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.

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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??????

The Struggle Of Communicating With Parents Who Don’t Communicate

This blog was originally posted on Carolina Parent Magazine’s website.

It’s that time of year again… the time when most parents rejoice and most kids moan. Back to school! After about 10 weeks of no bedtimes, sodas with dinner, and phones kept in bedrooms at night, the dreaded (or welcomed, depending on whom you ask) routine returns. The past couple of weeks have been tough in our house because the kids are fighting us tooth and nail regarding rules that they followed just fine only a couple of months ago. It’s also a tough time because with new schedules and routines, there is a lot of information that must be shared between parents. This sharing of information can often be a struggle for many divorced families.

I write a lot about the importance of communication in the co-parenting situation. Everyone knows it is best for the kids for their parents to do what they can to get along. Keeping secrets from the other parent and/or keeping them out of the loop when it comes to school performances or doctor’s visits puts the children in the middle. I have said a million times that forcing children to choose a side is very harmful and will have lasting effects on them.

While the struggle may be real for the children and parents, people often fail to realize that it’s a tough time for teachers and principals as well. Last weekend I was sitting out at a practice for one of my kids and someone asked me what I was doing. I told her that I was working on a blog for back to school in divorced families, but I couldn’t think of what to write about that was not already done. I had a principal on one side of me and a teacher on the other side and they shared with me how hard it is to deal with parents who don’t communicate with each other. That is a point of view I had not considered. Here are some of the points they made:

MISPLACED ANGER The parents are often so angry with each other, that if they are left off of an email or left out of a meeting, then they immediately attack the teacher or principal. If you are in a blended or divorced family, help the teachers out by always copying your ex on emails regarding the children. If you get a response and see that the teacher inadvertently left off the other parent, forward the message to the other parent. You may not like that person, but they have a right to be completely involved. It’s what is best for the children.

MORE WORK FOR TEACHERS Parents who can’t communicate are the ones who insist that the teacher make two copies of everything to be sent home or they require two separate meetings because they don’t want to sit at the same table with each other… even though it’s about the kids and not about them. The teacher I spoke to said it requires so much more work to make sure everyone stays informed. There are ways that you can help make things easier on the teachers. What my ex and I do is whoever signs the syllabus or report card scans a copy and sends it to the other immediately. That way we are kept informed and the teacher doesn’t have to do extra work. We also make sure that if one of us attends an Open House and the other one doesn’t, then we are sure to put both of our names and email addresses on all lists. Another thing we do is if one of us fills out a permission form, we always put the other parent as the emergency contact. It’s common courtesy to include the other parent whenever you complete any form for your child.

THE PAIN OF BEING PUT IN THE MIDDLE When a parent emails a teacher and shares information but does not copy the other parent, it puts the teacher in a very uncomfortable situation of not knowing what he/she can share with the other parent if then contacted separately. From what they told me, many parents will get angry with the teacher for sharing something with the other parent. It’s often much simpler for the teacher is everyone is copied on all emails and everyone attends all meetings. It eliminates the possibility of misinterpretation.

While all of these ideas are good in an ideal situation, they did acknowledge that sometimes if the parents are extremely difficult and are absolutely unable to put their own issues aside for the best interest of their child, then it can actually be better to have separate meetings because it keeps the conflict down and eliminates any he said/she said. However, you should do whatever you can do to not be one of those high conflict divorces. Try to help the teachers and school administrators by putting your differences aside to communicate for the kids. If you can’t do it for the teachers, then just focus on doing it for your children. Never forget that studies show that it is always best for your children for you to keep controversy to a minimum. The kids are not the only ones who will benefit.

7 Deadly Sins of Co-Parenting

Published today by The Huffington Post……..

Co-parenting with someone who you admittedly would rather not deal with can be challenging and exhausting. Avoid these seven deadly sins of co-parenting so that you can work through the conflict to successfully raise your children – together.

Wrath – This is a common feeling for one going through a divorce. Wrath is an uncontrolled feeling of hatred and anger that cannot be quenched. Because of wrath, many of the other deadly sins of co-parenting are committed. While most people going through it feel they are justified in their wrath, the only ones who really suffer are the kids. If you feel that you have uncontrolled anger, then seek help. It won’t just benefit you… it will benefit your children.

