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Monthly Archives: December 2012

Holiday Stress – Year Two

If you’re a regular visitor, you’ve heard me state before the importance of focusing on the kids during the holidays. But it bares repeating. Regardless of what holiday it is, as parents we are living our child’s past every day. Every Christmas, 4th of July, birthday, recital, Hanakkah, whatever the celebration; each will be locked stressed-is-desserts
away in our kid’s memory and it’s up to us to do whatever we can to make the memories fond ones.

Let’s face it; the holiday season in particular can be one of the most stressful times of the year. Christmas budgets, work schedules, vacations, travel, getting everything done in time, elf on the shelf craziness, the kids are beyond over stimulated. It’s insanity at times. Now add to it trying to schedule time with TWO families and it only adds to the stress levels.

That’s why it’s crucial that you take a step back and remember what it’s all about. It’s about doing your best to be fun and upbeat. Because if YOU’RE positive, fun and upbeat, the kids will be more likely to follow suit. Countering stress with stress only escalates the problems. And that’s not what you want your kids remembering twenty years from now as they go through old photo albums.

I can pretty much guarantee you that you and your ex are going to have differences of opinions throughout the holiday season. There will be anger, frustration and you’ll be convinced at times that they have no interest in what’s important to you. It doesn’t matter. Your kids don’t want to hear that nor should they. They want to enjoy
the holiday with you and when possible with both you and your ex. Sometimes that’s feasible, sometimes it’s
12-28-09 ornaments118.jpgnot. But what is feasible is you putting on your game face and putting on your big girl panties to make the holiday memories ones that your kids will cherish for a lifetime.

It’s not easy. Lord knows I slip just like you. All you can do is be aware. Just keep picturing the images your children will have in their head of Christmas 2013 and know that you can influence those thoughts. It may mean giving in at times, it may mean holding your tongue at others. It may be something as simple as taking an hour or two to bake cookies with them, driving around looking at holiday light decorations or cuddling up on the couch and watching Elf when they’re with you. The point is to focus on making memories they’ll look back on when they’re older and smile. Let them be little nuggets they hold on to that remind them how special their lives are and how fortunate they are to be loved and how important they are to someone on this planet.

If I sound preachy, my sincere apologies. That’s not my intention. I simply know how difficult these times of the year can be especially when you’re divorced. Know that I say these things to myself daily as much as I say them to you. I repeat them over and over in my head as a reminder of what my focus needs to be and a means of committing to making every attempt to make this holiday one of laughter and joy for the people most important to me; my kids. If I’ve learned anything through the first two years of our divorce, it’s that arguments during the holidays accomplish nothing. Stress causes us to lose our focus on what’s important. The gifts don’t matter, the lines at the mall don’t matter, the stress doesn’t matter, the kids laughing during the holidays does matter. So plan ahead, be reasonable, be flexible and be joyful.

Peace and have an amazing holiday!

 

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Child Proofing

As a parent and a leader within my home, I often have to make some difficult choices that directly affect my kids. Some of these decisions are received with high praise, others not so favorably. But while the decisions I make aren’t always the popular ones, I have to remind myself that it’s not really my goal as a parent to be popular; it’s to teach, guide and protect my kids.

Some of the choices I make may not seem fair, as it requires removing something that may be OK for one child, but not the other two. So there are times when television shows and movies that may be appropriate for 46475171-0441-786E-F433F1BBB058B155_1
the eldest, are not yet freely allowed in the house as the younger ones could potentially be affected by it, even if by accident. In those instances we try to find ways of providing the older one with times and circumstances when it’s more fitting. We also establish some general guidelines that she understands and knows she has to abide by if she wants to enjoy some of the aspects of being the older sister.

It’s not always fun and sometimes damn hard knowing I’m disappointing the people I love most. But when I do it, I do so knowing I’m doing it in their best interest. Oh there’s typically some backlash. There are doors slammed, shoes thrown, hurtful words spewed and an occasional letter written in an attempt to make their case as to why my decision is unjust.

But in the end; I have a responsibility, not only to my children, but to the people my children will interact with today, tomorrow and throughout their lives. And even despite my best efforts, that always doesn’t work out. So I try to take into account all perspectives, all opinions and how my decision will affect the bigger picture. Many times it means one of the kids has to sacrifice, but we find ways of making things balanced. We work as a team and learn how to compromise for the greater good of the family. And when possible I try to reward them for their willingness to bend and do the right thing. Eventually they see the benefits long term and gradually become more willing to adjust knowing they’ll have their victories as well.

The reality is, as much as they whine about the limits imposed on them, I think they honestly want them. They
may give their share of flack, but deep down I believe they embrace boundaries and structure. As much as boundary_fullthey’d love to be able to run amuck and do whatever they please, when faced with that prospect, they’re not as comfortable with chaos as they thought they’d be.

And of course, as you well know, not every decision works out. Not every play is going to garner 15 yards.  But we learn from the ones that don’t and try to adjust accordingly so that we can make a better educated choice the next time. The bottom line is, that at some point someone has to make the call to ensure a higher quality of life for my kids.

