Are You a Conflict Addict?

I find it amusing how people throw around the term “high conflict divorce.”  It seems much like an oxymoron considering you wouldn’t be getting a divorce if there wasn’t high conflict.

The Courts however view high conflict divorces differently than that.  The law in North Carolina defines a high conflict divorce as being more than just a run-of-the-mill divorce.  N.C.G.S § 50-90 defines a high conflict divorce as a custody case involving minor children where the parties demonstrate an ongoing pattern of any of the following: excessive litigation, anger and distrust,  verbal abuse, physical aggression or threats of physical aggression, difficulty communicating about and cooperating in the care of the minor children.

I can understand a divorce being “high-conflict” during the initial separation phase when wounds are fresh and emotions are on edge, but what is it that makes the conflict continue even as time goes by and water goes under the bridge?

Once the divorce is final, the parties should be able to stop focusing on the relationship that they once had and focus all of their attentions on the children.  I understand that is easier said than done. There is often one party who works very hard to keep up the fight.  In that case, the divorce will remain high conflict because one or both parties are addicted to the conflict.  It has been a part of life for so long that they cannot release that control and move on with their lives.

In my opinion, the predictability of it all is very pathetic.  I have quite a few friends who are unfortunate enough to be divorce attorneys and they say that they can tell you exactly how someone will respond and when.  It’s easy because when people are ruled by their emotions, they make bad decisions and are easy to read.  As soon as things start to calm down, these conflict addicts will bring up a new issue to ignite to engage the other parent in more drama.  It’s like they have to keep high conflict and drama going so they don’t have to focus on their own unhappiness and bitterness.  They have an absurd control problem that becomes a vicious cycle.

If you have found yourself in a “high conflict divorce” with an ex-spouse who berates you when given the chance or fights you on everything from finances to extracurricular activities to phone contact, just remember that your ex is most likely one of these conflict addicts who needs conflict with you to avoid having to take a hard look at his/her own life.  The constant control he/she desires is only to keep what they feel is left of the control they had in the marital relationship.  They will claim to be over the relationship, but they are ultimately causing conflict in an effort to cling to what they once had.

The truly sad part of this need for conflict is that the children are the only ones who are affected.  How can a parent truly be involved with their children if he/she is more preoccupied with fighting every move their ex-spouse makes?  For example, if they have an ex-spouse who offers to help with carpool for a child to participate in an after school activity that the child wants to do.  Rather than allow the ex to help with carpool, the high conflict parent chooses to try to do it alone and the child suffers when he/she cannot get to practices or is consistently late.  Does that situation hurt the ex-spouse?  No, it damages the child involved.

Clearly our society is overwhelmingly addicted to conflict.  That addiction is clear when you see how widely successful reality television has become.  We see all of this conflict on television, but how often do these same shows present any good tools for dealing with conflict?

The best way to deal with a conflict addict ex-spouse is to not bite.  When he/she tries to bait you into an argument or tries to punish you by keeping your kids from you or refuses to participate in activities if you are involved, just stay calm and do not give him/her the conflict that they desire.  If you find yourself in this situation, then you must CHOOSE to allow it to pass.  It is indeed a choice and you are nurturing that conflict if you allow yourself to respond.  And by nurturing that conflict you are giving power to someone who is obviously still consumed with the marital relationship.

If you are dealing with a conflict addict ex-spouse then you should do the following:

– Limit your time dwelling on any issues with the ex-spouse.  Set up a separate email address to correspond with your ex and vow to check the email only once a day.  By setting this guideline for yourself, you are choosing to NOT ALLOW your ex to be a constant in your day.  If it is an emergency, then he/she can call you or text you.

– Limit the amount of time you will discuss the “drama” with your current partner.  Some people have said it works best for them to say that you will discuss the drama 30 minutes following the checking of the email for the day.  Once that 30 minute window is over, CLOSE THE WINDOW.  Do NOT allow him/her to take over any more of your day.

– Choose “Sacred Zones” where you will not discuss the ex or the drama that surrounds him/her.  For example, make your bedroom an ex-free zone.

– Focus on your kids.  Your conflict addict ex will do consistent damage to your children as they witness his/her scoffs and hard breaths when your name is discussed.  You must show your children in your daily interaction with them that you are not the person that your ex perceives you to be.  Children are smarter than people think and even if the children have a fear of upsetting your ex-spouse, the kids will know in their heart what kind of person you really are.  By your encouragement in the activities that are of interest to them, they will see that you do not have some control freak agenda that they must adhere to just to receive love from you.  Unconditional love is what they will remember when they too become a parent.

– Do NOT be bullied!!! The dramatic ex is hoping that he/she can beat you down to the point that you decide it’s not worth the fight.  So when the bullying starts (as it does often in emails and voicemails and texts), choose to shut it off.  Do not respond and do not allow it to affect your day.  Take it for what it is – a sad attempt of desperation to keep control over you.