Greed – This is a sin of excess where you have the desire to possess more than you need. In co-parenting, this takes the form of trying to “win.” You may find yourself in court trying to get more custody or more child support, while putting your children through the contentious battle without thinking about what is best for them. As a co-parent, you must be willing to share the children and encourage their relationship with the other parent. If you try to keep the children from the other parent, then the kids will remember it as they mature and the plan will ultimately backfire on you.

Sloth – This rears its ugly head in the form of laziness or failure to do what one should. In co-parenting, this is most likely seen in the inability to follow the Court Order. There may be some things in the Order that you don’t really see as important, but as long as there are little things to argue about with your ex, then you can never be the best co-parents that you can be. You must understand that you will be held accountable, do what you agreed to do, and things can slowly improve.

Gluttony – This is a sin of selfishness. If you choose to put your needs above the needs of your children, then you are being gluttonous. A glutton in co-parenting would be a parent who continues to fight. He/she can’t get enough of the drama and attention, so the fighting continues long after the conflict should have passed. These are the people who want to keep the divorce high conflict even when they are fully capable of working things out.

Envy – It’s easy to feel envy after divorce. You may envy your ex being in a new relationship or you may envy the fun trips your ex takes with your kids. Envy is being discontent with what you have while wanting what someone else has. Dante defined envy in Purgatorio as “a desire to deprive men of theirs.” Envy is difficult because it can cause you to make irrational decisions and can lead to depression through dissatisfaction. You have to focus on being happy with what you have.

Pride – This is the deadliest sin of all because it is the source of all the others. If you believe that you are better than others and you fail to recognize what benefit others may bring to the situation, then you are being proud. Ideally, when you are married, you discuss things with your spouse and make decisions jointly. After a divorce, you must attempt to continue to make decisions jointly, but the dynamics of the relationship are much different now. Don’t let pride get in the way. It is in the best interests of your children for you to swallow your pride and admit that your ex may handle a situation better than you. If it will benefit your child, then admit your weakness in that role and let your ex take care of it.

Lust – You may think of lust in a sexual way, but for the purposes of co-parenting I am referring to an intense desire for anything – power, money, time, control. Lust for control can ruin a co-parenting relationship. Co-parenting requires that you become business partners in an effort to raise your children. Just like in a business relationship, you cannot have a successful partnership if you are both fighting for control. A successful co-parenting relationship will require compromise and communication.

Dear Parents, Are You Tired Of Being Tired? Amen.

A slightly edited version of this blog was published today on Huffington Post Parents.

My face felt tight from a mixture of sticky old sunscreen and dried sweat.  Admittedly there was an unpleasant scent that surrounded me of which I was embarrassed.  Or at least I would have been embarrassed if I weren’t so damn tired.  I had spent most of my day outside at a school track meet which took many more hours than I had planned in my schedule.  And because of this poor planning on my part, I was also completely inappropriately dressed in a long skirt and a jeans jacket.  Sure, I could have removed the jeans jacket, but because of the Spanx tank top I was wearing under it, it would have been frowned upon by the other parents for sure.  Pasty white, untoned arms with a crazy tight tank (showing all kinds of curves and edges I don’t want anyone in public to see)? No thank you.

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It was worth it to see her run her 5:50 mile (personal best) at 11 years old.

So I did as we parents do every year at this time and I suffered through it (and, uh, sweat through my clothes in the process).  We spend hours out at the ball fields, in hot gyms, at field days, or at end of the year parties.  Those of us who work outside of the home leave the comforts of our air conditioned offices to stand out in the sun for hours before returning to work for a few more hours.  All the time feeling guilty because, after forgetting to bring a folding chair for the hundreth time, we realize just how much we would rather be anywhere but there.

It’s the time of year where parents are just exhausted.  And this week has been, well, even more exhausting-er than normal.

My normal annoyingly positive attitude is not sure how to handle the never-before-thought negative thoughts brewing inside my head this week.  My mind went into defense mechanism mode yesterday afternoon.  Seriously.  It just SHUT DOWN and I actually said to myself, “Thank God tomorrow is Friday.”  And it was only TUESDAY.  Nice coping mechanism, self, but just saying it doesn’t make it a reality.

