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.

Control What You Can Control – Hot Topic Tuesday

Tuesday’s Hot Topic

This is a question presented to me last week through Facebook by a reader (and good friend).  She wrote:
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All I can say in this situation is CONTROL WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL…….. YOU.

We spend so much of our time wanting to be liked.  Liked by EVERYONE – friends of friends, new people we meet and even the ex of our new boyfriend.  The truth of the matter is that his ex-wife doesn’t want to like you.  And when you don’t want to like someone, well, you won’t.  Even if you see that they have a redeeming quality or two, you will work extra hard to find something else NOT to like.  Even if you are as fabulous and great as you are (which I know you are)… she will still choose not to recognize that.

Nothing that you do will change her mind if she has already decided not to like you.  Only time and a softening of her heart will change that – two things that are completely out of your control.  And until that day, you will just be the new floozy of the week because no one could possibly replace her.

So there are a few things you can do to keep your own sanity while she campaigns against you to anyone and everyone who will listen.  And the stories can be very rich and full of lies, but you have to keep your calm.  Even if you met him six months after he separated, you will still somehow be the reason for the demise of their marriage.  Brush your shoulders off… and control what you can control.

My first piece of advice is to fly under the radar.  Let your boyfriend deal with his ex-wife and you just smile and nod.  Say hello and say goodbye, but don’t try to small talk or anything because trust me, she is just sitting there blankly listening to you while thinking that in two weeks she will have to endure this stupid idle chatter with a new bimbo.

I am in no way minimizing your relationship, but if you are merely dating, then she won’t take you seriously anyway.  So why try to convince her how great you are?

As I said above, when you DO have to interact, be nice… but don’t expect anything.

Did you hear me???? DON’T EXPECT ANYTHING!  Do you see her over there texting at the baseball game right after she talked to you?  You and I both know that she is most likely texting her best friend or the guy she is secretly seeing and telling her/him about your trashy outfit or your incorrect grammar or the stupid look on your face.  Even if none of the above is true.

All you can do is be the best you that you can be and know that one day you guys will work past this.  It’s like a rite of passage.  If you have been there, then you know what I mean.  On either side.  Trust me when I say you are either saying, “Why doesn’t she like me?”  or you are saying, “Why does she keep trying to talk to me???”

So put the kids first, no matter what.  Put them first above your relationship even.  I am not saying once you get married you should keep the kids first, because we all know that the order once you get married is God, your marriage, then your family.  But if you are not married, then the kids are in a very precarious position.  They want to like you, but we both know that they are probably hearing sighs and scoffs and seeing eye rolls whenever you are brought up in conversation.  This puts them in a difficult place for a little heart to understand.

Take the high road and focus on the kids and their happiness.  They will see that your focus is on them and if their mother is being mean to you for no reason, then sadly they will see that as well.  One day they will be old enough to remember it all and hopefully they will learn something about true love and Christian principles by seeing the way you handle everything with grace.

You can swear up and down that you could NEVER be like that… but I truly believe it’s just human nature.  We want to always believe that we are better.  We are more important.  We were first.  But the truth of it is… even if you come second or third… if you are married, then you are HIS WIFE.  And he only has one.   If you are dating, then you aren’t there yet… but just be patient and be understanding and most importantly, PUT THE KIDS FIRST.

Control what you can control… You.  Trust me when I say you are better than you feel like being right now….

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.

Discipline in a Blended Family

I solicited help on some blog topics and got so many great ideas that I have had trouble deciding what to write first!  Thank you to everyone who contributed.  Your continued support inspires me daily to keep doing what I love.

I thought the best way to do this would be in Q & A format and just answer a question or two at a time.  If you think of more questions, I welcome them.  I enjoy being challenged.

1) Who should the disciplinarian be with the kids and what role should the step-parent play in discipline, if any?

If there is one thing that I have learned from talking to my remarried friends or from reading the abundance of books I have read about successful step-families, it is that no two step-families are alike.  So just because something works for one family does not mean it will work for another.  It is truly dependent on the bonds that have been formed between the step-parent and the step-children.

One of the best Christian books I read about step-families said that the parent should be the disciplinarian at first while the step-parent should play a role similar to a babysitter.  As the bond between the step-kids and the step-parent grows, then the step-parent can gradually pick up more of a parental role when it comes to discipline.  I agree with that completely, but our family has proven to be a little different.

