The Mindful Midlife Crisis

Episode 76--How to Beautifully Co-Parent with Your Ex with Anna Skender

December 14, 2022 Billy Lahr Season 6
The Mindful Midlife Crisis
Episode 76--How to Beautifully Co-Parent with Your Ex with Anna Skender
Show Notes Transcript
In this week’s episode, Billy talks with Anna Skender. Anna is the Vice President of Talent Acquisition at a market-leading digital business based in Raleigh, NC. Anna has lived all over the U.S., including Nashville, NYC, DC, Boston, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, but she now primarily resides in Raleigh, NC, with her two beautiful children, spending 1-2 weeks a month in Orange County, CA, with her partner.  She is here today to talk about how an alpha woman like herself maintains a respectable co-parenting arrangement with her ex-husband, allowing them to operate as a loving, caring family. 

Billy and Anna discuss:
–What happened to her marriage with her ex-husband, who she still thinks is amazing and kind to this day?
–Did her personality type affect her marriage?
–The difference between ending a marriage and completing a marriage
–What co-parenting with her ex-husband looks like
–How her kids are handling the divorce, their seemingly perfect co-parenting relationship, and her new romantic relationship
–The divorce stipulations around their new romantic partners and meeting the kids

Want more from Anna Skender?
Check her out on LinkedIn or Instagram

If you liked this episode, check out these episodes as well:

Episode 16--Billy Gets Dating Advice from Dating Coach Sally Heart

Episode 20--Marriage Is Hard: Billy and Brian Talk to a Listener about Her Trial Separation

Episode 25--Life in a Blended Family with Lisa Barnholdt

Episode 28--How to Successfully Switch Your Career with Career Coach Dr. Dawn Graham

Episode 42--Trash the Checklist with Dr. Yolanda Holloway and Tiffany Byrd

Episode 56--Balancing High Performance, Happiness, and Relationships with Christine Chang

Episode 57--Reviving Your Midlife Marriage with Deanna Bryant



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Billy: Coming up on The Mindful Midlife Crisis.

Anna: It's more confusing to them honestly, how kind we are together and how deeply committed we are to the fact that Tim and I both are wanting to still be a family even though mom and dad are no longer a couple. So that is confusing to the children. And sometimes I wonder, would this all make more sense or be easier on their little brains if we were drop offs were black and white and we didn't ever hang out and mom and dad didn't talk and we never talked about each other and we didn't have each other over for dinner and do holidays together and all that. But I'm obviously banking that as they get older they're gonna be, that was so awesome that mom and dad were friends and so chill with each other. We never saw them fight. They never spoke an ill word about one another, either in each other's presence or not in each other's presence. I mean that's hugely important.

Billy: Welcome to the Mindful Midlife Crisis, a podcast for people navigating the complexities and possibilities of life's second half. I'm your host Billy Lahr, an educator, personal trainer, meditation teacher and Overthinker who talks to experts who specialize in social and emotional learning. Mindfulness, physical and emotional wellness, cultural awareness, finances, communication, relationships, dating and parenting, all in an effort to help us better reflect, learn, and grow so we can live a more purpose-filled life. Take a deep breath, embrace the present and journey with me through the mindful midlife crisis.

Welcome to the Mindful Midlife Crisis. I'm your host, Billy Lar. Thank you for tuning in wherever you are. The purpose of this show is to provide a platform that gives people the space and permission to share their expertise and life experiences in order to help others navigate the complexities and possibilities of life's second half. Now, just to be clear, you don't have to wait until your thirties, forties, or fifties to apply this free and useful information. I know I would've benefited greatly from this information when I was younger. In fact, I'm sure people tried to tell me stuff like this all the time, but I already knew everything there was to know about life to really apply this advice in a meaningful way, norm, same <laugh>, but it's conversations like these that apply to people of all ages and backgrounds. So there's always something in these conversations that resonate with people.

And these conversations have the potential to help people of all ages reflect, learn and grow. Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks. So if you hear something that resonates with you in this week's episode, go back and check out some of these other episodes. This episode focuses on relationships, dating and parenting. So if you want more episodes like that, be sure to check out episode 25 with Lisa Barnhold about living in a blended family, episode 16 with Sally Love, where she gives me some online dating tips. Episode 20 with my friend Mina who opened up about her trial separation and what that's uncovered emotionally for her. Episode 57 with Deanna Bryant about reviving your midlife marriage. And finally episode 56 with Christine Chang about managing high performance relationships and happiness. In fact, today's guest heard our conversation with Christine Chang and she reached out to me and said, Hey, I've got a story and some parenting tips I'd love to share with your listeners.

And as it turns out, she's got some great advice to share. So let's meet today's guest. Today's guest is Anna Skender. Anna is a vice president of talent acquisition at a market leading digital business based in Raleigh, North Carolina. In two and a half years, she has helped grow the company 500% year over year. That's very impressive. I'm not gonna lie, 500% is quite the growth. Anna has spent her career in recruiting and admissions including leading global recruitment for the Clinton Health Access Initiative, the largest division of the Clinton Foundation. She has also spent five years working in admissions at the Wharton School at UPenn. We actually just found out that we have a mutual connection in Dr. Don Graham, episode 28, how to Switch Your Career. Go check that one out because if Anna knows her and, and Dr. Don knows Anna, then clearly these are reliable people to be paying attention to. Anna has lived all over the US including Nashville, New York City, Washington DC, Boston, Philadelphia and San Francisco. But she now primarily resides in Raleigh, North Carolina with her two beautiful children spending one to two weeks a month in Orange County, California with her partner. She is here today to talk about how an alpha woman like herself maintains a respectable co-parenting arrangement with her ex-husband that allows them to operate as a loving, caring family. Welcome to the show Anna.

