Gratitude – Not Just for Thanksgiving Anymore

Gratitude Edited

I hope everyone had a relaxing Thanksgiving.  But the truth is, most of you probably didn’t.  Many of my readers probably missed their children because it wasn’t their year for Thanksgiving (myself included).  Others, had them but they talked about “last year with _______, we did ______, and it was awesome”, while you smile politely and try to sound excited.  Lastly, there are the co-parents who have the shittiest deal, and have to swap halfway through the day.  These agreements are written by attorneys who obviously are not divorced, and do not know that seeing your ex halfway through the day and having to deal with children in transition sucks giant hairy donkey balls.  It all sucks no matter which of the above you were this Thanksgiving.

All that said, we don’t need a holiday to be grateful.  Besides, we celebrate the Natives assisting the Pilgrims in the month which has been assigned Native American Heritage Month (bet you didn’t even know we had one of those), in which we pretend all is well.  But, it’s like watching the Titanic movie, we know the damn thing sinks and we feel the same about Thanksgiving thinking, “run, they’re gonna take your shit!  Also, thanks for the corn.”

I know it’s hard, life is hard.  But, we can choose how we view it.  I feel like all I do is work and do chores.  What does that mean?  It means I’m employed.  I wash dishes because I have food to eat, and people to eat it with.  I do mountains of laundry and wash millions of tiny socks because I have two beautiful daughters.  I scrub out dog crates because I have companions that I don’t have to explain myself to and they are always happy to see me.  I have floors to mop because I own my own home and I want it to be well maintained.  I fall in the toilet at 4AM because I have a fabulous male friends who accidentally leave the seat up.

You don’t need to stand around a table and talk about what you are grateful for once per year while secretly being pissed when, “fuck, that’s what I was going to say.”  You can choose to be grateful for those you have even if it isn’t 100% of the time.  I’ve heard about gratitude journals but I’ve never been disciplined to keep up with one.  I simply make note that when my kids are upstairs screaming at each other, that I would never do without one just to stop the yelling.  The truth is, life is tough and as co-parents, we have a whole other set of rules and dynamics.  That said, we can embrace them and appreciate what we do have.  I don’t know about you, but I’d take those two girls 50% over 0% anytime.   

The Importance of Authenticity

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 We, as humans, want and need to be accepted.  We wear the styles we see, and stop wearing them when everyone else does.  We compare ourselves to others constantly.  This is perfectly normal and begins early in life.  However, there are times when you just have to be you.  As we’ve talked about before, your children need to know you have feelings.  They need you to be honest when communicating with them.  In addition however, they need you to be you.

This is where authenticity comes in.  Authenticity is not the “I just gotta be me” people, and it is not at the expense of others.  It is not breaking the rules or laws because you don’t like being told to do, but then pretend it is because you are being “real”.  Authenticity is not going to Starbucks every day just because everyone else does when you don’t even like their coffee.

So what is authenticity?  Authenticity is defined as real or genuine, not copied or false.  It is how you build a rapport with the people around you.  It is how you gain trust.  It is how you establish your unique personality even and especially when it differs from others.

I have a friend who blocks out what I’m saying, or at least files the information long enough to percolate my ideas into “their” ideas later.  They do the active “uh-huh” listening and then a month later, tells me about their great idea.  Worse, they sometimes repeat my lines and stories back me as their own.

I see the university stickers and stick figure families on everyone’s car.  Just a hint:  No one cares where you went to school or how many kids or cats you have…..just saying.  I adore my girls.  They are the light of my life, but no one else gives two shits that I reproduced.  I get that.

It seems no one has an original thought anymore.  This is usually caused by insecurity.  People want to be accepted and they don’t believe they are worthy.  Other times it’s that they are impressed by you.  As Charles Caleb Colton said “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery“.  We are flattered, now stop.

That Ford pictured above is mine.  I am a therapist who wears jeans to the office and I often have pink highlights in my hair.  I break out in thematic song every time a musical is mentioned because chances are, I have the score memorized.  My playlists on shuffle always makes my guests laugh, because there is such a ridiculous range of music.  My favorite flower cannot grow in the state I reside.  I can’t tell one designer from the other and I hate jewelry (no, my ears aren’t pierced).  I don’t think Channing Tatum is sexy because he reminds me of someone I would date’s cute little brother.  I can tell you which fork to use when, but avoid restaurants that make that skill necessary.  I go to a country bar weekly because I like friends, music, and beer, but don’t listen to country music.  I hate Starbucks and I have no idea why everyone likes Star Wars so much.  *GASP*   None of this makes me special, a rebel, or interesting.  It’s just me.  I like what I like because I like it, and I don’t like something because other people do.  I like trendy things and dorky things.  I’m me and I’m unapologetic about it.

