Essential Organizational Skills for the Single Mom

Published originally today on the Huffington Post:

I sat down to write the outline for this blog and it was absolutely the easiest topic on which I have ever brainstormed. After being a single mom for almost nine years, I have plenty of tips and ideas on how to improve the quality of life for not only you, but the people around you.

1) Don’t Put Off What You Can Do Today

That is very self explanatory, but essential when you are a single mom. If you put one thing off, then with certainty there will be four more things piled on the list before tomorrow. So as soon as a permission slip comes in, fill it out and have your child put it right back into their folder and write the field trip in your calendar.

2) Make Your Calendar Your Best Friend

My ex, his wife, my husband and our kids all have access to the same Google Calendar, so I always enter dates into the Google Calendar so my ex can stay on top of events even when the kids are not with him. Early in my tenure as a single mom, I was not very good with being on time and keeping track of appointments. Honestly, my ex had spent so many years staying on top of me about where I needed to be and when that I don’t think I was really prepared for having to keep everything in order alone. It was tough, but once I realized the importance of organization, it made life much easier on all of us. And once I learned the stress it caused my kids to be late for school or their activities, it made my children much happier.

3) Don’t Commit to Something Just Because it Sounds Good

This is actually a big deal. It may not sound like it, but it is. Unless you know that you are going to do something, even something as small as going to the park on Saturday, then don’t commit. It is disappointing to the kids and it will be the death of you while the kids attack you with a barrage of questions on when you might go and where and how and with whom.

What works best for me now that my kids are older is to say, “I will think about it, but I cannot possibly commit to that right now.” My kids know that if I say that, then there is a possibility, but only if they back off. Because they know that if it’s a no, then I will say no.

4) Learn to Say NO!

Let’s practice that right now… “NO!” I don’t just mean to your kids… I mean to ANYONE and EVERYONE who want more from you than you have to give. It’s hard enough to be a mom, but throw a full-time job (where you are the only source of income for your household) and there are just not enough hours of the day to be Super Mom and volunteer nonstop. Learn to say no and focus on your kids in other ways. Quality time is the most important way we can say yes to our kids.

5) Delegate, Delegate, Delegate

I have always been terrible at asking for help. It was like asking for help was admitting some perceived shortcoming. I learned over the years that there are so many people out there who are willing to help you if you allow them. Being afraid to ask or feeling like you are needy is completely in your brain and you need to figure out how to deal with it. I don’t know how I would have survived the years as a single mom without the help of my parents, my friends and even my ex and his wife. Another important form of delegation is getting the kids to carry more weight around the house. Moms often resist this because of the mother’s guilt they carry due to the divorce.

6) Take Care of Yourself

This is the biggie of all biggies because it’s nearly impossible, but it must be done if you are to have any sanity. There are plenty of ways you can be good to yourself so that you can be the best you that you can be — physically and emotionally.

It seems that most of my friends who have gone through divorces follow the textbook divorce routine. They try to do what they can to improve their physical appearance — lose weight, change their hairstyle, wear more make-up, get plastic surgery. All of this is just part of the rite of passage and is probably needed by women as a way to build self-esteem during a time of very low self-esteem.

The truth is that if you cannot take care of yourself, then you are of no use to anyone else. Including your children. So do what you can to take care of you, including seeking professional help if you are having trouble moving past the anger. Focusing on the future rather than the past will allow you to stay positive and hopeful.

And who can’t benefit from a little hope?

Stop and Smell The Roses…

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

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

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

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

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

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My handsome boy smelling Dandy’s roses…

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

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

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Kids see Steve… Adults see a STINK BUG.

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

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

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

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

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

Letter to My Kids Re: Divorce

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

I am sorry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tip #1 – Have a Strong Partnership Agreement.

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

YOU WILL NOT ALWAYS AGREE ON THINGS.

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

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

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

Tip #2 – Put the Clients First!

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

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

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

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

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

Tip #3 – Remove Emotion from the Equation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tip #4 – OPEN COMMUNICATION.

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

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

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

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

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

Tip #5 – Argue but Don’t Fight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Survival of the Fittest – Single Motherhood

While I am trying to get into a regular routine for the fall, I think I am going to try to devote Tuesday’s blog to answering questions that are presented by my readers.  Let’s hope I can get into the swing of life soon, because today is day two of school and I already feel like I have been railroaded!

