Tag Archives: Mother

Thank God it’s Monday

legoscreamface

I think I must have said twice today “I’m turning into my mother.”

The first time I said it was when talking with a friend when I asked her for the names of two neighbors. I knew their children’s names, but for some reason, the mom’s names just escaped me. I felt horrible. I called my friend whose been on the block for almost 20 years for help. As I was apologizing for asking her, I said flippantly, “I must have early-onset. I’m turning into my mother.” (My mom has Alzheimer’s and fear creeps in at times I can’t recall names!)

The second time I said “I’m turning into my mother” was to myself as I tried to listen to my four-year-old talk during bath-time. I was listening to him—sort of—but my mind kept mulling over the events of the day, and how poorly I dealt with them. My little guy has been fighting yet another nasty cold and potential pink eye all weekend. We had gone to urgent care to get those pink eye drops just in case and I shouldn’t have expected that he’d be a perfectly behaved boy. But Friday night he woke up a lot and crawled into my bed coughing on my face so much I didn’t rest well with fitful dreams of catching something. I was already a bit of a zombie on Saturday, so I had no right to go to a friend’s house and to stay up late watching a movie. Boys were asleep, but I stayed up till after midnight watching a Clint Eastwood flick. (I’ve become a fan recently, go figure!) So when my youngest woke up at 6 a.m. Sunday, coughing and making a lot of noise, stomping on the stairs, jumping on me and then later fighting with his brother, I was instantly anxious and grouchy and started rounded up all items for a quick exit. I even talked to myself snappily (something about hating my life and bad decisions) as I stomped around and tried to get the boys sorted. I over-reacted and was in panic mode about kids waking up the household. But of course, I behaved badly by not staying calm and said things I didn’t mean.

It’s just silly. I mean, what was I thinking? Of course he’d get up at 6. Duh.

My day got a little nutty, which is to be expected with a sick kiddo. James had a temper tantrum in the Vet’s office where I was picking up meds for our cat. He sat on the floor between the halfway open front door, where he had jammed his rear-end, and screamed, “I’m SO tired. I just want to go back to the CAAAARRRRR!” Followed by a hick-up.

So,  I picked up my 40 pounder and carried him to car, now kicking and screaming that he now doesn’t want to go to the car. You know, the typical insane rant of a tired, not-feeling-well, four-year-old. I snap him in, without a word, straighten my back and blow out air. Thank God his older brother was on a play-date. I naively thought he’d go to sleep right away.

We go on a long drive out to Palos Verdes to rise above the clouds, get a vista, and let him sleep. He screamed for 10 minutes, which felt like an eternity. I couldn’t even understand what he was saying. My heart started racing. Seriously?! This again? I begin to feel sorry for myself a bit, and handed him a sandwich. (My kid has an amazing relationship with food, so snacks are key.) A few bites and he falls asleep with the ham sandwich still in his tight, little grip. It would be comical if I didn’t have cortisol surging through my veins. With silence enveloping the car like angel’s breath, I thought: How the Hell do moms of three or four kids do this?!

As James was relaxing and chatting NONSTOP in the tub tonight (now onto the topic of just how Lion King’s dad kept talking to him since he was dead), I zoned out and thought about that moment in Palos Verdes in the car when I wondered how other moms keep their sanity. And then it hit me: I’ve turned into my mother.

My mom was such a wonderful, stressed-out, loving, mess. Seriously, she’d gasp sharply whenever the phone rang and jump with fear of an impending emergency. (She was a child-protective services social worker who gave out her home number to clients, so we often had interesting calls.) Occasionally when all four of her children were driving her crazy, she’d snap, “Someday, I’m just going to run away!”

I used to laugh then, but I now know exactly what she meant! I’m sure she was just thinking out loud, not even aware that she said it, as her heart raced madly while four kids were either yelling, hitting, punching, torturing one of our many pets, or up to some other mischief. I’m frankly amazed that she wasn’t a drinker.

Kids are tough. No wonder my brain is mush by Sunday night. It’s a wonder that I can even write this column. I apologize if it’s under par. Maybe I should just quit writing on Sunday evenings due to kiddo brain drain.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love, love, LOVE my little guys. I’m the luckiest mom on Earth to have them.

But thank GOD tomorrow is Monday.

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Loving Counts

My prophetic little four-year-old said to me tonight: “Loving counts mommy.”

We had been hanging pictures up. I turned and looked at him. I actually blinked as I took in the simple notion, then replied: “Yes, it certainly does.”

What an incredible little man.

Sometimes it’s as simple as that. What counts in your life? Think about it.

What do you love most?

Your family? Your God? Your Work?

Does it show?

For me, love is essential. It is essential in every aspect of my life. My boys are everything to me. But I wonder if they always feel that from me. Saying that I love them is one thing. Showing them is quite another.

For a child, I wonder what defines love? It certainly has to be about more than saying ‘I Love You’ or buying cool toys. Kids always seem to cut right to the chase. They know who they can depend upon. They know who is kind. They respond to those who play with them, acknowledge them, listen to them, encourage them, take care of them, accept them.

I know that my two boys are the most appreciative when I’m present with them. They know when it’s time to turn off the computer or cell phone and just be with them.

Being present, however, is much harder than it sounds. The other day I had an insane tax deadline. I was up until 2 a.m. working, slept for three hours, and was back at it. At 7 a.m., as I was finishing my expense spreadsheet, my little guy comes into my room and starts to climb into bed. He ruffles my sheets and starts to crumple some papers and receipts. I yelled upstairs to my older son to take him up and put on Sesame Street. As he padded out of my room, I instantly felt remorse. If I had finished this project earlier, I wouldn’t have sent him away and just enjoyed some cuddle time.

