Communication In Lieu Of Resentment

Communication Crowd

Communication can be a pain. Imagine you need something or have to make a decision for your child.  Whether you have to choose a doctor, agree on an extracurricular activity, make a medical decision, decide on which school to send them to, whether you should buy them a pony so they like you better, whatever it is….

Now imagine that your child has one to three other parents, and you have to discuss every decision with this overwhelming crowd of people.  The correct, legal, moral, non-dick move is to include them all in decisions and come to an agreement among two to four people. Now imagine that you have done the research, gone to whatever tours, appointments, orientations, etc., which no other parent attends, and yet they all get to weigh in.  Worse, they can suddenly decide they no longer want to switch visitation, allow an activity, or transport during their visitation. Now, you’ve wasted your time doing the research only to be outvoted because one to three others decided they no longer want to do it. This is especially infuriating after being asked to “look into it,” and when every reason given could have ruled it out prior to the research and legwork.

This happens to so many co-parents.  It is incredibly frustrating when one parent has spent time researching an extracurricular activity — that you’ve all agreed upon — and after all the research is done, the parent is told that another parent doesn’t have time to <insert excuse>.  Further, they are told that they are welcome to pay for it and do all the driving if they want to enroll the child.  The child of course, who they’ve already said yes to, because everyone agreed prior, is now super excited — and your head wants to explode.  When I go to doctor’s appointments and then have to give a full report to one to three people who were too busy to come, but still they argue about what tests to agree to and get annoyed about questions I should have asked, I restrain myself from saying, “you could have come!”

Flames, flames on the side of my face….

Flames Communication

I use myself as an example because so many of you say how “zen” I am about our family dynamics.  Usually, that is true, but every now and then…not so much.  I have my freak-outs, and the girls’ dad handles many gracefully and comes up with a solution, which makes me less stabby, head explody, throat punchy.  Well, most of the time….

So, what do we do about this?  No, lighting his car on fire is not a viable option (come on ladies, we all know you do that when he cheats on you, and you, my dear, are already divorced).

Basset Car Fire Communication

Here’s the deal…this is painful for me to write because, while pissed, I still have to admit it’s mostly my fault that this happens.  While it sucks that I don’t have help, I also told them, “I’ve got it” or “I’ll let you know how it goes.”  Why should anyone step up if you will do it all for them?  Is it still shitty? Sure.  Mostly, because you end up doing all the work.  Make no mistake, having two to four parents does not split the workload two to four ways.  It often times just means more people to confer with.

Before resentment builds, ask for help.

Tell them what you are planning and say (which I swear I have done), “I’m going to look this up and do the legwork but I need to be sure we agree, because if I waste my time and it’s a flat ‘no’, I will hurt someone.”  Parents (especially moms) feel the need to “do it all.”  Doing it all means resentment and burnout.  Being overwhelmed isn’t failure, it’s recognizing you need to reevaluate your priorities.  

Alternately, you can split up the workload.  I make my own schedule, so I handle appointments that are scheduled in advance.  Their step-mother has offered to take them on some days off and split up the amount of work missed.  Their dad researched the last extra-curricular, because I was getting overwhelmed.  All three of us rotate when a kid is sick so none of us are missing too much work.  Is this easy to work out?  Hell no.  It also means you have to communicate.  I know communication with your ex and/or their new spouse can be tough, but the tone of your relationship depends on it.  That tone bleeds over to the sidelines at a game, or awkwardness at a school function, which isn’t fair to your children.

Every time you must have one of these discussions, have a glass of wine first, take a deep breath, and discuss calmly.  Be honest because open and honest communication is just as essential to co-parenting as it is to anything else.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve told my ex, “between the girls, work, and the house, I just don’t have time to figure out ____________”, and he picks it up.  Come on, if people can be “sister wives,” we should be able to figure out football practice.

Teaching Tolerance If Not Love

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We need to be teaching tolerance to our kids, even if we cannot teach them to love others (which we should be doing…but hey, if we aim lower, maybe it’ll take).

Webster’s Dictionary defines tolerance as:

“The ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.”