– Most importantly, keep up the good fight.  If there is a Court Order in place, then make sure you do everything you can to follow the Order – even if your ex doesn’t.  Document everything that you may need in the future also.  A conflict addict may drag you back in Court if you are steadily ignoring his/her attempts to fight, so it’s important to have an arsenal of information if that time comes.  If your ex is constantly working on adrenalin and emotions, then he/she will build the case against themselves on their own.

With all that being said, divorce doesn’t HAVE to be high conflict.  If you work on moving on with your own life and focus on giving your children the stability and confidence they need during this difficult time, then you won’t have time or the desire to constantly fight with your ex over piddly little items.  But if you are not blessed to have low conflict, then stay strong and stay calm.

If you are reading this and realizing that YOU are the one who is causing your divorce to be high conflict, then I beg you to focus on the kids.  Put the time you are spending trying to stir up trouble into being there to listen to your kids so that you can support them in the activities and hobbies about which they are passionate.  Let things slide and try to move on.

Embarrassingly enough I know about this topic firsthand because admittedly I am writing this as a former conflict addict.  I struggled when my ex moved on and I had not.  I lashed out.  I made life more difficult.  I can see that now, because hindsight is 20/20.  At the time I just thought I was “protecting my children.”  Thankfully my conflict addiction was never extreme and my children did not suffer.  My conflict was behind the scenes with their father, so they were not a part of it.  I can promise you that your relationship with your ex and his/her current spouse, your relationship with your children and the overall happiness that you feel in your own life will ALL IMPROVE if you just change your focus…. and let go of the drama.

Keep the peace… for your kids.

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In The Big Leagues – Part II

I know, I know, I know… I said I would post part two days and days ago, but I just didn’t.  This particular topic has been a struggle for me because there are just SO MANY things that we are doing differently this time that choosing the top five things has been tough.  Very tough.

A few days ago I went to dinner with one of my best friends who just recently got engaged.  We had a beautiful backdrop at the Boylan Bridge Brewpub and we talked about some serious stuff.

Gorgeous view with a gorgeous friend...

Gorgeous view with a gorgeous friend…

She has two kids and is also marrying a (wonderful) man with two kids… and she wanted to pick my brain about how we are “making it work.”  They will also be a party of six in just a few short months.

I told her that I was actually writing a blog about five things that we are doing differently this time around and she burst into laughter and said, “Just FIVE??? I feel like we are doing EVERYTHING differently!”  And that is so true.  Often in new relationships we find ourselves wanting to do everything exactly the opposite considering we have always been told that the definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.  But sometimes not EVERYTHING needs to be different if the people involved are different.

In my blog the other day I talked about the first two things that I feel like I am doing differently this time around…   Communication & Releasing Control.   Here are the next three:

3) Having Date Night – We are working really hard to focus on nurturing our relationship.  The kids know this because we hug nonstop.  Yep, nonstop.  We even slow-danced at Highway 55 last weekend at the lake while waiting on our dinner order.  Joe’s kids were with us and they were red-faced and laughing.  As part of nurturing our relationship, we are making sure to schedule weekly date nights.  That has been an easy task this summer because we have had a lot of time without kids.  We try to do it when we have no kids, because my son in particular has stressed that he doesn’t want us doing date night when we have them.  As I have said, he is the one with the most resistance to change and he is not used to me ever getting a sitter when the kids are with me.  Even while Joe and I were dating, we would always do our date nights every other weekend when my kids were with their dad.

We even have started doing “in-home date nights” while the kids are with us.  When we were at the beach for a week last month with all of the kids, we told them one night that we were having date night and they were not allowed to come upstairs until 10pm.  That gave us a couple of hours to snuggle on the couch and spend time together.  They stayed downstairs watching tv and playing Xbox.  We had a nice time and at exactly 10pm all four kids were standing at the end of the couch together (the mental picture is awesome and I wish I had it to show you) saying, “Did you have a nice date night?  Because it’s OVER now…”  And they jumped onto the large sectional sofa with us to settle in and watch tv.

They may laugh at us, but I am thankful that our children can see what a healthy relationship is supposed to look like.  Before my divorce, that was one of the hardest things for me to swallow.  I knew that our relationship was dysfunctional, but all I could think about was that my children would grow up thinking that was NORMAL… and I was NOT okay with that.  Now they see how important our relationship is to us.  They don’t see us living separate lives in the same home.  They see how much we enjoy being together.  Our relationship is the glue to our family.

Now that we have our own “studio apartment” essentially, we can have date night any night we want to turn the skeleton key in the door.  We have Joe’s sectional sofa in our bedroom now, so we have our own living area along with our bed.  We have joked that if we had an electric skillet to cook bacon and a dorm-room refrigerator then we would never have to even leave our room… hmm.

