I wrote the following post on my Facebook page over the summer:
I consider it my job as a mother, stepmother and mother of a blended family to always be the bigger person. Always rise above conflict. Always put all of our kids first even when it's detrimental to me. Always support safe and healthy relationships with their other parents when possible and to protect them when not possible. Always teach them that they have a voice in these complicated situations. Always listen when they learn to use their voices.
But sometimes I just don't want to be the bigger person. I want to say how I really feel or just go home instead of show up. I will never make those choices, but sometimes doing the right thing takes every ounce of energy I have.
Shortly after posting, I noticed a good number of reactions and comments, but more importantly, I received several message in my inbox. They were from women who had been in similar situations and felt similar struggles in doing the right thing each and every time. These women offered words of encouragement, understanding and empathy. They thanked me for being willing to be real and honest. Because who wants to admit sometimes you’d rather just leave? But sometimes I’d rather just leave. And evidently I am not alone.
I was at a swim meet that day. Usually I am surrounded by a buffer of any number of our five kids. That day, everyone was otherwise occupied, and I was alone. My husband was there, but had volunteered as a timer, so I was effectively alone. So every time the swimmer had an event, it was me and the other parent at the end of the lane cheering. Pretty much the last place I wanted to be. Alone with the other parent who has never once had a conversation with me in five years (except to cuss me out, and that doesn’t really count as a conversation since I did not participate) and has no intention of having one ever.
At one point, as I walked to the pool, it was apparent that I was being looked at, pointed out and discussed by the other parent and an unwitting participant in me-bashing. Now, this happens fairly regularly, and usually I just ignore it. But this day I was tired. It was hot and I was tired. When I saw this display, I just wanted it to stop. Have you ever screamed inside your own head with a smile on your face? I have. I fought my instinct to say, “Just stop it!” or “Shut up why don’t you?” or “What is your problem?” I seriously debated turning around and going home or going back to my chair or watching from another location, but then I thought of the swimmer. Would she wonder where I was when she reached to end of the lane to do her flip turn and I wasn’t there cheering for her? Would she believe the negative things she constantly heard about me because I abandoned her and didn’t watch as usual?
So I stayed at the end of the lane. Cheering, smiling and doing the right thing. The thing that no one tells you when you become a step-parent, is that it is never about you. It is easy to know this with your biological children. That genetic bond makes it automatic. But with steps, it is a conscious choice. You begin your relationship loving them because you love your spouse. And you hope and pray that you truly grow to love them because your love THEM. And over the time of my marriage, I did grow to love THEM. But when someone is working to sabotage that relationship, that choice to do the right thing is a struggle. I have to remind myself that these are the kids who had no choice in their divorced circumstances. They never asked to be in the middle. They shouldn’t have to manage the adults and their relationships. EVER.
When I realized that blending my family was not going to be a walk in the park, I promised my steps that I would always do the right thing. Always. I would never participate in fighting, arguing or drama. That promise is the thing that keeps me on the straight and narrow. I do not ever want to be the one causing them harm, making them choose or causing them pain. I want to show them what it means in life to be the bigger person. The only problem with that is that is what often causes me harm, pain and drama. But it is not about me. It is about them. And sometimes doing the right thing and adulting SUCKS!
So receiving emails from women who have felt the same emotions was comforting. It can be very isolating to go through parenting issues, but with step-parenting it is magnified. People love to judge and assume. But no one really knows how hard it can be and what is really going on. Two of the women who messaged me were women I don’t see often. One was a woman I have never met, but have worked with by email on projects. Hearing from them makes me feel less isolated. And I know I can email them if I need to and they will be a sounding board. So let’s keep the dialogue open and support each other. And together, maybe we can find the Gift of the Struggle.
How do you keep doing the right thing?
What do you do when you screw up (because we all do)?
Who can you talk to when the going gets tough?
Share your gifts…
Hi, I am a single mom with one 10 year old girl. My ex husband and daughter's father has remarried a year ago and moved in with new wife and her 13 year old twins and 16 year old daughter. My daughter has enjoyed having step-siblings and I think it has been good for her to be around a large family. Last night, she asked if she could buy with her money a very expensive pair of boots for her step sister. How do I explain to my daughter why it isn't appropriate to spend my money on my exes step children?
