Our Marriage is More Important Than The Number…

Life in a blended family can sometimes get quite chaotic.  As always, last week we had a revolving door of children.  With two pre-teen girls and two teen boys, everyone had their own agenda for Halloween and it did not include hanging out with us.  After letting everyone do their own thing for a while – stepkids went trick-or-treating at their mom’s house, my daughter went with friends in our neighborhood and my son went to a Halloween party – we reconvened and ended the night as a family.  Our first Halloween as a blended family ended up being a success!  Touch and go at points due to insanity caused by overload of sugar on the brain in the teen boys, but we made it.

And I was exhausted.

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Answer to my prayers…

My amazingly handsome husband always knows me better than I know myself and he knows that my writing has had to be last on my priority list lately, so he surprised me with a weekend in a cabin at Fairy Stone State Park in Virginia.  He claimed it was my “writer’s retreat.”  It was so much more than that.

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My writing corner in the cabin

Marriage in and of itself is challenging.  You must be proactive to keep the marriage healthy.  This can be even more challenging in a second marriage because there are so many divisive elements between mine, his, ours and theirs.  As I have said before, there are plenty of people who are somehow invested in your family and some of them are pulling against you.  Because of this, the divorce rate is even higher than in first marriages.  You have to be committed to your marriage and to making it work… and sometimes a trip away is the perfect catalyst for a happy couple.

It’s the first weekend that I can remember when we had no kids and no kids’ activities – no piano recitals or soccer tournaments or races.  And as always, God’s timing was perfect.  Right here before our six month mark of marriage, we were able to renew our relationship by just focusing on us.

Joe planned everything perfectly... all the way down to bring his own dish detergent!

Joe planned everything perfectly… all the way down to bringing his own dish detergent!

While we love our children more than anything, it was nice to be in a cabin without having to worry about where the kids were.  No arguments over which bedroom is for the boys and which is for the girls.  No one saying, “I’m hungry” or “I’m bored” every twenty minutes throughout the day.

Well, maybe he didn't think of EVERYTHING, but I enjoyed drinking wine from a plastic gravy boat! :)

Well, maybe he didn’t think of EVERYTHING, but I enjoyed drinking wine from a plastic gravy boat! 🙂

There are some times more than others when I am exceptionally aware of how lucky I am to have Joe.  Last weekend was one of those times.  He planned it all out and truly did everything in his power to make sure I was able to relax and write.  God knew what he was doing when he kept me single for eight years before reconnecting me with Joe – I was waiting for him.  And there is one thing last weekend has proven to me with absolute certainty… I can’t wait to grow old with this man.

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Can it get any better?

I am an extrovert who thrives on being surrounded by laughter and excitement, so the fact that I can spend an entire weekend with no television, no cell service, and no other human being and love him even more than I did before we left, says a LOT.  It helps support the fact that I have married the man I am supposed to spend the remainder of my days with.  We can enjoy each other in every moment – dancing in front of the fire, walking in the woods, cooking steaks on the grill, rocking on the front porch, napping in the afternoon – just because we can.

Of course we got home to about 10 tons of laundry that needed to be done (including 20 towels… yes, 20 TOWELS) and today I have gotten the call from school that my daughter has a fever and then I got a text from my son telling me that he has a horrific headache.  So it’s back to reality.

I am thankful for the renewal weekend though and it has proven to me the importance of us taking the time to focus on ourselves every once in a while.  We are committed to not be one of the statistics, no matter who is pulling against us.  Our children will see what a real marriage looks like when they look at us and for that I am proud.  It may be a “second marriage,” but it’s our “forever marriage,” which is much more important than any number.

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Stop and Smell The Roses…

I was in the shower last night when my husband walked into the bathroom and simply said, “Steve is dead.”

My mind raced as I tried to quickly figure out who in the world he could be talking about.  Then it hit me.  He was talking about “Steve the Stink Bug” who the girls brought in as a pet about two weeks ago.  I must say that Steve lived about 10 days longer than I had originally expected (or hoped for that matter).

As I finished my shower, I thought about how although the girls only had Steve in their lives for two weeks, they enjoyed every minute of him.  They built Steve a home in a hermit crab cage with sticks and leaves and water in a bottle cap.  When my step-daughter returned from her mom’s house, the first thing she did was check on Steve.  They were so concerned about his living conditions and his health.  His life was fleeting, but they enjoyed him the short time he was around.

Children are so much better than adults at just enjoying the moment.  All you have to do is watch them running on the beach to realize that.  They are running carefree in the sand while we are sitting in the beach chair worried about sharks and jellyfish and sunburn and drowning in the undertow.  A perfect example of this juxtaposition is feeding seagulls.  I have threatened my children since they were old enough to understand that if they do not bury any leftover bread crust or Pringles on the beach, then I will be furious.  I cannot stand seagulls.  I think they are rats that fly… but the kids get so much joy out of throwing bread in the air for them to catch.

Whether it’s a jar full of fireflies, which you know will all be dead by morning, or a goldfish won at the fair who doesn’t stand a fighting chance to make it more than 48 hours.  Or a stink bug found in the backyard.  They relish in the moment.  Children know how to stop and smell the roses.

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My handsome boy smelling Dandy’s roses…

Adults have a harder time with this enjoyment of the here and now because we know what is to come.  It’s like the fleeting moments when you realize that it has been a few days since there has been any drama with your ex.  There have been no emails or phone calls or text messages to speak of.  He/she may even be pleasant in your presence.

Rather than enjoy the moment, we tend to focus on the negative and wonder what Summons we may get served next or how he/she is manipulating us in some way.  Instead, we should be celebrating the quiet time when we don’t have to have daily talks with our friends or family about any of the crazy going on.  Trust me, they probably get tired of hearing it!  When you are immersed in craziness, it is a relief to be removed from it, even for just a few days.

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Kids see Steve… Adults see a STINK BUG.

Many of my friends have expressed their concern to me when their exes all of a sudden seemed to “get over it.”  Their exes were combative and bitter and angry while trying to keep any semblance of control over them by not agreeing to anything even if it is something clearly in the best interests of the children… but one day it stopped.  And that sudden calmness made my friends anything but calm.  They confessed to losing sleep at night expecting a lawsuit or child support reduction, when all it turned out to be was their ex-husbands had started dating someone new.  Rather than enjoy that brief time of peace though, they found themselves anxious.

We need to try to be more like the children.  When things start going well with your ex, don’t just assume the worst.  Maybe he/she has met someone who can take the heat off of you for a while.  Revel in it!  Enjoy it!  Your kids will be better off with BOTH of their parents happy.  Trust me when I say that your ex finding a relationship can be the best thing for your relationship with your ex!

I’m going to try to enjoy the little things more often without worrying about what is to come.  I’m going to stop and smell the roses… and be thankful for any little bit of peace I am given.  If we are overwhelmingly grateful for the little things, then just think about how exciting the big things will be???????