Anna:  Thanks Billy. I'm so glad to be here. I'm excited to chat with you.

Billy:  Yeah, we've chatted a little bit here prior to the show and we chatted a little bit last week. You've got a fiery personality, so I think Alpha Female definitely fits you to a t and I'm, I'm really looking forward to this conversation. We always ask our guests what 10 roles they play in their life. So Anna, what are 10 roles that you play in your life?

Anna:  I would kick it off by saying mom or mother and then executive girlfriend or partner, daughter, friend, health nut walking and Pilates, fanatic sports, fan sister and world traveler.

Billy:  So of those roles you said that you're most looking forward to mom, executive and girlfriend. Let's start with the executive. What is it about being an executive that you're looking forward to in the second half of life?

Anna:  Yeah, so one thing is really exciting for me being at this growth stage company. I'm at three ships based in Raleigh, North Carolina. Part of my story Billy, is that I thought growing up the way I did that I just wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. You know, just kind of growing up in the south, growing up super Christian, my dad was a minister. The path that was kind of presented to me as my best option as a white female growing up in primarily Christian southern culture was like, go to college, find your husband, have some babies and then hang out for the rest of the time. Unfortunately, I bought into that narrative and thought that's what I wanted. And so part of my kind of midlife, I, I mean I'd like to think of it as quarter life <laugh>, but I hope I live another 60 years. <Laugh>

Is realizing that that narrative didn't fit me and that wasn't right for me. You know, I worked part-time at Wharton after I'd worked full-time when I had my babies and that was a fantastic job to have while I was in the middle of being pregnant or having a little one cuz it's, it was a easy job to dial up and dial back in admissions it was seasonal and cyclical. But then when I was 34 is when I started back full-time since I'd had children and I didn't realize how much happier I was when I went back full-time. It didn't feel great doing part-time to me cuz then you just feel like you've got your foot in two different places and you're being stretched and you're not really feeling like you're executing well in either area. And I also, while I feel grateful that I had a lot of time with my kids when they were little, like certainly full-time mom was not for me, which is the path I thought I wanted and then had to come to the realization that never fit my true authentic self of what I actually want and what is me, who is me, right.

And so I just turned 38 in April so I'm only four years into working full-time again since I had children. I worked full-time from when I was 22 to 29. So I had seven years that I worked full-time but then I had four or five years that I was part-timeish and also kind of like mentally checked out of work. In some ways I was more focused on the children than I was on work. I was glad I kept a foot in but I'm so excited because I feel like I'm just now coming at being an executive and you know, being a vice president of talent at this growth stage company, I'm coming at it with the rigor and drive that is new post children just realizing that this is actually, this is where I thrive and that I'm also, you know, another kind of like storyline or theme that unfortunately I think in a patriarchal southern conservative society is that like, I mean this is grossly generic but just like men are better at working than women or like men are smarter or like men are better executives and like they make better calls and they're better at driving change and driving strategy and getting results and that's just not true.

And to feel like I can be a woman at a boardroom table and feel equal to all of my male peers, older and younger and same age as me, like that's a new found excitement and joy for me in life. And so that's a big reason why that's a really exciting part of me for the second half of life, that role in particular because I just didn't have that perspective in the first half of life.

Billy:  Well it's interesting to hear you now talk about balancing being an executive but then also balancing being a mom, which are two things that you're both looking forward to in the second half of life. So as you kind of look back on being a mom here, you know, in this first stage and you saying that I didn't want to be a full-time mom, what is it about being a mom that you're most looking forward to in the second half of life?

Anna:  I found babies and toddlers very challenging. I am not a baby and toddler mom. I like big kids <laugh>, I'm so much happier as a mom now that my children are nine and seven and I think for me every year just gets better. And while you know, I know that you've mentioned Billy, you have children in your life and along the way I've gotten to know children and that are important to you. So I'm sure you've seen different kids at ages and stages and everyone says the older they get, you know it's more of a mental game than physical cause you don't have to do all the physical tasks like bathe or feed or tie their shoes and all that is more of a mental game. I'm really good at mental games and so I just feel like I just continue to get more into my sweet spot of parenting as I don't have to do all the physical hard task of child rearing and sleep deprivation and I get to enjoy my children more as little people and engage in them mentally relationally since traveling.

So important to me like that's way more opened up right? Once your kids are older you just can't, when they're little A, it's logistically a nightmare and then B, they won't remember it. So I'm not gonna pay all this money for travel. They don't remember. Honestly, my kids being older is exciting for me cuz it again fits in more to like my values and what I love about life and I've planned already to take my children to safari in Kenya and Tanzania in the spring, which I'm so excited about. That's what I would say I'm more excited in the second half of life to be a parent than I was in the first. Cuz man those first few years are rough sledding or were for me

Billy:  <Laugh>. Well and we'll get back to that Sue here when we talk about co-parenting with an ex. Cuz that brings up a question for me that I'm definitely gonna circle back around to the reason why you are flying back and forth between Raleigh and Southern California is because your boyfriend is in southern California. So what is it that you're looking forward to in the second half of life in terms of being a girlfriend and how do you navigate, I feel like this is a whole other episode that we should have. How do you navigate being in a long distance relationship like this?

