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.

Our Marriage is More Important Than The Number…

Life in a blended family can sometimes get quite chaotic.  As always, last week we had a revolving door of children.  With two pre-teen girls and two teen boys, everyone had their own agenda for Halloween and it did not include hanging out with us.  After letting everyone do their own thing for a while – stepkids went trick-or-treating at their mom’s house, my daughter went with friends in our neighborhood and my son went to a Halloween party – we reconvened and ended the night as a family.  Our first Halloween as a blended family ended up being a success!  Touch and go at points due to insanity caused by overload of sugar on the brain in the teen boys, but we made it.

And I was exhausted.

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Answer to my prayers…

My amazingly handsome husband always knows me better than I know myself and he knows that my writing has had to be last on my priority list lately, so he surprised me with a weekend in a cabin at Fairy Stone State Park in Virginia.  He claimed it was my “writer’s retreat.”  It was so much more than that.

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My writing corner in the cabin

Marriage in and of itself is challenging.  You must be proactive to keep the marriage healthy.  This can be even more challenging in a second marriage because there are so many divisive elements between mine, his, ours and theirs.  As I have said before, there are plenty of people who are somehow invested in your family and some of them are pulling against you.  Because of this, the divorce rate is even higher than in first marriages.  You have to be committed to your marriage and to making it work… and sometimes a trip away is the perfect catalyst for a happy couple.

It’s the first weekend that I can remember when we had no kids and no kids’ activities – no piano recitals or soccer tournaments or races.  And as always, God’s timing was perfect.  Right here before our six month mark of marriage, we were able to renew our relationship by just focusing on us.

Joe planned everything perfectly... all the way down to bring his own dish detergent!

Joe planned everything perfectly… all the way down to bringing his own dish detergent!

While we love our children more than anything, it was nice to be in a cabin without having to worry about where the kids were.  No arguments over which bedroom is for the boys and which is for the girls.  No one saying, “I’m hungry” or “I’m bored” every twenty minutes throughout the day.

Well, maybe he didn't think of EVERYTHING, but I enjoyed drinking wine from a plastic gravy boat! :)

Well, maybe he didn’t think of EVERYTHING, but I enjoyed drinking wine from a plastic gravy boat! 🙂

There are some times more than others when I am exceptionally aware of how lucky I am to have Joe.  Last weekend was one of those times.  He planned it all out and truly did everything in his power to make sure I was able to relax and write.  God knew what he was doing when he kept me single for eight years before reconnecting me with Joe – I was waiting for him.  And there is one thing last weekend has proven to me with absolute certainty… I can’t wait to grow old with this man.

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Can it get any better?

I am an extrovert who thrives on being surrounded by laughter and excitement, so the fact that I can spend an entire weekend with no television, no cell service, and no other human being and love him even more than I did before we left, says a LOT.  It helps support the fact that I have married the man I am supposed to spend the remainder of my days with.  We can enjoy each other in every moment – dancing in front of the fire, walking in the woods, cooking steaks on the grill, rocking on the front porch, napping in the afternoon – just because we can.

Of course we got home to about 10 tons of laundry that needed to be done (including 20 towels… yes, 20 TOWELS) and today I have gotten the call from school that my daughter has a fever and then I got a text from my son telling me that he has a horrific headache.  So it’s back to reality.

I am thankful for the renewal weekend though and it has proven to me the importance of us taking the time to focus on ourselves every once in a while.  We are committed to not be one of the statistics, no matter who is pulling against us.  Our children will see what a real marriage looks like when they look at us and for that I am proud.  It may be a “second marriage,” but it’s our “forever marriage,” which is much more important than any number.

What Co-Parenting SHOULD Look Like

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Letter to My Kids Re: Divorce

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

I am sorry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mom

Even at the Orthodontist’s Office…

Yes, it’s official… I started writing my first novel last week.  I had no idea just how much fun writing a novel could be!

Ever since I was a child, I felt the calling to write.  It is especially fun to write this blog because I am so passionate about the blending of families.  Because of that passion, I have always just assumed that I would write a non-fiction book about getting divorced “the right way.”  I did not think that I would be writing a seductive thriller… but here I am!

Instead of writing about how NOT to screw up your kids through the divorce process, I am writing a novel of intrigue and temptation and murder.  I would have never believed it…

Writing a novel has given me an escape when things are tough around our sometimes chaotic house.  I have found that rather than worrying about the drama of the day on my way home from work, I am calculating the next chapter in my book.  I’m asking questions of the characters and trying to truly understand their motives and their beliefs.  What is it that my main character is passionate about and to what lengths will she go to achieve her goals?

Interestingly enough, those same questions come up when I am talking to people about divorce and co-parenting.