I may even feed the seagulls the next time we hit the beach.  Nahhh…….

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One of my favorite paintings by Sandy Vincent – click on it to like her Facebook page

Life Got in the Way!!!

I am not one to ever wish time away.  As a matter of fact, I often have that feeling of wanting to freeze time.  I look in the mirror every morning (well, after I put on my glasses so I can SEE myself) and wonder where this 39 year woman has come from?  I feel like I was 29 just yesterday… but ten years have just FLOWN by.

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29 years young at the beach with my babies

And the kids???  How in the world have they gotten to be so OLD?  My youngest child, who I feel like was born YESTERDAY, started cotillion a couple of weeks ago and is almost as tall as I am already! I feel like the past 10 years have just been a blur, so I now find myself just staring at her (which makes her terribly uncomfortable, by the way).  I crave the moments we can spend together.  I LOVE Tuesdays because it is the one night that I can focus all of my attention on her since the other children are all with their other parent.  We can get sushi and just catch up on life…

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On her way to her first 5th grade cotillion!

My first born is a full blown teenager now.  He is growing every single day and will pass me in the next week (if he hasn’t already today).  He is filled with that teenage angst and wants to argue with every single thing I say (while showing me how cut his abs are, of course), but I am still proud of him in everything he does.  Even when he talks incessantly about things that I have absolutely no interest in!  Some days he seems to put forth effort into his schoolwork and some days he absolutely couldn’t care any less about it.  I try my best to be encouraging when he does well.

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Throughout the years of their childhood I have often wanted to just yell, “STOP GROWING, NOW!!!!!!!”  I have wanted to just freeze time so that I could enjoy that moment forever.  Admittedly though, I am ready and willing to close the book on the last month of my life.  September 23rd was my birthday, which seems to be when everything peaked.  It has been DOWNHILL ever since.

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My birthday celebration with my kids and three of my nephews… happy thoughts.

Since then, we have had strep throat, lice, unknown stomach pains (that still are not resolved), meetings about educational “issues” (results coming soon) and a spot cut from my temple (still waiting on biopsy results).   I had a friend who had to have surgery on her wrist (so I cooked dinner for her family) and my son had a friend who unexpectedly lost his father.  I ran the Bull City 5 Miler only two days after suffering a stomach virus and now two days later I am still having trouble walking (mental note: don’t run 5 miles when you haven’t even hit the pavement in a month).  I know I looked like some sort of fool trying to walk down the stairs of my parking garage coming to work this morning.  And there is no telling what kinds of germs I picked up since I had to use the nasty handrails in a stairwell that more often than not smells like the pee of the local homeless people.

Lately I have been able to relate to the new song, “Wake Me Up” by Avicii.  The video is below:

The song begins with him talking about how he feels his way through the darkness.  I too feel like I am “feeling my way through the darkness, guided by a beating heart.”  The darkness is this new life as a blended family and just the fact that life is passing by so quickly.  My sweet husband is so helpful in every single way and I can see how it pains him to see me struggle with my emotions.

I love our life and I love our kids, but I find myself in a constant state of worry over all of our kids because I want everything to go well for them.  I am not the kind of person who will blindly walk through life and project my happiness on those around me.  Instead I spend my time worrying that others are NOT as happy as I.  So on top of the external pressures of the past month, I have also been putting a tremendous burden on myself to make sure everything is going well for the rest of the family.  The death of my friend’s husband has also caused me to fear the loss of Joe.  It took us 20 years to reconnect and I am counting on at least 30 more years of newlywed bliss with him.  That has been weighing heavily on my heart.

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Immediately following our 5 Mile race on Sunday… we can run together to stay healthy!!!

As with everything in life, I know that these crazy emotions will rise and fall like the tides I love so dearly at the coast.  I know that this too shall pass.

I think the problem I am having right now though is that I do want to savor and enjoy every single second of this life with my handsome husband and our amazing kids, but lately life has dealt me some pretty crappy cards.  And it upsets me tremendously when I don’t know how to handle what is put on my plate.  I remember my grandmother saying, “I know the Good Lord won’t give me more than I can handle, but I sure wish he didn’t have so much faith in me.”  Amen. And AMEN.

The song continues with, “I can’t tell where the journey will end, but I know where to start.”   I know that I need to start TODAY.  I need to focus on the good and not let the insignificant, petty things in my life affect who I am and how people know me.  I am proud of the fact that I have an annoyingly positive attitude.  I love that my friends know if they are having a bad day they can call me and I will make them laugh.  I love that if either of my girls are feeling down, they know I am a few steps away with a big hug to help make things better.  We don’t know where this journey will end, but we must make the most of each and every day before it’s too late.

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25 sittin’ on 25 mil….

The next couple of stanzas of the song really make me think of my years as a single mom.  I let life with my children pass me by because I was so busy focused on making money and trying to meet someone.  Although I had friends who tried to tell me that I needed to prioritize, I thought I had all of the answers so I ignored them.  I tried to “carry the weight of the world” because I had too much pride to just ask for help.  Most importantly, I was looking so hard for something but in the meantime didn’t realize that I was lost to myself.  I needed to be happy with ME before I could be happy with anyone else.

“Wake me up when it’s all over.  When I’m wiser and I’m older.  All those times I was finding myself, I didn’t know I was lost.”  It’s unusual for me to feel this way, but I sometimes find myself at a loss – not knowing how to deal with my son or not knowing if the lice will come back or trying not to let ex-drama affect me.  Not to mention that all of this chaos in my life has prohibited me from doing the one thing that I truly love – writing.

So starting RIGHT NOW… I am going to do three things daily to get me out of this funk:

1) Smile and focus on the here and now.  I’m not going to let the actions of others bring me down.  I will see those actions for what they are – sad attempts to take away the happiness I have in my life.  I am going to spend every second I can with my kids so their memories of their childhoods are of US and not things I gave them.  I’m not going to worry about them anymore, I am merely going to do everything in my power to make sure they communicate with us if something needs to be changed.

2) Write, write and write some more (daily)!!!!  I have always been best when it comes to getting my thoughts and feelings on paper.  Sometimes I have trouble expressing myself verbally, but if I sit down at my laptop then I can write for days on end.

3) Take care of ME.  I need to exercise daily, take my vitamins and drink lots of water.  It’s hard to feel down when you are at your best!!!  Plus, taking care of myself will hopefully ensure many, many more happy years with Joe and our kids (and future grandkids).

With all that being said, sorry for my little break in blogging… LIFE GOT IN THE WAY.  But I’m awake now and am thankful for every minute of every day (and have two more blogs ready to post!!!!).

Letter to My Kids Re: Divorce

To my AMAZINGLY WONDERFUL CHILDREN of whom I am so proud,

I am sorry.