It doesn’t mean you have to agree, and it doesn’t mean you are compromising your beliefs.  It means you are respecting others because they are human beings, and they deserve it.  I’m not simply talking about religious tolerance, or being nice to “the gays.”   [Sidenote: if you actually say “the gays” go punch yourself in the face.]  I am talking about showing tolerance to all people, because, regardless of your beliefs, they are people too. Honestly, what they do in most cases doesn’t really affect you; so go worry about yourself.

No, that doesn’t mean you need a COEXIST sticker for your car.  It means that you should learn and teach your children to accept others as they are.  Every religion, orientation, belief, occupation, culture, and demographic, has something to offer and something we could learn from. 

Tolerance is sometimes letting people do things their own way even when it affects your child.  The world doesn’t care that you don’t want your kid hearing _________ or knowing _________ exists.  They will hear it and it does exist.  It is better to prepare them to deal with these differences than to have them be at a loss, or worse, think that every way but their way is “bad.” That would make them little assholes, and I can only assume that you want your kid to at least have friends, if not flourish.

I used to work as a criminal defense paralegal (among other things).  It never ceased to surprise me (nor to make me sad) that our Defendants assumed I would be put off, or worse, afraid of them.  Sure, I’m super fantastic at preparing documents and organization, but what I’ve always done best is show individuals respect as fellow human beings.  I show them that a young, blonde, and often most notably to them, white female isn’t nervous and in fact, is genuinely concerned about their well-being.  [Sidenote: Being white is only notable because the majority of our clients are of minority backgrounds.]  It is so sad to me that anyone would be taught that this shouldn’t be so.  Now, I often have the same experience with therapy clients.  I often have to prove that I do not judge their choices and/or circumstances.  They are people, not a list of charges.  They are more than the sum of their circumstances or, in some cases, their poor decisions.  I don’t get to put a bumper sticker on my car and simply say, “I’m not racist.”  I have to prove it, every single day, and uncover the years of discrimination they have faced.  It sucks, and I wish I could do more, but sometimes the only thing I can do is be kind to one person at a time.

If my readers could help me out here and create more, little tolerant people, maybe this task won’t be so huge when our children grow up.

From a co-parenting standpoint, this includes your ex and their family.  My ex and I do not see eye to eye on everything, and neither does his family and I.  I also don’t pretend to agree with everything he does or says, because that teaches the girls nothing.  Instead, the dialogue usually goes something like this:

“I understand that that is how Daddy does things, and I’m glad that works well for him.  However, because our home is different — we have different family members, we work different hours, we have different responsibilities, different priorities (just pick one) — that doesn’t work out for us here.  It is awesome, though, that you get to see how different households handle different things.  Now, you’ll have more to pick from when you are setting up your own household.  God knows, I don’t have all the answers. So, I’m sure he has some strategies that I don’t know, and that you could learn from.

OR

“I can appreciate Daddy’s thoughts on that subject, and they definitely give you another perspective.  It is great for you to learn all kinds of viewpoints, so you can choose one for yourself.  However, I don’t share that belief, and so I will not be doing it that way.

I know sometimes you want to say, “well, if I wanted to do things his way, we’d still be married!” or “that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard and we are smarter over here than that,” but please don’t.  What your ex does in their house is their business, and you don’t get a say anymore.  You will not be effective in teaching tolerance or how to love others despite your differences if you cannot even show respect to the father/mother of your children.

Now keep in mind, I think every person deserves to have their own beliefs, but I still think people who write checks in the express line should die in a fire.  See?  We all have limits to our tolerance.  I’m just asking you to do your best.  If you are reading this, and working to be the best you can for your kids, I know you are already trying.

Just remember:

“It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
~Jiddu Krishnamurti

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.

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.

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.

Be Honest With Your Children – Even When It Sucks

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We’ve all been there, it’s 3:00AM and the baby starts screaming.  He or she cares not that your alarm is going to go off in 3 hours and you are going to have to guzzle gallons of coffee to make it through your day.  Babies don’t care, they can’t care, because they lack the tools.  They lack empathy and they lack perspective.  They believe they are the only player….the only actor in everyone’s play (hell, I know some adults like that).  It takes years for children to realize that what they see, may not be what everyone else sees.  Years to go before they realize that everyone is the leading role in their own play.

