Breaking Up With Kids: The New Normal (by Ellen Knott)

Breaking Up With Kids: The New Normal

In many areas, I am a typical woman. I love to get dressed up, do my hair and put on makeup. I love to shop and cook and wear high heels. In so many ways, I am the quintessential female. But there is one difference that I see in myself that sets me apart from my peers and that is I don’t have an overwhelming urge to have children.

My heart and my ovaries do not ache to reproduce. In fact, I firmly believe that we should do a little less procreating and should place a much larger focus on the children that are already in this world who need to be raised. But that is not the subject of this so I digress.

I moved back to my hometown in an attempt to slow down and be closer to my family. I had lived here about a year when I ran into my ex’s mom. We had always been close, as she was definitely the cool mom when we were kids, and we had kept up with each other since.

Years before, she had been a huge part of my life, as had his whole family. He and I had been great friends, then lovers that ended horribly as most young love does.

We cut ties, I moved away and we hadn’t spoken since. He had a child with someone else and seemed happy from what I gathered on social media. I didn’t know until I ran into his mom that he was no longer with the mother of his child and in fact, hadn’t been for some time. She suggested I give him a call for old time’s sake and passed along his number.

I thought about whether to use that phone number for several days, perhaps even a week. I couldn’t exactly remember what had gone wrong the first go around. In the end, I decided on a friendly text to feel out the situation. I received an immediate, welcoming response. Thus began a few weeks long text dialogue and what now seems like impending doom.

Within a day or two, he asked me to meet him for dinner, which I declined…that day. But things quickly changed from, “Hey, how’s it going,” to “Are you coming over right after work?” And then shortly after that, things evolved from, “I’ve got my daughter tonight,” to “Where did you put Anna and Elsa?”

We finished painting her bedroom pink together and I picked out the perfect bedding to match because boys just don’t know how to do these things. Needless to say, we dove right in, whether either of us meant to or not. We didn’t want to be in a relationship, it just kind of happened.

At first, I was apprehensive to meet her. It just felt like a huge commitment, which is something I typically try to steer clear of. But I loved her the moment I laid eyes on her.

I watched him be an amazing father and I realized, for the first time, that it was a characteristic I found extremely attractive. We all spent time together and she and I became fast friends.

She wanted to sit on my side of the table at restaurants. She wanted me to do her hair instead of daddy. She wanted me to play, read, color and ride bikes and scooters with her. She tried new food because I had cooked it. She gave me fashion critiques as I got ready and always hugged me goodnight. As someone who has never really even known that they wanted a child of their own, this was perfect! I got the best of both worlds. I got to love a child with someone I loved and I didn’t have to go through nine months of what I can only assume I would hate. I didn’t have to endure morning sickness or watch my ankles turn into cankles.

It was actually awesome to be able to retain my independence and yet have a really cool place in this child’s life. When he accused me of being a pushover with her, I replied that it was my job to be fun and to make sure that she liked me and that I was sorry his “mean old dad” job sucked. Little did I know how prolific my “mean old dad” tease would turn out to be.

Things were great for a few months and then they quickly turned from bad to worse. He suddenly became cold and distant. He transitioned from constantly wanting me around to leaving his own house without even saying goodbye.

If anyone understands his fear of allowing anyone to get close to him, it’s me. He’s got quite a backstory and I know it word for word. But it seemed like we were, not only far better than that, but far beyond that. For all purposes, it appeared that he had really opened up to me and let me back into his life with ease and comfortability. He had helped me in so many ways and seen me through a death in my family with a loving and supportive tenderness that I will never forget. We talked about everything and spent many nights in bed discussing family and relationship dynamics and each other’s idiosyncrasies.

All that came clamoring down within a matter of weeks. Besides cold and distant, he’d added hateful and indignant to the mix. He said things that really cut me to my core. I, the ever consciously aware woman that I am, realized that these were behaviors that I was unwilling to tolerate, especially after attempting to discuss the issues with him. It was very clear to me that it was time to walk away.