I’m sorry that your father and I could not make our marriage last.  I’m sorry that nine years ago at the young ages of 18 months and 4 years old I took you to a new home in a new town so that we would have the support of my parents while I looked for a job.  My parents were kind enough to buy us a tiny house to rent from them so that we could “start new.”  I know it was hard to be away from daddy.

I’m sorry that I had to go from being a stay-at-home mom to working long hours so that I could provide for you guys.  I worked very hard so that I could buy that tiny home from Dandy & Papa Judge so that we would have it as our own. Everything I have done post-divorce has been for you.

I know you are still too young to completely get it, but I do hope that one day you see that although your father and I could not stay together, we tried to do everything in our power to make it as easy on you as it could be.  I know that sounds far-reaching, but we really did.  We both made you our #1 priority and we did everything in our power to work together to make sure you both knew that you would always be the center of each of our universes.

I hope that someday you do realize that although we moved away, I drove almost an hour one way to Wilson on Wednesday afternoons to meet your dad halfway between our homes so that you could spend a couple of hours having dinner with him.  You guys would eat and then go play at the playground until it was time to head home.  From day one, your dad was welcome in our home and I invited him to come for all important events – first day of school, birthday parties, trick-or-treating.  You may not remember, but he was there.  And if he wasn’t there, I would send him pictures.  And you spent every other weekend with him as well.

Your dad called you every single morning and every single night from the first day of our separation.  He has only missed one morning ever because he overslept on a business trip.  I called his wife and his mother because I was concerned something had happened to him!  So always remember that he has for over nine years now called you numerous times a day.  He has never wanted you to ever equate his inability to be with you daily as an indication of his level of commitment to you.

I have worked hard to communicate with your dad so that we can both stay on top of everything that goes on in your life daily.  As you know, we always have each other’s backs because as soon as I need his help with one of you guys, I know I can call your dad and he will help me.  Not because he wants to help ME… but because he wants to be the best dad he can be to YOU.  I would never take that away from him.

I don’t want you to ever feel like you have to choose between your dad and me.  Although I know those days may happen, we have always tried to encourage you to love us both.  We sit together at activities and have all eaten dinner together after basketball games – not because Joe and I are good buddies with your dad and Amy, but because we all share something very important.  Our love for you both.

For nine years now I have tried to constantly remind you that we are still a family, but we just look different now.  I have also tried to remind you that you are blessed with even more people now who love you immeasurably!  Not only do you have mom and dad and our parents.  Now you have Joe, your stepbrother and sister, and Joe’s side of the family and you have Amy and your little sister and Amy’s side of the family.  These are more people who adore you and support you and want to do whatever they can to help you grow into some amazing people.

Now that you are older, your dad and I work together for you more than you are even aware.  We email each other daily about one thing or another because your lives are getting busier and busier.  Since we live so much closer to your dad now, we added the extra night a week for you guys to stay with dad and Amy so that you can spend more time with them.  We always try to work out in our schedules anything we can for you guys – we swap and trade and add.  It’s not always easy when you have as many different moving parts as we do now, but we do whatever we can for YOU.

I know divorce is a terrible thing.  And when you were born and I cried while looking into your sweet innocent faces, this was not the future I would have ever dreamed or wished for you.  Your father and I have worked very hard, but I do know that will never be enough.  Although we tried to focus all of our energy on YOU BOTH rather than on ourselves, I am sure there were times you felt abandoned by us since we had given up on each other.  Hopefully you will recognize though that even if we gave up on each other, we NEVER GAVE UP ON YOU.

Try your best to think about the good that has come out of the divorce.  If your dad and I had not gotten divorced, then dad and Amy would not have gotten married.  And hasn’t Amy been such a blessing in your lives? And if dad and Amy had not gotten married then you would not have your little sister.  How can you question God’s plan in life when you see him make something THAT GOOD out of something bad?  You also have a new step-brother and step-sister who love you and will always have your back.  And Joe has been a blessing to us all.  You know that God knew what he was doing when he brought Joe into our lives.  Joe is such an amazing Christian leader in our home and he shows us all his love for us in every single thing he does.

We will all continue to do whatever we can to show you each and every day how much we love you.  And we will do it together.  As one big family.  I can easily see every single one of us sitting together at graduations and weddings and births.  We have already set the groundwork for that to happen.  You will always be surrounded by people who love you.  We are all in this together.

We all love you MORE….  I’m sorry we have put you through this, but we are working every single day to mitigate the effects.  Maybe God couldn’t “fix” the mess that your dad and I made by getting a divorce, but He sure has made some good work out of the ashes.

Mom

Essential Tips to Being a Smart Parent in Divorce – Hot Topic Tuesday

I work for the Federal Government, so all of this shutdown nonsense is always right on the forefront of my mind.  Thankfully, my office is considered “essential,” so it is business as usual for us right now, but that could change depending on how long this shutdown continues.

All of this talk has got me thinking a lot about what it means to be “essential.”  The definition of essential on Dictionary.com is “absolutely necessary; indispensable.”

Since it is Hot Topic Tuesday, I thought a good topic would be to talk about what is essential in being a smart parent during a divorce.  So many parents THINK they are doing everything right, but it’s hard to see the true extent of the damage you are doing when you are too caught up in your own anger and pain to realize what is really happening.

In the words of Eminem in one of my new favorite songs, “Question is are you… smart enough to feel stupid.”  I LOVE THAT LINE… because I have said many times that I believe the most dangerous kinds of people are those who THINK they are smart, but who are NOT.  If you aren’t smart enough to feel stupid, then you are obviously oblivious to everything.

That obliviousness is clear in a lot of parenting techniques that are common right in the throes of divorce.  However, below I have listed five tips that are the essentials you must do to be a smart parent in a divorce:

1) Put the children first.  That means take your nose out of your iPhone and actually focus on listening to your kids.  It’s hard to reassure the children of your love when you are constantly texting your friends or checking your Facebook.  And THEY NOTICE.  It’s very obvious to them when a parent is not a good listener.

Putting the children first also means not using the children as pawns.  Yes, YOU.  STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING!!  This is probably the biggest mistake parents make when divorcing.  Sadly, most of the time they may not even realize they are doing it.  If you notice that most of your emails are complaining about things that your ex is doing during “YOUR time,” then you have already fallen into the trap.  Whose time is it, really?  It is THEIR time (the kids’) and they should be able to enjoy both parents without having to have a divisive line drawn based on what day of the week it is.

2) Communicate with your ex.  I talk about this A LOT, but that is because communication is so important in every relationship – especially in a co-parenting relationship.  Being willing and able to communicate with your ex is also an extension of putting your children first.  You may not WANT to communicate, but you know that it is about the kids and NOT about your desires.

Do not ignore emails and/or pick and choose what you feel deserves a response.  Refusal to discuss issues does not help anyone and is merely a trick used by intellectually feeble people who are attempting to look smart or better than someone else.  Just respond and move on.  It feels much better than to have something hanging over your head.

