I Will Never Be The Mother I Want To Be…

I had the best childhood. It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty darn close. My parents were together and my mother was a stay-at-home mom. We got off the bus and my friends would come over to my house to eat popcorn or cookies that my mom made before we arrived. Even during the holidays when we were in college, everyone came to my house to congregate before going out. She would always have pimento cheese and other appetizers for us to eat.

My mother was ever-present. I can’t always remember everything about my childhood, but I know my mother was always there. Even if she was giving us our space when I had friends over (which was a lot), her presence was still known. She would pop in every once in a while to see if we needed anything or to ask if we needed her to take us somewhere.

Even through boarding school and college, my mom was there for me. It was before cell phones (well, unless you call a bag phone a cell phone), so she wrote me a lot of letters and we talked a lot. I would look forward to the holidays when I would go home and we would sit around the dinner table laughing and telling stories until at least midnight!

Because of this pretty idyllic childhood, I have had expectations of the kind of mother that I wanted to be. I too wanted to be the mom who was able to be home when my kids got home, with popcorn and cookies for their friends. I had full intentions of being that same “ever-present mom” that my mother was.

Divorce robbed that from me.

I have never written about this because the emotions have been so raw, but my world turned upside down when my son casually said, “Mom, can we talk about something?” He was finishing up 8th grade and had lived primarily with me for the past ten years of his life. He said he wanted to go live with his dad for high school. I was devastated and I did not handle it with the grace and calmness that I would have liked. After visiting the school, his dad and I took him to lunch to discuss the decision with him. As I held back my tears, I told him that I would support him.

Since that time, my son has thrived in this new environment. He is a sophomore and he has a high GPA and excels in basketball. I thought I had come to terms with it all until recently when my daughter expressed her desire to also go to high school where her brother is. All of the emotions, hurt, and rejection came flooding back to me. Everything I had just tucked away so that I wouldn’t have to think about it or feel it was fresh and raw and painful.

I was devastated yet again. When asked why I was so upset about it, I said I felt rejected. I felt like my children didn’t want to be with me. I couldn’t stand the thought of another woman spending more time with my children than I would. I FELT LIKE A BAD MOTHER.

There it is. I felt like a bad mother. I felt like I was losing my children. Although I would still have them one night a week and every other weekend (and can still see them at practices and games), I felt like I was a bad mom because I couldn’t be the “ever-present mother” I wanted to be. I questioned why I had worked so hard to ensure my children had a good relationship with their father, only to have him take them from me. Why had I driven an hour and a half every Wednesday night for five years for the kids to have dinner with their dad? I did what any other crazy mother would do and I started searching MLS to find a house out in the country where their dad lives.

Then one night I talked to my daughter about my feelings and she said, “Mom, you will always be my mom, no matter what!” And something clicked in me… She was right.

A few days later, Joe and I walked on the beach together and talked about everything. We were deep in conversation and walked a lot longer than we anticipated, but I needed that walk. And it was appropriate that it happened on the beach because for me the beach represents our future and hopefulness. Joe and I look forward to the day when it’s just the two of us and we can move to the beach full-time.

On the beach, Joe helped me come to the realization that I WILL NEVER BE THE MOTHER I WANT TO BE. That’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s true. Things change in divorce – custody, remarriage, and new families – but the one thing that didn’t change was my expectation of what kind of mother I wanted to be.

That expectation was killing me inside.

I realized that day that although I will never be the mother that I want to be, I can be the best mother that I can be in the situation that I am in.

I must say that since I released those expectations of what a “mother” looks like, I have been so much happier, but more importantly, I have been able to be a better mother to my kids. I have started working on me and how to be the best I can to help our kids through the circumstances they face with divorced parents. My kids aren’t CHOOSING to be away from me, they just want to be fair since they have spent so much time so far in their lives away from their dad.

I’m looking forward to the day when they come home from college and we can sit around the table and laugh until midnight, but I now recognize that it may not happen as often as I would like since we will be sharing time with another set of parents. But that’s ok… I now have realistic expectations and a confidence that I will ALWAYS be their mom. No matter what.

There are NO Winners…

A common theme I have noticed in divorce situations is the desire between the exes to prove who is “the winner” and who is “the loser.” The conclusion I have reached is that if there are two parents who want to prove that they are the winner, then although the winner may be inconclusive… the loser is certain.

