This is HOME.

It has been a tough week for me… and I AM TIRED.  And it’s only Wednesday.  I think we all experience these back to school blues to an extent.  We crave the structure and routine that starting school brings, but it takes a few weeks to really get back in the swing of it all.

 

Considering it is “Hump Day” (which by the way, if you have not seen the Hump Day Geico commercial above, you have GOT to see it to get a laugh), I thought it appropriate to write about the lows and highs of my week thus far.  The ups AND the downs…

This week definitely started out with a low.  TWO WORDS – head lice.   My sweet daughter had her obligatory case of “welcome back to school” head lice.  My heart again goes out to her stepmom because it was once again discovered while she was at her dad’s house for the weekend, so I only had to deal with the stuff at our house and not the actual creepy crawlies…

So my weekend was spent washing sheets and pillowcases, bagging up stuffed animals from her bed, boiling brushes, etc.  Thankfully I am very OCD when it comes to sharing any kind of hair stuff (since this has become the norm once a year in our house) so it appears for now that the rest of us are clean.

But WHAT IS IT ABOUT LICE that make everyone itch like crazy just talking about them?????  I have not stopped itching since she made the call to me to tell me that they had found a bug.  BLAHHHHHHHHH… We were sitting up at North Hills watching a Johnny Cash Tribute Band when she called me and my friends who were with us can tell you that I went downhill FAST.  I hate that I have such a weak stomach that the mere discussion of lice made us have to cut our night short.

And then we had to send the dreaded text to Joe’s ex to make sure everyone there was clean, which they thankfully were.  Then I had to call her best friends’ moms and tell them so they could check their girls (always a FUN call to make) and email the teacher so she could send a letter home with everyone.  I also had to go to Ulta and buy some lice repellant shampoo.  Hey, ANYTHING like that is worth a try!!!!

With that being said, it infuriates me that obviously she got it from somewhere and if other parents knew their child had lice and didn’t report it, then it is just NOT OK.  Checking their hair is not something I do daily, but apparently I need to make it a part of my routine.  Thankfully, it appears we have it taken care of… and I will re-treat her hair on Friday and continue to check her hair daily.

On Monday, my son had to go to the dentist and have four permanent teeth extracted so that he can get his braces put on next week.  He has my teeth (bless his sweet heart) and since his teeth are so big his poor mouth just can’t hold them all!  I had a headache all day Monday worrying about his anxiety over going to the dentist.  It’s hard to know that our children are upset and know that there really is nothing that we can do about it.

I had to miss work on Tuesday because he was so swollen and still had quite a bit of pain when he woke up (not to mention the bloody mess he left behind on his pillow).  Right before he went to bed on Monday he also pulled his final baby molar out – so he lost FIVE TEETH!!!  That is a crazy amount of teeth to lose in one day.

I found myself feeling bad for being so concerned with my daughter’s head lice and my son’s teeth since the daughter of one of my best friends from growing up was in an accident this past weekend and fractured her skull.  Worrying about lice when your friend is worrying that her daughter won’t wake up makes you feel quite silly.

Please please please warn your children that they can get hurt for their inattention.  Children these days are so glued to their phones that they can find them in the hospital just like my friend’s daughter.  She was on a golf cart and was looking at her phone.  I assume the driver made a sudden move that she was unprepared for and she fell out head first and fractured her skull.  Thank the Lord her prognosis is good now and she is recovering, but with any brain injury it will be a long road ahead for them all.

There have been some high notes in my week as well and I need to remember Philippians 4:8 (the verse read at our wedding day four months ago today), “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”  Rather than be consumed with head lice and dry socket I need to think about all of the good we have had happen this week.

My mother came to visit yesterday which was a major bright spot in the week!!!  She came to town and walked my daughter home from school and went with us to piano practice while Joe went to my step-daughter’s choral performance.  We then did a girls only dinner at our favorite sushi restaurant (think, “where everybody knows your name….”).  We love it there because the sushi is good and they know what we want without us having to order.

After dinner, my daughter went to her room to do her homework and mom, Joe and I sat on the sun porch (my favorite room in the house) and drank wine and laughed for hours.  It was so refreshing to have her here.  I often wish that we lived close again.  When I lived in Greenville it was so nice to be able to drive across town for a quick dinner with my parents.  It’s important to me that my kids spend as much time with their grandparents as they can.  They are blessed with many wonderful grandparents and they can learn so much from each one of them.

