Steps…Hard Work but Beautiful Views

Have you ever climbed the steps to the top of a lighthouse? It is really tough climbing those steps. But when you get to the top, the views are beautiful. But those are not the steps I am writing about today.

Most of my girlfriends are divorced. The idea of their exes bringing a new woman into the lives of their children is scary. Every experience is different, but I can share mine…

I can remember when I came to terms with the fact that this new person was in my ex’s life, and would be in my kids’ lives. I can’t lie. I was angry, hurt, scared. How is it fair that some stranger gets to spend half of my kids’ lives with them? I am their mom. It is unfair that I only see them half the time. I was hurt that my kids accepted her into their lives. I was scared they would love her more, and forget I was their mom. Reality has a way of slapping you in the face.

I can also remember when she first started coming to watch my kids play sports. It was the hardest thing in the world. I would sit in the bleachers, quietly, with tears in my eyes. When my daughter would look up to her, in the stands, my heart sank. I felt like I was losing her. Like my fears were becoming reality.

My daughter started coming to the house with cute new clothes. Was she taking her shopping? It broke my heart to think another woman was taking on a maternal role for my kids. It was probably the scariest thing I have ever faced.

My first step to acceptance, being grateful that she was coming to support my kids in their sports. She must like my kids to bring her very young daughter out, close to bed time, to support my kids. My daughter, looking at her in the stands, means my daughter feels loved. It was a step forward.

But then my daughter said it…she called her her stepmom (they weren’t even married yet), and she called her daughter, her sister. Honestly speaking, those words were so hard to hear. The fear started sinking in again. I mean, the word mom is in stepmom, so I was being replaced, right? My insecurities said yes. It was time to regroup.

I had to step back and realize, I was in rough shape. I wasn’t capbable of having a meaningful relationship. It was clear in my insecurites when dating. All my baggage was stopping me from opening up to anyone. It was the same with my kids. My insecurity was toxic. I cried a lot. My kids had a hard time seeing me so unhappy. It was never supposed to be their job to make me happy. That was something only I could do.

At the time, I relied so much on my parents and my sister and her family. I really didn’t have anyone else. I had friends at work who I could talk with openly, but when I did talk, I would cry, and that was not condusive for working. So, I found some girlfriends…nope, a tribe. A group of other divorced women who were going through or had been through this. These friendships were so fulfilling. They brought happiness to my life. I had to step out of my comfort zone to meet them and I had to open my heart to trust them. But the reward was true happiness. I became a different person….

I became a person my kids felt comfortable to be around again. I become fun. I smiled, I laughed. By this time, my kids were both in college. But I could look back and see, I never lost them. They never replaced me. What I learned was that they did not have to replace me. Someone new was brought into their lives who respected me, as their mother. I can remember my daughter’s graduation party. Her little sister was so excited to meet her mom. Kids are funny. They can’t pretend. So, when she was so excited to meet me, and gave me an adoring look, my heart melted. All this fear of being replaced was silly. Not only was I not being replaced, but I was very much a part of my daughter’s life and the life of her sister. Not because she knew who I was, but because I was a special place where her big sister would go for a few nights. And the look she gave me, told me she felt it was a happy place. It felt pretty special.

When my daughter was struggling, emotionally, with her Lyme, it was her stepmom that had connections in State College to get her the help she needed. The reality was, my kids didn’t just have someone new around them. They had her, her daughter and family and friends around them. More people to love my kids. More people to look out for them. And I am so grateful to her for what she has given to them.

I have had friends that are in the same boat as I am. Thrilled for the kids to have someone new in their lives that loves them. Others are still coming to terms with it and still frightened. The climb up those steps is a long hard climb, but if the steps are right and you can figure out how to get to the top, believe me, those Steps can lead to something beautiful.

Always Look For the Silver Lining

Have you ever had a cart full of groceries you had to leave because your debit card was declined?

My son is home for Spring Break. I haven’t seen him since Winter Break. He offered to cook me dinner, and, after a long day at work, I was more than happy for us to go to the grocery store and get food for he and his girlfriend to cook. And to pick up some other needed items for the week. I was so excited.

