It happened again recently.
A woman approached me after hearing me speak and said, “I know my situation is much worse than yours was, but…” She went on to describe a situation that closely mirrored one Gabe and I faced last year. This well-intentioned woman assumed that because I hadn’t addressed that specific issue in the session, I had not experienced it.
Assumptions like these follow me around like toddlers chasing their mama to the bathroom. My divorce, because of how my children’s father and I interact today, gets called “easy,” “amicable,” and “platonic,” even. My coparenting stories are dismissed as “too simple,” or as “optimistic fluff.” People assume that my path has been different from the vast majority of separated parents or newly formed blended families.
The truth is, I am wholly to blame for these assumptions. They are born of the secrets I keep.
I don’t tell you everything here in our corner of the world. I know that must come as a shock, given the amount of information I do share. Bedtime routines, marital skirmishes, coparenting mishaps: all have been laid bare on this page. I understand why readers believe they know all the intimate details of our life.
I share intimately and truthfully, but I don’t share the whole of our experience.
One of the reasons I don’t tell all on these pages because the more specifics I share about our unique situation, the more opportunities I give readers to opt out of the lessons I’ve learned. If I shared, for example, that I am a full contact roller-derby jammer, it might be harder for conflict-averse book loving mamas to relate to me. If I waxed on and on about the bluebells in my great home state of Texas, my California surfer girls might think we have nothing in common. I share what brings us together, and limit the information that might pull us apart.
A second reason I carefully choose the stories I tell you is these stories are not mine alone to tell.
All of our children can read. Caden and Sara are avid readers of the blog (hi, Loveys!), and Simon and Amy check in often as well. Jack and Lottie often snuggle in my lap as I type, sneaking looks at the screen and scanning for their names (the Littles believe they should be featured more prominently). Gabe and Billy also read my work, as do members of our extended family.
Everyone who appears on these pages has given me their generous permission to write about my experiences with them. We are all on this journey together.
Those are two key reasons I keep some of our life private, but the truth is those two reasons don’t prevent me from hitting the publish button on some of our most painful stories. This family has walked through deep valleys together, with love and pain and mistakes and mutual respect and lots of discussion, and often, sharing those stories more broadly feels like the right next step to everyone involved. The mission of easing the burden of divorced parents and blended families belongs to our full tribe.
Why keep secrets at all then? Why not simply fill these pages with all the gory details of our not-easy-at-all divorce and our coparenting struggles and our sometimes-still-awkward interactions?
I keep secrets because I am working to feed the right wolf.
I have loved the parable of two wolves for longer than I can remember. The story is thought to be of Native American, perhaps Cherokee, origin and is about a grandfather and his grandson.
A grandson is angry about an incident with his friends, and asks his grandfather for help. His grandfather responds by telling him a story of the terrible fight we all have inside of us, the fight between two wolves. One wolf is filled with anger, fear, hate, and jealousy. That wolf is insecurity and resentment and superiority. The second wolf is filled with love, generosity, compassion and peace. The second wolf is kindness and hope and humility. The grandfather tells his grandson that these two wolves are constantly battling, locked endlessly in a battle that rages daily.
“Which one will win?” asks the grandson.
Grandpa smiles, because the answer to the question is simple. “The one you feed.”
What you feed wins.
I write to feed the second wolf.
There are lots of ways feed the first wolf: gossipy venting sessions at PTA coffees, online “support” groups that feature ex bashing in all shapes and colors, rapid reactions to prove I’m right. What I’ve learned over the years is that it’s much easier to focus on the difficult, painful, self-righteous side of divorce and coparenting. It feels good in the moment, as though I’m less alone and justified.
It’s not just me. I don’t have to look hard to find negative portrayals of my family type or my parenting relationship; society serves up juicy divorce and broken family stories abundantly. That first wolf will never go hungry.
The second wolf is a different story. It’s hard to find the light in the darkness. When I first started this journey, there were so few voices calling out to me with hope and kindness and compassion. It was easier to feed the wolves with whatever I first encountered, which strengthened the anger and sadness I carried. The second wolf was starving.
The cost of strengthening the hateful wolf soon became too much to bear. I didn’t want to live a life focused on the negative aspects of my situation. Hate is so heavy. I began to find ways to feed the loving wolf, first for myself, and then more publicly. I want it to be easy to find food for the compassionate, loving parts of our collective souls.
I face the same battles you face. I carry the same scars. I have the same two wolves battling within me. The secrets I keep are in service to feeding the winner I’ve chosen. I choose love.