4) Keeping the Faith –  Our faith is such an important part of our relationship.   By making our individual relationships with God the priority, we are better equipped to handle the challenges and struggles that we will surely face while blending families.  Marriage is the firmest foundation there is but it is not ALL about happiness… it’s about encouraging your spouse and steering him/her in the right path to have a strong relationship with Christ.  This is especially true if you have to have day-to-day dealings with a difficult ex.  We have to continue to keep the focus on Christ-centered thinking and not allow outsiders to affect our relationship.  We encourage one another to have an other-centered attitude even when dealing with people who are completely self-centered and toxic.

This is very important to me because I have never been in a relationship where it was clear that Christ comes first.  I am so thankful to have someone like Joe, who is such a strong spiritual leader in our home.  We work hard to model our Christ-like love and commitment at home in front of our children so they see His witness through us, then they can KNOW that divorce is not even an option for us.  That gives our kids stability in an otherwise unstable time.

And even if we are not treated well by others, which is common after a divorce, we must always show a heart of compassion.  At every meal we pray for the food we will receive, we pray for family members who are sick, and we pray for the part of the family that is not with us on that day… we even make a special point if the kids are going back to the other half of their family that we pray they will have a good time and be safe while away.  We demonstrate kindness toward their other parent because we cannot show the kids Christ’s love if we cannot even show an ounce of kindness toward someone who is that important to them.

And, finally…

5) Affirming One Another – Both Joe and I have taken Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages test and not surprisingly, we are both very high on “Words of Affirmation” and “Physical Touch.”  What that means is that we both show and receive love by hugging each other and telling each other how much we mean to one another.

Joe does SO MUCH.  As I have said over and over, I am not sure how I made it through the day without him in my life.  Even as I am sitting here writing this afternoon, he is marinating salmon and doing tons of laundry.  In the past, that stuff would just not get done… or my writing would just not get done.  When there is only one of you, you just can’t do everything!  It is great to have someone say, “Why don’t you let me go get him from practice so you can help her with her homework.”  Because of this, I tell him EVERY SINGLE DAY just how thankful I am for him.  No matter how small the deed, I try to look him in the eyes and thank him for what he has done.

And he does the same thing… we work hard to say thank you to each other because we are so appreciative for WHAT WE HAVE.  We make sure that we never whine about what we DON’T have.  It’s very important for me that he feels my unconditional love for him because I know that he has never experienced that kind of love.  So I make sure that he knows that while I appreciate all that he does, I do NOT expect it.  And I am SO THANKFUL.

So those are the five things that we are doing differently this time around: Communicating, Releasing Control, Having Date Night, Keeping the Faith, and Affirming One Another.  While there are plenty of other things we are trying to do differently, those are what I consider to be my top five.  I know that as our relationship progresses out of the “honeymoon stage” (which personally, I am not sure at this point could EVER happen) that other things will arise and we will continue to have challenges regarding our ex-spouses, but the strength in our relationship due to the work we put INTO IT will make all the difference.

No More Practice Games… We Are In The Big Leagues Now

This is going to sound pretty conceited, but I admit that when I first got separated I thought a fabulous man would swoop in and take me away pretty quickly.

I mean, I’m Valerie….

Yeah, that was nine years ago… and I just got married in May.  I spent over a quarter of my life as a single mom.

I did not envision my ex getting involved and married before me.  I did not envision failed relationships, heartbreak and lies.  I did not envision lonely nights when I cried because I thought I would never meet someone worthwhile for my kids and me.  After a while I was hardened to the whole process and just resigned myself to the fact that I probably would never get married.  I convinced myself I was better alone so that I could just focus on my kids.

Then came Joe… and here I am.

Through it all though, there was ONE THING I was sure of…  When people would ask me, “Do you think you will ever get married again?”  I would answer with, “I’m not sure if I’ll ever get married again, but I KNOW with certainty that I won’t ever get divorced again.”

Now, more than ever, I am determined to never get divorced again.  Joe and I agree that it is not even an option.  Of course it’s easy to say that now since we are still very much in the “honeymoon stage” of marriage, but this resolve has forced me to think about things that I am doing differently this time to make sure we don’t end up as just another statistic.

That’s the beauty of remarriage.  This is our chance to get it right! We can both look at our first marriages as practice runs that have made us all the better for the real thing.  We have learned from our past relationships and have a fresh outlook and a positive energy for our new relationship.  We can look at our past and know what we will never accept going forward and we know that we will do whatever we have to do to make it work.

After thinking about this all weekend at the lake, I came up with the top five things that we are focusing on to beat the odds of second marriages to ensure that this is our “forever marriage.”  Tonight I will share the first two…

1) Communication – I have talked about this in numerous blogs already, but it is truly the foundation of our relationship.  When Joe and I first started dating, he quickly realized what a straight shooter I am.  I am not a score keeper… I don’t hold grudges and then throw them back in your face later.  I feel something, so I say it.  Some people don’t like that, but it is how I am.  I remember sitting in Starbucks one morning and we were talking about how much we joke.  Sometimes we joke so much that it is hard to tell when we are being serious… So we adopted a “safe word” that we still use today.  It’s a word we can say that will immediately alert the other that this is a moment to listen without judgment.

