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Tuesday, August 18, 2020

What This Divorced Mom Can Tell My Friends About the Empty Nest Experience

Recently my phone and news have been filled with images of friends moving kids into dorms or saying bye as cars head out of town.  Even during the age of Corona there is an exodus of kids heading to college and parents saying goodbye, at least for the short term.

Because of divorce and co-parenting, I have experienced the "Empty Nest Syndrome" earlier than most of my friends who have remained married with in-tact families.  From the time my youngest was just the age of two, I had to get used to experiencing days where I didn't see my baby.  It is tough.

So, I wanted to share a few things I've learned over the years of spending days away from my children.


1) They are not thinking of you as much as you are thinking of them.  Seriously, your little girl or young man is forging life and identity.  Everything is new and exciting, and young people tend to live in the moment. 

2) It's too much pressure to invest every resource you have into your child.  When you rely on your child for your own self worth, it creates a codependence that is unhealthy.  Guard against finding your complete identity through your relationship with your child.

3) There are things you have wanted to do...get started!  Redecorate a room or get lost in a book/movie/series.  There are things you enjoy which have been put on the back burner during the hands-on experience of parenting.  Now is time to remember a dream or start a new one!

4) Invest in your own friendships which will fill provide joys and opportunities.  More than ever you have time to spend with grown ups and enjoy the benefits of friendship. Join a club, start walking with a friend or set up a reunion.  Be intentional with your friendships so that loneliness doesn't become the norm.

5) We are all on a path of letting go. From day one, our ultimate goal is healthy independence.  All the years you spent pouring into your child has forged a bond that won't break with time and distance.  Keep encouraging and know that your person will return again and again.  You did it!

It's not easy to admit that our kids can live without us, but that reveals that we have done a good job.  

Thursday, August 6, 2020

It's August and It's Weird - There is no way Around It

Like the rest of our country, I'm unsure of how to handle things this August.  My mind keeps ruminating:

Do I even go back to school clothes shopping when deep down I suspect everyone will be back home doing lessons in pajamas?  Is is smart to stock up on lunchbox items?  Do I need to make room for football games in the calendar?

I know that I am not alone in the confusion and unknowns. I console myself in the fact that we are "all in this together."  

I keep wondering if there will be anything like a daily routine.  I'm concerned about the brain fog I see and worried my kids are falling behind. 

Here is what I know: 

First, my kiddos are not done learning.  Whether we get into the classroom or learn online, their education will progress. 

Second, like every other surprise or "Plan B," God will use this to shape and direct them.  I see increases in responsibility and independence.  I believe that each will have to take more ownership of their education and I pray that some true interests emerge.

Third, socialization is necessary. While working to remain distanced and safe, we can open our circle to others who are doing the same.  Creating friend groups and ensuring weekly interactions is very important.  When too much time goes between gatherings, little hearts get lonely.

Added, the slippery slope of screen time is real and reeling it back in has been met with intense push back.  Keep those boundaries in place.

No matter how I view it, this August is just weird. There are no school meet and greets and youth activities just keep getting postponed.  So much is uncertain and it makes planning difficult.  Once again, I'm learning to hold things (my plans and schedule) loosely.
Updated to add: Our School District is currently opening two weeks late with both virtual and in person options.  The plan is ever-changing.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Education in the Age of Corona

"If we are able to reopen our school buildings and classrooms..."

"Are families planning to attend school or make use of virtual options?"

"I appreciate your patience as we work through the scenarios..."

These statements from our local school board create uncertainty about the future of our education plans. I've been getting daily texts from local friends and watching the debates play out in social media.  At work, those of us with kids are discussing possibilities.  There is a lot of uncertainty and it seems that many are struggling to fee confident in a decision for education.

Our public school system is offering a fully virtual online option, as well as onsite classroom learning with modifications for greater space between persons.  There has always been the option of home schooling with personalized selected curriculum or private education ranging in price from about $4,000 - $20,000 per year.  There are so many choices and there are so many reasons why some are viable and some are not.

So many parents that I speak with right now are making changes in the way they educate.  Personally, I have two going to high school and one still in middle.  We do have choices, but the students themselves all want to return to their campus.

Our tentative plan is to return to campus on the delayed start.  I have purchased multiple masks for each of my kiddos and we plan to make the best of this chance to work in-person. I am not confident the year will continue on campus so I've prepared spaces for each to work at desks in their room if we are deployed back home again.

