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Category Archives: working together

I’ll Take The Mess

Well, it’s Sunday night and the house is a mess. There are clothes lying on the floor. Empty bags of snacks on the coffee table. Shoes and socks strewn about. A few dishes that never made it into the dishwasher. Floors need mopping. There’s laundry in the dryer to fold and still more ready to go into the washer. Odds and ends desperately need to find a home. Basically, to say our house looks lived in is an understatement. But I don’t care.

I will gladly take the messy house in exchange for a full two days of spending time together as a family. To spend an entire day playing softball together on the first truly nice Saturday of the new year. Seeing all three 2014-02-22 14.49.20kids playing together without pulling each others hair out (well, for the most part). Hanging out together in the house. Having meals together. Arguing together. Working it out together. Spending hours with one on a school project. Having a special dinner with another while the other two spent time celebrating a friend’s birthday. Shooting hoops and playing catch with the third. Weekends like that are too few and far between.

They don’t come easily either. As the girls get older they’d much rather spend the night at a friend’s or go skating with the gang. It took several no’s and turning down other offers to get us all in the same house at the same time for more than an afternoon. No softball practice. No soccer games. No sleepovers. But it was worth it. We had our moments of frustration and we had our share of stress points throughout the weekend. But we worked it out. And when it was all said and done I gathered the troops to thank them all for a terrific weekend together. I wanted them to recognize how special these days are and how important it is that from time to time we shut out the world and focus on each other to remind ourselves that we are a team.

For me personally, to have a weekend without too many projects or deadlines was too good to pass up. Those days are rare as well, especially after a busy week. There were several moments when an hour on the couch 2014-02-17 09.31.25sounded like heaven. But a moment throwing a baseball with my son or making breakfast with another sounded even better. We all had to push ourselves at times and I was proud to see all three of the kids make the effort. Maybe they all recognized they needed it more than any of us realized. It encouraged me to keep putting the mouse down to get back outside to shoot one more basket.

I love my kids. I really do. They push me to new limits on a daily basis. There are times when I throw my arms up in complete disbelief at how horrible a job I’ve done parenting these little demons. And then somehow it all comes together. Just when I’m convinced I completely suck as a parent, the kids remind me of what it means to be a family and how important we are to each other. Smiles and hugs goodnight and three kids laughing together tells us all it was well worth every effort and that sometimes a mess isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

 

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Too Young To Date?

Sing it with me, “She is 13 going on 29.” Honestly, you couldn’t pay me enough money to be an eleven-year-old in today’s society. The peer expectations and influences are mind blowing. The idea of dating has actually come up in our households. It’s also coming up in our daughter’s friends households and I’m sure there are different opinions in every home if not more than one. Couple that with the fact that our kids are inundated with messages on television and on-line that are down right scary; and you’ve got quite a challenge. As parents it can be difficult to stick to your guns on the topic. So I started putting some thoughts on paper and came up with 10 tips that may (or may not) help.

1. You know as well as anyone that our kids are great at making it sound like everyone else’s parents are “OK with it.” Well, trust me, they’re not. Just call and ask them. They’re likely in the same boat as you are. A goodyes relationship with your kid’s friends’ parents is golden. Support each other as much as you can. Or if nothing else, let them know the rules in YOUR house so that they’re aware because I guarantee you your daughter’s friend has said “Her dad said it’s OK.”

2. It’s OK to make your ten-year-old delete their “Vine” and “SnapChat” apps. I’m sorry, but they’re not appropriate for a nine or eleven-year-old. I don’t care who else has them. Some of the videos and images shared on these platforms are down right offensive. And I can’t think of any reason a ten-year-old would need to ensure an image is gone after a few minutes. Why go there?

3. I’m a firm believer that every kid, as much as they argue and battle, like knowing that you’re all up in their “stuff” when it comes to their personal lives. That doesn’t mean you have to be hateful about it. Just a part of it. They want to know you care enough to stick your nose in their business. I also believe whole hardily that they need and “want” us to help them say no, because on their own they feel pressured and overwhelmed. Knowing they can use us as an excuse to say no is not a bad thing. Again, that doesn’t mean you have to be mean or a jerk about it. Just subtly let them know you’re watching and involved.

