Mothering Bean: Part Eternal

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Right now, this beautiful child is sitting next to me, watching Bill Nye, while we wait for his home-study instructor so we can begin the journey to finish 5th grade from the safety and security of our home. Home-schooling has never been something I felt called to; it’s only something we’re embarking on because we’ve come to the end of our rope with a mismatched and poorly suited 5th grade year. There truly was no other option.

I’m pro-level with Special Ed;  I’ve done M.Ed level work, and I’ve got my own kid in-house.  I’ve been doing IEPs for nine years, and we’ve had predominantly stellar experiences. Bean has had wonderful teachers, tremendous therapists, deeply committed members of his team, over two states, and five schools. In the three years we’ve been in the DC area, he’s changed schools three times because of re-districting. I have moved once. He’s the worst possible child for that to have happened to, but I was powerless to stop district gerrymandering. He’s also gone from having the very best academic and social year of his life- a year where he excelled at every subject, made friends, loved his teachers and his school, and where his IEP team praised him for making such great leaps and being such a wonderful kid. In one year, he went from that, to our deciding, after 8 months of almost daily calls from the school, to pull him and spend the rest of the time before 6th grade rebuilding the damage done to him by his current school.

He’s still the same happy, quirky kid here at home. But I now have a concrete example of an educational team where an IEP can be followed to the letter, but where there can be zero investment in the child. I knew, the day I first walked into his classroom, that it wasn’t going to work. His assigned teacher may be a wonderful teacher for other kids, but for this particular child, she was wrong. I regret tremendously not asking to have him switched right then. I talked myself out of it. It was a mistake.

I try and teach my children responsibility and I don’t automatically assume my child is without fault. I wait, I weight things out. I talk to my kids, and to their teachers. The importance of the individual teacher cannot be overstated. Many kids can navigate many teachers, and there won’t be blips. Some kids do phenomenally with some teachers, and then some kids are catastrophically failed by some teachers. This was one of those times. At every chance, Bean was read and interpreted as a problem. When someone sees you as a problem, you start to believe you are a problem.

When you child comes home from school almost every day and cries, something is wrong. When on Sunday evenings, he realizes school is the next morning, and he bursts into tears yet again, something is wrong. When the teacher, who is armed with an IEP an inch thick and a full-time aid in the classroom, calls me 4-7 times a week, something is wrong. Last week, she called me three times in one day. Something is very wrong.

I am also a fervent defender of my kids, and when I walk into the district offices and ask for a meeting, it’s because I’ve been up all night reading the legal briefs and the actual legislation for IDEA (Individuals with Disability Education Act). I will be able to cite case law, and point out where federal (not state, not local, not school district… Federal) law has been violated, and I will ask if we should be recording this meeting.

Basically, don’t mess with me.

So when I walk into the district offices and ask for a meeting with the head of Special Education Services, I get one. And while I’m really glad that my reputation allows me to get that meeting, and my phone calls afterwards are taken, I am really *really* angry that a school district has to be coerced into following law they should be following for every. single. child. What about the mother who doesn’t speak English well, but whose child qualifies for services he’s not getting? What about the single mom working two jobs who simply cannot take off for yet another meeting? (Jon has used almost a week of his vacation because of IEP’s this year.) What about the mother who lacks the education to walk in armed with legal citations and the ability to advocate? The gulf between the privileged and the disadvantaged widens, and I am furious on their behalf. It’s really not enough that I, in a position of very real privilege, can advocate for my child. It should not be this hard.

FAPE (Free Access to Public Education) is something to which every single child in America is entitled. It’s not only for the kids in good neighborhoods, or whose mothers know how to work the system. It’s not only for the parents who can take time off to attend another meeting because the school is failing to meet the standards set out in an IEP. Every child. Every time. Every school.

So last week, after a phone meeting with the head of Special Ed for the school district, we made the very hard decision to throw in the towel and homeschool Bean for the rest of the year. He will still receive instructional support from the district. A (new) teacher will come to our home for 420 minutes a week. He will still receive all his special ed services, including therapy and counseling, here at our home. He will still receive music instruction, and be able to attend activities with his classmates, but he will not ever enter that classroom again.