Clearly, ‘loving’ requires a bit of organization and balance so that work doesn’t intrude on important quality time at home.

‘Being present’, according to mindfulness experts, also requires that you let go of anxieties and fears that distract you and pull you out of the moment. If you have deadlines looming, projects that need to be carried out, are going through a divorce or are facing health or personal challenges—it’s incredibly hard to clear worries from your mind and just listen to or play with your children, isn’t it? (For a great article about mindfulness, check out What Really Helps Make Mindfulness Work by Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.)

I’m still finding my way and started meditating on a regular basis just this past year. I’ve done yoga for years and find that it helps me clear my mind. The physical exertion and mental focus on intentions and goals allows me to let go of issues and anxieties that may whirl in my mind. I find that afterwards my mental slate is clear and I’m much more focused and calm that evening with the boys. I’m still a work in progress, clearly.

While I’m still honing mindfulness techniques, I have learned that it’s incredibly hard NOT to live in the moment when spending time with a loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease. I flew to North Carolina last week to visit my mother who is struggling in what seems to be the final phase of the disease. She didn’t know who I was. She can barely talk or walk. I think she just thought of me as a friendly face. I had to force myself to always smile, relax, and think about what she needed or what would reassure her when visiting. I knew after each visit that she wouldn’t remember I had been there the next day. But I reminded myself that in the moments that I held her hand, or showed her pictures, or just talked with her about various things, that it mattered. It counted. Those moments were hard for me, but they brought her a bit of happiness—even if fleeting. And she deserves that.

On the last day I spent with her—on the day that I likely said my goodbye—my mom was ‘playing’ bingo with other residents. The woman who ran the game would call out the letter and number combinations. My mother, who doesn’t recognize her numbers or letters anymore, would put a marker on any letter/number combination. She apparently still recognized that four in a row allowed her to win—so she just kept putting four in a row. B-6 might be called, but she’d put her acorn on C-12, right beside another marker. I knew not to correct her.

“Wow, mom, you won again!” I’d say with a laugh.

She’d just smile. One time she looked at me inquisitively and said slowly, “I. Like. You.”

That was a big accomplishment as she typically speaks with just one word.

I replied “Well, I Love you.”

She looked at me like I was a bit crazy, giving me a one-over glance.

Later in the day, I went through her sweaters and found one that still fit. As I was putting it on her, she quickly smiled. It was as if she had been shaken and her eyes got wide with acknowledgment. She leaned into me and said, “Love.” I put my forehead to hers and a moment later she said “You.”

As I settled into my seat on my first plane during my trek back to California, I thought that it may be a long time before I got the chance to see mom again. It’s hard to fly back with the two boys due to expense. I know if I was closer I could do more, visit more. It was such a gift to hear her say those words. And in that moment, I know she meant it. In that flash of recognition, she knew who I was. It might have only lasted a second for her—but for me, it counted.

Even when brief and fleeting, loving counts most of all.

Mom in the Picture

My sister Sarah and her son Elijah

I took a hard week off to visit my family in North Carolina. My mother, who is most likely in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease, probably didn’t even know who I was. But, it felt important to see her, to hold her hand, to smile at her. Plus, I was able to visit my sisters and brother and their children who I haven’t seen in over a year. While I was gone, I read Lisa Belkin’s HuffPost column: Moms Explain Why They’re Getting Back In the Picture.  Take a moment to read this column. I was touched by it. The column inspires moms to get back in the picture with their families and children. I know that my own mom never liked to “be in the picture” and my two sisters, who are wonderful moms, also shy from the camera.

It’s clear that their sons adore them and could care less if stress and health issues have added pounds or grey hair. Our children adore us just the way we are. Single moms out there—I know so many of you can relate to this. Perhaps the financial stress, emotional stress and the exhaustion of working long hours makes you feel less attractive than you’d like. But your children love you and want photos with you in the picture to remember wonderful moments. If they love you unconditionally—it’s time to start loving yourself the same way.

With that in mind, I’m posting two pictures in this post. The first is of my sister Sarah and her 6-year-old son Elijah. Sarah is a wonderful mother who struggles with auto-immune disorders and migraines, while working full-time as a social worker. She has fought hard to find the right therapies and programs for her son who is thriving, although living with Autism. This past weekend, I loved watching Elijah build ingenious towers and rockets with angry bird dolls peaking out of windows. Both his creativity and love seem boundless—and much of that is because of her dedication.

The second picture is of my other big sister Elizabeth and her son CJ.

Elizabeth has always shied away from the camera since I’ve known her—but especially during the past 18 years that she’s been fighting Lupus and arthritis. An amazingly giving teacher who focusses 100% of her energy on her family—I know her son CJ could care less that steroids and painful, aching hips (which she’s having replaced soon) make her feel tired and less attractive. Yet she still works every day at her school and takes most of the family pictures. There aren’t two less beautiful mothers, than my two sisters. (So, if you two get mad at me after this post…bear with me!) After spending four days visiting my sweet mother whose mind is ravaged by Alzheimer’s, I wish I had more pictures of she and I together, but it’s too late.