I am very proud of the way Joe and I introduced our families.  Since I had been divorced for many years when he came into our lives, he was pretty much incorporated in our family early on.  My children were more than ready for me to meet a nice man, so they were encouraging and happy from the beginning.  I truly believe that they knew from the start that Joe was good for me and for US as a family.  The kids would actually tell me how much nicer I was because of Joe.  Anytime I would do something extra nice for the kids, my son would say, “Did Joe tell you to do that?”

We waited much longer to bring his kids into the fold.  Joe’s kids did not have the time under their belt that my kids did.  We felt they needed more time to heal and adjust before throwing my kids and me in the mix.  After about six months together, we decided to introduce everyone.  From the start, I made it clear that I would not infringe on Joe’s time with his kids.  His kids came first and they knew that.  I did not want them to perceive me as a threat to their time with their dad.  It was hard, because I wanted to be with the man I loved, but I knew that the kids needed to have time to acclimate.  It has been smooth sailing every since.

You have to give them the time to get used to you so they can know you are not a threat to come between them and their dad.  Our kids have done a very good job at bonding and I think it is clear they have even formed an allegiance AGAINST US, but they are happy and that is all that really matters to me.  And this instant trust and strong relationship that we formed has allowed Joe and me to discipline more than I think would be recommended in new marriages.

Since we have four kids who match up – two boys 13 & 14 and two girls 10 & 11 – disciplining has been easy because anytime I have needed to discipline thus far, it has been to discipline both boys or both girls.  So I can discipline my step-child ALONG WITH my child.  Thankfully so far we have not had any major issues that we have had to handle, but the kids have seemed receptive to this because they see that they all four are disciplined the same.  However, if Joe is home, then I will usually tell him what I think and let him handle it with my step-kids and he seems to do the same thing vice-versa.  So even though we both feel comfortable with our disciplinarian roles, we also know when to back off and let the other one handle it.

As I have said before, our home is about open communication in every way, so we encourage the kids to talk to us if they feel that something is not working and so far things have been going well.  All four of our kids were begging us to get married, so there was no resistance from them regarding having a new step-parent in the home.  I feel certain if there is any resistance, then any disciplinarian role should be brought into play very slowly.

It’s also important to be very clear with expectations.  This is exceptionally important in our home right now because my birth kids are on summer break from school and my step-kids are already back in school.  As a result, my step-kids have to go to bed around 9:30pm while my daughter is up until 10:30pm and my son gets to stay up until midnight.  Surprisingly enough they have not struggled like I expected.  I feel certain that is because my step-kids are smart enough to know that the tables will turn in a month or so when they have track-out.

We tried to set them up for success by letting them know that the rules do not always apply the same to every person and that’s just the way it is.

LIFE IS NOT ALWAYS FAIR.

This was important to us because when we got married my kids quickly realized that Joe is a little more strict than I am.  For example, Joe had always taken his son’s phone and plugged it in another room at night.  My son has always plugged his phone into his alarm clock at night.  One of the first nights we were all together Joe walked into the boys’ room and said, “Let me have your phone” to his son.  The next day my son told me, “When Joe came in and asked for his phone, I was really worried.  I thought he was getting ready to ask me for mine too.”  I explained to him that we were going to do our best to keep the rules that we had in place before marriage.  I think this approach has been comforting to the kids.

Again, let me reiterate that every single family is different and just because this is working for our family does not mean it will work with yours.  In reality, there is no guarantee this will work for our family next week!  Just like in a first marriage family, we are all constantly evolving and growing and we have to do what we can to respect each other while we do so.

Let Them Be Kids

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

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

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We spent a LOT of time rocking on the front porch

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

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Brings back a lot of good memories…

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

porch

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

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

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

cottage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fishing is free

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

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

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Silly girl

In The Big Leagues – Part II

I know, I know, I know… I said I would post part two days and days ago, but I just didn’t.  This particular topic has been a struggle for me because there are just SO MANY things that we are doing differently this time that choosing the top five things has been tough.  Very tough.

A few days ago I went to dinner with one of my best friends who just recently got engaged.  We had a beautiful backdrop at the Boylan Bridge Brewpub and we talked about some serious stuff.

Gorgeous view with a gorgeous friend...

Gorgeous view with a gorgeous friend…

She has two kids and is also marrying a (wonderful) man with two kids… and she wanted to pick my brain about how we are “making it work.”  They will also be a party of six in just a few short months.

I told her that I was actually writing a blog about five things that we are doing differently this time around and she burst into laughter and said, “Just FIVE??? I feel like we are doing EVERYTHING differently!”  And that is so true.  Often in new relationships we find ourselves wanting to do everything exactly the opposite considering we have always been told that the definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.  But sometimes not EVERYTHING needs to be different if the people involved are different.

