One of my best and worst quality is the ability to play devil’s advocate. It’s a blessing and a curse to see someone else’s perspective. After all, putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes is something taught to us early on to teach empathy. Being empathetic and trying to understand people’s experiences, lives, and point of view is a gift on its own. However, it can also be your biggest downfall.
In life, we are taught to be understanding and empathetic to those around us. You never know what someone is going through in their personal lives. We are taught to give people the benefit of the doubt, that deep down everyone’s a good person, and we should always be kind. It’s almost ironic that I say my gift is putting myself in other people’s shoes because I can be pretty black or white sometimes. Depending on the topic or issue at hand, I can give a fuck about your opinion, life position, or what you’re feeling. But there’s a difference between empathizing with someone and absorbing their emotions, versus understanding their reality and where they’re coming from. I feel like I would get the two confused in the past, and sometimes it’s hard to keep your own personal feelings out of it. You can see someone’s side but not agree with it, you can understand why someone acts the way they do but not like it, you can be sympathetic towards someone’s lifestyle and upbringing but want no part of it. There’s a difference.
I feel like this culture is all about canceling people and cutting people off. At times, these drastic measures are necessary for your own peace of mind. Don’t get it twisted, I am a firm believer of maintaining your inner peace and moving on from people or situations that disrupts that peace. But I will say that social media glorifies cutting people off in a very negative and hostile way. You can cut someone off and not fuck with them anymore without any drama. It’s not the act of cutting off that is negative, but how you do it… Yo. That’s me playing devil’s advocate again…. But I guess that proves my point…. I always try to see both sides.
I say that putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is a skill, only because it’s usually when someone does you wrong that you have to try to see their side. From experience, I would get frustrated with myself for trying to see other people’s side when it was at my expense. I would take it as a sign of weakness, and I would teeter totter back and forth wondering if I should be a bad bitch that pop’s off on someone, or understand why a situation happened and just take the higher road. I hated the thought of knowing that some people could interpret that as being weak and passive. Just the thought of someone thinking I am backing down irked my soul.
I would have mixed feelings about trying to sympathize and put myself in others’ shoes who have wronged me because I felt like it made me look spineless. I didn’t want to give off the impression that I condone any behavior that had me fucked up. I’ve learned from experience that there are times when you show sympathy for others and they take advantage of that sympathy to manipulate you or control a situation. It’s not a good feeling when you’re putting your ego and pride aside to attempt to empathize with others and have that be thrown back in your face. It can have the opposite effect – where you end up not wanting to be open to someone else’s perspective but your own going forward.
Sometimes I still struggle with playing devil’s advocate for people or situations that are to my detriment. And I don’t think that I’m better than anyone else for trying to “take the higher road” in certain scenarios, I just know that it’s a sign of maturity and growth. It gets to a point where you understand their truth, but you don’t agree with it, and there’s nothing you can really do but just take a mental note and move on. I’m still trying to come to terms with the fact that some won’t care if you’re trying to see their point of view. You can understand all you want but you can’t control how others act, react, or choose to view you.
What can get frustrating is when you’re trying really hard to be understanding with others, give people the benefit of the doubt, and rationalize why others act the way they do – but you don’t feel like that same effort is made with you. Realizing that only you are in control of your own narrative and can’t convince others to see your truth unless they want to can be a very hurtful thing to realize. You can’t force others to try to see your point of view. You can only control what perspectives you choose or choose not to acknowledge.
My reputation at work and in my personal life is to play devil’s advocate – not to be an annoying asshole, but because I always try to rationalize situations. Regardless of my relationship to you, whether you are my best friend, family member, or partner, I will give my honest advice and opinions. Sometimes people don’t like it, but I refuse to be the friend that just agrees with everything you say just because I know you. That’s not what being a good friend is.
What I love and admire about my friend group is the fact that they’ll always give me their honest advice. They have no problem playing devil’s advocate and holding me accountable for my own actions. We don’t always agree with each other, but it’s important to hear other perspectives. Usually people only want to hear what you have to say only if you’re agreeing with them. But that’s how you get stuck in one-sided thinking. Get friends that play devil’s advocate when you vent to them – those are the real friends.
Playing devil’s advocate is necessary when you’re putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. But don’t ever let empathizing with others be at your own expense. Know when seeing someone’s side is to your detriment. Create those boundaries where you can see someone else’s perspective while still putting yourself in an emotional position where you don’t end up taking the L.
If you ask anyone if they want to be a good friend or a shitty friend, chances are they’ll all say they want to be a good friend to others. For the most part, people don’t purposely go out of their way to be a shitty friend and make those close to them feel some type of way. But how people express friendship differs dramatically. You have the low-maintenance friends that go MIA for weeks at a time and pop up randomly on the group chats to send memes, the friends that need to be talking to you constantly or they think you’re mad at them, the friends that you try to keep in touch with because they’re awesome in person but are just dry as shit on text, the friends that you talk and send memes to everyday – and it comes as naturally to you as breathing, the friends that you don’t talk to for a while and then you link in person and it’s back to old times, the friends that you’ve outgrown but still keep it civil, and so forth.
I personally love me some low-maintenance friendships. It doesn’t matter how much time has passed, how often you text each other, or how many times a year you actually link up in person, when you do end up doing any of the above, it seems like old times. I love friends that pick up from where we left off. Because the fact of the matter is, life happens for all of us. And I don’t know about y’all, but I don’t have the desire to text every single close friend I have a detailed write up about what I’ve been up to. When it comes down to it, the important things will be shared, and anything else is just a bonus. I would consider myself a low-maintenance friend because I’m guilty of taking forever to respond. If you need me to respond to something, Instagram is probably the best bet because I feel forced to reply once someone can see that I “seen / opened” a message. I’m always opening messages and forgetting to respond. I wasn’t always like that, but like I said, life happens.