Children operate under the “egocentric fallacy”.  Babies learn, “if I cry, they feed me”.  As they grow, this turns into, “if something bad happens, I must have caused it”.  As parents, it is our job to teach our children that they are not responsible for things that are beyond their control.  Further, children make things bigger than they actually are and they know more than you think they do.  This is a bad combination.  A white lie can turn disastrous in a child’s mind should it be left to fester.  They will believe that everything from divorce, to death, to mom’s crappy day at work was caused by them.

How can you help?  Be honest with your children, even when it sucks.  I’m not saying you need to explain things above their comprehension level.  You don’t have to explain infidelity or that their other parent was a terrible spouse.  A simple explanation of, “there are different types of love and the type you need for marriage just went away for us”.  If they get into specifics (usually from a parent who shares too much or from a conversation they overheard), just tell them that “those things happen when that love disappears.  People behave differently when they are not happy”.  It’s not an excuse, but it is a graceful way of not disclosing things that are either too old for them to understand, something that is simply none of their business, OR something that’s not true because someone is running his or her mouth.  This protects everyone.  It is often extended family that does the most gossiping and therefore, the most damage.

By the time people I knew played telephone, the version of why my ex and I split up was very freaking creative (and much more adventurous than I am), by the time it got back to me.  There were so many versions, I couldn’t keep track.  Kids hear these versions.  People are hurt, and they talk.  I promise the kids are listening.

We forget how much is going on in those little minds or how much they understand.  My girls are often processing something profound while I’m in the front seat craving chocolate, and thinking how I like the color yellow and kittens.

Just the other morning I come into the kitchen and said, “how are my two favorite people today?”  My oldest took on an astonished tone and asked, “what about daddy?”  I calmly explained that he is my friend and always will be, but my kids are my favorites and they have to be my priority.  She seemed satisfied with that answer, but let me tell you I wasn’t expecting to have that conversation at 6:30AM before my tea.  After this, why don’t you ask me where babies come from and what my net worth is?  

When I was a kid, my mom was super reserved and didn’t like talking about things that made her uncomfortable.  From telling me she didn’t know what tampons were (when asked while watching a commercial), to telling my sister that gay only meant happy when someone called her that in school.  Needless to say, she was not a huge source of information.  

Allow me to demonstrate:  I once went camping with my dad and his girlfriend.  I started my period for the first time and I thought I was dying.  I thought I was bleeding to death and since my mom had had a hysterectomy a few years prior, I assumed I had caught Ovarian Cancer, and was actually dying.  

Tumor

So, his girlfriend, (this nice lady who was effectively a stranger), had to explain to me what was happening and while in a campground bathroom, I had to figure out how to use feminine products….thanks for that.  I learned very quickly to go elsewhere for information than to ask my mother.  As a result, I heard plenty of colorful explanations for everything, much of which I cannot unknow.  Someone is going to teach your children.  Do not give away that opportunity.

I am always honest with my kids and have been from day one.  I don’t need to tell them adult versions but when my kids ask how you physically make a baby, I am honest and open with them.  Even when I’m uncomfortable, they deserve to know what’s going on.  I don’t have this kid:

Kindergarten Cop

because no one wants the weird kid (don’t lie, everyone loved Kindergarten Cop).  But still, they know the basics and therefore, they don’t run around asking other people.  So be honest with your kids, even when it sucks.

The Use of Pronouns

Pronouns Edited

No, this is not a grammar lecture (though if you don’t know the difference between your and you’re, and there, they’re, and their, we probably cannot be friends).  I am speaking today about possessive pronouns.  Possessive being the prominent word here.

As we mentioned when discussing step-parents, your child(ren) is/are not the immaculate conception.  They are not your children alone.  They have at least two parents (unless the dirty socks on the bathroom floor were the last straw and he swims with the fishes) and possibly as many as four parents (well, there are dynamics where there could be more than four, but that’s a whole seminar).