I can say, with complete certainty, that I miss her more than I miss him.

Sure, I miss slow dancing in the kitchen to his terrible twangy country music. I miss him asking me how my day is going or calling to make sure I made it to my destination. Of course I miss our little jokes and his strange quirks. I even miss doing his laundry and my heart aches for the secureness I felt laying in his arms. But truth be told, what I miss the most is her. What I really miss is looking forward to 5:00 because I know I’ll be seeing her. I miss our talks, high-fives and her imagination. I miss playing Anna and Elsa and doll house with her. I miss her telling me to try different shoes with that dress. I miss sneaking her cookies at the grocery store when we’ve walked away from him even though it’s right before dinner. I miss holding her little hand and making sure she’s washed them. I miss singing Taylor Swift and Let It Go at the top of our lungs in the car. I miss her sassy little attitude and funny one liners.

I realized all of this yesterday. I had a particularly good day. My spirits were higher than they’d been since I’d put the kibosh on things. I was feeling extra confident and decided to watch a tutorial on YouTube that instructed me how to fishtail braid my hair. I conquered the feat and was pretty proud of myself.

That is, until the realization hit me that I would never get to fishtail braid her hair. It all hit me at once, like a ton of bricks. A braid brought all of my progress to a screeching halt. I guess I had just subconsciously convinced myself that we were still best buds and that I’d see her soon. That simply isn’t the case.

For me, and I’m sure for a number of people in similar situations, this is the harshest reality in this whole breaking up process. This is the “new normal” that hit me the hardest. This is what took my breath away upon realization. I never expected to fall in such love with someone that wasn’t him. I never expected to know what it felt like to love something that wasn’t even mine, not one bit of my blood. I didn’t even know that I possessed the emotional capacity to do so.

The finality of the fact that I no longer get to be her fun grown-up is heart breaking. I don’t get to hang out with her anymore. I don’t get to satisfy a void in my heart I wasn’t even aware I had. And that’s just it, there isn’t a bitter and jaded 28 year old man sized hole in my heart. No, that would be too easy to cope with. Instead, there is a beautiful brown eyed 5 year old little girl sized hole in my heart.

I suppose, for now, I can retain and recite the cliché words of wisdom, “This too shall pass,” “Time heals all wounds,” and even “She isn’t your kid.” But that hole is still there and it still eats away a little bit of my spirit every time I think about it. I hope it gets better. I earnestly hope that this gut wrenching feeling and tightness in my chest recede with time. I just don’t anticipate that time to come in the foreseeable future and that’s a crushing reality.

At first, I thought that I wished we had never formed this bond and I was mad at him for allowing it to happen. But now I can say with confidence that I am so incredibly grateful that we did. I recently heard a quote that I thought, at the time, related to him. I’ve now come to realize it is completely and utterly about them both. “I will never regret you or say I wish I’d never met you because once upon a time, you were exactly what I needed.” And there you have it. The truth of the matter is that she was exactly what I needed.

So thank you, sweet girl. Thank you for teaching me that I am capable of love outside of my own selfish desires. Thank you for teaching me that I am, in fact, capable of being maternal and nurturing. Thank you for teaching me that someone’s “baggage” is not only not a bad thing, but can be the most amazing thing one can take from a relationship, albeit a failed one. If we never meet again and even if I’m silent, please know that I will always be rooting for you. Thanks for the fashion advice. Thanks for the giggles. Thanks for everything.


Ellen Knott
About the Author: Ellen Knott

Ellen Knott is a paralegal, an aspiring writer and a self-proclaimed hot mess. Her passions include shoes, wine and sarcasm. In her free time, she loves to see live music, hang out with her dog and fail at Pinterest projects.

You can contact her at .