First day of school - 8th grade & 5th grade

First day of school – 8th grade & 5th grade

Ironically enough, the topic I chose for today (fitting for this time of year) is:

Organizational Tips for the Single Mom

I sat down to write the outline for this blog and it was absolutely the easiest topic on which I have ever brainstormed.  After being a single mom for almost nine years, I have plenty of tips and ideas on how to improve the quality of life for not only you, but the people around you.

1) Don’t Put Off What You Can Do Today!

That is very self explanatory, but essential when you are a single mom.  If you put one thing off, then with certainty there will be four more things piled on the list before tomorrow.  So as soon as a permission slip comes in, fill it out and have your child put it right back into their folder and write the field trip in your calendar.  I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have forgotten to write something in my calendar and had to fly in a panic the morning of the field trip to take a lunch bag to school before the bus leaves.  All of that anxiety can be avoided if you just followed the simple procedure – sign, give to child, write in calendar.  Which brings me to my next tip:

2) Make Your Calendar Your Best Friend.

My ex, his wife, my husband and our kids all have access to the same Google Calendar, so although I prefer to have a hand written calendar that I can look at, I always enter dates into the Google Calendar so my ex can stay on top of events even when the kids are not with him.  I compare my calendars weekly to make sure they are both up to date.  Having both allows me to schedule an appointment at the dentist even if I don’t have my hard calendar in my purse.

It’s also helpful because it can help put the responsibility into the hands of your ex to stay on top of what is going on.   When we were first separated and the kids and I were living over an hour away from my ex, I tried to send him weekly emails about what was going on with the kids and what activities they had and when.  My daughter was too young to have phone conversations, so I would be her voice in letting him know what we had going on.  It was and still is important to him to be an active daily presence in my kids’ lives even when he cannot be with them.

Early in my tenure as a single mom, I was not very good with being on time and keeping track of appointments.  Honestly, my ex had spent so many years staying on top of me about where I needed to be and when that I don’t think I was really prepared for having to keep everything in order alone.  It was tough, but once I realized the importance of organization, it made life much easier on all of us.  And once I learned the stress it caused my kids to be late for school or their activities, it made my children much happier.

3) Don’t Commit to Something Just Because it Sounds Good.

This is actually a big deal.  It may not sound like it, but if your child sees a commercial for the Circus and you say, “We should go to that,” you are setting yourself up for torment.  I used to say that a lot to my kids, “We should go on a cruise” or “I’ll take you there someday.”  In my mind, I was telling them how everything was going to be great in our life someday.  I was convincing MYSELF that things would be better.  Sadly enough though I now realize I was getting the kids excited about things that would never come to fruition.

My advice to every single mom is this: Unless you KNOW that you are going to do something, even something as small as going to the park on Saturday, then DON’T COMMIT.  It is disappointing to the kids and it will be death of you while the kids attack you with a barrage of questions on when you might go and where and how and with whom…..

What works best for me now that my kids are older is to say, “I will think about it, but I cannot possibly commit to that right now.”  My kids know that if I say that, then there is a possibility, but only if they BACK OFF.  Because they know that if it’s a NO, then I will say NO.

4) Learn to Say NO!!!

Let’s practice that right now… “NO!”  I don’t just mean to your kids… I mean to ANYONE and EVERYONE who wants more from you than you have to give.  I hate to say it, but I had to resign myself to the fact that being a room mom or hosting book club in my child’s class two afternoons a week was better left to the many stay at home moms who had kids in my child’s class.  It’s hard enough to be a mom, but throw a full-time job (where you are the only source of income for your household) and there are just not enough hours of the day to be Super Mom and volunteer nonstop.

The key to learning to say no is to also learn that you cannot beat yourself up over it.  I desperately WANTED to be the mom who could help dish out food in the cafeteria or do the cash register at the Book Fair, but it just didn’t fit with my work schedule.  I have always done my best to help with field trips here or there or special parties, but even that can be draining on your work hours and your finances when living on a budget.

So learn to say no and focus on your kids in other ways.  They won’t doubt your love and will understand if you explain that you cannot get off work, but will take him/her to ice cream after dinner.  Quality time is the most important way we can say yes to our kids.

5) Delegate, Delegate, Delegate!