This morning I took my handsome son to the orthodontist to get his braces put on.  When they were done, Warren went to the car and I texted with his dad regarding the bill.   Since we split the orthodontist bills 50/50, I wanted to make sure we agreed on the downpayment and monthly payment before I committed to anything.  He was on a call, so I sat there chatting with the receptionist.

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All smiles before the pain kicked in…

My phone rang and I answered and we discussed the money specifics and decided which way we wanted to go.  We laughed about Warren’s metal mouth and I promised to send a picture when I got out to the car.  When I hung up the phone, the receptionist was staring at me with a funny look.  She said, “It is really great that you two can work together like that for your kids.  That seemed easy and pleasant.  How do you do it?”

As I always do, I quickly told her that we had nine years of water under our bridge, so THAT made it easy.  I then proceeded to tell her that we are great business partners when it comes to raising our kids and that as long as the kids are always the priority, then everything else seems to fall into place.

She told me that she had seen a lot of people who were just not capable of that.  I agreed and we then spent a few minutes telling our own horror stories.  And interestingly enough, the same kinds of questions I ask of my characters in my novel I found myself asking about an angry ex.  What are her motives in being so difficult?  To what length will he go to get the kids to believe his vindictive agenda?  She and I both agreed (yes, standing in the orthodontist’s office) that too many parents are driven by their own needs, wants and boundary issues, so they fail to see what damage they are doing to their own children.

The receptionist seemed fascinated with the depth of knowledge I had from both sides, so I told her about my blog and how this is such a passion of mine.  She had a look that kind of said, “Boy, I could use some help…”  I wished her luck and headed out with my mind spinning a million miles per hour.

That little happenstance conversation made me realize that I still need to spend the time to write my blended family book as well.  There are people EVERYWHERE who need guidance on how to “divorce well.”  The humorous part of that is I barely have time to even breathe with four kids at home and a husband.  So I have no idea how I could write a non-fiction and a novel at the same time.  One will most likely have to wait, but the fires are burning inside me to write, so who am I to put them out??????

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…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fishing is free

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

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

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Silly girl

No More Practice Games… We Are In The Big Leagues Now

This is going to sound pretty conceited, but I admit that when I first got separated I thought a fabulous man would swoop in and take me away pretty quickly.

I mean, I’m Valerie….

Yeah, that was nine years ago… and I just got married in May.  I spent over a quarter of my life as a single mom.

I did not envision my ex getting involved and married before me.  I did not envision failed relationships, heartbreak and lies.  I did not envision lonely nights when I cried because I thought I would never meet someone worthwhile for my kids and me.  After a while I was hardened to the whole process and just resigned myself to the fact that I probably would never get married.  I convinced myself I was better alone so that I could just focus on my kids.

Then came Joe… and here I am.

Through it all though, there was ONE THING I was sure of…  When people would ask me, “Do you think you will ever get married again?”  I would answer with, “I’m not sure if I’ll ever get married again, but I KNOW with certainty that I won’t ever get divorced again.”

Now, more than ever, I am determined to never get divorced again.  Joe and I agree that it is not even an option.  Of course it’s easy to say that now since we are still very much in the “honeymoon stage” of marriage, but this resolve has forced me to think about things that I am doing differently this time to make sure we don’t end up as just another statistic.

That’s the beauty of remarriage.  This is our chance to get it right! We can both look at our first marriages as practice runs that have made us all the better for the real thing.  We have learned from our past relationships and have a fresh outlook and a positive energy for our new relationship.  We can look at our past and know what we will never accept going forward and we know that we will do whatever we have to do to make it work.

After thinking about this all weekend at the lake, I came up with the top five things that we are focusing on to beat the odds of second marriages to ensure that this is our “forever marriage.”  Tonight I will share the first two…

1) Communication – I have talked about this in numerous blogs already, but it is truly the foundation of our relationship.  When Joe and I first started dating, he quickly realized what a straight shooter I am.  I am not a score keeper… I don’t hold grudges and then throw them back in your face later.  I feel something, so I say it.  Some people don’t like that, but it is how I am.  I remember sitting in Starbucks one morning and we were talking about how much we joke.  Sometimes we joke so much that it is hard to tell when we are being serious… So we adopted a “safe word” that we still use today.  It’s a word we can say that will immediately alert the other that this is a moment to listen without judgment.

Communication skills, or lack thereof, can be the downfall of a marriage.  We have learned from our past relationships that we can have a stronger family and a healthier relationship when everyone knows that they can share their true feelings.  We are constantly encouraging the kids to say what they truly feel rather than just regurgitating what they THINK we want to hear.  We want our children to be leaders and we want them to be able to respectfully speak their minds without fear of judgment.