The KIDS are the losers.

Why do people have this innate desire to WIN? I know winning brings a feeling of euphoria, but why do these people choose this particular circumstance to try to win when the balance in the lives of their own children is the high price that is at stake?

The truth of the matter is that in divorce there are no winners. As I have written numerous times in the past, we are adults and we can get over ourselves and the situation. However, our ENTIRE focus should be on keeping things as balanced and normal as possible for our kids.

When I hear a child say, “I don’t want both parents there because that’s just weird,” then I immediately know that his or her parents handled the divorce wrong. Of course, this is assuming that there is no abuse present and that both parents are otherwise well-functioning people. The kids whose parents have put their own agendas aside for their kids are the kids who are comfortable loving both mom and dad, even in the same place – school performances, games, birthday parties. It’s the kids whose parents have tried their best to alienate their ex or undermine their ex who just want to avoid any contact between their parents because they know it won’t end well.

I get angry even as I type that because I just can’t understand how anyone who is any kind of a parent at all can purposefully put themselves and their own agenda above the happiness and security of their own children. I think those sad individuals are the ones who were probably never given role models on how to correctly behave in divorce situations. And I’ll take that even further to say they probably had no role model on how to be a respectable adult either.

Listen to your children. If they are not comfortable being near you both or they try to avoid situations where they have to invite you both to events, then YOU HAVE FAILED. You may feel like a winner because you have successfully convinced anyone who will listen how terribly you were wronged and how they too should despise your ex. Sorry, you can hang up your white hat because you don’t deserve it.

With that being said, it’s never too late to right the wrongs of the past.

Seek help. Even if your ex is unwilling, then you and your spouse need to attend co-parenting counseling on how to best help return some normalcy in the lives of your children. Therapists can be a great resource. I’ve gotten calls from two different friends who have recently started going to counseling with their ex and they both bring their spouses. If you can’t imagine doing that, then you need to rethink your priorities. In my opinion, those four couples are WINNERS. They are putting aside their own comfort to ensure the happiness of their children.

I’m excited about the future in our lives as we work hard to right the wrongs. At least I can go to bed at night and know that through it all we have given it our best. I’m hopeful. The kids deserve normalcy since they didn’t ask to go on this roller coaster with us. I want our kids to be the winners… even if it’s our expense.

What are you willing to do to fix your parenting failures??????

‘Tis the Season

Christmas is a holiday of extremes…

It is a holiday of extreme EATING. We have what is called the “12 Days of Christmas” at our office (as pictured below) where for the twelve business days leading up to our Christmas vacation time, different people bring a meal in for everyone to enjoy. My group is preparing brunch for the office next Friday. We eat and eat and eat throughout the holiday season and then vow to do whatever we can to get the weight off by bathing suit season. Stupid bathing suits…

EVERY DAY for 12 days...

Food, food, and more food…… EVERY DAY AT WORK.

For most the holiday season is a time of extreme SPENDING. Buying gifts for family and friends can be rather costly and some people go overboard… not to mention the expense of decorating the house (which I admittedly went overboard this year and am dreading taking everything down after Christmas!) and the high cost of pretty Christmas cards. It can be rather ridiculous how much we spend and then we have to work extra hard to save money in the new year.

Emotions run high during the holidays too and so the extremes there are either true happiness or true sadness. For some, the holidays remind them of lost love or the dissolution of their marriage. As I have written before, it is very hard for some who have to spend half of the holidays without their children. I have been divorced for ten years and it doesn’t ever get easier to not have my kids with me.

This Christmas has been different for me though.  I offered to have my office’s holiday party at my house this year. Because of that commitment, I started decorating for Christmas before Thanksgiving. I put up three Christmas trees and decorated every available space as tastefully as possible. Most people said I was crazy to host 50+ people in my home less than two weeks before Christmas, but as an adult with ADD, I have THRIVED with this looming deadline!

I got to work early on decorations and even purchased as many Christmas presents as I could. Because I knew my time would be limited, I worked hard under the deadline and was SO HAPPY in the process. Rather than let it stress me out, I chose to embrace it and enjoy every second of it. The decorations bring joy to my heart as soon as I wake up in the morning until I walk around turning candles off in all the windows at night. It has caused me to be filled with the Christmas spirit, which is so easy to forget about when you are a divorced parent.