My reality this week was spending most of the day on Monday with my kids and my ex-husband’s family at the visitation/funeral/burial of my children’s great uncle.  Divorce may be a divisive factor in our lives, but death brings us all back together.  It was a wonderful service for a man who had such a servant’s heart.  He was always there for anyone in need.  He was one of those people who just made you feel good by being around him.  As Maya Angelou said:

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#TRUTH

The funeral on Monday was emotionally exhausting and then Tuesday was physically exhausting.  I went to work for a few hours, then went to my daughter’s track meet for a few hours, then went by my attorney’s office to sign some paperwork, then went BACK to work for a few hours, then raced home to get my daughter’s basketball clothes/shoes and pick up my son, so we could race over to pick up my daughter from piano.  She changed in the car as we raced to basketball practice.  When the kids got out of the car to go into basketball practice, I realized it was the first silence I had experienced all day.  And it was after 6pm.

So what did I do with my free time?  I opened my brief case and pulled out some work.  <sigh>

Joe called to talk about dinner plans.  I guess I was a tad short with him because he said, “What’s wrong, honey?” I felt like I let all of the air out of my lungs as I said,

“I’M JUST….. SO……….. TIRED.  And I’m just so tired of being tired.”  

Catching some quick Z's after practice...

Catching some quick Z’s after practice…

It’s that time of year again.  The time of year where we all just do whatever we can to get by.  Jen Hatmaker’s blog that went viral last year, Worst End Of School Year Mom Ever, was absolutely the best verbalization of this feeling that we all feel every single year at this time.  We are just sick and tired of being sick and tired, so we just EXIST.  It’s that “existence” that is so hard for someone who takes pride in being on top of everything.  Instead of being my normal prepared self, I find myself wishing away time – praying for a little bit of something… something that I haven’t felt since last summer.  FREEDOM.

And I don’t mean freedom away from the kids, necessarily… I mean freedom to just NOT DO. 

We go, go, go, go all the days.  Our schedules are marked on and highlighted and color-coded as we race from one activity to the next or divide and conquer while kids have different activities in totally different cities.  We make it happen because like Maya Angelou said, we want our kids to remember how our dedication made them feel.

Children don’t feel love through the thousands of dollars worth of shoes you buy them or the expensive camps you send them to.  They feel love when they are out on the court and they look to the sidelines and see you give them a thumbs up.  They feel love when they fall on the field and they hear your familiar gasp from the sidelines as you say a quick prayer to God to make sure your child gets back up.  They feel love when they see you with flowers in the audience after a piano recital.  They feel love just spending time with you.  But most importantly, they will remember how your love and dedication in their lives made them feel.

It’s YOUR TIME they need the most. It’s that simple.

The best thing we can do for our kids and for ourselves is to get a quick re-charge.  Like when your AC stops blowing cold air and you need to re-charge the freon… we go so hard for so long that we just start blowing hot air all around.  And when we are blowing hot air around, we are of no use to anyone.  Especially our kids.

And right now I feel like I am blowing hot air EVERYWHERE…

This weekend we have no basketball tournaments and no plans.  I am already scheduling in my calendar (WITH A SHARPIE) the 12 hours of sleep I want to get on Friday night.  I may not even get out of my nightgown on Saturday THANK-YOU-VERY-MUCH!  Visions of kids laughing by the fire pit while watching outdoor movies are floating around incessantly in my head.  And I know that after having a restful weekend I will be back to the Val who everyone knows and loves, not the Val that everyone hides from because she may burn a hole through you with her exhausted/angry glare.  Not the mom with the ultra-short fuse.

I know that once I get my refresher weekend that I will again be the kind of person who encourages people… the kind of person who makes people smile and whose energy makes others feel good. That is the real Val.

THAT is how I want to be remembered.  

 

 

Lesson From The Wave

 

Durham Bulls

The Durham Bulls had their opening night last night and it was so much fun! We only had two of our kids, so we had a smaller crew than normal, but it was a great time.  The sounds, the sights, the smells… and a W for the Bulls!!!! We have mini-season tickets, but since this game wasn’t included in our package we sat in the outfield.  I can say one thing with certainty, there was a lot of interesting people-watching going on!  I like our regular seats better because there aren’t many people in front of us, which allows me to focus my attention on the actual game rather than the people around me.

Hattie really wanted to get the wave going, so she was thrilled when a boy sitting near us decided to take matters into his own hands.  We always participate in the wave, but it was fun to see it close up from the start.

When the wave starts, you only have a small group of people who stand up, wave their arms and yell.  Each time they start the wave, it goes a little farther.  Then a little farther… until you have this:

This made me think about the snowball effect of negativity in divorce.  It may start out small with you nitpicking small transgressions you feel your ex is guilty of doing, but it can quickly get out of control with you becoming obsessed with bringing everything that you think he/she is doing wrong to light.  Usually this is actually done with good intentions.