Anna:  Yeah, I can't tell you how many people <laugh> when I tell them my current arrangement that we're one week on, one week off. So this is an off week. So I have my children, my ex and I do 50 50. So we ba, we do essentially Monday to Monday. So I have my children this weekend and then Mark will fly here Monday night and all next week Mark will be here and then through the weekend and then a whole fly home either Sunday or Monday. I can't tell you how many people when I tell them, you know, we're we see each other one week on, one week off. How many people say that sounds amazing. Like that sounds perfect, actually, because of a couple reasons, right? Like one mark and I essentially never have the opportunity to fully slide into cohabitation roommate mode like oh I see you every day, I'm next to you every day we sleep together every single night.

No like weeks when we're apart we're like oh my gosh I miss you so much. It forces you into a state of presence of when you're together you're so excited cuz you're like I know we're not gonna be together next Wednesday night and then like tonight on Friday night, I'm like I'm so excited to spend time with my children but then I'm really missing him. The back and forth helps because as I said, the roles of mom, executive and girlfriend actually having a cross country relationship helps me hyper focus on those roles at different times, which as you can imagine is very freeing because when I'm on a week, when I'm in rally with my children, I'm fully focused. I'm like so dialed in. Not that I'm always not dialed into my job but my job and my kids are my priority. And then when I'm in California with Mark, Mark is more my priority along with my job.

So it helps me highly specialize my time in the areas that I care about most. And when I say that I'm looking forward to a partnership in the second half of life, I personally think that life is so much more fun and enjoyable when it's shared. And Mark and I have been dating almost 16 months and so who knows what'll happen but assuming we stay together and like he's my person for second half of life, then I'm excited about what's in store for us and I'm excited about building a bike coastal life like I will most likely still raise my children in Raleigh. My whole family's on the east coast, my sister's in DC, my brother's in Philadelphia so they're both on the northeast quarter. Mark's whole family's in southern California. But I really love Southern California and I really love North Carolina and I'm excited to continue to be a partner in a way where we figure out this cool bicoastal life to stay connected to both of our families and friends in both of those places. And that fits my travel bug right because it's hard for me to be still in one place.

Billy:  You and I have had very similar dating experiences so what I wanna do here is I wanna take a quick break and then when we come back Anna's gonna share those and I'll talk about how mine are very similar to that as well. And Anna is also gonna talk about how she and her ex-husband have managed to beautifully co-parent their children together. Thank you for listening to the mindful Midlife Crisis. Thank you for listening to the Mindful Midlife Crisis. If you're, you're enjoying what you've heard so far, please do me a favor and hit the subscribe button. Also giving the show a quick five star review with a few kind words helps others find and benefit from this podcast just like you are. Finally, please spread the wealth of free knowledge and advice in this episode by sharing it with the people in your life who may find this information and my mission to help others live a more purpose-filled life valuable.

My hope is that these conversations resonate with others and inspire people to live their best lives. Thanks again. And now back to the show. Welcome back to the Mindful Midlife Crisis. We are here with Anna Skender and she has managed to figure out a way with her ex-husband to beautifully co-parent their children together. She's flying back and forth across the United States to maintain a relationship with her boyfriend and I imagine that that is stressful in some way, shape or form, but Anna seems to do it very smoothly. So we're gonna learn a little bit more about that. But just to kind of get a little background here, so Anna and I actually connected through Christine Chang, she was on our show, Episode 56, High Performing Women and Relationships and Happiness. Anna's very much a high performing woman and you were actually a guest on Christine's show and you were talking about dating and your relationships. What stuck out to me right away was that you started off the conversation by talking about how amazing your ex-husband was and still is, you know, that kind of begs the question like, why are you guys not together anymore?

Anna:  That is a good question. There are many factors that go into the dissolution of a romantic partnership. We got together very young, I was 19 years old when we started dating in London and it was very romantic. We started dating, we were studying abroad and had first dates in London and it was so lovely. And then we dated for four years before we got married at four and a half years, got married at age 24 and we were still very much both kind of in the pretty conservative Christian paradigm and structure of I would've been forbidden by my parents to live with him prior to being married. That would've been off the table. So you know, that was partly why we got married because we wanted to go ahead and start living together and build our lives together. So we got married young and then bounced around.

We lived in five places in 11 years across the US and I think that's why we're not together anymore. The most overarching headline is that either I didn't know who I was fully and or the other way to say that is I'm married to the exact right person for who I was at age 24 and 19. And that season of my life, who I was and the paradigm I was raised in, like Tim Skinner was the best guy I could have married. Gorgeous, smart, successful, kind part of gold, really good person. Also loves travel like on paper we're amazing. Like we line up so well, went to the same college, have all the same friends. But I think with time, one of my favorite quotes about getting older is as we get older we don't change, we just more clearly become ourselves. And I think as I more clearly became myself, I realized, gosh, I love Tim Skin and he is a good dude and a good parent, a good husband in many ways, but not all the ways.

 Some a lot that I needed. I think I can love him as a person in my life but it doesn't have to be in the context of marriage. And one of my favorite podcasts that I've listened to in the last five to 10 years was on Goop had a men's podcast called Goop Fellows for a bit, I don't know if you listened to any of those, Billy, but they had on a New York divorce attorney, this awesome guy, James Sexton who's written a book that's actually that Mark and I have my partner now and I have called How to Stay in Love and it's you know, kind of kitchy and catchy because he is a divorce attorney. So he is like giving advice on how to not basically end up in his office. And one of the things he said in the podcast was marriage is a very specific type of arrangement that you have to actively wanna be in.

