Honest vs. Intentional

I’d like to talk for a minute about being honest vs. being intentional.

I don’t know about you, but through my life I’ve had several ‘mottos’.
“You ALWAYS have a choice – you may not like your choices, but you always have one.”
“Personal responsibility” I think that one speaks for itself.
“Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answers to” (this extends to questions you just aren’t *sure* you want the answers to.)

These have all been different themes since I was about 18. I felt strongly, even then, that once you’re an ‘adult’ you have to stop using “My mom did _______” or “The kids at school were ______” as a reason for not achieving what you wanted to.

Can the effects of traumatic circumstances be legitimate? Oh boy, you bet. But should you let them hold you back? I don’t personally think so. I think we should, as people, take responsibility (there’s that word again) for our future and do whatever work we need to in order to try tomove past these things. Easier said than done – yes I know.

My most recent motto is “Be honest, but be intentional.”

It’s hitting me in the face hard right now as we work our way through this divorce, which will finalize next week.

The ex (I’ve finally stopped calling him “not-yet-ex”) has a new ‘love’ – another one. He’s on his 3rd since we split up 1.5 years ago. This doesn’t really put a wrinkle in anything for me, but the kids are a whole other story.

This is where the rubber meets the road for me on being honest vs. being intentional.

If I’m HONEST with you guys – I have a ‘friend’. I have someone I’ve spent some time with. After a bit my kids have met his kid. We all have a great time together doing things we all enjoy – rock climbing or biking. And, if I’m HONEST, as much as I really do like and care for this person, when we’ve done things with the kiddos, there’s great INTENTION to the way that we do it.

We have a basic set of rules at this time. It’s something we both agree on.

Look – my kids have been through the ringer already this past year and a half. Their parents are getting divorced. Mom has moved out. It’s been emotional and messy.

The last thing they need is for me to add one more layer of stress.  So – when we’re together now, it’s all about the kids. HONESTLY, we hardly speak. We ll have fun – we all laugh and act silly. His kid and I hang out and have fun – my kids sometimes sit near him and snuggle up or hold his hand.

But they initiate it, and, for me, that’s the key.

Might this all be “more” down the road? Absolutely.

But we’re very intentional. I want all of these kids to feel like they were part of things and this all developed in a way that made it easy for them. This requires enormous amounts of patience, forethought and very calm, in spite of how emotionally-charged it can be, conversation.

My ex said “Well I’m being honest.”

And he’s not wrong. He is being honest.

I think I am too. “We’re good friends and I like him a lot. I think he’s fun. What do you guys think of him? of his son?” This is how this goes for me. All of these things are true.

I feel good about my response – just as the ex does about his.

I feel like my kids are getting to express their feelings and their opinions. It’s because we do these things, that they pow-wow’ed on my bed last night to chat about how they were sad about the divorce next week (because they know. I don’t believe in hiding that.) and how they didn’t really want a lot more change right now. They wish their dad wouldn’t get married right now. They already don’t feel like they get as much attention from him as they’d like, they say.

Because my relationship with him matters – and for their sake – I share this stuff with their dad. I try to let him know how they’re feeling. I can’t fix it for him – or dictate how he handles his new relationship- but I can at least pass along the info.

He’s completely comfortable with holding hands and kissing in front of the kids, leaving the them alone while they’re his home for the two of them to have alone time.

I’m not saying that these are things that should never happen – absolutely they should! I think the kids need to see a healthy relationship. Physically and emotionally as is appropriate.

But I also feel strongly that my particular kids deserve for me to be intentional and calm at the moment. Not caught up in another person. But present – for them and their needs and wants.

I think this whole situation has made me appreciate being intentional more. Patience IS a virtue. And good things DO come to those who wait. In the meantime, we’ll have a lot of fun, and some difficult times too, and enjoy the process – the natural progression – that this all takes.

 

 

 

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Why my relationship with my kids’ dad matters

Possibly uncomfortable topic I guess – and probably a misleading title.

Of course, the relationship any of us have with our exs matters. Good, bad, indifferent – it affects our children and our lives.

I should have said “Why it matters to me that I have a good relationship with my kids’ dad.”

I put a lot of effort into keeping things smooth with the ex and why is not necessarily a simple answer. Most of my friends don’t really get it – some downright refuse to support it – but it’s a conscious decision that I make every day. Here’s why.

It matters because I need my kids to see that people can act in a mature fashion. 

