Surviving Divorce: Red Flags

Female hand emerging from crumpled paper pile holding a red flag

Red flags are something that can be taken serious, or ignored. When in a relationship, and they are ignored, it can lead down a path of heartache, abuse, depression, and much more. People tend to ignore red flags, because they are somewhat happy with the other things, or because they just don’t value themselves enough. I think for me, I was so young and naive, and trying to follow in my family’s footsteps – getting married young, having a house and children young – that when I did start to notice them, I thought it was too late.

How wrong I was. It is never too late. When those flags start flying, no matter how much time you’ve put into your relationship, you can get out. This is something near to my heart, as I really did ignore so many and have had a few really crushing years trying to pick up the pieces and move on. The choices I made, the ignoring I did, has caused trauma and a lot of healing steps to take.

I thought that maybe if you are reading this and have been ignoring your own red flags, maybe you won’t anymore. Maybe you will face them, and take the steps needed to live more authentically. Maybe reading this will save you from seventeen years with someone that controls, abuses, lies, cheats, and smothers your growth. Maybe reading this will give you the courage to walk away and start again. Maybe you will find comfort in knowing that you are not the only one out there suffering.

Although I have a very long list I could put out there, I will try to stick to some of the bigger ones, for the sake of keeping your interest. I apologize for the long post, but I feel it is important. If you can relate to any of these, I urge you to take a longer look at your life and where it is headed. I urge you to consider taking these red flags serious and finding the help that is out there for you to change your path. Maybe you will see yourself in some of my red flags.

I was young when I met my ex, just sixteen. Still a baby. Sometimes I wish someone had pulled me aside and warned me. But then I remember, that the path I walked with him was supposed to happen. It gave me my four beautiful children that have shown me purpose and meaning. So I walked the path I was supposed to walk with him, and when it became apparent that he did not want me to grow in any way, I knew our path ended, and it was time for me to go left, and him to go right. And in this new path, I have been able to look back and realize the red flags I ignored.

If the person you are dating openly tells you that they used their last girlfriend for “rides and blowjobs”….red flag. If you start ignoring your friends and spend all of your time with that person and they don’t encourage you to keep your friends and have a life outside of them….red flag. If he is jealous of you having guy friends…red flag. If he swerves to hit animals (like raccoons) on the road…red flag. When he comes from a ‘Christian’ family that sits around and gossips about everyone…red flag. If your sister has to bring you and your first born home from the hospital because he decides to go to work…red flag (especially if he is his own boss). When you are the one that does everything to keep the house running and kids taken care of, and he is always making sure to tell everyone that he is the breadwinner and you just ‘play’…RED FLAG. When he doesn’t allow you any access to the finances, and you have to ask to borrow grocery money…red flag. When  you have heart surgery, and he decides to go hunting for a week during this time…RED FLAG. (I had to phone him to let him know I made it out, then check out after 24 hours to go home and take care of four babies, while he finished his week of hunting). If money and having shiny things is one of the most important things to him…red flag. If you are offered no support or help from him or his family when something tragic happens (my mom died)…red flag. If his family treats you lower than dirt and excludes you and your children from all of the family functions because a princess in the family has decided she doesn’t like you, and he tells you to just turn the other cheek….red flag. If your other half does not stand up for you when you are treated poorly by family members, this is something you should not ignore. The abuse I suffered from his immediate family was devastating, but the relief I now feel from not having to be near any of them is tremendous.

If you go to marriage counseling for almost five years, he tells the therapist what she wants to hear yet changes nothing…red flag. If he sexually abuses you and his excuse is, you’re a sexual sleeper or you’re my wife so I can do what I want….RED FLAG. RED FLAG. RED FLAG. If every time you try to address your issues and his response is always, why can’t you just appreciate everything I give you…red flag. If he is drinking every night and his excuse is he has to because he’s not happy with you…red flag. If he spends many evenings at the neighbors house while you are home with the kids, and always comes home drunk at 3am…red flag. If he is caught with a female doing things a husband shouldn’t be doing, and then blames everything on her…RED FLAG. If he is abusive to you in any way…red flag.