I have always been TERRIBLE at asking for help.  It was like asking for help was admitting some perceived shortcoming.  I learned over the years that there are SO MANY PEOPLE out there who are willing to help you if you allow them.  Being afraid to ask or feeling like you are needy is completely in your brain and you need to figure out how to deal with it.  I don’t know how I would have survived the years as a single mom without the help of my parents, my friends and even my ex and his wife.

It took many years to get there, but I finally over the last couple of years got to the comfort level where I could ask my ex if he could take the kids if I had an event or if I just needed a break.  I think it was a paranoia for years that he would in some way “use it against me” if I asked him for help.  The truth of the matter is he was just happy to get some extra time with the kids.

Another form of delegation is getting the kids to carry more weight around the house.  I have a couple of single mom friends who still do everything they did for their kids before their divorce although they are no longer stay at home moms.  One of my best friends actually gets up and blow dries her daughter’s hair every morning.  Another one of my friends gets up early, gets ready and then fixes elaborate breakfasts for her kids.  My children learned how to fix their own breakfasts at a VERY early age.  I would be busy getting ready for work, so my kids had to gain an independence earlier than some.  They would get up, get ready, pack bookbags, fix and eat their own breakfasts, brush their teeth and be ready when I came downstairs.

Again, it is guilt that keeps too many mothers from allowing their kids to do for themselves, but THEY NEED TO LEARN INDEPENDENCE!!!!

I have struggled a little with Joe on this topic because he is accustomed to doing EVERYTHING for his kids – laying out and ironing clothes, fixing breakfast, pouring milk, etc.  I have had to ask him NOT to do all of that for my kids because I am proud of how independent they are and I don’t want to take that away from them.

6) FIND TIME FOR YOURSELF………………………………….

This is the biggie of all biggies…. because it’s nearly impossible, but it must be done if you are to have any sanity.  My kids went to their dad every other weekend for the first four years after our divorce.  So my alone time was few and far between.  They were so young though that I could get a sitter after putting them to bed and meet up with friends for a while.  At their age now I could not do that because they are up too late (and I’m older and couldn’t handle going out so late on a work night!).  But there are plenty of ways you can be good to yourself so that you can be the best you that you can be.

I think after divorce we try to recreate ourselves.  If we initiated the divorce then we want to prove that we are better than we were before.  It seems that most of my friends who have gone through divorces follow the textbook divorce routine.  They exercise when they don’t have the kids so they lose a lot of weight.  They try to do what they can to improve their physical appearance – change their hairstyle, wear more make-up, get manicures and pedicures.  All of this is just part of the rite of passage and is probably needed by women as a way to build self-esteem during a time of very low self-esteem.  I’m not saying that you should run out and schedule work to be done, but you need to TAKE CARE OF YOU!!!!

The truth is that if you cannot take care of yourself, then you are of no use to anyone else.  Including your children.  So do what you can to take care of you, including moving past the anger to enjoy your new freedom.  Focusing on the future will allow you to stay positive and HOPEFUL.

And who can’t benefit from a little hope?

Let Them Be Kids

IMG_5663Our trip to the beach last week was absolutely perfect.  We stayed in an old cottage that belongs to some dear friends of my parents.  I love everything about that place.  There is only one television, which I believe was turned on only once very briefly during the entire week.  The remainder of the week was spent rocking in the rocking chairs on the front porch or just laughing around the table together as a family.  I imagine that cottage has seen many nights of endless laughter and bottomless wine bottles.

The kids were happy and they didn’t even need all of the modern conveniences that we are all so accustomed to in our lives today… we just needed our family.  They never even asked to watch television.

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We spent a LOT of time rocking on the front porch

When we first got to the cottage, I went upstairs to put our stuff in our rooms and I made a quick stop in the little upstairs bathroom.  First off, this little bathroom is UHHHH-MAZING!!!!  It has a claw-foot tub and has wood paneled walls.  There is a cute little brick doorstop that is decorated with some fancy needlework, but what really caught my eye was that the door lock did not work, so there was a small hook and eye lock.  Just like the bathroom at my grandmother’s cottage in Minnesott Beach.

