Remove Emotions From Co-Parenting

Published originally today on the Huffington Post:

English: A metaphorical visualization of the w...

English: A metaphorical visualization of the word Anger. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Co-parenting following divorce can be very challenging to say the least. You feel like you have finally broken the ties of marriage, but you find yourself having to deal daily with the one person you want nothing to do with. As soon as you are able, you need to do everything in your power to remove emotions from the co-parenting equation. Do not enter this new role with preconceived ideas. Try to focus on the fact that the marital relationship is over, so this is your new role as co-parents. For the kids, you must remove emotion and start fresh. Let the old ghosts go.

Sure, I get that your ex was irresponsible with your finances. That’s awful. Yeah, so maybe she was having an affair with your next door neighbor. Despicable! But what do those past transgressions have to do with raising your children NOW? Nothing. The marital relationship is over and the co-parenting relationship has begun. And this relationship will last for the rest of your lives.

Just like in a business partnership, you must remain professional in this new role. It seems that the parents who focus on their own agenda or refuse to cooperate with the other parent are the ones who are still harboring a great deal of resentment or anger over the divorce. As a result of this anger, they are only hindering the children’s healing.

From my experience, I have learned that who initiated the divorce is not predictive of who harbors the most anger. I think that the pendulum can swing based on certain life changes. The pendulum can also swing based on the passion each side feels about a certain topic — for example, educational or medical decisions.

The problem with allowing emotion in is that when emotion is involved, logic isn’t. You cannot have a reasonable discussion or think logically when you are caught up in your own internal emotional battle. How can you possibly agree on any major issues when you are being ruled strictly by your emotions? The anger you may feel toward your ex will only cloud your judgment and cause you to make decisions based on revenge rather than focusing on the best interests of your children.

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

In order to put the kids first, you first have to release your anger. You may feel anger over the events that led up to the divorce. You may feel anger over your ex getting remarried. You may feel anger about how your ex treats you. All of this anger is valid and is a natural part of the grieving process, but just like grieving, you have to work through the feelings to move on with your life. And your children NEED you to move on with your life.

Playing the victim card doesn’t work in this new role as a co-parent either. If you find yourself playing the victim role, then you are basically declaring that you are not strong enough to move forward. If you repeat the story about how you were wronged in your marriage over and over to anyone who will listen, then you are stuck. It may be time to seek professional help. Why are you allowing him/her that much power over your emotions? You need to gain control of your emotions so that you can be a good parent.

Letting go of your anger and emotions all starts with your thoughts. Turning those thoughts around is something that only you can change. Changing your ex is out of your control, so take control of YOU and start the process of healing.

For your children, you need to make it your priority to do whatever is necessary to be able to have a positive co-parenting relationship with your ex. So remove the emotion and embrace this new role as a co-parent. Your children will notice the change in your interactions with your ex and EVERYONE will be more relaxed as a result. You will be surprised when you find yourself able to discuss situations with your ex without raising your voice. Disagreements are inevitable, but with emotions removed, you will be able to handle them together as business partners invested in the future of your kids.

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Another Blog Published by Huffington Post…

I submitted a variation of the re-post from yesterday to the Huffington Post and they published it yesterday.   The points are the same, but just condensed and neatened up a little.  Thanks again for your continued support!!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/valerie-deloach/are-you-dealing-with-a-co_b_4182199.html

I will post a recipe today that I have been meaning to post.  It’s a great one for a large family like us!!  And there will be no posts this weekend… I am taking the weekend off from my blog to work solely on my book!

HAPPY FRIDAY!

What Co-Parenting SHOULD Look Like

It’s a typical Friday morning and Johnny wakes up to the sound of his alarm clock.  After getting dressed, he goes to the kitchen where his dad is up already packing lunches and his stepmom is making eggs and bacon for breakfast.  His step-brother comes in and pushes him jokingly – teasing him about a girl.  Smiles abound.

Johnny’s dad reminds Johnny, “It’s your weekend with your mom, so if you have anything you want to take, you need to throw it in a bag now.  She is picking you up from school, but we will see you tonight at your brother’s baseball game.”  They load up the car and head to school.

Three class periods into school, Johnny realizes he forgot his lunch.  He calls his dad, but his dad works too far away from the school to get there quickly.  Johnny’s dad texts mom, “J forgot his lunch.  Do you have time to run something to him?”  After a minute or two his phone buzzes and Johnny’s mom says, “I can head there in a few minutes.  No problem.”