Your children need to know you are you, and most importantly, that you love being you.  You having the confidence to love yourself is one of the best lessons you can teach them.  Self-love and self-care.  Further, once they get out of middle and high school where they are obsessed with blending in, they will branch out and develop into a self-assured adult.  One with an original personality that catches people’s attention and your child won’t care that they caught it.  They will love themselves and as such, love won’t need to be collected from others and more importantly, from the wrong sources.

If I’m The Good Example Then We Are All Screwed

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The aftercare director at my daughters’ school told me that she wishes all her parents acted the way my ex and I do.  We discussed as we waited for the girls to get their crap together and say goodbye to their friends for the 10th time, since they won’t see them again until tomorrow (which is apparently very long when your little).  I thanked her and left.

Later that day, what she had said really started to sink in.  Why, I’m not sure, as I’ve been told this so many times over the years.  Maybe because I feel like people are getting worse not better?  Maybe because I value her opinion?  No idea.  Either way it occurred to me that if I’m considered a good example of anything: we…are…all…fucking…screwed.

When not screaming at each other in front of the school, not having to explain what a whore is to your 7 year-old because that’s “Daddy’s nickname for you” (seriously, I couldn’t make this shit up), when not having the entire planet be aware of your marital status becomes the standard, we are doomed.

“I am, as I’ve said, merely competent.  But in an age of incompetence, that makes me extraordinary.”  ~Billy Joel

Co-parents are told they are different from “regular” families, that they are not the “norm”, and the like.  At divorce rates of 53% of first marriages and 65% of second marriages, dare I say that is the norm?  As such, I’m thinking we need some ground rules so I’m not the example:

  1. No yelling in public (also wear shoes).  Not only does this make you look like an ass, it embarrasses your children, and can bite you later in court.  A public argument can quickly lead to witness testimony that he is “scary, intimidating, or dangerous”.
  2. Watch name calling.  I don’t mean avoid calling him a lying-cheating-dirtbag-who-stole-all-your-family’s-money-and-left-you-with-several-children-he-never-sees-and-you-hope-he-gets-untreatable-syphilis-so-when-he-goes-crazy-you-can-get-a-restraining-order-because-he-doesn’t-pay-child support-anyway in front of the kids (OK, so don’t do that either).  What I mean though is don’t call him “my ex asshole” and the like.  It makes people uncomfortable. “My child’s father or mother” is sufficient.  Little Timmy’s parents that you aren’t friends with, but see regularly at school functions, don’t care that you were married and now divorced.  They get it.
  3. Don’t make your divorce other people’s problem.  It is not up to the soccer coach to know your visitation schedule, nor the school’s job to know who pays for what.  If an administrator hands you a delinquent bill, the correct response is, “I apologize, I didn’t know there was a balance.  I will contact their father, work this out, and get back to you.”  An incorrect response would be, “I paid my half so you can contact his useless ass and figure it out.”  Again, you look like the jerk, they don’t care, and if only half the bill is paid, your child is going to be kicked out of whatever wasn’t paid as owed.  They have absolutely no obligation to figure out who is responsible for what.  They have a bill, it gets paid, or your child doesn’t participate.  End of story.
  4. Make all the parents equal.  The school doesn’t care if you don’t like your children’s new slut step-mother.  All step-parents are to be respected and if there is an issue, work it out amongst yourselves.  Do not get others involved.  You do not remove the other parent’s emergency contacts from school lists or doctor’s offices.  They are allowed to choose their own contacts and the businesses they are related to do not need to be in the middle of your bullshit.  Figure it out.

There are only 4 rules there and they seem like common sense.  However, if they were common, I wouldn’t be the example (I can barely work our oven for God’s sake).  I use reuseable bags, recycle, and support animal organizations, but now and then PETA does something fucking ridiculous and makes all of us “tree huggers” look like lunatics.  Being raised Catholic, I don’t necessarily like being associated with all that messy Inquisition stuff.  Since divorced individuals are no longer the minority (depending on which study you read), we need to be an example to our newcomers and more importantly, not make school staff cringe.  Let’s not make each other embarrassed to be a co-parent, because Lord knows I should not be the example.