23 Comments

Eric

Your article was spot on. Seeing that my, “former,” step-grandson and I aren’t the only ones going through this gives some comfort. He’s 7 now, and my ex and I had raised him in our home from birth. I viewed him the same as if he was my own son. There is definitely a grieving process to get through. The strangest things cause me to get misty-eyed. I was flipping the channels the other day and happened to pass by Sponge Bob. Tears hit me like a wave hitting the shore. My heart raced on another day when I heard a little boy playing outside. He laughed so much like my grandson. I’ll see something interesting and think, “I wish I could tell him about that. He’d like it.” They say time heals, but it seems to take an eternity.

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ERIC

Your article is deeply touching. My step-grandson lived with us from the day he came home from the hospital after his birth. I’ve loved and cared for him as if he were my own son. He’s seven now. His grandma and I are divorcing. I’ve lost my boy in the process because there aren’t any stepparent, let alone step-grandparent, rights where we live. It feels like the part of my heart where he lives has been torn out. I know we’ll both heal eventually, but it hurts so bad in the meantime. I miss him so much.

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Jenna

This broke my heart.
This is my new reality:
I fell into the same routine with someone who was never on my radar.
And my heart hurts for his son and all the plans we’ve made together. And the sleep overs the sleepy hugs when he crawls into bed and the early morning wake ups.
I’m going to miss that the most

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robert

The two lovely children , the dog , the extended family; it hurts just so much and doubles the pain . Your invited into this family not quite sure how much you are allowed to love ,slowly and surely love grows but when your first love decides its time to finish, you get discarded like an old shoe. No rights, no visiting time you are just meant to let it go. No heart can work like that and the damage is not contained.

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Hey Sigmund

The hurt is deep and very real. I completely understand. It takes a brave, open heart to be willing to love and with an already established family the loss feels greater because of the ties that are broken. The pain will pass, but don’t let it harden you. This is your first love, but there will be others for you. Take the time you need to grieve, and be kind to yourself while you do. When you are able, start being open to what comes next – there is a happier version of you and a love you deserve waiting to find you.

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Susan Malone

I loved your article, you are a great writer and a loving person. I’m not trying to be harsh, but I have seen too many of my friends go through both sides of your story, and would like to flip it to the child’s view.

While your relationship with this little girl was beautiful and loving, I doubt she looks back at it wistfully as you do. She was probably very hurt and confused when you were not around anymore. I’m guessing she will not be so quick to warm up to the next woman in her father’s life.
While I understand it is difficult, because I have been divorced and trying to date with two small children, I would like to caution parents to not put their kids in the mix until they are very certain that the one their with is in fact, ‘the one’.

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Patty

I couldn’t agree more with Susan. I think it is wonderful that this little girl was able to give to you (Ellen) emotionally something that was absent from your life. However, as a social worker, I have seen and dealt with too many children who experience this type of “desertion” in their lives and for some children, it occurs numerous times throughout their young lives. It creates in them a tremendous amount of “baggage” that can negatively impact their relationships throughout their whole life. If there is one thing I could ask divorced parents to consider, it would be this—please do not bring another adult into your child’s life too quickly. Date that person for at least a year before you even introduce your child(ren) to them. As the adult, you are to protect your children even if that is difficult for you. Loving your kids means doing the hard stuff. Keep your private life separate–your kids will appreciate you for protecting them emotionally.

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Hey Sigmund

I absolutely agree that it’s really important to wait to introduce children to a new relationship, but in this case, both adults knew each other well. As with any breakup, it all depends on how the adults deal with it in relation to the children – e.g. not badmouthing the other adult, and explaining the breakup in the best way personal so the child doesn’t take it personally. It sounds as though these two adults are doing this well. I’ve also seen dreadful baggage come from long term relationship breakups. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees. Another thing to keep in mind is that With stepfamilies, the very difficult issues that are unique to stepfamily life won’t make themselves known until the family becomes a ‘family’. Thank you for your heartfelt comment. You obviously have the very best interests of the children at heart.