Imagine my surprise when I ran my card and it was declined. What????? Okay, maybe I hit the wrong pin number. Second try, declined. I searched my purse for my debit card for my other account. Not in my purse. I could feel the pit in my stomach. The embarassment, not from the people in the store. I could care less about that. But my son is watching me and my card is declined and I have no way to pay for a dinner he was excited to cook. I have no way to pay for the bread in my basket. I have never pretended like I am loaded with money. But this was totally unexpected.

When we left, I checked my bank accounts. I had more than enough to pay for my groceries. I don’t understand. So, we decided to go to a different store. I have $20 cash. So, the goal was to pick up enough food to make dinner for 3 with $20 or less. We did it for $16. And guess what. My card was declined again. I couldn’t control the tears. As I went to get all the money I had access to, my son popped his debit card into the machine and paid for the groceries. My pride was crushed. I was mortified that my son had to bail me out of that situation.

When we got home, I went straight up to my room and cried. And looked at my bank account (still enough money). I was too ashamed to look at my son. As I sat on my bed, I decided I needed to throw my pride out the window…rewrite the events of the afternoon.

I was so excited to spend the evening with my son and his girlfriend. They decided to cook dinner for me this evening. The work day was a tough one, so I was thrilled to accept the wonderful gesture. So, I offered to take my son grocery shopping. We had had a nice drive over, chatting and catching up on how school has been for him. At the store, we got the food he wanted to cook, along with some snacks and some staples for the house. I can be a little lazy and hadn’t been grocery shopping in over a week. Probably two weeks.

With a cart full, we went through the check out. My card was declined. How mortifying. I check my accounts daily and knew I had enough money. Clearly the issue is with the bank, not with me. But it was still embarrassing. It brought tears to my eyes. My son was looking with me as I rechecked my accounts. Yep. Plenty of money to pay for the groceries.

He piped in, “Let’s try a different store. Get something small and see if the card works. Maybe it’s just an issue at the store.” So we went to the next store. I had $20 cash. Now, we had a challenge. Can we feed 3 people tonight on $20 or less? My son was amazing! He decided we could find some things in my pantry, and we just got what we needed. Yes!!!! $16. Again, my card was declined. As I went to get the cash from purse, my son used his card and paid.

I was embarassed. My pride was hurt. But then I realized, while this was pretty dang embarrassing, I should be so completely proud of my son. I had the cash to cover it. We were not going to have them restock the food. Yet, he chose to help me. I needed to step back and accept his gift.

When he was a baby, I can remember thinking, “I cannot wait to meet the person he becomes.” I know what kind of man he has become. He is kind, he is caring and nurturing. But today, I witnessed it, I experienced it.

We got home. I had to take time to collect myself. When I came back down, dinner was cooking and the kids were busy in the kitchen chatting and laughing. My favorite noise ever. Not once did they make me feel awkward for the events.

So, while there are terrible or embarrassing things that happen to us along our road, we can always stop and rewrite our story. It’s the same story, just a different viewpoint. Once I did that, I was able to enjoy my night with the kids. Silver linings have a wonderful way of keeping the sparkle in our lives.

Thankful For Love

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that I have had a love/hate relationship. Even when I was married, often, my ex-husband was away on a hunting trip. I didn’t know if he would make it home for the day or not. If he made it home, it was amazing. If not, I was disappointed all day.

When I became single, well, it felt lonely because I didn’t have someone by my side. I became one of those single people whom everyone felt sorry for. I got to spend every morning with the kids, but, for dinner, they would alternate years at their dad’s house and with me. They can never know how lonely those years without them are. It doesn’t matter how much family is around, when my kids aren’t around, it feels so lonely. This was my 5th Thanksgiving living as a single woman. And, while it was supposed to my year with the kids (even though they are no longer minors, they have stuck with every other year), I was horribly disappointed when they told me they wouldn’t be with me. My son was having dinner with his long-time girlfriend’s family. I have been anticipating they would start doing holidays together, and I am so happy for him. Sophia decided to spend the year with her dad. It was a big sting, but not a suprise. So, I spent some time preparing myself, mentally, for a second year without my kids with me for dinner. What I really needed to do was take an emotional inventory of what I had in my life. My inventory consisted of only one word.

