How Does a Widowed and Divorced Single Mom Teach Her Kids About Love?

I always wondered how my kids would feel about their own love lives as they got older. Without a happy, healthy marriage model to watch and learn from, what would  be their takeaway? Will they want to get married some day? Are they jaded about love and relationships? Will they recognize and value real love when they see it and feel it?

And Valentine’s Day has always been a little bit like a litmus test in my own love life. After being widowed and divorced, I haven’t always loved love. And for a while, I kind of hated love. And then after I hated it, I felt cynical about it. I felt snarky and sarcastic. I felt just OVER the whole love thing. Been there. Done that. No thank you.

And then I felt nothing.

But this past year, I did it.

I opened the door.

open window

I let myself feel something.

And it turns out, feeling something was so much better than feeling  nothing.

And so this what my kids and I are learning, side by side:

Love is a good thing.

Love is good. Real love is good. It’s sweet and tender and kind and fun. It’s taken me a long time to feel this way again. To really believe it. To look at love, to think of love, to hear about love– and feel loving towards it. To want it. To accept it. To embrace it. To smile about it. To stop being afraid of it and pushing it away. Real, true love is a good thing. Love doesn’t stink. Love doesn’t suck. I had to consciously stop playing that record in my head. Relationships that feel like that are not love– they’re something– but they’re not love. Real love is a good thing.

hands

You know what love is by the way it feels.

Love feels good. When my kids see that I’m peaceful. That I’m happy. That I laugh and smile a lot in my own love relationship, they understand: Love feels good.

And that’s  important.

But they also learn what real love feels like through my relationship with them.

When we have deep conversations about important life stuff and they feel heard and understood, they’re learning what love feels like. When they’re having a rough day and I take time to comfort them and be “in it” with them, they’re learning what love feels like. When I’m   one of us is crabby and short and tired, and we backtrack to apologize and make things right between us, this is what love feels like.

When their feelings are validated and there’s space for them to be who they are and feel what they feel. When we share goofy stories and inside jokes and text funny things to each other. When they get “just because” gifts. When we have dinner together and everyone shares the “Happy and Crappy” from their day.  When they catch my eye during a school concert or sporting event and know I am cheering them on. When we sit in my bed together and quietly read, side by side. When everything goes right or wrong or both, and we are with each other through it all, they’re learning what love feels like.

This is what love feels like. All of it.

I’m no longer going to underestimate my ability to teach my kids about love. I’m no longer going to feel shame that somehow a widowed, divorced single mom can’t successfully teach her kids to fully know and recognize healthy love. I’m not going to feel insecure about it. I don’t buy it. I don’t believe it.

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But I do believe in love.

I do.

And if a widowed and divorced single mom can believe in love, her kids can too.

 

 

 

 

 

Everyone Wants to Be Seen and Heard

Last week I read a great article called  The One Question You Should Ask Your Child Tonight   .  And so naturally that night during dinner, I posed it to my girls:

How can I help you feel loved?

 

I had to smile at the certain predictability of my kids– I knew one would think this was a super meaningful discussion and she was happy to be having it while the other would start to act a little goofy and feel uncomfortable at the vulnerability of it all. I gave them a couple options to break the ice and from there it was smooth sailing.

The best part of asking a question like this?

The answers are deliciously surprising and simple.

I feel loved when you call me love names. When you rub my back. When you randomly text me. When you tell stories from when I was a baby. When we go to Starbucks together. When we laugh and joke around. When we get in your bed and read or talk. When you help me decide what to wear.

It turns out the things kids want most are the easiest, most inexpensive luxuries we already possess: Time and attention.

To be seen and heard.

And if you’re a parent, you’ve surely witnessed the acting out that comes from a child who hasn’t been seen or heard deeply enough. They find unhealthy ways to make it happen and force your attention on them.

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It’s a few day later now and in the wake of the tragedy in France, I’ve been dialoguing and debating the refugee crisis online with strangers. During one such conversation, there was one man in particular who was extremely insulting, aggressive and downright mean to everyone. He was so blatantly condescending it almost became comical.

But you begin to wonder about a person who acts so openly hostile to others. And though I was frustrated, it actually made me feel a little sad. Here we were, the lot of us, feeling a little raw and thoughtful and desperately trying to make sense of how to approach such tenuous world affairs–with so much at stake– and this man was being so childish.