Our kids are each a blessing in their own way also.  I am amazed every day by all four of them.  My son is such a loyal and honest young man.  I am so proud of his dedication to working out two hours a day, while making sure to finish his homework first.  It blows my mind that we don’t have to hang over him to make sure he does what he is supposed to do.  He does it because he is supposed to.  My step-son is such a kind-hearted soul.  He wants everyone to be happy and he tries to make sure that he doesn’t do anything to cause anyone to be unhappy.  He’s so extremely talented as well.  He has just recently started playing the piano at my house and I am so impressed by his amazing talent.   My daughter is so crazy tall and athletic.  She can truly excel at any sport that she puts her mind to and really seems to enjoy it.  She is also a talented piano player and is loved by everyone in her class.  She impresses me with her strength and her ability to ignore negativity thrown her way.  That will be a huge asset as she grows into a teenager.  Finally, my sweet step-daughter.  She is so focused when it comes to her homework.  It’s so nice to have a child who sits to do her work and just knocks it out without having to be put back on task.  She is very talented at singing and seems to get better all the time.  She is a definite leader and will no doubt do great things as an adult.  She will MAKE things happen.

And the biggest blessing of all to me is my handsome husband Joe.  He works so hard in every way to make me a priority and is quick to jump to my defense in any situation.  He is also my biggest cheerleader and he encourages me to do what I love – write a novel, coach soccer, spend time with my friends and family.

I have to keep my focus on him whenever I have a week like I have had.  He is my North Star.  He is my home.

When we started dating we marveled at how often the idea of “home” would come up – in church, on the radio, through Joe’s stepdad in his advanced Parkinson’s disease.  Because we grew up in the same hometown, we couldn’t ignore the fact that we had the same home. Greenville, NC was “home.”

But we quickly realized that the “home” we were hearing about went much deeper than our hometown.  Our “home” is together.  It’s no coincidence that we both wept a little when the offering song at church this past Sunday was, “This is Home.”  We know where we belong… and I am so thankful to have him as my HOME.

“And I got my heart set on what happens next
I’ve got my eyes wide, it’s not over yet
We are miracles
And we’re not alone

Yeah, this is home
Now I’m finally where I belong, where I belong
Yeah, this is home
I’ve been searching for a place of my own
Now I’ve found it, maybe, this is home
Yeah, this is home”

– Switchfoot

 

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Best Ride of My Life…

Do you ever find yourself contemplating what your “ideal life” would be like?  If you could write your own script… if you could plan out your days until the end… how would they go?  It’s overwhelming to think that this is our only chance to get it right!  Do you want to live out the remainder of your days mourning what might have been if you had done things differently?  Do you want to have regrets?

My ideal world involves water... lots and lots of water.

My ideal world involves water… lots and lots of water.

This “ideal life” has been on my mind a lot lately because I am just so darn happy!!!

As I have written before, January of 2012 I fainted in my driveway and woke up in a big pool of my own blood – with loose teeth and terrible road rash completely covering the left side of my face.  I was asked continuously for a few weeks, “Were you in a car accident?”   Since then though, my life has made a 180.

Within a couple of months of my “accident” I had reconnected with Joe, who had dated one of my best friends in high school.  A girl who I was terribly jealous of because she was so cute and she was dating him.  I feel like even though we are now married I still refer to him by his first and last name, because that was how everyone talked about him when we were admiring our friend Julie’s amazing luck with guys.

Happy days.....

Happy days…..

Soon after reconnecting with Joe I was offered a job working at the office where I had been an extern during my law school days.  It was a raise in pay with better hours and in a work environment that I was seeking.  It was perfect for me!

The next thing I knew I was married to a man whose number one goal in life is to be the best husband and father that he can be.  I am married to a man who knows firsthand that marriage is hard work so he is willing to work even harder at our relationship because neither one of us will ever go down the divorce road again.  We talk about absolutely everything because we both know that secrets and lying are detrimental to a marriage.  Even when disagreements happen, which they do, we are thankful for the broken road that has brought us back together and we are thankful for the failures we have experienced because they have made us even better for each other.

So a few days ago I had a random thought…  What if this is not real?  What if I have never woken up after I fainted and am actually laying in a hospital room somewhere in a coma?  Could it be that I am living in some sort of idyllic world that I have created in my head?

Am I in the middle of my own Bobby Ewing dream sequence?????