We’re the adults here. We haven’t always been mature around our kids. There was a time when there was more yelling than civil conversation and more stuff broken than was fixed. But we’re not in the place now. I want my kids to learn to learn that we can move past times like this and treat one another respectfully. I can’t tell them how they should behave as a reasonable adult human if I’m not able to model it.

It matters because I don’t hate him

And truly… I don’t. I understand this bit doesn’t work for everyone. I was not physically abused nor were my children, and etc. Our marriage didn’t work. Neither of us were kind. Neither of us are without fault. We went through some trauma as a family that we didn’t survive. But that’s the thing…. in our way we are surviving. We’re still a family. We can eat a meal together. We still make one another laugh. We still ‘team tickle’ the kids. How he’s feeling or doing also matters to me because that affects our kids. If work is bad or he’s upset with a family situation, maybe his patience is running low – if I can be sensitive to that – maybe I take the kids off his hands for the evening – we all get a respite. Everyone wins. The tables are turned, and he returns the favor. It isn’t possible every time, but kindness counts. And again – I want to model that for our kids.

It matters because I want them to feel love from us – simultaneously.

I think they need to be able to feel love from us not just when they have us one-on-one, but all the time. That’s hard to do when you can’t get along. How do graduations and weddings look then? I want those times to just be celebrations for my kids. I never want them to have a second thought of, “What’s going to happen when I put mom and dad in the same room? What about step-parents?” When someone asks them about these things, I want them to say, “We’ll sit them all on the front row – they’re cool” Or whatever answer it is that works for them.

It matters because our problems are not their problems.

This is one of the biggest pieces to me. The kids didn’t ask for any of this. They wanted us to stay together. They love it when we’re all in the same place. Sometimes that’s hard for the adults here; we’re frustrated, angry or sad. I’ve had to physically remove myself from situations previously. Then I could step away from my emotion and bring the reaction that I wanted to the table. He has done this too. And lest you think we’re not showing them humanity or trying to paint some messed up Stepford situation here, there have been plenty of times where the kids have known there was a showdown going on  – guns they are a blazin’ – and they’ve also seen it de-escalate and be resolved. But I think we owe it to them to put all the effort we can into helping the piece of their life story that involves us be one that they can be proud of.

Finally, it matters because of my heart…

My heart has so long held enough hurt and anger to fill pages and pages. I don’t want to spend any more of my time than is necessary in that place. I want my heart to feel all the love and joy that is out there for the taking. And I can’t do that if it’s already full of negativity. So, maybe that’s a little selfish – but oddly it’s one thing the ex and I agree on easily. Let’s all move onward and upward together.

I get that this all takes two willing parties to do. But don’t be mislead. This is much easier somedays than others. He’s not always kind or thoughtful. He doesn’t always do what he says. He doesn’t always put the kids where I’d prefer them in his priority list. BUT – I’m sure he’d say the same about me in some circumstances or have other, no less important, gripes.

The thing is that we keep striving. We keep trying. We keep pushing past our comfort zones into somewhere that’s a happier place for all of us.

Like I told Sweet Pea when she asked me how my heart felt when she talks about dad’s new “friend” – “If you’re happy, and your brother is happy and your dad is happy – how can my heart be sad when everyone I care so much about is happy?” And from that perspective -it’s pretty easy. 🙂

S

Letting go of the reins

This is the hardest thing. Like ever, ya’ll

So I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve discovered recently  – I’m a total control freak. 

I sorta knew this already. But it’s smacked me completely in the face as I’m dealing with my ex moving on.

NOW – before anyone opens their yap – I’m actually good with him moving on and having someone new in HIS life. I’m not saying it’s not hard sometimes. I’m not saying there’s not emotion tied to it – but it’s something I can be okay with.

What I recently discovered is that him having someone new in our kids’ life is a different kettle of fish entirely.

Apparently it’s only news to me, but exes will do things we never thought they would. Things that are common sense to some of us, simply aren’t on the radar for others.

If you don’t think your ex would:

  • introduce a new ‘friend’ to the kids right off – they might.
  • let a friend stay the night – they might.
  • put off time with the kids for extra time with the friend – they might.
  • lie to you about what they have going on so you’ll help out and they get free time with the friend- they might.
  • count on the kids not ‘filling you in’ – they might.
  • have issues with the kids involving the split that they don’t clue you in to – they might.

 

No – my ex hasn’t done all of the above – but some.

And I absolutely had to deal with a meltdown from SweetPea (she’s 9) yesterday in the middle of a Mexican restaurant because she didn’t think we’d get divorced and she isn’t sure how to choose between her mom and a ‘new mom’ (they’ve been dating for approximately 2 weeks).