And somehow, I thought of the article I had read and I started to wonder…What would make this man feel loved?

I sat wondering if perhaps his entire life he had not felt seen or heard and behaving this way was the only time people paid attention to him. (Because as is common in these situations, the attention unfortunately drifts from the matter at hand to the jackass attacking everyone.)

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Photo Cred: Ed Uthman, “Yes Music in the Amphitheater, 1970

It was a clear illustration to me of what happens when unheard, unseen little people grow up into unseen, unheard big people.

It’s ugly. And harsh. And destructive.

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And so I’m going to ask my kids from time to time what they need to feel loved. And I’m going to ask the older one too, even though he’s out of the house now. Because over the years, things didn’t always go so well around here and I’m not so sure everyone always felt seen and heard.

I’m telling you this because I believe it’s never too late. When you know better, you do better.  It takes courage and vulnerability to ask, but I’m betting the rewards are going to be worth the risk.

And I’m going to believe that it’s healing for parents of any age,

to ask children of any age

how to love them better.  

And I’m sending hope and light and goodness to the mean guy on the Internet.  I hope someone sees you and hears you today, sir. And that it softens your heart and changes your life.

 

 

 

A Reminder to All the Mamas Everywhere: You Gotta Keep Doing You.

mom in curlers

Lipstick and Mustache

Recently when my youngest daughter had a day off from school, I asked her what she wanted to do and gave her some options~

Me: “We could go to a pumpkin patch or cider mill. Go shopping? To lunch? Is there a movie you want to see?”

Her: “Maybe I’ll go to a movie with a friend.”

Me: Blank stare. Long pause. Hard swallow. Fake smile. “Great! Yes! Great! What a fun idea!”

Me, internally: WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT? Oh? Why, you ask? BECAUSE I THOUGHT MAYBE IT WOULD BE FUN TO DO SOMETHING TOGETHER. Jerk.

Man. I’m not gonna lie. My feelings were hurt big time. But she’s 13. And as much fun as we have together, (although apparently I’m having more fun than she is ) it’s totally normal and appropriate for her to want to spend time with her friends instead of her mom.

Whatever.

But it was a sharp reminder:

Mama needs to keep cultivating her own life.

empty nest

mommyish.com

I’ve got 3 kiddos, two of them technically legal adults already, and Little Miss Smarty Pants.

The nest is getting dangerously close to empty which inspires a guttural, emotional cry of~

They don’t really need me anymore!

(FIST PUMP!)

                      and

  They don’t really need me anymore…

             (TOTAL DESPAIR…)


Nothing is more thrilling than watching your kids grow and develop into these amazing, separate human beings, complete with their own lives and friends and interests.

But nothing is also more desperate and wrenching than realizing your days as Full-Time Mama are dwindling.

{For single moms, I think this can be an even greater challenge. We’re not rekindling a marriage or reconnecting with a partner. It’s us. We’ve got ourselves.And it’s equally exciting and terrifying.}

So Mamas everywhere–this is not new information–But here’s your reminder:

You gotta keep doing you.

There is more to life than the kids. There is more to you than motherhood. And if motherhood has swallowed up the entirety of who you are and completely suffocated who you used to be, please go back and find the girl you were before you had kids.

What did she love? What lit her up?

What made her eyes and heart glow with life and enthusiasm?

What will bring her sexy back??

If you can’t remember, find new things. Join or start a book club. Get back to the gym or find a walking buddy. Take a class. Learn something brand new. Follow any little spark of curiosity burning inside you.

Pink Lemonade Design

Pink Lemonade Design

But do these things NOW, while the birds are still in the nest.

 So when they DO leave (or you know, want to go to the movies with friends instead of you), you already have your jam. You know what you like. You have things to do. You have options.

But doing all of this isn’t just about you. It’s about your kids learning to see you as a whole person, with a whole personality— not as just a one-dimensional Mom character.

Kids should not grow up thinking they are the center of the universe.

Kids should grow up thinking there is a universe that pre-dates them and they are joining in and becoming a part of it.

When my girls watch me follow my own passions and do activities that have nothing to do with them, it frees them to keep pursuing their own interests and hobbies. It silently gives them permission to be themselves and do their own thing.

I never want my kids to feel responsible for my happiness. Their hearts cannot bear the burden of trying to fill something in me that was never meant to be filled by them (or any other person for that matter).

mom on beach

cafemom.com

I remind myself on the daily: Happiness is an inside job. 