Communication skills, or lack thereof, can be the downfall of a marriage.  We have learned from our past relationships that we can have a stronger family and a healthier relationship when everyone knows that they can share their true feelings.  We are constantly encouraging the kids to say what they truly feel rather than just regurgitating what they THINK we want to hear.  We want our children to be leaders and we want them to be able to respectfully speak their minds without fear of judgment.

So we have adopted a “safe word” with the kids too.  We want them to be able to say the safe word and everyone understands that it means, “Look, I’m going out on a limb to say this and you may resent me for it, but it is important to me.”  It has helped us all work through issues as they arise when we can actually talk and discover what is really important in the situation.

I have also been working on communicating with my stepkids without Joe present.  Little moments like when everyone else runs to the bathroom and it’s just my stepson and me… or when my stepdaughter and I drive home alone from basketball.  I use that as my time to build trust and communication with them.  I have told them both numerous times that I can be their biggest advocate with their dad if they talk to me.   We are all doing what we can to work on our communication.

2) Releasing Control – This has been tough for me because I have been flying solo for so long that I am very much accustomed to being in complete control.  Now that I have six schedules all on one calendar, I am realizing that there are too many variables to have complete control.  Especially right now since Joe’s two kids are back in school and my two kids are still on our summer custody schedule.  Our custody schedule is like a revolving door of kids shuffling in and out of the building.  Throw in basketball camp and beach trips and it’s hard to even find one night when we will all be under the same roof.  Because of this, I have had to go with the flow a little more than I am comfortable…but I am learning.

I’ve also had to release a little control when it comes to timing.  I am used to doing everything on “my time.”  Leaving town for vacation or going to a Durham Bulls game, I like to know exactly what time we need to leave and I will have everyone out the door at that time.  I like to follow a schedule, so I won’t just say we are leaving at 9pm and then not be ready.  That’s just not my thing.  They are apparently not accustomed to my “departure nazi” status, but if you want to see me in full swing, tell me the boat is leaving the dock at a certain time.  I don’t play games when it comes to going out on the boat.

I’ve had to ease up a bit because Joe’s kids aren’t used to my need to be out the door on time.  If Joe says we need to be in the car at 9:20am so we can get to church on time, then I will be standing at the back door yelling at everyone at 9:15am.  I have not always been like this… when I first got divorced I did EVERYTHING on “Val Time.”  If I felt like taking the kids to school 20 minutes late so I could sleep in, then I did.  I was tired of being told what to do and I guess I rebelled.  Over the years though I have grown to resent being late.  The kids know the anxiety it causes me, so they are ready to go when I say we are going somewhere.  I have had to let go of some of this control because my stepkids haven’t learned to follow my time warnings quite yet – but they will.

Another thing I have had to release control of is doing everything for myself.  After years of getting up and making my own coffee and washing all the clothes and fixing meals and doing the dishes, I am just not used to allowing someone else to help me.  In the past, if I wanted it done, then I had to do it.  Period.  So it has been an adjustment for me to LET Joe HELP ME…  Sounds crazy, but I resisted at first even small things like picking one child up so I could take the other somewhere else.  He is so kind and so thoughtful and wants so much to make my life easier, but I would resist and still try to prove to him and myself that I could still take care of everything on my own.

It’s babysteps, but I am learning to let go of control… and it really is a relief.

More to come tomorrow…….

Happy begets happy begets happy……..

My son’s AAU basketball team is playing is the Nationals this week in Myrtle Beach.  If there has ever been a time that I felt compassion (or should I say sympathy?) for my ex, it would be right now.  He has the team staying at his house all week… a whole house of loud, excited, stinky 8th grade boys.

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Did I mention they’ll be playing basketball every day?  And they’re stinky????

They truly are a great group of boys and no doubt this week will be something they will remember for the rest of their lives.  I commend Les for making memories for these boys.  I have already said a prayer for him this morning.

Yes, I pray for my ex.  That is a foreign thought to a lot of people who have gone through a divorce, but it’s something I try to do daily.  Along with praying for my husband’s ex and even the future spouses of our children.  They are all part of my daily prayer.

Why do I pray for my ex?  Because he is the father of my children.  Praying for him is praying for my children.  I could never wish any ill on him because that would be harmful to my babies.  As I have told my kids many times over the years, we may not have been able to make our marriage work, but I love him regardless because he gave me those two amazing children.

Some people wish the past never happened, but I can never question why my past happened when I look at my babies.

The thing that matters the most now is how we all handle the present.