Make an effort to call them “our children” or “the children“.  Many of you may think this doesn’t matter.  While it is a small thing, I will tell you that if you thought to be considerate even in your pronoun use, you’d have a lot less trouble with your ex because you would be infinitely more considerate in every other aspect of your co-parenting.

Let’s talk about the legal aspect.  [Disclaimer:  I’m not an attorney and I do not know family law statutes/local rules for your area.]  What I have seen though:  The quickest way to piss off a Judge is to withhold visitation from their other parent.  Withholding visitation is when you decide the other parent doesn’t know what they are doing, and therefore cannot see their child.  If you don’t want the kids, this is the quickest way to lose custody.  But I digress….. The second easiest way?  To spend all your time in Court/Mediation/Magistrate’s Hearings, talking about “my child(ren)“.  They are not your children.  They are our children or the children.  It makes you sound possessive and that you think the other parent is inferior.  Judges hate that.  It’s their job to make sure that children get to have both parents.  If they think you are impeding that, they will remove you from the equation.

When I talk to strangers do I say my girls?  Absolutely.  Usually because we are swapping parenting stories.  When a teacher rambles about doing a “sticker book” after my daughter just pummeled another student, do I think, “they are going to light you on fire and dance around you under the harvest moon because I know my kid and you’re screwed if you think stickers is going to help”?  You bet.  All that being said, please please please do not speak to your children’s other parent and say my kids.  It makes you an asshole.  I won’t even do that when speaking to the girls step-mother.  They are not my kids because I am not raising them alone.  It’s rude and disrespectful.  He cleans up vomit at 3:00AM….they are not just my girls.

This goes for anyone who says “my mom”, “my dad”, my sister” or “my brother” to another family member.  It means you are insecure and you need to claim ownership.  Since peeing on their leg is generally frowned upon, you need to find another way to feel secure.

Nemo-seagulls

Unless you want to come across like the seagulls in Finding Nemo, yelling “mine, mine, mine, mine, mine, mine”, learn the word our.  You are good parent but you are not the only one.  Please remember that.

Maximizing Your Time and Creating Priorities

Priorities Edited

It seems today that there is never enough time.  Spending time with our family is no different.  Every mom I know either stays home with their kids and never gets any time for herself, struggles financially on one income, etc., or she works and spends her life feeling guilty for not spending enough time with her kids and hating herself if she actually dares to enjoy what she does for a living.  Now add to that sharing custody of your children, which means that even when you have time, they could very well be with their other parent.

First, let’s talk about priorities.  I’m sure if you ask most parents, they will tell you their child(ren) is/are their number one priority.  But, let’s a take a look at how they actually spend their time.  Let’s be clear here, your priority is where you spend the majority of your time.  We’ve already discussed this here but it is worth repeating.  I know you are all saying, “but Mandee, I HAVE to work”.  I understand and agree.  I spend about 40-60 hours per week at work.  I get it.  However. when you pick up your children after work, put down your damn phone, and stop checking work emails.

There is a single father of a client of mine that brags about having 50/50 custody.  He struts around in front of other parents and loves telling his significant other how dedicated he is.  The truth is, he constantly hires babysitters, has the kids go to “sleepovers”, when he wants to go out, and when that doesn’t work out he gives them back to their mother and says he has to work late.  His priority is most decidedly not his children.  The children’s mother, is constantly frustrated finding out after the fact that her children were with yet another babysitter. and she wasn’t told where they were (a whole other soapbox).  Additionally, he pays child support as a 50% parent while averaging the visitation of a one night a week and every other weekend, dad.  I feel for his children when they finally realize their dad is constantly blowing them off when it isn’t a public forum where he gets “credit” for showing up, such as a sports function.

There, is an example of a father with messed up priorities.  This is not the case for all parents by any means.  But please take a moment and figure out how much time you actually spend with your kids.  I bet you’ll be surprised how little it is.  Take out the morning scramble, the after school chores/showers/homework/dinner/bed, etc., and actually tally the time spent doing something with them.  Now, please state again for the record what your priorities are…. makes you cringe huh?