Yes, I even set up a fake little tree in my bedroom and am enjoying looking at it while sitting in bed writing this morning!

Yes, I even set up a fake little tree in my bedroom and am enjoying looking at it while sitting in bed writing this morning!

I am re-posting my Christmas Wish post from last Christmas, because it is a great reminder, but I also want to encourage you all to immerse yourself in Christmas this year. Focus on the holiday spirit and what it all means, even if it’s hard to do. It’s true that we are as happy as we make up our minds to be, so MAKE UP YOUR MIND TO BE HAPPY this Christmas!!! Wrap your kids up tonight and lay in the yard and look for shooting stars. Choose a charity to help this Christmas. The kids can learn from an early age how good it feels to give to those less fortunate. Go to a Christmas show with your kids. We have a family tradition of going to a Christmas show every year and this year we have gone to TWO!! I cheesily smile through the entire show. If you can’t afford tickets to a show, then look at all of the free Christmas activities in your area. I know around here there are places you can go look at Christmas lights and there are free festivals. Play Christmas music in the car or in your home while cooking dinner. Whatever you do, make sure you are focusing on your family and making memories for your kids. You don’t want them to suffer because you are “not feelin’ it this year.”

Here is my blog, My Christmas Wish List for Divorced Families, published on 12/22/13 by the Huffington Post.

My wish for you THIS Christmas is that you focus on the SPIRIT of Christmas and feel the JOY that goes along with that. If you aren’t feeling that joy, then try to figure out what you can do differently to try to find it. Remember the wonder you felt as a child at Christmastime? You can have that feeling again if you just BELIEVE.

Here are some pics of my house this Christmas to help get you started on this journey of extreme happiness this Christmas. ENJOY MY CHRISTMAS PICS!!!!

Summer Vacation in a Blended Family

Summer is upon us!! In a blended family, summer presents an assortment of planning issues and hurt feelings. It’s tough enough in a divorced family to deal with scheduling issues, but throw another family in the mix and you feel like burning your calendar in the backyard fire pit rather than trying to work them out.

As we were working out custody schedules this summer, it turned out that we would not have my step kids with us on our planned family vacation to Myrtle Beach. The vacation had to be a specific week because we were planning it to coincide with a basketball tournament we would already be participating in. Of course I was not too happy to learn that two of our kids would not be on our family vacation! So I swung into action…

I found out we would have my step kids the week after school got out for my kids, so I started planning. I wanted to do something not too crazy, but fun…. something where we could really have family time… but everyone would enjoy it. I wanted to go somewhere we could drive… Yeah, we went to Disney World.

Thankfully my ex-husband gave up his first week with the kids after school got out so that we could throw all six of us in the Suburban and head south. For weeks before the trip I was convinced I had lost my mind. As I booked dinner reservations and Fast Pass reservations I started to second guess myself.

Disney World in JUNE? It may be hot as the devil! Making an 8+ hour drive with four complaining kids? Not even frequent stops to Cracker Barrel would help the misery! Not to mention to save money I booked a two bedroom condo, so I was fearful the kids would fight incessantly the entire trip.

A week before we left I received a call to confirm my reservations and they had us booked in a two bedroom condo with one master bedroom and one bedroom with a queen bed. I had a meltdown. I tearfully explained to her that I have four kids and that I couldn’t possibly survive the week under that duress. I didn’t think there was enough wine in the state of Florida to get me through!!! She was very kind and upgraded us at no extra cost to a three bedroom condo for our stay. I knew at that moment that everything would be just fine.

And it was PERFECT.

The drive to Orlando was uneventful. We left at 5am, so everyone except Joe slept until we were almost halfway through the trip. Once we got there we were excited to find a gorgeous condo and we went straight for the pool.

Since my step-kids had never been to Disney World before, I wanted them to get a taste of it before we went to the Magic Kingdom the next day, so I booked dinner at the Polynesian resort for the night we arrived in Orlando. I am SO GLAD I did… We had a great dinner and then we rode the boat ferry to the Magic Kingdom and back (while watching the electric water parade). The fireworks started as soon as we docked back at the Polynesian, so we watched them from the dock. After the fireworks were over, we settled into a beach chair on the beach and watched my favorite Disney movie, Tangled, on the big screen on the beach.