If any of you are pro-level home-schoolers, I’d love and welcome some suggestions and feedback. As far as I’ve gotten is asking him to write me a list of five things he really wants to learn about. He wants to know how birds build their nests, how centrifugal force works on wheels, how light bulbs work, why humans taste things as good or bad, how clocks work.

And it’s straight-up privilege that I can do this to make sure he gets what he needs. It should never come to this.

Get on the Horse, Slay the Dragon

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This crew decided that the last girl had to finally learn to ride a bike. Her grandma got her one last year for her birthday, but there really aren’t enough swears to tell you how badly that experiment went. It was so bad, she gave her bike to Bean and let him paint it teal green, while she swore she would get a “large tricycle” like her great-grandma, which I made the mistake of telling her existed.

We tried. We tried everything possible. We took turns. When I was exhausted and frustrated, Jon took over. Then when he was pulling his hair out and she was crying in the middle of the street, Jeffrey and Bean took over. Kelsey gave her pep talks, we spend time on the grass, with training wheels, with no pedals, with no pedals with training wheels. We went to the church parking lot, we went down hills, we went up hills, we tried dirt, sand, sidewalks, and the lawn. Nada.

So for a year, we gave up.

As spring sprung, Jon looked at me and said. “This is it.” He rummaged through the girls’ closet and came up with Kelsey’s roller-blading elbow and kneepads, and told Abby to meet him out front. The other kids gathered on the porch, in eager anticipation of the show sure to follow. Previously, Abby had stood in the street wailing. She had thrown herself to the ground. She had used all her significant powers of arguing to convince us that she simply was not made to ride a bicycle, and we should just give up. The problem was, she was believing her own PR. The other kids would take off on their bikes, and she would sit on the porch, chin on hands, staring morosely down the street.

It was time. This was the rock meeting the mountain.

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We explained to her that this was it. We knew she could ride her bike, and we had to show her that she could. We were no longer taking no for an answer. She was going to get on her bike, and that was all there was to it. It was not a discussion, it was not an argument. No, we weren’t going to listen to all the reasons she couldn’t do it again. No. Get on the bike.

The first day, we spent the entire evening just getting on the bike in the front yard.

On day two, we drove to the track. The older kids swarmed the neighborhood and met us at the track, while Jon and I wheeled Abby and her bike to the nice, smooth, even, level oval. She hadn’t stopped arguing yet.

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I’m not a push-it type mom. I seldom “make” my kids do things. I encourage. I make room for them. I let them express themselves. I don’t micromanage. But this time I had the very strong impression there was conquering that desperately needed to happen. She had let this build up so long she honestly believed she could not do this thing. But we knew she could. We could see her balancing before she would literally fling herself to the ground in our yard, wailing “See!” It was almost comical. She was self-sabotaging, and we would hide our muffled laughs in the crooks of our arms as she dramatically tried to illustrate how incompetent she was.

Time to slay some dragons.

At the track, we set her bike up, strapped on her pads, and told her to get on. She told us no. She couldn’t do it and she wouldn’t. For the first time in my parenting life, I stopped being persuasive. I stopped listening. I bent down, told her to get on the bike.

I can’t.

Get on the bike.

I can’t.

Get on the bike now.

I can’t. (wailing)

Get on the bike. (dispassionately)

I CAN’T!

Get on the bike. (quietly)

I can’t. I won’t!

We’re not leaving here until you get on that bike and ride it. It can take all day. It can take tomorrow. It doesn’t matter. We’re not leaving. You can do this, and we know it, and you need to know it.

And on and on and on it went. And then it went on some more.

We simply were not moving. We didn’t negotiate, we didn’t budge. She tried everything. The other kids rode round and round the track, shouting encouragement, cheering her on, while she stood there.

She finally got on the bike, and literally within moments, she was riding alone.

It took a year of back and forth, and about 60 seconds of actual riding. She had this little demon who had told her she couldn’t do something, and we had to excise that idea from her. We couldn’t give it an inch. I had tried “nice” for a year. It finally took us building a wall and saying “This far, and no further.”