You may be in a traditional home where both parents live under the same roof. Or if your’e following this blog, you’re more likely to have children who live in two homes. In either case there’s also the danger of the kids getting mixed signals as one house may be a little more liberal or conservative than the other. Hopefully you can find a way to come together and compromise to ensure the kids get as close to a common set of rules as they can. Rules that everyone can live with and adhere to, remembering that it’s the needs of the children that come first, not our own wants and desires.

You learn quickly as a parent that when you have a family, it’s impossible to please everyone. Whether it’s choosing what restaurant to eat at, what movie to choose for family movie night, who gets to use the computer or establishing an appropriate bed time; there are going to be disagreements and arguments. Many decisions will go quite smoothly while others will invoke their share of tantrums and slamming doors. But, looking at the big picture; If it means my kids are safe and healthy; I’ll take the occasional slamming door over an empty house any day.

 

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Elf Invasion

So, the holidays are upon us and with them, in our house anyway, comes the annual visitation of what has grown into a trio of elves from the North Pole. They seem to have grown quite fond of our kids and follow them regardless of whether they’re staying with their mom or at my house. I’ve done my best to document these visits as well as the shananigans311113_10151256618312908_1341310992_n these jolly little beings have bestowed upon our household, but they can be sneaky little devils.

They arrived this year after much anticipation, riding together in a Barbie Camper they no doubt commandeered from a young doll I later caught one of the boy elves with. Needless to say, it became apparent early on that we were going to have to set some ground rules this year, as it seemed they had become a little “too” comfortable with our home and its inhabitants.

The first couple of weeks were relatively quiet with the three amigos greeting us each morning with the typical hide and go seek game we’d grown accustomed to over the past few years. Some days we’d find them “on a shelf” or “on a lamp.” And of course there would be days we’d find them in their favorite spot nestled within the Christmas tree. But for the most part 58991_10151250524737908_787395670_neverything was fairly tame and the kids would have fun starting off their day at the crack of dawn searching every room of the house to find where they were hiding.

And that’s when things started to take an odd turn. We woke one morning to find that they were apparently unhappy with our method of decorating the house for the holidays and felt we were lacking the proper amount of festive lighting. We caught them in the middle of stringing lights throughout the kitchen with no real concern for whether their plan fit into our overall decorating scheme. And this was just the beginning.

This latest display had raised a certain amount of concern on my part, but I was truly unprepared for what was to come next. I was aware of their reputation to take holiday cheer fairly seriously, and knew that these guys had a tendency to be a little “over the top.” But I was still of the mindset that they were relatively harmless. So imagine my surprise (as well as my kids) when we walked into our living room / kitchen area, only to find that they had helped themselves to our stash of toiletries and TP’d the entire downstairs. 77045_10151278127332908_421981261_n

It was at this point that my son (age 7) decided it was time to take drastic measures and capture the team on video. He worked up a little system with a hidden camera and set it to record each evening before he went to bed. The first couple of nights he was unable to capture any video although the elves managed to grab the camera and take some self portraits. Then, on the morning after the third night, I woke to the sound of my son screaming, “I GOT THEM ON VIDEO!!!” And sure enough, he caught one of them attempting to turn off his camera.

You can see the actual video here:

I have to admit we were all a little freaked out after that. Just knowing that these little guys were capable of some of the activities we’d witnessed is something that would shake up even the most experienced “Big Foot” 75261_10151276516177908_2048404350_nenthusiast. My son is still considering what to do with the footage and whether or not he wants to expose our little friends to the dangers that would come from people attempting to capture them. The elves meanwhile must have come to the same conclusion as since that time things have been relatively tame.

We all have our special holiday memories that we look back on for a smile now and then. Thankfully our family will have these memories to last a lifetime. And the best part is that they’re all documented with photographic and video evidence to be passed on from generation to generation.

As I’ve written before, a divorce doesn’t have to mean the end of joyous holidays and fond memories. There are plenty of places to find the joy of Christmas as a family and bring cheer to each and every member of the household. The level of Christmas cheer within our walls continues to grow thanks in part to the efforts of some very creative little elves. Hopefully your home is equally filled with a spirit that brings smiles and warmth to your kids regardless of whether your kids live in two homes or one. The important part is that they continue to build fun memories they’ll carry with them the rest of their lives.

 

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Showing Up

I was trying to come up with a clever opening line, but I’ll just cut to the chase. It never ceases to amaze me what can happen when you simply decide to show up.

Seems like such a simple concept really. And yet, how often do we let opportunities just slip by because we’re either too tired to get out of bed, anxious about walking into an uncomfortable environment, not wanting to step ShowingUpoutside our comfort zone or just don’t feel like it? We focus so much of our thoughts on the drudgery that will take place and the energy we’ll have to exude. Then ultimately let the moment pass on by while we check our Facebook account. Admit it, you know you’ve done it. And so have I.

I could get into a laundry list of opportunities along with an even longer list of excuses as to why you ignored them, but chances are you’ve already gone through your own list while you’ve been reading this. The point is, each and every time I’ve pushed myself to make the effort (alright 9 out of 10 times), it’s been beyond worth it and I’ve walked away with an amazing experience I’d otherwise missed out on.