In my blog the other day I talked about the first two things that I feel like I am doing differently this time around…   Communication & Releasing Control.   Here are the next three:

3) Having Date Night – We are working really hard to focus on nurturing our relationship.  The kids know this because we hug nonstop.  Yep, nonstop.  We even slow-danced at Highway 55 last weekend at the lake while waiting on our dinner order.  Joe’s kids were with us and they were red-faced and laughing.  As part of nurturing our relationship, we are making sure to schedule weekly date nights.  That has been an easy task this summer because we have had a lot of time without kids.  We try to do it when we have no kids, because my son in particular has stressed that he doesn’t want us doing date night when we have them.  As I have said, he is the one with the most resistance to change and he is not used to me ever getting a sitter when the kids are with me.  Even while Joe and I were dating, we would always do our date nights every other weekend when my kids were with their dad.

We even have started doing “in-home date nights” while the kids are with us.  When we were at the beach for a week last month with all of the kids, we told them one night that we were having date night and they were not allowed to come upstairs until 10pm.  That gave us a couple of hours to snuggle on the couch and spend time together.  They stayed downstairs watching tv and playing Xbox.  We had a nice time and at exactly 10pm all four kids were standing at the end of the couch together (the mental picture is awesome and I wish I had it to show you) saying, “Did you have a nice date night?  Because it’s OVER now…”  And they jumped onto the large sectional sofa with us to settle in and watch tv.

They may laugh at us, but I am thankful that our children can see what a healthy relationship is supposed to look like.  Before my divorce, that was one of the hardest things for me to swallow.  I knew that our relationship was dysfunctional, but all I could think about was that my children would grow up thinking that was NORMAL… and I was NOT okay with that.  Now they see how important our relationship is to us.  They don’t see us living separate lives in the same home.  They see how much we enjoy being together.  Our relationship is the glue to our family.

Now that we have our own “studio apartment” essentially, we can have date night any night we want to turn the skeleton key in the door.  We have Joe’s sectional sofa in our bedroom now, so we have our own living area along with our bed.  We have joked that if we had an electric skillet to cook bacon and a dorm-room refrigerator then we would never have to even leave our room… hmm.

4) Keeping the Faith –  Our faith is such an important part of our relationship.   By making our individual relationships with God the priority, we are better equipped to handle the challenges and struggles that we will surely face while blending families.  Marriage is the firmest foundation there is but it is not ALL about happiness… it’s about encouraging your spouse and steering him/her in the right path to have a strong relationship with Christ.  This is especially true if you have to have day-to-day dealings with a difficult ex.  We have to continue to keep the focus on Christ-centered thinking and not allow outsiders to affect our relationship.  We encourage one another to have an other-centered attitude even when dealing with people who are completely self-centered and toxic.

This is very important to me because I have never been in a relationship where it was clear that Christ comes first.  I am so thankful to have someone like Joe, who is such a strong spiritual leader in our home.  We work hard to model our Christ-like love and commitment at home in front of our children so they see His witness through us, then they can KNOW that divorce is not even an option for us.  That gives our kids stability in an otherwise unstable time.

And even if we are not treated well by others, which is common after a divorce, we must always show a heart of compassion.  At every meal we pray for the food we will receive, we pray for family members who are sick, and we pray for the part of the family that is not with us on that day… we even make a special point if the kids are going back to the other half of their family that we pray they will have a good time and be safe while away.  We demonstrate kindness toward their other parent because we cannot show the kids Christ’s love if we cannot even show an ounce of kindness toward someone who is that important to them.

And, finally…

5) Affirming One Another – Both Joe and I have taken Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages test and not surprisingly, we are both very high on “Words of Affirmation” and “Physical Touch.”  What that means is that we both show and receive love by hugging each other and telling each other how much we mean to one another.

Joe does SO MUCH.  As I have said over and over, I am not sure how I made it through the day without him in my life.  Even as I am sitting here writing this afternoon, he is marinating salmon and doing tons of laundry.  In the past, that stuff would just not get done… or my writing would just not get done.  When there is only one of you, you just can’t do everything!  It is great to have someone say, “Why don’t you let me go get him from practice so you can help her with her homework.”  Because of this, I tell him EVERY SINGLE DAY just how thankful I am for him.  No matter how small the deed, I try to look him in the eyes and thank him for what he has done.