If you feel empty, or suffocated and you start to wonder what you are doing with this person…red flag. If they try to blame everything on you and take no accountability for anything…red flag. If they make big purchases without talking to you because it is ‘their money’…red flag. If you have been with somebody for seventeen years and you can count on one hand how many evenings were spent cuddling on the couch talking and enjoying each other…red flag.

Now, there is another part to this. If you are dating someone that is divorced, there are red flags you should also take notice of. I know I am above cautious with this now, since I ignored so many before. Women, pay attention to how he treats his ex, because if he is telling everyone she is ‘crazy and stealing all of his money’, that’s a big RED FLAG. Remember, how he treats her is how he will one day treat you. When a man goes on about how horrible and crazy his ex was, look a little deeper. Especially if she was the one that filed for divorce, not him. If she was so crazy and nasty and just out for his money, then why didn’t he divorce her? Especially if he is the one that has the domestic charge against him and can’t come a certain distance from his ex.

If he tries to say he isn’t working so he can get out of child support payments…RED FLAG. A man that doesn’t want to take care of his children when he has the means to, is a deadbeat. If you are introduced to his children as the girlfriend by getting into his truck for the family trip…RED FLAG. If he doesn’t think about how this will affect his children, or frankly doesn’t care, you should be weary. And if you are the one telling the children that they really should tell their mom ‘you and your dad are dating because it isn’t a secret’…red flag. Children should not be the messenger in this case, their dad should be. If the guy you are dating kicks down his ex’s door because she told him to stop ransacking the house of it’s belongings before the divorce was settled…RED FLAG. If he then tries to say he was just angry and broke the door…RED FLAG. A man that has enough anger, that breaks down a door to get at a woman standing behind it, is a dangerous man. If the man you are dating won’t pay his part of his kids medical expenses…red flag. If the man you are dating won’t sign the papers so his kids can receive counselling to help them through the divorce…red flag. If you are dating a man in his late thirties that has kids and lives with his parents (when he can afford a place of his own) so his mom can take care of the kids, and you sleep over on his daughters floor, like a dog…RED FLAG. A man/family that lies to look like they uphold a Christian lifestyle is a red flag all on it’s own.

If he makes an instagram account under a name such as Yogaqueen87 to try and sneak onto his ex’s account…red flag. If he then changes it back to his name and starts following you even though he doesn’t actually use his account to post photos…red flag. If you delete guys that were your friends from your facebook and instagram account after he starts following you…red flag. If his children are afraid to stand up for themselves because of how he or grandma will treat them…red flag. If he drives a 20 hour drive without his children buckled because there are too many people in the vehicle for seatbelts…red flag.  If he takes his children’s birthday and Christmas money that is given to them and tells them he will decide what he’s going to spend it on…red flag.

Ignore these red flags, and you will be in my shoes, trying to decide to continue on this path or take a left. For the most part, people don’t change. They are who they are. They treat you the same as they treat others. If you are dating someone and things just don’t feel right, or those close to you are trying to get you to see the red flags, listen to your gut and to those around you. If you are dating a man that treats the mother of his children like dirt – that goes to church on sundays and bible study on mondays but tells her he will do whatever necessary to get out of support payments after he already lied so much about finances in the divorce – realize that one day he will treat you the same way.

I didn’t see a lot of red flags until I turned left. Even then I didn’t see them all. It wasn’t until my close friends started pointing things out, starting telling me they never understood what I saw in him, that I started to look deeper. It wasn’t until I started dating someone that was the exact opposite that I realized how much I ignored. And the worst part about it? I tried to find red flags because I was scared to make the same mistakes. But if being with someone that honks the horn at squirrels to get them off the road; that dotes on you with hand and head massages; that brings you your favorite treat from the little bakery by his work; that you can sit and talk with for hours and hours; that talks to your kids in funny accents to make them laugh; that worries about your kids emotional wellbeing and took a full year just being a friend and letting the kids get to know him first so they could slowly adjust; that takes an afternoon off work when you are sick to come and bring you soup, clean and vacuum your house and bring you groceries; that absolutely refuses to raise his voice to you and will not discuss things until emotions are level so nothing is said out of anger; who’s main goal in life is balance and happiness; that is proud that you are artistic and a photographer and constantly tells you how talented you are and brags about you to others….if these are red flags, then I guess I missed them again.