4. Trust your gut, but be open to giving a little. It’s important for your eleven-year-old to learn how to interact with the opposite sex appropriately. If we can encourage boy/girl friendships and give them opportunities to learn to respect and appreciate each other as more than just the opposite sex at an early age I think it’s a win / win. Because in a couple of years their bodies and hormones are going to take over and they’re not going to be thinking straight.

5. Now more than ever you need to put aside your differences and work out a mutually agreed upon plan of
action with your ex in terms of how you’re going to approach dating and your pre-teen. If your kid knows their mom and dad are unified and that both are going to be communicating and sharing, it’s a huge coup. the-delicates-too-young-to-date-londonConversely, if they feel left to themselves to figure it out or learn that they can play mom and dad against each other, I can’t imagine it working out well.

6. It’s going to mean giving up your free time and off-nights, but be open to being there as a parental chaperone for group get togethers perhaps even along with your ex. It’ll drive your daughter crazy but as a dad (and mom), this is a great compromise; “Sure, you can go as a group to the movie, as long as I’m there too.” And if you go, don’t make a big deal about it or be an ass. Just be there.

7. Listen. Just listen. Don’t wait until it’s a big discussion or argument. Make a point of opening the floor to your kids at an early age over tea before bedtime, or at the dinner table. And just listen. You’ll be surprised at what they’re willing to share once they get rolling.

8. Don’t be ignorant. Don’t believe for a second that if you ignore it it’ll go away. Your kids are being exposed to things we didn’t see until we were much older. And I’m sorry, but you can’t protect them from what their friends are sharing and talking about. Don’t think for a second that just because you’re not talking about it that they’re not aware of it. And if you stick your heals (and head) in the sand and wait until they’re sixteen to talk about it, brother you’re going to be in for a big surprise.

9. Educate yourself. Do your best to keep up with the latest apps and what kids are talking about. Your kids find things on-line. So can you. Learn what’s influencing them. Don’t just send them off into the world without fully understanding to the best of your ability what they (and you) are up against.

10. Baby steps work best. So start now. Don’t wait until she (or he) is fifteen.

Remember, the underlying tone here is, this shouldn’t be about sex. This should be about learning how to be social on expanded fronts. That said, as a dad I don’t think it’s a bad thing to start talking to your daughter about how stupid boys get when they’re thirteen and around girls and why they get stupid. Give your daughter some perspective and teach her that she too should have as much control over a situation as anyone. It’s good to be trusting, but in some situations having your guard up isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And please, PLEASE, teach your sons to respect girls. Don’t let them be stupid or ignorant just because they’re boys. That’s not an excuse. Educate them. It’s your job. Above all, don’t be stupid yourself believing that your boys and girls are perfect angels. Because they’re not. No matter how smart or good they are, they’re still going to be dealing with hormones, peer pressure and ignorance. Don’t be afraid to be the adult. And remember, every kid has a different capacity for understanding. You should know best what your child can handle.

This is a touchy subject I know. And everyone has their own opinions of what’s appropriate at what ages. But I think the more open we can be about it and the more we can stand up as parents and guide our children appropriately starting at an early age, the more chance we have of getting our kids into adulthood with an appreciation for each other. Lord knows the internet can at times send the wrong messages. We need to be there to help them decipher those messages and understand self control, boundaries and rules can be a good thing.

Good luck! We’re rootin’ for you!

 

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In Sync with the World

I’m fairly confident that one common reaction to a divorce is a conscious decision to protect yourself both emotionally and physically. You tend to become more rigid as a natural reaction to the pain and confusion suddenly thrust upon you. Trust takes a holiday and you begin your divorce with an initial inability to be open to compromise and find yourself going by the book and following the rules of the arrangement.

In doing so, it becomes impossible to truly get into any kind of rhythm as everyone involved has gone into a similar mode of protection with their own agenda and thoughts on how to move forward. But to successfully navigate through the pain, the anguish and the confusion, it’s crucial that we learn how to open up a bit and become more flexible in our approach to life in general, not just your ex and your children.

I recently found this video on-line that demonstrates how metronomes that are started at different times will eventually start to work in unison under the right circumstances.