We dads are particularly in tune with these moments. Moments when we’re provided opportunities to “show up.”
father-sonSometimes it’s your daughter asking for help with her homework, or your son who wants you to play Hungry Hungry Hippos. Sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t. But you and I both know, that every time we do, the pay off is exponential.

Five minutes of throwing the football with your son or daughter is priceless. Every recital we leave work early for is more valuable than any financial investment. There are plenty of times when we and our kids won’t see eye to eye. We’ll argue over what jeans they’re wearing to school. We’ll battle over what TV shows they’re watching or what we put in their lunches. But no matter what’s happening, the bottom line is we showed up. Think about that the next time your kid runs to you and gives you a giant, sincere, squeeze and then runs off. The fact that you were there to hug will be a memory he or she will carry for a lifetime.

Don’t think for a minute it doesn’t matter to them that you simply showed up. It seems like the easiest step in the world, and yet how many times have we chosen not too? 

 

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Living Memories!

You would think that after ten years of being a parent, I would have become accustomed to the concept. Yet there are still days when I’m simply overwhelmed by what it means to be a dad. To wake to a smiling little face looking to me for guidance along with a bowl of cereal completely blows my mind some mornings. The holidays in particular bring so many emotions to the forefront. Because think about it; each day you’re literally living their memories. Just as you wish some days you could go back and relive a moment, those moments are happening for your child, right now. They will look back at the pictures you’re taking today the same way you1442_40453547907_3760_n
look at pictures from your own childhood. So don’t look now, but you’re living your child’s past; today.

Every night my kids ask me to tell them stories about my childhood. In doing so I’m continually reflecting on my perspective as a child and how I viewed the world, my home and my own parents. I find myself reliving my own Christmas memories and searching for understanding as to why certain memories stand out from the rest. To now view myself on the other side of that equation is a true wake up call as I see every day how my efforts and choices directly build the memory banks of my own kids.

I pulled the kids aside last night and we looked up at our newly decorated Christmas tree. They commented on how much they loved it and how so many of the decorations told stories about their lives. They were already reflecting on Christmas’ past. All of them kept commenting on their first ornament and their favorite Christmas moments. Even now it’s starting and as a parent it can be a little overwhelming thinking of yourself as the cruise director of their little lives. After all, it’s not about entertaining them every minute of the day, but teaching them how to be responsible happy adults. And I’m sure we can all remember holiday memories that involve a screaming child or two.

Thankfully, we spent this particular morning decorating together, listening to Christmas music together, laughing together, baking together, working together and simply enjoying a sunday in December. For me that was the greatest 2012-12-02 21.59.40Christmas gift I could have received. To see them reach that milestone of being a family and being able to truly enjoy being together building a memory was magical. I visualized them twenty years from now looking back on this particular Sunday, telling their own kids about it; and smiling.

There are days when, as a parent, you’re going to be convinced you’ve completely screwed up your kids. It may be a day of decorating you anticipated being blissful, that ends up with the kids in their respective rooms “thinking about how they could have handled the situation better.” This particular morning gave me hope that perhaps, despite being in separate houses, my ex-wife and I had made some progress and done some things right. Perhaps all of our efforts to maintain as much positive as we can and continue working together were paying off.

It’s your choice how you live these years with your children. As a divorced dad, obviously there is a sense of disappointment you hold within that you weren’t able to maintain the full family dynamic under one roof. But your kids are looking to you to see how you react to it and how you embrace it. You have an opportunity to demonstrate that life goes on and you can make the most of it. You have a chance to create amazing memories for them and provide them with the assurance that their lives don’t have to be miserable just because their mom and dad don’t live together anymore.

As parents we’re inevitably going to screw up our kids on some level. I think that’s just part of life. Their perception will dictate certain aspects of how the world treats them regardless of what we do. That, in and of itself can be overwhelming. So remind them of how much they’re loved and how happy you are that they’re there when they are there. And yes, BE happy they’re there. Focus on the magic that is, being a dad (or mom). It’s hard work. It forces you to really look at yourself and who you are. You’ll make sacrifices. They’ll force you KID160ChildrenMakingMemories
to make some really hard choices. And it will stop you dead in your tracks some days when you look in the mirror and say, “Holy crap! I’m the parent of a _________ year old!”

And you are. You’re a parent. I think on some level, that never fully sinks in. Because just when you’ve managed to accept the fact that you have a child in kindergarten, suddenly you have a child preparing to enter middle school. Trying to keep up emotionally is tough. I’m ten years in and it still hasn’t completely sunk in. And honestly, I’m beginning to believe it never will. Perhaps it’s because my life isn’t necessarily what I envisioned it would be. And because of that I continually have to reassess where I’m at and where I’m headed. I could make the choice to be bitter and angry over certain things. But what sort of memories would that leave the kids with? And truthfully, I’m where I am because of previous choices I made and those choices brought me some incredible memories of my own along with three amazing kids. Three amazing kids who continue to overwhelm, inspire and wake me up with a smile; looking for guidance and a bowl of cereal.

 

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