I love my job and I have the most amazing friends.  I am now married to the most absolutely dashingly handsome man who is definitely not perfect (who is?) but who is perfect FOR ME.  My kids are thriving and I now am blessed with two amazing step-children who get along great with my two kids and who I love as my own.  I finally have my soccer player that I have always wanted in my step-daughter and my own daughter is going to dip her toes in the soccer water at practice this afternoon!!! It seems like there are just blessings all around me and sometimes I feel like I need to pinch myself to see if it’s real.  I would never have believed in January of 2012 that it was possible to find all of the love and happiness that I have found.

And I have reconnected with my love of writing.  Thanks to Joe’s encouragement, I am now blogging (as much as I can) and have started building quite a following.  I am brainstorming daily about what kind of book I want to write.  As a child I always said I would be published before I die.

With all that being said, I would not be where I am without all of my friends and supporters.  THANK YOU for being there for me consistently.  With all of your support, I will have that book written sooner rather than later.

I just pray that I don’t wake up from this coma… because this is the best ride of my life.

(And I may have just come up with another book idea.)

One of My Biggest Weaknesses May Actually Be One of My Biggest Strengths

I think my biggest weakness is that I require structure and routine.  And when I say “require,” I mean CANNOT survive without it.  Like EVER.

As much as I would like everyone to believe that I am a free-spirit, someone who can hop on a jet on a whim and travel wherever the hot deals will take me, I’m just not.  I thrive on predictability.  I like deadlines and schedules and consistency.  My favorite time of the year?  When the new calendars come out and I can start filling each box in with all of our “stuff.”  My second favorite time of the year? Back to school.

When I was a first year law student at the ripe age of 35, my young classmates looked over my shoulder in awe at my calendar.  One of the 22 year old guys behind me said incredulously, “Is your calendar (cough, cough) COLOR CODED?”

Yes, I am THAT girl.

And now that I have two more kids and a husband to keep track of, my obsessive need for planning and scheduling is in overdrive.  This whole fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants summer may work for some people, but I am craving order and structure.  Chaos makes me want to run and hide.  It’s especially daunting right now since two kids are back in school but the other two are still living the carefree life of summer.

Yeah, I even have a copy of the tide chart when I go to the beach.  Predictability...

Yeah, I even have a copy of the tide chart when I go to the beach. Predictability…

I just want life to get back to normal.  Is that too much to ask???

If you’re an anxious person, then you know what I am talking about.  Predictability and structure and guidelines are what get you through the day.  I have been like this since I was a child.  All of my friends went to Camp Seafarer and loved it, but I went to Camp Thunderbird.  At Thunderbird, you were given a schedule and they would tell you when you were supposed to move to the next activity.  I thrived in that environment!  One summer I decided to try Seafarer since it was closer to home and all of my friends went there.  Seafarer, however, did not have the schedule.  I was let loose and could do whatever activity I enjoyed.  I was a wreck.  I didn’t know where to go and I absolutely floundered.  I couldn’t wait to get back to Camp Thunderbird the following summer.

My first summer at Camp Thunderbird

My first summer at Camp Thunderbird

In high school, my roommate at boarding school can confirm that I was up until the wee hours of the night before a big paper was due, typing in the closet on my word processor.  I would still be working on the paper right up until class time and then I would turn it in and get a good grade.  If I attempted to write the paper well before it was due, then I could not focus.  I needed the impending deadline to make myself get it done.

As an adult, I see this anxiousness come out when I do not have a plan.  My mood is much better when there is a weekly menu and I would never in my life go to the grocery store without a list.  I plan dinner parties or invite people over because that’s the best way to make me clean the house (gotta have that deadline!).  As I have written previously, Joe knows that I need to know what time we are leaving the house, whether it’s for church or dinner or heading out of town on a trip.  If I don’t have a schedule to work with, then I cannot possibly be ready on time.  The absolute worst thing to say to me if you want something done is, “Just get to it when you can…”  Because if I do not have a timeline, then it likely will not get done.

Weekly menu...

Weekly menu…

Over time though, I have learned that this structure I require is not always a bad thing.  Although I often consider it a weakness, structure doesn’t have to be oppressive.  There is a great sense of security that comes from a structured environment.  There is little “unknown,” and it’s the “unknown” that can cause a great deal of anxiety for a person like me.

In January of 2012, I fainted in my driveway.  When I say the word “faint” you may envision me crumbling to the ground, but that would be far from reality.  I fell like a tree and my face was the only thing to break my fall – not my body or my shoulder – MY FACE.  Straight into the pavement.  I looked like someone had dragged me behind a car.  The doctors ran all sorts of tests from MRI’s to CAT Scans to blood tests, but they never definitively could say why I fainted.  As a result, the next few months of my life were truly my rock bottom.  I lived every minute of every day afraid that I may faint again.  Driving on the highway was terrible because I feared I would faint while driving and wreck.  I had terrible anxiety during that time period all due to the “unknown.”

