As a little girl I would lay out in the yard under the stars dreaming of my future; a future full of fairy tales, white horses and my prince charming. These dreams always ended with prince charming riding in on his white horse, sweeping me off my feet and riding off into the sunset with me to live happily ever after. Not unlike most young girls dreams.
After all these years later, I still lay under the stars in the yard, but now I do it with my prince charming--yes the one I dreamed of. And now instead of dreaming of being swept off my feet, we lay there talking about the things we have accomplished along with how we are still surprised by how wonderful our lives have turned out. As lovey-dovey as it sounds, our story would actually make a great book (a Nicolas Sparks meets Fifty Shades) and one day I will write it. However my life wasn't always this way.
Looking back and thinking about those nights as a child under the stars, it never occurred to me in all that young innocence that things might go just a bit awry. That there might be ten years in the middle of my perfection that would screw things up. Ten years of unhappiness and a life that couldn't be farther from those perfect dreams or farther from where I am today. And ten years that would bring four beautiful children that would forever change my life, my way of thinking and cause me to do things and feel ways that I never thought possible. I never, ever, thought I would have an unspoken countdown.
Going through a divorce causes many changes in one's life. Some of those changes are extremely welcomed (like the divorce if you are the one wanting out) and some are a bit more of a challenge. For example when you divorce someone, the preferred end result would be to wipe them from your life and no longer have any contact or even knowledge of their existence. Even better (in a dream world) you would be able to rewrite them out of history. After all, you did get divorced for a reason. So when the rude awaking arrives of having to learn to co-parent (or parallel parent as those of us who have more difficult exes have to do) hits you and you realize that even with your divorce you aren't getting rid of the headache ex quite so easily you have to find yet another way to change so that this does not overwhelm you.
With these change comes many different emotions. First there is the resentment, which is there whether you wanted the divorce or not because it doesn't matter what the cause was you still resent the other person for the things they did. Then there is anger for all the difficultly you feel the ex is causing. And lastly there is acceptance into your new way of life. For some people these stages take a little time and others well they don't seem to get past the first two.
Once you have made it to acceptance it is then that I have found many divorcees seek some sort of coping mechanism to make them feel better when the resentment of anger starts to surface again, which is usually caused because of some action of the ex interfering in their lives--remember you would really prefer they just disappear and since they won't (because of children, or so they say) you have to find a way to cope. Even when you accept that things are happy with life overall, there are still those moments when you get a call, text or email that just reminds you of all the reasons you are divorced in the first place. But getting mad is not the solution. In reality getting mad only affects you and honestly the headache probably finds satisfaction in causing that disruption in your life. So you have to find a way to cope. It took me awhile, but I have come to truly believe that I will never let anyone--especially my ex--dictate my happiness.
And here is where the countdown comes into play.
You see the divorcee' seeking some peace and light at the end of the tunnel starts thinking about how much longer in life they will have to deal with their ex. In most cases that is when the child(ren) reach adulthood (which is 18 years of age even though many 18 year olds are still very much children) and there is no longer a matter of custody. Because at 18, there no longer has to be discussions about who is handling what, doctors appointments, school issues, sports and activities, blah blah blah blah, it is all now the "child's" responsibility and if they need something from the parent they can ask themselves. Now I understand that during high school years this begins to happen prior to age 18, however legally if the ex wants to continue to have contact or interfere in your life, you legally still have joint custody and on a LIMITED basis have to deal with it. Then there is 18, the magic number. Yes there will be weddings and graduations after 18, but that does not involve any interaction from the exes, it is nothing more than a visual presence which can easily be ignored. So you start to think about how long it is until your child(ren) turn 18 and how much longer that means you will have to deal with the ex--thus the countdown and an unspoken countdown at that.
This unspoken countdown in many ways can be a huge saving grace (which is why it is so frustrating that it goes unspoken) in moments where you wonder how much longer you can deal with the insanity. When you realize that the time left is much less than you have already endured it can give you the strength to persevere the rest of the way and really this makes you a better and happy parent. If you were constantly drowning in the misery of the wake of your ex, how good of a parent do you really think you would be?
The hard part about the countdown is to an outsider it sounds so horrible. It sounds as if you are counting down the time until your child(ren) are gone. When in fact that couldn't be farther from the truth. If it were up to you there would be no "outside involvement" and you would enjoy every moment of your child's growth. In fact, you do enjoy every moment with your child. It is the "outside interference" that drives you to drink start counting down. The countdown is only there to help you cope in the moments of frustration, thus making you a better parent for dealing with it rather than continuing on angry and bitter and dumping that on your children.
When my husband and I first starting feeling this way, we felt guilty and like we were bad parents for looking forward to the kids growing up. Even though inside we knew there was nothing wrong with our thoughts nor were we doing any harm to the children by thinking it, we still felt guilty. It wasn't until I slowly started sharing these feelings with close friends who also are divorced and I found that they all did the same thing, they just didn't speak of it like we didn't. I even have a friend who has a countdown on her phone. Sound a bit harsh? Not at all when you know all of the garbage she deals with on a regular basis from the ex in her life. It is nothing more than a coping mechanism and honestly at times we all need it.
I think that is why I am sharing this today as I truly believe that this is a harmless way to deal with the headache and there is nothing to feel guilty about. I want all of those divorcees out there to understand they are not alone, even though apparently it is the unspoken countdown. I want them to know there is nothing wrong with finding the light at the end of the tunnel and holding onto it for dear life in those moments where you feel it is just getting darker.
So whenever my fairytale gets interrupted and my head starts to hurt from all the interference and interruptions, I take a deep breath and think to myself, time is going to fly and in "blank" years, months, and days, we will no longer have this headache. Life will soon be uninterrupted and nothing and no one will be able to insert themselves any more.
As an end note I just want to say that I have thought long and hard about posting anything on this topic because of the judgment and ridicule some will feel I am due. However, I am by far not alone in this unspoken countdown and many if not most of us who are divorced have a version of it all our own. It is those who are sad and pathetic fake people who are too proud to acknowledge they do it and therefore make others feel bad for counting down. And I feel it is time to step up and share with others so they know they are not alone and that there is nothing wrong with how they are feeling. In fact, it is really quite common. Count away!
Writer ~ Day to Day Woman
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