And I just came to the realization Billy, that like I no longer wanted to be in that specific type of arrangement with Tim. I gave myself the grace to ask the question what would life look like if Tim was just my co-parent and my best friend and more like a brother love than a lover. For me, I felt like I had fully fallen out of romantic love which I had. So the reason we're not together is I came to that agonizing realization over years. Like this was not a snap decision. You know, there were many tears, many sleepless nights, many nights sitting on my bathroom floor, like pulling my hair out just thinking like, oh my gosh, am I really gonna do this? Am I really gonna wreck my life? There's gonna be so much collateral damage, it's almost unfathomable how much there wa and there was, I mean it was couple years of wall-to-wall pain and you know, I mean it'd be great to have him on here and say what <laugh>, I mean I'm a big personality and I take up a lot of space so I'm not the easiest person on the planet to be married to either.

So there are things that I did wrong and that contributed to the dissolution of our marriage for sure with my strong personality and the ability to steamroll or assert my preference in a way that is overwhelming and not great.

Billy:  Did the two of you try couples therapy? Did you do therapy at all individually? And the reason why I'm asking that is because I'm wondering, did you ever go through a phase where you're like, what's wrong with me that I don't love this amazing human being? Or did you find yourself in situations where you were having conversations with friends and you're like I just am not in love with him anymore. Like I love him like a brother but I don't love him like a lover. I don't love him like a husband and have them be like, say what? Like what are you talking about? This dude is perfect. Did you need to navigate through that? Did you need to navigate as a couple through those dilemmas as well?

Anna:  We did couples therapy before we started doing individual therapy, although I do think maybe we did one or two individual therapy sessions when we were with Caroline. So I led that Billy like when I really started to feel like I am not happy and you know we've now got the house and the two kids and the perfect life and Raleigh, North Carolina and finally moved back to being close to both sets of parents. But I was like, this is not, I thought it was gonna be more awesome than this. Like life in general, I don't know. So I'm the one who drug us to counseling and got us in and we, so we did do counseling. Unfortunately Tim is very committed to his work and I think initially when we were in sessions it just kind of always seemed like he wasn't super present like he was there but he's more of an introvert, he's harder to pull things out, you know, unfortunately I did feel like a lot of those sessions I was kind of carrying the weight of like giving all the answers and saying all the things and bringing Caroline into our reality and trying to paint the picture of what our relationship was like and what our life was like.

And Tim would be like, yeah, like that sounds right. And so it just felt like even in those moments Billy, that I was the one doing everything and I'm like cool. Like I can't be the one always trying to make this work because it's exhausting. There was a moment that happened that was kind of the tip of the iceberg for me now when I look back over the arc of it all to be like that was the beginning of the end when Caroline asked us maybe in our third or fourth session she'd already done a couple like digging in on families of origin, trying to understand us, our backgrounds and all that. So maybe we were four sessions in and she's like, okay well let's talk about what do y'all like about your marriage? And naturally my personality, I let off and I listed off the 17 things that were awesome about us.

Like we both went to Carolinas, we have all the same friends, we both love travel cities, we're both active and fit. We love to eat well, we love to go out to eat, we like the same movies, we think the same things are funny. We both like to read, like what doesn't look good on paper? Like there are so many things that I like about our relationship. And then you know, she turns into Tim and she's like, Tim what do you like about your, and he like thought about it for a second and he was like, well I mean we've, we've basically grown up together <laugh> and I've told this story like a number of times like my sister and my close girlfriends and it's funny, I have different reactions like some people are like that's a fine answer, that's not a fine answer for me.

And like who I am, him saying we've grown up together is what he likes about our marriage. Felt like the laziest answer he could have given. You know, like I wanted him to say like, oh my gosh, you know what I love about my marriages? Like my wife's 34 years old, she's had two kids and like look at her, she's like in a business dress and high heels and she's about to go, you know, kick ass at work right after this meeting. And like she manages our life so well and our social calendar and she's funny and kind and I love how much we laugh together. I like how silly we are. I love this, I love that. I like he literally was like, well it's nice that we've basically grown up together in that moment. There were two things wrong. First, that answer felt lazy and second I felt so unknown Billy cuz it feels like if I had been with someone who I felt like and he did know me well but like if he had really known me, what would've made my heart sing in that moment was to list off a bunch of things just like I did.

And it just felt like the laziest most complacent answer and then maybe even unfortunately was what set off this talk track in my own brain of like, cool you like that we've basically grown up together. I'm not your sister if you look at me like your sister, I'm out. And many other things happened in coming months that turned his perspective on that and he no longer saw me as his sister and when he started to realize I was kind of serious about pulling away, he came after me like he's never come after me before. But very unfortunately I was done at that point and it maybe started, you know, it's funny you think about couples counseling bringing people together. For me that was a bit of a death null of like hearing that answer and seeing his low energy in our sessions and just being like cool bro. Like I'm the one trying really hard here if you're not trying like that's fine but like also I'm done. And I don't think you realize that <laugh>.