“It’s not enough to be busy; so are the ants.  The question is: what are you busy about?”  ~Henry David Thoreau

Let me explain that I despise how our society has set itself up.  We spend the majority of our time doing a job we may or may not like, with people we didn’t choose.  Meanwhile, by the time we get home to the people we love and actually like, we are exhausted.  We give our best to strangers and then try to “survive” the evening with those we want to be there for the most.  There HAS to be a better way.  Until I think of one though, we have to live life on life’s terms.

It’s nothing you are doing wrong.  We have to juggle immediate family, extended family, work, friends, self-care, possibly school, religious practice (if this applies), exercise/health, volunteering/community work, etc., and that’s all after maintaining food, clothing, and shelter.

Here’s some ways of maximizing your time with your children:

  1. Attempt to work out an alternate work schedule.  When I was still married to the girls’ father, I worked from 4:30AM-8:30AM and then again from 6:00PM-10:00PM and stayed home with the girls while he worked regular business hours.  Now, I often get up at 4:30AM and work from 5:30AM-5:00PM.  This way I can get in the extra hours required by work (and my budget) while not creating late evenings/nights that take away from family time.
  2. Register your kids for sports and/or extracurricular activities.  I know this sounds counter intuitive but I love going to cheer the kids on at their games on Saturday mornings.  Moreover, I enjoy getting to see them every Saturday even if it isn’t my weekend.
  3. Have “family dinners”.  I know this sounds hokey and old-fashioned but we have our best conversations while sitting around the dining room table and I can actually focus on what my family is telling me without doing 10 other things at the same time.
  4. Add your children into activities you need to get done or want to do.  I don’t go to the gym when I have my girls but we do run together, take walks, ride bikes, jump rope, do yoga videos, etc.  My girls and I even participate in races.  I need my exercise, and so do they.  I don’t ditch them for the gym, we do it together and we have really great conversations on our long walks.
  5. Combine responsibilities when possible.  Try and do friend maintenance when your kids can be included.  If it’s kid friendly, you can see your friends and include your children.  [Sidenote:  this should not be the only time you spend with your friends!]  Additionally, let your kids volunteer with you.  They need to learn to give back anyway, right?
  6. Do something that doesn’t suck.  As Jerry Seinfeld says, “There’s no such thing as fun for the whole family”.  I HATE Chuck E Cheese and the like.  All the blinky, beepy, screamy….no thank you.  And by “no thank you”, I mean I’d rather roll around naked in broken glass.  But, there are things I DO like.  I love animals.  So, we have zoo passes,and I take the kids to aquariums, animal rescues, etc.  We all love “the city” (our little downtown) so I take them to the kids floor of the library and ride the trolley (both free, BONUS!).  These are all things the family can do that may not be sitting on the beach with a Corona and a cigar, but you won’t be trying to think of ways to feign illness to get out of.  This will at least motivate you to not sit in front of the television instead; not exactly quality time.
  7. Break up the things that cannot be avoided.  I completes my BS and MA while my kids were underfoot.  At the start, I could get all my homework done when the girls were with their dad, or in the evening after they went to bed.  Sometimes, I would even get up before they woke up and do it very early in the morning (which is no longer an option with the early work hours).  However, the longer I was in the program, the harder and more time-consuming the work is becoming.  So, we break it up.  I do most after bedtime but if some seeps into our weekend, I split it up.  I let them know I need one hour to write a discussion post. but then we will make smoothies.  Then I need two hours to work on a paper, but then we’ll play a board game.  This keeps me from having to spend all afternoon locked in my office while they rot in front of the television.

Try not to beat yourself up about what MUST be done.  Children need to know they are important without the world revolving around them.  That said, they need to know they are a priority.  Once they are grown, there are no second chances.  Unless you want to sit up at night eating ice cream and crying while listening to Harry Chapin’s, Cats In The Cradle, you may want to make sure you are maximizing your time with your kids.