This constant barrage of insignificant transgressions will only cause you to be miserable as you perceive the transgressions as personal attacks on you.  And one thing I have learned for sure in my life is that if I let things bother me based on the actions of other people, I am letting them win.  Not only that, but I am miserable while they continue to be happy.

I explained this concept to one of my girls the other day when she was talking about something that someone did that “made her angry.”  I told her that she couldn’t let someone else’s actions make her feel bad.  She has to choose to let it go (yes, that was my motto well before Frozen came out).  My example to her was, “You are going to make yourself miserable thinking about it while she could be having the happiest, best day of her life!”  Her response was, “Not if I tell her how it makes me feel.” And I said, “But she may not care, so it will make you feel even worse.”  LET IT GO…

In divorce, we have to learn to let things go that we may not want to let go and we need to choose our battles.  You and your ex are not going to agree on things.  Take that to the bank.  But you have to choose to let things go so that you can be happy and move on with your life.  You have to stop the wave before it takes off and focus on your own happiness.

I often admit my own inadequacies when I write, which is what a lot of people say they enjoy about my blog… and I do admit that I remember the days when I used to email my ex about things that my kids would tell me as soon as they came back from his home.  I remember being infuriated with him and I remember him saying (a phrase I heard often that would only infuriate me more), “Per usual you don’t know what you are talking about.”  Ouch… I had verbalized in bullet points my argument based on something the kids told me and I got… gulp, THAT.

It took a while, but after being blown off enough in my quest to be heard by him I realized it wasn’t worth the energy or the anger.  I was furious and he couldn’t care less about how I felt.  What was the point??? I felt bad and he probably didn’t think another thought about it.

If you know someone who is in the throes of divorce, don’t be a negative advocate who only fans the flames of anger by telling them things you hear or encouraging them to “teach him/her a thing or two.”  The best friend you can be would be to encourage them to move along… transcend…. choose their battles... let it go.  If you can help them refocus and remember the good that has come, then maybe they can stop focusing on the negative.  You can help them stop the wave of negativity that has taken over their lives.  Change is very difficult, so they will need your support.

I need to change my eating habits, so I would appreciate some support on that if you’re in the helping mood…

Yep... lunch today. Eeek.

Yep… lunch today. Eeek.

 

 

I’m Wearing Mascara Again

I’m sorry I haven’t posted a blog since February 28th.  Although everyone who knows me knows that I am annoyingly optimistic and cheerful, I have been struggling over the past couple of weeks with self doubt, a touch of heartache and a boatload of fear.  I’m not ready to share the details, but would appreciate whatever prayers and good vibes and happy thoughts that you can throw my way.

So many people keep telling me, “You need to give it over to God and let Him handle it.”  I don’t know about you, but that certainly sounds like the best way to handle any problem… but the true issue is HOW to give it over to Him.  How do I just say, “Here God… I’m not thinking about this anymore”?

Granted, throughout my life it seems that good things always come from the doors that have closed in my life.  After my divorce, I moved to Greenville where I quickly got a good job with Bank of America Mortgage (just by starting a conversation with a random stranger at the cell phone store).  That led me to a transition job with SunTrust Mortgage that bought me time while I applied to law schools.  Once I got into law school, the kids and I were able to move back to Raleigh where they could be closer to their dad.  Since law school tried to kill me, I left after three semesters and had a new job working with a political consultant less than a week later.  After a year, I was offered a position where I work now (which is where I briefly interned while in law school).   All of this brought me back to Raleigh and kept me here long enough to reconnect with Joe (who dated one of my friends in high school)… and now we have been blissfully married for ten months today.  As I have blogged about before, HAPPY BEGETS HAPPY BEGETS HAPPY.

Sure we have had our share of insignificant struggles, but none of those compare to the darkness I feel as though I am facing now.  Decisions must be made that affect much more than me and they have far-reaching consequences for which I don’t want to be responsible.  I have been praying incessantly and I have cried more than I would care to admit, but the fact of the matter is every single day I feel more at peace in my heart.  Every day I feel like things are going to be just fine.  Every day I feel more and more comfort in knowing that whichever way this goes, we are all going to be fine.

I guess that is God at work in me – giving me peace when I have none and giving me comfort when I doubt.  I am so thankful for all of my many blessings and I need to focus on that.  I have transcended before and can do it again.