I would leave the issue of spending your money on your ex's step children out of the discussion. The less you can make it about that, the better and the more well received you will be by both your daughter and your ex should he get any version of your conversation from your daughter. I would focus the conversation on spending responsibly and when and what occasions are appropriate to give gifts. In our family, we keep gift giving to a budget, so maybe you can set a limit ($15 or $20) for gift giving and discuss appropriate occasions for it , birthdays, Christmas, etc.
Also, she will probably want to give them Christmas gifts this year. When that comes up, I would just say, "That's something for you and your dad to do together." If it gets close, and he has not helped her get gifts, then I would let her earn a bit ( a little bit) to be able to get them something inexpensive herself and just think of it as her money, not yours, so that you don't get hung up on your money going to his house. The idea of that is no fun, but she would feel worse if she didn't have anything to give on a holiday.
My kids actually got their dad a $5.00 bike light one year when his car had broken down on the side of the highway and he left it there never to return. He was relegated to a bike as means of transportation for a while, and he was actually thrilled because he had been pulled over on the bike by a cop for riding without a light or reflectors at night. It really is the thought that counts!
Three years ago, I wrote an article called, “Keeping Kids Out of the Middle” with tips for navigating divorce with children. I still stand by these tips and decided there are things to add after going through every phase of early childhood and up to graduating two seniors this year.
The first article elaborated on the following basic tips:
• Do not speak badly about your ex in front of your children
• Do not make the children responsible for any form of communication between you and your ex
• Never discuss money with your children as it relates to your ex
• Accept the fact that you do not control what goes on at the other parent’s house
• Do not ever make your children feel guilty for being away from you
I have been remarried for almost four years, and between us, we have five children. When we married, they were 14 (two of them), 12, 10, and 6. Now, they are 18 (two of them) 16, 14, and 10. We have spent our marriage making sure that we keep all of the kids out of the middle of our divorces. As you can imagine, dealing with a blended family and with 2 exes who are parents of five children is no easy feat. But we have both managed to develop good relationships with all of our children.
I think most of us imagine that things will get easier over time. But as kids grow and develop, they begin to develop their own thoughts, feelings and perspectives of their situations. They may have opinions based on information someone gave them that may or may not be accurate. They may question their realities as they begin to see things for themselves. This complicates the ability to keep them out of the middle because they can have difficult questions about why and how things have occurred or been handled.
Here are some things we have learned further along the way:
• Answer your children’s questions from the perspective of who you are not who your ex is. When children have questions about a divorce or a situation between you and your ex, it is a difficult conversation to navigate. Answer their questions from your own perspective of who you are and why you are that way. Leave your perspective of your ex out of it. When your children understand your values, they can better understand your decisions.
• When and if your children complain about the behavior of their other parent to you, stay out of it. The correct response to this complaint is, “I am sorry you feel that way (or I am sorry that happened to you). Have you discussed that with your mother/father?” You want to avoid one parent being pitted against the other. Even if your relationship with your ex is not good, this is not something for you to solve for your child. Your child needs to learn to voice these concerns to the one who can change it. If they are very young, I would let the other parent know that this was brought up to you, that you plan to stay out of it, and that he/she may want to address this with the child. This exception, of course, is if the child is in danger.
• Encourage your children to find and use their voices. One of the saddest things that can happen to children of divorce is that they can feel the need to please or the need not to make waves. It is never a child’s job to keep the peace, and children should be encouraged to express their feelings in an appropriate way. Encourage your children to let you know when they are confused, angry, upset or unhappy. And encourage them to tell their other parent. Part of having healthy relationships is being able to articulate what you need. This is especially important to children in a divorce situation.
• Encourage your children to set healthy boundaries. As a child gets older, they need to learn when to say when. If a parent is doing something harmful to the child (speaking badly about the other parent, etc.) a child should be able to say, “I do not like it when you talk about my mother/father” or “It hurts me when you say that.” They should be able to say these things to both parents, you included. And when they do get up the courage to set a boundary, respect it. If you don’t, they will begin to set more and more distant boundaries.