3) Try to be consistent and give the kids the structure and routine they need.  A lot of times when a couple is newly divorced/separated, the parents do whatever they can to be the “fun parent.”  They may allow the kids to stay up ridiculously late, eat out all the time, or let them skip their commitments and/or homework.  While this kind of behavior can be temporarily fun (and communal living can give a parent a nice therapy session with friends while the kids play until all hours) it is only doing your children a disservice if you are not teaching them responsibility and modeling good habits.

Structure and routine is very important at this crucial time anyway to help get the kids through any anxiety they may feel due to the divorce.  I know when we were newly separated, I made a calendar for the children to look at so they could see just how many days it would be before they would see dad again, etc.  That structure was just what they needed to feel secure in an otherwise chaotic time.

4) Encourage the kids’ relationship with the other parent and foster love and respect for that parent.  What happens so often is a mom or dad will be having a few drinks with friends and they fail to realize that the kids can hear them as they lament on how awful the other parent is.  You have to be very aware of avoiding those kinds of situations.

I remember my young children going to their dad’s house for the weekend and they would always say something about leaving me and I rather than go on and on about how much I would miss them or how sad I would be, I would just say something like, “You are going to have SO MUCH FUN with daddy this weekend!! You are such lucky kids to have SO MANY PEOPLE who love you!  What do you think your favorite thing you will do this weekend will be???”  Crisis averted and the kids would feel encouraged and not scared to discuss what they do with their dad.

If you do everything you can to encourage a loving, engaging and healthy relationship with the other parent, then they will always remember that.  They learn about forgiveness and love through seeing our interactions with the other person they love more than anything in the world.

5) Finally, and this may be the most important essential considering it makes a difference in how you react and handle the rest of these on the list… TAKE CARE OF YOU.  If you are not in a good place since your divorce, then seek help.  You cannot possibly be the best parent you can be if you have nothing left to give your kids.  If you think you are too angry or you are depressed, seek help.  Even if it is just seeking out a friend or two who you can bounce things off of.  Just find something.

Just like happiness begets happiness, misery begets misery.  If you are incurably unhappy, then you are going to share that unhappiness with your kids.  This in no way gives you the right to be selfish.  There is no place for selfishness in parenthood.  Sure you sometimes feel like a taxi cab driver and a line cook and a housekeeper and a dry cleaner… all with NO gratefulness from the kids… but that is called BEING A PARENT.  You may have to miss the big ball game for a dance recital or you may have to miss a fun concert because your child has a fever.  But that’s just life.  So you have to learn to deal with the hand you have been dealt and take care of YOU.

All five of the tips above are essential to being a smart parent.  Don’t suffer from the double curse – performing horribly as a parent, while being completely unaware of your incompetence.  You must be smarter than that and admit when things aren’t working.  Take a hard look at how you are currently handling things and you may realize that there are some things you need to change.  You may take a hard look at your life and realize that you are inept at giving routine and structure.  You may feel like an idiot, but that just means you need to work harder.  At least you are smart enough to recognize it.

Eminem would be proud of you for being smart enough to feel stupid.

Co-Parenting as a Successful Business Partnership – Hot Topic Tuesday

Co-Parenting following a divorce is very possibly the most challenging thing you will experience in your life.  You feel like you have finally broken the ties of marriage with your ex, but there is no clean break.  You feel trapped because you have to constantly communicate regarding the children.  I have people ask me on a regular basis how my ex and I co-parent so well and I always tell them that you have to treat co-parenting like a business partnership.

My ex and I are in a business partnership and our shared vision is raising responsible children who can think for themselves and follow through on their commitments.  Thankfully we compliment each other well in how we work to achieve that shared vision. He has some strengths and I have some strengths so we work together well in achieving our goals.  We also have the benefit of time since we have been co-parenting for nine years.

Not everyone is able to stay focused on that shared vision so I have come up with a list of five tips that relate to a successful business partnership but can also be essential when co-parenting with your ex.  Hopefully these five tips will help you keep your focus and avoid unnecessary conflict.  Your children will benefit when they see you are both able to put your own feelings aside to focus on their well-being.

Tip #1 – Have a Strong Partnership Agreement.

If you do not have a Custody Order in place, then YOU SHOULD.  You would never enter into a business partnership without having the right agreements in place.  The same is true for your co-parenting partnership.

YOU WILL NOT ALWAYS AGREE ON THINGS.

Let me say that again, YOU WILL NOT ALWAYS AGREE ON THINGS.  Because of this, it is of the utmost importance that you have something on paper that you can resort to as a means to settle a dispute.  For example, let’s say that mom wants Little Johnny to try out for the dance team, but dad doesn’t.  They look at their Order and it says that they will split the cost 50/50 for mutually agreed upon activities.  So dad doesn’t have to pay for dance team if he doesn’t want to.  (I am not saying this is right per se, but the Order clearly speaks about it.)

Some states have Parenting Coordinators who the Court can put into place to be a “tie-breaker” of sorts who makes a decision when parents cannot agree.  While helpful in the short term, that’s like bowling with the bumpers up.  It will help keep the ball in play, but once the bumpers are removed, the bowler still hasn’t learned to bowl and even more restrictions are in place than before.

Having an Order in place will help settle disputes that may arise.  And if your “business partner” is not following the Order, then there is always the option to take them to Court and ask for the Court to order your ex to actually perform the promise on paper as closely as possible.

Tip #2 – Put the Clients First!

It’s very common for single parents to put themselves ahead of their children.  They claim they have to focus on their work first and foremost because they have to have the income to take care of the kids, so they drag the kids around while they work or drop them with a friend.  Many of these same parents would rather hang upside down by their toenails before they call their ex and said, “I have a work function tonight, would you like to have the kids?”

This is because someone who is putting themself first would think, “I can’t call her/him because he/she will be all up in my business and know I am doing something tonight.  I am sure they would like to go stay with MeMaw.”

Someone who THINKS they are putting the kids first, but with conditions, is not much better.  They may think, “I’ll call her/him and offer the kids, but he/she will have to trade days with me so that the days work out to be even.  Because that’s what we agreed to.”

However, someone who is putting the kids first would think, “I don’t really want him/her knowing my business, but the kids would probably rather be with dad/mom.  And this is about their happiness, not my own comfort.  I’ll just call him/her and see if we can work it out.”

Putting yourself first is a behavior fueled by fear.  But when you put the kids first and your needs second, then everything else will start to fall into place.  Decisions become easier and your relationship with your ex will improve as a result.  And over time, your “clients” will want to take care of you like you have taken care of them.  They will remember that you were more focused on them during all of this and not selfishly pursuing your own agenda to hurt the other parent by using the kids as the weapon.

Tip #3 – Remove Emotion from the Equation.

It seems that the parents who really focus on their own agenda or refuse to cooperate with the other parent are the ones who are still harboring a great deal of resentment or anger over the divorce.  Just like in business, you must remain professional and remove emotion from the equation all together.