Billy:  Well it sounds like it brought about a big sense of clarity for you that maybe you couldn't put a finger on it but once you saw it and you're like oh wait it's this, this is where some of this has been coming from. That makes total sense. You said something there and it reminds me of we love talking about our Trash the Checklist episode with Dr. Yolanda Holloway and Tiffany Byrd that is Episode 42. I think I got through that without cracking my voice a second time. But we really talked about the importance of doing things for you as opposed to checking off items on your life's to-do list. And it sounds like you got caught up in checking achievements off of your checklist, which makes perfect sense because you describe yourself as an alpha, Type A female with masculine energy. So when you look back on your marriage to Tim, like you said that he was a workaholic, did it make you resent that you didn't get the opportunity to be a workaholic as well? Do you think you were so hyper-focused on some other things and you just had a clear sense of determination leading you to what you wanted in life? How did all of that play a role in this decision?

Anna:  I resented him from being a workaholic in the end because I didn't realize how much it would cost us in terms of our relationship. I mean it's so cliche, right? I mean and one thing Tim and I have always joked about is like cliches are cliche for a reason. He was a workaholic. And so there was kind of nothing left for me or our relationship and you know this, Billy, relationships are living breathing things and if you don't tend to them they die. And I was hyper-focused on the kids. My part-time work at Wharton, staying connected to all of my relationships. I'm like a hyper social person. I have deep, deep female friendships, I'm very close with my parents and my siblings. So I didn't resent him from being a workaholic, but in the end like he had zero energy for me or us. And I think about another moment that just sticks out so much from this period as again listening to a podcast and I know exactly where I was walking in Raleigh listening to a Goop podcast that had Esther per on and they had her on talking about her new book that had just come out state of the Affair and she was saying don't ever stop being curious about your partner.

The minute you stop being curious you're dead almost immediately. Like tears just started streaming down my face and I was like that's it. Like he has stopped being curious about me like he's like okay autopilot marriage. Like I know Anna, we've grown up together. Like she is who she is, she'll always be who she is and I'm like I need a partner who's curious and asks me expansive questions and like wonders if I'm a different person today than I was yesterday and hopes that I'll be a different person 10 years ahead of now than I am right now. And I think him being a workaholic just gave absolutely no space for him to remain curious and engaged and like an active participant in our relationship and in his pursuit of me. Right.

Billy:  Well and that's why we're big advocates of love languages on this show too and understanding those because I feel like it creates a constant challenge to your partner to figure out what it is that fills your love bucket, right? And you can go back to the same thing and do it over and over and over again or you can get creative with it. And does it get exhausting if you're doing it day in and day out? Or maybe it feels a little disingenuous, yes, but it's even just those little surprises that can keep things fresh and it sounds like it had gotten stale for you. One thing that you said in your conversation with Christine Chang is as you reflected on the end of your marriage, you said it's not over, it's just complete and you likened it to a chapter in a book and I really liked that analogy. So talk a little bit more about where that mindset came from.

Anna:  I think that narrative or what framework of looking at it, Billy, which is not original to me, I've heard that from a couple different women I respect, have kind of used that framework to give women freedom. If you are the lever of a marriage to say that you know it's not failed, it's not broken, it's just complete. I hope I'm gonna live a really long time and I don't know where it got started that a very clear marker of a successful life is if you are with the same person from age 20 to age 90 when you die. And I wanna be part of the movement that says that's really awesome, if that is your story, that does not define success. That is wonderful. A long arc marriage, a 60 year marriage is absolutely beautiful. Should that be everyone's holy grail marker of what they should strive for in their life?

No, absolutely not. So I wanna be a voice in the culture in the world saying you can have relationships and marriages that are chapters that are so beautiful and right for that exact time in your life. Timon was the exact right person for me to have children with. We have two amazing gorgeous little creatures that we made that are half me and half him and he is the right person for that season in my life. But then it was complete and now the right person in my life is Mark Howerton who lives 2,222 miles away from me <laugh>. But that framework was helpful in kind of freeing me up to make the call, to leave my marriage to say it's not broken, I'm not a failure. And to go back to your question a minute ago, Billy, that you said, you know, did you question yourself and your own therapy work, why would you leave this amazing guy?

Did you have lots of conversations with men, women? Absolutely. I mean I feel like all I did for two years was fact find, ask the women who are closest to me in particular, like ask them like what do you think? This is what I'm thinking, I'm really struggling, I'm feeling trapped. Am I trapped? Do I have an option? And also, yes, questioning myself like I'm a horrible person. Tim Kiner is a good man with a good heart who will never leave me and he wouldn't have, no matter what I did, he was never gonna leave me. And I had one of my very best friends say to me like, Anna, no one is gonna love you more than Tim Skin. And I was like, Brittany, you are probably right but I'm gonna roll the dice because there is a thing, and I don't know if you've explored this on earlier podcasts or with other people, I'm sure you have in your life, and this is you know, a universal theme or story is a lot of us have this like knowing inside of us.

So there was part of me that was beating myself up over this narrative like of Anna, you always want more. You know like you always want the next achievement or the next best thing or you wanna be perfectly happy or this, this and this. And so I was kind of like, Anna, you are so shitty. Tim is a good person, why would you leave him? But if you're really tapped into your knowing and I don't know what that is, your soul, your spirit, your essence, God within you, that is this whisper of something is not right and there is a truer, more perfect version of reality than you're living right now. And you have to tap into that knowing and to honor it and honestly obey it. I don't kind of love that language, but I mean I was slowly dying in a specific arrangement of marriage that no longer fit who I was.