Friends are meant to be there to support you, add some fun to your life, and to connect with. The last thing I want is a friendship that takes way too much effort to maintain. The moment friendships start getting demanding, draining, and overbearing, that’s when I start to mentally check out. However, this was not always the case. In the past, I would try my best to accommodate everyone’s different friendship style. I explained it away as, “they’re just like that. Their friendship requires more attention.” But as life got more busy, and my time started to be spread thin, I started to realize that accommodating everyone else’s needs was leaving me drained and anti-social. Sometimes, when you take a couple steps to meet someone halfway, they instead expect you to put in a mile.
Everyone is entitled to having different standards in friendships. Some friendships work because both see eye to eye and have the same needs to be fulfilled in companionship. However, not every friend is going to be a perfect puzzle piece fit, and that’s okay. More times than not, we have friendships with others whose needs and personalities are different. This doesn’t mean that a great friendship is impossible to blossom, it just means that each side needs to respect and understand the others’ boundaries. And it’s totally okay to set boundaries with friends. It doesn’t make you a bad friend or person to set and act on those boundaries. How you express friendship may be completely different than your friends, and that’s okay. People need to keep in mind that their loved ones may not have the same social battery, time, schedule, or mental space for everyone in their lives at all times, and that doesn’t make them a bad person.
I know that the word “boundaries” can be very intimidating to some, but they can be set very casually. Verbal boundaries can look like:
Your friend telling you that they have been busy lately and hasn’t had a chance to catch up
Expressing that they’ve been feeling tired / stressed / drained and haven’t been in the mood to be social
Explaining that they set their phone on “do not disturb” after a certain time
Stating that they need some space or alone time
Expressing what actions or scenarios they don’t appreciate
Communicating their likes and dislikes
Sharing if hypothetical scenarios were to happen, that they’d appreciate if it were handled in a certain manner
Conveying their thoughts and feelings towards specific things
Verbal boundaries can even be set when nothing major or stressful is going on. This can be things you pick up over the span of the friendship, like being bad at texting back, prefer calls over texting, how they’re a homebody or love to be out, etc. Sometimes, boundaries are set without even being aware. A lot of the times, these are things that come up naturally in conversation. These life updates and personality preferences can let those close to you know what boundaries you have set in place without even realizing.
Where things go sideways is when boundaries are trying to be set non-verbally. But to be honest, I can see both sides. You know how the saying goes – communication is key. That I can agree with. You can’t expect people to know what you’re thinking and how you feel if it’s not being communicated. Nobody can read minds. However, non-verbal signs, body language, and actions are pretty fucking comparable and come in a hard close second place to verbal communication. As the other saying goes, it’s not the words that matter, but the actions. And I feel like there are some personalities out there that are perfectly capable of reading the room or scenario, but still choose to go about it how they feel they should. Some people don’t communicate when they need space and you need to read the room. If you’re being ignored, or if someone clearly need space, that doesn’t mean bombard someone even more. There are times where non-verbal boundary setting is just as effective, if you know what to look for.
Non-verbal boundary setting can look like:
Not responding to messages
Not going to certain outings and events
Not picking up the phone
Putting your own wants and needs in front of others
Prioritizing your time with what you think is important
Wanting space / being detached
Not wanting to talk about certain topics when asked
You know boundaries need to be set when you’re making yourself so available to others that your own social battery is on low. When you’re constantly trying to give everyone access to you, even if it’s people you love and care about deeply, you can still be left feeling depleted. There’s a difference between giving others advice, being the shoulder to cry on, and always being there, versus carrying the weight of other people’s burdens and problems on your shoulders. You don’t have to always make yourself available to friends and acquaintances that constantly leave you feeling emotionally drained. In order to be a good friend to others, you need to make sure you are okay first.
Don’t get it twist, I’m not saying don’t be there for your friends. But you should pay attention to your own limits. You can try to be the best human being and strive to be the best friend you can be to someone who needs you, but if you’re constantly feeling drained by negativity and gossip, it only leaves you feeling drained in the end. Everyone complains, everyone vents, everyone has their own issues that they deal with – it’s normal. But when you are constantly bombarded with those problems, sometimes by multiple people at a time, it can sucks the energy and life out of you. You need to take that shit in moderation and know when to set boundaries with energy vampires. It’s usually the one-sided friendships that leave you feeling drained and like your battery is on low. Reminder: it is not your responsibility to make someone else feel whole with your companionship.
For me, good friendships should feel effortless. You shouldn’t have to force yourself to do anything – reply, put in effort, or make plans when you don’t want to. Friendships that take a lot of effort suddenly feels more like a job or an annoying responsibility. If people can’t respect your boundaries and have a problem with you making sure that your own glass is full, they’re not friends worth keeping. In the event that someone tries to make you feel bad for putting yourself first, maybe reconsider why you were trying to distance yourself in the first place. Are they draining you? Are you feeling drowned by their problems? Do you feel like your mental health isn’t being considered? Is this a one-sided friendship?
Real friends are the ones that don’t make you feel bad when life gets in the way. They’ll never make you feel bad for being busy, not having time, or taking much needed time to yourself. Real friends will respect your wishes and know when to give you that space. These are the kind of friendships that you should hold dear to your heart and nurture. The kind of friends that know you inside and out and know when you need to recharge. You make time for the people that are important to you, but never feel bad for making time for yourself and making sure you’re okay as well. Supportive friendships will encourage and uphold your boundaries, so don’t be afraid to set them.