From my experience I have learned that who initiated the divorce is not predictive of who harbors the most anger.  And I think that the pendulum can swing based on certain life changes.  My ex was certainly the one with the most anger when my children and I moved over an hour away.  However, when he started dating, the anger invaded my heart.  I remember thinking, “I was supposed to be happy first!”

The problem with allowing emotion in is that when emotion is involved, LOGIC is NOT.  You cannot have a reasonable discussion or think logically when you are caught up in your own internal emotional war.

And you can claim to be unemotional, but if you resort to name calling or hanging up on your ex or refusing to respond, then you are clearly working on emotions rather than focusing on your shared vision for your children.

In order to put the kids first you have to release your anger.  You may feel anger over the events in the past that led to the divorce.  You may feel anger over what is going on in your ex’s life now.  You may feel anger about how your ex treats you now.  All of this anger is a natural part of the grieving process, but just like grieving, you have to work through the feelings to move on with your life.

If you find yourself playing the victim role, then you are basically declaring that you are not strong enough to move forward.  If you find yourself repeating the story about how you were wronged over and over to anyone who will listen, then you are stuck.

Letting go of your anger and emotions all starts with your thoughts.  Turning those thoughts around is something that you can change, but changing your ex is out of your control.  So take control of YOU and start the process of releasing.

Tip #4 – OPEN COMMUNICATION.

Communication is a HUGE part of a business relationship and it is also a huge part in a co-parenting relationship.  It’s important to have ongoing dialogue to ensure you are on the same page and you each know what is going on with the kids.  It helps both parties to stay focused on your shared vision.

Of course there will be miscommunication and disagreement, but that’s okay.  You disagreed when you were married too.  You discuss it and come up with a solution based on what is best for your kids.

I encourage newly divorced couples to do this constant communication by email.  Sometimes emotions are kept at bay best when you are typing rather than talking.  Of course one of the biggest pitfalls to this communication is someone who says they are communicating, but they aren’t really saying anything.

When anger is still being harbored, then every response by email will be defensive and will still have the victim mentality.  Even if you are trying to have a discussion, your ex could take it personally and begin lashing out.  The best thing to do is not engage.  Ask to discuss it when they have calmed down.  Again, you cannot control them, but you CAN choose to leave the conversation if they are deflecting and name calling rather than actually discussing the children.

Responding with brief, cryptic answers does not qualify as good communication either.  You have to discuss the topic as you would if you were still married.  You present your thoughts and ask questions and then your ex answers the questions and presents his/her thoughts and asks his/her questions.  It will be such a pleasant surprise when you begin open communication and you feel how good it feels to not feel so guarded and suspicious when dealing with your ex.  Once you remove those emotions and thereby the fear, communication should be much easier for both of you.

Tip #5 – Argue but Don’t Fight.

Yes, there is a difference.  You are going to disagree and you will probably disagree a lot.  If you agreed on everything, then you wouldn’t be divorced!  So it’s certain that arguments are going to happen.  Arguments are calm and a good opportunity to air grievances and problem solve together.  Your partnership can grow when these arguments are handled with a level head.

A fight however is easily identified once you find yourself raising your voice, cursing, blaming, name-calling, dwelling on something that happened years ago or focusing on what is wrong with each other rather than what you should be discussing regarding the children.  There is no place for fighting in a business partnership.

Don’t view an argument as a failure at co-parenting.  There will not be a perfect outcome, so let go of who is right and who is wrong.  They have no place in this venue.  You have to be able to listen to each other and take turns talking.  This is where a LOT of parents go wrong.  Because of their anger at their ex, they have no trust in that person and they just assume that anything he/she says is wrong.  As a result, the conversation turns sour quickly and a fight ensues.

Most importantly, keep the conversation civil and constructive by keeping the focus on your shared vision – the children.  Trust in the fact that you both are truly looking out for the best interest of the children.  There are no conflicts of interest in this – unless you allow your own needs and your emotions to remain involved.  If you do, then you are not in the mindset you need to be for your children.

When you feel the conversation escalating to a fight, try to talk it down.  I remember years ago emailing with my ex and the argument started to become a fight.  I said something along the lines of, “I know you think I am attacking you, but I am not.  You can’t read tone in email and I am just trying to figure out the best way to handle this because I feel strongly about it.”  We both settled back down and a fight was avoided.

As I have written before, this will involve getting over yourself and admitting when you are wrong or too emotional.  Everyone can be a good business partner and advocate for their children if they try to focus on these tips.

I’ve Got to RAZZLE DAZZLE Him…

My kids are at such a good age.  They love their independence, so I don’t have to feel like I always have to do a song and dance to keep them entertained.   Jazz hands are only saved for special occasions.

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Doing a little song and dance…

Thankfully my kids have always been self sufficient like that.  They FIND something to do and are happy.

My mother is always completely exhausted after having any grandkids stay with her for a night or two.  And not because she is old or anything… because she is young and gorgeous!!!

My Mom - aka "Dandy"

My Mom – aka “Dandy”

But she is exhausted because she feels like she is supposed to always entertain the kids.  She is constantly in their presence – playing games, taking them to the pool, going to the Dollar Store, watching kids shows, sitting with them while they play in a big bubble bath, and staying with them until they fall asleep.  It makes me exhausted just to think about!!!

It’s the RAZZLE DAZZLE… like in the musical Chicago.  She assumes they may get bored, which will make them sad, which will make them miss their mom and dad.  So she razzle dazzles them into being happy.

I thought that was one of the benefits of having older children???? NO MORE RAZZLE DAZZLE!

Just like everything in life though, times change.  People grow up.  Relationships begin and relationships end.  Divorce.  Remarriage.  Life. Death. New Babies in homes with older children.  Why do you think third and fourth children tend to be more independent and self-sufficient than those earlier in the birth line?  It’s because the parents are tired of doing the song and dance, so they just DON’T.

So now here I sit in a completely unexpected position.  I am remarried and my kids are very self-sufficient, but my stepkids, who have been with us for two weeks straight due to track out, left yesterday to spend two weeks with their mom.  Rather than the kids needing me to give them a song and dance, it’s someone completely unexpected who needs the RAZZLE DAZZLE……………………………….

Sweet, sensitive fella...

Sweet, sensitive fella…

I don’t think Joe has ever gone two weeks without his kids… ever.  It’s going to be a tough two weeks for that sweet man.

Joe’s love for his kids was clear from the moment we went on our first lunch “non-date” at Piper’s Tavern in early Spring 2012.  He made sure that I understood his deep love for his children and how heartbreaking it was for him to not be with them half of the time.  I can’t tell you how many times over the past year and a half I have heard him say, “I have NEVER been a 50 percent dad.”

