We are not a broken family

I have been heading a single-parent family for nearly six years now. I am a teacher, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat in meetings and conferences while others lamented the fact that we have to deal with “broken families.” I think it’s a hurtful phrase and one that I’ve had to work hard to overcome. My family is not broken. While maintaining our family’s privacy, I will just say divorce was not a decision that was taken lightly.

My ex-husband and I have made many compromises and more importantly, made peace with each other, in order to be the best co-parents possible for our kids. Yes, there are differences in our parenting styles, but we discuss all major decisions and are in general agreement on the important things. We face the same issues we would have been dealing with if we were still married.

Just because a children’s parents are divorced, it doesn’t have necessarily mean the family is broken. Broken to me means deficient in a way that is beyond repair. We may not have two parents living together in the same house, but I still consider my ex and his family my family and I always will.

We are bound together for the rest of our lives by our two children, and I want to make the best of it. I am happy that it’s not awkward or painful to sit together at recitals or meet up to go trick-or-treating. We will not have to sit in separate rows when our children graduate or get married.

Although it’s a sad statement about our society that the divorce rate is so high, the most practical way to help children is to give them a sense of family no matter what its makeup. I support the institution of marriage. When it works, it’s a beautiful partnership. But there are other types of families that work too. We may not look like the Pajamagram picture above, but we’re still a whole, beautiful family!

 

Please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices.

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Why clinging to the past (or the future) makes you suffer

Being a parent forces you to constantly be aware of the passage of time. Your life runs to the rhythm of school years and holidays and sports seasons and annual checkups. Parents feel it, and kids feel it too. I don’t know how many times my kids have said they can’t wait for this day or that trip or alternately, that they don’t want summer to be over or to grow up too fast.

If you haven’t seen this video about the girl who doesn’t want her baby brother to grow up because he’s just sooo cute, it hits you in two layers. The first is how adorable she is (and she’s right about her baby brother). But there’s also a deeper undercurrent of the pain we share with her of wanting to stop time.

I recently read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Tolle explains the difference between clock time and psychological time. Clock time is what you use to function day to day, to get places on time and do what you need to do. Psychological time is the attachment you feel to the past or the future, anything that is pulling you away from the moment you are in right now. Psychological time can bring suffering because you are either comparing now to the past and finding it lacking, or you feel that you need something in the future to make you happier.

The girl who doesn’t want her baby brother to grow up was experiencing the pain of living on psychological time. I see it in my own life as well. I am flooded with old emails that I don’t want to get rid of in case there’s an important memory I’ll lose. I sometimes feel sad when I look at family pictures, even though they are from happy events, because I long to relive them or to be younger (or especially to see my kids be younger again).

When we hold on to the past like this, we are depriving ourselves of the opportunity to fully experience the present. By lamenting about how short the summer seems or how quickly a vacation passes, you are robbing the event of its enjoyment by anticipating its end. If you are a planner like I am, you might spend a lot of your present time with your thoughts on the future. People say I’m “organized,” or but it’s really a form of anxiety about things that haven’t happened yet.

Since reading Tolle’s book and watching Sadie cry over her baby brother, I am trying to keep re-centering myself in the present moment, to stop dwelling on the past and worrying about the future. I hope that my kids see a difference in my attentiveness toward them and that they too practice living in the now.

As Oogway says to Po in Kung Fu Panda, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.”

If you like reading about families, please check out my novel, Giving Myself Away.

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I hope my kids will always be able to look up to me

“Mommy, I don’t want to grow taller than you. I always want to be able to look up to you,” my tween son told me last night. I’m sure he meant that literally, but I couldn’t help but take the message as a figurative one. Can I be a mom who will always be worth looking up to?

I give a lot of thought to what I can pass on to my children because I realize that I have limited time left in which their parents will be the central figures of their lives. Soon their friends will matter more, followed by girlfriends and wives. I can only hope that the seeds of what I’ve tried to plant in their hearts will take root and bloom.