I strongly urge you to read Lisa Belkin’s column—one of my favorite parenting bloggers and columnists—as you’ll be surrounded by voices of other mothers who are bravely stepping in front of the camera for their children and families. It’s such a wonderful idea and a step in the right direction of easing up on ourselves and our frailties.

Avoiding Gossip and Other Survival Strategies for Single Moms

A year ago, just after launching this blog, I wrote the post “Adjusting My Attitude”. The title itself is misleading, but I was new to blogging and often picked titles back then that didn’t accurately convey the real subject-matter at hand. Yes, I was adjusting my attitude—but the post really outlines survival tips to help us single moms keep our sanity and our families intact. Last weekend at one of my son’s soccer games, I was reminded of how easy it is—just after a few careless remarks and questions from an insensitive mom—to sink into self-doubt or pity or fear. The mother of another child, who has known me for four years, says loudly (after watching me run after my 3-year-old and not watch my 10-year-old play): “You clearly need your husband.”

I smiled and looked at her, with my huge, wiggly three-year-old in my arms, and saw a few moms and dads of the other players whom I didn’t know well, look up at me—and I took a deep breath. Here we go again, I thought.

Talking about the divorce with strangers is never a good idea. It not only sets you up to be the subject of gossip, but it also re-hashes old issues that may really not bother you anymore—even if it bothers others. This woman did not have my best interests at heart, but I felt I had to respond when she continued with her questions by asking why he didn’t come to the games.

“He lives in London and I’m divorced,” I say to her. (I figure it’s better to say I’m divorced than I’m still separated as I’ve been separated for more than 3 years with a lengthy, drawn-out divorce process.)

She begins tisking and sighing and I literally block her out  as she starts asking question after question very loudly and I can sense the other parents intently listening: “Does he see the boys?!” “How can you deal with this?” and “OMG, I’d just DIE!” I somehow pretend I see someone I know and walk back to the playground with my little guy. I swear I told this woman about the divorce 3 years ago at a playdate at her house when she inquired about my husband and where he was, etc. I think that she’s doing this on purpose—or that she’s incredibly dense—or just socially inept and insensitive in the very least—but I decide to shake it off. I don’t need a husband at the games. My boys are loved and they both know that I’d do anything for them. I’m juggling just fine and we ARE a complete family, I think as I clap loudly for my older son—whom I’m watching from a distance away from the chatty Cathy, gossipy mom.

I’ve learned a long time ago to block out the noise and the opinions of others and to focus solely on the health of my family: my boys. So with that in mind, I’ve decided to re-publish the majority of one of my first posts. It’s a great reminder to me, (and likely other single moms) as I prepare for many more soccer games with this woman and the others who may dig up the past for me with a barrage of questions and/or gossip—that I am strong. I am focussed. I am happy. Their self-projecting pity, gossip, or wonder over my situation is not my problem and I’m not obligated to talk about anything with them. Talking about the divorce doesn’t do me or my boys any good. I’m focussed on the future—and it’s already becoming a better one every day.

Single Mom Survival Tips:

1. Think of your divorce as a springboard for positive change.

Instead of thinking of myself as a victim, I have to think of myself as a champion for change. This is our opportunity to live a better life. I thank God every day that I have this chance to build a better life and a better self for my children.

2. Your family is complete if you are.
Another well-meaning friend came over for dinner one night. I made a roast chicken, roasted vegetables and a salad. As we sat at the table with my two boys she seemed really sad. Later after the kiddos were asleep (which was a miracle!), she admitted to me, “I feel so sad for your boys. The family just doesn’t seem complete” (meaning without their father.) I know she meant well, but I told her that it has almost always been just me and the boys or just me and William, my oldest, as my ex hardly ever made it home before dinner time. I still think it’s important to have dinner and sit around a table and chat. She apologized profusely, but I still had her thought in my head.  To clear it out, I remind myself that we are complete. I take an even more concerted effort to plan dinner. As we sit around the table and chat, giggle or make fun of the two-year-old who wears more food than he eats, I say a silent thanks for my complete family as I watch them eat healthy food. (See my Cooking section for more inspiration.)

3. Be thankful.
Every night for the past 9 years I have made William, my oldest, say a list of what he is thankful for. Because he’s ten, he says the nine things he’s thankful for. Jamesy says the three that he’s “tinkful” for. It’s a great way to remind us to focus on what’s good and what’s working in our lives. Since I’m a bit in denial of my increasing age … cough … just know that I now have a long list to come up with each evening of what I’m thankful for—and what a great way to end the evening!

4. Become a planner.

I’m trying hard on this one as it’s not my strong suit. Every weekend seems to spring upon me and I end up a bit lonely as I shuffle to find things for me and the boys to do. (Most of our married friends are enjoying family time and there are few playdates to be had for my little ones on the weekend, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t stay busy!) If I don’t plan something ahead of time, I end up a bit blue with bored kids on my hands. Now, I plan day-trips and museum outings and am reaching out to other single moms who may want to get together for dinner, brunch etc, in order to stay busy and survive the weekend! (Read this post of my two-day unconventional Thanksgiving escape with the boys: “Wide Open Spaces.”)

5. Continue with or make family rituals. 

Who says I have to have a husband to have family night with the kids? I love long dinners and board games. There, I said it. I am definitely not very hip. I love playing games of monopoly, charades, trivial pursuit, checkers, scrabble, etc. My oldest does too. Since I’ve been separated, I barely manage to do these things as the then baby, now three-year-old, usually grabs game pieces or makes it a bit tricky. I’ve decided to re-institute family game night slowly this time. It may be hard at first, but we’re going to try to do games the youngest can master too: big puzzles, for instance. We’ll see. It may end up as family movie night until Jamesy is at least four. But we’ll get there!