And that is SO TRUE.   Since I reconnected with Joe I have continuously been impressed with the man that he is.  We waited about six months to introduce the kids to my kids and me.  They didn’t even know about me during that time because he spent his custodial time completely focused on his kids and I respected that.  That was tough on us because he has 50% custody.  He wanted to make sure they were emotionally ready before he introduced us into his nest.  That in and of itself is something you rarely see.  Most people are quick to jump feet first into a relationship and have all but moved in together in a month.  His priority was the kids.

Since his divorce, his main concern has been to keep daily contact with his kids even during the time when they are with their mom. I hope and pray all will go smoothly.  And even though we won’t have my stepkids for two weeks, we will still go to cross country meets and soccer games and do everything we can to continue to support them and shower them with love even though they are not with us.  But I know that I am going to need to do a lot of work to keep Joe’s mind off of the length of time away from the kids.  It’s going to be a struggle for him because he loves them so much, but hopefully they will have a wonderful time and we will be back to our normal schedule before we know it!

Until then I will do my RAZZLE DAZZLE and distract him from thinking about it.  The old bait and switch… I will do the same things to refocus him and distract him that I would do when the kids would get upset about something when they were little.

I will flash a shiny object and get him to, even for just a moment, forget about that apparent hole in his heart while they are not with us.

WISH ME LUCK!!!!!!

Choose Your Own Life…

The alarm jolted me awake at 6:25am, but my body was just not ready to get up.  I reached over and hit the 9 minute snooze button and rolled back over right into the arms of my handsome husband.  We laid there silently embracing while I thought about the day ahead of me and listened to the rain outside.  The cloudy weather made it darker than normal in our bedroom which made it even more difficult to venture out of our warm cocoon.

It’s sad that at 6:25am when I had not even spoken aloud yet and my feet had not even touched the floor, I was already trying to figure out when I would be able to go back to bed.  I verbalized my thoughts to my husband, who laughed at me (while probably looking forward to getting back in bed with me too, but for other reasons).  Men…

I reluctantly fought my way out of the sheets and went to wake up my 13 year old son.  He had obviously had a restless night because his head was where his feet had been when he went to sleep.  He sat up and said, “I don’t feel so good.”   Not a great way to start the day.

My step-son was asleep in the other bed, so I whispered to my son to get up and shower and that it would make him feel better (yes, mothers always tell you that if you get up/shower/eat then you will feel better).

After rushing around to get ready and pack lunches, we were ready to head out the door to school promptly at 7:45am.   RAIN?  I was not expecting rain.  Obviously I was not expecting rain since my umbrella was IN my car and my car was in the driveway… in the rain.  We ran to the car trying to protect our “i-stuff” in the process.

Not even two blocks away we encountered a very long trailer that was having a hard time turning onto Glenwood from Anderson.  He had the intersection blocked and there were cars just sitting around everywhere.  I remember sitting there thinking that I had not even been awake for two hours and my day was already MISERABLE.

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Yes, that is the back of the truck that is basically scraping the telephone pole on the right…

After a lot of trouble and waiting and sitting in the carpool line, I was headed into work.  With my music playing, I tried to think about happy thoughts but was overcome with thinking about the difficulties I have been facing with a negative force in my life and I started just getting ANGRY.

By the time I parked my car I was just mad and tired.  And it was only 8am.

As I was walking to work from the parking garage, I heard a weird crack coming from the ground and I noticed my shoe felt strange.  I looked down and realized that my heel had broken.   So now I was tired, mad and wet with a broken heel.  It was almost more than my head could handle which made me feel like breaking something, well, other than my heel.

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In Joan & David’s defense, I have only had these shoes for EIGHTEEN YEARS!!!!!!! Gotta love well made shoes!

So thoughts were bombarding my brain as they so often do during that short walk from my car to my office.   It came to my mind that life is just like those books I used to enjoy reading when I was a child – the books where you got to choose which direction the story takes next.

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Our lives are our own “Choose Your Own Adventure” book!

I realized I was CHOOSING to allow these negative thoughts to take over.  I was choosing to allow a difficult morning to take happy time out of my life.  I was choosing to let a little bit of difficulty caused by an unhappy person to take my focus off the 99% of AMAZINGNESS I have in my life every single day.

I made up my mind at that moment that the gloves were coming off in regards to unhappy thoughts.  I was not going to give control to something that deserves NO control.  Negative people too.  DONE.

And it worked!  When Warren called me to pick him up from school because he couldn’t make it through the day, I was walking out the door for a birthday lunch with a friend.  Instead of my birthday lunch, I had to rush to the middle school to get my baby.  I could have been upset about missing my lunch date, but I focused on how thankful I am to have a job that allows me to just leave when necessary to care for my babies.

Anytime a negative thought tried to creep into my head (which let me tell you with some of the stupid in my life at times, it’s hard NOT to let it creep in) I replaced it with happy thoughts.  I thought about how blessed I am to have such a wonderful family.  I thought about how lucky I am to wake up every single morning next to a man with whom I am madly in love.  I thought about how much I love sharing soccer with my stepdaughter when I can and watching my son play basketball.

There are so many more happy thoughts than negative in my life, but it does often feel like the negative thoughts are so much heavier on the brain and heart.  So DON’T LET THEM IN!!!

This is also a great point for families in a divorce situation.  Too many parents focus on the one or two “bad things” their ex does rather than just trust in them to make the right decisions regarding the children.

Now don’t get me wrong, if your ex is doing something that is harmful to the children – getting drunk to the point of passing out with them around, leaving them alone at night to hit the bars/clubs, hurting them in any way physically or emotionally – then fight, fight fight for your kids.  If, however, your ex is just not doing things in her/his house like YOU would do, then replace the bad thoughts with good thoughts and MOVE ON.

I got a comment from a reader earlier this week about this very subject.  Here is a copy of her comment:

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As I said in a previous post, we can only control what we can control.  And we cannot control our ex.  And no matter how much we beg and plead to them to change something that we may not agree with, we are NO LONGER MARRIED.  So basically your viewpoint means nothing to him/her and you are wasting your breath.  As a matter of fact, he will probably fight you on it and do whatever it is more in an attempt to prove you wrong in some way.

IF YOU COULD AGREE ON EVERYTHING, THEN YOU WOULD STILL BE MARRIED.

I read a lot about this subject because it’s common for married parents to disagree about parenting issues.  AND THEY LOVE EACH OTHER!  So if you two are divorced, then you can’t expect to agree on things.  And the only time you have a right to get involved is when it is detrimental to your children.  And not that YOU BELIEVE it is detrimental to your children, but you have valid proof that it is indeed harming your kids in some way.  Unless you have that, then there is absolutely nothing you should do to try to change what happens at your ex’s house.  Because it’s pointless and it only makes you and everyone around you miserable.

