One of the things I have struggled with most in the land of dating-Dad-with-kids is trying to figure out where I fit in, what I’m “allowed” to have input on and when to ask what’s going on. I guess that’s three things; not one. Maybe I should back up a bit…
Although I have never read The 5 Love Languages, I have been told by those who have (and whose opinions I trust) that I am a “quality time person.” I am, by nature, very time-oriented. I have a mental calendar that borders on savant. I am aware of how long most things take – to complete, to get to, to arrange. And I plan – though I have tried to rein this in to something that is not-quite-so-neurotic and merely a handy skill set to have on board. Some days I am successful in the reining in; other days the neurotic horses run free. Ultimately, this manifests in relationships like this: One of the most important ways for me to feel loved and valued is through my partner making time with me a priority – preferably because he wants to and not because he thinks that’s what he should be doing. It’s this latter part – being afraid that a partner would only do something for me because he feels obligated – that makes it really hard for me to communicate this need.
S and the Ex currently have a very unconventional custody arrangement. It averages out to be 50/50 (in theory), but it is erratic. And even when they have made an arrangement – like the Ex has the kids all of this week – things change mid-stream – like when she has some “crisis” that comes up with her work schedule and all of a sudden S has to be back out in the land of Suburbia at o’dark thirty the next morning to take N to swim practice during a time that we were going to be at my place in the city. It makes me crazy. And it makes it really hard for me to feel like I can count on our plans holding together. I know that I cannot function well – and our relationship cannot thrive – if I am bracing myself for disappointment. And because quality time is one of the ways I am most likely to feel loved, when I am getting scraps of time or feeling that time with me barely makes the to-do list, I become a very small version of myself. I feel unworthy. And irrelevant. And insignificant.
But herein lies the dilemma. I am not a parent in this equation. So none of the scheduling – of who has the Littles when, how many before and after school activities the Littles get signed up for, of who is responsible for getting which Little to which activities when – is something I feel like I am “allowed” to have a say in. Yet all of those decisions in some way have an effect on me. This summer, I spent 5 hours every Saturday at swim meets (there will be a separate post on that adventure in suburbia). I went to neighborhood parties and birthday parties and after-swim-meet parties… Let me be clear: I have 0 regrets about spending all those hours at swim meets. I wanted to be there. I loved seeing N thrive in his element. He is really, really, really good. And I loved being there to cheer him on. And I really loved seeing S cheer on his boy. He almost bursts with pride, and it is a beautiful thing to witness. But it was a challenging social environment for me, for many reasons. And other than a few days traveling together, S and I didn’t go on a single date from the middle of May to nearly the end of August.
One of the mental games runners will often play is to convince themselves that they can get to the next thing – the next tree, the next mile, the next hill, the last 3 miles… And by the end of the summer, I was playing that game – there’s only 1 more swim meet, then we will get some quality time together; when school starts, then we will get some quality time together… But the problem with treating real life like a run is that sometimes that tree you’ve set your sights on ends up being much farther away than you realized. The last swim meet came which was followed promptly by a surprise- to-me party and, the following day, a potluck. Then S had an opportunity to play a gig in Singapore. The last day he was in town which was, coincidentally, the first swim meet-free Saturday, was spent at back-to-back parties, followed by a rushed Sunday morning of getting the Littles to the Ex’s before racing to the airport. Overlay that with that mean girl in my head who tells me that I’m not worth the effort that is required for quality time, and we are on a high-speed train to CrazyTown. The clear-headed part of me knows that this is not at all about S ignoring me or not wanting time with me. And each time we have talked about this, he has been nothing but open and receptive and warm and loving and responsive. But I continue to struggle with this. I wince internally anytime I mention some possible thing that we could do together and S’s first response is, “I don’t know if I’ll have the kids then.” I have offered (repeatedly) to share babysitter expenses so that we can occasionally have some time together, but I know that getting a babysitter is not his first thought. And there are times that that response makes me feel like I am his last thought. I have tried really, really hard to “go with the flow” and just be OK with finding out what’s happening last-minute. But I am frustrated by not knowing what the schedule is and feeling like it’s not fair for me to ask – because maybe it’s not my business or maybe I’ll come off as abrasive or maybe this will make him feel pressured to spend time with me (that he doesn’t really want to spend with me). The very logical, level-headed part of me can come up with arguments against all of this, but the feelings are strong and deeply-rooted and are part of my history that have found their way into who I am today.
The PlannerGirl-CalendarSavant in me recently got S and the Littles a large dry-erase wall calendar. The calendar covers 2 months at a time, and it has space to note S’s work schedule, the Littles’ various before/after school and weekend activities, and school holidays. There is also a place on each day to note whose house the Littles will be staying at. Over the past several weeks I have heard both of the Littles remark on several occasions that they don’t know where they’re going or when they will see S or the Ex next. So, the lack of structure in the schedule isn’t just making me crazy. But I have a confession: Part of my motivation in getting this calendar is so I don’t have to keep guessing – and feeling the complex mix of feelings that I experience when I have no idea what’s going on and like it’s not my place to ask. I honestly think it will be good for S (who is not a planner – something he readily admits to) and for the kids. But I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I didn’t admit that at least some of this is about me managing my own crazy. I may not have any say at all in the scheduling, but I feel like I should at least know what the schedule is. And I just didn’t know any other way to do that.
I am open to other suggestions. I have no idea what I am doing with all of this and clearly have not found balance in the land of scheduling, boundaries and communication. Help!!