These are the ways I hope to be a mother worth looking up to:

  1. Faith: My faith brings me comfort in this modern “I need proof” and “I need answers now” world. No matter what your belief system, just the thought that there’s something out there larger than ourselves that there’s a plan for us (though we may not understand it yet), eases the pressure to feel like I need to know it all. This leads me to

 

  1. Humility: Our privacy has been replaced by the overwhelming popularity contest of social media. For many of us, our jobs depend on what others think of us and how many people know and care that we exist. To be humble today takes an extra measure of self-control. Of course I hope you read this and enjoy it and comment on it and share it, but whether you do or not, does that have bearing on my worth as an individual? I need to say what I believe and live my live according to my principles, which leads me to

 

  1. Openness: I never want to offend anyone and I can see multiple points of view on just about any issue. I tend to be a private person as well, but two years ago, I adopted a “theme” for myself of Put Yourself Out There. This simple statement brought about so many wonderful changes in my personal and professional life that I became determined to stop hiding. Kids (especially firstborns) try hard to please adults, a habit I never fully outgrew, but now I accept that not everyone will like what I say, and that’s okay. My desire to respectfully be who I am leads me to

 

  1. Kindness: The comedian Louis CK in one of his hilarious skits pointed out the fact that even the most mild-mannered people can turn aggressive in their cars. I have been known to utter “What are you, an idiot?” (and much worse) while driving. I’ve had uncharitable thoughts about other people that I wouldn’t say out loud, but my goal is to not even think them. It is so easy to get caught up in our own egos that we forget the struggles and fears and tragedies that have molded the people around us. And going back to the principles of faith and humility, who am I to judge? My desire to believe in the innate goodness of people leads to

 

  1. Optimism: There are two ways you can go through life: believing that humankind is selfish and inherently evil, or that people (for the most part) do their best with the resources they have to be cooperative and generous. The filter you choose is the one through which you will measure everything that happens to you, both good and bad. The good things will seem less good because you’ll attribute them to chance, while the bad things will seem predestined, part of life’s agenda of screwing you over. Like everyone else who exists, I’ve had some really good parts of my life and some really bad ones too. It’s a decision I make every day, but I choose to believe the universe is fundamentally good.

There are so many things I could wish for my children: that they find good partners, do well in school, have fulfilling and well-paid careers, and become good parents themselves. But instead of wishing they become certain things that may or may not happen, I will try to nurture who they are right at this moment. I hope that regardless of height, they see my path as one worth taking.

 

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When did you bond with your baby?

My brother and sister-in-law recently welcomed their first baby into the world. I am so excited for them and can’t wait to hold my niece and see the people I love in their new role as parents. Part of me envies the wonder and joy of becoming a first-time parent, while the other part thinks whew, glad I don’t have to go through that again!

Naturally, a birth in the family causes people to reminisce about their own baby stories. I have two sons, but because of circumstances surrounding their births, the bonding process felt instant and natural with my first child, but came much later with the second.

I had a healthy first pregnancy and delivery, and when my older son was born, he spent the entire hospital visit in the room with us. I don’t think he spent a minute in the nursery. He took to breastfeeding immediately and seemed very content from the get-go. I wasn’t nervous during my pregnancy because I felt no reason to be. Other than the typical fatigue and weepiness a new mom faces, becoming a parent was a natural transition.

Halfway through my second pregnancy, I found out I had a rare condition that could cause me to suddenly hemorrhage and bleed to death. Needless to say, this put a damper on the normal joy of pregnancy. I was fortunate to have skilled medical care and a safe delivery, but nevertheless, my second son was born premature at 35 weeks. He didn’t yet have a sucking reflex and his blood sugar dropped easily, so he spent his first two weeks with a feeding tube in the NICU. We could only see him by showing identification and passing through locked doors, then scrubbing up as though preparing for a medical procedure. I couldn’t nurse him. And when I was discharged from the hospital, I had to go home, an hour away from where he was. I didn’t even see him until the day after he was born.