• Trust your children to find their own truths. This is the hardest thing to do, but when you live your life honestly and openly, your children will know who you are. It is not your job to bash the other parent, prove a point or make a case - that will backfire every time. Live a good life, treat your child with respect and honesty and trust the truth.
Nothing about raising kids in a divorce situation is easy, but when they can trust that you will talk to them in an open, objective and non-threatening way - to them and about their other parent - they will trust that they can come to you and be heard. That is the strength of any good relationship.
What’s in a name? Well, when you are in a blended family, a lot! When we remarry, we tend to focus our time and attention on blending the two families; we establish relationships, form new traditions, meld. And that’s all great. We should do those things. We want to feel like a family and find that family dynamic amongst the difficulty of step parenting, forming new sibling relationships and trying to co-parent with the other parents (the ones who don’t live in our house).
But we have to be careful to remember something. Before we blended, our children had established identities. They identified as a family with their biological parents and siblings. Everyone (in general) shared the same last name. When divorced parents remarry, the waters of identity can be muddied for the kids.
All of us divorced parents know the identity crises we have faced when learning to be single adults again. Who are we? Who do we want to be? Who are our friends? And divorce can cause identity crises for everyone involved — especially children. When a child’s name is different than their mother’s, which is true in my case, it can be confusing for younger children and a glaring reminder of the separation of parents for older children.
When people have identified our family as “The Denhams” either verbally or even on Christmas cards, my boys have pointed out that they are not Denhams, they are Reostis. No one makes this mistake with any ill will or intent, they just generally identify families by the parents’ names. In the beginning, I didn’t pay as much attention to the comments from the boys because, of course they are Reostis. But they live with a man who, while he treats and loves them as his own, is not their biological father. And has a different name from them. And people often assume (especially if they don’t know their dad) that when they refer to their dad, they are talking about my husband. It is a conflicting place for them to be — not wanting to discount my husband, but also wanting to acknowledge their father.
I have a friend at church who ALWAYS greets our family as the “Denham Reostis.” It is so important because it acknowledges all of our kids. When people say just “the Denhams,” three of our children do not feel identified. So blended families, be aware of the nuance of identity — sign cards with both names, call yourselves with both names and let people know that is how you want to be recognized. Friends of blended families, be sensitive to knowing the last names of the kids and using those names when you identify them.
We are the Denham-Reostis. That is our family name.
Self-awareness. Simple concept. Challenging accomplishment. As much as it seems like we should all be able to assess our actions, an astonishing number of people go through life and relationships without any idea how their own behavior can impact their decisions, relationships and ultimately, their happiness.
I have written several articles that address those things in life that can hold you back from relationships. From deciding to be or not to be a victim to deciding tosettle or not to settle, I have tried to highlight decisions that we all have control over. After all, we all know that the only behavior we can control is our own. The problem arises when our self-awareness is low. In my book, Sweeten the Deal: How to Spot and Avoid the Big Red Flags in Online Dating, I identify it as “those who fail to embrace their own reality.”
We all know the person who thinks that every bad thing that has happened is someone else’s fault, and, really, someone else’s responsibility. And do you know the person who is willing to date anyone to avoid being alone? Yes, you do. And what about the exhausting friend who continues to participate in old relationships that are supposedly “over” but by the continual communication with these “over” relationship-people and the subsequent regurgitation of the trauma of these “done” relationships, it is obviously not OVER! The ones who have BIG GLARING RED FLAGS in their relationships are the most frustrating... how can you not see what the rest of us see? Help!
But what about ourselves? How often do we take the time to look honestly at our own behavior and decide if we are getting in our own way? Probably not enough. I mean, that’s not fun. And once we become aware that we are getting in our own way, we actually have to change! Ugh! Again, not fun!
So here are some questions to help you start your quest toward self-awareness and your effort to embrace your own reality.