And he does the same thing… we work hard to say thank you to each other because we are so appreciative for WHAT WE HAVE.  We make sure that we never whine about what we DON’T have.  It’s very important for me that he feels my unconditional love for him because I know that he has never experienced that kind of love.  So I make sure that he knows that while I appreciate all that he does, I do NOT expect it.  And I am SO THANKFUL.

So those are the five things that we are doing differently this time around: Communicating, Releasing Control, Having Date Night, Keeping the Faith, and Affirming One Another.  While there are plenty of other things we are trying to do differently, those are what I consider to be my top five.  I know that as our relationship progresses out of the “honeymoon stage” (which personally, I am not sure at this point could EVER happen) that other things will arise and we will continue to have challenges regarding our ex-spouses, but the strength in our relationship due to the work we put INTO IT will make all the difference.

Happy begets happy begets happy……..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy begets happy begets happy.  I pray that continues…

…for the kids.

We Got This…

I think most people can agree that I am an annoyingly optimistic and happy person.  I recently saw a picture of myself without a full tooth smile and I had to look at it twice because I didn’t recognize myself.  My kids know that it is rare to see me without my smile, but admittedly, it happens.  And it apparently happened last week.

Last Thursday was just a bad day for me.  Work was fine, but there was some other ridiculous drama going on that caused me to spend a lot of time talking to my dad (a retired judge), others in the legal field, and just friends who are familiar with the situation.  By the time I got home from work I was emotionally exhausted.  I drove up my driveway and just sat in my car for a few minutes talking to myself.

“You can do this.  Put your smile on and convince the kids you are fine.  You got this.  You got this….”  I slapped the smile on my face and walked into the house.  As soon as I walked into the kitchen, I could see my stepdaughter sitting on the floor with the Monopoly board in front of her.   She was smiling broadly and said excitedly, “Valerie, come here, quick!”  So I walked quickly into the living room and my daughter jumped out from behind the door, arms flailing and screaming.  Yes, it was a childish attempt to scare me, but guess what I did?  Yep, broke down in tears.  I mean, fell ALL TO PIECES.

It was rather embarrassing to see the looks on the faces of my daughter, my stepdaughter and my babysitter.  I walked back into the kitchen with tears streaming down my face.  Both girls followed me back in the kitchen and were looking at me with a mixture of confusion and concern on their faces.  I told them, “I’ve just had a really bad day and you just really scared me…”

They both hugged me and hugged me and were visibly upset over my reaction.  By the time Joe walked downstairs we were all laughing about my craziness.   I was fine after that, but I have a feeling the girls will think twice before they scare anyone anymore.

Although I may have upset the kids by my reaction, maybe it is good for our kids to see us as human from time to time.  Because Joe and I are such happy people, I don’t want the kids to grow up thinking that we are some sort of freaks of nature, because it’s just not possible to be perfectly happy every single day of your life.  Things are going to upset us.  I also don’t want them to think we are hiding our feelings.  We want to focus on good communication in our home rather than living in fear of what someone may or may not be thinking or feeling.

A few weeks ago while we were on vacation, my son was giving me a difficult time, so rather than fly off the handle or ignore him, I asked him to walk outside with me.  I looked him straight in the eyes and said, “Look, I love you.  I have been so excited about this trip and being here with you, but the way you are acting is hurtful.  It is making me feel sad to see you act like this.  I know you don’t mean to upset me, but this behavior is making you feel bad and it is making me sad.  Do you want that?”  He quickly apologized, promised to do better and said he did not want me to be upset.

We want the kids to know that we are humans and we have feelings.  We want them to see our imperfections and to know that although we are newlyweds and everything is beyond perfect NOW, it may not always be that way and that is okay.  It is how we handle the problems we may face that will define us.

The other day both girls were in our room and Joe and I were joking around with each other and one of the girls said, “Uh oh!  You better not say that! She may divorce you!” and Joe put both arms around me and hugged me and said, “No way.  Divorce is not an option.”  I said, “Nope. Not even an option.”  And one of them said, “Obviously it IS an option or we all wouldn’t be here right now.”  And Joe said, “It’s not an option for US.”  You could see how comforting that was to both of the girls.  They have had plenty of change, so it’s good for them to know that WE will not change.

We admit to our children that we are not perfect and we have made mistakes… we won’t always be happy and we may not always get along… but they can take comfort in knowing that we will fight for us.  We will fight for our family.  And that anything is possible through God.