The unknown can be an exceptionally scary thing to face.  For kids, the unknowns associated with the divorce of their parents can send them into a tailspin.  This structure and routine that I have often viewed as my weakness can actually be a strength when viewed as a way to help people through situations where there is an unknown factor.  For example, structure and routine can give children the ability to structure their own lives.  If they know what is going to happen next, then they can take ownership of their schedule.  It can become their own.

Having something that is their own can certainly be a major achievement when the chaos of divorce takes over in a family.  We have found that in our home having regular routines – dinner together at the table, homework, calling their other parent, bedtime – gives the children confidence in what comes next.  It’s like giving a three year old the countdown at the park, “We are leaving in TEN minutes,” “We are leaving in FIVE minutes,” “Wrap it up, we are leaving in one minute.”  It helps to eliminate the stress of the unexpected.  Children from an early age show that they respond better when they understand what is going to happen next.  If you walk up to a three year old and say, “We are leaving the park NOW,” then you will be dragging a kicking and screaming child to the car.

I’m hoping that my need for structure and routine will be a comfort to all four of our kids as we transition into our new normal.  Knowing what to expect and knowing what will happen next gives them less to worry about in an already stressful time.  Our predictability can make them feel loved without fear of any more loss.  We eliminate the unknowns and just focus on our family.

Maybe what I perceive as one of my biggest weaknesses can actually be my biggest strength in parenting our kids.

The Name is Not the Only Change…

I have been married for over three months now and I have finally gotten my name changed on about half of the things that need to be changed.  This name change stuff is exhausting.  I swore I would never change it again after I went back to my maiden name in 2009.

But here I am.  With a new last name.

Always-remember-there-was-nothing-worth-sharing-like-the-love-that-let-us-share-our-name

After my divorce, I wanted to change back to my maiden name but my kids didn’t support it.  So for five years I kept my married last name when my maiden name would have probably helped my success in business in my hometown.  Once I got into law school, I approached my kids again about changing my name.  My ex-husband had remarried so I told my kids, “There is a Mrs. Ramsey now… and it is not me.”  At that point, they agreed to the change and I went through the laborious process of changing my name on everything.  I even had to throw out my monogrammed bags and towels.

Now, over three months after getting married, I am still struggling with saying my new last name.  I actually have to pause and think when I sign my name.  I guess the fluid signature will come someday – until then I have a stutter in my signature.

The name change is not the only thing I am having to get used to.  We have been without children since last Friday night so we have taken advantage of many date nights since then.  Monday night we decided to meet for dinner and drinks after Joe’s softball game.  I got to the restaurant before him and got seated.  The waiter asked who I was waiting for and I said, “Joe…… well, my husband.”  It was an awkward moment because I am just not used to saying “my husband.”  The funny part about it was that when Joe got there he laughed and told me, “It was funny saying I was meeting my wife.  I still can’t believe it.”

Talking about the kids has also become more challenging.  I have four kids now.   It is no longer “Joe’s kids” and “my kids” – they are “our kids.”  I am making a true effort to get this straight because it’s important to both Joe and me that we are no longer “us” and “them.”   It’s “we” now.

I can’t believe it either.  I can’t believe how blessed we are to have this new amazing party of six.  I can’t believe that for the first time in my life (other than my parents, of course) I have someone who wants to take care of me.  Someone who wakes up in the morning and wants to get me coffee, offers to iron anything for me to wear to work, and cooks us breakfast.  He is a caretaker and it is the most comforting feeling in the world to know that I am no longer alone.

I cried a few nights ago watching one of my new guilty pleasures, Tyler Perry’s The Haves and the Have Nots.  The matriarch of the Haves has cancer and was talking about being alone.  I had this overwhelming feeling of sadness for her because I have been there.  I remember the hopeless feeling of worrying if something happened to me while my kids were gone then no one would know for days on end.  I know how bad alone can feel when you don’t want to be there.

With all that being said, it has been an amazing three months.  I cannot wait to spend the rest of our lives together and I cannot wait to have a whole house of grandkids around (not anytime soon, of course).  It’s still shocking to believe that I now share the name of the guy who dated my best friend in high school.  I would have never believed this 23 years ago, but I am so thankful that God has brought us back together.

While it may be tough getting my name changed on everything, I am proud of my new last name and am so thankful for the man who gave it to me.