LOVE. When I look back at the last year of my life, I realize just how full my life is. Even on weeks that I sit at home for 5 nights straight, my life has been so filled. When I am home alone, it’s because I choose to be. I choose to take the time for myself. If I am feeling down, I have so many loves in my life that I am never really alone. This place is unchartered territory for me. Even when I was married, I didn’t feel this full. Now, I am exactly where I always wanted to be. I wake up with only my dog next to me. I make breakfast and eat by myself. But I never feel alone anymore. This is what people mean by living their best lives.

The kids got to my house last Sunday. I had such an amazing visit with them. We spent a few days together and it was such great quality time with them. I missed having Thanksgiving dinner with them. But in the end, Thanksgiving is just one day. I had a few amazing days with them. And it’s the little things they do that are huge to me. The hugs. Sitting at the table together. Cooking together. Joking around together. My Thanksgiving with them was all week. What more could I ask for?

This year marked the 35th year of the annual football game at my parents’ house. The game has evolved so much. It started as two families at a campground in Haymarket. When we moved to the country in 1986, it became a tradition. The game has changed a lot. I was a teenager when the tradition started. The game has seen some amazing gains…marriages, new babies, new friends, babies that have grown into young adults, their significant others. Some years there are 10 people that play. Other years, there are 25. But no matter what, we have a blast. The game has seen some significant losses too. Friends have moved away, one time players can no longer play, divorce, and mostly, the loss of someone who was like a second mother to me. One of the original players. She passed away right before Thanksgiving 16 years ago. Every year, we think about her. Her famous onion dip is always at the table, and my family will stand by the dip and talk about our wonderful memories of her. Our tradition runs strong, and so does her memory.

Dinner, just like for many others, is a tradition. The table has gotten bigger and bigger. It got smaller for a while, with the famous “kids’ table,” but they are no longer kids. So we have moved back to one table. What makes our dinners so special. Well, our dinner conversation. The things we say would make many people blush. We are rude and crude and sometimes we laugh until we pee ourselves. This year, as I sat at the table, surrounded by the family that I have so often taken for granted, I took in every ounce of love they had to offer. I didn’t feel alone at any point in the day. I felt surrounded and I felt like I was exactly where I needed to be.

My love life…well, it’s definitely existent. It’s a bit unorthodox, but with that, it has allowed me to grow so much in learning how to have a relationship, yet still be independent and enjoy all the family and girl time I want. Until now, relationships have always been a way for me to go from being someone strong, to becoming needy and/or unhappy and giving up everything for someone. That causes resentment and unhappiness. This go round, I have learned to communicate, that I don’t have to step away from friends and family, and that I am very lovable as a strong and independent woman. What’s awesome is that we do not complete each other. But we enhance each other, we understand each other, and we are there for each other. I have noticed, in the last 9 months, that when something amazing happens, or something bad happens, we want to share with each other. When my baggage gets to heavy, I can talk to him. I have to be honest though, I used to go to friends first, who would listen and encourge me to open up to him. He accepts my baggage and my insecurities and has never made me feel bad for having them. We work through them. And, that baggage has become significantly lighter. I still get insecurities, but it’s rare now. Very rare. But I never feel bad for having them. We face them together. He shares his struggle with me. I listen. We talk a lot. We have found a happy place together. A place of calm and comfort. And I don’t mean that complacent comfort where things fall by the wayside. It’s a comfort that we can be ourselves and know that we will accept and love each other. Yes, I said it. The “L” word. That scares me, when it comes to an intimate relationship. For a while, I couldn’t admit it. What if I lost myself again? But I have learned that I am strong enough to have that emotion now. I am strong enough to accept that feeling and know that I am surrounded by enough love everywhere else, that no matter what happens, I will always be okay. Vulnerability like this is actually a superpower, not a weakness. When I give love, it creates more love for me to give away.