So we have adopted a “safe word” with the kids too.  We want them to be able to say the safe word and everyone understands that it means, “Look, I’m going out on a limb to say this and you may resent me for it, but it is important to me.”  It has helped us all work through issues as they arise when we can actually talk and discover what is really important in the situation.

I have also been working on communicating with my stepkids without Joe present.  Little moments like when everyone else runs to the bathroom and it’s just my stepson and me… or when my stepdaughter and I drive home alone from basketball.  I use that as my time to build trust and communication with them.  I have told them both numerous times that I can be their biggest advocate with their dad if they talk to me.   We are all doing what we can to work on our communication.

2) Releasing Control – This has been tough for me because I have been flying solo for so long that I am very much accustomed to being in complete control.  Now that I have six schedules all on one calendar, I am realizing that there are too many variables to have complete control.  Especially right now since Joe’s two kids are back in school and my two kids are still on our summer custody schedule.  Our custody schedule is like a revolving door of kids shuffling in and out of the building.  Throw in basketball camp and beach trips and it’s hard to even find one night when we will all be under the same roof.  Because of this, I have had to go with the flow a little more than I am comfortable…but I am learning.

I’ve also had to release a little control when it comes to timing.  I am used to doing everything on “my time.”  Leaving town for vacation or going to a Durham Bulls game, I like to know exactly what time we need to leave and I will have everyone out the door at that time.  I like to follow a schedule, so I won’t just say we are leaving at 9pm and then not be ready.  That’s just not my thing.  They are apparently not accustomed to my “departure nazi” status, but if you want to see me in full swing, tell me the boat is leaving the dock at a certain time.  I don’t play games when it comes to going out on the boat.

I’ve had to ease up a bit because Joe’s kids aren’t used to my need to be out the door on time.  If Joe says we need to be in the car at 9:20am so we can get to church on time, then I will be standing at the back door yelling at everyone at 9:15am.  I have not always been like this… when I first got divorced I did EVERYTHING on “Val Time.”  If I felt like taking the kids to school 20 minutes late so I could sleep in, then I did.  I was tired of being told what to do and I guess I rebelled.  Over the years though I have grown to resent being late.  The kids know the anxiety it causes me, so they are ready to go when I say we are going somewhere.  I have had to let go of some of this control because my stepkids haven’t learned to follow my time warnings quite yet – but they will.

Another thing I have had to release control of is doing everything for myself.  After years of getting up and making my own coffee and washing all the clothes and fixing meals and doing the dishes, I am just not used to allowing someone else to help me.  In the past, if I wanted it done, then I had to do it.  Period.  So it has been an adjustment for me to LET Joe HELP ME…  Sounds crazy, but I resisted at first even small things like picking one child up so I could take the other somewhere else.  He is so kind and so thoughtful and wants so much to make my life easier, but I would resist and still try to prove to him and myself that I could still take care of everything on my own.

It’s babysteps, but I am learning to let go of control… and it really is a relief.

More to come tomorrow…….

Vacation… All I Ever Wanted

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It’s a cool, breezy morning at the beach. I am sitting on the front porch of the cottage drinking my coffee and listening to the sweet sound of wind chimes, the ocean waves, and Applewood smoked bacon sizzling on the skillet. Normally on the weekend my schedule does not allow me to hear the bacon cooking (by schedule I mean I’m usually still knee deep in the sheets while Joe is cooking breakfast). I usually wake up to the end result resting on paper towels in the kitchen.

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But today is different. Today is day one of our first true family vacation.

My heart is so full of love and thankfulness today. So much so that I woke up bright and early and had a little talk with God. It’s days like today when you realize just how much you have to thank the big guy for…

As I remind my kids all the time, there are many people who do not have the luxury to go to the beach at all. It’s hard for them to imagine – considering where we live and the friends they have. As far as they can tell, everyone is a member of “the club” (except us) and everyone spends most of the summer traveling abroad or living at the beach. It’s important to me to instill in my kids an understanding of just how blessed they are.

I think God is agreeing with me right this second because I feel it heavy on my heart that once we return home I need to get my kids involved in some sort of charity to teach them to help others. As the speaker said at my graduation from boarding school, “To whom much is given, much is expected” and there are plenty of opportunities to help others in Raleigh.

My kids are in Myrtle Beach with their dad because their aunt is getting married today so we are meeting their dad to pick them up tonight. It has been nice to get to spend a little one on one time with my bonus kids. Because my kids are with us most of the time and Joe’s kids are with us 50% of the time, it is rare that we get alone time with his kids… and it is obvious that they enjoy it!