He did not have formula because I was able to pump milk for him, but even when he came home from the hospital, he was only taking milk from a bottle. It left me in the frustrating position of having to get up in the middle of the night to use a breast pump and then feed him with a bottle. I was agitated, he was agitated, and it took us a while to get in sync. To me, breastfeeding was one of the easiest ways to feel bonded to my babies, so I was relieved when, a month later, he finally got the hang of it.

I think the major bonding experience for me and my younger son did not come until last year, when he was seven years old and spent three days in the hospital for a severe asthma attack. He endured needle sticks day and night, all kinds of pulmonary testing and chest x-rays, and an entire night in the ER. It was just the two of us (and many medical personnel) for three days together in the ambulance, the ER, and a hospital room. I gained so much pride and appreciation to see how my son handled himself under duress. I will never know how he felt in the hospital as a newborn because obviously he couldn’t tell me then and he doesn’t remember it now. His more recent hospital stay felt like our better-late-than-never bonding experience because I was fully focused on nothing but him and we spent the days and nights together that we should have shared when he was first born.

In my first novel, Giving Myself Away, my main character, Adrienne, who is already a mom, faces the heartbreaking decision of whether to give up her third baby for adoption. I incorporated some of my birth story into hers, but it was fascinating for me to explore this dilemma in writing because it’s an experience I could never imagine going through myself.

At a writers’ conference this past spring, I met a woman who found herself exactly in this situation and her story was amazing. If you are willing to share, what was the moment you felt bonded to your baby? I’d love to hear it (and it might inspire a story for a future novel!).

 

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Photo: A moment of bonding with my little guy while he was in the NICU.

When did you stop picking up your kids?

 

I am usually a forward-thinking parent. I celebrate all the milestones and enjoy them – my kids taking showers instead of baths, cutting their own fingernails, making their own lunches and beds.

But sometimes the whoosh of passing time strikes me so hard that I can’t help but get sentimental about how fast it’s all going. On vacation recently, my son told me he felt sad because he missed his friends. That was the first time he had ever mentioned such a thing and it made me realize he’s making the transition to a point where his friends equal, if not surpass, his parents in his sphere of influence.

In this tenderhearted blog by fellow mom Kara Uhl, she wrote about her husband’s lament that there comes a time when you no longer pick up your children. That point passed for me long ago; I’d hurt my back if I even tried to pick up my sons. But sometimes I still grab one or the other of my boys, get as much of them onto my lap as will fit (pretty much just head and shoulders at this point), and talk baby talk to them. They still tolerate my fits of maudlin mushiness and probably secretly enjoy them.

Now and then I tease them and tell them they’re not allowed to grow up or get taller, but I know it’s their job to grow up and my job to let them grow up. I am proud of every new accomplishment and often find myself pushing them to try more than they thought themselves capable of doing on their own.

I am simultaneously drawn to cuddling my boys and pushing them away, knowing that soon the boundaries of our physical and emotional relationship will change. Other mammals go through the same weaning process that we do, and sometimes the young will live with their mothers for years before striking off on their own. In many animal groups, the female young stay with their mothers their whole lives, while the boys are cast out to find a new family group.

Even if I can’t pick up my children in my arms, they still need me to pick them up in other ways. There are days and nights of tears and anger and slights and things to be fearful of. Little problems turn into bigger problems as kids get older. There’s a comfort in knowing that no matter how grown up my kids are, they’ll always need me.

The best part of all is knowing that now they pick me up too.

 

If you like reading about families, please check out my novel Giving Myself Away, available now.

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Photo credit: “Mother Giving Hand To A Child” by David Castillo Domini / http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Do you give your ex a Father’s Day gift?

 

The first few years after our divorce, I attempted to ignore Father’s Day as I dropped off the kids to spend the day with their dad. But as time has healed the pain of our failed marriage, I found myself wanting to acknowledge his continuing role in my life: the co-parent of our children.