Happy Anniversary Personal Responsibility Co-Parenting!

Happy Anniversary Edited

September marks one year since Personal Responsibility Co-Parenting went live.  Lots of shit has happened since we managed to make it around the sun again.  We’ve learned lots of lessons such as letting go of control, changes in dynamics, letting your children have their own independent path, what constitutes abuse and what most certainly doesn’t, respecting all parents, and so forth.  If you read blogs, this is where I would put in a list of hyperlinks in a mastrabatory manner, which makes you feel the need to click and reread my work.  I will refrain but you are welcome to read the archives on the left…you’re welcome.

Some posts were well received and others were not.  I don’t apologize for any of them as the only complaints I get are from those who never even attempt my strategies/lessons/wine recommendations/advice/tools.

I’ve been told I should cuss less because it can be a turn off to some readers or in the bullshit world of writing and blogging, “I would be more accessible should I use cleaner language”.  Fuck that.  Anyone who knows me knows if I didn’t cuss, I probably wouldn’t be able to form a single declarative sentence.  I jest, but seriously, not being able to fully express yourself is like angrily hanging up your cell phone by pushing “end call”.  It’s SO much more satisfying to slam down a receiver.  Go big or go home.

I receive many emails per post.  Anyone who has emailed me knows that I answer each request personally and provide answers to any questions you may have.  There has been such an outpouring of love and gratitude for those I’ve managed to assist.  This isn’t life and death, but it is life altering for both you and your children.  If I can make one graduation, dance recital, or soccer game easier for one kid or one parent (but let’s face it, we can drink, so really it’s for the kids), everything I’ve ever written is worth it.

Thank you to all my readers and for your emails, the good and the bad.  Even if you disagree, you at least read it and one day when faced with another shitty co-parenting situation you may just try another path for shits and giggles and see a change.  Alternately, even if you completely disagree and never implement a single strategy, maybe it will make you think, research, and find a better, and completely different way that is at least less crappy than the status quo.

Mostly, I’m just glad to have made the revolution around the sun once again with my liver still functioning.  I screw up daily, but I apologize when I do, and I constantly remind myself to thrive instead of simply survive.  Let’s face it: parenting is hard and we need to be helping one another.  People are shitty to each other.  Women treat each other poorly so often that it is a running joke.  Men hold each other back, because they are afraid of competition.  Parents compare each and every thing their child does because they feel they need to raise Doogie Howser.  Everyone needs to calm the fuck down.  Sidenote:  I really don’t care when your kid stopped crapping himself.  I don’t know any healthy adults who shit their pants so I’m gonna say, it was bound to happen.  Good job Timmy!  Just stop.

While everyone is better in some ways, you are better in others.  Each of you deserve to occupy your space.  We all need to be building each other up and providing support.  Nothing gets shut down and deleted faster than a “my kid is better than yours” comment here.

Syndrome

All children are hard to raise and all families take work no matter what your family looks like.  Let’s decide this year to help each other out.  Here’s to a new year of co-parenting!  Good luck and drink wine!

Dealing Gracefully With A New School Year

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So by the end of the last school year I was threatening to pummel a teacher who thought it wise to assign a project the last week of school.  Seriously?  I just didn’t have it in me anymore.  The administrators were lucky at that point that I wasn’t sending them to school in tutus and feather boas, in lieu of replacing their stained, ripped, and in some cases, buttonless uniform polo shirts thanks to the kid who was chewing them off….gross.

We happily embarked on summer and enjoyed the lack of an alarm while it was still freaking dark out.  We swam, got tan from failing to make the 57th application of 189 SPF sunscreen, barbecued, and stayed up late.  But there is always a rub…. summer camp is freaking expensive.  Everyone complains about holiday expenses but for us, summer is much worse financially.  It’s an arm and a leg for it to start hours later and end hours sooner.  If I can’t work a full day, I may as well keep them home.

