Sorry for the delay in writing back. The article that Lea posted on feminism sparked some unexpected controversy with two of our friends so we’ve been a bit ‘self absorbed’ working out what was really going on beneath the surface and whose shit was whose!!
In a nutshell they took issue with the references in Lea’s article regarding the fairness of our ex’s having their own children EVERY weekend. I found this really difficult to hear.
As you know I have struggled with massive guilt about letting go of my kids to the degree that I have. Encouraging them to have regular and consistent time with their dad who obviously does things differently from me, felt really hard. Letting go also meant facing who I am without them, which after 8 years I didn’t actually know. Scary times.
I was really going to try and not defend myself to you – thereby exhibiting my ever present guilt – but I just can’t quite do it so I’ll get that out of the way now! One of the accusations levelled at us was questioning when the fathers manage to ‘self actualise’, to find love and create their own blended families, especially if they have their children every weekend. I was really quite stunned that someone who knew so little about my personal childcare arrangements could be quite so rude.
My reply was thus: “I think my ex’s self actualisation comes Monday to Friday daytime plus the five and sometimes six nights a week he doesn’t have the children. He is currently on his second relationship since our split and my children are part of his new blended family in which he is, at least for now, the house husband. He seems to be managing pretty well wouldn’t you say?!”
I found it really difficult that a woman who regularly posts feminist memes and clearly identifies herself thus could rush to rescue the males in this dynamic quite so readily.
Given how hard I (and I suspect scores of other women) find it to poke my head up above the parapet and try and own the fact that I want a life for myself too, that I want to self actualise, that I think it’s healthy for my kids to see me doing that and to have their father parent them just as (in)competently as me, I feel devastated that I should be so readily shot down by a friend, a feminist, a mother. As my therapist declared ‘women are often the biggest threat to feminism’.
So I’m in a shamed place. Shamed for daring to consider my own needs ahead of (although I don’t think that’s true!) my ex’s, shamed for having…drum roll…child free time (cue much tutting and head shaking or repeated comments about how lucky I am).
Believe me, it’s not luck that has created this child-free time; it is intentional, repetitive and practised behaviour and action. It hasn’t been easy on many fronts to help my ex parent his children from a foundation of almost zero parenting experience and carve out this child-free time for myself – from the weekly emails to him discussing where the kids are emotionally and how to handle it, to the odd feeling in my house with just me in it, to the guilt when I am enjoying myself without them and daring to self actualise!
But hey, shame loses its power when we share it with another – so Lea and my Lemonaid adventure feel really important to me. However, they tried to shame us for doing that too…
Suggesting if it were them that they’d “get a court order to shut us up” felt like the kind of comment a well-known US president might make – NOT a female friend – and it had an impact. I doubted whether I was ‘allowed’ to have a voice, to talk about my experiences and the full gamut of emotions this midlife awakening is having. That’s why this letter is late – it is, quite literally, shamefully late.
You know I’m a people pleaser; that I find it hard to be boundaried and not consider everyone else’s needs before mine so even after all of this, it was difficult for me to unfriend the people concerned, or respond further to their messages. However, it is done and for my own sake (see there I go again, putting my own needs first! Jesus – so bloody selfish! Interestingly these days I see selfish in different terms – as a form of necessary self care).
‘Kill em with kindness’ feels like an interesting phrase that makes me consider what kindness really is. They certainly wouldn’t describe our behaviour as kind, but why? Is challenging people’s behaviour when they post angry and passive aggressive remarks on a public and personal thread unkind? Is being willing to talk about publicly or privately what might really be going on with a view to resolving it and remaining friends unkind? I don’t think so (and believe me I constantly analyse my behaviour and find it wanting!!).
I find it difficult that directness is construed as confrontational, when really it’s about simplified, honest, communication, which to me feels like the best form of kindness. After Lea and I had both been direct and honest in our replies we were interrupted with a comment from the second woman in defence of the first of “I don’t like to see anyone getting upset or hurt”! We hadn’t been unkind, malicious or personally attacking in any way – we had responded to what had been veiled personal attacks on us (which was later clarified and confirmed in a personal message to a third party).
Her comment – that she didn’t like to see others getting upset – on the face of it implies kindness, but frankly that kind of kindness I can live without. This inability to differentiate between directness and passive aggression and to hold disagreement or challenge led her to send the most unutterably offensive remarks to a third party (behind our backs), whilst simultaneously messaging me ‘kind’ utterances about how it would be nice if we could just move past this and be friends! I was, quite frankly, at a loss for words by that point.