I think the excitement and joy of that first night set the tone for the entire trip. It didn’t hurt that we had awesome Fast Pass reservations, plus kids who all like the same rides, and did I mention the weather was actually 15 degrees lower in Orlando that week than it was back home in Raleigh? My step-son even got to celebrate his 15th birthday at the Magic Kingdom. He was wished “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” by pretty much every Disney employee on that day! (I will post more about his birthday dinner soon… it was a HOOT!)

Blended families often face difficulties in scheduling. The key is to not let the bumps in the road cause you to give up. You have to deal with the disappointment and roll with it. In this case, we rolled with it and ended up having the trip of a lifetime with our family. Flexibility is key when in our situation. Since my children’s father gave up his time for us to take the kids to Disney World, I am giving him back that time at the end of the summer so that HE can take them to Disney World.

It’s all about give and take… flexibility… and communication. Who is the winner in this situation? THE KIDS. And that’s all that matters. (Plus I still get to take the kids to Myrtle Beach for the week for the basketball tournament… so I guess I win too. 🙂 )

Blending A Family: Even When It’s Easy, It’s Still Hard

980510_554786311250296_1012210023_oThis was originally posted today on CarolinaParent.com.  Please go to their site and read the blog written by Carolina Parent editor, Odile Fredericks, titled “Seeking Help for Traumatic Teen years.”

It’s hard to believe that our new party of six is almost a year old., Overwhelmingly, it has gone a lot smoother than I expected. Our fears before May 11, 2013, were that the kids would not get along or that they would have adjustment problems. I was particularly concerned that my two kids would have trouble sharing me after having me to themselves for over eight years, and I was concerned that Joe’s kids would view me as a threat to their loyalty to their mother.

After almost a year I can proudly say that neither of those fears came to fruition. Comparatively speaking to other nightmare unions you hear about, it’s been relatively easy. There has been very little fighting between the kids. Joe and I have only had one true argument that was completely blended family related, but that argument helped us remember that we are a team … our marriage is a priority. The past year has mostly been filled with good memories and fun times.

At the same time, it has been the hardest year of my life.

There has been more of so much in my life. More time planning and scheduling of our lives. More laundry to be done on a daily basis. More money spent on food and vacations and activities. More activities to attend. More arguments to diffuse, and more people to tuck in bed. More people to love, and more people to discipline. Did I mention more laundry? Overall, there is just more to fit in an already short week while taking into account an ever revolving door as I coordinate different custody schedules and different school schedules with different activity schedules.

I have to begin preparing for the following week before the current week is even complete, and planning my schedule is much more complex that it sounds. I have to sit down and make sure my schedule is in line with the Google calendar that my ex-husband and I share with the kids. I usually have to email their dad and their stepmom to see what else needs to go on the calendar for that week and to make sure there is not a change in the calendar that needs to be made. I then have to email my babysitter to let her know her responsibilities for the week and then take that same email, change the font to red, and superimpose my husband’s responsibilities into the email before sending that on to him. Even writing the process for planning is exhausting, which makes it no wonder why the two ladies in the Target line early Sunday morning looked at me with such pity when I said, “I have four kids.”

While there has been more, it also feels like there has been less of some things. Less time to focus on our relationship as a couple, and less time to focus on our individual relationships with each child. Less privacy and less alone time (something I crave at times). Less free time to just relax, and less time to focus on hobbies (it’s hard to go to the gym when you have three kids at practices in different locations on the same afternoon).

It also seems like there is less respect for others as each of us has tried to find our own place in our new family. This has been especially trying with two of the kids being teenage boys. It’s hard to know if some behavior is due to the change in our family structure or the change in hormones. Either way, it’s a constant work in progress to stay on top of and eliminate selfishness.

There are no easy roles in a blended family. We the parents are typically the bad guys, but what I have learned over the past year is that the strength in our relationship is what will bring us through this. Even parents who are still together can vouch that the teenage years are tough on everyone. Just like in those families, we will get through it together as husband and wife. It has become clear that not everyone is going to be happy all the time, but we must treat each other with respect and kindness so we can pull through these years relatively unscathed.

Growing together as a blended family has not been without its drama and difficulties, but the power struggles we face are helping us to become even closer as a family. Each day we are all finding our place, and I just know that the best is yet to come.