Which, of course, isn’t really about learning to ride a bike at all. Since that day, we haven’t been able to keep her off her bike. She comes home from school and wants to go for a ride. She wants to ride all weekend. She goes out with siblings, and she goes out by herself. She rides up hills and down hills and over bumps and off-road. She is suddenly fearless. I see the resolve in her eyes- she needed to win that battle, and she won by losing the battle with us.

My finest mothering moment? No way to tell. I know how it looks, but I honestly believe this was what this child needed in this moment. Parenting is hard. We’ll know if I was right nor wrong when she someday writes her book if there is a chapter titled “The Childhood Trauma: Why My Parents Suck” Until then…

Slingshot Around the Sun

Abby turned nine. Nine times round the sun, nine years in the world and in our lives.

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This is my child who leaves me wondering if I’m cut out to be her mother. This is the child who brings me to tears and who’s light is at once both beams of intensity and as diffuse and gentle as rays of sun through spring blossoms. This child knows who she is, and carries herself with a noticeable dignity beyond her years. It’s perplexing, and charming, and frustrating, and baffling and enchanting to be her mother. This is the child I worry most about failing.

Are these things normal for mothers and daughters? I know my own relationship with my mother is far, far more fraught than her relationship with my brothers. I know my mom didn’t innately understand me- she tried, but I was probably as perplexing to her as Abigail sometimes is to me. I remember her sometimes looking at me with a strange mix of amusement, bafflement and frustration- and I catch myself sometimes doing the same thing. It’s jarring, feeling inhabited by memory- only in this case, it’s a posture, a shine in the eye, the set of a brow. I understand my mother a little better because of my daughter. Maybe I can catch a little reflection off that understanding and help illuminate the way forward.

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For her birthday, she wanted a geologic birthday cake with the layers of the soil visible, and ribs for dinner. She wanted her ears pierced, and she wanted rock mining tools. Mission accomplished, on all fronts.

Kelsey and I took her out in the morning to get her ears pierced, and we spent the rest of the day riding bikes, smoking ribs, and having a mercifully lazy afternoon. After dinner, when the bones were cleared away, the cake was demolished, and the presents were torn open, the rest of us gathered to watch a movie. But where was Abby?

Wandering into the dining room, I found her:

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Using her new jewelers loupe, her new geology field notebook, and a pick, she was quietly chipping off tiny slivers of amethyst to examine and write field notes. She had her rock-collection bags out, and was carefully labeling and dating her samples. I sat with her a bit, watching her concentrate. I marvel at her focus, at her consistent joy in the natural world. It’s innate, she was born this way, I have felt so strongly that my job is to give her what she needs, then get out of her way. This is who she is. I gently rub her back and wander back into the family room.

A few minutes later, she shoves aside the sliding door, and purposely heads outside into the dark. It’s pouring rain, and she’s holding her pickax and her brother’s Doctor Horrible goggles. She doesn’t even glance at the movie. Jon and I look at each other, smile and shrug.

Soon, we hear a rhythmic, ringing-bright sound from the front of the house. She is on the front walkway, with a large piece of rock she found in the backyard. She looks up at me, standing in the pouring rain, her face radiant in the porch light, hood up, hair soaked, goggles on her face, a smile to light up the night. “Mom! I thought this was granite, but I think it might be potassium feldspar!!” And she goes back to pounding the rock, trying to chip off a piece she can examine.

I sat on the steps just inside the front door, gazing out onto the illuminated darkness. I don’t think I have ever seen her so saturated in happiness, so utterly in her element and overflowing with joy. She wasn’t even marginally aware of the darkness, or the rain, or her siblings inside giggling at potty jokes in Antarctica.

More than ever, I am sure that my job is to get her what she needs, and to get out of her way. This is how to best love her. Just look at that face…

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The Foundations of the World

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“We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe we are gifted for something, and this thing must be attained.” -Marie Curie

The bookstore is chaotic with five kids. It’s also one of their favorite places to go and spend an afternoon or an evening, and they will happily fan out and disappear into their preferred stacks. This particular store is a family favorite, with tall, seemingly endless rows, and prices that make a $2 book allowance stretch far.