6. Stop talking about the divorce.

This is difficult, but I’ve learned the hard way over the past three years that it’s better not to talk about the impending divorce with anyone other than your therapist, trusted friend or sister who remains positive, or your support group. I find that when I do respond to well-intentioned questions from neighbors or friends, that I end up feeling badly when I might have been feeling great before I started talking with them. It’s weird isn’t it? Maybe it’s just that I start to see their pity. Or maybe they may say things like “He’s such a jerk!” or “How the Hell do you do it? If I were you I’d have slit my wrists by now. Your two-year-old is such a handful!” These are just two comments I’ve received from well-meaning friends over the past few months. Ok, they aren’t helping. So what I can do in response to a well-meaning question is just smile and say, “I’m really doing well. Do you mind if we talk about something else right now?” It’s a better way to go. It also limits your exposure to being the focus of gossip. Even on my bad days when I’m actually not doing well. Fake it till you make it, isn’t such a bad way to go sometimes!

7. Limit Drinking.

I’ve never really drank much. But I find that when I do have a glass of vino with friends on the rare occasions that I go out now, I start to feel worse, rather than better.   And, I still have to get up at 6:30 a.m. every morning. Enough said.

8. Work out!

Think of this time in your life as parenting boot camp. I take out all of my frustrations with the impending divorce and parenting solo during yoga class or on a bike ride. I’m lucky enough to live near the beach, so I run, walk or bike every day during the week. It’s the best way to clear my head and get the endorphins soaring!

9. Learn to Meditate.

I’m new at this, but over the past year, meditating has helped me tremendously. Even if you can just focus on your breath for 5 minutes, do it. My good friend and wonderful therapist Lisa Nastasi, Ph.D., outlines a great mindfulness meditation technique in her guest post: “The Power of NOT Holding It All )together).” 

Did any of these tips help you? What ideas do you have? Please chime in!

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Severe Stress is Toxic During Pregnancy

A little stress is to be expected when pregnant. But severe stress is extremely dangerous for mom and baby. Not only are high levels of stress and anxiety bad for you—but cortisol, the hormone released and triggered during these times—crosses the blood:brain barrier and the placenta.

High levels of cortisol is now linked to preterm labor, and researchers from the Royal College of London have also discovered that too much of the stress hormone creates life-long harmful effects for your baby. (There are many studies to read, but they are quite difficult with medical lingo…This article by The Guardian is quite good, as is this by Science Daily, explaining how dangerous preterm birth can be. ) Research shows that cortisol in the womb puts the unborn baby at risk for behavioral problems, anxiety, aggression and learning disabilities down the line. And, as mentioned, too much cortisol can trigger preterm labor—which, if too early in pregnancy—can have dire consequences for your unborn child.

When reading studies linking stress with multiple health risks for infants, it seemed clear that women needed some practical information. Just knowing that stress can hurt your baby, can actually cause you even more stress, don’t you think? So with that in mind, I loved identifying the top stressors during pregnancy, with expert advice on how to deal with them. The Fit Pregnancy cover article: “Beat The 4 Biggest Pregnancy Stressors,” is on news stands this month and I can’t recommend a better issue for your Labor Day reading. (And I’m not just saying that because one of my articles is in the August/September issue! I promise I don’t get paid per magazine purchased!!)

It’s not surprising, in this economy, that money and work are the biggest stressors facing pregnant women. If you are expecting right now, or trying to conceive, I don’t have to tell you that the economic climate is poor. Finances are likely your biggest concern. I also don’t need to explain why you might be anxious about telling your boss you are pregnant. Even if it isn’t talked about much— pregnancy discrimination does exist. It may be subtle—such as being passed over for a promotion while you are pregnant. And…it may be NOT-so-subtle, such as a boss suggesting that you likely won’t be able to carry out all your duties after you return from maternity leave. During economic downturns, corporate climates often cool in terms of additional company benefits and perks. (I used to write about careers and work-life balance for The Industry Standard, Forbes Best of the Web and The New York Times as a freelancer.) I recall my heart beating rapidly as I interviewed a pregnant employee of a start-up who had been fired and had to sue for  discrimination. These cases are rare, but it’s clear that mommy discrimination does exist in some corporate cultures. (Here’s a link to a Moms @ Work column I wrote for Fit Pregnancy with interview advice and expert suggestions to avoid mommy discrimination. And “Pregnancy Discrimination Persists” by Maria Vega is great as it outlines your rights as a pregnant worker. )

As one might imagine, stress with money and employment must adversely affect your relationships. So, number 3 is relationship stress—and boy, I wish I had this expert advice when I was expecting both of my boys!

Finally, the fourth stressor is health. Anyone with a pre-existing medical condition, such as cancer, knows what it is like to live with stress. But some of us panic at every pain or flu-like symptom and the panic—itself— can cause cortisol levels to surge. This surge is what you want to avoid. I loved speaking with the exerts who outlined specific ways to lower your stress.

These expert tips are life-savers and I really wish I had them when pregnant with both of my boys. Stress in American culture is just something we have to combat. My time in Italy this summer, as well as my trips to France over the years, make me wonder if the lower rates of  ADD and ADHD among their children has something to do with their more-relaxed culture. This is obviously for another article, but there has be a link between the stress in our American fast-paced lives and unforgiving corporate cultures, and these behavioral conditions we find in so many of our children in America (one in 20). Lets try to reduce those rates. I hope this article helps you and lessens your stress and allows you to bring a bit more joy into your life as you build the life inside you. Write in and let me know if this article helped, or share additional tips to lessen anxiety for other moms-to-be! Finally, additional perks with this issue include a breast-feeding guide, surprising super foods for baby and exercise tips!