The scariest thing about all of this is that all the above feels like a smokescreen for what was really going on…
I think for a long time I was admitted to a victim club with these friends. This was a club that although I didn’t want to partake in, I sometimes did. My own health condition meant that in between trying to take responsibility, I’d have moments of feeling really sorry for myself and thus joining the ranks of the ‘Poor Old Me’s’.
Victim clubs thrive on others staying in static places with them so no one has to look at what they’re doing or not doing that enables such behaviour to persist. In finally choosing to step out of this club and begin a relationship with Lea (never described as a victim) Woodward I think they were confused and possibly a little threatened.
Often women seem to be triggered by Lea and what she represents and I think that is certainly true here. In Lea asking a direct and pretty pertinent question, all hell seemed to break loose and an anger that possibly already existed was tapped into…
Remember I told you I’d written a post about all the feminist stuff we’ve talked about over the past few months? Well it caused all sorts of enlightening events this past weekend! Both Becky, my ex and I were dragged into a vortex of other peoples’ stuff in the most frustrating of ways…
What became abundantly clear though, was quite how strong a reaction I appear to provoke in some people (women) because of my beliefs, values, behaviour and how feminist I am (yes, you read that right).
As you know, one of the reasons I wrote the post is the shock I continue to feel that so many women around me are still playing out the very conventional, traditional roles of primary homemaker and parent, despite banging the feminist drum.
I won’t repeat the contents of that post (you can read it here if you like), but suffice to say, I’m coming round to the conclusion that, when it comes to feminism in ACTION (and not just paying lip service to it), women are often the most guilty of holding back the movement towards greater or even full equality, for themselves (and others, if this experience is anything to go by).
If this has resulted in anything, it’s been the enlightening awareness of quite how other people (women, mostly) experience me. And not in a positive way…
When one acquaintance worries about my ex’s “self actualisation” because he’s having the children every weekend and another jokes to my ex about getting a court order to “shut them up” and suggests he “tell her (me) to blog about something else” it’s clear – to me at least – that there’s a huge amount of – anger? Resentment? I’m not really sure what – but something that feeds an already biased narrative about me. A narrative that puts me very much in the position of oppressor, or perpetrator (in the Drama Triangle) or more simply “bitch from hell” 😱 Why?
…Because I ‘force’ my ex husband to have joint responsibility for his children. Never mind the fact he actually wants to and doesn’t see any reason why he shouldn’t actually share that responsibility, equally.
…Because I control my ex husband and don’t consider his needs in my alleged ‘demands’ for him to have the children every weekend, thereby stunting his opportunity for ‘self actualisation’.
Never mind the hours and hours I’ve spent processing his emotional stuff with him – since we divorced – encouraging him to look at his ongoing patterns so he’s aware of them, their impact and can then choose to change them, with a therapist (and not me) for a neutral and safe space for him to do this. Never mind the fact I’m the one who often urges him to have better boundaries – fully aware that this’ll likely bite me on the bum when he starts to use those boundaries with me too.
…Because I have strong boundaries, fight for my space and time and don’t do guilt when I’m not the be all and end all to my children.
Never mind the fact I’ve had to let go massively to let my ex’s parents play a far bigger role in their lives than they ever have before, or likely ever would if we’d stayed together. The reasons for this are many, but primarily, I wanted my ex to be able to stand up to his parents when needed on behalf of the children before I wanted them to spend more time under their influence – as well as the children being old enough to communicate and state their needs too. Now he does, both his parents and my children benefit greatly from their relationship.
And never mind the fact that I now actively encourage him to let go of any guilt he feels at letting his parents sometimes take care of their grandchildren while he has time to himself; something he has acknowledged he finds difficult.
…Because I have made some unconventional life choices, support myself financially and exhibit what are typically thought of as the more masculine qualities.
Never mind that doing this often results in me being labelled as cold, aloof and distinctly unnurturing, despite attachment parenting both my children (from intuition and innate sense without reading any books on, or even knowing till a later date that it was even called, ‘attachment parenting’) and having a very strong nurturing and maternal side that those who truly know and see me often experience.
As a loud and proud feminist – and one who LIVES this value in almost every way I can – I am utterly incredulous that this should leave me open to such spiteful and malicious attacks from other women.
How is that helping the feminist cause?
That some women feel such a strong need to (still) rescue men in the face of feminism, and that my life choices provoke this reaction – from women and fellow mothers – utterly dumbfounds me!
If a woman who equally shares EVERYTHING with her male ex – financial responsibilities, parenting responsibilities, personal development responsibilities and more – is perceived as a threat, vilified for not apparently caring about her ex’s self actualisation enough, urged NOT to share so much about her life (even though the act of doing this is an exercise for my own self actualisation) and is essentially torn down for fully living her feminist values, what hope is there?