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 .

20 Comments

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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Today was an ending and a beginning. My darling girl finished year 12. The final year at school is tough enough, but this year was seismic. Our teens have moved through this year with the most outstanding courage and grace and strength, and now it is time for them to rest and play. My gosh they deserve it. 

It is true that this is a time of celebration, but it can also be an intense time of self-reflection for our teens. (I can remember the same feelings when my gorgeous boy finished so many years ago!) My daughter has described it as, ‘I feel as though I’ve outgrown myself but my new self isn’t ready yet.’ This just makes so much sense. 

There is a beautifully fertile void that is waiting for whatever comes next for each of them, but that void is still a void. At different times it might feel exciting, overwhelming, or brutal in its emptiness.

We also have to remember that this is a time of letting go, and there might be grief that comes with that. Before they can grab on to their next big adventure, they have to let go of the guard rails. This means gently adjusting their hold on the world they have known for the last 12+ years, with its places and routines and people that have felt like home on so many days. There will be redirects and shiftings, and through it all the things that need to stay will stay, and the things that need to adjust will adjust. 

To my darling girl, your loved incredible friends, and the teens who make our world what it is - you are the beautiful  thinkers, the big feelers, the creators, the change makers, and the ones who will craft and grow a better world. However you might feel now, the lights are waiting to shine for you and because of you. The world beyond school is opening its arms to you. That opening might happen quickly, or gently, or smoothly or chaotically, but it will happen. This world needs every one of you - your voices, your spirits, your fire, your softness, your strength and your power. You are world-ready, and we are so glad you are here xxx
When our kids or teens are in high emotion, their words might sound anxious, angry, inconsolable, jealous, defiant. As messy as the words might be, they have a good reason for being there. Big feelings surge as a way to influence the environment to meet a need. Of course, sometimes the fallout from this can be nuclear.
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Wherever there is a big emotion, there will always be an important need behind it - safety, comfort, attention, food, rest, connection. The need will always be valid, even if the way they’re going about meeting it is a little rough. As with so many difficult parenting moments, there will be gold in the middle of the mess if we know where to look. 
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There will be times for shaping the behaviour into a healthier response, but in the middle of a big feeling is not one of those times. Big feelings are NOT a sign of dysfunction, bad kids or bad parenting. They are a part of being human, and they bring rich opportunities for wisdom, learning and growth. .
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Parenting isn’t about stopping the emotional storms, but about moving through the storm and reaching the other side in a way that preserves the opportunity for our kids and teens to learn and grow from the experience - and they will always learn best from experience. 
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To calm a big feeling, name what you see, ‘I can see you’re disappointed. I know how much you wanted that’, or, ‘I can see this feels big for you,’ or, ‘You’re angry at me about .. aren’t you. I understand that. I would be mad too if I had to […],’ or ‘It sounds like today has been a really hard day.’ 
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When we connect with the emotion, we help soothe the nervous system. The emotion has done its job, found support, and can start to ease. 
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When they ‘let go’ they’re letting us in on their deepest and most honest emotional selves. We don’t need to change that. What we need to do is meet them where they and gently guide them from there. When they feel seen and understood, their trust in us and their connection to us will deepen, opening the way for our influence.
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#parenthood #parenting #positiveparenting #parentingtips #childdevelopment #neuronurtured #anxiety #anxietyinchildren #childanxiety #motherhoodcommunity #parenti
When they are at that line, deciding whether to retreat to safety or move forward into brave, there will be a part of them that will know they have what it takes to be brave. It might be pale, or quiet, or a little tumbled by the noise from anxiety, but it will be there. And it will be magical. Our job as their flight crew is to clear the way for this magical part of them to rise. ‘I can see this feels scary for you - and I know you can do this.’ 
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When our kids or teens are struggling, it can be hard to know what they need. It can also be hard for them to say. It can be this way for all of us - we don't always know what we need from the people around us. It might be space, or distraction, or silence, or maybe acknowledging and being there is enough. Sometimes we might need to know that the people we love aren't taking our need for space, or our confusion or anger or sadness personally, and that they are still there within reach.
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What can be easier is thinking about what other people might need. Asking this when they are calm can invite a different perspective and can give you some insight into what they need to hear when they are going through similar. Don't worry if you just get a shrug, or a disheartened, 'I don't know'. They don't need to know, and neither do we. The question in itself might be enough to open a new way through any sense of 'stuckness' or helplessness they might be feeling.
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Give them space to talk but you don’t need to fix anything. You’ll want to, but the answers are in them, not us. Sometimes the answer will be to feel it out, or push for change, or feel the futility of it all so the feeling can let go, knowing it’s done it’s job - it’s recruited support, or raised awareness that something isn’t right.

Sometimes the feelings might be seismic but the words might be gone for a while. That’s okay too. Do they want to start with whatever words are there? Or talk about something else? Or go for a walk with you? Watch a movie with you? Or do a spontaneous, unnecessary drive thru with you just because you can - no words, no need to explain - just you and them and car music for the next 20 minutes. 

The more you can validate what they’re feeling (maybe, ‘Today was big for you wasn’t it’) and give them space to feel, the more they can feel the feeling, understand the need that’s fuelling it, and experiment with ways to deal with it. Sometimes, ‘dealing with it’ might mean acknowledging that there is something that feels big or important and a little out of reach right now, and feeling the fullness and futility of that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days are rubbish, and that sometimes those days last for longer than they should, but we get through. First we feel floored, then we feel stuck, then we shift because the only choices we have we have are to stay down or move, even when moving hurts. Then, eventually we adjust - either ourselves, the problem, or to a new ‘is’. But the learning comes from experience.

I wish our kids never felt pain, but we don’t get to decide that. We don’t get to decide how our children grow, but we do get to decide how much space and support we give them for this growth. We can love them through it but we can’t love them out of it. I wish we could but we can’t.

So instead of feeling the need to silence their pain, make space for it. In the end we have no choice. Sometimes all the love in the world won’t be enough to put the wrong things right, but it can help them feel held while they move through the pain enough to find their out breath, and the strength that comes with that.♥️

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