As such, summer also means attempting to write, work full-time, and you know, maintain a family and a home, all with children under foot.  The girls are like tiny soldiers.  They know the rules, they help me at the office, and they don’t dare make a sound when a client calls me.  That said, they talk… a lot.  Concentration becomes hard.  Hell, it’s an Olympic level sport trying to remember what the shit I was writing.

Now it’s time to return to school….  We attend the open house and it’s chaos.  The kids are all acting like they’ve been apart for years.  They are hugging and jumping up and down.  Did I mention all the squealing?  We have not accomplished all the reading we intended to and everyone has school supplies that were apparently “online” (thanks for narrowing that down).  I overhear a mother talking about “intensive violin” and private tutors.  Meanwhile, my youngest is wearing two different shoes (I had at least fed them and I’m pretty sure they were mostly clean).  It appears I’m not quite ready to do this all over again.

After, the three of us head to the office to get a few things done and a client calls me screaming that her ex-husband didn’t buy the school supplies, and now she’s stuck with the bill.  Fuck, I still need school supplies….

Most of my readers are co-parents.  Please, please, please, for the love of all that is holy, read your legal documents.  Whether that is a Final Judgment of Dissolution,  a Marital Settlement Agreement, a Paternity Agreement, or the like.  School supplies are almost never listed unless you have written your own custom agreement.  The Court does this so you don’t fight all year-long over who bought the last damn pencil.  However, most agreements do state the percentages that you will use to split your expenses.  If your income is close, it is usually 50/50, but it could be 75/25, etc.  I generally recommend that individuals use these as a guideline for any expenses not specifically listed.

For uniforms: get your own.  Children should have clothing at each house and this applies to uniforms/school clothes.  Food, clothing, and shelter are no-brainers.  Don’t fight about it.  If you are worried about your clothes going to the other house, then mark the tags and politely ask for them to be returned.  No, you won’t always get them back and it sucks, but life is tough.  Is it really worth fighting over t-shirt?

To track shared parental expenses, use a shared spreadsheet.

List expenses on the spreadsheet and email any necessary receipts to the other parent.  We don’t generally send receipts because it’s time-consuming and we have a general idea of what things cost.  Simplicity is key to not making each other nuts.

I wish you all luck for the new school year.  Here’s to all the homework, projects, deadlines, and events.  Try and enjoy it.  They children will only be this age/grade for this year.

Worries Are Inflated When My Kids Are Away

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Every parent has been there.  Your kid coughs during the day and it’s allergies and you tell them to go play.  Kid coughs at 3:00AM and they must have the Bubonic Plague and you start searching for boils.  Anyone who says they haven’t overreacted, is lying.

My youngest had to have an Endoscopy recently.  I kid you not, when asked what we are dealing with, the Pediatric Gastroenterologist responded, “we could be dealing with anything from heartburn to cancer, I won’t know what until I get in there”.  I almost turned his testicles into a bow tie.  So her parents, Aunt and Uncle, and grandparents spent the next 2 weeks practicing deep breathing exercises and sitting on the edge of our seats while awaiting biopsy results.  I never again want to have to say “biopsy” when discussing my child.  And you wonder why I drink?  Needless to say she got lots of Popsicles (I would’ve gotten her a damn pony had she asked).  Turns out it was just a little inflammation but seriously, who the hell says that?

Every summer my girls go away with their grandparents for anywhere for 2-4 weeks.  I miss them terribly and I never want them to go but I let them because it would be wrong to deny them these memories with their grandparents just because I’ll miss them.

That being said, I spend that time constantly telling myself that just because I haven’t gotten an update does not mean a band of rednecks has found them in the woods and is systematically torturing them.  Most likely, they just don’t have signal…..spaz.

Past years have been tough because the girls weren’t old enough to contact me on their own and ex-daughter-in-law, is not high on their grandmother’s list of priorities.  Therefore, I sometimes go for extended periods without hearing how they are doing (one summer was 10 days and I made sure it was clear that if that ever happened again, they would no longer be going on these trips – boundaries folks).  Recently though, they have iPads and can FaceTime me (how is that a verb?) regularly so it has been better.

What does all this mean for you?  It sucks being away from your kids and as divorced parents, we have to do it regularly.  It’s never fun and it’s easy to overreact when you aren’t there, or you only have half of the story.  Sidenote: Don’t listen to stories from a kid and take it as Gospel.  Ask the other parent before getting upset because let’s face it, kids are idiots.  Don’t look at me like that, when we were kids we were idiots too (some of us didn’t grow out of it) and yes, yes, your child is brilliant.  Can we move on?