At the end of school, Johnny and his brother walk out to see their mother’s smiling face in the carpool line.  They haven’t seen her since they went to school Wednesday morning, but they have spoken to her each day and talked about their schoolwork and their after school activities.  She has been a consistent part of their days even though they have not physically been in her custody.  That contact is encouraged on both sides.

On the way home from school, dad texts Johnny saying, “How was your big science test?”  So Johnny calls dad and proudly tells him about how well he did on his test.  His dad tells him, “Tell your brother I love him and I will see y’all at the game.”

Later, when they pull up to baseball, their mother pulls into the spot next to their dad’s truck.  Johnny’s brother runs to join his team while Johnny and his mother look for a place to sit.  They see Johnny’s dad, his wife and Johnny’s step-siblings, so they go sit by them so that Johnny can sit with his whole family without feeling the anxiety of trying to decide who to sit with.  They all laugh and joke and cheer on the team.

While this whole scenario may seem too unrealistic to you, it is absolutely possible and in the best interests of all of the children involved.  As you know, this could have gone completely differently with only a few small changes.

When Johnny walked into the kitchen first thing in the morning, his father could have said, “You’re going to your mom’s tonight, but don’t take anything to that black hole, because nothing EVER comes back.” His stepmom would then hug him and say, “I love you Johnny.  Sorry I can’t come to the game tonight, but you know how your mom gets…”  Johnny would start his day feeling torn between his parents.

When Johnny realized he had forgotten his lunch, his call to his dad could have been brutal.  His dad could have breathed hard and chastised him for causing trouble.  It could then spawn a cruel text exchange between Johnny’s mom and dad as they argue over who will take the lunch – reminding each other of past ineptitudes and transgressions and fueling more anger for future arguments.

On the way home from school, when dad texts Johnny, his mom (still angry over the lunch exchange) could say, “Why is HE texting you?  You have been with him for the past two days.  Can’t you focus on us when you are actually with ME?”  Johnny would feel terribly guilty for loving his father and would not feel comfortable calling because he wouldn’t want to upset his mom.

At the game, Johnny would have anxiety deciding who he should sit with.  His brother would have to search the crowd twice to find his parents since they try to stay as far away from each other as possible.

Johnny’s day could go one of two ways and all too often parents poison their children and burden them with undue anxiety solely based on their anger toward their ex-spouse.  It’s clear that everyone in the second scenario is angry.  The worst part is the overwhelming anxiety that Johnny feels all because of his parents’ behavior.

WE control how our children survive following a divorce.   You may call your friends and complain about how hard your divorce is, but the only true victims in divorce are the children.  They didn’t ask for it and they are completely out of control.

There is no winner in this situation, but the one true consolation prize you can give your children is to be the best co-parents that you can be.

Letter to My Kids Re: Divorce

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

I am sorry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tip #1 – Have a Strong Partnership Agreement.

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

YOU WILL NOT ALWAYS AGREE ON THINGS.

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

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

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

Tip #2 – Put the Clients First!

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

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

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

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

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

Tip #3 – Remove Emotion from the Equation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tip #4 – OPEN COMMUNICATION.

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

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

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

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

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

Tip #5 – Argue but Don’t Fight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choose Your Own Life…

The alarm jolted me awake at 6:25am, but my body was just not ready to get up.  I reached over and hit the 9 minute snooze button and rolled back over right into the arms of my handsome husband.  We laid there silently embracing while I thought about the day ahead of me and listened to the rain outside.  The cloudy weather made it darker than normal in our bedroom which made it even more difficult to venture out of our warm cocoon.

It’s sad that at 6:25am when I had not even spoken aloud yet and my feet had not even touched the floor, I was already trying to figure out when I would be able to go back to bed.  I verbalized my thoughts to my husband, who laughed at me (while probably looking forward to getting back in bed with me too, but for other reasons).  Men…

I reluctantly fought my way out of the sheets and went to wake up my 13 year old son.  He had obviously had a restless night because his head was where his feet had been when he went to sleep.  He sat up and said, “I don’t feel so good.”   Not a great way to start the day.

My step-son was asleep in the other bed, so I whispered to my son to get up and shower and that it would make him feel better (yes, mothers always tell you that if you get up/shower/eat then you will feel better).