I’ve decided to let go of things that disappoint me and celebra te what he means to the kids. They adore him and I believe that showing my appreciation boosts his confidence and shows our kids that they don’t have to fear they are “taking sides” by wholeheartedly and unreservedly loving their dad.

I am grateful that we are the kind of divorced parents who can peaceably go to parent-teacher night together, who can sit side by side at sports events, and who can talk without getting into the blame game.

Last year, I went through old pictures and made my ex a little photo album of our kids. He had very few baby photos because I seem to be the keeper of family history, so I knew it would be something he’d like. I felt I had reached a new place of acceptance that I could look at those photos without feeling angry, sad, wistful, or any other negative emotion. Instead, they reminded me that we had two beautiful babies who will always tie us together. We aren’t married anymore, but we will always be linked through our children, and maybe someday our grandchildren.

Now I can wish him Happy Father’s Day and mean it, and I can look for ways to let him know all year that I value his role in our children’s lives.

If you like reading about families, parenting, divorce and tough decisions, please check out my novel Giving Myself Away, available now.

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The Lonely Housewife

 

I get a taste each year of what it’s like to be a stay-at-home mom because I’m a teacher and I’m off in the summer. My kids’ school schedules are different from mine, so I always have several days at home myself before they are also home for the break. “Sounds heavenly,” you might say. “Two weeks all to yourself!”

Well, I hate it. I’ve always thought of myself as somewhat introverted. I got teased mercilessly as a kid for being quiet. But for the past seven years, I’ve worked in a career where I am with people from when I wake up until when I go to bed, and the abrupt shock of transitioning from that to a deadly quiet house is painful.

I used to think I was going to be a stay-at-home mom, but life circumstances proved me wrong. I’m not sure how I would have handled it, and now I can’t imagine not having my job, even though it means housework, cooking, shopping, and all of the other things that stay-at-home parents can do during the day are lumped on top of what I already do and have to be squeezed in on evenings and weekends.

Every morning during the school year is an organized blur as the kids and I have breakfast, make our lunches, get dressed, and pack the car by 7:18 a.m. Saying goodbye to them never feels like too much of a separation because I’m already thinking about work and they’re thinking about school and their friends. The day speeds by for all of us, and before we know it, I’m picking them up and we’re starting our equally busy evening routine.

This morning as I waved goodbye to the departing school bus and walked back home, I thought about how much easier it is to be the one leaving, rather than the one being left behind. Even though my kids are noisy and messy and we’re often doing our own separate things, it feels right when we’re all in the house together.

If you like to read about the choices moms make, please check out my novel, Giving Myself Away, available now in paperback and ebook.

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Tips for family game night

family game night

“Mom, can we play Monopoly?”

This is one of the most dreaded questions ever, because I know that “playing” Monopoly is likely to end with money and property cards on the floor, accusations of cheating, and at least one child in tears. However, family game nights are getting better with a little pre-planning, some growing maturity on the part of the kids, and reduced expectations from me.

I’m determined to make this work because my kids are at the golden age where they can read and write, they have an attention span of at least a half hour, and they don’t have much social life to get in the way of our evenings together.

Here are a few of my suggestions for making family game night go more smoothly.  I’d love to hear yours as well!

1. Make a list of games that all of the family members can play (appropriate age level, length of game play, interest level).  Some of our favorites are Sorry, Uno, and Clue.  Sometimes we enjoy easier games that don’t require a lot of strategy, while other times we like more cerebral games (Pandemic is a new favorite and you have to work together to win this game rather than compete against each other).

2. Take turns getting to choose the game of the night.  Because you’re choosing from the “approved games” list, no one is allowed to whine “I don’t feel like playing that one today!” (myself included).

3. Set a time limit for how long your gameplay will last, even if the game hasn’t ended yet.  If everyone agrees at the stop time that they want to continue, go for it, but if anyone wants to quit then, game night is over.  No one is allowed to quit early either.