“This is story 10 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Motherhood Series. 10 mothers give us a glimpse into a small portion of their motherhood journey. I am so grateful that these 10 women gave me the opportunity to share their stories on my platform. Though they focus on different topics, each mother has gone through challenges that tested their strength, patience, and sense of self. Thank you again for sharing.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory
This is Estephanie’s story, written in her own words:
“My name is Estephanie, but friends call me Juelz. I’m the proud mother of Elían, fiancé to Tone, Founder of Divine Eye, LLC, Licensed Esthetician, and Body Sculptress at Adriana’s Beauty Salon.
When I first found out I was pregnant my exact words were ‘holy shit,’ as I smiled. This is not something our family knows, but our son was planned per say. We knew our future wouldn’t be easy and that it would be scary, but we loved each other and knew that we would figure it out. My son turns 4 in January, and man he has been our biggest blessing. Being a mother to me means endless amounts of strength, courage, and resilience. It’s a feeling that no other can ever fulfill.
You can have the crappiest day, but even when your child is figuring out their emotions, they manage to still make you smile. You sit and observe them, you then realize, ‘My God, you were in my stomach. I created those beautiful hands, that smile.’ And then I think, ‘Damn you sound just like me.’ Like Faith Evans said, ‘I never knew a love like this before,’ because my family is different in many ways like many others. We’re all unique. I’m a single mother to Elían while my life partner, Tone, is incarcerated.
Honestly, my mom was aware of our situation from the beginning. However, Tone isn’t just someone I met 5-6 years ago. I’ve known him my entire life. We’ve been a part of each other’s lives since we were 12. We have history, we dated in high school. Puppy love, right? But I always knew he’d be an amazing partner. My fiancé was fighting a case previous to our relationship’s beginning. My mom knew about his past, and they have an amazing relationship. My family didn’t know about his case, and I was very private about people I dated. So when I finally brought someone to the family they were excited. His situation wasn’t my story to tell. It was Tone’s private matters. We didn’t want the negativity to surround us. People are ruthless sometimes with questions and overstepping boundaries.
But of course, secrets always find a way to come out. My family became aware of his case while I was 7 months pregnant. By then, they had gotten to know him for who he was and witnessed how amazing, hardworking, and loving he truly is. They witnessed how attentive he was while I was pregnant and after I gave birth. He made sure to stay home and give his son time. By then, it was too late for the judgement. My family loves Tone. I feel like we just didn’t give room for judgement. We focused on ourselves.
We had a lot of court dates, even before I was pregnant. We never knew which court date they would remand him. My anxiety was pretty high. His case is a federal case, and the judge truly had the say if he’s remanded before his sentencing or not. During my pregnancy, all we did was plan and discuss how we would raise our son. We discussed scenarios because we truly never knew which court would be the last one until it was.
May 15, 2018 my fiancé, my son, and I were joined by other family members as we walked into the federal courthouse located in Oakland, CA. The day had come for sentencing and we believed a miracle would happen due to his many accomplishments and life changing choices.
My life changed in a blink of an eye when the judge sentenced my fiancé to ten years and eleven months. My son was two days away from turning four months old. It was devastating to hear. I dropped to my knees. I couldn’t believe it. It was his first time being sentenced – never missed a drug test, attended all court ordered classes, and worked a full-time graveyard shift (he does drywall). Minimum for each count was 5 years. Tone was just as surprised.
Life was great up until that point. I was doing amazing in my career. My son was healthy after a difficult delivery. We had just mailed out invitations for our wedding. I was very hesitant to plan our wedding, but I said ‘Why live in fear?’ Tone was waiting for me to give him the okay to plan the wedding. I was afraid this would happen and it became my reality. I don’t regret it one bit. Life had different plans for us. We knew the possibility was high, but like everyone, you pray and hope for the best.
The people closest to me understand my position of wanting to wait for Tone. There was concern, but in regards to my mental state. They reminded me of all my options. Reminding me that I too matter and that any decision I took, they would stand by it. Meaning if I waited they would support it, and if I decided to walk away they would support me too.
I haven’t wanted to throw in the towel because of the love and respect I have for Tone. I know I don’t owe him anything. I know this case has absolutely nothing to do with me and I know it’s me putting a lot of hope into the relationship. I cannot get up and leave, I say that because I’d be leaving for the wrong reasons. I’d be leaving because I’m ‘lonely,’ not because I don’t love him or because he doesn’t treat me right. Of course I want my family to be complete, of course I want to have date night to get dolled up while holding hands with my partner, but if I walk away, that’s walking away from my family.
The journey hasn’t been easy. Single moms and mothers like me, who aren’t single but due to circumstances have to do it alone, we forget to praise ourselves for all that we do. There are lonely nights where we stay up to cry, wake up with puffy eyes, and handle business. When there’s so much to be done you don’t know where to start but you do. The amazing memories we create with our children, good and bad that you can look back and laugh.
Motherhood was never supposed to be easy. It is the next step of growth. Motherhood teaches you to unlock those traumas you’ve been avoiding because you don’t want to project it onto your child. Motherhood gets you in a loophole of emotions, but doing motherhood alone without your life partner is hard. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have a partner pass away. I’m blessed to be able to receive a phone call, an email, or these days – even a visit.
The first years I struggled with my depression and anxiety but I managed it. I lost myself in that process. I lost my glow. I lost my happiness because I was stripped away from what I thought was my perfect life. In reality, what is perfection? I don’t think anyone knows what that is. I just knew I needed to fight, and that the fight wasn’t going to be easy. Everyone’s first thoughts are, ‘Oh she’s going to leave him, watch,’ or ‘Oh, she’s going to cheat on him if she waits, watch,’ or even worse, ‘Watch her wait and the relationship fails.’ Like sheesh, can we be a bit more optimistic here please?
