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.

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You Are Worthy!!!

If you have never heard about the Five Love Languages, then you absolutely HAVE to read the book.  Gary Chapman has done an excellent job explaining how people best receive and give love.

The five love languages that he describes are: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time and Physical Touch.  They are all pretty self-explanatory.

You feel the most love based on how people show you love using your primary love language.  I found it very insightful to read because it shows how someone whose primary love language is Acts of Service may show love to their wife (whose primary love language is Quality Time) by getting her car serviced or washing the dishes or making the bed.  The problem is that since his wife’s primary love language is Quality Time, she spends most of her time hurt because her husband doesn’t spend any time with her.  She doesn’t even recognize that he is showing love the way that HE best feels loved.

I took the test years ago and recently took it again.  Both times I took the test it showed that I am pretty much an even split between two – Physical Touch and Words of Affirmation.

So basically to feel loved, I need my husband to hug me and tell me how wonderful I am!

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Feeling LOVED

The great part about my marriage is that I have found a man who is ALSO split between Physical Touch and Words of Affirmation, so it’s very easy for us to show our love for each other.  We were both previously with Acts of Service people, so although we try to do stuff for each other to show our love, at the end of the day we just want to hug and tell each other how much we appreciate each other.  It makes it very easy to understand what the other person needs when you know how they feel.

For people like us, the biggest punishment you can give is to withdraw physically (and for the record, physical touch encompasses ALL physical touch, it is NOT just about sex) and/or criticize us.  That’s why saying, “I appreciate you” is so important to us.

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We saw this couple at a concert up at North Hills recently… let’s hope their baby’s love language is not Quality Time or they will need to learn to put their phones down!!!

Yesterday in church I had such an overwhelming joy in my heart, even more than usual.   I realized that it was because my love languages are completely nurtured and my love tank is filled while in church.

Only in church do my children fight to be pressed right up next to me.  I couldn’t sit next to Joe because they both wanted to be able to lean on me.  Throughout the service they were holding my hands, playing with my rings, laying their heads on my shoulder, putting their arms around me.  Even while singing songs, they were touching me and hugging on me – which equates to me as “LOVING ME.”  Even Joe had his arm around the back of my son’s chair and he was rubbing my shoulder.  So my need for Physical Touch was getting absolutely filled.

Church is also the perfect place for someone whose primary love language is Words of Affirmation, because think about every sermon you hear???  HOPE, LOVE, GOD FILLING YOUR NEEDS, TRUST, DEPENDING ON HIM, etc.  Think about it… every church sermon (at least in our Methodist Church) is basically affirming that God is Good and that He will take care of us.  It’s the words spoken by the Pastor that say, “YOU ARE WORTHY.”

Joe and I had only been dating for a few weeks when he stopped by my office for one of his daily visits.  We had some serious discussions prior to the visit about how he felt a little “less than” in an area of his life that was a struggle for him.  It involved treatment of him by another person so there was absolutely nothing I could do to help him.  So right before he came for his visit, I wrote “You are worthy!!!” on a sticky note and stuck it on the side of my desk next to the chair where he sat whenever he came by.  It pretty much brought him to tears and he showed me that sticky note recently… he has kept it all this time!  Those three simple words affirmed him and made him know my love.

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Sticky notes have been a big part of our relationship – bathroom mirrors, overnight bags, kitchen counter, etc.

God knows our love language and so He knew that I was having a tough weekend this past weekend.  There have been some troubling situations in my life recently that have been hard on my heart.  Plus my children witnessed an interaction I had with someone over the weekend and actually asked me why I continued to be nice to someone who doesn’t want to be nice to me (a hard thing to hear your child ask you but a good learning lesson for them about how we should love everyone no matter what).  So I absolutely NEEDED to get my love tank filled yesterday.  My love thermometer was dangerously low due to the outside forces attacking me.

After getting my love tank filled up at church and then going to my step-daughter’s soccer game, I made my grocery list and went to work in the kitchen.  I poured a glass of wine and turned up the music and just CREATED.  I took a lot of pics and I will publish my creation on Thursday.  It was absolutely amazing and I know that I would not have had the emotional energy to even do what I love best if I had not gotten filled with love at church.

So go take the test!! It could really help you better understand what YOU NEED to feel loved and it can also help you to understand how your spouse shows and receives love.  It’s a great asset with children also because it can help you more effectively discipline them if you know their primary love language.  I try my best to understand all of my family and best friends’ love languages so that I can show them (like they NEED to be shown) how much I love them each and every day.

Worth the time to read...

Worth the time to read…

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!!!!!!

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.

Even at the Orthodontist’s Office…

Yes, it’s official… I started writing my first novel last week.  I had no idea just how much fun writing a novel could be!

Ever since I was a child, I felt the calling to write.  It is especially fun to write this blog because I am so passionate about the blending of families.  Because of that passion, I have always just assumed that I would write a non-fiction book about getting divorced “the right way.”  I did not think that I would be writing a seductive thriller… but here I am!

Instead of writing about how NOT to screw up your kids through the divorce process, I am writing a novel of intrigue and temptation and murder.  I would have never believed it…

Writing a novel has given me an escape when things are tough around our sometimes chaotic house.  I have found that rather than worrying about the drama of the day on my way home from work, I am calculating the next chapter in my book.  I’m asking questions of the characters and trying to truly understand their motives and their beliefs.  What is it that my main character is passionate about and to what lengths will she go to achieve her goals?