SIGH.

 

 

The desire to control so many of these things is very high.

I don’t like letting go of the reins. I like to give them a nice, solid death grip.

I don’t know how so many of you have done it with situations that are so much worse. Drugs and abuse and everything in-between.

What I learned this week is that I can ask myself honestly, “Can I let this go?” (Yes – outloud if possible – I look like an idiot in my car talking to myself and I just don’t care.)

Sometimes the answer is yes. One and done.

Sometimes it’s no – and taking the time to ask the first question gives my brain and heart the room to ask the others that are important – How would I like to handle this? What is a reasonable response? What would I like to see come of it?

And life is SO much better when I don’t react to him emotionally.

Some people thrive off of that – it’s where the small amount of control they exert comes from. But when we don’t react emotionally – we take away that power.

I may not be able to control him or his choices – but I can control myself and my reactions – and MOST IMPORTANTLY I can make sure that my example for my kids is what I’d like them to see. I can pick those reins back up with purpose, with the right mindset and attitude and steer that horse in a direction that I feel securely is healthy for myself and my children.

 

What do you guys do when you feel the need to take control of things? Anyone have other ‘tricks’ that work? I’d love to hear them!!

 

Why I don’t reward for expected behavior.

I can hear many parents (and kids) out there growling at me right now. But bear with me.

When I say I don’t reward for expected behavior, I am NOT implying I don’t ever incentivize or reward my children.

I am not above mentioning the potential (begging) for a milkshake if they can get through the next hour without my having to explain on a conference call that I’m working with the kids in the background. I am certainly not above treating us all to donuts for breakfast because it’s the first day of spring break/summer/Tuesday – you get the idea.

However, it’s important to me that my kids to understand that life doesn’t consist of doing a task and getting a treat. Sometimes you do things because they’re kind or thoughtful – or darn it – they just need to be done. No one has ever given me a cookie for mopping the kitchen floor or taking out the trash. My reward is a nonsticky floor and not overflowing trash can. So……

I don’t reward for grades/similar.

I know this ruffles feathers for some. But I don’t. I have one kid who is a straight-A student, all the time. She does not receive money or treats or, well, anything for grades. It’s expected that school is her job and she’ll do her best. They do an honor roll breakfast at school, and that’s a gracious plenty. I also love that at their school, it’s not a parent-filled celebration. It’s a yummy breakfast for 30 minutes, and then off to class!

Do we grab a treat after she rockstars out her speech on living history day? Sure! She did something she was apprehensive about, and did it with gusto. THAT I’ll reward. But going to school every day and doing ‘her job’? Nope. Do your best. It’s expected.

My son doesn’t perform as well – he doesn’t get rewarded or punished, so long as I know he’s trying his best. He may never be the A-student that she is, but he does have to work his hardest and to the best of his ability. He gets the same attaboys for breaking through something that was a struggle as she does.

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An evening by the fire pit is a perfect “starting the weekend” reward – for all of us!

I don’t reward for good manners or good behavior.

Again, It’s expected. I’m not giving you a treat because you were on green all week or came home one day on blue (or whatever the heck color is better this school year.) As far as I’m concerned, that’s basically treating you for not being a pain in the teacher’s ass.

You don’t get a prize for holding the door for a stranger. A pat on the back and “That was kind – thank you for being kind to others!” You bet. Treats? Nope.

Now – when a kid finds themselves in a truly adult situation (like a funeral) and pulls out all the stops? Again, that might be cause for a slushie or pack of gum – a “your amazing self-control made a hard situation easier, and I’m grateful” reward.

I didn’t reward for potty training.

You heard me. No treats for potty usage. Both of mine potty trained over a weekend. I didn’t give them a choice. They were each old enough to understand what was happening in the big toilet and that if they didn’t make it to the potty, wetness was happening.

Was it 1,000% fun for me? Nope – but having a kid who was potty trained when they went back to daycare on Monday – oooooooh yeah. I was happy, the daycare workers were happy. It was all win. (Pull ups at night/naptimes as needed are a different story, and I’ll advocate for all day long. I am also aware that this doesn’t work for everyone so don’t start chucking stones here.)

I don’t reward or pay for chores.

The kids empty/fill the dishwasher some days. You ate on the dishes. They put away their clean clothes. You wore the clothes. I washed them. You can put them away. How I feel about giving kids responsibility is a whole other post that we will certainly cover soon. You live in this house, and to a degree that is appropriate for your age, you can contribute to the running of it.

The baseline here is that I don’t reward for things humans are generally expected to do.