4. Make sure you hold family game night on an evening where no one is exhausted or overwhelmed with homework or household chores. Sunday evenings work best for us.

5. Build excitement for game night by planning ahead with a special meal or other pre-game ritual to get the kids enthused.

 

How do you deal with sibling rivalry?

sibling rivalry

This picture is captioned “I used to be the little one.”  If you have more than one child or you have siblings, I’m guessing you can relate to at least one of the girls in this picture.  I’ve noticed my older son sometimes gets jealous when I give attention to other adults, while my younger son only gets jealous of my attention toward other kids (especially his big brother!).  Sometimes he’ll actually push his brother out of the way and say, “She’s my mom, not yours.”

I was one of four children, and what that meant is that you had to do something REALLY good or REALLY bad to get any parental attention focused solely on you.  Sometimes that was a blessing.  I liked not having to be the only one to take the heat when household objects disappeared or got broken.  Even though my brothers annoyed me, spied on me, and took things from my room, I liked the feeling of being in a “pack.”  Anywhere we went, there was always a pile of us.  I rarely spent time alone.  An important part of my identity is being a sister.

On the other hand, it may have been good to learn early on that I wasn’t the center of the world, but sometimes I wanted to be, and that wasn’t going to happen with three younger siblings.  I rarely knew what it was like for the house to be quiet.  Sometimes we all got in trouble when my parents didn’t feel like parsing out who did what to whom.  At the time, it seemed so unfair, but I find myself doing the same thing when my kids argue now.

I try to spend some time with both of my kids separately.  I try not to compare them to each other.  They may look alike, but they have very different personalities.  I even motivate and discipline them differently, based on what works for them.  What do you do to handle sibling rivalry in your household?

[photo source: http://failblog.cheezburger.com/parenting]

If you’re interested in reading more about family, please check out my novel, Giving Myself Away.

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Gaining confidence as a single parent

Adriennes blog 18 suitcase picI did not sign up to be a single parent.  I expected I was going to have a partner with me to see through the raising of our children.  Yes, their father is actively part of their lives, but we don’t do our job of parenting together anymore.

At first, it was overwhelming.  Parents with partners can tag-team so that when one is wiped out, he or she can step out of the ring for a few minutes to regain energy and composure.  When you’re a single parent, you’re on all the time.  You might be able to hand off kids to a grandparent for a few hours, but you’re still the chief decision-maker.

Early after Drew moved out, I decided to take Tyler and Nicky out for dinner, just the three of us.  It was a disaster.  Nicky was sulking about something and didn’t want to order, so I picked macaroni and cheese from the kids’ menu for him, which I figured he probably would have ordered anyway.  Just to be contrary, he said he didn’t want macaroni and cheese (after the waitress had already taken our order and walked away).  I said, “tough, you’re having macaroni and cheese.”

Tyler, the peacemaker, was upset that we were arguing, burst into tears, and knocked over his juice trying to hug me across the table.  This led to even more tears.  By the end of the meal, all of us had cried at least once.  I can only imagine that our waitress and the people at nearby tables looked at us with either pity or scorn:  Look at that pathetic single mom.  She can’t handle her kids (her life!).

Since those early days, we’ve developed a partnership that works.  Nicky and Tyler and I are now a family that feels complete.  There are plenty of families where the parents are married, but a spouse has to work long hours away from home or serve overseas in the military.  There are stay-at-home moms and dads who have to take three kids to the grocery store and clean the house and cook, all while keeping an eye on little ones.  I’m not alone and I’m not a pity case.

Our latest adventure was an overnight trip on our own to an unfamiliar city.  This was a big step for me, the person who couldn’t even handle a night at a restaurant on my own.  I took lots of time to plan our route (no navigator to help me in the car), packed our bags (no one to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything), and prepared for missteps (there were a few).  But we had a great time and it built my confidence as a parent.  I’m a parent, not a single parent.  And we are a family, not a one-parent family.

You can read more about my life after divorce in Giving Myself Away, available now.

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