After rushing around to get ready and pack lunches, we were ready to head out the door to school promptly at 7:45am.   RAIN?  I was not expecting rain.  Obviously I was not expecting rain since my umbrella was IN my car and my car was in the driveway… in the rain.  We ran to the car trying to protect our “i-stuff” in the process.

Not even two blocks away we encountered a very long trailer that was having a hard time turning onto Glenwood from Anderson.  He had the intersection blocked and there were cars just sitting around everywhere.  I remember sitting there thinking that I had not even been awake for two hours and my day was already MISERABLE.

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Yes, that is the back of the truck that is basically scraping the telephone pole on the right…

After a lot of trouble and waiting and sitting in the carpool line, I was headed into work.  With my music playing, I tried to think about happy thoughts but was overcome with thinking about the difficulties I have been facing with a negative force in my life and I started just getting ANGRY.

By the time I parked my car I was just mad and tired.  And it was only 8am.

As I was walking to work from the parking garage, I heard a weird crack coming from the ground and I noticed my shoe felt strange.  I looked down and realized that my heel had broken.   So now I was tired, mad and wet with a broken heel.  It was almost more than my head could handle which made me feel like breaking something, well, other than my heel.

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In Joan & David’s defense, I have only had these shoes for EIGHTEEN YEARS!!!!!!! Gotta love well made shoes!

So thoughts were bombarding my brain as they so often do during that short walk from my car to my office.   It came to my mind that life is just like those books I used to enjoy reading when I was a child – the books where you got to choose which direction the story takes next.

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Our lives are our own “Choose Your Own Adventure” book!

I realized I was CHOOSING to allow these negative thoughts to take over.  I was choosing to allow a difficult morning to take happy time out of my life.  I was choosing to let a little bit of difficulty caused by an unhappy person to take my focus off the 99% of AMAZINGNESS I have in my life every single day.

I made up my mind at that moment that the gloves were coming off in regards to unhappy thoughts.  I was not going to give control to something that deserves NO control.  Negative people too.  DONE.

And it worked!  When Warren called me to pick him up from school because he couldn’t make it through the day, I was walking out the door for a birthday lunch with a friend.  Instead of my birthday lunch, I had to rush to the middle school to get my baby.  I could have been upset about missing my lunch date, but I focused on how thankful I am to have a job that allows me to just leave when necessary to care for my babies.

Anytime a negative thought tried to creep into my head (which let me tell you with some of the stupid in my life at times, it’s hard NOT to let it creep in) I replaced it with happy thoughts.  I thought about how blessed I am to have such a wonderful family.  I thought about how lucky I am to wake up every single morning next to a man with whom I am madly in love.  I thought about how much I love sharing soccer with my stepdaughter when I can and watching my son play basketball.

There are so many more happy thoughts than negative in my life, but it does often feel like the negative thoughts are so much heavier on the brain and heart.  So DON’T LET THEM IN!!!

This is also a great point for families in a divorce situation.  Too many parents focus on the one or two “bad things” their ex does rather than just trust in them to make the right decisions regarding the children.

Now don’t get me wrong, if your ex is doing something that is harmful to the children – getting drunk to the point of passing out with them around, leaving them alone at night to hit the bars/clubs, hurting them in any way physically or emotionally – then fight, fight fight for your kids.  If, however, your ex is just not doing things in her/his house like YOU would do, then replace the bad thoughts with good thoughts and MOVE ON.

I got a comment from a reader earlier this week about this very subject.  Here is a copy of her comment:

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As I said in a previous post, we can only control what we can control.  And we cannot control our ex.  And no matter how much we beg and plead to them to change something that we may not agree with, we are NO LONGER MARRIED.  So basically your viewpoint means nothing to him/her and you are wasting your breath.  As a matter of fact, he will probably fight you on it and do whatever it is more in an attempt to prove you wrong in some way.

IF YOU COULD AGREE ON EVERYTHING, THEN YOU WOULD STILL BE MARRIED.

I read a lot about this subject because it’s common for married parents to disagree about parenting issues.  AND THEY LOVE EACH OTHER!  So if you two are divorced, then you can’t expect to agree on things.  And the only time you have a right to get involved is when it is detrimental to your children.  And not that YOU BELIEVE it is detrimental to your children, but you have valid proof that it is indeed harming your kids in some way.  Unless you have that, then there is absolutely nothing you should do to try to change what happens at your ex’s house.  Because it’s pointless and it only makes you and everyone around you miserable.