My point is, if you are ignoring these red flags because you think this is the best you can have, I’m here to tell you that’s not true. Coming from someone that ignored the signs for so long because I thought there was no other option….well there is. Get out. Run. You are far better off without this person causing you pain and sorrow. It won’t be easy. It will be absolutely exhausting and draining. But keep going. Take a left. Find the path without the red flags, it will be worth it, I promise.

Happy 11th

Somehow it has been eleven years since that terrifying day. I can close my eyes and remember that hospital room, the smells the noises and the fear I felt. I was put on bed rest and told I would be there for the next two weeks, but the pain in my stomach told me you two had other plans. I can remember sitting there alone, wondering if I was ready for this. I didn’t know what to expect.

I had so many doctors come and look at me that day, as you two were a rarity. But half way through the day, the nurse checking me removed her hand from my stomach and said, “are those contractions you are having?” I simply shook my head yes as she ran out of the room.

Four doctors and eight nurses, with more on standby welcomed you into this world. You were tiny, but you came out screaming. My heart almost gave out in the process, as an underlying issue I had ignored half my life decided to make it’s appearance at the worst possible time. You two were shipped away from me, and all I could think was, how do I break out of the CCU to get to you. It only took me 24 hours to convince the cardiologist that I would be singing myself out, and I was finally there beside you.

gracie.eve 124It was a rough month, the first week was infections and not eating properly and difficulty breathing. I worried I might not be bringing you home…

But eleven years later, and you two are beautiful, strong, stubborn girls. Your giggles are contagious, especially when you set each other off and can’t stop. Gracie my mother hen, Eve my firecracker. You picked your outfits and did your hair for this session, and you bossed me around the entire shoot with the type of poses you wanted to do.

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One likes to read, the other rides a skateboard.

One loves to cook, the other likes to clean.

One likes dresses, the other ripped jeans.

One  enjoys language, the other math.

One enjoys sports, the other knitting.

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I see so much of me in you, it both scares and excites me. I hope I can be the mom you need to push you to your fullest potential, catch you when you fall and nudge you back up when you forget for a brief moment how spectacular you are.

Happy Birthday my darlings. I hope you feel the love today. I hope you feel special and one of a kind.

Love, Mom

 

 

Only You Can Free Yourself

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I was born the baby, third girl to a dad that was hoping for a boy. The way I see it, this played out in my favor. I was cutting grass and driving stick shift by the time I was twelve. He made me wood guns and swords and gave me rope to repel out of trees with. I dreamed of bad guys and warriors and how to save myself from anyone that tried to capture me.

I had a stubborn strength that would both irritate my parents but also make them smile. My mom was sure I would be impossible to tame.

I had forgotten those summers spent escaping my captors…until I realized the only person I need to escape is myself and the thoughts that hold me back. Escaping my old life and the people that treated me the way they did was only the part of the process where I stood up and brushed the dust off. Letting go of the thoughts that hold me back and realizing that I get to choose where my life goes, is where the escape really happens.

Only you can free yourself. It’s your choice, to live in darkness or color.

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Surviving Divorce: When they aren’t yours to post

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As a photographer, maybe I understand this a bit more than others. And since I have some experience with this, I thought I would talk about it.

Sharing photos on your social media of children that are not yours.

With my job, I am constantly taking photos of children, some are absolutely stunning and adorable and I am always so excited to be able to share them on my business social media pages. However, I will not post anything without asking permission. Every image or IG and FB story you see of a child or client, I have been given permission to post. A quarter of my sessions never get posted, because my clients prefer not to be. And I respect this happily. Often too much is shared with social media, and I am at fault for this as well with my own life.

So this post can be geared towards everyone, although the reason I am writing it has to do with more of a personal experience.  I believe if you are ever going to post a photo of someone besides you, especially of children, you need to ask for the permission of the person the photo is of, or the parents of the child. A photo is never more important than a persons privacy and right to it. There are also boundaries that you are pushing when you do this without permission.  And it doesn’t matter if they post photos of their children all of the time, that is their choice, their children.