It truly takes a village, my support system has helped me so much with my child. When I needed to go back to work, all hands were on deck. My mom, mother-in-law, and sister-in-laws helped me take care of my son. Mondays and Wednesdays my mom would watch him, the other days my sister-in-law would watch him, and when she couldn’t anymore my mother-in-law took over. My cousins would come over to help me so I could catch up with laundry or cleaning while they helped me with my son. They watched me break down crying an endless amount of times. My cousins and close friends gave me a safe space to vent and plot my next moves. My mom motivated me even on the days I just wanted to be alone, she made sure to get me out of my comfort zone.
I found love in food. It was my coping mechanism even when I was a teen. However, I knew I needed to do something different but didn’t know what. I created myself a routine. Every week looked the same. But I grew tired of it. I would begin books and I couldn’t finish them. My attention span was so small and I couldn’t understand why if I truly loved reading books. Then it was time to dive deeper. I knew I needed to go back to therapy. I tried it but I was afraid to open the doors of Pandora’s Box. So I stopped, but I started to journal. Not every day, but I tried as much as I could. I prayed a lot and I cried a lot.
As a mother, naturally you are a nurturer. I love nurturing my family, that means my fiancé as well. Not only do I have to learn to cope with my roller coaster of emotions, but I too have to attend to my man’s needs and his vulnerabilities so he doesn’t lose his mind for not being here with his family and witnessing our son grow everyday. That’s his biggest fear because he grew up without a father too.
It’s far from easy for Tone. This was his biggest fear: not being able to watch his child grow up every day. He wishes he could be here, but he has his moments of depression and anger. He writes Elían letters and draws beautiful artwork so he could see them. It’s been harder for Tone when we did have visits – to sit in front of your child and not be able to hug them or even hold their hand due to COVID. If you break the rule, Tone can be sent to solitary confinement. Tone has been in solitary confinement many times during this pandemic, caught COVID twice, and was freezing because it was so cold in those cells.
What hurts the most is not knowing how he will come home from the traumas he’s endured during his life in prison. How he will handle the changes I’ve made during the time he was gone. I worry if we will be able to adapt to the new life after the honeymoon stage fades of having him home. How my son will handle his father being home, if he will react negatively when his dad wants to correct him or if it’s going to be awkward for him.
I can relate with my son because I also had to visit my father in prison until I was 25 years old. I know the feeling when I see my son watch his father enter the visiting room, how his eyes glow, and he cheeses under his facemask. The pandemic has been far from easy – it has been our biggest challenge. As of right now, we have no visits due to COVID-19. The facility is unaware when the visits will begin again due to cases rising. In the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic I organized a protest (#YOSOYTUVOZ Lompoc, CA) with the help of my family and other families to bring awareness to the inhumane acts that were taking place in the prison.
Not seeing each other for almost one year, and now being able to see each other and not hug each other is difficult. Helping my son understand that his daddy does love him but can’t hug him is devastating. Especially when he compares himself to other children and their fathers. I know that feeling because I also would do it as a little girl – but now as a mother it’s by far the worst feeling.
Growing up without a father was difficult. I didn’t understand why my father committed the same mistake knowing the high risk of being away from us. My father has always battled with addiction and being in and out of prison. The time my dad was home we have great memories of him, but I also have nightmares of him. I would take care of my dad when he was coked out. I would intervene in the physical beatings my mother received while he was under the influence. I worried if he would come home or not, and if he came home, I feared what state he would be in.
I’m a daddy’s girl 100% however, it does get overwhelming. It made me a giver and a nurturer yet gave me a cold heart. Although my father is no longer incarcerated, he struggles with his addiction. I can’t believe that although I’ll be 28 next month, I no longer have a healthy relationship with my father. When I’m dealing with heavy stuff I switch to survival mode. It’s been a journey to calm down the survival mode because I have a son now and can’t just get up and leave.
I feel that maybe my family is sympathetic towards my current situation because my mom went through the same thing with my dad. But my father was nothing like Tone. My family didn’t meet my father until after I turned 2 years old because he went to prison while my mom was pregnant with me. My dad wasn’t the best partner for my mother, a lot of healing needed to take place. And with Tone, it was peaceful, no drama, loving, respectful, and family oriented. It was a different experience my family witnessed with Tone. He had similarities like my dad given the choice of lifestyle they chose for various reasons, but he has my Papa’s (grandfather) hard working attitude and detail oriented when it comes to family.
The only thing my son and I can relate to is that Tone is incarcerated for mistakes that were previous to our relationship. The way I’m helping my son with not having his dad around is by teaching him coping mechanisms to help with his emotions while being frustrated. We do a lot of breathing techniques, drawing/painting when he’s sad or having an off day. When he’s mad I tell him to go to his room to take a breather, use the punching bag, or to use his drums. I like teaching him things Tone would teach him, and showing him movies Tone loves. I bring him to work with me, I’ve taught him how to fold towels, and help me with laundry. I do things with him that his dad and I emphasized we wanted to do. I speak highly of his dad and I remind him no matter where his daddy is, that he’s always thinking of him and loves him dearly.
Elían wants to know everything about his dad, from what he eats to what kind of cologne he wears. Sometimes at night is when it becomes harder for me. The hardest question by far has been, ‘Why daddy don’t love me or hug me? I miss him.’ Those were the words I heard the first time we visited him after COVID-19. It was a new facility we were going to and the first time seeing him since the last time we visited pre-pandemic. It was very rough for my son. Again, hearing that from a 3 year old was devastating. It was so hard to put the words together as I cried with him because as a child, I remembered that feeling.