Sharing Toothbrushes & Whatnot…

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Our kids – LOVE THEM

We have survived almost ten months now as a newly blended family with little to no internal friction.  A couple of small bumps in the road, but no devastating crashes.  Pretty good for having a house with two teenage boys and two pre-teen girls who live in pretty close quarters.

Who wouldn't want to hang out in this room all the time????

Who wouldn’t want to hang out in this room all the time????

I won’t say “tight quarters” because although the boys share a room and the girls share a room, they are unquestionably large rooms.  The girls have two double beds in their room and still have plenty of extra room to lounge around and watch tv or play games.  The boys have bunk beds with a sofa and coffee table set up in their room – the perfect Xbox set-up for teen boys.  So they are definitely not suffering in any sense.

They do, however, all have to share the jack & jill bathroom that is between their rooms.

Four kids. Two sinks.  That wouldn’t seem like a big deal, but it also means four kids and four toothbrushes.  Recipe for disaster… Last week one of the kids was brushing their teeth (I will be vague so no one feels like they are being made fun of).  Another child also went to brush teeth and was confused when their toothbrush wasn’t where it was supposed to be.  It was quickly realized it was because the other child was using it to brush their teeth!! Ewwwwwww.  Everyone was REALLY grossed out and I ended up having to give new toothbrushes to pretty much everyone in the house JUST IN CASE.

Four kids. One toilet.  Thankfully this hasn’t been a big deal because two of our kids leave for school just as the other two are waking up, so different wake times usually mean different potty times.  There are the occasions where I wake to hear quiet footsteps on the hardwood floors in our bedroom and see one of the kids standing near the bed with a deer in headlights expression.  I then hear the whisper, “There’s someone in our bathroom.  Can I use yours?”  We are still trying to figure out why they don’t just go downstairs to another bathroom, but whatever.

Four kids. One shower.  Fifty thousand towels.  I kid you not, THEY GO THROUGH SOME TOWELS.  We recently picked up 18 towels at one time.  18 towels between four kids.  And Joe, the obsessive laundry guy (THANK GOD), does laundry pretty much every single day, so they were towels accumulated over just a few days.  One of the kids said, “I don’t like to reuse towels because I always think someone else used the towel after me. That’s gross.”  Ironically, that was the same child who had someone else’s toothbrush in their mouth.  Nice try.

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I’m a smart girl…

Being the problem solver I am, I resolved the “towel drama” by pulling out my old Bernina embroidery machine and each child now has two personalized towels to use each week.  They are responsible for hanging them up and no one is allowed to use anyone else’s towel.   It’s been working beautifully for a few weeks now!

Overall, the blended family experience for us all has been wildly successful.  Sure we have had to institute more rules in the house – with double the family, there becomes double the responsibility.  Everyone must carry their own weight, which has been a struggle for one child specifically.   We’ve instituted allowance, but rather than be happy that they now get paid in addition to the new rules, they are mad at how we “handle their money.”  Huh.  We also have more activities with four kids, so we all go to more stuff now… which again can be a major source of angst for a teenage boy who is all about his own wants and needs.  So we are working on it.  Considering it hasn’t even been a year yet, we are doing just fine. It’s constant give and take… and I know that someday the kids will realize just how good we have it.

I’m thankful for every second we have with each of them because it won’t be long before they are driving and out the door…  I may be a hot mess heap of hysteria at that time, so I will enjoy every single second of toothbrush/bathroom/towel drama until that day.  Then Joe and I will sit in our rocking chairs on the porch in New Bern looking out over the river and we will laugh remembering how much fun each and every day was with our party of six.

There Is No “Step” In My Love For Her…

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I stayed up long after my family went to bed last night just so I could decorate the kitchen for Valentine’s Day.  We have been snowed in here in North Carolina since Tuesday, so I had to think of a homemade way to tell my family just how much they mean to me on this special day.

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They ARE my life… nothing else matters.

I made a heart for each person in my family and I wrote all the things that I love about them.  On Joe’s, I wrote a letter telling him all of the many reasons I love him.  This is the heart I made for my daughter Crawford:

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So many people have a cynical view of Valentine’s Day, but even though I have spent most of my life not celebrating it with a “Valentine,” I see it as such a joyous celebration of love and life.  It’s a day that makes me want to be even kinder to everyone I encounter – whether it be at work or Starbucks.  No matter who you are, you know that it feels good to be loved.