So next time I have had a bad day, I won’t hide it from my kids.  I won’t linger in the driveway trying to pull myself together.  I will just say, “I’ve had a bad day and I am trying to deal with it.  Thanks for loving me in spite of it and I promise I will be back to myself in no time.”  I will hug them all a little tighter and through their love my smile will eventually return.  We are a family.  There is no reason to hide my feelings from those I love most in the world.

God, Love, Communication and Trust – the foundation of our home.

As I told myself in the car… “WE GOT THIS.”

“But I’m STARVING to DEATH!”

It’s official!  Joe and I have made it seamlessly through our first two months of marriage.  Well, maybe “seamlessly” is a stretch, but it has truly gone much smoother than I would have expected.  Blending two families into one (and fitting all of their junk and our junk into one big pile of junk) is not an easy task.  But after two months, the rooms are pretty much set up to the kids’ liking and every day more things are finding their place – even if their place is in the yard sale pile.

And every day we are each finding our “place.”  As can be expected, there is resistance on all of our parts in little ways – even with Joe and me.  So far though it seems the biggest resistance is coming from my sweet boy.

My son was only four when his father and I got divorced.  Since then he has had to grow up faster than most kids.  He was fixing his own breakfast and getting dressed on his own from very early on.  He is a very responsible kid, so I have not had to stay on him much about things.  He does his work (most of the time) and he does his workouts and even if given the option to stay up, he usually chooses to go to bed at a reasonable time if he feels tired.  For years now he has come home from school and fixed his own snack and done his work without being prompted or supervised.  He has been the man of the house with a lot of independence for almost nine years, so this is a big change to now have three more people in the house – and more rules.

The thing he seems to be having the most trouble with is the food rationing.  While that sounds rather harsh, it’s the best way to describe what we have been doing.  We have told the kids that there are certain snacks and foods that are reserved for school lunches – prepackaged chips and cookies, Gatorades and chocolate milk.  My boy just CANNOT get this.  Every single day he asks, “Can I have a Gatorade?” or “Can I have a chocolate milk?”  And we are still finding Oreo wrappers and chip wrappers in the basement playroom each night.  When you tell him to make his own chocolate milk with milk & chocolate syrup, he looks at you like you have punched him in the gut.

I think he would like to come home to something like this every single day...

I think he would like to come home to something like this every single day…

I have a hard time cracking the whip on this because I realize that he has had to adapt to a lot of changes in his short life.   At the same time, I know that my knowledge of this is being taken advantage of…  He knows that I will cut him slack, so he pushes the envelope.  He acts like he’s starving all of the time although we have told them there is limitless cheese & crackers, peanut butter & crackers, cereal, fruit, Easy Mac, etc.  But he is smart enough to know that no mother can stand to hear their child say they are “STARVING TO DEATH.”

This week all four kids have been at basketball camp.  When we took them all on Monday for sign in, I put $20 in each of their accounts for food.  That may not sound like a lot, but it costs about $3 total for a lunch (with a drink) and we sent them each with a Gatorade, a pack of Oreos and some Nabs in their bags.  My son came home on Tuesday and said, “I have $1 left in my account” and the sitter said that each day on the ride home he was eating his Oreos and Nabs in the car.

He spent $19 in two days!!!  Even the rest of the kids were shocked.  They all had about $12 left.  In an attempt to persuade the remaining three to be frugal, we told them they could keep whatever money they had left in their account at the end of the week.  I gave my boy $5 more (I had intended to give each $25 anyway, but wanted to see if they could make it) and sent them on their way.  The girls were thrilled because they wanted to make it through the week on the original $20 so they could get $5 on Friday.

My son?  Not so much… He apparently blew right through the additional $5.

This morning as I was walking to my office from the parking garage, my son called.  He was frantic, “Mom, remember the $5 you owe me for pulling weeds last weekend?  Can I get it for lunch?”  Yes, he actually believed that I would leave work and drive to the camp to give him the $5 (insert laughing mom here).  I told him that I was walking in to work and he would have to ask Joe.  Joe had two $20 bills and four $1 bills, so he gave my son $4.  Again, the other kids kept saying, “Seriously, WHAT have you been buying to already spend $25??” His response? “Just let it go!”

Tonight we are taking the kids to a baseball game.  In an effort to save some money, we are ordering pizza and a 2-liter of Mountain Dew to have before the game so that we can just get the kids one snack each at the game.