My son is very attached to Tone given the circumstances. Their bond was strong even when I was pregnant. When he would hear his dad’s voice, he’d have a whole party in my belly. One thing about my son is he’s very curious and asks a lot of questions. This year we officially told him his dad was at a camp. He knows that his dad is at a camp correcting his actions by having an adult timeout. And sometimes, as adults we make mistakes and everything has a consequence whether it is good or bad, but when it is bad the timeouts are a little different. They have to go away for a little bit to learn new habits.
However, we emphasize that if it were up to his dad, he’d be at home with us every single day. I emphasize to him how much his daddy loves him. I have pictures of his dad everywhere. My son’s godparents have bought him a Build-a-Bear with his voice recording telling him how much he loves him so he can hear it everyday. Books about his daddy (wonderbly.com), also blankets with pictures of him when he was a baby with his dad.
Obstacles in life will always happen, no matter how great your plan is, no matter how good of a person you are, life will challenge you. I am learning to believe in myself because of motherhood. Everything life has taught me has led up to this moment. So when I find myself asking, ‘Why me?’ I now say, ‘Okay, so what’s the lesson here and where can I grow?’ Being a mother doesn’t mean having all the answers, it means figuring it out with the answers you do have and working from there.
It sounds so simple, but trust and communication is how Tone and I maintain our relationship. We are very raw with our conversations. We have conversations that couples find difficult to have – our fears, our regrets, our happiness, our past, our traumas, things we like about each other, and things we find difficult about each other. I am very open with my emotions and I’m like a firework. And Tone is more reserved and quiet about his emotions. But I can sense it just by the first moment I hear his voice. I cry a lot to him if I’m being honest. I get a sudden rush of guilt for complaining to him and he reminds me that I’m his partner and he needs to talk about these things with me. We pray a lot. We read the same books so we can discuss them to create conversation. I bought a deck of cards for couples to ask questions to get to know each other even more. We try to know everything about each other because all we can do is use our words to explain what and how we feel on a daily basis since we don’t have each other physically here.
I am hopeful Tone will be able to come home sooner than we ever expected. I am hopeful that this nightmare will just be a chapter in our story where we can look back on 20 years from now and say, ‘Damn, baby, we did that.’ Where we can tell our future grandchildren and great grandchildren our love story. Like not only did we overcome this sentence, but a whole pandemic too.
The best advice I can give someone that is dealing with this same scenario is to learn from each other. LEARN EACH OTHER’S TRIGGERS AND LOVE LANGUAGE. Learn to compromise, learn to understand one another. This journey is far from easy, there will be nights that you feel your heart is truly hurting and the tears won’t stop running down your face but it’s during those moments you grow. It’s during those moments you learn that although you feel like the world is against you, it’s not. Never say, ‘Why me?’ Say, ‘What do I need to learn during this time?’ Take this time to truly get out of your comfort zone. Learn to trust yourself because the doubt will eat you alive. Don’t listen to the bystanders, pay attention to the support and love you receive. No one will understand your relationship better than you and your partner.” -Estephanie
“This is story 9 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Motherhood Series. 10 mothers give us a glimpse into a small portion of their motherhood journey. I am so grateful that these 10 women gave me the opportunity to share their stories on my platform. Though they focus on different topics, each mother has gone through challenges that tested their strength, patience, and sense of self. Thank you again for sharing.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory
This is Chrystina’s story, written in her own words:
“There were so many emotions when I found out Justin was in a new relationship. Sierra is from the south and when speaking with her, her southern accent was soothing. However, I of course went through the typical jealousy (why can you get it right with her and not me), fear my daughter would replace me, and awe that someone could grow to love my sassy princess as her own. At first, I was hesitant, but I’m now very comfortable co-parenting our daughter, Marlowe.
I found out about Sierra right when Justin met her. Justin was always upfront about any women he was dating. He told me about their first date. I was always informed about how their relationship was progressing. He has always been an amazing father, very protective and loving. We were both on the same page about how anyone we were in a relationship with had to accept Marlowe as well. It would be a package deal.
It was hard for me to accept that my ex had a new partner. At first, I buried my jealousy deep inside me. I wasn’t in love with him any more and hadn’t been in a very long time. My jealousy was mainly centered around the fact that he got to find his life partner before me. I have not been in a serious relationship since we separated and eventually divorced. I dated some but it always ended. That was hard for me. Seeing Justin get married and move into a family was hard for me, but I focused on how it benefited Marlowe and I tucked my pain aside.
Being a single mom was so hard on me emotionally, and I had no one to share it with. I was also limited in my ability to date because I was a single parent. My life revolved around a child. I gave up myself to parent her the best way I knew how. I couldn’t go out and make new friends, so dating was not even really possible. They say as a single mom, you have no life until your child is grown, and I was finding that to be very true. My mom was a single mom, and I swore to myself I would never have kids so that I wouldn’t be in that situation. Life had other plans for me.
I was pressured to remain single. People close to me warned of the dangers of bringing men around my daughter, so it was advised I don’t enter a relationship until she is all grown up. That wasn’t what I wanted for myself but in the end, it didn’t matter because nothing serious developed with anyone.
Moving past being hurt took some time. While I had nothing but platonic feelings for Justin, I felt like it was unfair that I had practically nothing and he had moved on to build a family that had everything. The moment I remember most vividly that I had stopped being hurt was when Sierra’s parents sent Marlowe a gift in the mail that had clothes in her size and shoes that she wore until they had holes in them. They were all items that Marlowe loved. To know that there were people out there who knew and loved my daughter made me feel not so alone.