My happiness is MY job.

And for now, their happiness is part of my job, too.

But it’s never too early for them to learn how to make THEIR own happiness

THEIR job, as well.


As it turned out, my daughter ended up spending her day off with me. We saw a movie, did a little shopping and a good time was had by all.

In my heart, my first choice will always be to spend time with my kids. But my second choice will always be me. So that when they come to me and say, “I’ve already got plans. Do you mind?”

I’ll smile and say from the bottom of my heart, “So do I.”

Open House for the First Child and The Last Child: There’s a Difference.

books and apple

Everyone knows there’s a big difference in how you handle the first born, the middle child, and the youngest. Recently, I went to 8th grade Open House and had to laugh at myself as I saw the difference so clearly.

It’s significant. And I started to make a mental list…

Open House Experience for First Born Child


I arrived early and brought a pen and notebook and took copious notes. On everything.

I introduced myself to every single teacher, wanting to make a good impression and create a strong home/school connection.

I worried about my kid’s credits and weighted grades and asked questions. (I know. I’m sorry. I was that parent.  Meanwhile, everyone else was just wanting to hurry up and get the hell home.)

I questioned personalities and teaching styles and wondered if they were a good fit for my child.

I stressed over the thought of detentions and policies and school protocol. High School seemed so complicated! And everyone looks so serious about everything!

When I got home, I grilled him: “Mrs. So and So said you should be reading 20 minutes every night. Are you? I don’t think I ever see you reading?! And did you know Math help is available every single day after school? No excuse for low grades! There’s always help! And by the way, join a club! There’s hundreds to choose from! Pick something. You’ve got to do something besides sports to be a well-rounded student! These things matter!”

chalk board


I was a lot. But it didn’t seem that way at the time! It seemed CRUCIAL to my kid’s success! I was on every committee and super involved and super– well, just super. I was a school district’s dream. Free work! Professional volunteer! Call me! I’ll do it!

Five or Six years later and a Middle Child in there as well, I was pretty entertained by my own transformation. Things are a bit more… relaxed, shall we say?

Open House Experience for Last Child


Crap! That’s tonight???

Quick glass of wine because… well… because.

Running a few minutes late, but show up just in time. I think I’ve got a pen here somewhere.

Listen to chorus teacher but feel very distracted by the woman next to me and her boyfriend. Discreetly jump on Twitter and tweet about the awkwardness of bringing your BF to Open House. It just seems excessive. But maybe that’s just me. #IDontThinkHeWantsToBeHere

Decide there is nothing here, in any of these classes, I need to take notes on. Who does that? I’m pretty sure all of this info is on the website.

Mr. Math Teacher is kind of hot. Just sayin’. I think she’ll do just fine in here.

Why does this same mother keep asking so many questions? Why doesn’t she just chat with the teacher afterward? Schedule a conference, Lady. Nobody cares about your kid’s credits but you.

This computer teacher has now talked for fifteen solid minutes about the importance of typing and building a strong foundation with the Home Row keys. Honestly, I just had a broken wrist and collarbone and still managed to “type”. Pretty sure the kids will fight through it.

Of course when I got home, my child wanted to know all about it.

“It was great! I loved your teachers–especially Math. This is going to be your best year yet!”

pencils

And I believe it–I love my kid’s school. I love teachers. And I mean no disrespect. Also, I forgot to join the PTO, but that was a complete oversight. It’s just that with a little more parenting under my belt, I value a more balanced perspective this time around.

Rookie parents: It all works out somehow. Everything’s going to be okay. Even when it seems like it won’t be, it will. Of course be informed. Of course be involved– but cut yourself some slack, too. And as you already know, the ride goes light years faster than you think, so try to enjoy it while you’re on it.


And DJ, sorry bud. I was trying to be Super Everything, which also included Super Annoying.

A Message to My Kids about Adulting

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We talk a lot about Adulting in our house. And by we, I mean the kids and I. Yes, that’s right. The kids and I give each other a lot of high fives and butt smacks and ‘Atta Girls for Adulting.

Adulting: Forcing yourself to do crap you don’t really want to do because you’d rather do something else or you’re afraid you don’t know how to do it.

As my kids have gotten older, it seems almost daily they’re faced with new and sometimes challenging situations, and I keep hearing myself coach them the same way I coach myself through this whole Adulting thing.

