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.

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.

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.

 

 

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

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

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They ARE my life… nothing else matters.

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

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

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

My heart fell… and it fell far.

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

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He loves me…

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

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

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

And she did.

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

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Yummy cupcakes from Cafe Carolina

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

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

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

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My valentine for my dashingly handsome husband….

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

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

Where Is This “Supposed” Boundary Line?

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

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

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

WHERE IS THE BOUNDARY LINE?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Essential Organizational Skills for the Single Mom

Published originally today on the Huffington Post:

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

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

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

2) Make Your Calendar Your Best Friend

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

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

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

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

4) Learn to Say NO!

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

5) Delegate, Delegate, Delegate

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

6) Take Care of Yourself

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

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

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

And who can’t benefit from a little hope?

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.

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.