When my husband walked out of the bedroom this morning, I literally popped up in bed with a smile.  I can’t explain the joy I felt just knowing that he would feel loved when he walked into the kitchen and saw his heart.  I reached over and read an email telling me about the death of my friend’s husband who has been fighting cancer.

My heart fell… and it fell far.

What a juxtaposition of feelings I was feeling.  The joy of love and life.  The sadness of loss and death.  All within a few moments.  My sweet husband brought me breakfast in bed soon after and all I could do was think about my friend losing her husband… on Valentine’s Day.  It certainly set the stage for a pretty sad day.

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He loves me…

It was slow moving this morning as I got ready for work.  I started letting everything bother me.  I got sad thinking about not having my daughter and son with me on Valentine’s Day.  Silly, I know.  It’s not like it’s a “major holiday,” but I was disappointed just the same. My heart was feeling very weighted down.

Then my sweet step-daughter came skipping into my bathroom and said, “Do you want to dress up with me today?”  She wanted to wear a heart bathrobe and a pink hairbow to go to work with me.  In a quick dismissal I said, “It’s a place of business, so we need to look nice.”  As she walked out of the room looking disappointed, I decided in that moment that I couldn’t let the bad news ruin my entire day.  I needed to live my day to the fullest and do whatever I could to make the day a little better for someone, ANYONE, else.

So Hattie and I headed in to work and she said, “Since I am not at school today and can’t tell all my classmates Happy Valentine’s Day, I am going to tell everyone I see Happy Valentine’s Day from this point on…”

And she did.

For the rest of the day, that sweet girl said “Happy Valentine’s Day” to EVERYONE she encountered.  One of my co-workers took her down to get cupcakes for the office and she said it to every person in the cafe (including my boss – who she didn’t know was my boss).

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Yummy cupcakes from Cafe Carolina

When we left work, she spoke to every person we passed on the way to the car.  Once in the car, she yelled out the window to people on the side of the road and people pumping gas.  She said it to the homeless man sitting alone in the corner at Starbucks.  She said it to the old couple getting in their car next to us.  Here is a quick video I took: http://youtu.be/jQJrw8OAFso.

She had said she would stop once she got to 30, but once she got to 30 she said, “You know how sometimes you have extra valentines, so you give those out too?  I’m going for the extra.”

SHE MADE MY DAY.  And not to mention she made the day of numerous people all over Raleigh.  And all by showing just a little bit of kindness and a smile.  And that’s what Valentine’s Day is all about.  It’s not about romantic love.  It’s about showing those around us love and by showing those we love just how much we love them.  THAT is what it’s all about.  It’s about making others feel good.  It’s about spending time when people. It’s about telling our family and friends WHY we love them.

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My valentine for my dashingly handsome husband….

Tonight at dinner, when my step-daughter said to my husband, “We had the best day ever,” I realized just how much joy she brought to my day.  And then she looked at me and said, “I have a poem for you for Valentine’s Day: Roses are red, violets are blue, Yes I have a big smile, but you do too.”

Yes, sweet girl.  I do tonight and it is because of you…

Where Is This “Supposed” Boundary Line?

Being a step-parent may very well be the most challenging thing I have ever done in my life.  Parenting is tough enough in and of itself, but at least with the children I birthed I know that I can make a major parenting mistake and they will laugh at me and forgive me for my shortcomings and then forget about it by the time they get home from school.  It seems like no matter what we face, we begin each day with a clean slate.

It’s different with my step-children.  I find myself worrying that I may at any moment make an irreversible mistake which could cause them to harbor resentment until my last breath is taken.  I often dance around issues and walk on eggshells and probably coddle them more than is even necessary.

But the most challenging part about being a step-parent is not crossing the imaginary “boundary line” to which so many parents and step-parents refer.  We are expected to love the children like our own… but not too much.  We are expected to make decisions regarding our home… but not specifically regarding the step-kids.  We are supposed to be interested in their lives… but not too interested in what they do at the other home.  We are supposed to go to their sports activities and cheer them on… but not offer to assist with the activities. We are expected to treat them like our own… but not really.