If placed on a rigid surface, all of the metronomes continue to run on their own unique timing. While those placed on a surface with some give to it, eventually come together and work in sync with one another. As I watched the video I couldn’t help but compare this to my life as a divorced dad, or just my life in general. When we’re unwilling to budge and instead create an environment where there is no flux, it can quickly turn to chaos as everyone just continues to go off on their own tangent. But when we offer just a little bit of flexibility and have an ability to accept the energy around us and then redistribute it, life seems to find a way of working with a little more synchronicity.

When we can let go of our fears, our paranoias, and the negativity that come with them, we can start to once again find a way of working in rhythm with the world around us. And when that happens, everyone wins. When Insyncwe’re working against each other, all that happens are battles, fights and arguments. There are no victories only continued struggles and battle plans. And not unlike a rowing crew, the more the rowers are in sync, the smoother and more efficient the motion.

Figuring out the balance that allows you to have your own life while working in conjunction with your ex is not an easy task. It doesn’t happen over night and continues to evolve even after your divorce has been final for a while. And believe me, when the kids sense a lack of synchronicity they then fight even hard against the grain. Suddenly everyone is out step with each other and frustrated and it just feels like the entire world is crashing down in front of you.

There will be times when bending just isn’t an option and others when it is. It’s up to you (and your ex) to learn when to adjust, when to maintain structure, when to bend and when not to. Just be sure to communicate and try to be reasonable in your explanations as well as your expectations. You can’t be expected to live your life according to your ex’s schedule, nor can they be expected to live according to yours. But a little give and take goes a long way in assuring the kids get what they need, which is a good relationship with both of you. When the kids feel a sense of unison and know what to expect, it’s a win / win for everyone.

 

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Emotional Tides

I’m of the growing opinion that, just as your ex will be a part of your life forever, so will the ever changing emotional tides that seem to come with a divorce. Hang on … looking deeper, I say divorce, but let’s be honest; they come with life. A point I keep making to my kids, but need to be reminded of myself from time to time.
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Our kids blame a lot of ‘bad’ things on the divorce. And we’re quick to tell them (at least I know I am) that being able to keep your room straight, get your school projects done on time and having to go with the flow are not the result of the divorce; they are part of being a responsible and easy going person. Our kids do not know a life that doesn’t include divorce and so they will always see that as an excuse.

I’ve been told, “Your parents weren’t divorced dad, how would you know what I’m feeling.” Which is true. But the point here isn’t about competing to see who’s childhood was harder. Deep down, as they get older, my kids are recognizing that each home has its own, shall we say, unique circumstances. Our job is to teach them that every human being on this planet has their own hurdles to overcome. Some bigger than others. For some, divorce would be a cake walk compared to what they’ve been forced to endure. The fact that our kids have two parents who absolutely adore them and love them unconditionally should be their first clue that they’ve got it
images-1pretty good compared to some. The reality is, we all have our crosses to bare. How we choose to carry it is up to us. Yes the divorce creates some obstacles and challenges, but most if not all of them can be overcome with a little effort and the right attitude.

The other lesson, is to not blame our circumstances for our downfalls. Take responsibility for your situation and take steps to correct things. Chances are your circumstances are the result of how you approach life in general. Not the other way around. We have to look at ourselves from time to time and remind ourselves that perhaps the emotional tides we’re blaming on the divorce are actually a part of our own emotional make up. How we got here is the result of a long list of choices and reactions. Not just a signed document from a judge.

Divorce or happy marriage, we’re going to be concerned about finances, work, the kids, the state of the world and whether our home owners association is going to send us a letter for having our garbage can parked in front of the garage. Just like the kids, we’re faced with this reality and it’s up to us whether we’re going to embrace it and adjust accordingly or blame all of our trials and tribulations on the fact that we’re single parents with a pretty big load on our shoulders. It’s also up to us to consider taking a look at how we approach hurdles and whether we need to consider a little internal remodeling as well.