Billy:  Well success can look like your awareness of your unhappiness and then making a plan to do something about it too. You said success doesn't have to look like being married for 60 years, leaving a relationship where you are recognizing, hey I've put a lot of work into this and it'd be different I think if you just up and left that sort of thing without trying to work on it. But that doesn't sound like that was the case and it sounds like there was an awareness of your unhappiness. I'm going to do something about it. So this first thing that I'm gonna do is we're gonna do couples therapy and I'm gonna do my own therapy and I'm gonna do some soul searching within myself. And it doesn't happen overnight. It sounds like you were continually working on this and then all of a sudden you just realized hey at some point there's a cutoff here. And the success for me ironically is the failure of this marriage. 

Billy:  Yeah, that's right. So let's do this. We're gonna take a quick break and then we come back. We're gonna talk to Anna about how she and Tim actually beautifully co-parent together. Thank you for listening to the Mindful Midlife Crisis. Thank you for listening to the Mindful Midlife Crisis. New episodes come out every Wednesday to help you get over the midweek hum. If you'd like to contact me or if you have suggestions about what you'd like to hear on the show, visit www.mindfulmidlifecrisis.com and click contact us while you're there, don't forget to sign up for the newsletter to get free weekly meditations as well as free resources from our reflect learn grow program. You can also click on the show notes for links to the articles and resources we referenced throughout the show. If you wanna check out my worldly adventures, follow me on Instagram at mindful underscore midlife underscore crisis.

My hope is that my trials, tribulations and successes will inspire you to take intentional action to live a more purpose filled life. And while you're at it, remember to show yourself some love every now and then too. Thanks again. And now back to the show. 

Welcome back to the Mindful Midlife Crisis. We are here with Anna Skender. She is talking about navigating her way through a marriage that ended with someone who she loves and the doors very deeply, but it just wasn't there in the same way and yet they still managed to co-parent wonderfully together. If you're interested in following Anna, you can go to @_annliz_, we will put that in the show notes so you can give her a follow. Anna, we're gonna fast forward a little bit. Now divorce is emotional for both parties and people work through divorce very differently. So once the divorce is signed right, you have to have this conversation about okay we have children, how are we going to raise the children? How are we going to communicate to the children? What's going on here in a way where we're not trashing each other in a way, we're actually setting a standard that hey mom and dad don't agree with each other, they don't live with each other but we're in this together for you. And you do it in a way that's mutually respectful and cordial.

Anna:  Yeah, it's wonderfully tricky. <Laugh>, just in terms of the children's perspective, it's more confusing to them honestly how kind we are together and how deeply committed we are to the fact that Tim and I both are wanting to still be a family even though mom and dad are no longer a couple. So that is confusing to the children and sometimes I wonder like would this all make more sense or be easier on their little brains if we were like drop-offs were black and white and we didn't ever hang out and mom and dad didn't talk and we never talked about each other and we didn't have each other over for dinner and do holidays together and all that. But I'm obviously banking that as they get older they're gonna be like, that was so awesome that like mom and dad were friends and so chill with each other. We never saw them fight, they never spoke an ill word about one another, either in each other's presence or not in each other's presence. I mean that's hugely important I think is that Tim and I both believe the best in each other. We both believe that we are putting the children's interest first and everything we're doing and so it feels wonderful to be aligned with someone in that way.

Billy:  What are some things that the kids have said to you where you're like oh this is clearly weird for them that Tim and I get along so well?

Anna:  I mean occasionally I'll be like, guys, I love your dad and they'll just look up at me and say, then why aren't you still married to him? And I'm like, yeah that's a great question. You know like mommy and daddy decided a couple years ago. So they ask that anytime. I'm like, your dad is awesome guys. Like he is such a good person and so smart and all these things and they're like, then why did you divorce him? And I'm like, good question. So that happens and then you know, occasionally I'll say things like your dad, oh

Billy:  Wait, what's the answer to that question? What's the answer to that? Well you can't just say that's a good question to walk away. Kids wanna know, kids are curious. So what's the answer to that question?

Anna:  I know <laugh>, I know, I guess I'm now having a hard time even pulling up for myself what I say. I think I'm just like, you know, we decided that we would be better as co-parents and living in different houses, still being a family. Like it just didn't make sense for us to be married anymore. I mean unfortunately I give a very fluffy gray answer and probably open the pantry door and say who wants a snack? You know, <laugh>, <laugh>. So I probably try mostly to, I give a very general nebulous answer and then I probably deflect and try to change the topic because even I'll say like, oh my gosh, look at your dad in this picture. He's so handsome. And they'll again be confused, they're like, you don't mean that. And I'm like, yes I do. I was married to him for you know, 11 years and we were together for 17 or something.

So your dad is so handsome. I'll say things like that and they just have these little quizzical looks on their face like trying, you just see like there's so many things children understand or you see them trying to work it out in their minds. And so those parts are tricky but I, they are grateful because sometimes and there are not many people divorced where I live, I will state that and so that's another very hard thing for them is my son absolutely has been like, mom, you guys are the only divorced people in Raleigh. Like why are y'all divorced? Like this isn't fair. And I'm like, I'm sorry buddy, that's hard. I know that you know it's not great but your dad and I got married young, we had children young and I hate to say this but by the time you're in high school a lot of your friends' parents are gonna be divorced soon too. <Laugh>. And I'm like, I I'm sorry to say that we are, your dad and I are on the forefront of this and we are, you know, most

Billy:  And the neighbor down the street is the most likely person <laugh>.