WHERE IS THE BOUNDARY LINE?

As both a mother whose children have a step-mom and as a step-mom myself, I honestly have no idea where this supposed line is.  It changes completely depending on the parent and I am pretty sure I have unknowingly crossed that line as both a mother and a step-mother.  The fact of the matter is this: I may not have always willingly accepted it, but my children’s step-mom essentially acts as their mother when they are with her.  Unless it is a major medical or educational decision regarding my children, then she and their father make the decision together if it is their custodial time.  I trust in them and I know if it is something that is the least bit controversial, then they will consult with me.  If I didn’t want that to be the case, then I should have stayed married to their father.  I didn’t, so here we are.

I admit that when my ex was newly married, it would infuriate me when he would copy his wife on all of our emails.  I would always “reply” without hitting “reply all.”  Each time I did that he would add her back on when he replied.  I remember thinking, “WE are the parents! SHE is not! Is she keeping record of all of our correspondence in case he takes me to court?”  It’s much easier emotionally as a mother to designate the role of the step-parent as one of someone who sits on the sidelines and smiles at the appropriate times, but nothing more.  A step-parent worth a grain of salt would never settle to be merely a “cheerleader.”  One day my ex plainly said, “I need her included in the emails because she plays a major role in picking up the kids and getting them where they need to be and she needs to know if the calendar will work out for all of us.” <insert my blank, idiotic and sheepish look here>  I felt like a fool.

Until that moment, I had not seen her as a valid part of our parenting arrangement.

It was in that moment that I realized that I should always include her in my correspondence.  I began reaching out to her specifically about things like clothes or medicine, since she would probably be the one to handle that.  After that email, I realized that she is a woman just like me and it’s not just MY life… it’s OUR LIFE.  What a disservice I was doing both to my children and to her by trying to exclude her from our equation.  We now truly respect each other and share this important role in raising the kids.  After eight years of working together, we don’t have this supposed boundary line in our relationship.  We have something better – TRUST.

Unfortunately, not all step-moms and moms respect each other like we do.  Some are truly out to hurt the other person. A friend of mine reached out to me a few days ago for advice.  She said that her ex-husband, who was very controlling and still angry about the divorce, had remarried an equally controlling new wife.  My friend and her ex have shared physical custody of the children and joint legal custody.  Her kids began a new school in the fall and my friend has noticed that she has been missing important events and has not been receiving information like she should from the school.  She reached out to the school to find out that the step-mom had put HER name in as “mother” on all school paperwork.  My friend’s information was nowhere to be found.  Here’s the kicker: the step-mom had informed the office that she and her husband had full custody and that all of the info was to go to her and NOT to the mother.  My friend had to fax her custody agreement to the school to PROVE TO THEM that she was in fact the mother and had parental rights for her daughter! Can you even imagine??  After doing a little more research, it turns out the step-mom had changed EVERYTHING – soccer contacts, dentist, orthodontist, pediatrician.  My friend is currently trying to figure out how to handle the situation from this point, but this is an example of someone who didn’t just cross a boundary, but POLE-VAULTED over it!

I may not know where the line is, but I know it was crossed in this particular situation – far and purposefully.  I suggested she talk to her ex and plead to his softer side by asking him how that would make HIM feel in the same situation…  She told me that she tried that and his response was, “Too bad… you shouldn’t have divorced me.”  Wow.  I would love opinions from my readers on how my friend should handle this situation with a step-mother who has clearly leapt over that boundary line.

I truly believe there is a balance that can be found between step-mother and mother as long as there is respect on each side.  As many friends have told me though, sometimes that respect is just not there.  While it comes naturally to me to always fill out paperwork with my name and my ex’s name as the parents’ info and the step-parents info under “emergency contacts,” some people refuse to do that – claiming the other parent doesn’t pay or just avoiding putting the information in out of spite.

Because I am in a positive situation, I find it shocking when people choose not to make it work when kids are involved.  Through my writing/research though I am learning that this blatant disregard for the best interests of the children is far too common.  And the very best thing for the children involved in divorce is for there to be no need for these supposed “boundary lines.”  If we all work together with open communication while putting the children’s best interests and needs ahead of our own, then we can raise happy, healthy children… together.  Erase the boundary lines and trust each other.