Sweet girl loves to just sit down and talk. I put down everything I’m doing to just look her in the eyes and listen. It warms my heart abundantly to see the look in her eyes as she tells me story after story. It’s like she wants to fill me in on everything that has happened since we last talked. She likes the attention being on her too… as we were walking to the beach last night I reached my hand out to Joe and she slid quickly between us to hold both of our hands. Like my daughter, they like to get in the middle of us whenever they can. In our house, a hug between Joe and me quickly becomes a “group hug.”

So right now I am sitting here on the porch with sweet girl next to me and she is writing on her laptop too. We are listening to music and it’s raining… and there is nowhere I would rather be. As I’ve said before, when I was little and dreamed of my fairy tale ending, I had no idea it would be with two bonus kids who I love like my own.

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BLESSINGS ABOUND.

 

Our Weekend Off?

The first few years of my children’s lives I couldn’t take my eyes off of them for a second.  My entire life revolved around chasing behind them nonstop – whether at the beach, the park or my home.  We all know the feeling of uneasiness a parent feels when the house is quiet.  There is comfort in hearing your children banging around or laughing because you know exactly where they are and what they are doing.   When there is quiet you fear that you will walk into a room with a 4 year old with scissors and very little hair left or a pretty new scribbled mural on the wall.

My sweet boy at the beach...

My sweet boy at the beach…

Then my children reached an amazing stage of independence.  I called it the “gliding stage” to my friends.  I could read magazines on the beach while they played in the shallow water and I could enjoy our time together in the afternoon after school because there were not any serious organized sports team practices.  They could get up in the morning and fix their own breakfast while I showered without any fear on my part that the house would burn to the ground.  This stage felt so good that I foolishly believed it would last… until we hit the next stage.

As kids grow, so do their extracurricular activities.   We went from lazy afternoons of playing in the yard to detailed, color-coded calendar days and constant emails between their stepmom and me about carpooling.   Acting classes, basketball practices, piano lessons, running groups… we have something scheduled every day.  Throw into the mix that my son’s AAU basketball team practices 30 minutes away three days a week (with practice ending at 9pm!) and you quickly see that our family time is now spent in the car.  So I’m back to chasing my kids around nonstop, but in a different way.  They still crave the independence they have learned, but I have to shuttle them around.

Piano recitals are so much fun...

Piano recitals are so much fun…

That's my boy!  We have AAU tournaments most weekends...

That’s my boy! We have AAU tournaments most weekends…

When I was newly divorced and in that non-stop chasing stage, my kids would go see their dad every other weekend out of town and I would absolutely bask in the nothingness I could do ALL WEEKEND.  Times change and kids grow.  Now that I live close to my ex, Joe and I have the weekend without kids and don’t have time to even breathe.

Someone asked me yesterday as I was getting off the elevator on my way home from work, “Do you have any big plans this weekend?”  And I quickly responded with, “No! We got married last weekend, so this weekend is going to be very quiet thankfully…” As I was speaking I thought of something and had to add to that, “Well, I have to take my daughter to piano tonight before I take her to her dad…. and my son has three basketball games tomorrow in an AAU tournament… well, my daughter has a piano recital tomorrow night… and my step-kids have a piano recital on Sunday… and we are teaching Sunday School.”

She is so talented... she has wont the mile run in First in Fitness Wake County for three years straight.

She is so talented… she has won the mile run in First in Fitness Wake County for three years straight.

When I got into my car I had to just sit still for a moment… as I came to the realization that it may be some of the only quiet time I get all weekend.  So to those people who think that divorced parents “get every other weekend off,” I say you are terribly wrong.  Any mother worth a grain of salt wants to be at their children’s events – even if it’s not “her weekend” with the kids.

If you think that Joe and I are laying around all weekend eating bon-bons and watching movies, all I can say is I WISH…  We will be running around all weekend cheering on the four people we love best in this world.  We don’t want to miss a thing – no matter who they are with for the weekend.

Joe and me at an early morning basketball game at the Y... and it was "our weekend off."

Joe and me at an early morning basketball game at the Y… and it was “our weekend off.”

The beauty of it all is the kids will never forget it and they will benefit from our consistency.  They all four know that we want to be there to support them at every single game, performance, and recital.  Is it always the most convenient thing for us? No.  But you cannot possibly be a good parent if you are selfish.  I’m proud of the fact that my children can look in the stands and see their mother, their stepfather, their stepmother and various grandparents – all sitting together in solidarity to support the one thing we all have in common… our unconditional love for our kids.

If you need me this weekend, call my cell.  I probably won’t answer.  I’ll be busy supporting my children & step-children – enjoying every chaotic second of my “weekend off.”