Anna:  Yeah. So unfortunately I draw up future scenarios like that for them but they're confused about why they're the only ones. And then and and we do know a couple other families that the parents are divorced and so every once in a while they'll frame their questions using those couples like Mommy are Edward and Henry's mommy and daddy as nice to each other as you and daddy are Or like, are they friends? Like you guys are friends. So sometimes they say things that are very encouraging that make me realize that they are aware of how lucky they have it. It's weird for them that we're so close and that their parents are divorced but that they do like it. I know they do. I know it's better for them that we're kind to each other.

Billy:  You know, I wonder how many people are listening to your answer right there and like they don't get it either, right? They're just like your kids like, well that doesn't make sense to me but the reason why your story resonates so much with me is because my mom and dad are divorced now. They got divorced when I was 26, right? But we do all of our holidays together. My dad still goes and mows my mom's lawn, my mom will go to my dad's house for lunch from time to time. That's sort of thing. That's what I grew up with. I mean that's what the last 20 years of my life have been. And I'll tell you, they get along much better now than they did when they were that I can ever remember them being married. Yeah, right. They get along so much better. Yeah.

But then personally, my ex-girlfriend is my best friend. We hang out all the time, we hang out and go to dinner, that sort of thing. And I have dated people in the past and some of them have been like, ugh, that is too weird for me. And some of 'em are like, well I have an amicable relationship with my ex too. That sort of thing. So I hope that people when they're listening to this are like, no, you can coexist with somebody that you once loved very deeply, very passionately in a way where sometimes that passion does just run out. You just need that space and if you're emotionally mature enough to handle it, then you're able to evolve and see each other as friends. So you know, I said that your dating experiences are very similar to mine and it just in that way, just like listen, I, I'm best friends with my ex from just a few years ago and I hung out with my college girlfriend last night like yeah she, she and I and her roommate, we went out and had a drink together and she's an avid listener of this show and you can still have those kind of relationships and there's no ulterior motive to them.

Every time I see my college girlfriend's husband, we hug each other more than when I give her a hug. Like we just, I just jump into his arms cuz he's a big guy. Like we just enjoy being around each other all the time. So it's not weird. Now are there exes that I have no interest in being friends with? Yeah, absolutely. Yeah absolutely. And I'm sure there are exes that have no interest in ever hearing from me either. I get that but I don't think it should be every single relationship. I feel like it's really beautiful the way that the two of you co-parent in that way. So what does it look like then for the two of you to co-parent? You said that you do holidays together. Do you do trips together too?

Anna:  We do some. So first of all, thank you for sharing about your parents and all of your relationships you still have with exes. Like that sounds so lovely. And you know it's funny, this is kind of cheesy and embarrassing but you know in the couple years where we were separated for two and a half years before we officially got divorced because we're so amicable and we're lazy and like we only finally got divorced in February and we've been separated for two and a half years. But I saw a celebrity, you know, marriage dissolution announcement, breakup announcement that I'm sure there are PR people put together or whatever. But there was a line in it I really liked and I was like I'm gonna save that and if I ever do like a post of Tim and I breaking up, I'm gonna use this. And it said something like we're looking forward to maintaining the best parts of our relationship for many years to come. And I just, oh I like that. Cause that's what you're saying when you talk about your parents or you talk about you and your exes that are friends or Tim and I like you can maintain the best parts that don't necessarily have to be about sex or romance or intimacy or committed monogamous partnership or whatever. Like you can maintain the best parts of the relationship that don't mean a container of romance for the rest of your life.

Billy:  What does beautifully co-parenting look like?

Anna:  So we do a number of holidays together, not all of them. We've put strict stipulations in our divorce agreement that both parents are welcome to be with the children on their birthdays. Both parents are welcome to be with the children on Christmas morning. Like we don't have kind of like this year you get 'em this year, you get 'em. It's basically like as long as you are chill to be around the other like you are welcome and it takes you being chill to be present at Christmas morning. If you're not chill you can't be there, you know? So I like that we basically said like Thanksgiving morning, both parents are welcome to be with the children. This past spring break was actually our son's ninth birthday and since Mark lives in Orange County, I was like why don't we go out there and take the kids to Disneyland and do a surfing lesson.

What else did we do? We went on a boat with Mark and his dad and went deep sea fishing and so we did spring break together, we all flew out to California. Tim actually stayed at Mark's house in Orange County two nights. Like Tim and Mark get along well. So, and it's just crazy to me Billy cuz this is like blowing people's minds, especially in Raleigh and I guess that makes sense. It's still very southern, more conservative Christian based people are like a couple of my best girlfriends apparently were getting all kinds of messages on Instagram when they were seeing that Tim was in California with me and Mark and they were like what the hell is going on? You know? And I'm like what the hell is going on? I've tried to portray nothing but the fact that Tim and I were college sweethearts who got married very young and can be divorced and still be friends and maintain family trips and holidays and like why does that have to be this crazy novel idea to people?

