I Will Never Be The Mother I Want To Be…

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

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

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

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

Divorce robbed that from me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That expectation was killing me inside.

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

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

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

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The Struggle Of Communicating With Parents Who Don’t Communicate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Christmas Wish List For Divorced Families

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LifeinaBlender2

Essential Organizational Skills for the Single Mom

Published originally today on the Huffington Post:

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

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

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

2) Make Your Calendar Your Best Friend

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

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

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

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

4) Learn to Say NO!

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

5) Delegate, Delegate, Delegate

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

6) Take Care of Yourself

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

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

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

And who can’t benefit from a little hope?

Stop and Smell The Roses…

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

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

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

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

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

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My handsome boy smelling Dandy’s roses…

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

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

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Kids see Steve… Adults see a STINK BUG.

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

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

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

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

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

Letter to My Kids Re: Divorce

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

I am sorry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mom

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…

Hot Topic Tuesday – When did the switch flip?

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This is a tough question for me because it really makes me look back at and analyze my past behavior.  Who likes to do that?  I am not perfect, nor have I ever claimed to be.  My answer to this question may be more honest and forthright than I am comfortable with admitting.

When we got divorced, I had a very hard time separating my feelings from my behavior.  Although I was the one who left, I still had glimmers of hope that he would fight for the kids and me.  I would dream about him showing up at the front door like a character in a Nicholas Sparks novel and “make things right again.”  That never happened.

Obviously, we didn’t get along.  If we HAD been able to get along, then maybe we would have stayed together.  Although we didn’t get along, I think we were always child-centric on certain things.  I believe the small child-centric things we did are just common sense, but it seems that most people who are newly divorced do not do these simple little things..

When we moved into our new house, the first thing my ex did when he brought the kids home was to let them give him a tour of the house.  He spent time looking at their rooms and swinging in the backyard.  So immediately they were comfortable in their new home because Daddy approved.  He may not have supported my new home, but he came and showed his solidarity because it was in the best interest of our kids.

We were also always good about sitting next to each other (or at least very near each other) at events so that the kids would not have to divide their attentions.  It would also prevent the other child from having to choose which parents to sit with which would only cause the kids anxiety.

The kids have pretty much always had one birthday party too.  One of us would have the party and the other parent would come.  Again, common sense.  Kids only have one birthday, so why have more than one party unless the priority is the comfort of the parents and not the child with the birthday.

With that being said, even through all of that I do not believe I was truly child-centric.  We just did what was right in front of the kids, but my heart was ANGRY.  I was mad that my ex called the house multiple times a day to talk to the kids.  I felt like he was imposing on MY custodial time (although they were with me all week, every week).  THAT was me being selfish and wanting to punish him for not coming to bring us home.  I didn’t give him extra time because I was afraid he would someday use it against me like I didn’t want the kids.  I printed out every email for years and argued about everything I could argue with him about – haircuts, money, his girlfriend, etc.

I would still cry every single time I dropped the kids off at his house (our former marital residence).  Even after he remarried, I would cry when I pulled out of the driveway.  It was like my life had moved on without me and I had to see what it looked like.  I would see my kids with my ex and his wife and my dog and I would feel REPLACED.  That was a miserable feeling that I think that most first wives can understand.  And not only would I feel replaced, but it would make me acutely aware of how alone I was.

It was not until my ex and his wife bought their current home that I truly felt like it was no longer about me.  They bought a log home out on a farm in the country and my kids wanted me to come see their new home.  I called my mom en route to the house and told her what I was doing and she said, “WHAT are you thinking??? You know that will only upset you!”  She was right… I knew that it would upset me, but I knew it would upset my kids even more if I did not show interest in their new home.

I drove up the long gravel driveway and let the kids walk me all around the house and the pool and the gardens.  It was absolutely beautiful.  Their rooms were cute and well decorated and even though some of my old furniture was in the home, it didn’t feel at all like it was mine anymore.  I hugged my kids good-bye and I got in my car to drive out the long driveway.

I remember thinking, “Here we go… the tears will come now,” as I pulled away.  Instead, I realized that I had a huge smile on my face.  I was seriously grinning from ear to ear.  It was in that moment that I realized that I could never in my life be happy living out there, no matter how beautiful it all was.  I am a city girl and I would have been miserable for the rest of my life.  At the same time I recognized that my ex finally had everything he had always wanted…

In that moment, the switch flipped.  I knew that he was where he needed to be and I was where I needed to be…

AND I WAS HAPPY FOR HIM.

From that point on, I never thought any more about custodial times and schedules and questioning his intentions.  If I needed a night to myself, I would ask him if the kids could stay.  No trades, no calendar negotiations.  We just did it.  I tried to establish a friendship with my ex’s wife, which has been positive since that time.  We are even friends on Facebook!  I would have never dreamed of that back when I thought he was “out to get me.”  We always try to sit together at games and during football season we would even all go out to eat together after the games.  I would ask the kids if they had talked to their dad and have them call if they had not.

After that point, I think life improved for all of us.  And I know in my heart it is because I stopped thinking about how all of this was affecting me and I stopped protecting what I considered to be MINE.  We started living life as one family all in support of and focused upon those amazing children.

And the kids are better for it too.  There is no playing one parent off the other in our family.  It used to be that the kids would tell me something about what happened at dad’s house and I would automatically believe the kids at their word.  Now I pick up the phone and call their dad, because most of the time they are trying to pull something over on us.

We may not be married, but we have a successful business partnership… and our business is making sure our kids grow up to be happy and healthy.  There can still be stability in a family, even if the family resides in two separate homes.  We are proof of that.