I tell friends who are dealing with this the same thing EVERY TIME.  You have to CHOOSE how to deal with this and rather than trying to force your goals and views on your ex, choose to live the best life you can and be the best role model that you can in YOUR HOME.  You can control what happens in your own home and the beauty of it is that if your children are old enough, then they will be able to choose parts of each of you that they want to emulate as they mature.  They will see one parent who is living life in such a way that is not admirable and they will the see you living the best life you can and being a good role model.  Which one do you think they will want to emulate when they have children of their own??

EXACTLY.

And that’s what our goal has to be.  They may learn behavior at the other parent’s home that you will not allow in your home.  I can’t tell you how many times with four kids we say, “You won’t do that in OUR home” when they try to convince us that they should be able to do something since they do it at the other parent’s house.   If they are old enough, then they will be mad, but they will also think about why it is allowed at one home and not the other.   And hopefully they will learn something in the process.

It’s the same thing on the flipside too.  If you happily encourage your kids to love the other parent and encourage them to be a daily part of the other parent’s life even when they are with you, they will remember it when they grow older and respect you more for it.  As I have said in previous posts, the kids will remember which parent truly respected their love for the other parent.  It’s the parent who is not threatened by the child loving the other parent.  It’s the parent who is mature enough to know that the child has enough love to go around so they encourage the children to view themselves as having ONE LARGE FAMILY rather than separate lives with either parent.

So, choose your own adventure!  Choose to be happy!  And choose to always put the kids first!  That should be your new normal.  And you won’t have to even talk to your kids about it, because they will know what just feels right… and they will know who truly had their best interests at heart every step of the way.

THIS is how I choose to live my life... (20th class reunion last summer)

THIS is how I choose to live my life… (20th class reunion last summer)

 

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Update – After posting this blog this morning, I ran to the grocery store to get the ingredients to make my famous Brunswick Stew.  What I thought would be a quick trip to the grocery store took a lot longer than expected because there was a little old lady in front of me in line who wanted to run back and get some ice cream that was on sale.  Then she had a rain check item to talk about.  Then she used coupons.  Then she wrote a check.  The entire time she was just smiling and chatting with the young cashier and the young bagger (both looked like they were in high school).   She looked at me and apologized for taking so long and I smiled at her and said, “Not a problem.  Have a nice day.”

After she walked out, the cashier said, “I am SO sorry she took so long.  Thank you for your patience.”  She looked at me with a genuinely apologetic look.  I thought about my blog and I said, “I could choose to be in a rush and be angry, but who would that help?  It would have hurt her feelings, it would have made you unhappy and it would have just made me feel bad.  So I might as well be patient and enjoy my day.”  Both of them looked at me like I was crazy.  After a pregnant pause the young cashier said, “And it wouldn’t make it go any quicker.  I wish more people thought that way.”

She got it.

We smiled at each other and I told her to have a wonderful day.  I truly hope she does…

Fall in the South

There is just something about Fall in the South….

It’s the smell in the air when the weather is cool at night, but still scorching most days.  The kind of weather where you thinks it’s an awesome idea to wear your riding boots to work, but regret it terribly when your feet are on fire when you walk two blocks to lunch.

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It’s the sounds of college football and tailgating at the crack-o-dawn for an evening game – with mimosas, screwdrivers, sausage balls, low country boil – but then not making it to the game because you were “over-served” with booze or food, or both… WHO CARES?!?

I JUST LOVE FALL…. I mean, absolutely, hard core love love love it.  I know it can bring about those pesky welcome back to school lice and the ragweed is enough to make your head want to explode, but the absolute fantabulousness of the season completely outweighs the negative.

I know that a lot of people love fall for football and cool weather and changing leaves, but here are some special things about fall that are important to me.

Watching the Gamecocks play outside in my Jadeveon Clowney jersey!

Watching the Gamecocks play outside in my Jadeveon Clowney jersey!

I figured it was appropriate to choose my 7 favorite things since my favorite South Carolina Gamecock football player wears the #7 jersey!

1) Salted Caramel Mocha from Starbucks

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I love my extra hot Salted Caramel Mocha!

They’re back!!!!  Have you ever in your life wondered what it would taste like to melt a candy bar in a mug, spray whipped cream on top and sprinkle it with salt?

WONDER NO MORE.

I’m telling you this is the richest, most heavenly drink I have ever had in my entire life.  Sure, it may have more calories and fat grams than the USDA recommends for, well, like A LIFETIME… but HOLY HELL.  Worth every pound you pack on.

Do you think it’s a coincidence that Starbucks sends me a “free drink” card for my birthday?  And it’s in September?  Nope.  They love me.

2) My Ever-changing Seasonal Wine Selection

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As the weather changes, so does my taste in wine.  I spend all spring and summer craving the crisp, light taste of my favorite St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc.  I CANNOT GET ENOUGH.

But as soon as the weather begins to cool at night, I want something with a little more weight… a little more substance.  I start craving a nice Chardonnay.  And let me tell you something!  After a whole summer of drinking Sauvignon Blanc or Prosecco, Chardonnay tastes like drinking butter.   Thick and creamy butter…  But it is thick and creamy butter that keeps me warm!

I may even take a chance and drink some Pinot Noir during the Fall.  It just feels right.

3) Fall Comfort Food

As if I need to remind you all, I LOVE FOOD.  There are some foods that just taste better in the Fall.  They fill your belly with all kinds of hot yumminess – which is why I think we wear so much clothes in the Winter.  It’s God’s way of apologizing to us for letting us eat so much good food that we gained 15 pounds in the Fall.  We then have to work our bottoms off (LITERALLY) all Spring to get ready for bathing suit weather!

These are two of my favorite dishes to cook and they compliment each other beautifully.  I have even combined the recipes and made a Black-eyed Pea and Collard soup (I personally think it was even better than what they sell at Whole Foods).  These two pots cooking are black-eyed peas with sausage and collard greens with ham hocks.

Just beginning to cook...

Just beginning to cook…

4) Tacky Yard Decor

It just would be Fall in the South without yard decor galore!!!  Hay stacks and pumpkins and Mums out the wazoo.  And if you are lucky enough, you can actually find Mums in the colors of your favorite football team!  Double points for that score!

It looks like Fall threw up in my car...

It looks like Fall threw up in my car…

In the South, we love a “vignette.”  It’s even just fun to say.  All around the inside of our homes we have vignettes – in the parlor, in the formal living room, in the formal dining room.  We love a little vignette.  During the Fall, we have a change to do small vignettes in our yard.  A little vignette of Fall around the light post out front, another little vignette by the back door.

5) Sun Porch Weather!!!!!

My sun porch is absolutely amazing.  For like two months a year.  Seriously, it is a great room – very relaxing and calming with a ton of windows that look out into the yard.  The problem is the sun porch has its own AC unit, which doesn’t work.  So the room is not functional for a majority of the year in North Carolina.  It could be useable in the winter, but the heat out there is electric and it does a MAJOR NUMBER on my power bill.

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Seriously, how could you NOT love this room???

