I learned something today, I’m not quite sure what it is so I’ll just tell the story.
A few days ago a friend of mine texted me a screenshot of some paperwork from the child support enforcement office of our state. It was describing what is considered income for the purposes of calculating child support. Now I have always known that my child support amount did not accurately account for all of my ex-husband’s sources of income, and I’ve been okay with that. But over the years I had forgotten the details of how all this stuff works because I have never motioned to have child support modified. Not ever, not once; I have tried to relocate. But that’s another story.
So it got me thinking. My ex is over here believing he’s doing me a great big favor. He recently was let go due to downsizing (from the same company that let me go for downsizing three years ago) and was unemployed for less than 4 weeks before he started his new job with the sister company of the same one that laid him off. He has worked at this site with these companies for nearly 15 years so it really wasn’t an unstable transition by any stretch of the imagination. He went out of his way to let me know that in spite of losing his job and taking a pay cut at the new one, he wouldn’t be lowering his child support. Which he already arbitrarily cut in half years ago, and which I have never legally protested. This was his way of letting me know I should be grateful. He is still so much the same seven years later…sigh. I know he received a severance package, and over the years bonuses, pay raises, etc..
Knowing that he pays less than half of what was agreed on 7 years ago, which was based on some 90k, and that he has since received pay raises, bonuses, and severance, that I do not pedantically adhere to visitation but allow him to spend hours/days/nights with his child whenever/wherever because he is a parent, not a visitor, knowing all that and NOT requesting to modify child support, ever, makes me pretty confident that by the world’s standards today I am the one doing him a favor and not the other way around. I do believe that being reminded of what is considered income, and then being reminded how he was graciously going to keep paying me less than he should, made me feel pretty self righteous.
I guess I wanted him to be the one saying thank you for the favor, instead of the other way around. And so this morning I asked him if he was being above-board and honest with me; if he felt like he was adequately paying child support, then would he mind supplying all his financial info and having it calculated by the state after all? (These many 7 years later, hint hint????) Well he didn’t take it that way, naturally. Instead he predictably burst into outraged defensiveness and arguing. If you’ve ever had to deal with child support then reading this you can just imagine, it’s a sensitive issue.
I hesitate to even begin talking about it with people, let alone here, because the issue is so ridden with stereotypes and hypocrisy. Our system has ruined the good intentions behind the whole idea of child support, because we are fallen creatures. One might ask why I have been so lackadaisical in dealing with the pandora’s box that child support is between my ex husband and I. Truth is I just never wanted to deal with it, really. Paxton’s basic needs were met. I could have met more of them, I could have created more needs to meet if I’d had more support to lean on, I could have met more of my own. But I didn’t want to fight that hard for it. The main purpose has always been achieved and it has never been worth the argument to ask for more money, I never saw it as necessary enough.
So then WHY in the HECK did I even bring that up this morning? What on earth was I thinking!? If I really don’t want to pursue it or change it, then why did I rock the boat? I was super proud of myself for keeping my chill with him though. I didn’t swear or yell or get shrill, and I didn’t fly off the handle or storm away when he started acting like an ass. In fact I did quite the opposite. I told him I realized our panicked reactions to each other were based in fear, because we look back at our track record and predict the future based on the past. But ultimately I did get frustrated and I drove away in tears. Irritated with him for always being the same and myself for just being plain stupid. (This was all in the parking lot after saying goodbye to Paxton on his first day of second grade.)
As I was driving away I realized, dude, the only reason I brought that up was because I wanted him to be the one to say thank you for all the “favors,” phhhttt! (See self-righteous comment above.) But why do I need his gratitude? If I genuinely feel like Paxton’s needs are met, if I genuinely feel like I don’t want to change child support no matter how much “I’m not getting” (do you even hear how egocentric that language is?) then do I really need him to say thank you? Because…am I even doing it for him? No, I answered myself. I do not need his thanks. I want peace in our relationship for the sake of my son, not money. Mo’ money mo’ problems!
So maybe what I learned today is forgiveness. Which is funny, considering that a few minutes after driving away, I called him to apologize. That I hoped he could believe my question wasn’t inspired by being out to get him or change anything, and he doesn’t need to run for his attorney, because I had naively wanted to even the balance on some imaginary seesaw. I had only wanted him to say thank you because I myself felt coerced to an unfair gratitude. And crazy enough, although he didn’t volunteer all his financial info and probably never will, he did tell me his hourly wages and say that if I wanted to recalculate it and let him know if the formula comes back with a lot more, then we should talk and tell him what I’m thinking. That was more than I wanted and I don’t think I’ll even do that. Under the guise of transparency I had asked for information, but what I really wanted was recognition for being the nicer one. That sort of disqualified me from deserving it, don’t you think?
I thought so anyway. And that’s why I apologized. Turns out you do catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. And when you’re doing something because you want to, it’s okay if nobody recognizes you for it. Forgiveness itself is its own reward.
In the presence of your enemies, you know with certainty that any love you are able to feel is not because of external factors. You are not loving your adversary because of his kindness, his supportive nature, or because you stand to profit by the encounter. In the presence of your enemies, you know that you are love…and [I am] the source of your love. That is the most important reason I told you to love your enemies–not for you to become weak or passive, not for you to be walked on, not for you to suffer, not for you to yield advantages to those who oppose you–but for you to learn that you are love. In knowing this, you gain command.
Love Without End
by Glenda Green
Update: I was asked why I apologized when I didn’t do anything wrong? And told that maybe I shouldn’t have apologized? So let me clarify. I don’t think I did anything wrong. In fact I think I had every right to ask him what I asked him, and I believe I still have the right to expect him to comply. But my rights here were beside the point. As I stood there watching his blood pressure go up, I recognized in him the same emotions I felt when I was under duress from changing jobs and taking a pay cut. (Mine was way more massive, I went from a 70k salary to literally 0 with no opportunity for work in an even comparable salary range in this region, and I wasn’t allowed to move home to OK either, in spite of my entire family living there, a job offer, and being accepted into OSU to finally finish my BS. After six months I found work making 23k a year. I was living by rotating out maxed credit cards and praying for miracles every week, and when I needed my ex to be a nice person and work with me, he was a colossal jerk. I was stressed out to the max and feeling desperate every day.) I recognized the panic in him that I felt so long ago. And even though I want to roll my eyes because he already had a new job before his old one ended, so his “unemployment” was really a 3-week vacation, and his pay cut makes me laugh because he’s still making more than twice what Travis makes, and Travis is supporting me, Eleonora, AND Paxton (so who is really hurting here?) I didn’t. I felt compassion. Maybe I didn’t need to apologize for doing anything wrong, but in my heart I knew that compassion was more important than being right. And it was more important than being “in the right” too. That’s why I apologized, not for him, but for me. He may never treat me with such consideration, in the past he never has. When I was in his shoes but 10x worse, he made life as difficult as possible. But that doesn’t matter. It isn’t what he does or did to me that will define how I treat him. I am defining it. And I wanted to define it with grace and mercy yesterday.
Perhaps a lesson in grace and mercy is what I really learned…