It’s not that I’m BETTER at Grown Up Tasks or that I LIKE doing them. It’s just that one day you realize, if you don’t do this stuff, then who will? There’s a cost to not having your shit together. And it can be pretty expensive. (Like $70 in overdue library fines expensive. Because that’s the type of badassery we commit around here.)

adulting pic3


I vividly remember being in high school and lying on that luxurious red shag carpet and worrying about how to be an adult. (Can you even imagine? RED SHAG. It went with the tulip wallpaper. Bless.) In my neon green Champion sweatshirt and oversized scrunched down socks, I wondered, ‘How does everyone do this? Buy a house and a car and pay bills and all of this scary stuff. How do they know how to do it? It seems like a lot. Will I be able to? Will I be okay? What if I’m not good at it?’ But somehow, I’m doing it!

So this is what I want my kids to remember about Adulting:

None of us knows exactly what we’re doing.

And the way through Adulting never really changes:

  • Ask yourself what you already know about the situation
  • Ask questions or advice of the people around you
  • Ask for help

I used to be embarrassed to ask for help. But now I have absolutely no problem saying to someone, “You know what? This is not in my wheelhouse, so I don’t really understand it. Can you explain it again? And again? Okay, one more time…”

It seems like after I do something I’ve been putting off or that I wasn’t sure about, I almost always have the same reaction: It really wasn’t so hard after all and I’m not sure why I was scared to do it.

And the best part of Adulting is once you DO get your stuff done, you can sleep better at night. You can stop obsessing over the phone call you haven’t made yet. The bill you haven’t paid. The errand you were supposed to run last week. You can relax and enjoy yourself, guilt free.  Unless you have to work. And in that case, get your butt out the door, because let’s face it, work is the cornerstone of Adulting.

If you’re still feeling stuck though, there’s just one other invaluable skill necessary for successful Adulting: Googling. No shame in my game, y’all.

What thing in your life says, “Hey Look! I’m Adulting!” like no other? I’d love to hear it!

adulting

Cupcakes and Dance Parties Just for Showing Up

I recently caught up with one of my oldest and dearest friends and not surprisingly, we spent a good deal of time talking about our kids. She is an amazing mom, and it’s no surprise that her kids are all doing super amazing things. No. Seriously. SUPER amazing.  As the conversation continued, I could feel myself starting to get an icky feeling inside. I was starting to compare myself to her. And as soon as we wrapped things up and I got in my car, the tears were caught in my throat.

Right away, Logic told me, “This is ridiculous. You are ridiculous. You have had COMPLETELY different lives and paths. There is NO WAY you can possibly start doing this to yourself.”

Logic is an insensitive A-hole. Logic clearly did not just hear everything I heard.

Because my heart wasn’t having it. My heart was having a teeny tiny meltdown. If there’s one thing a mom really wants to know, it’s that she’s doing a good job. And in that moment, I was starting to doubt myself.

If you’ve been around here any length of time then you already know some of my blog topics repeat themselves. And you also know they repeat themselves because apparently it takes me a long time to learn some of life’s lessons. Possibly longer than the Average Bear. We don’t know why this is. And we don’t exactly know who the hell this Average Bear is, except that my dad has been comparing he and I my entire life and it would seem that I always come out ahead.

And so I am still learning about my worth. As a woman and as a mom. And how I measure that worth. And who else I allow to measure that worth. Because not everybody should be allowed to.

Fast forward a few weeks to today…

It’s been a really positive, really satisfying Mama Week here. One kid has an article in today’s Buffalo News. Again. She went to a Buffalo Bandit’s game and made all of the arrangements ahead of time to get behind-the-scenes access to players and personnel. She rocked it.

Another kid has been going to school softball tryouts all week and just found out she made the team. We LOVE all things baseball in this family– and now softball, too– so it’s a big deal.

College kid is alive and well. And I know this because when I texted him and asked if he is Alive and Well (also known as the A & W Text),  he responded “YES”. He’s going to class and playing baseball and working and paying his bills. And happy. Bless his heart. Seriously.

Huge happy mama sigh of relief and satisfaction.

But the thought occurred to me, as I was lying awake at 3:30 a.m. this morning, what if none of these things were true?

What if there WASN’T an article in today’s paper? Either because it didn’t meet the publication standards, or because my kid never followed through on what she needed to do to make it happen? What would that mean?

What if my other kid didn’t make the team? What if she just wasn’t good enough? What then?