My Christmas Wish List For Divorced Families

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Update 12/22/13 — This blog was published today by the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/valerie-deloach/my-christmas-wish-list-fo_b_4487571.html

Christmas can be tough following a divorce. If you are single, then you may find yourself alone during a very vulnerable and emotional time. I know, because I was there. I will never forget my first Christmas Eve service at church without my children almost ten years ago. It was a baptism service which made it even harder for me. As we sang Silent Night in the candlelight, tears streamed silently down my face.

Things have certainly improved since then and I am thankful that I have been blessed with an amazing husband and two wonderful step-children who God clearly handpicked for my children and me. The week before Christmas is not quite as lonely as it used to be while my kids are at their dad’s house.

Emotions run high around the holidays and co-parenting can be even more difficult when emotions are out of control. As I have said numerous times on my blog, when emotions are high, reason is gone. This can create a very tense and anxiety filled environment for your children during a time that should be happy and carefree.

So here is my CHRISTMAS WISH LIST FOR DIVORCED FAMILIES for this holiday season:

Faith – Have faith that even if you and your former spouse have a high conflict relationship that you can put the anger aside for your children for the holidays. Because of the distrust present after divorce, you may expect the worst from your ex, but I pray that you will try to remain positive and hope for the best. You cared enough for this person at one time to have children together, so keep the faith that you each can step up and be the people your children need you to be. Your children need you to put aside your feelings and focus solely on their feelings and needs over the holidays.

Joy – Try your hardest to find the joy in the season. So many people during the holidays complain about the crowds and the urgency and rush of everything rather than focusing on what they can do to bring joy to others. Having a blended family can cause more of an upheaval because you may have different kids going different ways. Missing your children can cause you to focus solely on yourself, but try to think of things you can participate in that will bring joy to others which will ultimately bring joy into your own heart. Help at a food kitchen, adopt a family for Christmas or ring the Salvation Army bell. Don’t allow anger to flood over you because you are having to be kind to your ex. Focus instead on the joy it brings your children.

Love – If you are a single parent, remember that being alone during the holidays is not an indication that you are unloved. It’s such a crazy and hectic time that it’s easy to feel that way since friends who are normally good about checking in regularly may have limited time available to call. You may have to make more of an effort than normal, but reach out to your support system during this time so that you can keep your head above water. Surround yourself with friends and family as much as possible. Sometimes just being around friends is all we need. If you work hard to show love to others, then it will only work to increase the love in your own heart if you allow it.

Peace – When emotions are high during the holidays, you may feel like lashing out at your ex even more than normal. Old wounds reopen and anger bleeds out. Do whatever you can to not only keep the peace with your former spouse, but extend an olive branch for the holidays – be kind, be flexible, have the kids call the other parent more than normal, follow the golden rule. It’s in the best interests of your children that you do whatever you can to keep the peace. While I firmly believe that should be the case EVERY DAY, it seems many people have a hard time extending any kindness or compromise to their former spouse, even though it is clearly what the children wish. So for the kids, at least over the holidays, keep the peace.

Hope – If this Christmas has not turned out to be exactly what you wanted it to be, please remain hopeful. Hope is such an amazing thing… because even in our darkest hours, we can remain hopeful of the good that is to come. Hope is the belief that all of the pieces of your life that lay broken on the floor will be scooped up by the hand of God and rearranged into something so much better. Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t work during the holidays and remain hopeful that you and your former spouse can do what you need to do to avoid similar issues in the future.

The holidays don’t have to be a miserable mess just because you are divorced. You and your former spouse can work together to create memories for your children that you can be proud of in the future. We want them to look back on their childhoods and know that it was awful their parents were divorced, but at least their parents put their differences aside to focus solely on the children. We are working hard on that by creating new memorable traditions in our new blended family in addition to the list above.

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Although this is focused on Christmas, I feel very strongly that these are all characteristics that should be modeled throughout the year. Being unselfish parents who encourage open communication and model faith, joy, love, peace and hope when dealing with your ex is the best gift you can give to your kids over the holidays… and all year long.

I promise that the joy YOU will receive by doing so will be an unexpected gift to yourself.

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Stop and Smell The Roses…

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

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

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

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

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

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My handsome boy smelling Dandy’s roses…

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

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

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Kids see Steve… Adults see a STINK BUG.

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

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

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

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

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