This topic has been rumbling around in my back of my head for a few years, but I didn’t know how to articulate it until now.
How do I prioritize my life? What is my life made up of? Friends, family, my child, work, and my own needs, including dating/sex.
I’ve said many times that since my split, rebuilding relationships with friends and family has been a priority. I can confidently say I’ve made it happen, and of this, I’m very proud.
Work is important to me – it’s part of my identity and I love what I do. I’m in a fairly specialized field in a well-paying industry and am compensated very handsomely. I can buy decent wine and cheese, host parties, take vacations, and not worry about my financial future. This is a massive advantage and I am keenly aware how lucky I am. It also means I have the luxury of being able to choose whether I pursue a more senior level at my company. Right now, I’m in a good place and have chosen to put my focus on my life outside my office.
But how do I think about my priorities when it comes to me and my needs, as well as those of my child?
In summary? I’m going to put on my own oxygen mask first, just like they tell me.
When Will and I decided to split, we essentially put our own needs ahead of Liam’s. In the long-term, I believe Liam will benefit from not being in a household where his parents aren’t modeling a good relationship. However, in the short-term, it was definitely not to his advantage.
I know parents who stay because they think it’s better for their children. In our case, it wasn’t. I married the man whose parents should have split decades before they did. They modeled terrible conflict resolution and lack of affection. We used to joke it was amazing he could function in a relationship at all, given his parents. In contrast, my parents split when I was 7, they wrote their own joint custody and financial agreement without lawyers and managed to not involve me in their issues. This was incredibly rare at the time and set the model for how Will and I managed our split.
I believe I am a better parent to Liam when I’m happy. I believe he will benefit from seeing me in a healthy relationship. And that means I’m going to keep trying to find one. Even if it means he meets some men along the way who don’t stay around.
The benefit of our week-on week-off schedule is there are few times when Liam’s needs and my own are in conflict and I have to make a choice between them. The weeks he’s with me I try to make as much about him as possible. I avoid social engagements and work travel as much as possible. The weeks he’s not with me I focus on me and my other priorities.
Sometimes however, I’m in the situation where I want to try to fit it all in. Bruce is one of those situations. Being in opposite child schedules with someone who isn’t used to planning anything in advance is causing mild anxiety about whether this is going to work. So, while I have Liam this week I am willing to meet Bruce for an after-work drink if possible, even if it means I’m home a bit later. Yes, it means I’m denying my son perhaps 90 minutes of my time in an evening.
I feel some guilt when I write that paragraph. But it’s the truth.
Bruce, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to do the same. He had his children this past weekend and visited a parent overnight to celebrate their birthday. A couple of hours from home, he chose to spend much of the day there because his children were enjoying playing with cousins and they didn’t want to leave. He knew I had the day free and could have seen him up until the early evening when I got Liam.
He called me in the morning on Sunday, having stepped outside so as not to be talking in front of his children. We spoke very briefly, just for him to touch base, say hello, and for me to ask what the chances were of us seeing each other. Zero. By the time he would get home and take the kids to his ex’s, it would be after 4 pm. He said he then had to go grocery shopping and do laundry and so seeing me wouldn’t work.
There is nothing wrong with his choice.
Regardless, It felt crappy, and got me thinking what I would do in the same situation. I would find the balance between letting Liam hang out with family, and leave early enough so I could see Bruce. It would be worth the drive to have a bit of time. In the ten days I’ve been back, I’ve only seen him once: a mid-morning rushed 45-minute visit, including 8 minutes of sex. If I’d seen him a bunch it would be different.
And that’s not what he chose.
There are people who will put their children first all of the time, no matter what. I am not one of those people. Liam is incredibly important to me, obviously. But I’m important to me too. Being happy and finding someone who can enrich mine (and Liam’s) life is a priority. Interestingly, I think my Mom was the same. I can remember as an older teenager being left at home some nights that she went to visit my (not yet) Step Father who lived an hour away.
This isn’t just about Bruce and his choice. It’s not the first time I’ve encountered someone for whom a pursuit of a relationship will always come after work, children, and other commitments. But if you can’t carve out time to put your own oxygen mask on first, how are you ever going to avoid suffocating and find love?
(And yes, before someone says it, of course its an option to show your children you can be happily single. I’m confident enough to say my preference is to have a partner to share my life with, and I think Liam can benefit from it too.)