What TV Producer Shonda Rhimes and I Have in Common: Relationship Trade-Offs

I ran across TV Producer, screenwriter and author, Shonda Rhimes’ quote a few weeks ago. I instantly felt a kinship. Granted, she’s producing and writing for shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder and I’m typing away at my first book and doing some personal coaching… but we both feel that ever-present pull between our work and our people. Many times I feel pulled in several directions just between people.

Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes

Like last night for example. My daughter, her two friends and their exhibit made it to the regional rounds of the national history day competition. The competition and judging took place from 4-9 last night in a local school’s gym. It was a night my children were scheduled to be with their dad but my ex-husband and I still attend all kid events no matter whose day it is. So I’m standing in the school gym next to our daughter’s exhibit, chatting with my ex-husband, trying to include one of the other girl’s parents in the conversation, keeping an eye on my daughter to make sure she’s not too nervous, and keeping an eye out for my boyfriend’s arrival. Yes, I combined date night with family time.

Divided attention

After my boyfriend arrived, I introduced him to those he had not met yet and then ping-ponged within the group giving attention to whomever requested it. I was so invested in each person’s well-being I forgot my boyfriend had not even seen my daughter’s exhibit. The reason we were all there! We broke off from the group and looked at it, but my daughter was not there to show it off, as she was talking with her friends and the other parents. It seemed less impressive without her presence.

After the judging of the exhibit, we were free to leave and get dinner, and return later for the award announcements. The other mom suggested we all go out to dinner together. At that point, I had to decide whether we (boyfriend and I) go out to dinner with the girls, my ex-husband and the other parent or go out just the two of us (original plan). I conferred with my daughter and with Boyfriend. They both left it up to me.

Attentive and present to everyone, that’s easy

I’ve been working on my responsiveness and attunement skills over the last two years. Both successful marriage guru, John Gottman, and successful couple therapist Stan Tatkin, claim attentiveness and presence are the secret to a loving secure relationship. If our partner makes a bid for our attention, we should respond attentively 80% of the time. If we sense our partner is in distress, we should soothe them. If we hurt our partner, we should repair the damage swiftly. Dr. Tatkin says we should put our intimate relationship first above all other “thirds”, as he calls them. The partners in a romantic relationship are one and two; all others are “thirds” including children, friends,  extended family, work, etc. Yes, work counts as a third, which Shonda Rhimes and I (and everyone else)  know the struggle of including.

I have not seen research on this subject that speaks to divorced parents moving on with new relationships. Speaking from experience, it is damn hard to put the new relationship forefront, even if we want to with all our heart. The parenting schedule I have with my ex-husband gives me some freedom to focus on a partner when I do not have my children, but there is always crossover, like the history night competition.

It seems it is always a trade-off, as Ms. Rhimes said.

Trade-offs suck

I chose to stick with the original plan and go out to dinner with my boyfriend. We could return after dinner to check in on my daughter. That is what we did, only we finished dinner quicker than my daughter and her group. They were still at the restaurant when we returned to the school and were not going to be back for a while, so we left. We did not stay for the award ceremony. We went to my house and spent time together. So bonus points earned in the romantic relationship last night. He doesn’t know it yet, but I will probably have to put my boyfriend off one night next week to write and make a deadline with my publisher.


Around 9 last night I texted my daughter and my ex-husband to find out the results of the history competition. My ex-husband sent me a video of the girls screaming with excitement as they walked down to accept their medals for winning the opportunity to move on to the state level competition. I missed the moment. My daughter sent me a picture of her wearing the medal. I congratulated her via text.

No rest for the wicked

I know my brain works while I sleep because at 3AM when I woke up the first things that screamed in my mind were missing the award ceremony and failing to make others feel supported that night. It was as if my brain was right in the middle of untangling the moral dilemma.

Another chance

I will be there for the all-day state competition. As luck would have it, it is the same day as an event my boyfriend and I have had scheduled for months. My daughter’s competition will take priority.

We really can’t do it all.

 How do you choose which relationship to honor? Should intimate partner relationships come first?  Do you feel like you are failing in one area if you choose to succeed in another?

P.S. Shonda Rhimes  is an introvert too!!



Leave a Reply


  1. Miriam
    March 12, 2017

    Thank you for your information. it is very interesting. I have often wondered the same thing in recent times. I’m divorced and am 2 years out of an 18 year marriage. I have 2 children, a 16 year old daughter and an 11 year old son. I have always been aware that your partner should be your first priority and then your children. But when divorced? it becomes murky. I have watched my ex-husband prioritise his now wife, and my children bear the brunt of his inattention, lack of empathy and understanding and not feeling heard. He is also narcissistic, so that doesn’t help. I do not have a partner yet, and have not dated. My kids are my first priority, but if I do have a partner in the future, as I have a friend I have been communicating with for over a year (with small potential there), then I am not sure how to handle this. He is divorced and said our kids should always be our first priority and he would never come between me and my kids. Maybe it is just a balancing act, and ensuring kids continue to feel heard, understood, loved and cared for, but also establishing that with my partner, if I ever have one! It is very tricky…

  2. Andrea Bihari
    March 10, 2017

    Whew. We really don’t have to do it all? I wish the rest of the world would realize this. Women usually have extra burdens, whereas – and I tiptoe here – men usually don’t. When we fail at one thing or another because the unrealistic and very damaging picture of being perfect and juggling everything smoothly is simply unattainable, we are judged harshly. You and Shonda hit the nail on the head. Thank you for this post <3

    • Brenda Knowles
      March 14, 2017

      You have permission to not do it all.:) I think we do the best we can each day and hope some kind of balance is reached between work, loved ones and ourselves over the long run. Thanks for you comment Andrea!

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