The chances of them being dead on the side of the road or contracting the Bubonic Plague is slim, so simmer down.  Take a deep breath and calm yourself.  If it has been excessive (like 10 freaking days), then speak up and set boundaries – they are still your children too.  Otherwise remember that you don’t want to be tethered to your ex either (which is why you’re divorced), so let them do their thing and talk yourself off the ledge.

Self-care goes a long way here.  Take a bath, get some exercise (yes, I’m one of those crazy people who believe that exercise induced endorphins can keep you from being homicidal), do the shit that gets put aside when your kids are with you (or just freaking sleep in because yay! the kids are gone), or whatever you need to do for YOU.  Take care of yourself and your psychotic symptoms will lessen.  After all, your kids are fine and they still love and miss you.

It’s Not a Break – Also Why a Manicure Gave Me a Panic Attack

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I’m exhausted, and it’s all my fault….

I wish more people would admit that.  You are only as busy as you want to be.  Learn to say “no” and stop taking things on.  Also, I suck at this.

For those of you who don’t know, I am a mother, aunt, sister, friend, I run my own practice, I write this blog, and I care for a house that is in constant need of attention.  I know there’s some other shit in there but I’m really tired and don’t remember.  I choose the number of clients I take on and I choose what I say, “yes” to.  Don’t feel bad for me, my exhaustion is self-induced.

That being said, I feel your pain….  I know that the kids going to the other parent isn’t really a break.  It’s not like you fly off to Hawaii every time they go to their house.  It is not as if when they leave, I am no longer responsible for them.  That their doctor appointments and illnesses are no longer my problem.  Do you know what I do when they are away?  I work my ass off so that I have more time for them when they come home.

I knew it was time to reign in my obligations when a manicure gave me a panic attack.  I know, I know…at least you had time to get a manicure!  Hear me out.  I bring my laptop to the nail salon.  As they work on my feet I write, answer emails, and/or draft documents, complete assessments.  But, I had had gel polish the time before and they had to wrap my fingers to get it off.

I panicked…How will I type?  I can’t even slide to unlock my phone to check emails from there with the tin foil on my fingers.  I frantically start asking the nail tech if there is another way to do this.  The nice Vietnamese lady smiles and says, “why you come, if you not relax?”  I had no good answer and stared at her in horror.  As if people come here to relax?!?!?  I come here so I don’t look like a troll who lives under a bridge eating goats when I have to meet with clients!  I almost slapped myself.  How had it gotten this bad?  Being busy doesn’t earn you a medal, it means you cannot manage your time.  Just as being a perfectionist means you are afraid to fail, but that’s a whole other rant.

Children of divorced homes grow up differently.  Besides the obvious double homes, holidays, and such, the time with each parent is more child focused.  It’s not that they are catered to and spend every weekend at Disney.  However, the parent generally wants to make the most of the time with the children and as such, adjust their time accordingly.  While I don’t make every weekend all about the girls, I have explained to those who ask, that we have them 4 non-work/school days per month.  I have half the time “regular” parents have to create lasting memories and enjoy each stage, and I want it to be special.  I don’t cater to them and I have been known to say, “I just spent 3 hours at Chuck-E-Cheese (also known as my personal hell), Mommy needs wine and a nap, go entertain yourself”.  What I don’t do however, is use that time to clean out my closet and catch up on work.  That’s for when they are with their dad.

Parents who are not divorced think that time away from the children is some magical vacation.  What is hard to explain is that parents who share their children get much less done when their children are home, because they try and cram in the 50% of time they feel they’ve missed.  Further, they are still responsible for their needs regardless of where they sleep that day.  While we switch every other week, I very rarely go a whole week without seeing my girls.

The point is, your children sleeping at another house does not alter your level of responsibility.  Additionally, you are probably behind on things you let slip when the kids were home.  What we need here is balance.  Make the time with your kids special absolutely.  But, don’t drive yourself to breathing into a paper bag while the Vietnamese employees glance in your direction and all you can make out is “crazy white woman”.  That’s never a good time.