Billy:  So I was actually gonna ask you if Tim and Mark had met, so when you started dating Mark, what did the, let's meet the kids process look like because I know some people have an agreement in their divorce decree that says if you're going to start dating somebody you need to disclose that to your partner if you are going to introduce them to the children. So do you guys have something like that? How does that, okay Mark you're gonna meet the kids, you're also gonna meet my ex-husband and how do you have that conversation? Hey Tim, by the way, I'm dating somebody and he's gonna meet the kids and you know what, you might as well meet 'em too. <Laugh>. Yeah,

Anna:  We did put language about this in our divorce agreement cuz I felt pretty strongly about it. One of the pieces we put in is that in order to introduce the children to someone you're dating, it has to be a minimum of three months exclusive dating. And then we also put for the children to spend the night in the home when your partner is there it has to be six months of exclusive dating and before the children get introed to your partner which could be starting at the three month mark, the opposite partner has the opportunity to like grab a coffee or meet with the person before they meet the children. Because what I did not want is my kids to meet someone and then tell me about this person and what they did and like for me to not know them that did not feel good.

Tim has not dated someone long enough for me to meet them. He dated someone for almost three months. And so a funny story about this. Before I dated Mark, I was dating someone in Florida <laugh>. So I'm in Florida for a weekend seeing the guy I was dating and I get a call from Tim and or a text and he was like, Hey I've been seeing this woman for a couple months, he's a nine year old daughter. Our kids were like eight and six at the time or something. I was thinking about going and she mentioned like maybe going to get brunch and do a hike in Chapel Hill tomorrow, which is right down the road. And I was like, what? No, absolutely not. I don't even know this woman's name like you absolutely are not. My children are not meeting a woman that you've been dating for a couple months at her suggestion.

So I mean I had a real freak out moment. I mean it's not all been roses, Tim and I doing this together. And so that's actually been one of our most heated discussions is cuz he didn't see a problem with it and I was like, you absolutely cannot introduce the children to someone. You haven't even shared her name with me yet. And so we kind of got into a heated discussion when I'm in Florida and he's back in Raleigh wanting to do this. At the end I was like, you know what, you can do it. I don't agree with it. You don't have my blessing and let me be very clear when I get home we're gonna hash this out, what the stipulations are and then we are never talking about this again. And so we have that big bump in the road kind of early on.

And then unfortunately Tim has not dated anyone seriously really since then. But we put in there three months because actually the guy I was dating, we basically dated for three months in Florida. And I got to a point Billy where I was kind of like, you know, dating in the second half of life and especially if it's long distance, there was a little part of me that wanted even more than the kids. Like I wanted the guy to meet my children because in the chance that he thought one of my kids was a little jerk or didn't like one of my children, I would like to know that earlier rather than later. And I wanna give the full possibility that that could happen. That they could meet my two kids and be like, whoa, like your son is wild or your daughter is like too silly or whatever it might be.

You know? I mean one of the things about dating in the second half of life when there are children involved, like that's a factor in signing up for partnership with someone. We decided on three months to meet and the other person gets a chance to meet the person if they want and then six months to sleep in the house if they end up staying where the partner's staying. And so yeah Mark, I think maybe a little bit after the three month mark we just took the kids out to ice cream. NC State, which is based in Raleigh, has this Cal Farm on the state's campus. You can get ice cream there. It's like a local creamery. So we just went and got ice cream for like an hour or something and they met him and you know, it was chill. But then since then, Mark and I have taken the kids skiing and we took them out to California and like my daughter Emily's gonna come back out to California with me in October.

I'm gonna bring them out for solo trips. And so they know him very well and it's fun for them to see our relationship. I mean, they're still grossed out by it because Mark and I are so sweet and romantic. But I like that. I like that they see that, you know, that's part of the reason why I got divorced is I, I want my children, they are of course going to suffer such heartache with their parents not being together. But I also wanna give them the gift of seeing their mom really in love in a sweet sappy way that makes them blah now. But like when they get older, as they're dating, as they're in our shoes, Billy, to be like, I want something my mom had. Like I wanna watch my mom be scooped up in her kitchen while she's making dinner with a glass of wine in her hand and is swirled around because she's getting danced with by her partner and kissed on the lips and like be like it's so gross, mom. But then later be like, that's what I want. I want that passion and zest and fun and romance.

Billy:  You know what, to your children, just you painting that picture right there also grossed me out. So thank you very much for leaving us with that parting image. <Laugh>.

Anna:  Sorry.

Billy:  No, I'm absolutely kidding. It's so wonderful that you are feeling this passionate love for your partner now, and it's wonderful that your children get to see it, and you're right. I think someday they will appreciate that and they'll be happy for you too.

Anna:  Yeah, thank you, Billy. This is a lot of fun. Really appreciate getting to dialogue on these topics and your wonderful host. So thank you for having me.

Billy:  Words of affirmation will win you over every single time, <laugh>. So Anna, thank you so much for joining us here today and sharing your story. We really appreciate it. Hey, if you enjoyed this week's episode, be sure to look in the show notes for all of Anna's contact information. Also, I know Anna and I would greatly appreciate it if you would share this episode with the people in your life who may benefit from her expertise and life experiences. As I said at the beginning of this episode, the purpose of this show is to help you navigate the complexities and possibilities of life's second half. So I hope this conversation provided you with some insight that will help you reflect, learn, and Grow. If you did find some value in this week's conversation, be sure to subscribe to the show wherever you get your podcast so you never miss an episode. If you're an Apple listener, please consider taking a minute or two to leave a five star review with a few kind words. And if you're a Spotify listener, click those five stars under the show Art. Finally, you can check out the rest of our episodes at www.mindfulmidlifecrisis.com or wherever you get your podcasts. So for Anna, this is Billy. Thank you for listening to the Mindful Midlife Crisis. Make you feel happy, healthy and loved. Take care of friends.