1. Are you unable to spend time alone and feel a need to fill every minute of your time?
2. If you are not dating someone, do you feel inadequate or like a failure?
3. Are you generally angry in your life?
4. Do you find yourself blaming other people when something goes wrong?
5. Do you feel helpless to change your situation in life?
6. Do you continue to communicate with past relationships?
7. Do you find yourself stalking former relationships on social media?
8. Do you overlook flaws in a date/relationship that make you uncomfortable?
9. Do your friends tell you that your date/relationship is unhealthy for you?
10. Do you agonize over your current situation and look back to figure out whose fault it is?
If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” you may need a little self-reflection. When you are aware that you may sabotage your relationships with behavior you can control, it is time to take a break and figure out what is driving your behavior and work on it. If your fear of being alone or willingness to overlook deal breakers is driven by insecurity, that will require some work. Insecurity should not be a driving force in any relationship. If you react to situations in anger, especially misdirected anger, then you need to accept your life as it is now. Take responsibility for your future and release the blame of wrongs past. It only hurts you and your family. Whatever the reason for self-sabotage, until you become aware of it, you can’t stop it. When you acknowledge it and in turn, embrace it, you become empowered to know what you want and make the good choices that will lead you to it! Not easy. But definitely doable!
“You can only do the best you can do. Sometimes that is survival and sometimes that is stellar. And that’s okay.”
This has been a mantra of mine for years. Until my twenties, I had always marveled at how charmed I felt my life was. Things generally went well if I worked hard. When they weren’t as great, I knew that it was temporary and soon I would feel back on top. I was lucky. I had a good family, good friends, a good education. And then, really for the first time, life got in the way.
When I was 24, my first husband and I decided to have a baby. We went through almost 4 years of infertility and 2 miscarriages before I finally had a successful pregnancy. My husband was deployed for about half of that time, so I was left to cope on my own. This was my first real survival mode. I got up every day, went to work and went out with friends. But emotionally, I was just trying to get through the day. I was grieving the miscarriages every moment of every day, and all I wanted to do was to get to the end of the day so that I could go to sleep and not think about it. I did what needed to be done and only what needed to be done. And that was okay.
Over the next few years, we had a baby, he got out of the Navy and went to law school, we had two more children and moved back to my hometown. When the boys were 2, 4 and 6, my marriage fell apart. He moved out on Halloween and confessed his infidelity on Christmas. I filed for divorce the first week of January and by early February, my youngest son began to have seizures on the hour every hour for two weeks. This was real survival mode. If my children were clean and fed, that was successful day. And that was okay.
The process of the divorce and getting my son healthy both took about a year. Once we got a good diagnosis (epilepsy) and the right medication, his seizures slowed to once each month for a year and then were well controlled for nine years. He is now seizure free and has been released from his neurologist.
There is nothing wrong with survival mode. When life gets tough, we need it to kick in so that we can get out of bed each day and do the things we need to do. We need to survive. We need to keep putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward. But we also need to be aware when it is time to move out of survival mode so that we can get back to life.
My son was diagnosed with epilepsy for ten years. I also had two other boys who went through the normal ups and downs of childhood. And I was a single mother for eight of those years. But there is a point at which you realize that you are through the worst or at least managing it, and survival is not enough. For me, it took some time after the seizures were controlled to get out of survival mode. I still had to grieve the loss of my marriage and accept my own situation and new reality. I probably spend most of 4 years in survival mode. This is not to say I didn’t have stellar days or experiences, but mostly I was getting through. When I began to realize I needed more, I started dating and started writing. I started putting myself out there to market my writing and eventually wrote my book. I got married. I blended a family with my new husband. And I am still going.
What I learned is that survival mode is a necessary part of life. I learned that the more you survive, the less you feel set back by life getting in the way. I learned that when you decide it is time to get on with it and live your life, make plans, set goals and then go after them, you start to achieve stellar. Stellar is defined by knowing it is time to step up and take charge and then doing it.