Actual Abuse

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No one likes to talk about child abuse.  It makes people sad, upset, angry, (in my case borderline homicidal), and a range of other emotions.  But, if we only ever discuss the warm and fuzzies, we will never learn anything right?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 686,000 children were victims of abuse and neglect in 2012.  Of those 686,000, an estimated 1,640 died as a direct result.  Of the children who experienced maltreatment or abuse, over 75% suffered neglect; more than 15% suffered physical abuse; and just under 10% suffered sexual abuse.  Approximately 80% of reported child fatalities as a result of abuse and neglect were caused by one or more of the child victim’s parents.  

I have to say it:  What…the…fuck…is…wrong…with…people?

People are beating their children to death but talk about how upsetting an ASPCA commercial is because the puppies are sad.  I love me some puppies but seriously, how are we not doing something about this?  We have DCF reviewing cases because some bitter ex filed a false claim to piss off the ex that rejected them and we cannot get them into the homes of the children who need it.  Which brings me to my point….

Those stats are ACTUAL abuse.  Your ex taking the kids to McDonald’s, is NOT child abuse.  Your ex setting a later bedtime than you do in your home, is NOT child abuse.  Your child being exposed to your ex’s significant other (because God forbid they like someone other than you), is NOT child abuse.  Giving your child popcorn before the age of 4 (it is a choking hazard not a health risk), is NOT child abuse.  Your ex giving your kids non-organic foods or toys that aren’t made of only wood hand carved by tiny elves who live in a tree (I mean seriously, whose kids actually like that shit anyway?),  in NOT child abuse.  I could go on.  You should hear the crap people bitch about.

We have real problems here (see above for those of you with short-term, single parent, lack of sleep, memory issues), your ex doing things differently than you is not abuse whether you like it or not.  Further, I’m willing to wager that if you guys did everything the same and thought so much alike, you would not be divorced.  This is one issue that I will not joke about nor apologize for my snarkiness.  If you have filed a DCF report, which is bogging down our system, creating unnecessary work for our already overworked and underpaid government employees, and therefore keeping children who actually need help from getting it, you deserve  worse than to be offended by my pissed off blog post.  Additionally, you probably shouldn’t tell me where you live.  There will be abuse and it won’t be of the children.

Happy Easter! Thinking Differently.

Kermit

This is how much I like Easter….I REALLY love Easter.  Easter in our house is bigger than Christmas.

You know why?  Because I didn’t use to see my girls for any other holiday (other than Halloween which often falls on a weekday and is not shared with family).

People always gasp when I say this and I explain that I agreed to this.  I didn’t have a large family at the time and I wanted the kids to keep the same traditions they had always had.  I feared change and every parenting book said they’d become serial killers if we didn’t have consistency.  I now know it’s all bullshit, but I didn’t know that then.

Regardless, I’ve learned to think differently….and I’m not just making the best of it.  I truly enjoy the traditions and way of life that we, as a family, have created.

I don’t need to make a big fuss over Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas morning.  We celebrate those when we feel like it.  In fact, making a huge celebration out of Easter means that I have less competition.  No one cares if you want Easter dinner at your house, no one complains that you saw this parent/family member for Thanksgiving so it MUST be our turn, etc.

When your children have multiple homes, you have to be creative.  Not the overused, “think outside the box”, but instead, think differently. It’s only a problem if you make it a problem.  Alternately, anytime can be a celebration.  We love making Christmas last an entire weekend.  It may be a week after Christmas but who cares?  We love having everyone over for Easter because most don’t have other obligations anyway.

Anything can be special if you make it so.  Pick a day.  Maybe in your house Wednesdays are special.  Maybe you have a water balloon fight every year on Secretaries’ Day.  Perhaps Boxing Day is popular in your home (no, I have no idea what that is but it’s on the calendar, and I don’t judge).  It doesn’t matter.  Your kids will remember traditions because they were important to you.  Not because Hallmark told you you needed to make it so.

You’re Clueless: Supporting The Co-Parenting Parent

GUEST POST

Today’s guest post/public service announcement is brought to you by my sister and reader, Andee.          

  

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Andee:  When people talk about “fight or flight” I admit I am little confused. I go into this mode on a too regular basis, but it’s the “flight” part that is foreign to me. I don’t run. I dig my heel in, square my shoulders, and get ready to fight. There is a reason I am routinely referred to as “mama bear” and I consider anyone I love to be a cub.