I plan to enjoy the porch for the next month until it gets too cold to sit out there.  Tonight, my sweet husband even offered to bring the big screen TV onto the sun porch so I could enjoy three of my FAVORITE things – the sun porch, wine and football.

He sure does love me….

It’s also an amazing place to write.  Even in this large home, I have a hard time finding my quiet space.  But this porch has become a little piece of solitude for me.  And Lord knows I need some solitude every once in a while.   It seems like over the past month it has been ONE THING AFTER ANOTHER.

6) Camellias

A close sixth would be the flower that I literally squealed about when I drove up the driveway today.  CAMELLIAS!!!  I live in a sixty year old home with a yard FULL of magnolia trees, camellia bushes, and azaleas.  And every fall I get so excited about the camellias blooming.

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A pretty bloom in my driveway

Although the blooms don’t last long, they are still a POP of color that is fun to have inside the house.

7) HOT CHOCOLATE STANDS!!!!

All summer long we have lemonade stand after lemonade stand.  The girls make a killing because they wait until they know the men are leaving the golf course for the afternoon and they strike while it’s hot.  They have learned the art of negotiation and sales so that when a customer pulls up and asks how much it is for a cup of lemonade, they say, “You name your price.”  The person ends up giving them a LOT MORE than $.50!

But during the Fall, we like to get wrapped up in our warm clothes and UGGs and sell hot chocolate as the golfers are GOING to play golf.  I thought it was a questionable concept before we did it for the first time, but then I realized that it was really working for them!

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My daughter (on the right) and her best friend selling hot chocolate and cookies on a crisp, Fall day!

And if you click on the picture above, please notice my amazing fall vignette around the lamp post in the front yard… Yep, hay, pumpkins and mums!!!

So there you have it… my seven unconventional favorite things about Fall in the South.

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*** Edit – I have had some people email me regarding the recipes I use for my black-eyes peas and collards.  I have not found anything better than Emeril’s Smoked Sausage and Black-Eyed Peas.  ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!!! And some people are scared of collards because they think they stink up the house, but I use the Magnolia’s restaurant (in yummy Charleston, SC) collard green recipe.  I think it’s the vinegar or cooking them in chicken broth that makes them taste heavenly and they DO NOT stink up my house!  I highly recommend the Magnolia’s cookbook also…

Hot Topic Tuesday – When did the switch flip?

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This is a tough question for me because it really makes me look back at and analyze my past behavior.  Who likes to do that?  I am not perfect, nor have I ever claimed to be.  My answer to this question may be more honest and forthright than I am comfortable with admitting.

When we got divorced, I had a very hard time separating my feelings from my behavior.  Although I was the one who left, I still had glimmers of hope that he would fight for the kids and me.  I would dream about him showing up at the front door like a character in a Nicholas Sparks novel and “make things right again.”  That never happened.

Obviously, we didn’t get along.  If we HAD been able to get along, then maybe we would have stayed together.  Although we didn’t get along, I think we were always child-centric on certain things.  I believe the small child-centric things we did are just common sense, but it seems that most people who are newly divorced do not do these simple little things..

When we moved into our new house, the first thing my ex did when he brought the kids home was to let them give him a tour of the house.  He spent time looking at their rooms and swinging in the backyard.  So immediately they were comfortable in their new home because Daddy approved.  He may not have supported my new home, but he came and showed his solidarity because it was in the best interest of our kids.

We were also always good about sitting next to each other (or at least very near each other) at events so that the kids would not have to divide their attentions.  It would also prevent the other child from having to choose which parents to sit with which would only cause the kids anxiety.

The kids have pretty much always had one birthday party too.  One of us would have the party and the other parent would come.  Again, common sense.  Kids only have one birthday, so why have more than one party unless the priority is the comfort of the parents and not the child with the birthday.

With that being said, even through all of that I do not believe I was truly child-centric.  We just did what was right in front of the kids, but my heart was ANGRY.  I was mad that my ex called the house multiple times a day to talk to the kids.  I felt like he was imposing on MY custodial time (although they were with me all week, every week).  THAT was me being selfish and wanting to punish him for not coming to bring us home.  I didn’t give him extra time because I was afraid he would someday use it against me like I didn’t want the kids.  I printed out every email for years and argued about everything I could argue with him about – haircuts, money, his girlfriend, etc.

I would still cry every single time I dropped the kids off at his house (our former marital residence).  Even after he remarried, I would cry when I pulled out of the driveway.  It was like my life had moved on without me and I had to see what it looked like.  I would see my kids with my ex and his wife and my dog and I would feel REPLACED.  That was a miserable feeling that I think that most first wives can understand.  And not only would I feel replaced, but it would make me acutely aware of how alone I was.

It was not until my ex and his wife bought their current home that I truly felt like it was no longer about me.  They bought a log home out on a farm in the country and my kids wanted me to come see their new home.  I called my mom en route to the house and told her what I was doing and she said, “WHAT are you thinking??? You know that will only upset you!”  She was right… I knew that it would upset me, but I knew it would upset my kids even more if I did not show interest in their new home.

I drove up the long gravel driveway and let the kids walk me all around the house and the pool and the gardens.  It was absolutely beautiful.  Their rooms were cute and well decorated and even though some of my old furniture was in the home, it didn’t feel at all like it was mine anymore.  I hugged my kids good-bye and I got in my car to drive out the long driveway.

I remember thinking, “Here we go… the tears will come now,” as I pulled away.  Instead, I realized that I had a huge smile on my face.  I was seriously grinning from ear to ear.  It was in that moment that I realized that I could never in my life be happy living out there, no matter how beautiful it all was.  I am a city girl and I would have been miserable for the rest of my life.  At the same time I recognized that my ex finally had everything he had always wanted…

In that moment, the switch flipped.  I knew that he was where he needed to be and I was where I needed to be…

AND I WAS HAPPY FOR HIM.

From that point on, I never thought any more about custodial times and schedules and questioning his intentions.  If I needed a night to myself, I would ask him if the kids could stay.  No trades, no calendar negotiations.  We just did it.  I tried to establish a friendship with my ex’s wife, which has been positive since that time.  We are even friends on Facebook!  I would have never dreamed of that back when I thought he was “out to get me.”  We always try to sit together at games and during football season we would even all go out to eat together after the games.  I would ask the kids if they had talked to their dad and have them call if they had not.

After that point, I think life improved for all of us.  And I know in my heart it is because I stopped thinking about how all of this was affecting me and I stopped protecting what I considered to be MINE.  We started living life as one family all in support of and focused upon those amazing children.

And the kids are better for it too.  There is no playing one parent off the other in our family.  It used to be that the kids would tell me something about what happened at dad’s house and I would automatically believe the kids at their word.  Now I pick up the phone and call their dad, because most of the time they are trying to pull something over on us.

We may not be married, but we have a successful business partnership… and our business is making sure our kids grow up to be happy and healthy.  There can still be stability in a family, even if the family resides in two separate homes.  We are proof of that.