And what if College kid WASN’T going to class and taking care of business?

What would all of that mean for me as a mom? For my self-worth? For my Motherhood Job Review?

Sometimes people in our world can be pretty harsh critics of our parenting choices, but I’m not sure anyone is harder on us than ourselves. And I think almost DAILY, we’re tempted to compare ourselves and/or our kids to other parents and kids, just to see if we’re doing this whole thing semi-decently.

And so as I lay there this morning, I knew I needed to remind myself: If none of these things had happened, I am still doing a good job. If none of these things EVER happen again, I am still showing up and doing a good job. And so are my kids.

As exciting as these accomplishments are. As proud as they make me, I want to keep emphasizing who we are becoming over what we are doing and achieving. I want to keep learning and teaching and modeling healthy relationships. Kindness. Love. Acceptance. Tolerance. Generosity of spirit. Goodness and grace.

If all we ever do is keep showing up and being brave, even when it’s hard and scary and we’re not sure how the whole thing is going to turn out, you better believe we will still keep celebrating with cupcakes and dance parties.

And if it turns out somebody gets their name in the paper or we hit a few home runs along the way, that will be pretty cool, too.

Effing the Whole Thing Up and Still Being Awesome

Elliott Erwitt New Rochell, NY, 1955 (busy mom)

Some girlfriends and I were sitting around the dining room table, drinks and appetizers scattered between us, ruminating as usual over love, life and relationships. And despite it being Girls’ Night, and despite our best efforts, the conversation inevitably steered itself toward our children. Toward motherhood. Toward parenting. To our fears and failures. Our triumphs and trials. Our daily insecurities of, as I like to say, “Effing the whole thing up.”

The conversation wore on and a common thread remained: Each one of us is hard at work trying to keep our kids from pain. We’re all trying desperately to keep our kids from screwing up. From making a mess. From making the same mistakes we did.

It’s scary. And tiring.

But more than that?

It’s impossible.

In her new book, Carry On, Warrior, Author, Blogger and Speaker Glennon Doyle Melton  (on whom I have an enormous girl and writing crush) says this:

My most important parenting job is that I teach my children how to deal with being human. Because most likely, that’s where they’re headed. No matter what I do, they’re headed toward being messed-up humans faster than three brakeless railroad cars.

There is really only one way to deal gracefully with being human and that is this: Forgive yourself. 

Oh. I love this. I want to frame this in my kitchen and stitch in on my pillowcase so that every time I’m tempted to think I could possibly ever possess enough power and persuasion to keep my kids from making mistakes and screwing up their lives, I pause. I pause to remind myself that while I’m responsible for healthy coaching and boundaries and discipline, there are, in fact, limits to my reach. As well there should be. We’re separate from our kids in the best of ways. It’s how we belong to ourselves and not our parents. It’s how we learn our own truth and feel our own feelings. Think our own thoughts. And really, become our own person. Big, messy mistakes and all.

And isn’t the struggle how we all learn to become?

[Side note~ I vividly remember being about 17 years old and actually shouting at my mom, “LET ME MAKE MY OWN MISTAKES AND LEARN FROM THEM!” Whew. Let me just say, make my own mistakes I did. Repeatedly. I did a very, very fine job making the mistakes I so brazenly declared I NEEDED TO MAKE. Jury’s still out on the whole “learning from them” part. Some things only become a WTF in hindsight.]

But as difficult as parenting can be, this I feel like I can do.

I can teach my kids to be human and to forgive themselves.

Every day. All the time. For the rest of forever.  And I’m learning it myself right now so that I can model it for them: Learning to be totally okay with the perfectly imperfectness of life.  Accepting that it’s messy. That I’m not always sure of myself, and I don’t always have it all together. And that’s okay. I’m carrying on anyway. And forgiving myself a thousand times a day because I’m human. Kids will learn to be gentle and gracious and compassionate to themselves when they watch how it’s done and then feel it extended to them.

Glennon goes on to say, “We have to forgive ourselves…and then oh my goodness…find ourselves sort of awesome, actually, considering the freaking circumstances.”

And so there it is. Considering the freaking circumstances, whether you got where you are today by your own fault or someone else’s, or just because life can be so damn hard, forgive yourself. You are exceptional at being human and even if you’re effing the whole thing up, you’re still actually sort of awesome. Forgive yourself and start all over again tomorrow.

frankl quote