As always, Bean is the wildcard, and sometimes he cannot resist racing the little metal basket-carts up and down the rows. If the store is nearly empty, I turn a blind eye. Last night, he was on the prowl for a particular book, which always makes the trip better. Unless, of course, you are eleven, and the author you are looking for is named “Smith” and that’s all you know. But that’s not what this is about.

This is about the science and biology section. No matter where the four other kids scatter to— and I can usually tell by the giggles and goofing off— this is where Abigail will be. Last night, her sister came to me with an entirely appropriate angsty teen novel, while Abby held out a hardback, college textbook simply labeled “BIOLOGY”. I smiled. I love them both so much.

Abby and I flipped the gigantic book open, while Kelsey skipped off to find her brothers. The first page was about meiosis, and there were microscopic photographs of chromosomes. She was interested, but it was really heavy reading for an 8 year-old. Gently, I suggested she head back to her favorite aisle and see what else she could find. The Biology book stayed in my basket, on reserve, and she, too, skipped off.

As I wandered around looking for Bean, I glanced to my left. There stood this beautiful little girl, deep in concentration over another science text, oblivious to the noise and surroundings, lost in her own world. I marvel at her- her focus, her sense of who she is already, her calm certainty and this indescribable dignity she has always possessed, which I can recognize, but which I utterly lack— or certainly did at 8 years old.

It was just a moment in time. I snapped the picture and resumed my interminable and constant search for Bean.

I found him near the front, looking at comic books, and I sat down to look through the basket at everyone’s choices. Abby found me, but she was empty-handed. Sitting down next to me, she flipped through the Biology book, “Mom, I found a book by  Charles Darwin. Is that maybe a book I should get?”

I looked up, “Origin of the Species?”

She looked surprised. “Yes! How did you know? Can I get it? Calpurnia Tate has it.”

I smiled. How did I know? We proceeded to have a quiet conversation about Charles Darwin, and his importance to science. We talked about natural selection, and how Darwin was the first scientist to put forth his observations and theories about evolution. We talked about the Galapagos Islands, and what happens when species have little or no interaction with outside influences, and how that helped form his theories. She nodded seriously, and picked up the Biology book, “I think I need to get the Charles Darwin book. I’ll put this one back.” And she headed off down the long, book-filled aisle.

A young man who was standing nearby walked over, a sheepish smile on his face. “Excuse me…can I just say how awesome that was? I’m sorry, I couldn’t help overhearing… but that was just… wow. I wish my mom had been like that. I just had to say something.”

I thanked him, told him it was all her, and I deserved none of the credit. He shook his head and smiled, and he wished us a good night. Abby ran back up, thrilled that she’d found a very pretty, hardback copy of Darwin, with a pale blue cover and red and navy binding with gold lettering. It was over her budget, and she was concerned… My dear child, I thought, it is my privilege to buy this for you, and with great joy.

She took it to school this morning for show and tell.

Shiny Happy No Thanks

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There’s this weird phenomena I’ve observed. It’s unclear where its nexus lies— It may be influenced by the rise of the Pinterest quote culture, or the focus on and elevation of lifestyle blogs. Are wall-quotes in living-areas a symptom or a cause? I’m not sure. What I see in my own community, on social media, and online in general, is an elevation of happiness being considered a virtue, a morally superior position. Being happy is great, of course, but the converse side of expecting happiness (or cheerfulness) as a marker of faith is that those who are somehow not “happy” or who struggle in any way, are somehow perilously close to morally failing.

What a horrible expectation to place on anyone walking through the normal emotions that come with the trials of a lived life.

As Mormons, we’re particularly guilty. We talk of the Gospel as though it should be a magic band-aid that will insulate us from human reality. It’s not. Just because I have faith in God and in Jesus doesn’t somehow make it incumbent on me to be “too strong for fear” or “too happy to permit the presence of trouble.” I call BS. Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes things are scary. Sometimes trouble finds us, and it sucks. The idea that I (or anyone) is somehow responsible and should exercise control over the human condition is actually contra to Gospel principles.