Shut Your Mouth!

How many of you out there are still fighting daily or weekly with your exes? How many of you are insanely frustrated over late or missing child support payments, or looming court dates, or missed visitations—among the myriad of abusive scenarios that some divorced parents face when one parent puts ego and/or selfish agendas above children’s needs? I’m sure many of you may be nodding your heads about now. But, sadly, even if your ex is a convict or a sociopath who deserted you and your children and doesn’t visit with the kids or pay child support—YOU (yes, even you my devoted single mommy friends)—may be accidentally causing more emotional harm to your children, say experts.

What?? (Insert record rip sound now.)

As hard as it is to believe, single parents are guilty of consistently doing one thing wrong. There are plenty of things divorced parents stumble on and I interviewed a UCLA expert earlier this year who helped define “The Top 5 Mistakes Divorcing Parents Make”. Going through a divorce is insanely painful and no one is expected to handle it perfectly. But experts say if there is one thing you need to remember for your children’s sake, it’s this: SHUT  YOUR MOUTH.

Think about it. We are ALL guilty of saying disagreeable things about our exes at some point (even if it’s just reporting the truth). Some single parents have certainly lived through their share of horror stories. And even if you think you are vigilant about not talking about your ex in front of the children—be honest—it slips sometimes doesn’t it? And these slips usually happen during the most stressful times and can be reactions that we later regret. For example, imagine this scenario:

You are at home with your children waiting for the ex to pick them up for a scheduled weekend visit. You did laundry, you packed their bags, you got them hair cuts the day before and you even carefully picked out their favorite books and toys and DVDs for the visit. The kids are excited and you’re hiding your fears about the weekend—especially if your ex drinks too much or has a new girlfriend or if he takes them to inappropriate venues, like bars. You keep yourself busy in the kitchen while the clock ticks. One hour after he is supposed to arrive, the kids get anxious and keep asking, “Where IS he?” in exasperated tones. You text the ex. He doesn’t reply. Finally, two hours after he is supposed to pick them up, he calls.

“Sorry! I got held up at the office and my boss wants me to fly out tomorrow on business. Can’t get them this weekend.” You are infuriated and before you can stop yourself you scream in response: “What the hell? You’re doing this again?You haven’t seen them in three months! This is NOT OK!”

Your heart is thumping so loud in your chest you can barely hear anything else, until a sob, from the corner of the room stills you. You look up and your six-year-old has a tear sliding down her little face.

Yes, this is your ex’s fault. No, you shouldn’t cover for him. But you don’t want to have fights in front of the kids either, explains Joshua Coleman, Ph.D., an award-winning author and family and marriage therapist.

Coleman, who I interviewed this month, says parents need to remember that they are pouring salt on their children’s wounds when they fight in front of the children or talk poorly about the ex in front of them. The better way to handle the outlined scenario is to hold in your anger and respond calmly to your ex: ‘That’s too bad. The kids were really looking forward to it. I’m handing the phone to them so you can explain, ok?’ Allowing him to talk with the kids, and likely promise to make it up to them later, is a better solution than yelling and putting their father down in front of the kids.

If the children cry after they hang up, Coleman warns against adding more drama and hurt to the situation.

“You then don’t want to say something like, ‘Your father always does this kind of thing at the last minute! It’s unforgivable!’ Instead, you want to just give them comfort, by saying something like, ‘You’re really sad aren’t you? I’m so sorry that you’re hurt.’ This lets your children know that you are there for them without adding more pain,” Coleman explains.

If you’ve experienced a similar situation to this, than I don’t need to tell you about the flash of anger that sparks and the mixed feelings that emerge about wanting to protect your kids, but also being angry about your own inconvenience. It may have been months since you’ve had a proper break or a morning to sleep in. With that said, experts say it’s critical to try to hide your disappointment and anger as your children will be highly sensitive and bruised after their father stands them up. They don’t need to feel like a bourdon to you, as well. It’s so tempting to call a friend the minute the kids settle down after such an experience. How many of us are guilty of calling a girlfriend to vent after such a scenario? What if you made plans for that evening and now they are blown? You’re still better off texting your friend to cancel. The last thing you want to do is grab a glass of wine and call a girlfriend lamenting about how you now can’t go out, and what a jerk your ex is. Your children, even if planted in front of a TV show, have amazing listening abilities. They want to know what is going on and they likely will hear your conversation, or the tone of your conversation at the very least.

I know it isn’t fair. I know that if your ex repeatedly lets you and your children down, you need to vent. But this is our test in life. (I’m right there with you.) In times like this, try to take a deep breath, and dig deep for grace. Remember that you can email or call a friend once the children are asleep—or that you can go online and chat with other single moms in support groups, such as AloneTogether. It’s so important to have the support you need—but there is a time and a place for everything. I don’t know why we’re in the situation we are in. But I’ve decided that I no longer care about figuring out why. It’s hard to let go of that, but it serves very little purpose. If you can remember anything from this story, I hope it’s this:

“Children learn to love themselves by being able to love their parents,” Coleman says.