Discipline in a Blended Family

I solicited help on some blog topics and got so many great ideas that I have had trouble deciding what to write first!  Thank you to everyone who contributed.  Your continued support inspires me daily to keep doing what I love.

I thought the best way to do this would be in Q & A format and just answer a question or two at a time.  If you think of more questions, I welcome them.  I enjoy being challenged.

1) Who should the disciplinarian be with the kids and what role should the step-parent play in discipline, if any?

If there is one thing that I have learned from talking to my remarried friends or from reading the abundance of books I have read about successful step-families, it is that no two step-families are alike.  So just because something works for one family does not mean it will work for another.  It is truly dependent on the bonds that have been formed between the step-parent and the step-children.

One of the best Christian books I read about step-families said that the parent should be the disciplinarian at first while the step-parent should play a role similar to a babysitter.  As the bond between the step-kids and the step-parent grows, then the step-parent can gradually pick up more of a parental role when it comes to discipline.  I agree with that completely, but our family has proven to be a little different.

I am very proud of the way Joe and I introduced our families.  Since I had been divorced for many years when he came into our lives, he was pretty much incorporated in our family early on.  My children were more than ready for me to meet a nice man, so they were encouraging and happy from the beginning.  I truly believe that they knew from the start that Joe was good for me and for US as a family.  The kids would actually tell me how much nicer I was because of Joe.  Anytime I would do something extra nice for the kids, my son would say, “Did Joe tell you to do that?”

We waited much longer to bring his kids into the fold.  Joe’s kids did not have the time under their belt that my kids did.  We felt they needed more time to heal and adjust before throwing my kids and me in the mix.  After about six months together, we decided to introduce everyone.  From the start, I made it clear that I would not infringe on Joe’s time with his kids.  His kids came first and they knew that.  I did not want them to perceive me as a threat to their time with their dad.  It was hard, because I wanted to be with the man I loved, but I knew that the kids needed to have time to acclimate.  It has been smooth sailing every since.

You have to give them the time to get used to you so they can know you are not a threat to come between them and their dad.  Our kids have done a very good job at bonding and I think it is clear they have even formed an allegiance AGAINST US, but they are happy and that is all that really matters to me.  And this instant trust and strong relationship that we formed has allowed Joe and me to discipline more than I think would be recommended in new marriages.

Since we have four kids who match up – two boys 13 & 14 and two girls 10 & 11 – disciplining has been easy because anytime I have needed to discipline thus far, it has been to discipline both boys or both girls.  So I can discipline my step-child ALONG WITH my child.  Thankfully so far we have not had any major issues that we have had to handle, but the kids have seemed receptive to this because they see that they all four are disciplined the same.  However, if Joe is home, then I will usually tell him what I think and let him handle it with my step-kids and he seems to do the same thing vice-versa.  So even though we both feel comfortable with our disciplinarian roles, we also know when to back off and let the other one handle it.

As I have said before, our home is about open communication in every way, so we encourage the kids to talk to us if they feel that something is not working and so far things have been going well.  All four of our kids were begging us to get married, so there was no resistance from them regarding having a new step-parent in the home.  I feel certain if there is any resistance, then any disciplinarian role should be brought into play very slowly.

It’s also important to be very clear with expectations.  This is exceptionally important in our home right now because my birth kids are on summer break from school and my step-kids are already back in school.  As a result, my step-kids have to go to bed around 9:30pm while my daughter is up until 10:30pm and my son gets to stay up until midnight.  Surprisingly enough they have not struggled like I expected.  I feel certain that is because my step-kids are smart enough to know that the tables will turn in a month or so when they have track-out.

We tried to set them up for success by letting them know that the rules do not always apply the same to every person and that’s just the way it is.

LIFE IS NOT ALWAYS FAIR.

This was important to us because when we got married my kids quickly realized that Joe is a little more strict than I am.  For example, Joe had always taken his son’s phone and plugged it in another room at night.  My son has always plugged his phone into his alarm clock at night.  One of the first nights we were all together Joe walked into the boys’ room and said, “Let me have your phone” to his son.  The next day my son told me, “When Joe came in and asked for his phone, I was really worried.  I thought he was getting ready to ask me for mine too.”  I explained to him that we were going to do our best to keep the rules that we had in place before marriage.  I think this approach has been comforting to the kids.

Again, let me reiterate that every single family is different and just because this is working for our family does not mean it will work with yours.  In reality, there is no guarantee this will work for our family next week!  Just like in a first marriage family, we are all constantly evolving and growing and we have to do what we can to respect each other while we do so.

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.

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.”