This is evident in how Mormons treat death and funerals. It may be my convert sensibilities, but turning a funeral into a missionary experience leaves little room for real grief or for the bereaved to openly and honestly experience their loss with the support of their community. Naked, raw grief gets pushed to the side, while we congratulate ourselves on our beliefs. Instead of talking of our missed loved-one, we talk of the plan of happiness, of the plan of salvation, of how great it is that the departed is in reunion with their family. While that may be true, there is also a living family still present; a family who is missing and aching for that same loved one, and their feelings should also be honored and given space. What a burden we place on the surviving family when we expect a focus on happiness in the face of tremendous and sometimes terrible loss.

I see similar inertia in others going through hard times- be it divorce, unemployment, mental health challenges, wayward children, or anything you can dream up that somehow doesn’t fit the ideal. The idea that we must always face towards “happiness” creates little space for people to be human. I see women who are deeply hurt, but who lack the vocabulary to even admit it. I see people who are afraid of feeling anger, people who believe the outward appearance must always be cheerful, and who are then swallowed by shame and fear that their facade will crack. This isn’t healthy, and frankly, is a lived denial of the salvic power of the atonement.

Grief is real. Sadness is real. Depression, anger, sorrow, frustration and weariness are all real. We are not moral failures if we feel these things. We needn’t plaster over our feelings with peel-off wall quotes and pretend everything is awesome. When you set a shiny-happy example of what your life is like to your friends and family, where are they to turn when their own life doesn’t match up with you shiny-face? How can they know that you also struggle, that you also grieve and are angry sometimes? Pretending and presenting further alienates us from one another. Pretending has never, ever, built a bridge to another person.

I’m not suggesting we wallow in our sorrows, or carry them around held high- I’m suggesting a healthy balance is… healthy. A person exiting a painful (they all are) divorce shouldn’t be expected to only praise their ex-spouse. A person who lost someone to a violent cancer or who is left to raise young children alone should not have to experience their loss as a missionary moment. Let people be angry, sad, grieve, mourn, and be with them, hold space for them, as they move through the real emotions of a lived life. When we shove feelings we deem less favorite down, they can germinate in the dark, and can grow and cripple us. If we allow our feelings room to be, to run their course, their energy is then dissipated and carried by our support structures and our own processes, and they become faded memories.

We also model for our friends and family what it looks like to actually walk in faith. Walking in faith through hard things, while acknowledging they’re hard, is beautiful. There is a vulnerability in taking off the mask of positivity, and allowing yourself to feel what you feel. The irony is, God knows anyway. We’re only fooling ourselves and each other.

Next time you’re tempted to attach morality to a feeling, or to shove away part of yourself,  take a moment to stop. Ask if this is healthy, or if perhaps, it might be better to model a more fully fleshed-out version of what it means to be alive. Life is not always pretty, nor fit for the cover page of a lifestyle blog. And that’s okay. As a matter of fact, that’s what makes it beautiful. (originally published for By Common Consent)

Divorce: Being a Grown-Up

I’m just going to republish this again. Only this time, imagine it’s IN ALL CAPS, and I am yelling it from the rooftops, okay? Good then? Good.

Divorce sucks. The unraveling and separating of lives is painful and messy, no matter how mature or well-intentioned the parties. My own divorce experience is now five-plus years in the rearview mirror, but I have friends at various stages in the process right now; it’s got me thinking on what I wish I could share with people in the midst.

Last year, I wrote an essay about my ex-husband, with his permission, at BCC. Reading it will give some context and gravity to my experience, and to what I took away from the process, not just as a woman and a mother, but as a Latter-day Saint.

While divorce is devastating for anyone, as Mormons we have the added pressure of what we were taught to believe was forever. Our marriages, we learn from Sunbeams on up, from our parents’ knees for Family Night, and in every YM and YW lesson, are for Eternity. That pressure, and platitudes about righteousness and presumed sin, are an extra layer and burden to a Latter-day Saint marriage that fails. It also sets up a powerful social impetus to cast blame, and to look for pat answers to what are always complicated questions. The answers to those questions are not easy, and not found in a platitude. When we insist on there being a Sinner and a Victim, when we wage wars of social collateral and gossip, when we assign blame instead of looking at our own hearts, when we pick sides and cast dispersions, we fail not only as Latter-day Saints and Christians, but as human beings.