They can’t feel free to love their father (or mother) if either parent consistently puts the other down. Sure, your ex may not be the parent you want him (or her) to be. But you can be the parent your children can model. You can be the example for them. And they can learn to love themselves by watching you.

Single Mom’s Wanderlust: A State of Mind

As many of you may know, I used to live in London and traveled quite a bit. I moved back to California in the summer of 2008, when 7 months pregnant. Southern California is a great place to be when you’re sleep deprived and in need of sunshine and fresh air. But lately, I find myself starting to get that twitchy foot. The itch that, in the past, would make want to purchase a last minute rail ticket for a weekend excursion to somewhere in Europe. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t miss my old life at all. I really do believe that I was supposed to go through this mess: this divorce, this single motherhood thing and that it’s all part of a plan. It’s forcing me to grow and realize my inner strength and  I have embraced that better things are yet to come. BUT, that doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes need to GET AWAY.

Now that I’m regularly sleeping through the night, (isn’t it marvelous when your child finally lets you??) I’m feeling the urge to hit the open road. I crave getting into my car and driving for long periods at a time with no real destination. I recall reading Ann Tyler’s book Ladder of Years where the main character, a 40-year-old mom, took a walk and just kept walking until she moved to another town altogether. I loved it. (Although I adore all of Ann Tyler’s books.)

Don’t worry, ya’ll. I’m not about to do that. But I realize that I need vistas. I need to explore. It’s always been a part of my DNA. My Ex hated that I rarely planned or structured our trips beyond arranging a house swap or renting a flat or house somewhere. I liked to meander and discover things—to sit at cafes and people watch or talk with a chatty local and get the low-down on where to go that evening. I miss spontaneity. In college, I’d take off and drive from Georgia to Maine with no set stopping places in between. I’d stop where it felt good to do so. I naturally gravitated to journalism as I liked the constant change of scenery or new voices. As a child, I wandered in the woods and horse trails. I love discovering by happenstance. With that said, I’m literally and financially too grounded to take off as a single mom of two kiddos.

But I’m realizing that I can still get a little bit of that flight feeling by opening my eyes wider and exploring closer to home. By being present and taking in my surroundings or taking short excursions with the boys, we can explore. So, I’m rarely without my camera these days. I’m far from a photographer, (and none of my pictures were taken with special lenses or have been touched up in some way) but I find that shooting pictures of the beauty that surrounds me in Southern California reminds me there are things to discover in my own backyard. It helps ease that yearning for an excursion I can’t have right now.

There will be days ahead for faraway travel. But for now, I’m going to keep drinking in my sun-kissed part of the world. When I take pictures and look at them later, I’ll remember to thank God for second chances at a new life. I am grateful to stay put at the moment. I am grateful to have the time to create and discover what beauty surrounds and lies within.

25 Reasons to LOVE Being a Single Mom

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Yes, you read that title correctly! There are reasons to LOVE being a single mom. The consensus is in. Single mothers across the country have been polled about what they like about parenting solo. Sure, we all know that it’s one of the hardest jobs in the world. But, lets focus on the positive, shall we? And, while we’re at it, lets have a laugh. Life’s too short and getting too serious these days. Sure, most of us didn’t choose this path, but while we’re on it, let’s acknowledge the perks. (And did I say have a laugh too??) Enjoy ladies (and brave men) and just note these thoughts represent the contributions of MANY women out there, but I’d love to hear from you, too! … Especially if you can make me chuckle.

TOP REASONS:

  1. It’s now My house, my rules. Rough day? Waffles for dinner is just fine. Exhausted? The dishes, laundry and toys can pile up for one night.
  2. No more scary stubble in the sink.
  3. No more sticky, smelly, sweaty gym clothes to be picked up off the bathroom floor. (Unless, of course, they’re yours!)
  4. No more manic 5 p.m. de-motherfying. Don’t know what that is? A rush to shower, shave, change out of sweats and “de-motherfy” yourself every evening before a discerning man comes home—who ironically only notices when you don’t do all of the said above.
  5. No need to hold in that belly 24/7!
  6. There is no one in the house to make you feel like an incompetent person.
    (It’s funny how many women commented that their husbands criticized them for not being capable or put them down for being a SAHM—yet parenting alone, they have never felt more accomplished.)
  7. It sinks in you ARE a super woman. After a year or so parenting solo, it sinks in that we are capable. We take out the trash, fix heaters and toilets, paint, move furniture, weld power tools, get the car washed: ALL ON OUR OWN. We manage budgets (even small ones), kids’ schedules, education and our own career and health needs. Phew!)
  8. You get to watch what you want on TV. No more wrestling or mafia movies! (Well, unless you turn on that mafia movie starring your favorite sexy Italian actor.)
  9. There’s no one to scold you for letting the kids come into the family bed. (And it’s oh, so yummy when you all fall asleep together after watching a silly movie!)
  10. You can sing and dance and be goofy with an audience that joins in!
  11. You are more present with your kids and more focussed on their needs without the stress of constant criticism and arguments. (For some, this happened after the divorce became final and the fighting finally ceased.)
  12. You can get a cat, fish, a parakeet, a chinchilla—or any other creature you can manage to take care of, as your kids need more unconditional love in the house. (And who is going to stop you?)
  13. You can take a bubble bath, wear a mask and do your nails at 8:30 p.m. on a weekday after the kids are in bed. Why? Because you are no longer a short-order cook for the late arrival, or a career coach and therapist, or evening maid required to do laundry and clean the kitchen while said late arrival watches sports or a crime drama on TV.
  14. You no longer have to pretend to be asleep when you hear the door open at midnight. (This is usually from hubby coming home after an unscheduled, but “critical” business drinks meet-up. Of course, you learned about this event at 6 p.m. with spit-up on your shoulder, an older child screaming in the corner and dinner on the stove.)
  15. No more ‘couples with kids’ dinners to endure.
    (Come on, you know exactly what this is. Some friends with kids your age invite you to a family-friendly restaurant for Saturday early dinner or Sunday brunch. You dress up and go through the effort to get the kids looking marvelous—only to find yourself, yet again, having a frustrating, work-filled evening. You and the other mom try to catch up, but keep getting interrupted since you two are managing all the kids’ tantrums and antics and diaper changes during dinner. Where are the fathers? The two hubbies are at the other end of the table drinking brews and having a civilized adult conversation with no interruptions. Your late husband had NO idea why you weren’t interested in sex AT ALL later in the evening.)
  16. No more waiting for a blue moon to go out on a date.
  17. You no longer live with the fear of being cheated on.
  18. You no longer live with someone who churns an internal daily struggle for you to preserve your identity. (The constant pressure to change or view the world differently has lifted.)
  19. You no longer live with a man who treats his mother (who never liked you) and his buddies better than he treats you.
  20. You are allowed to buy chocolate at will.
  21. Alcohol is no longer an every day facet of your family life. (In fact, some moms reported throwing out the liquor cabinets and beer coolers after their exes left.)
  22. There is no one home to poke fun at you when you want to meditate, do a yoga dvd, write in a journal or read self-help or philosophy books.
  23. No more staying awake listening to snoring.
  24. No more smelling alcohol on the breath of the person sleeping next to you.
  25. You no longer have to justify what you buy. If you can afford to splurge on a toy for the kids, or a new pair of shoes for yourself: you can do so without having to render a tail-between-the-legs explanation later.