Do I thank them for being considerate and kind? Oh boy, I do. Do I help and give guidance while they’re doing their chores? Yup. Can I check and assist with homework? Of course! This doesn’t mean we’re all drill sergeant in my house – it just means that I’m trying to teach them, that when we all do our part, we all get to enjoy our time.

So if you’re hankering for getting out of the reward cycle, give it a try. I am the first to say that everyone has to do what works best for them – this is what works for me – right now. Ask me next month, I might be the queen of rewards. 😉

 

 

 

Portrait of a Well-Behaved Child

 

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I’ll give you a hint – this is NOT it – though a stellar example of sassitude at 8 years of age.

What does your list of qualities for a well-behaved child look like?

Does she sit in perfect silence at the dinner table, never clanking a fork on a dish?

Does he share with his friends every single time without being asked?

Do they pick up their floor and brush their teeth and put away dishes while simultaneously doing your taxes? (Hey – a girl can dream)

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This is more like it – tea time with Anne of Green Gables on? Much better.

Seriously? Does any child do these any of things every time without a good attitude and without fail? None that I know do. For that matter I don’t know any adults who do, or would even try. We’re human and our emotions are what make things spark!

Maybe we need to redefine what a well-behaved child looks like.

Were you well-behaved? Be honest now.

I’d say most of us were a mix, right? 50/50? 60/40? 70/30?

There’s no judgement here. I did my share of both behaving and trouble-making.

If you think back, you can probably recall some of your better moments: Sticking up for a kid who was being picked on at school. Helping a friend who’d been hurt. Listening to your mom and standing quietly in line for 2.5 hours to see the Ramses II exhibit after you’d driven 2 hours just to get there. (No, really, that actually happened. My feet hurt. I was starving. But I was a princess – because this was seriously the coolest thing ever. The ride home is another story entirely.)

But then there were THOSE days. You know the ones.

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Sometimes silliness abounds

The day you climbed up on the kitchen counter because mom was busy, and you found a bottle in the cabinet with apples on the label – you couldn’t read, you were dying of thirst and with an apple on the label it had to be juice, right?

Or… you know… it was vinegar. And it was 1982, so that bottle was made of glass and shattered most spectacularly when you dropped it to the floor while spitting out the vinegar you’d just chugged down with gusto. You were screaming at the top of your lungs, and suddenly mommy wasn’t so busy any more. (Yet again, true story)

You get the idea. The lists are long, filled with both stellar moments and misadventures.

My question is this – why do we expect something out of our children that we weren’t able to manage? How are they supposed to be free-willed, independent, thoughtful and creative, while also following every rule, never being a ‘problem’ and being on green,purple, pink or wahtever-freaking-color-is-better-than-average this week?

Here’s the deal. We have perfectly flawed kiddos who love hard and play hard with their  perfectly flawed parents.

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Sometimes they’re stellar and sometimes they disobey hard. My oldest cracked out her first curse word at school in K-4. “Put down my damn puzzle!” she cried as the teacher tried not to laugh. I call that an accomplishment – of sorts. And yes, I completely own where she learned that one.

Some days we have boundless patience that amazes even us. Some days we yell. I’m not particularly proud of those days, but they happen. The good in them is that my kiddos get to see what a sincere apology looks like, and that it’s more easily done than they think.

I’m editing this after a phone call in which I listened to one of the best dads I know ask his kid 3 times not to put a block of cheese on the floor. Then kindly ask them not to put the smaller pieces on the floor either. Then calmly advise them that they were welcome to eat it off the floor, however they may wind up with things in their mouth that aren’t cheese. To which his oldest replied, “I got hair.”

This man has more patience as a parent than almost anyone I know – and it’s these moments of head-shaking and laughter that are, in my opinion, the best.

There’s no magic trick. There’s no perfect mommy/daddy/caretaker/custodian/etc. Every parent I know, even the ones who have kids I’d call ‘well-behaved’ , struggles. Why? Because people. That’s why. Little people, big people…people.

So read the tips and tricks – the ‘Asked and Answered’ one works wonders with mine – mostly. Sometimes time-out and losing the xBox is required. Never stop striving. Just don’t kick yourself (or your kids for crying out loud) in the process. No matter how much you might feel you both deserve it. Take a time out and give you both a cookie and breather instead. Then start again.

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And remember that no matter what you do – your kid will have a list of things they’d rather not repeat when they’re parents…. Just like you do. If we’ve done it well, maybe we can compare lists down the road as we send their kids back from Grandma’s house with a mouth full of chocolate and dirt in their hair.