With a junior who needs to learn key aspects of math for upcoming college entrance exams, and a freshman who is just getting her footing in the high school setting my concerns are mostly for continuity of education.  I want them to grasp what is needed and actually progress in their learning this year.

So many of us are facing similar choices.  Ultimately, there are just so many variables and "ifs" to this pandemic and what we are facing.  I have to move forward with what we know and then if things change, we will adjust.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Seven Years Into Blended Family Life - Here's How I Feel

Mr. Wonderful and I are celebrating our seven year anniversary.  There are so
many reasons that I am grateful to be married to him.  I find at year seven, we have already moved through several phases of life and cycles of family ups and downs. I now experience the peaks and valleys with a longer term perspective, knowing there are constant shifts in life and relationships.  Mr. Wonderful has always done well with long term vision.  More than ever, these sometimes subtle, sometimes jarring changes cause us to turn toward one another for balance and stability.

I don't have a seven-year-itch, instead I find myself more settled and content. How do you create a relationship where the unknown brings togetherness and doesn't drive you apart?  Here is what has worked for us.

Watch and observe and take time to really know the man to whom you consider giving your life.  The time before you marry is the time to be real about who he is. Guard against glossing over those things that might annoy and especially the character flaws that we all have. Denying the hard things will only create more challenges later.

Be willing to risk honesty.  Most days I love being a married mom and step mom.  Some days are really tough and draining.  Every day requires stamina and strength and when those are running short, I ask for help. I step away for time alone or confide in a friend when I'm struggling.  I choose to be gracious in my expectations of myself and others.

Own your role as your husband's wife.  Be his person. It's easy for me to slip into mom-mode and home manager.  But my husband chose me because I was an awesome girlfriend (I was trying). Remember to flirt, rub his feet (or his back) and be his cheerleader.

There is no one way to do family life and step families have even more variables and complications.  Learn as you go.  Recalculate when needed and stick together when it's hard to figure out the right path. When it's good, blended life something to behold and to be proud of.  When it's not good, don't fret because it's gonna change.

Come to terms with letting go and holding things loosely - especially your expectations. This sneaks up to hit me again often. When I feel disappointed, it is usually because I'm assuming someone in the family is going to behave a certain way and I have never communicated that. Then I get let down when things don't go according to the un-discussed script in my head.

Step parenting is hard.  Some days it's all sparkles and glitter.  Mostly it is unseen service and sacrifice.  Hopefully, you get to the point of respect and mutual admiration where you are genuine friends with your step kids.  As a step mom, my greatest role has been in supporting their dad as the parent and creating a home. No more, no less. Accept that there are vast arenas in which you are not welcome and have no control.  It's okay.  I notice there are time when Mr. Wonderful is trying to find his footing in his role as step dad.  These relationships are complicated and ever-changing.  Accept what each child is able to give and really focus on the partnership of marriage to provide security.

I'm STILL excited to be his wife.  I'm more secure in our relationship than ever and love the history we have together.  We have made so many memories and shared the load that life brings.  I pray my own children have partnerships like ours one day and experience the security and acceptance he gives me.  Looking ahead,  I know life will be sweeter together.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

A Time to Rest

We made our annual trip to Hilton Head Island and enjoyed a fabulous vacation.  As always, the rest from schedule and responsibility was needed more than we realized.  This year we had a more down time than ever and enjoyed lengthy days at the beach, family games, evenings at home and few outings.  It was so nice to just relax and enjoy being together.

They still spend many hours just playing in the sand.
 It seems like a throw back to simple childhood.

The guys heading out for a fishing trip.

A serious fisherman.
Success - caught a shark!

Mr. Wonderful caught a big one!
All smiles in the pool.

We have three dogs, but only one gets to travel with us.  Sweet Sonny.

Love my Man!
Card games - Uno!

Day trip to Savannah - I love the mystique of this city which is so different
from anywhere I have lived.

I am so thankful for the smiles and laughter.

My girlie
Beach Nights

My guys.

Harbor Town

He loves the seafood.

Being a mom is the very best thing!

Isn't she cute?

Carefree moments

Sipping on the beach - what a gift to relax!