I tell friends who are dealing with this the same thing EVERY TIME.  You have to CHOOSE how to deal with this and rather than trying to force your goals and views on your ex, choose to live the best life you can and be the best role model that you can in YOUR HOME.  You can control what happens in your own home and the beauty of it is that if your children are old enough, then they will be able to choose parts of each of you that they want to emulate as they mature.  They will see one parent who is living life in such a way that is not admirable and they will the see you living the best life you can and being a good role model.  Which one do you think they will want to emulate when they have children of their own??

EXACTLY.

And that’s what our goal has to be.  They may learn behavior at the other parent’s home that you will not allow in your home.  I can’t tell you how many times with four kids we say, “You won’t do that in OUR home” when they try to convince us that they should be able to do something since they do it at the other parent’s house.   If they are old enough, then they will be mad, but they will also think about why it is allowed at one home and not the other.   And hopefully they will learn something in the process.

It’s the same thing on the flipside too.  If you happily encourage your kids to love the other parent and encourage them to be a daily part of the other parent’s life even when they are with you, they will remember it when they grow older and respect you more for it.  As I have said in previous posts, the kids will remember which parent truly respected their love for the other parent.  It’s the parent who is not threatened by the child loving the other parent.  It’s the parent who is mature enough to know that the child has enough love to go around so they encourage the children to view themselves as having ONE LARGE FAMILY rather than separate lives with either parent.

So, choose your own adventure!  Choose to be happy!  And choose to always put the kids first!  That should be your new normal.  And you won’t have to even talk to your kids about it, because they will know what just feels right… and they will know who truly had their best interests at heart every step of the way.

THIS is how I choose to live my life... (20th class reunion last summer)

THIS is how I choose to live my life… (20th class reunion last summer)

 

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Update – After posting this blog this morning, I ran to the grocery store to get the ingredients to make my famous Brunswick Stew.  What I thought would be a quick trip to the grocery store took a lot longer than expected because there was a little old lady in front of me in line who wanted to run back and get some ice cream that was on sale.  Then she had a rain check item to talk about.  Then she used coupons.  Then she wrote a check.  The entire time she was just smiling and chatting with the young cashier and the young bagger (both looked like they were in high school).   She looked at me and apologized for taking so long and I smiled at her and said, “Not a problem.  Have a nice day.”

After she walked out, the cashier said, “I am SO sorry she took so long.  Thank you for your patience.”  She looked at me with a genuinely apologetic look.  I thought about my blog and I said, “I could choose to be in a rush and be angry, but who would that help?  It would have hurt her feelings, it would have made you unhappy and it would have just made me feel bad.  So I might as well be patient and enjoy my day.”  Both of them looked at me like I was crazy.  After a pregnant pause the young cashier said, “And it wouldn’t make it go any quicker.  I wish more people thought that way.”

She got it.

We smiled at each other and I told her to have a wonderful day.  I truly hope she does…

Be a Follower….

Dear loyal friends, family, lurkers and fans…

Three months ago I decided to close my old blog, “Life’s a Beach,” which was about my life as a single mother and transitioned to my new blog, “Life in a Blender,” which is about my life in a blended family.  I have truly enjoyed all of the support of my readers and I welcome your messages and comments.  My goal is to be an inspiration to others who may face the same issues that I have faced in the many facets of my life – divorce, single motherhood, remarriage.

WordPress shows me (as the admin for the page) how my readers are finding the blog and it appears there are those of you who actually daily go to Yahoo or Google and search for my blog by my name and/or the blog name.

The simplest thing to do is to “follow” my blog by clicking on the “follow” box in the bottom right hand corner of this page.  The following pops up:

CaptureAll you have to do is enter your email address and click “sign me up” and you will receive an email each time I post a blog.

My blog will be sent directly to your email address!!! No more searching.  No more checking in to see if I have posted.  You will receive it with no trouble for you.  Then you can read it or delete it.  Up to you.

Trust me, I know how busy life can be.  This is just one way to save you a few minutes in your busy day.  I usually say be a leader, but in this case… be a follower.

xoxo, me

P.S.  Check me out on FB too:  Life in a Blender

 

Let Them Be Kids

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

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

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We spent a LOT of time rocking on the front porch

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

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Brings back a lot of good memories…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fishing is free

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

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

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Silly girl

Happy begets happy begets happy……..