I am already waiting for the backlash from my boy – the shoulder shrugs, the deep breaths, the mumbling, the talking back. He just does NOT seem to understand that our family has completely doubled in size, so the cost of food has doubled as well.   He has always been so thin that I have encouraged his large eating habits.  I still do, but I want him to eat smarter now.  Buying snacks at camp and then eating the snacks he took to camp on the way home is NOT smart eating.  It’s a waste of money.

Anyway, we are obviously a constant work in progress, but the important thing is the past two months have been so easy for all of us, with just a few minor hiccups (it’s amazing how unhappy people try to spread their unhappiness).  Thankfully each attempt to cause misery only makes our family stronger.  Our focus is on God, our relationship with each other, and getting the kids through this time of transition.  Nothing else matters in the least.

And it’s obvious that the kids are adjusting well… When we are all spending time together, the constant smiles on their faces and the calmness in their spirits prove to us that everything is going to be just fine…

#truth

#truth

…and Joe and I agree that the past two months have been the best days of our entire lives.

I Sure Don’t Feel Very “Lucky”

I am not an overly irrational person (most of the time), but tonight I had one of those moments.

We had the best week ever.  It was our first “family adventure” in our new normal.  All six of us spent the week together without interruption.  Every second of every day was spent together… and we all survived and we all had a BLAST!

They are my EVERYTHING...

They are my EVERYTHING…

Admittedly, I was prepared for the worst.  I just assumed since it was the first time we would all be together for that length of time that for sure someone would get on someone’s nerves, someone would offend someone else or there would just be some sort of falling out just from being together too long.  Thankfully that was not the case.

When we got home today – after spending the last six and a half days together around the clock – the girls ran up to their room and started playing UNO.  Seriously?  They still wanted to be together and playing!  My heart was so incredibly happy.

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I love that they are sisters… and friends….

We dropped my son off with his dad as we were driving in to town earlier today since he had basketball practice.  Then after my daughter’s basketball practice tonight, we all said our goodbyes and I took my daughter out to her dad.  As we were riding out there, we had “The Cup Song” from Pitch Perfect blasting loudly and we were both singing at the top of our lungs.

“When I’m gone… when I’m GOOOONNNNEEEE… you’re gonna miss me when I’m gone…”

I kept looking at her and smiling and my heart felt like it would burst.  I kept thinking, “I want to remember this moment for the rest of my life.”  It was a Taylor Swift “I had the best day with you today” moment (which is another song that I cannot make it through without falling to pieces).

Then the irrational thinking kicked in… I thought, “This is exactly how they show it in the movies right before something terrible happens.”  It was that moment of perfection – after a perfect week together – that made me think about loss.  It was the “City of Angels” moment right before Nicholas Cage gets killed or the “Bust a Move” moment in Blindside right before the car crash.

If you are a parent in a divorced family, then you know that these feelings can sometimes creep in.  Maybe your ex allows your kids to swim alone or maybe your ex leaves the kids with people you don’t know.  There are many scenarios that make you fear for the safety of your children.  Even if your ex is Mr./Ms. Perfect, you still are not able to be there all of the time to ensure the safety of your children.

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What if he wants to dive and it’s too shallow and I’m not there to stop him???

And that’s where I am right now… fear mode.  I’m the Mama Bear who is out of reach of my babies and if something happens, then I am not there to protect them.  I’m not there to tell my son that he can’t shoot bottle rockets out of his hand or to stop my daughter from driving the golf cart out on the street.

As I drove back from dropping my daughter off tonight I cried.  I haven’t done that after dropping them off in years.  When we were first divorced I cried a lot after dropping them off, but you get used to the transitions and you learn to cope.  Tonight, however, I cried hot tears and a whole lot of them.  And when I got home I had to withdraw to my room to write this.  I didn’t want my bonus babies to witness my heartache.

Joe’s kids go with their mom tomorrow for the week also, so we are child-less until next Saturday.  Some people think that we are “lucky” because we have this free time, but I feel anything but lucky right now.  I feel heartbroken.  I feel sad.  But I most certainly do NOT feel lucky.

We will make the best of our time.   We will try to speak to our kids daily (that’s a blog topic for another day).  We will have many date nights and we will watch what we want to watch on television and we will eat what we want to eat.  We will stay out for one more drink because we don’t have a sitter at home waiting for us.  We may even wear less clothes around the house (it’s not all negative I guess).

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My amazingly handsome husband – my heart & soul… we will get through this week together.

But there will be something missing and that hole in our hearts won’t be filled until we have all four babies back in our nest next weekend.  I’m already counting down the days…

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I love how they love each other….