Yes, life as a single dad can be hell. It’s a lot. And chunks of it are more painful than others, especially when it comes to the kids and what you see them going through. All the more reason we need to set an example for our kids and make the best of our situation. How they define divorce is partly up to us. Let them see that we’re not going to use the divorce as an emotional security blanket. We’re not going to blame the world (or our ex) for our struggles. Pull up your big girl panties and make the best of it. Be introspective. Take responsibility. Be accountable. Let them see that yes, life sucks sometimes and not every day is perfect. But how you approach the tides is completely up to you AND them. Help them recognize all of the wonderous things they do have which, hopefully, includes a dad who is completely in love with them and thrilled to have them in his world. A dad who is there to help them overcome their own emotional tides when they rise.

 

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Pine-sol be Damned!

When we’re married, we each take on different roles within the relationship. Usually some are more stereotypical than others. When I was married, for example, my wife was the one who focused a lot of attention on the state of the household. If it got messy I may have noticed, but it didn’t stress me out. It did however have the potential to affect my ex’s mood. This was especially true when there were socks, shoes, pants, shorts, toys, games, underwear, empty water pouches, legos, cereal bar wrappers, candy wrappers etc. strewn
pine-sol throughout the house. (The kids were even worse). Regardless, I never fully appreciated this fact until I became a single father.

When the duty of keeping up with the house was squarely on my shoulders, I greeted it with ignorant bliss. “How hard can this be?!!!” I said. What was the big deal? Finally I’d have the chance to let our house be a home. No more nagging about picking up things, bottle caps on the counter, a stray potato chip on the floor, jackets hung on the chair; who cares! Pine-sol be damned!

Then, as life continued to take my schedule to higher, more deafening levels, I started to notice that I would become increasingly annoyed by the smallest of specs on the floor. A dog hair on the couch, Barbies in every room of the house, finding ten towels in a bedroom, or dishes under a bed. All of it really started to get under my skin. It was insanity … INSANITY I SAY!

What was happening to me? Who was I? I heard myself saying things I’d only heard my mother say. (OK … and my ex-wife). The stress of keeping up with every aspect of my life only to come home to a mess was starting to get to me and it was only a matter of time before something had to give.

That’s when I had a breakthrough. The reality is, for me anyway, that it’s not so much about the house being clean as it is about my life being in order. A recent rain day tells the story perfectly. Between softball, soccer, a full time job, freelance projects, personal time etc., a lot of things had fallen by the waist side and I felt completely buried. I felt beyond overwhelmed and for the first time in my life, I was embarrassed to allow any of my kids’ friends into the house because of the shape it was in.

Then one Saturday, a heavy rain cancelled a full day of sporting events. And so, the kids and I took advantage of the day to tackle the house. Everything else was put on the back burner. Work, sports, friends, all of it. The kids took on their rooms and helped wipe things down and clean windows. I began to purge all the extra “stuff” that had accumulated on the counters, on chairs, dressers etc. And together we reclaimed the house.

It is impossible to explain to you the difference it made having the house put together. Mind you, it wasn’t perfect, and still isn’t for that matter. But for the most part, it was much more presentable, comfortable, much
MV5BMTE5Njk5MzUyNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwODY2NDM2._V1._SX450_SY518_less cluttered and frankly felt more homey. Even the kids took notice. Oddly enough it was my son who walked by the Pine-sol loaded sink proclaiming, “I LOVE that smell!

For me, the true value was what it did to my mental state. The foundation of order had been set. And suddenly all the other life stuff felt manageable for the simple reason that my home base was in order. It no longer felt like my entire world was unraveling. It honestly felt like clearing the clutter within our house, helped clear the clutter in my head if that makes any sense.

As a single parent, whether you have the kids every other weekend or if you happen to be the primary, life takes on a whole new level of craziness when it’s all on you, especially after you’ve been accustomed to sharing the load. It can at times be incredibly overwhelming. And it all starts with the place you spend the majority of your time, your home. Frankly, having at least that one element of my world in check made all the difference in the world.

So guys; take note. (And some of you already know this). But there is more to having a clean home than having a clean home. There is the sense of accomplishment and a feeling of “having it together” that comes with it. There is a sense that you’re not completely unraveling, that on some level, you’re holding it together. And yes, it brings peace of mind which translates to a greater ability to righten the rest of the ship. Keep in mind, I’m not suggesting you channel Felix Ungar rather, just acknowledging an appreciation for the power of order within, what can be, a world of chaos.

Oh, and yes, the power of Pine-sol (who I promise you is not sponsoring this blog … yet).

 

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