My son’s AAU basketball team is playing is the Nationals this week in Myrtle Beach.  If there has ever been a time that I felt compassion (or should I say sympathy?) for my ex, it would be right now.  He has the team staying at his house all week… a whole house of loud, excited, stinky 8th grade boys.

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Did I mention they’ll be playing basketball every day?  And they’re stinky????

They truly are a great group of boys and no doubt this week will be something they will remember for the rest of their lives.  I commend Les for making memories for these boys.  I have already said a prayer for him this morning.

Yes, I pray for my ex.  That is a foreign thought to a lot of people who have gone through a divorce, but it’s something I try to do daily.  Along with praying for my husband’s ex and even the future spouses of our children.  They are all part of my daily prayer.

Why do I pray for my ex?  Because he is the father of my children.  Praying for him is praying for my children.  I could never wish any ill on him because that would be harmful to my babies.  As I have told my kids many times over the years, we may not have been able to make our marriage work, but I love him regardless because he gave me those two amazing children.

Some people wish the past never happened, but I can never question why my past happened when I look at my babies.

The thing that matters the most now is how we all handle the present.

It is so important to children for their parents to get along – even after divorce.  Too many parents are self-consumed and too busy licking their own wounds to realize this.  Over the years I have had many children tell me exactly how they feel about this.  I don’t just mean my own children and stepchildren, although they have all four at different times talked to me about this.  Friends of my children have commented on it.   I even had a stranger say something to me while playing with my kids on the beach.  She said, “That’s my dad over there.  My mom is not here.  They can’t even be near each other…”  Her sweet little eyes showed exactly how that made her feel.

How often do you hear a child say, “I wish my parents would stop being so nice to each other… she really should do things to punish him more”??????

And being nice is certainly not always easy.  I had a friend call me yesterday because she wanted to talk about her ex and a situation involving her child.  It was heartbreaking because it involves a very serious issue that she doesn’t know how to address.  Her relationship has been so good with her ex for years that she doesn’t know how to handle it because she doesn’t want to destroy the good will they have worked so hard to establish.   I sadly had no answers for her, but I listened and tried to give my thoughts.

Even through a situation that was causing her a lot of angst, she was still trying to focus on how to keep her relationship good with her ex because she recognizes how important the co-parenting relationship is – even when the other parent is not really carrying their weight.

So why do some parents attempt to sabotage any relationship they have with their ex?  One of my friends is a divorced dad and his kids live in another state.  His ex won’t let him talk to the kids when they are with her and she sometimes doesn’t even bring them when it’s his weekend to have the kids.  He is having to pay an attorney to try to modify his Custody Agreement just so he can talk to and see his kids.  In attempt to punish him, she is causing great harm to her children.

It is shocking to hear how many stories people tell me about fathers who WANT to have an active role in the lives of their children on a daily basis but are denied this opportunity by the mother.  Considering the statistics of what happens to children (especially daughters) who do not have an active father, you would think these mothers would be thankful to have a dad who cares.  It seems like in the news the assumption is that all dads are every other weekend dads and that is all they even care to be.  THAT IS FALSE.

I have numerous friends on Facebook who are newly divorced who have 50/50 custody of their kids.  That is not something that was prevalent when I got divorced nine years ago.  Fathers are taking a stand to have a more active role in the lives of their children after divorce and I commend them.  As I have said many times in the past, my ex plays a very active role in the lives of my kids by talking to them at least twice a day and never going more than a day without seeing them.

I am so thankful that if my son is being disrespectful, I can call his father and say, “Guess what your son just said to me????” and hand my son the phone.  I have faith in knowing that my ex will support me and take care of the situation just like if he were actually here.

When I tell new people how active my ex is they often comment on how that seems “excessive.”  My response is always, “If we were still married then he would have more contact with his kids than that.  So why should I deny my kids their father if he truly desires to still be a daily part of their lives?  Would I say it is excessive if it was my son’s best friend calling twice a day?  No.  So why should it matter how much they talk to their dad?”

I am not saying that this kind of contact is for everyone, but it works for us.   My children are well adjusted and happy.  I have never heard them complain about having to talk to their dad too much.  It’s just our way of life and it is definitely in the best interest of my kids. 

Their dad is happy because he has a daily role in the lives of our kids even when they are not spending the night at his house.  Because of that, my relationship with my ex is better because I am not robbing his kids from him on a daily basis, so I am happy.  And because our relationship is good, my kids are happy.

Happy begets happy begets happy.  I pray that continues…

…for the kids.