I tend to be a perfectionist. This quality is both productive and destructive. When you are in survival mode and you are beating yourself up for not excelling every day, you are destroying your own self-esteem, and it becomes self-defeating. You have to be able to accept that survival, when that is all you can do, when life gets in the way, is an accomplishment. But when you are headed into a stellar period, that same perfectionism acts as drive to do more, learn more and keep pushing forward. The key is to recognize when it is time for these shifts. You know when survival is all you can do...but you also know when it is time to do more than just survive. So do it!
I have a very typical divorce story. The details are unique, but so often, we, men or women, get caught up in bad marriages that take us away from who we are meant to be. We find ourselves consumed in a game of emotional survival and get lost from our own dreams and goals.
As women, mothers, men, fathers, we often find ourselves caught up in the busy tasks of daily life. We often prioritize the needs of others thinking, “I’ll get to it when I have time” with regard to our own goals. And weeks, months and years go by.
One of my biggest fears in life was not that my dreams would go unfulfilled, but that I would allow myself to let life go by without fully pursuing them. I could accept that I may not achieve every goal that I set, but I was determined to make sure that I showed up for my own dreams - and that I showed up prepared.
There were many years when I did not pursue any of my dreams. I was caught up in a bad marriage, a divorce, a sick child, raising three young boys by myself. These are all really good reasons to put things off. I didn’t have time to write. I didn’t have energy to write. I didn’t have the creative space in my mind to write. These are the thoughts that steal your dreams. And guess what. You can change them.
As I recovered from my divorce, I began to reevaluate what I wanted in my life. I wanted healthy and happy kids. Obviously that was and is the most important priority. I wanted a healthy relationship that filled me instead of depleted me.
I wanted to be a published writer.
And so I began to write. I became very intentional about writing consistently. I would put the boys to bed, and sit on my bed with my laptop on a pillow in front of me, and I would write. I had no specific goal in mind for what I was writing. But I started with blogging. And then I started with promoting the blogs on social media. And then I began communication with Huffington Post. And then I began to blog for the Huffington Post.
I realized that my blog about online dating resonated with people. After all, who hasn’t had a bad date? So I put the blog in book form. I expanded it and began to send out queries. I was rejected - a lot. I kept writing and kept trying to find my voice. I kept updating and editing. I knew that persistence was the key, as I had read many writers’ stories of rejection and perseverance.
Many times I wondered if I needed to define a more linear path. I was scattered in many directions blogging about online dating, divorce, blended families and more. Should I try to slow down and focus more? Should I stick to one specific topic? I couldn’t answer that, so I just kept on keeping on. And I kept writing.
So when I volunteered to write a script for a local pageant, I was prepared when the essay judge asked to see my book. He just happened to have a publishing company. And he agreed to publish me a week later.
Here is what I have learned by putting my own dreams aside and then rediscovering them. You have to be on your own priority list. People say that all the time. But if you don’t prioritize your dreams, you are doomed to regret. First, you have to know what they are. Self-awareness is a big thing for me. I think very few people have it, and I want to be one of them.
Know what you want. And then charge toward it. This means you have to take time, even if it is a miniscule amount on a regular basis, to pursue your dreams.
Be prepared. Do the work. If you do not put in the time to know what you are doing, when the opportunity arises, you will not be ready. I didn’t know exactly how to pursue my writing, but I was working and editing and tweaking continually so that when something happened, I was ready.
Talk about it. Don’t be afraid to put it out there. Some people feel like putting their dreams out in the world front and center is too big of a risk - that if they don’t achieve them, people will think they are a failure. To that I say, “Who cares?” You are trying. And when you put it out there, who knows who will be listening? I had no idea the essay judge was a publisher. Thanks goodness I put it out there.
Don’t be afraid to make adjustments. We all have ideas of what our dreams should look like. Sometimes life takes you down a path that looks different but still takes you where you want to go. Be open to different views of the same dream.
Don’t let setbacks set you back. They are going to happen. I never expected to be divorced. I never expected to have a kid with a chronic illness. Get through it and get back to your goals.
Don’t give up. I started writing about online dating more than 5 years ago. I had time where I was more active than others because, let’s face it, sometimes life just gets in the way. But when you prioritize your dreams, even when life gets in the way, you make the effort to get back to it. Five years later, I am published.