In my own divorce, it would have been seductively simple to assign blame entirely at my ex-husband’s feet. The narrative is acceptable— even encouraged, sadly— and I could easily wrap the mantle of “Wronged One” around my shoulders. Only it would be a cop out. It would be dishonest, and it would stunt any hope I had to grow from what was the single most painful experience of my life. I knew that I could not shortchange myself or my kids that way. I resolved to learn, and to do as I believed my faith demanded of me- to show compassion and love.

I spent nearly 20 years with my ex-husband. We met when I was barely more than a girl, and divorced when I was on the dark side of my 30′s and holding three children afloat. He was my friend before he was my husband, and that friendship and genuine respect for his humanity is what I hold now. With that in mind, here is what I learned, and what I wish I could share with my friends and with anyone going through a divorce…

Grieve. Acknowledge the loss of something that once held great promise and hope. The temptation to burry feelings, to mask sorrow with anger and rage is strong- it’s easier to be mad than it is to hurt. Give yourself permission to feel sorrow, and allow it to roll over you. Like the waves of the ocean, it won’t be forever, and what feels like overwhelming crushing weight will crash around you, and then it will ebb. It will probably happen over and over, but the more you allow the process to take place, the more certain you will be of your ability to withstand the pain, and not shrink from it, and the more confident and sure you will be of the flux and flow being part of the healing.

Be Honest. Taking a long hard look at ourselves can be frightening. In a divorce, no matter how it may seem at one point or another, the truth is, it took two people. A relationship is built on thousands of days, and millions of moments, where each partner is present, and contributes. It’s a dangerous fallacy to wrap oneself as a victim and it disallows the opportunity to grow and learn. The lessons we need in life will repeat until we understand, and figuring out my own character flaws and acknowledging them and the part they played in my divorce was integral to any hope for a healthy future relationship. Pride, the need for control and the desire to be right in a marriage can be just as corrosive as any addiction.

Rise Above Pettiness and Cruelty. No one knows where to strike to inflict the most harm like a spouse. If you’re being honest with yourself, you will be able to see where you might be contributing to a poisonous environment- it’s possible to tell yourself that you are justified, because s/he did this or that, but the truth is, you’re the one you have to live with. There is more than enough hurt in the separating without either partner manufacturing more. This isn’t junior high, and gathering folks for “your side” is petty and cruel. If you need people to be unkind to your ex in order to feel good about yourself, about your social position or about your friends, that says more about your character than you’re probably aware. And it’s not flattering. Be a grown up.

Don’t be Afraid. Life changes. Yes, change can be really hard- especially if you didn’t want it. But if you’re open to learning about yourself, there are things that might be in store for you that you never imagined. The shape and matrix of your life is changing, but who you are still belongs to you. This is part of why not allowing bitterness and cruelty to define you is so important. When you are no longer part of a pair, you have the sudden ability to figure out again who you want to be, what matters to you. That’s a powerful choice, and one that can take you in directions you hadn’t previously imagined. Not being afraid requires you to dust yourself off and find your place on the horizon.

Be Kind to Yourself. It takes time to heal- don’t walk faster than you are able. Some days, the best you can do is just make it through. Each step you take toward healing is a success. Have good friends who you can confide in, and who help you deal with your emotions in a healthy way- or who can occasionally just let you vent. Take time for yourself. Use the time your kids are with the other parent to do small things you may have neglected when you had less time alone.

Blame is a Waste of Time. Period. If you’re devoting time and energy to blame-placing, you are not healing and you are not moving forward. Blame is toxic, and it turns one into a victim. It’s also a narcotic, and is very seductive— it’s a hard pit to avoid, but avoiding it is necessary. You are responsible for you, and the only actions that are under your control are yours. Blame is giving yourself away. Own up to what you can about your own role, and allow other people to do that in their own time and their own way. Avoiding blame allows you to respect yourself and allows other people the room to do the same.
That brings me to children.

I have a powerful cadre of feelings about children in a divorce.