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Ellen Knott

Let me preface this with I definitely agree with you. Introducing your child to someone should certainly be a very thoughtful and cautionary process. Karen is correct in that we did know each other very well prior to this. Also, she has an amazing mother and the two of them coparent very well. She is a wonderful kid with two phenomenal parents. I say all this to say that she isn’t needing for anything and there isn’t a void that I would hypothetically need to fill. Thank you so much for you feedback. 🙂

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Lela

I LOVE your story!!! My husband and I have a granddaughter that we don’t get to see since her mom and our son (my step-son) divorced. She’s almost 5 now and my heart truly aches for her. We were a part of her life for the first 3 years and then the mom slowly started removing us from her life. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through and am still going through. What you wrote at the end really resonates within me and helps give me some peace: “Thank you for teaching me that someone’s “baggage” is not only not a bad thing, but can be the most amazing thing one can take from a relationship, albeit a failed one. If we never meet again and even if I’m silent, please know that I will always be rooting for you. Thanks for the fashion advice. Thanks for the giggles. Thanks for everything.” Thank you for sharing your story!

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Ellen Knott

Thank you so much for this sweet comment! I’m so sorry you are having to go through that.

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Anngie

Thanks for sharing your story! My ex-husband had a 3 year old son at the time we married. And I
Was fully committed to being this little boy’s mommy ( his mom died when he was a baby).
Well, as circumstance would have it, we eventually divorced. I begged my ex-husband to still allow me to be a part of this kid’s life, since I was the only mommy he knew. He outright refused.
I often tell people that the hardest part of my divorce was losing my mother-in-law and my stepson! It’s comforting to hear that others have felt the same way.

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Peggy

I just wanted to let you know that this is a great article! I know your mom is so proud!

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Denise W

Ellen, Don’t stop! You have a true gift! This was awesome. You can reach so many people with your words.

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Ash

Great article! I believe the author means “rooting for you” rather than “routing.” Overall a great read.

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Kate

Sorry that has happened to you. I am sure she has a “you” shaped hole in her heart too.

It was falling in love with a friends child that made me realise that I did after all want children, despite spending most of my 20’s thinking otherwise. If I could not have had my own I would have adopted – children are the greatest gift in life. This is coming from someone who used to avoid them at all costs! You have a lot to offer, don’t rule out being a parent one day.

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Ellen Knott

I am certainly open to the idea. It just isn’t my life’s focus. Thanks for the feedback!

Reply

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‘Brave’ doesn’t always feel like certain, or strong, or ready. In fact, it rarely does. That what makes it brave.♥️
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#parenting #mindfulparenting #parentingtips
We teach our kids to respect adults and other children, and they should – respect is an important part of growing up to be a pretty great human. There’s something else though that’s even more important – teaching them to respect themselves first. 

We can’t stop difficult people coming into their lives. They might be teachers, coaches, peers, and eventually, colleagues, or perhaps people connected to the people who love them. What we can do though is give our kids independence of mind and permission to recognise that person and their behaviour as unacceptable to them. We can teach our kids that being kind and respectful doesn’t necessarily mean accepting someone’s behaviour, beliefs or influence. 

The kindness and respect we teach our children to show to others should never be used against them by those broken others who might do harm. We have to recognise as adults that the words and attitudes directed to our children can be just as damaging as anything physical. 

If the behaviour is from an adult, it’s up to us to guard our child’s safe space in the world even harder. That might be by withdrawing support for the adult, using our own voice with the adult to elevate our child’s, asking our child what they need and how we can help, helping them find their voice, withdrawing them from the environment. 

Of course there will be times our children do or say things that aren’t okay, but this never makes it okay for any adult in your child’s life to treat them in a way that leads them to feeling ‘less than’.

Sometimes the difficult person will be a peer. There is no ‘one certain way’ to deal with this. Sometimes it will involve mediation, role playing responses, clarifying the other child’s behaviour, asking for support from other adults in the environment, or letting go of the friendship.