I have let so much love into my life this past year that I am completely overwhelmed sometimes…in a very good way. And, by letting that love in, I have found that the love I can give has increased infinitely. It gives me more patience with others around me. I have been told by clients I work with that my smile has made their day brighter. A co-worker told me I was like a walking love emoji. My friends see it, my family sees it. And my gosh, I feel it. So, this year, my emotional inventory is all love. I am so grateful for all the love I have in my life. Love heals, it strengthens, and love pours out of you when you have the right kind. In the words of Roald Dahl, “If you have good thoughts, they will shine out of your face like sunbeams, and you will always look lovely.”

Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends and family, to all my loves, to all the ones who were lessons in my life. May you all feel the love that I feel, throughout the holiday season and throughout the entire year.

New Friends,Old Friends, Girl Friends, Boy Friends

I have learned that being in love doesn’t necessarily make us stronger, or even happier, but having love does. I don’t mean the kind you have from a significant other. I am talking about the love you have from true friendships. The kind that last a lifetime. The kind of friends that include family or feel like family. I didn’t realize I had some of these friends until a few years ago. Friends I grew up with that I still connect with. Friends I may not see or talk to every day, for whom I would drop everything for if they were in need. And they would do the same for me.

I recently had dinner with one of my best friends we have been together since she was born, three days after me. we see each other two or three times a year. and, get this, we live three or four miles away from each other. The truth is, life can get in the way. At dinner, she aplogized for being out of touch. My first thought was, “no need to apologize because I am just as guilty.” We are at different places in life. She is married and has kids at home. I am single and live alone. But that does not make me value our friendship any less. We do less things together, but the love has not changed. And when asked about my best friends growing up, her name always comes up. And my response following that is, “and she is till one of my very best friends.” She is one of those friends that when we get together, we pick right up where we left off. I have a few friends like that, whom I can pick right up with.

I just went camping with another of those friends. We went camping together last weekend. Not glamping, not with an air matress or portable gourmet kitchen. But good old fashioned camping. Sleeping on the ground, cooking on the fire, peeing in the woods and no shower. Yeah, didn’t shower for a day and a half. We played games by the fire, we saw a bear near the campsite, and we fought off yellow jackets. But the weekend was fun anyway. Well, except that I shared my sleeping bag with my 68 pound dog. I think I need to invest in a double sleeping bag so I can share with Marshall. It was amazing to spend the weekend with a friend that I talk to on almost a daily basis, but hardly get to see. We talked about our kids and life. He is one of those friends I have known since high school, but didn’t realize how important he would be in my life until a few years ago. We have seen each other through some tough break ups, tough times raising kids, and exciting times raising kids. We have cried a lot together. I am so grateful that we were able to really reconnect and grow such an amazing friendship.

I have written about my tribe before, but I have been truly blessed to have them in my life. These women came into my life in the last year or two and it’s as if they were always there. When FaceBook pops up and says, “It’s your Friendiversary” I am surprised when it says 1 year, or 2 years. How is that possible? I can’t picture my life withouth these women. There are very few days when we don’t talk. These are the women I turn to when something happens with dating, being a divorced mom or dealing with an ex. I turn to them for so much more, however, they are the ones that completely understand the trials and tribulations of being divorced and single again. We straighten each others’ crowns and speak the truth, even if it hurts sometimes. We do game nights and girls’ weekends. An impromptu text to have a quick lunch during the work day. People always say that the challenges in life are not a sprint, they are like running a marathon. You have to go slow and steady to maintain strength for the full run. These women, they help me sustain my strength. They give me strength. I hope I return that for them. When one of us needs strength, those of us that have it, give it willingly.

I cannot write about friends and people that give you strength without writing about my family. There is absolutely no way I would have gotten through all the things in my life without family. I am, without a doubt, loved beyond belief. I may not always deserve it, I may take it for granted, but I know it’s there and I do know just how blessed I am. My parents have helped me through a divorce, buying a new home, totalling a car, getting a new job, helping me with my dogs and thousands of little things around the house that add up to tons and tons of love. And let’s not forget two surgeries. My mom slept on a little chair after my last surgery so I wasn’t home alone. She helped me shower and had to help me take care of my incisions. Not a pretty job at all. While I may not always show how appreciative I am, I do know exactly how much they do for me and there’s not a day that goes by that I’m not thankful for them and that I don’t think about how much I love them. And my sister…She has no clue how strong she is. She has been this incredible rock for her family. At the same time as she was being so strong for her family at home, she was helping me through a divorce. She would come to my house late at night and soothe me as I cried myself to sleep. She and I have gone through very different challenges in our lives. I don’t pretend to understand what she has gone through. But I have seen how she has handled it. The grace with which she has handled it all. She has not been through the same challenges as me. But what she offers me is a listening ear. Not suggestions, not a knowledge of what I feel, but someone who accepts me for my challenges and supports me and just hears me. She is too humble to even see the impact she has had on so many lives. Girl, I know you’re reading this. The strength I have found, the strength your family has, it’s you.