To find out more about my book chronicling five years of crazy dates and tips I learned along the way, please visit my website www.sweetenthedeal.com.
have learned a lot in my 43 years — more than I really thought I needed to learn. I learned that people are not always who they seem. I learned that people who are supposed to love you can hurt you the most. I learned that when you try to do all of the right things, things still go wrong. I learned that when everything goes wrong at once, you just have to hold on for dear life. I learned that perspective is a beautiful thing. I learned to trust myself. I learned that doing the right thing may not get you what you want, but you will be able to look in the mirror. I learned that I, and only I, am responsible for my happiness. And most of all I have learned who I am and what I am capable of doing.
Many of these lessons came from my divorce and the ensuing hell that followed. I will not go into specifics for the sake of my children, however, I was with the wrong person. I was with someone who was not who he had claimed to be for the entirety of our marriage. After 10 years, the mask came off. About the same time, my youngest son began having seizures. On the hour, every hour for two weeks and then once a month for a year.
That exact period of time during the divorce and the seizures was the single most difficult time I had ever experienced. Life felt like everything was falling apart at once. Looking back, the seizures couldn’t have been predicted, but the years that led up to this moment telegraphed the end of my marriage. I was with someone who tore me down rather than built me up. I was with someone who minimized my goals and dreams while he went to law school and followed his. I was with someone who wore me out needing validation while offering the opposite of that to me.
Finally, I was with someone who was ambivalent about my writing. The response was always, “Eh, it’s okay.” I was told that I couldn’t write a book or make a living writing at all. I was discouraged from following my path. It was generally a subtle blow off, a disregard for what I thought and felt, but over time it seeped in and infiltrated my life.
The fact that I listened to this discouragement is my responsibility, but I think a lot of people, when told over and over how inadequate they are, begin to internalize some of this thinking. It’s almost funny to me because I am generally not someone to suffer a crisis of confidence, but life was busy. We had three kids in four years. He was in law school and studying for the bar exam. I just put my priorities aside and when I received negative feedback, it was easier to keep them aside.
Believe it or not, the thing that woke me up in my life was my son’s seizures. As I said, perspective is a beautiful thing. And with his condition, came an immediate shift from the difficulty of my divorce to getting this 2-year-old child well. And after that, being able to take care of my children. And after that, regaining my confidence and happiness.
The evolution for me occurred over the next eight years. My kids and I had to move in with my parents for a while until my son’s seizures were controlled (he is now, 10 years later, seizure-free and has been released from his neurologist.) I got a job. I healed. It was no easy task. When things settled down I realized that my own path had gotten derailed. With my divorce came freedom to rediscover my dreams and reevaluate what a good relationship should be. I worked on becoming a whole person by myself so that my path would be strong with or without a partner.
When I began online dating, I had one crazy date after the other — married guys, criminal guys, toothless guys — who knew this was in store for me! I learned how to date (especially having kids to think of), what I wanted and how to get it.
My friends began telling me I needed to write these dates down. So, I began a blog. It was originally called You Can’t Make This Shit Up. I chronicled all of my funny and horrifying dates for everyone to read, and began writing again. After about five years, the online quest finally met its demise when I met my now husband. My husband is supportive, caring and encouraging. He met me when I had learned that I could be happy on my own, when I knew what I wanted and when I was ready to go after it.
With his support and encouragement, I turned my blog into a book. I added in all of the dating lessons I learned during some hard and crazy times. I began working as a freelance writer while working to promote my book. I am helping to support my family as a writer, and I am happy and whole. The book will be released on April 1, 2015 and is now called Sweeten the Deal: How to Spot and Avoid the Big Red Flags in Online Dating. My first book signing is scheduled, my family will be there. I am excited and ready for the next adventure! Onward!
After an incredibly difficult and emotional divorce (and aren’t they all), I came to the conclusion that I did not want to live a life filled with anger. The most treasured people in my life, my children, deserved to live with a mother who was happy, calm and peaceful rather than one who was carrying around anger, irritability and tension about a situation that was unchangeable and permanent. The way I found my peace was by acceptance. It is not easy, but it is possible and necessary if you want to nurture your children to find the happiness they deserve and to foster their relationship with the other parent that they deserve.