Guest Post: A Single Mom’s Letter to Rick Santorum

“Although I am certain that by now Mr. Santorum realizes (which is not the same as giving a hoot) that he has incensed an incredible amount of people regarding his comments and rants about single moms, I’m wondering if he is willing to come forward and share where he obtained his information.
As a mom who was married for 13 years and is blessed with an incredible daughter who is now 11 years old, I chose to leave the marriage because my daughter deserved a better environment to serve as a model for a healthy relationship between her parents as opposed to thinking emotional abuse is absolutely acceptable treatment. (I was fortunate enough not to be physically abused like so many single moms who have mustered the strength to leave for the sake of their child/ren.)

In August of 2008, I founded and have since run a group called “Alone Together: Single Moms’ Online Support Group.” Although the group started on Meetup.com, we recently shifted to using Facebook in order to help as many single moms as possible and have members spanning the globe. Alone Together is based on the principle of “teach a man to fish.” We believe in a hand up NOT a hand out. We in no way give people money, nor in the the past three years have we received a request for the same; rather we all support each other by offering advice, sharing experiences, and providing links to resources so members may attain their greatest wish—learning skills to become the best parent possible. (Sorry to burst your bubble, Mr. Santorum, but, no, their wish is NOT to drain the system—it is actually to make sure that the most important commodity this country has is nurtured. In case you do not know what that commodity is, it is our children, a/k/a the future of this country.)

Oh goodness, pass the smelling salts! I think Mr. Santorum may have just fainted in disbelief. What a shock to learn that I am just one of countless single moms who went to college and maintains a good-paying full-time job as a legal secretary while also volunteering for many charities. I apologize for shocking you without warning: “You’re kidding? A single mom who actually contributes to the betterment of society? Eeegads! IMPOSSIBLE!!!”)

As someone who has been an avid writer since age 7, brevity is not my strong point but I will do my best to get to the point of this post. I would very much appreciate the chance to speak with you and allow you an opportunity to back up your opinion. (I’ll even reimburse any phone charges you may incur.) A great start would be letting people know where you obtained your information and statistics regarding single moms. I feel strongly that the public deserves to hear from an actual single mother—the proverbial two sides to every story, so to speak—in order to allow them to make an informed decision based on more than just the spoutings of a political hopeful. I feel compelled to do whatever damage control I can and I have worked hard at reducing the stigma attached to single moms.

Brace yourself, Mr. Santorum, but our members consist of women with MULTIPLE Master’s Degrees, published authors, family law attorneys, and many others who work in high profile careers. They put themselves through college without any governmental aid or hand-outs. The single moms I have been fortunate to meet are very proud and humble and many have been raising their child/ren WITHOUT ANY FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE WHATSOEVER. In fact, the laws are so ridiculous that, at least in Minnesota, even if the Court awards child support, if a mom is not receiving it, she has to use HER OWN MONEY to go back to Court to plead her case that the Court ENFORCE AN ORDER IT ISSUED! And even then, her child/ren never see a dime in support. Oh sure, you can revoke his license and/or have him serve jail time, but what is the sense in ASSURING any chance of a stream of income allowing him to fulfill his obligation to his CHILDREN (this is NOT spousal support – it is used to feed and clothe those he helped bring into this world). Man, that is so hard to wrap my head around.

We did not get married or enter into relationships with the goal of having children just so we could quit work and hop on the welfare bus. While I absolutely agree there are women (not in our group or any of the other many single mom groups, simply because no one like that has asked to be a member) who do indeed have child after child as a means to continue to collect government support (which I am sure you know launches them into the lap of luxury—pardon the dripping sarcasm) that is NOT the portrait of a single mother and, I for one, am incredibly insulted by what I can only assume is your naivete.