It is so important to children for their parents to get along – even after divorce.  Too many parents are self-consumed and too busy licking their own wounds to realize this.  Over the years I have had many children tell me exactly how they feel about this.  I don’t just mean my own children and stepchildren, although they have all four at different times talked to me about this.  Friends of my children have commented on it.   I even had a stranger say something to me while playing with my kids on the beach.  She said, “That’s my dad over there.  My mom is not here.  They can’t even be near each other…”  Her sweet little eyes showed exactly how that made her feel.

How often do you hear a child say, “I wish my parents would stop being so nice to each other… she really should do things to punish him more”??????

And being nice is certainly not always easy.  I had a friend call me yesterday because she wanted to talk about her ex and a situation involving her child.  It was heartbreaking because it involves a very serious issue that she doesn’t know how to address.  Her relationship has been so good with her ex for years that she doesn’t know how to handle it because she doesn’t want to destroy the good will they have worked so hard to establish.   I sadly had no answers for her, but I listened and tried to give my thoughts.

Even through a situation that was causing her a lot of angst, she was still trying to focus on how to keep her relationship good with her ex because she recognizes how important the co-parenting relationship is – even when the other parent is not really carrying their weight.

So why do some parents attempt to sabotage any relationship they have with their ex?  One of my friends is a divorced dad and his kids live in another state.  His ex won’t let him talk to the kids when they are with her and she sometimes doesn’t even bring them when it’s his weekend to have the kids.  He is having to pay an attorney to try to modify his Custody Agreement just so he can talk to and see his kids.  In attempt to punish him, she is causing great harm to her children.

It is shocking to hear how many stories people tell me about fathers who WANT to have an active role in the lives of their children on a daily basis but are denied this opportunity by the mother.  Considering the statistics of what happens to children (especially daughters) who do not have an active father, you would think these mothers would be thankful to have a dad who cares.  It seems like in the news the assumption is that all dads are every other weekend dads and that is all they even care to be.  THAT IS FALSE.

I have numerous friends on Facebook who are newly divorced who have 50/50 custody of their kids.  That is not something that was prevalent when I got divorced nine years ago.  Fathers are taking a stand to have a more active role in the lives of their children after divorce and I commend them.  As I have said many times in the past, my ex plays a very active role in the lives of my kids by talking to them at least twice a day and never going more than a day without seeing them.

I am so thankful that if my son is being disrespectful, I can call his father and say, “Guess what your son just said to me????” and hand my son the phone.  I have faith in knowing that my ex will support me and take care of the situation just like if he were actually here.

When I tell new people how active my ex is they often comment on how that seems “excessive.”  My response is always, “If we were still married then he would have more contact with his kids than that.  So why should I deny my kids their father if he truly desires to still be a daily part of their lives?  Would I say it is excessive if it was my son’s best friend calling twice a day?  No.  So why should it matter how much they talk to their dad?”

I am not saying that this kind of contact is for everyone, but it works for us.   My children are well adjusted and happy.  I have never heard them complain about having to talk to their dad too much.  It’s just our way of life and it is definitely in the best interest of my kids. 

Their dad is happy because he has a daily role in the lives of our kids even when they are not spending the night at his house.  Because of that, my relationship with my ex is better because I am not robbing his kids from him on a daily basis, so I am happy.  And because our relationship is good, my kids are happy.

Happy begets happy begets happy.  I pray that continues…

…for the kids.

We Got This…

I think most people can agree that I am an annoyingly optimistic and happy person.  I recently saw a picture of myself without a full tooth smile and I had to look at it twice because I didn’t recognize myself.  My kids know that it is rare to see me without my smile, but admittedly, it happens.  And it apparently happened last week.

Last Thursday was just a bad day for me.  Work was fine, but there was some other ridiculous drama going on that caused me to spend a lot of time talking to my dad (a retired judge), others in the legal field, and just friends who are familiar with the situation.  By the time I got home from work I was emotionally exhausted.  I drove up my driveway and just sat in my car for a few minutes talking to myself.

“You can do this.  Put your smile on and convince the kids you are fine.  You got this.  You got this….”  I slapped the smile on my face and walked into the house.  As soon as I walked into the kitchen, I could see my stepdaughter sitting on the floor with the Monopoly board in front of her.   She was smiling broadly and said excitedly, “Valerie, come here, quick!”  So I walked quickly into the living room and my daughter jumped out from behind the door, arms flailing and screaming.  Yes, it was a childish attempt to scare me, but guess what I did?  Yep, broke down in tears.  I mean, fell ALL TO PIECES.

It was rather embarrassing to see the looks on the faces of my daughter, my stepdaughter and my babysitter.  I walked back into the kitchen with tears streaming down my face.  Both girls followed me back in the kitchen and were looking at me with a mixture of confusion and concern on their faces.  I told them, “I’ve just had a really bad day and you just really scared me…”

They both hugged me and hugged me and were visibly upset over my reaction.  By the time Joe walked downstairs we were all laughing about my craziness.   I was fine after that, but I have a feeling the girls will think twice before they scare anyone anymore.

