One year ago, I still had my children in my life. One year ago, I still censored what I did and what I said based on what others might think. One year ago, I believed that what I had to say wasn’t really important. One year ago, I believed that I was who I was and I’d be that person the rest of my life; that to be happy meant figuring out how to accept me as me; that having a partner meant finding someone who would accept me as me.
One year ago, I was issued an ultimatum and everything changed. Without going into details that might require a bottle of wine (or two) to get through, the bottom line is that my two teenage children told me that I needed to break up with the man I was dating or they’d never speak to me again.
To me, an ultimatum in a relationship that requires someone to choose you over someone else, is a stupid thing to issue. It’s destructive. If the person chooses you, they’ll likely wind up resenting you because of the love they had to give up. If the person chooses the other, you’ve lost the person you supposedly care so much about. In my opinion, if someone you love is with someone you don’t like, you don’t issue an ultimatum, you love them anyway and stay as close as possible. If the relationship ends on its own, you’ll be there for the person you love. If it doesn’t, than good grief, what’s wrong with loving someone anyway and maybe finding common ground with their partner??
But these are teenagers. They don’t think like that.
I tried to tell them. They repeated their ultimatum. I took a different approach. I told them that my choice is to have all three of the people in my life I cared about the most, and if they insisted on an ultimatum that I would not choose any of them. Instead, I would choose me, and I didn’t know what that would look like.
They continued. I held my ground. They convinced their dad to file for full parenting time. Long story short, I lost. That is to say, my kid are no longer with me. Their dad has full parenting time now and I have no contact with them.
But there is much that I have won too. Because I did exactly what I said I would: I chose me. Not my partner. Not my kids. Not the voices in my head full of all of the “shoulds”. I chose me.
I looked myself in the mirror every day for months and asked myself what the “right” choice is.
Do I let my partner go for the sake of my kids? If he was abusive, mean, or otherwise unfit, yes. But he’s not. And giving in to childish control tactics does not create a healthy relationship between me and my children, nor is it how I want to live my life in the future.
Do I let my kids go for the sake of my partner? What mother could do that?! Especially knowing the all-too-real reality that no partnership is guaranteed to last, no matter how good it may be at the beginning, and I didn’t want that kind of “leverage” hanging over our relationship (as in: I let my kids go for you!). That wouldn’t be healthy either.
So, I stared at myself in the mirror, day after day, month after month. All the while, fighting in court to keep my kids — and reaching out to my kids to try to find alternate ways of resolving things.
In this process, I realized, deeply, one very fundamental fact: While there are many people in this life whom I love and care about, and whom I want to make happy, there is only one person I have to live with forever: Me. My job in this life is not to make my kids happy. It’s not to make my partner happy. It’s not to say pleasing things to others to ensure the boat isn’t rocked. It’s not to keep the peace at any cost.
My one and only job in this life is to be true to myself. And, I’d been failing miserably at that one job my whole life, up to that point.
I’d lived according to everyone else’s expectations of me — and had taught them to expect that of me. I’d spent 20+ years as an adult, being that person for them…. And then I started to change the rules I was living by without their permission, and they didn’t like it.
But that’s how real change in our lives works, doesn’t it? First, we decide. Then, we must stand by that decision as those whose lives are impacted by that decision in various ways have their responses. We have the choice to turn back; to return to who we were. Except, turning back now means living in a hell of our own creation — aware of what might have been, what our dreams really are, while knowing we lacked the courage and fortitude to live them fully.
All too often, we find ourselves alone for a period of time before new people begin to show up; people who now know the new us, and support it. And sometimes, old friends return as they come to accept the decisions we’ve made.
For some, this cycle is repeated at various times in life for various reasons. But, it’s the same cycle. I just neglected to realize that my children could be among those who’d leave.
But while the pain was as deeper than I have ever experienced before, I stood my ground. For the first time in my life, I fully and completely stood up for me, my vision, my dreams, and my decision to put me back in my own life. And, it changed me.
In so doing, I lost, yes. But I also won. I find myself speaking up about things I believe in more than I ever have before. My fear of upsetting others is gone. I find myself sharing my opinion on things far more than I ever have before — even if it’s controversial. My need to be liked is gone. I find myself willing to live differently than others — traveling more, letting go of more and more “stuff” for the sake of freedom. My need to have things to be happy is gone.
Instead, I am happy. I miss my kids — daily. But, I no longer feel as if I’m living inside a mental-emotional cage. I honor me and the people who’re in my life are here because of who I am. I don’t worry about the “what if they find out” factor any more. And that, to me, is freedom.
Being teenagers, I believe that one day my children will come back around. They’ll grow, mature and eventually seek their roots again. In the meantime, I intend to continue to focus my life around the woman in the mirror, and learning how to deeply honor her; her needs, her desires, her hopes, her dreams, and her feelings — all of them. When my children come back, I want them to finally be able to get to know the real me and for us to rebuild our relationship based on mutual respect and acceptance, not control and expectations.
One year ago…. I had no idea how much I could grow in so short a time. And, if one year can make this kind of difference in me, what kind of difference can I make in one year?