Learning that it’s okay to let go of relationships is such an important part of full living. Too often we hold on to people who don’t deserve us. Not everyone who comes into our lives is meant to stay and if we can help our children start to think about this when they’re young, they’ll be so much more empowered and deliberate in their relationships when they’re older.♥️
When we are angry, there will always be another emotion underneath it. It is this way for all of us. 

Anger itself is a valid emotion so it’s important not to dismiss it. Emotion is e-motion - energy in motion. It has to find a way out, which is why telling an angry child to calm down or to keep their bodies still will only make things worse for them. They might comply, but their bodies will still be in a state of distress. 

Often, beneath an angry child is an anxious one needing our help. It’s the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. As with all emotions, anger has a job to do - to help us to safety through movement, or to recruit support, or to give us the physical resources to meet a need or to change something that needs changing. It doesn’t mean it does the job well, because an angry brain means the feeling brain has the baton, while the thinking brain sits out for a while. What it means is that there is a valid need there and this young person is doing their very best to meet it, given their available resources in the moment or their developmental stage. 

Children need the same thing we all need when we’re feeling fierce - to be seen,  heard, and supported; to find a way to get the energy out, either with words or movement. Not to be shut down or ‘fixed’. 

Our job isn’t to stop their anger, but to help them find ways to feel it and express it in ways that don’t do damage. This will take lots of experience, and lots of time - and that’s okay.♥️
The SCCR Online Conference 2021 is a wonderful initiative by @sccrcentre (Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution) which will explore ’The Power of Reconnection’. I’ve been working with SCCR for many years. They do incredible work to build relationships between young people and the important adults around them, and I’m excited to be working with them again as part of this conference.

More than ever, relationships matter. They heal, provide a buffer against stress, and make the world feel a little softer and safer for our young people. Building meaningful connections can take time, and even the strongest relationships can feel the effects of disconnection from time to time. As part of this free webinar, I’ll be talking about the power of attachment relationships, and ways to build relationships with the children and teens in your life that protect, strengthen, and heal. 

The workshop will be on Monday 11 October at 7pm Brisbane, Australia time (10am Scotland time). The link to register is in my story.
There are many things that can send a nervous system into distress. These can include physiological (tired, hungry, unwell), sensory overload/ underload, real or perceived threat (anxiety), stressed resources (having to share, pay attention, learn new things, putting a lid on what they really think or want - the things that can send any of us to the end of ourselves).

Most of the time it’s developmental - the grown up brain is being built and still has a way to go. Like all beautiful, strong, important things, brains take time to build. The part of the brain that has a heavy hand in regulation launches into its big developmental window when kids are about 6 years old. It won’t be fully done developing until mid-late 20s. This is a great thing - it means we have a wide window of influence, and there is no hurry.

Like any building work, on the way to completion things will get messy sometimes - and that’s okay. It’s not a reflection of your young one and it’s not a reflection of your parenting. It’s a reflection of a brain in the midst of a build. It’s wondrous and fascinating and frustrating and maddening - it’s all the things.

The messy times are part of their development, not glitches in it. They are how it’s meant to be. They are important opportunities for us to influence their growth. It’s just how it happens. We have to be careful not to judge our children or ourselves because of these messy times, or let the judgement of others fill the space where love, curiosity, and gentle guidance should be. For sure, some days this will be easy, and some days it will feel harder - like splitting an atom with an axe kind of hard.

Their growth will always be best nurtured in the calm, loving space beside us. It won’t happen through punishment, ever. Consequences have a place if they make sense and are delivered in a way that doesn’t shame or separate them from us, either physically or emotionally. The best ‘consequence’ is the conversation with you in a space that is held by your warm loving strong presence, in a way that makes it safe for both of you to be curious, explore options, and understand what happened.♥️
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#mindfulparenting #positiveparenting #parenting

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