Justin and I both didn’t grow up with our biological fathers. Justin and I always said that even if we didn’t work out, Marlowe would always know her dad. While he has always been a great father, his relationship with Sierra has made him better. She completes him in such a way that he shines better as a person, and that in turn, makes him a better man to be a father. I’m so happy Marlowe gets to experience what we never had. After long, it just stopped bothering me. Marlowe has me and she has the ideal family she has always wanted. And since I just want to see her happy, I let it go and praised his relationship instead of bashing it.
In the beginning, Marlowe tested Sierra I’m sure. She was used to having her daddy’s complete and total attention. Marlowe has a strong personality and doesn’t hold out about being herself. Soon after spending time with them, she would come home with stories of all the things they did together, such as getting nails done and going shopping. Soon, Marlowe warmed up to her.
They had been together almost a year before I met her. To me, they seemed really interested in each other from the start. I wasn’t so much hesitant as I was curious to finally meet Sierra. We had conversed through text and messaging on Facebook only. We weren’t very close but we were friendly. I really wanted to know the woman who had charmed my daughter into loving her so much. In the beginning, I wanted to meet her so I could make sure she was someone I wanted around my daughter. Marlowe was a handful so I was looking for any help I could get!
I don’t know exactly when we first met, but my very first memory of really talking with her was when I was meeting them to pick up Marlowe. Sierra was pregnant with their son, Sean. I remember asking Justin if it would be ok if Sierra got out of the car so I can see the belly. My favorite part of being pregnant was my belly, and pregnant bellies have always been special to me. Sierra was carrying someone who our daughter would be connected to, and I wanted to be a part of it too. And she looked absolutely adorable.
I think I surprised them that I was interested to see her pregnant belly. Sierra got out of the car shyly and I squealed so enthusiastically. Her face broke into a gorgeous smile and I remember Marlowe just dancing around happily. This meeting set the tone for mine and Sierra’s friendship. I wasn’t a jealous ex-wife, even though we were still legally married at the time. I was someone willing to make this work because I truly cared about everyone involved. I tried to make it very clear I had no romantic feelings for Justin at all whatsoever.
It did take me a long time to trust another person to be in Marlowe’s life. Marlowe is my life. Sunup to sundown – and I was so used to doing it alone. I knew Marlowe and understood her best. I didn’t want anyone to come along and hurt her. I was trying to protect her from my hurt. But I’m very glad I let my guard down. I finally did when I saw pictures of them together. My daughter was very slow to warm up to people when she was younger. Seeing her smile bright and wide let me know that she felt ok with Sierra, and I began to trust her.
Sierra began to address Marlowe as “our daughter.” She was consistently there for Marlowe, ready with love and advice. Marlowe is very feminine and I am not, so having a feline bonus mom was such a plus for Marlowe. We do not talk often, but when we do it’s always centered on Marlowe and it’s very respectful and loving. I would like to think we are friends. She contacts me when Marlowe reaches a milestone in her life and we share input on how to deal with it. We recently had a FaceTime time chat to talk to Marlowe about starting her period. She makes sure I get Mother’s Day gifts and I sent her a Christmas present. I’m sure we would be closer if I didn’t live so far away.
Justin lived in Las Vegas. The Bay Area priced us out, so we decided to move where she could still see him easily. We checked out Reno and loved it so we moved here. It was originally just summers and school breaks when Marlowe got to see Justin. Marlowe would typically fly unaccompanied minors to Vegas. It was a 40 minute flight and she had a cellphone. It made it easier because someone had to be at the gate to pick her up so I knew she was safe.
Almost two years ago, Marlowe went to live with her dad full-time. When Marlowe first moved in with her dad, it was supposed to be just for a year, and at that time they lived in Vegas. I lived in Reno so it worked out. Like I said, we used to just have her fly on school breaks to see her dad and Sierra. But Marlowe then formed a strong bond with Sierra and her baby brother, Sean, that she didn’t want to keep leaving them. She always seemed to start back up at school before his birthday and she hated missing his birthday parties.
When COVID happened and jobs dried up, they received an offer to move back to Sierra’s home in North Carolina. At the time, Marlowe was living with them in Vegas. Marlowe called me and begged me to let her go. Her eyes were full of tears, afraid I would say no. She begged me to ‘not bring up the custody thing.’ She spoke of the experiences she would have and how she didn’t want to leave her baby brother. I died inside. Vegas was far enough away. The other side of the country was too much. I felt if I let her go, I would lose her, she would never come home.
However the Lord had other plans. Before I knew it, I was agreeing to it. My heart shattered but I let her go. I knew she was being given an opportunity to have the family she dreamed of. One that I couldn’t provide. Saying yes was the hardest, most hurtful thing I’ve done to myself. Yet it was the most beneficial thing I could have ever done for her. She now attends the same school her grandmother and bonus mom attended and made friends with so many people.
Justin explained to me their situation (having a house in North Carolina). Having already spoken to Marlowe and knowing how much this meant to her, I agreed. The ultimate deciding factor was the tears in her eyes. I could never say no to that face. I had days to decide if she could move with them to North Carolina. It was not long at all. It was probably a good thing because if I had a lot more time, I probably would have changed my mind.
Marlowe living in North Carolina is very long term. They own their own home and Sierra has her own business. Also all of Sierra’s family lives there so they have a huge support system. There is no reason for them to move back out here. She has adjusted very well. She loves living there with all of them. She misses my cooking but that’s about it.