The first step to acceptance is to recognize that the situation is what it is. You may not like it. It may not be easy. But it is what it is. You are divorced. Your children will now travel between parents. Your financial situation may be less than ideal. But too bad. That’s the way it is, and it’s up to you to make the best of it. Being angry and resentful will not change the situation, but recognizing it and moving forward will change the way you look at it.
The second step is to recognize that your former spouse is who he/she is. He has not changed, may never change and may never want to change. This is not your problem. Once you recognize that your perceived faults and limitations of this person are most likely going to remain status quo, let go of your expectations and accept what is. I am not saying that you will not have moments of anger or frustration. They should just be situational rather than your way of life.
The third step to acceptance is to take responsibility for your life the way it looks now. My whole life changed because of decisions I did not make. It is very difficult not to be pretty ticked off about that. But when I realized that I, and only I, was in charge of my future, I was able to let go of that ticked off feeling and embrace that I was in control of my future. I knew that there was no going back. There was no changing the situation. The only thing I had control over was how I chose to move forward. No matter how I got where I was (and it was pretty low) no one was going to alter my future but me. That is scary and empowering. Be empowered.
The fourth step to acceptance is to recognize that your children do not deserve a life filled with anger and conflict between you and your ex. This is not their problem to own, to fix or to endure. Anger is one of the most destructive emotions to relationships, but the harboring of this feeling can and will destroy any ability to communicate effectively and therefore affect all relationships involved, including relationships with the kids. Any decent parent who truly wants the best for their children will find a way to gain perspective and put kids first. This means fostering a loving and healthy relationship between the kids and the other parent. This means allowing the kids to feel free to love, free to spend time with and free to talk about the other parent with no negativity from you. Do not put adult problems on a child. If the other parent disappoints them, the only response you have is this: “I am sorry that happened, did you talk to your mother/father about how you feel?” If the kids have a great time at the other parent’s house, your response is this: “I am so glad! Tell me all about it!”
I don’t think any of this is easy. I make a conscious effort to continue to feel acceptance And when things come up, it is difficult. But now, when I get angry, I am able to isolate it to the incident at hand and not dredge up all the years of anger and frustration from the past. Letting go of the past and our anger about it often feels unfair. We want to feel validated or compensated for the ways we feel we were wronged. But that is not life, and as all of our parents told us...life is not fair. As parents, we have no right to surround our children with our feelings of anger, resentment and inequity. We have an obligation to be mature adults who accept responsibility for our own situations and surround them with love, joy and peace as best we can.
I am a planner. Google calendar is my friend. I have five kids’ and two adults’ calendars on my phone, with alerts programmed to mine and theirs (though the youngest two don’t have phones yet). If you don’t put it on the calendar, I make no promises. Even with the best laid plans, in my life, in a blended family of seven, I often resort to hanging on to the top, spinning with controlled chaos, and waiting for the slow steady revolution of a calmer day — if it comes, it lasts only until you have a split second to breathe, and it spins again.
It started on a Friday afternoon around 4:00 p.m. Up to that point, my day had been relatively uneventful. We were going to have the three teenagers scattered for the night, but rides were arranged and I was planning a low-key, dinner-and-a-movie evening at home with the younger two. Then I got the email. And the chain of events, thought not all directly related, unfolded over the next three days and the top began to whir.
“I am not going to make it home in time to go get the check, so can you go by and pick it up? I will send directions. By the way, I forgot my phone at home today.”
Okay, so, I knew he forgot his phone at home since he drove two hours out of town and I hadn’t heard from him all day, and when I checked, it was still on his night stand. And I knew I might have to go pick the check up. But considering it was 4:00, and I had not heard from him (after all, he was with people with phones) and since he had to pick the girls up from their mother’s by 6:00, I thought he must have gotten out on time. When I got his email at 4:20, I was at the grocery store getting dinner. I flew home, dropped the groceries, got back in the car and raced to his office. While reading his email telling me to hurry up so he could get to the girls, I missed my turn, drove 10 minutes out of the way, because I am still learning my way around my new city, and barely made it to get the check by 5:00.