I can’t really say there is an actual timeline you should wait if you are dating somebody with kids before you post ‘family’ photos or photos of their kids on your social media, but I will say a couple weeks is definitely too soon. Anytime is too soon if you do not have the permission of both parents, in my opinion.  There is absolutely no need to post these photos. It is wonderful if you are happy and proud, take the photos….enjoy looking at them, enjoy showing some close friends and family when you see them, but don’t display them as a trophy on your social media. Show some class and maturity. Even if you are being encouraged by the person you are dating and their family, still consider the mother or father of those children who have not given you permission to be posting your ‘family’ photos with their children. There is no excuse for this, and if you want to have some sort of a relationship with the ex, this is not the way to do it.

Many may argue that the ex is just being jealous or trying to cause an argument, and I might have argued this….before I was the ex. Before I got to see my children, in a family photo with their dad’s girlfriend who he had only been dating for a few weeks.

I’m going to speak personally, as I feel like that is the best way I can with this very touchy subject. And then maybe if you are reading this and have been that person that has posted these kind of photos, you can somewhat understand why you have acted in a hurtful way, even if you don’t mean to.

I think it is lovely that you are excited and enjoy my children. I think it is great that you aren’t scared to take on four very strong willed children, when you are young still and don’t have any of your own. I think you could be a wonderful person in their lives, and that is all that I care about. From what I understand, I have pretty much been replaced by a younger and skinnier version of me, which selfishly I think is great for my kids sake!

I am sure you have many many photos of your trip, Nova Scotia is beautiful. So many interesting landscapes to photograph. I am sure you have plenty of photos of you two as a gorgeous couple…..so post those. Be proud of those. Show the two of you off as much as you want. And trust me, I am not jealous of that in the slightest. It’s wonderful that you are awe struck with him and his family, I get it, I was there once a very long time ago too. And as much as people will try to spin it around, I am not jealous of the insta family you are trying to portray. I know how fake social media is, we all do.  I know I will never be replaced in my children’s lives as their mom. So lets not try to make this into something it is not. Let the person you are dating be the one to post the family photos. Because if he/she isn’t even posting them, then you really shouldn’t be posting them. And on a side note, if you are the parent, be respectful to your children and give them time to heal and transition before you are posting these family photos for all to see. It really does more harm then you think. Children are resilient, but some things leave a very deep wound.

Please do not use my children as props.

Divorce is hard, and I think many years are spent trying to find a new normal. Trying to wade through the thick of things and make sure your children are protected as much as possible. The last thing that is needed, is someone being disrespectful and posting your children in family poses on social media. Maybe if it’s been years down the road and there’s a better chance you are sticking around. Maybe if enough time has gone by that those who divorced are somewhat civil with each other and these things aren’t being done out of spite. Maybe if you have talked to the other parent and made sure they don’t mind their kids being on your social media…..then go right ahead. But I know every year the school sends home permission forms to post photos of your children. I know any event you are at asks permission to post your photos. I know as a photographer, we ask your permission to post your photos. Because we have the right to say no. We have the right to not want our children on your social media. As parents who raised these children from birth, always trying to do what is best for them, we have the right to say no. I don’t post any photos of my children that they don’t agree to. I show them every photo I am wanting to put on social media and I ask them if they are ok with it.

So if you are that person that is dating someone, and you have photos you took with the children, enjoy them for yourself. Print them even and hang them up.  Try to be the mature adult and have some grace.  And if it has only been a couple weeks, realize that not only have you been introduced to the children too soon, but posting these photos is definitely jumping the gun.

Those that have gone or are going through divorce can agree, everything is so raw. Those coming into this dynamic need to show respect to and with the children. Don’t rush these things. If it goes well, there are plenty of times for sharing family photos, if the parents agree.

No matter what your boy/girl friend tells you about their ex, realize that these are their children you are involving, and if you do not do it properly, you may burn your bridges before they have a chance to even build.

Show some compassion. Put your own ego aside and think about what it would feel like if the shoe was on the other foot. And I say that to everyone reading that. Put yourself in the ex’s shoes, that is seeing these family photos with their kids. I would call anyone a liar that says it wouldn’t bother them if this happened to them.