I can’t talk about family without talking about my kiddos. So here’s the thing, when I realized divorce was the only option, I knew I wasn’t the only one that would go through it. My kids were going to have to go through it too. Their challenges were going to be very different from mine. I also knew I wouldn’t understand what they were going through. My parents are still together. What I did know, was that they were not going to be burdened with the challenges I faced from the divorce. I was not going to burden them with having to take sides. They should be able to love both me and their dad equally, without having to feel guilty or like they are hurting us. I never wanted them to feel as though they would need to be my rock through this difficult time. I needed to be their mom and love them and get them through their challenges. The kids didn’t talk much about the divorce. I didn’t force it and I tried to always make it clear that I was there for them no matter what. It took me a long time to really be able to look at my relationship with them and appreciate what I have. You see, teenagers are tough. Whether they are part of an intact family, a blended family, or with single parents, they present challenges because they are going through their own challenges, that they are not quite mature enough to handle all the time. I had to learn to not take everything personally. Now, I can gain strength from them too, and they don’t even realize it. When I get a first day of classes picture it melts my heart that they thought of me. When I get a surprise that one of them is home and wants to spend time with me. When they ask me to come to a college game to get that experience, I feel like a million bucks. The phone calls and text exchanges I have with my kids are becoming something I look forward to. I used to walk on eggshells being afraid to say the wrong thing. Now, I can let most things roll right off and not take it personally. I will say, my kids expressed to me a little over a year ago, that they wished I had opened up more to them about the divorce. I don’t know if it is because there dad was very open with them about his feelings, that they needed my “side” to balance it out so they didn’t feel pulled in one direction. I have stood by my choice to not share that with them. That is their dad. I will not say bad things about him to make me feel better. They are welcome to vent to me about him just as they should be able to vent to him about me. However, I will not join in and perpetuate the frustration for my personal gain. It doesn’t help them. I will support them and protect them and be their strength, but I will not talk bad about him to them. In sticking with my morals, I have found such a happiness, and the kids seem truly happy for me. And when I see them enjoying school, I am thrilled for them. Seeing them happy brings me so much joy.

This, this is what I have been craving my entire life. To have such amazing friendships. Everyone is so completely important to me and I am truly blessed to have them all in my life. I can only hope that I bring them even half the joy and strength that they give me. Because of them, I can live my life free from anxiety, free from fear of being hurt by an intimate relationship, without putting up walls. I can be my true self with anyone and I don’t have to give a flying fuck if someone doesn’t like it. I’m surrounded by people who love me and do like me, so others are free to walk away. People may come into my life that make me very happy. And I will not put up walls and I will let them into my life. And I can go into that without fear of getting hurt. Because I know if that happens, I’m surrounded by love, and my entire tribe will pick me up and I will be okay. Having friends is powerful. Probably one of the most powerful super powers. You don’t have to have a lot of friends. You just need to have the ones that will let you be unapologetically you.

End of Summer Blues

Summer is coming to an end, which means bittersweet goodbyes to my kids and my older dog. In the beginning of summer I was worried about awkward moments with my kids and making sure our schedules were synched so they didn’t come home while I was in the middle of a date. There were times I would ask them not to come home on a certain night. I usually heard from my daughter, “awkward.” Yes Princess, it is awkward. But pretty sure it wouldn’t be as awkward as seeing me bent over my Sir’s lap like Lucy and Ricky Ricardo. Who knew Lucy and Ricky were kinky?