So when I go through a traumatic family event vicariously through one of my cubs, I have to reign mama bear in, and remember that while I may be the person standing right behind the person going through the life event, it is not MY event. And what that person needs is one part teddy bear (giving them a soft place to fall), part elephant (really big ears and a closed mouth) and only a small part of mama bear.

I have learned this like I have learned virtually everything else in my life, the hardest way possible. I became educated on the subject only after I had screwed up royally, and there are too many cringe worthy moments to list. In the hopes that you can become educated without the list of ways I messed that one up, here are what I wish I had known then…

1. You are clueless. You don’t know jack. No really, you don’t know a thing, and you need to accept that fact before you open up those pretty lip glossed lips. Even if there was absolutely no embellishment, no expansion and 100% of the truth told 100% of the time, you still only know 50% of one person’s interpretation of an event. Think of it as that person’s facebook feed in reverse, instead of the highlights, you’re only hearing the lowlights. I am not suggesting that the person you are talking to is lying, but there are only two people in that relationship and you are not one of them. No matter how much experience you have co-parenting yourself, understand that their situation is different.

2. There is going to be fallout you don’t expect. When my sister and brother-in-law got divorced, my children lost a beloved uncle. I had to answer questions about my own marriage – in short, if they could get divorced, doesn’t that mean you and Daddy could too? Holidays where we had hard fast traditions needed to be modified, and sometimes we were less than thrilled with those modifications. Suddenly I had to be sensitive to rules my nieces had that were new, and I was expected to honor just like their mom was. There was a learning curve for all of us.

3. Learn how to listen. Really listen. No using this as an excuse to complain about your own problems, or how this issue is better or worse than yours. Use your big elephant ears and shut the heck up.

4. Never plan anything without synchronizing your calendars. In a lot of cases today, parents are splitting custody 50/50 which means the person you are supporting may only have their kids every other weekend, weekday whatever. Plan your activities around their custody schedule. Asking them to move it around is insensitive, makes them “owe” the other parent one, and is usually so stressful whatever delightful activity you have planned is simply not worth the hassle. Give them that courtesy.

5. Understand you might be a little jealous. And insensitive. And dare I say it again, clueless. When I talk to my divorced girlfriends there is a little part of me that wonders what it might be like to have a night off. Like an entire night where another adult was responsible for the health and well-being of my kids. I image rainbows, and unicorns, and bubble baths, and sleeping in until ten. There is not one single girlfriend I know who wouldn’t give up that illusion to have her kids 100% of the time, and will clarify the nights she has “off” are usually spent watching Supernatural and going to bed right after the laundry is dry. That’s where the insensitive thing comes in, there are times when I am complaining about my kids being up my butt, my husband being a sloth and watching a Top Gear marathon and they will say something to the effect of, “Well, at least they’re there with you.” Open mouth and insert everything you own. Don’t stop talking about your own problems, but stop and think before you speak (which is kinda good advice in general.)

6. Be a constant for the kids. Even the most successful co-parenting relationships have some areas where the kids get caught in the middle, despite everyone’s best efforts. Make an extra effort to be stable, consistent, and normal for them. Don’t buy them off, they’re too smart for that, and you won’t benefit from the relationship either. Invest in the them as people. Call them. Mail them little notes. Remember what they tell you. Play on-line games with them. Cluelessness is not ok here.

So where does mama bear come in? Right here. Put mama bear to bed. She needs her rest. Relationships are marathons, not sprints. Firing up your friend, alienating their ex, telling them what they should be doing is completely ineffective. It also makes the person feel like they have to explain themselves to you, or worse have to decide between you and their ex. Don’t do that to them. You can want to mama bear them, you can even tell them that, but channel your inner teddy bear instead.

~Andee Myatt – Guest Post Author (April 1, 2014)

Mandee comment for #5:  If you are a single parent, Please do not say things like, “at least they are with you”.  I may will smack you…hard.  Everyone has issues and co-parenting and life in general needs to be filled with tolerance.   Married parents have issues too, they are just different.  It’s not appropriate for married couples to look down on you for being a single parent, but it is equally shitty for single parents to insinuate that because another parent is married that they couldn’t possibly have a hard day.  As Ian Maclaren once said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” (now widely misattributed to Plato or Philo).  What the world needs is tolerance.

Thank you for tuning in today for this public service announcement.  Say “no” to drugs, and I’ll see you next week.