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Brings back a lot of good memories…

Then I went downstairs and saw the little closed in back porch with a clothesline across the room and I felt like I had been teleported back to my childhood.  All of a sudden I could visualize myself at my grandmother’s cottage.  I could even smell the smells.  And those were the smells of summer…

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Back porch of Gran & Mammy’s cottage in Minnesott Beach

Waking up early in the morning the cottage always smelled of bacon.  What an amazing way to wake up in the morning to the sound of bacon frying in the frying pan in the room with you!  The cottage had two small bedrooms, but my brother and I slept on the twin beds that were in the family room which was open with the kitchen.  There was no air conditioning, so the blowing fans would increase the tasty smell of bacon as it oscillated back and forth.

Midafternoon, after spending the entire day swimming in the tide or fishing on the pier, the house would most likely smell of crab.  Mammy would usually boil a pot of crabs every day and cocktail hour would be spent on the front porch looking at the gorgeous view of the Neuse River while picking crabmeat.  Mammy knew that I loved to help but my labor was more selfish than anything else and there would not be much left in my bowl once my task was complete.

cottage

It wasn’t that color, but that’s the cottage!

I recall that it would be warm at times, but most of the time the breeze coming off the river would keep the cottage a moderate temperature.  Of course we were typically sunburned after a day on the beach, so we may have felt a chill because of that anyway.  If a storm blew in it would cool down quickly… I remember learning how to tell when a storm was coming by how far we could see down the river.

Our summers were spent with freezer pops and sand spurs and catching fish off the dock.   If the wind was blowing in the right direction then we could spend all day filling holes in the sand with jellyfish to make our own homemade “jelly.”  A day without a jellyfish sting was a lucky day in our book, but if we were stung we always knew there was someone nearby with a cigarette so we could rub tobacco on the sting.

Our feet were tough like leather from the hot pavement, our skin on our backs was peeling, and our hands had cuts from crab shells, but the memories I have of my childhood will be carried in my heart for the rest of my days.  Childhood is supposed to be just like that… carefree and fun.  When parents divorce, we feel like we have “robbed” the childhood from our kids.

I think that the theory that divorce robs a child of his/her childhood is not definitive.   I agree that it is certainly possible since some parents choose to burden their children with “adult issues.”  Divorce in and of itself does not have to rob anything from the children if the parents behave correctly.  Talking about money issues or trying to explain your divorce reasoning to a child is not appropriate.  If you focus on the children and making sure their innocence remains, then they can grow through a divorce just the same as we can.  They can even be better than before.

In our case, we have not robbed our kids of their childhoods.  Joe’s kids have memories of their lives with their mom and dad together just like my kids have memories we made before Joe and I got together.  We all enjoy sharing our memories and in no way do we minimize time that was spent or is spent with the other parents.  My stepchildren like telling stories about when their parents were together and rather than get quiet when they do, I engage them in conversation and smile and listen to their stories.  Those stories are what have made them who they are.  And I LOVE who they are.

More importantly now, we focus on making new memories as a new family.  We are still new to this, but we have already established new traditions that we want to continue to do each year.  We focus on our kids BEING KIDS…

When they are my age, I want them to remember how much fun it was being kids.  I want them to talk about fishing on the lake across the street or running on the greenway with Joe and me or our yearly trips to the mountains and the beach.  I want them to fondly remember going to concerts together and Durham Bulls baseball games.  I want them to think about how much fun we had at supper club cookouts and church and eating together at the table.  I know they will never forget when Joe asked me to marry him during a fun game of flashlight tag on the golf course.

If you are divorced, don’t let parental guilt creep in to make you think you are robbing childhood from your kids.  Just spend all of your energy in making sure you focus on your kids and make new memories with them.   No one ever says on their deathbed, “I sure wish I spent more time working,” but they do say, “I wish I spent more time with my kids.”

Even as a single parent, you can do plenty of things to create memories that don’t cost money.  You don’t have to go on extravagant trips to create memories.  One of my children’s favorite memories so far is when I woke them up in the middle of the night and we climbed out onto the roof with blankets and watched a meteor shower.  It didn’t cost a thing but they will remember it for the rest of their lives.

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Fishing is free

And never minimize the memories they have of you with their other parent and never minimize the new memories they are creating with their other parent.  Show interest if they want to talk about fun things they do with the other parent, but do not be intrusive.   Show them you love them and are interested in everything about them and they will be able to enjoy their childhood in spite of the divorce.   They should never feel like certain topics are taboo.  They should be able to talk to you about anything without fear of your reaction.

LET THEM BE KIDS… they will have their chance to worry about adult problems when they are adults.

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Silly girl

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.

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…….