Although I may have upset the kids by my reaction, maybe it is good for our kids to see us as human from time to time.  Because Joe and I are such happy people, I don’t want the kids to grow up thinking that we are some sort of freaks of nature, because it’s just not possible to be perfectly happy every single day of your life.  Things are going to upset us.  I also don’t want them to think we are hiding our feelings.  We want to focus on good communication in our home rather than living in fear of what someone may or may not be thinking or feeling.

A few weeks ago while we were on vacation, my son was giving me a difficult time, so rather than fly off the handle or ignore him, I asked him to walk outside with me.  I looked him straight in the eyes and said, “Look, I love you.  I have been so excited about this trip and being here with you, but the way you are acting is hurtful.  It is making me feel sad to see you act like this.  I know you don’t mean to upset me, but this behavior is making you feel bad and it is making me sad.  Do you want that?”  He quickly apologized, promised to do better and said he did not want me to be upset.

We want the kids to know that we are humans and we have feelings.  We want them to see our imperfections and to know that although we are newlyweds and everything is beyond perfect NOW, it may not always be that way and that is okay.  It is how we handle the problems we may face that will define us.

The other day both girls were in our room and Joe and I were joking around with each other and one of the girls said, “Uh oh!  You better not say that! She may divorce you!” and Joe put both arms around me and hugged me and said, “No way.  Divorce is not an option.”  I said, “Nope. Not even an option.”  And one of them said, “Obviously it IS an option or we all wouldn’t be here right now.”  And Joe said, “It’s not an option for US.”  You could see how comforting that was to both of the girls.  They have had plenty of change, so it’s good for them to know that WE will not change.

We admit to our children that we are not perfect and we have made mistakes… we won’t always be happy and we may not always get along… but they can take comfort in knowing that we will fight for us.  We will fight for our family.  And that anything is possible through God.

So next time I have had a bad day, I won’t hide it from my kids.  I won’t linger in the driveway trying to pull myself together.  I will just say, “I’ve had a bad day and I am trying to deal with it.  Thanks for loving me in spite of it and I promise I will be back to myself in no time.”  I will hug them all a little tighter and through their love my smile will eventually return.  We are a family.  There is no reason to hide my feelings from those I love most in the world.

God, Love, Communication and Trust – the foundation of our home.

As I told myself in the car… “WE GOT THIS.”

“But I’m STARVING to DEATH!”

It’s official!  Joe and I have made it seamlessly through our first two months of marriage.  Well, maybe “seamlessly” is a stretch, but it has truly gone much smoother than I would have expected.  Blending two families into one (and fitting all of their junk and our junk into one big pile of junk) is not an easy task.  But after two months, the rooms are pretty much set up to the kids’ liking and every day more things are finding their place – even if their place is in the yard sale pile.

And every day we are each finding our “place.”  As can be expected, there is resistance on all of our parts in little ways – even with Joe and me.  So far though it seems the biggest resistance is coming from my sweet boy.

My son was only four when his father and I got divorced.  Since then he has had to grow up faster than most kids.  He was fixing his own breakfast and getting dressed on his own from very early on.  He is a very responsible kid, so I have not had to stay on him much about things.  He does his work (most of the time) and he does his workouts and even if given the option to stay up, he usually chooses to go to bed at a reasonable time if he feels tired.  For years now he has come home from school and fixed his own snack and done his work without being prompted or supervised.  He has been the man of the house with a lot of independence for almost nine years, so this is a big change to now have three more people in the house – and more rules.

The thing he seems to be having the most trouble with is the food rationing.  While that sounds rather harsh, it’s the best way to describe what we have been doing.  We have told the kids that there are certain snacks and foods that are reserved for school lunches – prepackaged chips and cookies, Gatorades and chocolate milk.  My boy just CANNOT get this.  Every single day he asks, “Can I have a Gatorade?” or “Can I have a chocolate milk?”  And we are still finding Oreo wrappers and chip wrappers in the basement playroom each night.  When you tell him to make his own chocolate milk with milk & chocolate syrup, he looks at you like you have punched him in the gut.

I think he would like to come home to something like this every single day...

I think he would like to come home to something like this every single day…

I have a hard time cracking the whip on this because I realize that he has had to adapt to a lot of changes in his short life.   At the same time, I know that my knowledge of this is being taken advantage of…  He knows that I will cut him slack, so he pushes the envelope.  He acts like he’s starving all of the time although we have told them there is limitless cheese & crackers, peanut butter & crackers, cereal, fruit, Easy Mac, etc.  But he is smart enough to know that no mother can stand to hear their child say they are “STARVING TO DEATH.”