Bite Your Tongue This seems like a no-brainer, but so many people screw this one up. No matter how much you want to, no matter how justified you might feel, no matter how strong the urge- never. ever. speak ill of your children’s other parent. I mean it. NEVER. Whether you like it or not, the children are half of your ex. They know it. When you malign the other parent, you are maligning half of your children. If you have to literally chomp on your tongue, do it. If the best you can do is to say nothing, then do that. You needn’t offer praise if you feel none is deserved, but let your silence be your comment. Passive-aggressive comments are transparent to kids, especially teenagers. You hurt them, and you make yourself look petty and small. No matter how you feel, the children will love their other parent, and honestly, they should. Fracturing them, placing blame, teaching them to harbor anger is damaging and unfitting a mature parent.

Let Your Children Be Children If you need your children “on your side”, you need to sit down and have a long, hard look at yourself. Allowing children room to continue to have a loving relationship with both parents is one of the best things you can do during a divorce. If you need to vent about what s/he did, do so to a private confident, out of hearing of the children. Give the kids room to express themselves without having to be careful about hurting your feelings- children are not equipped to be the emotional support of their parents during a divorce, but they can and do feel this responsibility if parents are behaving immaturely. It’s the job of the parent to be the parent. Use your support structure, not your kids.

Divorce is Survivable I’m in the camp of belief that divorce doesn’t have to be crippling to children. Yes, you read that right. If we give our children the ability to write their own narrative, to express themselves, give them the freedom to continue to love both parents without emotional guilt or manipulation, and the support they need, they can grow up happy and healthy, even if the ideal family didn’t work. There are truly times where divorce is a healthier option than staying married.

Encourage Interaction Make it easy for your children to interact with their other parent. Provide guilt-free ways for your kids to speak of, interact with, and include their other parent in their daily lives Do not eavesdrop or attempt to micromanage the children’s time with their other parent. Don’t mope or let the children see resentment when they enjoy their other parent. You are the adult, and your happiness and emotional well-being is not (and should NEVER be) the responsibility of your children.

Finally, I would add:

It will get better. This will not always be a gaping wound. Time will move forward, and if you keep the bitterness from your heart, you will heal, and you will be happy again.

ALL CAPS. YELLING.

A New Leaf

This week our eldest daughter celebrated a birthday. (I just typed that simple sentence several times. Figuring out how to honor step-kids is fraught; I don’t always want to differentiate them from the children I birthed myself, but I also don’t want to take anything from the mother who did birth them. Jon’s daughter is my daughter, but she is also not my daughter. Jon thinks simply calling them all our children is solid ground. But I’m ever aware these kids all— including my three— are loved by three parents. Not easy ground if you’re trying to be mindful of the feelings of others.)

Anyway. Birthday. Daughter. Wonderful, kind, thoughtful, bright, adorable daughter:

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We had a celebration at our house the day before her actual birthday. She’s a devoted user of Pinterest, and sends me pins constantly of things she loves, so it’s really easy to be on top of her happiness. This cake was one such attempt; while it’s probably not as perfect at the pin she sent me, she didn’t seem to notice and totally loved it. It was a very good night.

Then, something unexpected and miraculous occurred: Her mother invited us to meet for dinner the next night, to celebrate her actual birthday. We weren’t sure we would even get to see her on her birthday- it fell on a day that isn’t usually ours, and the invitation was…a departure from previous experience and very much a pleasant surprise.

We met at a restaurant halfway between our homes. While my three kids are comfortable and used to joint ventures with all of their parents together and cooperating, this was a first for Jon and his kids.

Divorce is hard. Learning to step-parent, to blend families, and come to terms with the new parameters of a new life can be hard. It can also be a place to find unexpected opportunity and even happiness. I don’t imagine Jon’s ex will ever wish to be my friend, and that’s fine, but the fact we were all able to set aside our differences and celebrate our daughter?  Absolutely a positive step in the right direction.

I’ve said it many times: kids can not only survive but thrive in reformed families. There will be many occasions to celebrate in our children’s combined furture— graduations, proms, awards, recitals, mission calls, college and eventually even weddings. Last night demonstrated to all of us that making happy memories is possible.

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