I want to move out to North Carolina, but I am afraid. I love Marlowe more than life, but I fear that we have been apart for too long and it won’t be the same as when she was my mini-me and we did everything together. She is older and angry that I haven’t been able to move out there yet. I was supposed to move out there by her birthday in October. Financially it hasn’t been possible. If I just moved out there I would be on the street, literally. My bills here prevented me from saving like I want to to be able to move to North Carolina.
I couldn’t be there by the time I said I would be there, and that has caused the rift between us. She has mentioned that she feels I have lied to her about moving out there and that now it’s ok if I don’t. She doesn’t expect it anymore. She blames me for the fact we aren’t as close anymore. That hurts a lot because all I did was what she asked for. I still want to move out there but moving across the country is not as easy as it seems.
I feel like I am missing out on so much of her life. I’m heartbroken. We were very close. She is an amazing gymnast and I have been to one of her competitions. I have missed others. I miss her incredibly. She is still too young to understand that she asked for this, not knowing the ramifications it would have. It leaves me feeling very hurt and confused. I try to talk to her as much as I can as both our schedules allow, but I know that isn’t the same as me being there.
Marlowe has her own iPhone and I got her an Apple Watch. We text and FaceTime. She is a very active gymnast, so we don’t talk as much as we did when she first moved. Since she has moved to North Carolina, I have seen her twice. I stayed a few days each time. I sobbed until I was on the plane. She cried as well. When we are together it’s so loving and fun. She’s my mini best friend again. We talk, laugh, and hang out. It’s so hard going back to FaceTime after I’ve had her arms and basked in that sweet Marlowe glow. But the only peace I have is that she is very well taken care of. She is surrounded by a family that loves her and she’s growing up to be a fantastic and wonderful young lady.
Being on good terms with my daughter’s bonus mom is important for many reasons. The first one that comes to my mind is that it helps forge the bond between them. Sierra is a wonderful woman who loves Marlowe very much, and my acceptance of her means that my daughter doesn’t have to feel guilty about allowing another woman to be in her life in such a major role. It also allows me to breathe. I don’t have to worry when Marlowe is with her. I know she is safe, loved, and well cared for.
I’m thankful that Justin, Sierra, and I are able to communicate and do what’s best for Marlowe. At her ninth birthday dinner, she was afraid that Sierra had taken her dad from me, that I didn’t like her, and we couldn’t be friends. We cleared that misconception up right away and Marlowe was immediately happier and pleased that she didn’t have to choose between us. To clarify, I was visiting Vegas for her birthday. She was living with them full time. I’m also very thankful that their relationship is solid enough to be a good example for Marlowe.
I’m very blessed we have similar views. Communication is so important because there isn’t just one person involved. There are actually 5 because their son, Sean, is included. We need to be able to talk about what is best for Marlowe. Boundaries are needed too. There is a three hour time difference between here and there. I work the night shift. Marlowe has to be off her phone by 8:30 PM. That’s what time I typically wake up because it’s 5:30 PM here. I have to respect that because those are their rules for her and it is their home. Boundaries like those show Marlowe that there is mutual respect among all of us.
Some advice I can offer for others out there who are co-parenting – Don’t make this about you. Of course there are hurt feelings that will try to rear its ugly head, but is the child happy? Do they glow in the presence of their bonus parent? Is your child’s life better overall because they have a huge support system full of love and acceptance? If so, let that be what guides you. Let your love for your child be the focal point of your co-parenting. Parents always claim to want to do what’s best for their children. Maybe this is what’s best for them. It’s not easy, but bringing a person into the world was never supposed to be.
And lastly, IT’S ABOUT THE CHILDREN!!! I cannot stress that enough. Please put aside pride and hurt feelings and allow a relationship to blossom between the child and the bonus parent. It is scary, but the benefits are so worth it. Marlowe would not be the amazing girl she is without Sierra and her family. Communicate with each other and know that the common goal is raising a person to survive in this world. Marlowe now has many adults around that love her and care for her. She has gained another set of grandparents, aunts, and family friends that care for her. Her foundation is very strong and supported. She confidently navigates her way through life because she knows she is so loved.” -Chrystina
I’ve realized lately that I’ve been more detached and have adopted the “go with the flow” / “I really don’t care” attitude, which is a big improvement since I’m usually an over-thinker that exhausts every scenario and question in my mind. I don’t know if my aloofness is due to pandemic fatigue, getting older, being busy, or just not giving a shit like I used to. What I’m currently working on is realizing that I am not responsible for anyone’s actions and emotions, except my own. Yes, in theory, that seems like a given. But it is something that I’ve struggled more with in the past. I’m learning to set boundaries with people around me, and removing myself from people or situations that don’t make me feel good. Over the past year, this is the area that I have grown and improved in the most. Being aware of how I communicate and how I choose to react has helped me see what I need to improve. It has also helped me see the flaws in others, and not letting their poor communication skills, or how they choose to project their feelings, effect me.
It’s a no brainer that everyone – regardless of who you are- deals with their own inner turmoil and demons. I will be the first to admit that there are still so many aspects of me that need healing, more self-work, and reflection. I know I’m not perfect. Self-work is an emotional journey. It’s a mix of shame, regret, sadness, and hope that there are better days to come. It’s never a straight path journey. It can be a little discouraging when you are doing so well for a period of time, and then something happens where you say something out of anger, or act a certain way that you’ve been trying so hard to avoid. At those times I get frustrated with myself, thinking that my progress that I worked so hard on is suddenly down the drain, and instead of progressing and going forward, I took a couple steps back. I feel emotionally drained knowing that I start back and square one – or at least it feels like it’s back to square one. Being aware of your bad habits and communication style is step one. Trying to unlearn all the bad habits and re-train your brain to react differently is a lifelong journey. I can only control what I choose to do with my life and time. And that also includes how I choose to react, or not react, who I choose to let in my inner circle, and what I will allow and not allow.