Would you be willing to engage in an interview with me so that the public can hear another perspective? By the way, that’s another wonderful trait single moms have: sticktuitiveness and resourcefulness. We truly are a force to be reckoned with because we will do whatever is necessary to take care of our child/ren. If you aren’t willing to come forward, I apologize in advance for chalking that up to deciding to hide behind your supporters and let them do your dirty work for you. Afterall, if you really are convinced that single moms are the cause of the countries’ problems, then I would think you would jump at a chance to stand up for your extremly vocalized beliefs and opinions. Surely you aren’t scared by a simpleton like me who has no idea how to care for herself without draining the system. (Sorry, I can’t seem to control my sarcasm as I find what you state to be absolutely ABSURD—but everyone deserves a chance to “prove” their point.) As I stated above, when it comes to our children we will fight to the end, so rest assured that if you choose to ignore me, I will use my media connections and all other resources to make sure the country knows that you are nothing more than the little man behind the big green curtain.”

Sincerely,

Monique Swanson
(A founder of Alone Together Single Moms Online Support Group)

(Editor’s note: Ms. Swanson’s letter was posted March 12 on Rick Santorum‘s Facebook and campaign sites. It is reprinted with permission and with the hope that it resonates with you, too. For more Santorum news on this matter, see: Mother Jones article Santorum: “Single Moms Are Breeding More Criminals”.)

Striking a Balance

It’s a delicate balancing act, especially as a single mom, to simultaneously take care of yourself and also be present and focused on your children. The two goals constantly come in conflict with one another—and yet experts often advise us to do one, or the other, or both, with little instructions on how to do so. For instance, earlier in the week, when working on a Lifechangers article for Dr. Drew’s Lifechangers show, I interviewed Rebecca E. Eberlin, Ph.D., a family psychologist who runs “Navigating Divorce For Your Children” workshops at the UCLA Commons in Santa Monica, Calif. She insisted, and I tend to agree, that when parents are in the process of getting a divorce, they need to focus 100% of their choices on how they will affect their kids. In fact, she listed focusing on yourself and not on your children as one of the top 5 mistakes that most divorcing parents make. After speaking with her for an hour, I could see her point completely.

Taking Care of Yourself

Photo by Jennifer Suarez

On the flip side, are you (like me) sometimes frustrated when someone says: “you need to take care of yourself”?

If you’re a single mom—especially those of us with small children, full-time care of those children, and little family support—the idea of taking a spa day seems nearly impossible. But taking care of yourself means very different things to different people. One of my favorite bloggers, Tracie Louise, eloquently explained some of the ways she takes care of herself in her latest post “Being Selfish”.

I know that I can’t always afford to get manicures, facials, massages, or go on shopping sprees, for instance. I do know, however, that it’s possible to squeeze in time during the week to go on a run (even if it requires a three-year-old in the stroller); take a bath (hopefully without a baby, but trust me, he’s snuck in before!); meditate; write; or take a community yoga class. Another selfish thing for me is to ignore the dinner mess and mounds of laundry and snuggle with my boys while watching a favorite show.

I think the biggest goal for me, and perhaps for some of you too, is to strike that delicate balance—when the pendulum finally rests at the center—between focussing on my children and their needs and exploring my own and having a bit of fun. During the first year of my separation I may have used the excuse of focussing on my kids to hibernate. Granted, my youngest was still a baby, but the only time I spent out was either pushing the stroller while he slept; cheering on the oldest on the soccer field; volunteering in the classroom; or writing an article at a coffee shop. It was quite hard for me to reach out to others, take exercise classes, or even sleep well—as I slept with the baby each night. I put on a good face, but I was literally getting by, moment by moment. Almost two years later, I try to ensure that I continue to cheer my oldest on at concerts or at soccer games; volunteer once a week at school; work; exercise; meditate; and find time for fun with the special person in my life. The effort is well worth it.

If you are where I was in my first year of separation—where you can barely muster up energy to do anything for yourself—I dare you to write down five things you’d like to incorporate into your life with a roadmap to make them happen. Even if it’s just sleeping in once a month. If this is too easy, I dare you to go even further: write down one thing you can do every day just for you. You’d be surprised how you can sneak some “me-time” in—even when you don’t have sitters or you have too much work piling on. Yesterday, with the baby sick at home, I thought it would be impossible to exercise or meditate. Well, a snuffly nose makes sleeping sitting up easier, so I put the little guy in the stroller and took off for an hour run while he slept soundly. In the evening, as the boys were watching a show after dinner, I snuck to my room and meditated for five minutes. I let myself focus on gratitude and putting a negative person’s actions and judgmental words out of my life. When the boys came down to find me, I was able to be present with them and even laughed when the youngest spilled juice on the floor. So, what I’m trying to say—in my characteristically verbose way—taking time out for yourself helps you spend more quality time with your kiddos. It’s hard to snap at the little ones after you mediate isn’t it?

(And, since I know how very different clinical depression is from mere exhaustion or sadness, please know that it’s not always possible to take care of yourself or pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Some of your friends and family members may not understand and can be creating more pressure for you. Read this information from the Mayo Clinic for information. If you think you are slipping into a clinical depression, please call your doctor. Here’s another article with online resources to help. )

For the rest of us…there are no more excuses. I’m adding one more item to my weekly for-me wish list. How about you?