few hundred dollars less than paying for our separate houses.
  • Our kids are in two separate school districts which they have all been in all of their lives.  Moving one or the other from their schools would be devastating to them and my guess is, create even more animosity.
  • Sleeping together every night at this point is just not worth all of the uproot and hostility the move would cause, we always have the weekends.

I’m not sure how long this will work for us, but as long as it does, great.  I strongly feel that for now at least, this will help to keep all of our relationships stronger and happier,  and isn’t that the point?