This week all four kids have been at basketball camp.  When we took them all on Monday for sign in, I put $20 in each of their accounts for food.  That may not sound like a lot, but it costs about $3 total for a lunch (with a drink) and we sent them each with a Gatorade, a pack of Oreos and some Nabs in their bags.  My son came home on Tuesday and said, “I have $1 left in my account” and the sitter said that each day on the ride home he was eating his Oreos and Nabs in the car.

He spent $19 in two days!!!  Even the rest of the kids were shocked.  They all had about $12 left.  In an attempt to persuade the remaining three to be frugal, we told them they could keep whatever money they had left in their account at the end of the week.  I gave my boy $5 more (I had intended to give each $25 anyway, but wanted to see if they could make it) and sent them on their way.  The girls were thrilled because they wanted to make it through the week on the original $20 so they could get $5 on Friday.

My son?  Not so much… He apparently blew right through the additional $5.

This morning as I was walking to my office from the parking garage, my son called.  He was frantic, “Mom, remember the $5 you owe me for pulling weeds last weekend?  Can I get it for lunch?”  Yes, he actually believed that I would leave work and drive to the camp to give him the $5 (insert laughing mom here).  I told him that I was walking in to work and he would have to ask Joe.  Joe had two $20 bills and four $1 bills, so he gave my son $4.  Again, the other kids kept saying, “Seriously, WHAT have you been buying to already spend $25??” His response? “Just let it go!”

Tonight we are taking the kids to a baseball game.  In an effort to save some money, we are ordering pizza and a 2-liter of Mountain Dew to have before the game so that we can just get the kids one snack each at the game.

I am already waiting for the backlash from my boy – the shoulder shrugs, the deep breaths, the mumbling, the talking back. He just does NOT seem to understand that our family has completely doubled in size, so the cost of food has doubled as well.   He has always been so thin that I have encouraged his large eating habits.  I still do, but I want him to eat smarter now.  Buying snacks at camp and then eating the snacks he took to camp on the way home is NOT smart eating.  It’s a waste of money.

Anyway, we are obviously a constant work in progress, but the important thing is the past two months have been so easy for all of us, with just a few minor hiccups (it’s amazing how unhappy people try to spread their unhappiness).  Thankfully each attempt to cause misery only makes our family stronger.  Our focus is on God, our relationship with each other, and getting the kids through this time of transition.  Nothing else matters in the least.

And it’s obvious that the kids are adjusting well… When we are all spending time together, the constant smiles on their faces and the calmness in their spirits prove to us that everything is going to be just fine…

#truth

#truth

…and Joe and I agree that the past two months have been the best days of our entire lives.

ENFP Energizing Party!

This will come as a complete shock to many of you, but I am an extrovert. Yeah, I know. SHOCKER. I remember taking the Myers-Briggs Test when I was at boarding school and reading the definition of an “ENFP” and saying, “Oh my gosh!! That sounds just like me!” image The E in ENFP is extrovert. Most people think that an extrovert is merely someone who is gregarious and unreserved, but that is not the accurate definition of an extrovert. An extrovert is not only a person who is outgoing, but it is a person who gets their energy from being around other people. As a true extrovert, I do NOT do well alone. The thought of sitting at home alone bores me out of my mind. I don’t mind being home with others, but being totally alone sucks all of my energy and happiness out. I am energized by being surrounded by people. image Thankfully, Joe understands this. He can look at me and say, “You need a night out, don’t you?” He can tell that I am in need of laughter and chatting and gossiping with friends. He knows if he falls asleep on the couch that I will have crazy nervous energy just sitting alone. Today is one of those nervous energy days. Don’t get me wrong, everything is wonderful. The kids are fabulous and work is great, but I do have a lot of negative attacks in different forms that are sucking my energy. I am feeling like I need more POSITIVE energy. So what do I do? Invite friends over. image There is just something about a porch party. Some may call it a hen party (on the porch). Call it what you will, but it is my energizing party!!! It’s when a few girlfriends come over and we sit around and just TALK. About everything and anything and solve life’s problems. I love being able to talk to my girlfriends about what is going on in my life and finding comfort in hearing them say, “That is totally insane.” It’s the validation from a table full of girlfriends that say “You have done everything just like you should.” It’s just BEING… with your friends. image And I sure have been blessed with some great friends. I cannot tell you how thankful I have been to everyone supporting my blog. Below are a few excerpts from messages I have received:

“Your blog is wonderful. My little family isn’t blended but my husband and I both come straight from the blender (more than once for each of us) I love to hear how you are making it work and am so impressed with your grace. My parents weren’t able to do that for me. Your children are very fortunate to have parents that are doing such an awesome job!”

“I enjoy reading it, it makes my viewpoint on love and marriage the second time around much less intimidating. Lol you actually make me WANT to find real love again, for me…and my babies. As hard as that is to admit… Love you and love your heart! Keep writing!!!”

“I want to keep reading your blog! You have been so helpful to me with divorced-parenting and some of my own struggles and frustrations in difficult situations, AND you’ve inspired me to start running again!!”