Keys to a new Beginning

So, this is even bigger then my car news….cause I’m holding the keys to a house I have just moved my kids into. It’s not our forever, it’s our resting place. Where we are going to cocoon and heal and get ready to become butterflies for our new life.

I fell like my insides are going to burst with happiness. I decided on a Wednesday it was time to find something to rent for now, looked at a place on Thursday, filled out the application and was told it was mine on Friday. I felt like the old Jill….the one that got shit done.

I was really lucky to have had my dad generously offer for the kids and I to move in with him in January. It was what I needed to do to be able to pause and decide what my next step would be. I know he would have been fine for us to stay, but it just didn’t feel right to me. Everything in my soul was telling me I needed to find my own little spot where I could finally start to heal and find my independence. So I did something that was really scary for me. I constantly worry about finances and making sure I can support my four kids, so spending money on more rent (I already rent my photography studio) was daunting, but I knew it was necessary for this chapter in my life.

The last seven years I was made to feel very insignificant by those around me, and I started to believe it. My dad asked me why it took me so long to leave after he realized everything that had happened to me, and my answer was: I didn’t think I could leave. I didn’t think I could do it on my own….

Looks like I’m doing just fine.

First big purchase!

So, this is kinda big for me. This has been my first big purchase since separating from my old life.

Before, my ex was in charge of all the purchases. He made the most money, so he got to decide what we got. Now, I’m not trying to complain about this, as he provided very well and made sure we didn’t go without if he could make it happen. But when you don’t feel independent or like you really have any control, it can really affect you.

I used to be fierce and a leader and feel like I could accomplish anything. Then I went through two years of hell, on top of the 5 years before that being pretty horrible where I was intimidated and bullied by people I thought were my family, and then told to always turn the other cheek by the man that was supposed to stand beside me. So I lost my fierce. I stopped thinking I could accomplish things.

Then when my ex took away my car, I had to borrow what we dubbed the clown car (I honestly dont know how we all fit into it). But I saved up and all by myself I found a car, drove to Mississauga, test drove it, heckled down the price and told him if he didnt take it I was walking….and I got it.

It might just look like a used car to you, but it’s my independence. It’s me showing my kids I’m strong and standing on my two feet on my own, something they can do too. It’s the beginning of so many other big decisions that I know I can make.

I drove home with the biggest smile on my face. And every day I get into it, I think how much closer I am to reclaiming my life.

I cant wait to pack this car up with my monsters and make some damn good memories!

#thankfulitsnotavan #notavanmom #divorce #findingmyfierce #myowncar #findingstrength #keeppushing

Happy 9th

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I am a few days late with this, as your birthday was on the 19th. But as a mom of four, things do not always get done on time.

You are my love child. You have always been the most affectionate and snuggly.  Even now, you will wrestle me onto the bed where you will close your eyes and snuggle yourself into me, resting your cheek against my cheek. This affection is not just for humans, you are a lover of animals as well. Every morning you have a ritual with our dog Rita, where you hug her, put your nose against her nose and then you softly squeeze each one of her paws. This is what you do everytime you see her after any time away from her.

As the fourth, and the baby, you must have a personality to fill the room, and you do. You are the clown in the family, always trying to make others laugh. Sometimes you like to ask me if your funny faces make me laugh, and I have to reassure you that yes, you make me laugh.

You will be a big strong boy, I can see it. Already you overpower your siblings when you wrestle with them. But with that strength comes a big heart. You don’t like when others are hurting, and you always want to do well in school and listen to your teachers. You have certain OCD tendencies that have been tricky at times to navigate, but I will admit as a parent I find small victories when I can learn the things that make you tick and how to help you. Clothes have to fit a certain way and come to just the right length on your arms and torso, jeans are out of the question. Your bed is the first thing that is made in the morning, and at night you try to stay as still as possible so you can slip out under the covers without even making a mess of your bed. You are always worried if your hair looks silly, and you thrive on routine and to do lists.

Four children are hard and tiring, but I could not imagine our family without you. You were the finishing touches. Those big brown eyes and freckles will one day get you into trouble I think, as well as your humor. I look forward to watching you grow and expand and learn.

Never stop making those silly faces. Never stop giving your hugs. Never stop loving others and animals the way you do. You matter, and you have a purpose.

xoxo Mom