Interestingly enough, those same questions come up when I am talking to people about divorce and co-parenting.

This morning I took my handsome son to the orthodontist to get his braces put on.  When they were done, Warren went to the car and I texted with his dad regarding the bill.   Since we split the orthodontist bills 50/50, I wanted to make sure we agreed on the downpayment and monthly payment before I committed to anything.  He was on a call, so I sat there chatting with the receptionist.

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All smiles before the pain kicked in…

My phone rang and I answered and we discussed the money specifics and decided which way we wanted to go.  We laughed about Warren’s metal mouth and I promised to send a picture when I got out to the car.  When I hung up the phone, the receptionist was staring at me with a funny look.  She said, “It is really great that you two can work together like that for your kids.  That seemed easy and pleasant.  How do you do it?”

As I always do, I quickly told her that we had nine years of water under our bridge, so THAT made it easy.  I then proceeded to tell her that we are great business partners when it comes to raising our kids and that as long as the kids are always the priority, then everything else seems to fall into place.

She told me that she had seen a lot of people who were just not capable of that.  I agreed and we then spent a few minutes telling our own horror stories.  And interestingly enough, the same kinds of questions I ask of my characters in my novel I found myself asking about an angry ex.  What are her motives in being so difficult?  To what length will he go to get the kids to believe his vindictive agenda?  She and I both agreed (yes, standing in the orthodontist’s office) that too many parents are driven by their own needs, wants and boundary issues, so they fail to see what damage they are doing to their own children.

The receptionist seemed fascinated with the depth of knowledge I had from both sides, so I told her about my blog and how this is such a passion of mine.  She had a look that kind of said, “Boy, I could use some help…”  I wished her luck and headed out with my mind spinning a million miles per hour.

That little happenstance conversation made me realize that I still need to spend the time to write my blended family book as well.  There are people EVERYWHERE who need guidance on how to “divorce well.”  The humorous part of that is I barely have time to even breathe with four kids at home and a husband.  So I have no idea how I could write a non-fiction and a novel at the same time.  One will most likely have to wait, but the fires are burning inside me to write, so who am I to put them out??????

Control What You Can Control – Hot Topic Tuesday

Tuesday’s Hot Topic

This is a question presented to me last week through Facebook by a reader (and good friend).  She wrote:
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All I can say in this situation is CONTROL WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL…….. YOU.

We spend so much of our time wanting to be liked.  Liked by EVERYONE – friends of friends, new people we meet and even the ex of our new boyfriend.  The truth of the matter is that his ex-wife doesn’t want to like you.  And when you don’t want to like someone, well, you won’t.  Even if you see that they have a redeeming quality or two, you will work extra hard to find something else NOT to like.  Even if you are as fabulous and great as you are (which I know you are)… she will still choose not to recognize that.

Nothing that you do will change her mind if she has already decided not to like you.  Only time and a softening of her heart will change that – two things that are completely out of your control.  And until that day, you will just be the new floozy of the week because no one could possibly replace her.

So there are a few things you can do to keep your own sanity while she campaigns against you to anyone and everyone who will listen.  And the stories can be very rich and full of lies, but you have to keep your calm.  Even if you met him six months after he separated, you will still somehow be the reason for the demise of their marriage.  Brush your shoulders off… and control what you can control.

My first piece of advice is to fly under the radar.  Let your boyfriend deal with his ex-wife and you just smile and nod.  Say hello and say goodbye, but don’t try to small talk or anything because trust me, she is just sitting there blankly listening to you while thinking that in two weeks she will have to endure this stupid idle chatter with a new bimbo.

I am in no way minimizing your relationship, but if you are merely dating, then she won’t take you seriously anyway.  So why try to convince her how great you are?

As I said above, when you DO have to interact, be nice… but don’t expect anything.

Did you hear me???? DON’T EXPECT ANYTHING!  Do you see her over there texting at the baseball game right after she talked to you?  You and I both know that she is most likely texting her best friend or the guy she is secretly seeing and telling her/him about your trashy outfit or your incorrect grammar or the stupid look on your face.  Even if none of the above is true.

All you can do is be the best you that you can be and know that one day you guys will work past this.  It’s like a rite of passage.  If you have been there, then you know what I mean.  On either side.  Trust me when I say you are either saying, “Why doesn’t she like me?”  or you are saying, “Why does she keep trying to talk to me???”

So put the kids first, no matter what.  Put them first above your relationship even.  I am not saying once you get married you should keep the kids first, because we all know that the order once you get married is God, your marriage, then your family.  But if you are not married, then the kids are in a very precarious position.  They want to like you, but we both know that they are probably hearing sighs and scoffs and seeing eye rolls whenever you are brought up in conversation.  This puts them in a difficult place for a little heart to understand.

Take the high road and focus on the kids and their happiness.  They will see that your focus is on them and if their mother is being mean to you for no reason, then sadly they will see that as well.  One day they will be old enough to remember it all and hopefully they will learn something about true love and Christian principles by seeing the way you handle everything with grace.

You can swear up and down that you could NEVER be like that… but I truly believe it’s just human nature.  We want to always believe that we are better.  We are more important.  We were first.  But the truth of it is… even if you come second or third… if you are married, then you are HIS WIFE.  And he only has one.   If you are dating, then you aren’t there yet… but just be patient and be understanding and most importantly, PUT THE KIDS FIRST.

Control what you can control… You.  Trust me when I say you are better than you feel like being right now….

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.

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…….