“Love reading your blog. Your writing is inspiring. One day you will have a #1 best seller at Barnes and Noble.”

I would say that being an ENFP (Extraverted iNtuitive Feeling Perceiving) is one of the reasons I love blogging so much. Sure, I could write in a journal or I could make my blog private, but the people who are searching for answers and help would not get any use out of my writing then. And I want to use the knowledge that I have for good and to help people. I want my stories to be an inspiration to others and lift them when they are down. But sometimes I need to be lifted.

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So……………………… it’s porch party time!! Time to turn on some music, open a beer and celebrate friendship. Because just being with my girlfriends helps me – it gives me the energy I need to push through the rest of the week. It makes me strong when I feel weak.

How I Make It….

As if getting married and blending a family wasn’t enough to cause me to have a little stress in my life, we have had major life changing events happen since that perfect day.  Running, cooking and writing have been what have kept me sane over the last few weeks.  And I have done a LOT of all three.

Day 9 of my run streak is officially in the books.  Although I have been running short distances, I feel myself getting stronger every day and I am feeling great.  With everything in my head, it feels so good to just tie up my new Brooks and hit the pavement.

I'm enjoying keeping track of my run streak on Instagram.

I’m enjoying keeping track of my run streak on Instagram.

My only struggle with my running is that I am only running about a mile and a half a day (although I walk more) and since I used to be a real runner, it is disheartening to not be able to run the distances that I used to run.  A couple of days ago I did a route that I used to do a lot the summer before last and it depressed me that I had to stop and walk quite a bit on the 3.5 mile route.  So that is my new goal – to be able to run that route nonstop soon.

It feels like while I am out running, all I am thinking about is my breathing and my blessings and the beauty of the greenway… I am not thinking about Joe’s mother’s new diagnosis or Joe’s stepdad’s advanced Parkinson’s or my son’s struggle with the change in our home or my brother’s upcoming reality television show.  My focus is on me… which doesn’t seem to happen often in our home anymore with our party of six.

Whew... hot afternoon runs.

Whew… hot afternoon runs.

Joe & I enjoy our quiet time to run together when the kids are not home.  We can chat about our day and really enjoy our time together without outside distractions.  It’s the same with the kids.  Two days ago I took both girls with me on my run.  They rode their bikes and I ran.  It was so nice to hear them talk and laugh and sing while I ran huffing and puffing behind them!

Cooking has also been a major source of comfort and strength for both Joe and myself.  While the kids were gone last week, we were cooking fools.  We just turned the music up, poured a drink and COOKED.

I LOVE to make the collard greens recipe from Magnolia's restaurant in Charleston.

I LOVE to make the collard greens recipe from Magnolia’s restaurant in Charleston.

Just in the past few days we have made smoked chicken, goat cheese and sundried tomato pasta salad, corn dip, chocolate cake, roasted vegetable orzo, homemade peach ice cream, chicken pot pie and collard greens.

Yummy corn dip from Pinterest... Our girls ADORED IT.

Yummy corn dip from Pinterest… Our girls ADORED IT.

 

Thank goodness we are on a run streak or else we would both weigh 216!

Finally, my last favorite stress reliever is my writing.  I enjoy sitting at my laptop and just typing.  The amazing support of so many of my Facebook friends has encouraged me again to do what I love.  I cannot tell you how many private messages and wall posts I have received over the past year telling me what an inspiration I have been to friends I was not even aware were really following me on Facebook.  People would send me messages asking me to write about certain topics.

Overwhelmingly my friends are reaching out to me for advice and help on co-parenting and how to choose your battles, etc.  I am thankful that I have this knowledge so that I can offer guidance to all of my sweet friends who need it.  After I posted a picture of my daughter, my stepdaughter and me at my ex-husband’s house swimming in their pool on Facebook yesterday, I received two messages asking me how in the world we “make it work.”  I’m thankful that I can help you with my own experiences.

The funny part to me is to know how many people out there are experiencing the exact same situations I write about.  I get messages often that ask, “Was that story about me?”  The examples I use in my writing are compiled from many messages and stories that others have told me.  These issues in divorce are obviously common, so everyone can relate.  I tell them because they are newsworthy to my audience.

I am looking forward to writing more about the new ideas that I have received in the last few days.  Thanks again for keeping me WRITING!!!!!!  My book will be published before you know it (thanks for your love and support)!!!! xoxox

Do Something You Love Today!!!!

Maybe go read some of our amazing founding documents – like the Declaration of Independence, which was signed July 4, 1776.  Or my personal favorite founding document, which was ratified in the Bill of Rights in 1791 – the First Amendment.

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One of my favorite pics I took in Pine Knoll Shores…

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!!!!!

Going to run for Day 6 of my run streak.  I need to clear my head before I write this afternoon…  I’m looking forward to a day of running, cooking and writing!