The summer was great. I had a wonderful time with the kids. I feel like we made huge strides in our relationships. I was able to enjoy my daughter so much as we travelled to Europe. We drank together and cried together and grew stronger together. I had some amazing quality time with my son. As we talked I could see that he was turning the corner from a young college student to a young man learning to take on responsibilities and hard work.

I just started to get used to our routine of them coming for dinner and or staying with me. I got used to my bed being shared with two snuggly dogs. And I even got used to the dogs waking me up an hour after I fell asleep because they refused to go out before heading to bed. I got used to hugs from the kids when they were here and watching them sleep (don’t tell them that part, they would think I am weird, but I still love the sound of their breathing when sleeping).

Today, I said goodbye to my son and my dog. They headed back to school early so my son could start working on his thesis for his senior year. Yes, his last year as an undergraduate!!! Where does the time go. I’m convinced it goes faster the older we get. My daughter heads back in a couple of weeks, however, she has such a full schedule, I don’t think I will get many more opportunities to see her. I laugh, because I kept thinking, it’s tough managing my single life schedule with my kids and I love my alone time. But the truth is, I love when my kids are here too. So, while I won’t have to worry about where they are staying at night and if I need to cancel a date or dinner with friends, I will miss my kids more than they know. I will have the quiet that I crave after a busy day at work, or after several nights of being out with friends and just needing a break. But I will miss the white noise of laughter from my kids and their friends. The noises that make my house feel like a home. While I won’t go through that extra 1 1/2 pounds of dog food every day, I will miss my older dog greeting me when I come home from work each day with his tippy tap feet. While I will have my lap back while I am watching tv, I will miss petting Spyder, as he thinks he is being sneaky and lying down on my lap (at 80 lbs, he thinks he is sneaky).

So, another transition that will give me more strength. I am learning not to be sad with these transitions but to be excited for what’s in store for me next. Road trips to State College, hopefully a Penn State football game, traveling to a Story Telling Festival, maybe a girls’ trip, camping with a friend, dates and more dates with my guy, a big graduation and much, much more fun in my life. So I will take some time to reflect on my amazing summer, and to acknowledge the sadness as my kids fly the nest, once again. I will be more than okay. I will be strong and I will thrive!!!!!!

Learn from Your Kids

The moment my son was born, July 4, 1998, my entire world changed. I chose to stay home with him and when my daughter was born, I continued to stay home. I adored being home with them. But at times it was an emotional roller coaster. The highs of hearing their first words and seeing their first steps, of my daughter sucking her thumb and twirling my hair, my son telling me he said a bad word so he went ahead and ate the soap already. But there were also lows. Not always having adult conversation could be lonely. The emotions you feel when your children are hurting can be heart wrenching. and those days when you fogot to even brush your teeth.

When my world changed and my family unit was shattered, my first thought was, “How am I going to get the kids through this?” I tried to do everything I possibly could to help them, but realized I was not taking care of me. So I turned to taking care of me, maybe a little too much. I would go out drinking and I would pretend I was okay. When the kids started staying with their dad, at his girlfriend’s house, I struggled with the fact that the kids had a new life that was separate from me. That was devastating! But the kids had to see that I was okay with this. So when I was at the house by myself, I was usually going out and drinking and being very angry. I was staying out late and then going to work early. I was wearing myself out. On top of that, I was studying to take the realtor’s exam. So, on the days when the kids were home, I tried to be uplifting and positive, however, I was tired and my emotions would get the best of me.

I started to feel like my kids didn’t want to be around me. I was so hurt. They were never mean or hurtful to me, but I just didn’t feel like they liked me very much. The identity I had of being their mom from the dys they were born had to be readjusted to something different. because I ent from being their married mom to being their single mom. Those two moms are very different people.

When I got separated, I promised the kids I would never say anything bad to them about their dad and I would NEVER ask them to not tell their dad something. I never wanted to put them in a position to feel they had to choose. I have kept that promise and will continue to do so. I tried to be excited for the kids when they would tell me about their new family. At first, it crushed me to hear it. But soon, it became normal. And not long after the normalcy set in, I learned to be grateful that my kids had additional people in their lives to provide them with support.