On Saturday, I wore mascara for the first time in two weeks.  I explained that significance to a friend of mine by saying, “Wearing mascara proves that I have not cried today and, more importantly, it proves I started the day with no INTENT of crying.”

Baby steps.

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.

We Can Get Through Anything Together

As published today by Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/valerie-deloach/blended-families-we-can-get-through-anything_b_4557028.html

Our party of six had our first family drama this week.  I’m proud to proclaim that it took almost eight months of marriage before it happened (which admittedly is MUCH LONGER than I expected it to take with four kids in the house).  Joe was picking the boys up from youth group when the girls got dropped off from church.  I was cooking dinner and it was a seemingly peaceful Sunday evening – the proverbial calm before the storm.

It was one of those times when I was happily humming and doing what I love to do best when one of the girls came in the kitchen crying… and all hell broke loose.  Apparently one of the girls overheard the other saying ugly things about her while they were at church.  Another friend was involved who apparently stirred the pot a little too.  As a result, my step-daughter was saying that her mom would come get her and my daughter was refusing to discuss it.

And Joe was not home… so I was left to handle it alone.  While my negotiation skills and people skills serve me well in all areas of business, they are no match for two upset preteen girls.  Although Joe was not there, I knew it had to be handled and that I was the mother in the home.  I knew where to turn… I prayed.

I prayed for strength and knowledge.  I prayed for the strong foundation of love that these girls clearly have.  I prayed that the right words would come to me.  I prayed that I would remain unbiased and not be too hard on either one of them.  I prayed that God would be with us.  Then I called them downstairs for dinner.

Of course they were none too happy because I made them sit in their regular seats at the table (next to each other) although no one else was at the table.  And then I began, “I know neither one of you wants to talk about this and I am not going to make you… but I am going to make you sit here and listen to me.”  The words just flowed from my heart… about love and forgiveness and family.  I stressed the importance of communication and how no matter how uncomfortable it may be to communicate it is worthwhile to avoid situations like this.   How if things are not discussed, then they can build up inside.

My daughter said, “But it’s HARD to tell someone something when you know it’s going to upset them.  You’re an adult. It’s easier for you.”

Boy was she wrong.  It is not easier as an adult.  Even with Joe, my soul mate, it’s hard to broach sensitive subjects.  My heart beats fast and I get the nervous sweats, but once I get it out, I feel so much better.  Holding it in and trying to just move on will not help the situation improve in any way.  That’s the very thing that ends friendships and leads to the demise of marriages.

It’s especially hard to broach difficult subjects in co-parenting situations when you feel very strongly about something and want to discuss it with the other parent.  This is someone to whom you no longer have emotional ties but you would like to have a heart to heart about your children.  You have to take a leap of faith when trying to discuss the topic since while seeking honest communication, you may instead get chastized or ignored completely.

Silly girls on the day they became SISTERS.

Silly girls on the day they became SISTERS almost 8 months ago.  They wanted in on the marriage action so they re-enacted Joe proposing.

Thankfully, since we consistently encourage open communication in our home, the girls calmly took over and talked about what happened.  They semi-apologized (enough for me to be satisfied for the moment anyway) and went their separate ways for a while.  Joe got home and I was snuggling with my step-daughter on the sofa.  We all chatted a little and then my daughter came downstairs and snuggled up on the couch with us.  They exchanged what this time seemed to be heartfelt apologies and the night seemed to end on a positive note.

While I know this is just the tip of the iceberg with two girls who are quickly approaching their teens, I am very proud of how they handled the first true controversy in our home.  My step-daughter had the initial “flight” feeling, but we stressed that no matter what happens in our home, we can get through it as a family.  Neither girl will be allowed to run away from problems.  We are teaching our children to face their fears and any controversies.  We are raising strong leaders, not quitters who place blame on others.

Last night while the girls were sprawled out on the floor in front of the fire in their jammies watching a movie, giggling and being silly, I made eye contact with my amazingly handsome husband and we just smiled at each other.  Our hearts were filled with joy and my husband even commented on how he didn’t want the night to end.  We were witnessing firsthand the forgiveness of siblings and the strength of their love.

First lesson taught and it was a success.  Our family is strong.  Family comes first.  Friends are fleeting but siblings are forever.  No one in your life will have your back like your siblings will.  No running away from controversy.  We face any adversity life may throw our way (no matter how uncomfortable it may be).  And we learn from it and grow closer in the process.

We can get through anything TOGETHER.

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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