Phew! Now the relaxing evening can begin, I thought, as I drove at a more reasonable pace to drop the check in the ATM, and stop to get a bottle of wine at the Rite-Aid, and get $20 extra for the one going to the movie later. Wrong. When I got home, his phone rang and it was daughter number one. She began to explain a change in plans that included her mom dropping her off at a birthday party (this was planned) and then bringing daughter number two to our house instead of him picking her up as usual (this was not planned). Apparently, the ex had left him an unreceived message indicating this change earlier in the day. I explained the forgotten phone situation to daughter number one, and told her I couldn’t get a message to him, but if needed, daughter number two could be dropped off at our house, and he would just realize it when he got to her mother’s house. Long pause for relay of this information to the mother, followed by the mother taking the phone. A repeat explanation of the forgotten phone and she is dropping daughter number two by our house. Daughter number two gets dropped by (late) and I race to the mother’s house to try to catch him so that he doesn’t worry why she is not there. Before I make it, my phone rings and he is calling from our house. Oh well, I tried.
I fixed dinner (late) and fed those that were home. Son number one was at the football game playing in the band, daughter number one was at the birthday party, and son number two was headed out to the movie. Husband and I caught each other up on our day before I started son number three and daughter number two toward bed. By the time they were in bed, husband leaves to get oldest two home by ten. All go to bed and I lay half asleep waiting on son number two to get back from movie that he shouldn’t have been allowed to attend, because the 8:00 p.m. show was sold out and the 9:00 p.m. ended past his curfew. Oh well. I tried.
The next two days went something like this: Son number three (who is kid number four) and I arise at 5:45 a.m. to get to his swim meet an hour away. Husband and kids one, two, three and five get up thirty minutes later to squeeze in every ounce of sleep and meet us at the swim meet. Meet ends by noon, we grab lunch and everyone goes to get a Christmas tree since the next time we are all together will be two weeks away. I skip the tree purchase to run by the store to get hot chocolate and jeans for son number two who told me the day before that he only had one pair for his upcoming week-long trip with his father.
Husband bought tree with lightning-quick speed, and calls to see where I am. I rush home to get decorating started. Son number two thinks that everything is taking too long, and moves from the couch to couch lamenting this torture. Son number three and daughter number two are giddy and “helpful” getting into everything and impatiently waiting to be able to put the ornaments on. Son number one keeps disappearing to play guitar and/or text his girlfriend who he is trying to arrange to come to the movie in the street downtown later, because we are trying to fit some “fun” into the weekend. Daughter number one helpfully puts lights on the tree in the foyer, only to discover when she gets to the end that she has a receiving end plug for the lights and can’t plug them in to the wall.
“I have a problem,” is followed by her walking off and leaving me to re-do the lights. We finally got things decorated with EVERYONE pitching in, like it or not, and in the midst of me making popcorn and daughter number one making hot chocolate (or should I say “burning” hot chocolate) to take to the movie. I realize I have not considered that this brood might need to eat dinner, and we are minutes away from leaving for the movie. We stop to grab dinner at a drive-through and eat on the way to the movie. We get to the movie and set up seven camp chairs, distribute popcorn and burnt hot chocolate, console son number one whose girlfriend cancelled to get her ears pierced, and shivered though an unusually cold (for Lower Alabama) night.
Sunday, son number three and I got up at 6:00 a.m. to get to day two of the swim meet an hour away. Husband and kids one, two, three and five slept late and went to church. Son number three and I grabbed a calm lunch on the way home, arrived home to get son number one ready for symphony practice, and then youth group (which he now will not miss due to the girlfriend’s attendance of the same group), got daughters one and two ready to return to their mother’s and got sons one, two and three to shower and make lunch boxes before hitting the bed.
Husband and I hit the bed not sure how we were going to get up the next day, and realizing that we have not gone to the grocery store for the week. Oh well, we tried.