Survival of the Fittest – Single Motherhood

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

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

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

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

Organizational Tips for the Single Mom

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

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

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

2) Make Your Calendar Your Best Friend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4) Learn to Say NO!!!

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

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

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

5) Delegate, Delegate, Delegate!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And who can’t benefit from a little hope?

One of My Biggest Weaknesses May Actually Be One of My Biggest Strengths

I think my biggest weakness is that I require structure and routine.  And when I say “require,” I mean CANNOT survive without it.  Like EVER.

As much as I would like everyone to believe that I am a free-spirit, someone who can hop on a jet on a whim and travel wherever the hot deals will take me, I’m just not.  I thrive on predictability.  I like deadlines and schedules and consistency.  My favorite time of the year?  When the new calendars come out and I can start filling each box in with all of our “stuff.”  My second favorite time of the year? Back to school.

When I was a first year law student at the ripe age of 35, my young classmates looked over my shoulder in awe at my calendar.  One of the 22 year old guys behind me said incredulously, “Is your calendar (cough, cough) COLOR CODED?”

Yes, I am THAT girl.

And now that I have two more kids and a husband to keep track of, my obsessive need for planning and scheduling is in overdrive.  This whole fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants summer may work for some people, but I am craving order and structure.  Chaos makes me want to run and hide.  It’s especially daunting right now since two kids are back in school but the other two are still living the carefree life of summer.

Yeah, I even have a copy of the tide chart when I go to the beach.  Predictability...

Yeah, I even have a copy of the tide chart when I go to the beach. Predictability…

I just want life to get back to normal.  Is that too much to ask???

If you’re an anxious person, then you know what I am talking about.  Predictability and structure and guidelines are what get you through the day.  I have been like this since I was a child.  All of my friends went to Camp Seafarer and loved it, but I went to Camp Thunderbird.  At Thunderbird, you were given a schedule and they would tell you when you were supposed to move to the next activity.  I thrived in that environment!  One summer I decided to try Seafarer since it was closer to home and all of my friends went there.  Seafarer, however, did not have the schedule.  I was let loose and could do whatever activity I enjoyed.  I was a wreck.  I didn’t know where to go and I absolutely floundered.  I couldn’t wait to get back to Camp Thunderbird the following summer.

My first summer at Camp Thunderbird

My first summer at Camp Thunderbird

In high school, my roommate at boarding school can confirm that I was up until the wee hours of the night before a big paper was due, typing in the closet on my word processor.  I would still be working on the paper right up until class time and then I would turn it in and get a good grade.  If I attempted to write the paper well before it was due, then I could not focus.  I needed the impending deadline to make myself get it done.

As an adult, I see this anxiousness come out when I do not have a plan.  My mood is much better when there is a weekly menu and I would never in my life go to the grocery store without a list.  I plan dinner parties or invite people over because that’s the best way to make me clean the house (gotta have that deadline!).  As I have written previously, Joe knows that I need to know what time we are leaving the house, whether it’s for church or dinner or heading out of town on a trip.  If I don’t have a schedule to work with, then I cannot possibly be ready on time.  The absolute worst thing to say to me if you want something done is, “Just get to it when you can…”  Because if I do not have a timeline, then it likely will not get done.

Weekly menu...

Weekly menu…

Over time though, I have learned that this structure I require is not always a bad thing.  Although I often consider it a weakness, structure doesn’t have to be oppressive.  There is a great sense of security that comes from a structured environment.  There is little “unknown,” and it’s the “unknown” that can cause a great deal of anxiety for a person like me.

In January of 2012, I fainted in my driveway.  When I say the word “faint” you may envision me crumbling to the ground, but that would be far from reality.  I fell like a tree and my face was the only thing to break my fall – not my body or my shoulder – MY FACE.  Straight into the pavement.  I looked like someone had dragged me behind a car.  The doctors ran all sorts of tests from MRI’s to CAT Scans to blood tests, but they never definitively could say why I fainted.  As a result, the next few months of my life were truly my rock bottom.  I lived every minute of every day afraid that I may faint again.  Driving on the highway was terrible because I feared I would faint while driving and wreck.  I had terrible anxiety during that time period all due to the “unknown.”

The unknown can be an exceptionally scary thing to face.  For kids, the unknowns associated with the divorce of their parents can send them into a tailspin.  This structure and routine that I have often viewed as my weakness can actually be a strength when viewed as a way to help people through situations where there is an unknown factor.  For example, structure and routine can give children the ability to structure their own lives.  If they know what is going to happen next, then they can take ownership of their schedule.  It can become their own.

Having something that is their own can certainly be a major achievement when the chaos of divorce takes over in a family.  We have found that in our home having regular routines – dinner together at the table, homework, calling their other parent, bedtime – gives the children confidence in what comes next.  It’s like giving a three year old the countdown at the park, “We are leaving in TEN minutes,” “We are leaving in FIVE minutes,” “Wrap it up, we are leaving in one minute.”  It helps to eliminate the stress of the unexpected.  Children from an early age show that they respond better when they understand what is going to happen next.  If you walk up to a three year old and say, “We are leaving the park NOW,” then you will be dragging a kicking and screaming child to the car.

I’m hoping that my need for structure and routine will be a comfort to all four of our kids as we transition into our new normal.  Knowing what to expect and knowing what will happen next gives them less to worry about in an already stressful time.  Our predictability can make them feel loved without fear of any more loss.  We eliminate the unknowns and just focus on our family.

Maybe what I perceive as one of my biggest weaknesses can actually be my biggest strength in parenting our kids.