2020 was a bit of a shit show. But at the very least, it made me be more aware of how I communicate. When I really put my communication skills under the microscope, I felt ashamed and wanted to take the next steps to be a better communicator. It’s funny because in the professional sense, I am great at communication. I can keep it professional and say what needs to be said without hurting anyone’s feelings. But in my personal life, my communication is not that great. I’m very blunt, and I find it hard to cover up my annoyance, anger, and frustrations – it just results in being snappy and yelling. I’ve always said that I believe I’m a writer because I can’t communicate my emotions verbally without sounding like I’m all over the place. Writing it all out gives me the opportunity to revise my words, being extra careful to get all of my points across, leaving nothing unsaid, but at the same time giving the right tone. Verbally, I’m quick with my words, and I’ve come to realize over the years that my come back game is strong, but it can be very hurtful.
But I also understand that I can only control myself, and not others. Being aware of my own actions and trying to change my ways has forced me to see where others fall short as well. I reflect a lot on who I choose to surround myself with, and how certain relationships – whether that be with friends, acquaintances, family, and other people that I have to deal with day to day – can negatively impact me. Over the years, I have found myself cutting ties, letting friendships naturally drift, and setting boundaries. But it was not always that easy. It has taken years to finally set some boundaries for myself for what I will allow and will not allow into my life.
At this point in my life, I have tried to take more responsibility for how my words and tone can escalate a situation. Sometimes that even results in me staying silent to avoid an even bigger argument. Growing up, verbal fights weren’t over until there was an obvious winner or loser. This usually meant that someone said something so hurtful that the other person was in tears. You “win” the fight, but in the end you’re the loser for stooping so low. So now as an adult, I have to give myself constant reminders that a conversation can be had with disagreements without turning into a fight or argument. I try to apply this when I have a disagreement with my significant other, my sisters, sometimes even my parents. Like the saying goes, “it’s not what you say, but how you say it.” The importance of communication is undervalued, but I have seen instant improvements when I shift my tone or how I word things.
However, communication is a 2 way street. I can work on myself all I want, but I can’t control how others choose to communicate. How someone treats me is a reflection of themselves, and that is a pill that is hard to swallow. The truth is, not everyone will like you, and not everyone will be in your corner. How people act towards you when you are genuinely trying to better yourself is a reflection of how they feel about themselves. I’ve learned to just let it go, cut it off, and remove myself from those type of situations. Everyone has had some relationship, it could be romantic or not, that has been very negative and overbearing. It can be a relationship with your parent, or sibling, or friend, or co-worker, or in-laws, that just drains you. It can be anything from talking behind your back, saying hurtful things on purpose to hurt you, ignoring you on purpose so they make you feel like you owe them something, things that just don’t make you feel good. It may be sad to know that you are not for everyone, but it is also an eye opener to realize that not everyone is for you. You don’t have to have a relationship with people who constantly make you feel bad about yourself.
Everyone is dealing with something, but it comes to a point where it can’t be an excuse for how you treat others. That’s when cutting off, drifting, or setting boundaries comes into play. At this point in my life, I don’t have time to wonder if people are speaking ill of me behind my back, I don’t have time to argue with people who refuse to see my side or even listen, and I definitely don’t have time for people who don’t have the best intentions for me. It’s good to set boundaries with others, but also with yourself. What you will allow, and what you won’t. At the end of the day, you can only control how you communicate with others. And if you don’t like how someone is communicating with you, unfortunately, you can’t force someone to fix something they don’t think is broken. That’s something that they have to want and do for themselves. You can’t force someone to realize that they can be shitty at times. At those instances, it is best to remove yourself from that situation, or break that cycle.
The lesson of communication has taught me that not every person is going to be along for the ride with you forever. There are friendships and people that you just have to leave behind to move forward. It can be pretty sad, but it does bring a lot of peace of mind knowing that you have surrounded and hand picked every person that you chose to be in your life. And dealing with toxic / problem relationships without cutting them off is another story. Sometimes we are put in situations where you can’t really “cut off” the person that is bringing you so much negativity. I have found a middle balance of keeping it professional, but also keeping it moving. My feelings don’t get hurt anymore if someone is being shady because I’ve literally learned to not give a shit. I’ve learned to look past my own hurt and not take it personally. If you’re treating me some type of way, I know that it is something that you are dealing with within yourself. Awkward silence is no longer awkward for me, and letting someone else’s mood affect my mood is only giving them the satisfaction – misery loves company, and I got other shit to deal with.
2020 forced these things to light. “That’s just how I am,” is no longer and excuse or pass. Nobody is perfect, and we are all a work in progress. But, being aware, and attempting to re-learn is what’s important. You can’t control how someone reacts, speaks, or treats you. You can only control how you act, react, speak, and treat others. Understanding this has made it easier for me to weed out who I don’t want in my life. Setting boundaries has made me set a standard for what kind of people and energies I want to be around. I’m aware that I’m not perfect, but being aware and conscious that my communication skills need to be improved. It has brought on a whirlwind of emotions, from shame, anger, embarrassment, and everything in-between. There will be times where the progress feels stagnant, and like you’re fighting an uphill battle. There will be times where you mess up and go back to your old communicating style, but it’s all a part of the lesson. Understanding my emotions, and the root of why I react the way I do, has been a journey on it’s own, “that’s just the way I am,” is something I’ve been trying to take out of my vocabulary.