This was a huge gator!
More Wildlife

Heading home. It's always nice to get back to our own bed. 
We really missed our older girls this year - it's the first time they weren't able to be with us at all on vacation.  I'm sure that Mr. Wonderful felt their absence, especially.  That's the thing about family life, even the traditions change.  I'm learning more and more to go with the flow of what life brings and what is possible.  It's so much better than spending time fighting for expectations or struggling with what I cannot control.  It's been a good year to remember this.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Blended Life: Creating a Close-Knit Family

Families that are blended for any reason face obstacles to making connections that create bonds.  Still, there are proven strategies to strengthen the ties within any family - even those that weren't created naturally.

#1 - Verbalize that you are committed.  As often as possible state that you are family, that you are not leaving. "We are family and families help each other," is a statement often repeated at our home.

#2 - Demonstrate Appreciation. A quick hug, a heartfelt thank you, a note on the counter or even a quick text.  Making gratitude part of the fabric of your home creates a closeness.  Together find things for which to be thankful and let those you live with know they are valued.

#3 - Make time Together a Priority. We all must avoid the trap of becoming too busy to be together, or even too lazy (sometimes it's easier to just sit on the couch and veg). Even when the whole family can't be together, gather who is able and make the effort.  Games, meals, simple walks and drives are the stuff families remember. Vacations are icing on the cake! Whether it is a big or small event, deliberately schedule family time.

#4 - Invest in Faith Building. When the kids are grown, faith is the foundation we can give them in order to move forward through positive and negative situations.  The seeds you plant today have the power to grow into mighty reserves of strength for the future.

#5 - Bond during Crisis.  Hard times come to every family and it isn't fun, but it is the time when you can rally together to support one another and fortify each other for the challenge.  When money is tight or schedules are chaotic, let your crew know it's time to pitch together.  Siblings can support each other by lending a hand.  Children can bear with parents as they navigate difficulty.  The hard times have the power to pull members apart or to draw them together.  Chose to use your crisis to ask  for help an connect not to isolate or lash out.

I plan to share specific ways each of these values have brought our family closer during the seven years we have been together.  I hope you will read along and share your own ways to connect!

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

For When There is Too Much Noise

As we began our isolation and quarantine, it seemed like there was more noise than ever.  Social media, traditional news, alerts, dings, and deadlines were demanding attention ceaselessly.  Add in the extra noise of the whole family home together, and it really was overwhelming.  I had to find a way to calm the constant buzz in my brain.

When I encounter a trigger, I need a skill to counteract the anxiety uptick that the trigger creates.  Here are three way I managed my own ebb and flow of negativity.

Noise to Calm
Inevitably, noise begins to distract me. I'm one of those people who has to turn the radio down when I'm driving with concentration.  It's just part of the way I'm made.  I can't always quiet my space, but I can quiet myself.  I can walk outside.  I can take a shower.  I can let those around me know that I'm seeking quiet.

Clutter to Order
Yes, it's proven that clutter creates stress.  When our college girl moved home, she spent the first week purging and ordering her space - it was a huge gift to herself!  She is now set up to continue living back home in comfort.  The same is true for me.  My newly established office space is also the dining room, which tends to gather the discarded items from other spaces.  I distributed what was necessary and tossed the rest.  Our pantry is extra stocked so we don't have to go out as often, so I spent an afternoon early in the quarantine really organizing in a way that made sense for our family.  It's still functioning well.  Other surfaces that gather junk are counters and dressers.  When I start to feel my tension rising, it pays off to take a few minutes and tidy those places.  Invest in yourself by taking action in the places you are able.

Chaos to Routine
Wearing my robe to work has been a long-standing joke between Mr. Wonderful and me.  But after about an hour of sitting at my desk, I realized I couldn't even take myself seriously while trying to work in the privacy of my own dining room.  I went and changed my clothes - not office attire, but at least not bedroom clothes, either.  From then forward I kept my morning routine and established some new markers in the day: lunch time, walking breaks and sitting on the patio swing with my daughter.  I was able to take advantage of the privilege of working from home and keep my rhythms in place.  I felt the drift toward later nights, and worked hard to maintain a normal bedtime.  Whatever works best for you, create some routine rituals to mark the phases of your day.

I think we will always remember 2020 as a year like no other!  We have been stretched and required to grow.  What skills will you take with you as life shift into yet another phase?