An interesting thing happened when I stopped being angry and accepted the new way of life. I was no longer trying to constantly numb the pain. I made new friends and built new relationships. I started to find happiness. When I was happy, my kids wanted to be around me. My time with them is even less now, however, the quality is second to none. The kids no longer have to worry bout me. They can act their age. And I can provide them with the support they need. My kids have taught me that I am so strong. I can get through anything. I am brave. I have conquered the unknown and thrived. They have taught me that my happiness directly effects our relationship. And they have also taught me that I am a damn good mom. I have made mistakes, but at the end of the day, my kids will never question whether or not I love them and they know I will support them.

So, as a mom, I want to be the one to teach my kids everything. But sometimes I have to remember to step back and listen to the actions of my kids and learn from them. They have a whole lot to teach me.

How Do You Do Holidays/Birthdays With the Father of Your Children?

I can remember when I first got separated. It was the Sunday before Mother’s Day in 2015 and two weeks before my ex-husband’s birthday. The very first question that came to mind was, how do I do this? Can I do this? Well, I put on my big girl panties (and yes, they are Wonder Woman panties) and spent Mother’s Day with my kids and my family, but no husband. He went out of town. My kids were 15 and 16 at the time and knew enough to make sure I had something for the day. Neither could drive. My daughter used my Cricut machine and made a beautiful, homemade box. They went through the pantry and put 3 Hershey Kisses in it. The look on their faces broke my heart. They felt terrible about what they gave me. They have no idea what that gift meant to me. After 24 years of being with the same man, less than a week after we split, he could not find the courtesy to help them feel good about Mother’s Day, yet they did everything they could to make me feel better about one of the toughest days of my life. What I learned that day was that I would NEVER allow my kids to feel guilty for not having something for their dad.

One week later…it’s their dad’s birthday. I invited him for a birthday cookout. My daughter made him a cake and I took the kids shopping and the three of us picked up a nice gift for him. We made it a lovely day, and the smile on the kids’ faces was so worth it. That would be the last of the holidays/birthdays we would spend as a family.

When my birthday came up I got an Ipad. It was nothing the kids would have ever picked out for me, and nothing I really wanted. I called it my good riddance gift. He had already shacked up with his girlfriend and just wanted to say he did something nice. Guilt. After that, the kids were pretty much on their own for gifts for me. I think he helped them if they asked, but, for the most part, they got help with ideas from my mom.

I was still determined to make sure they never felt guilty. He had one birthday that they did not have anything for him. My son was old enough to drive and I asked them about a gift. They assured me they had it covered. They didn’t. Boy did I get an ear full. I felt bad for a bit, but then I thought, he is living with his girlfriend and the kids live there half the time. At this stage, shouldn’t she be helping him? So, first question to you folks. If your ex has a live in partner with home your kids live half the time and get along with, shouldn’t the partner be the one to help the kids shop? I feel like it would be a bonding experience as well as something the partner would want to do for someone with whom they are in a new relationship. Well, she never helped. Honestly, the kids always said she had no clue what to get him. After not getting a birthday present one year, I physically took the kids out shopping to make sure they always had something. I’ve received so many thank you texts from this man, thanking me for the wonderful gifts I helped the kids get. From concert tickets to amazing cooking appliances. I never spent a dime on him. My kids were old enough that they had jobs. They told me their budget and I helped them. Had they been younger, I would have paid.

Now that my kids are adults, will send them a gentle reminder, but no more assistance. If they don’t do it, they can feel guilty. They have the means to do it on their own now.

For us, Thanksgiving and Christmas weren’t so bad. My family has a big football game every Thanksgiving. The kids come for that ever year and they alternate where they are for dinner. This year, they were with their dad. I had dinner with my parents and my sister and her family. Christmas was the easiest. We always celebrated with my family on Christmas Eve. I grew up celebrating on Christmas Eve in Upstate New York. When I asked about that, I was told New York is closer to the North Pole, so Santa gets the presents there earlier. Woot! Early Christmas for me. So, doing the whole family thing didn’t have to change that. Me and the kids still spend the day with my family. They get up early Christmas morning and head to their dad’s house. Christmas in my house is quiet. I go to my sister’s for breakfast and then head home and relax. I may watch movies or read a new book I got. This year, me and a girlfriend may catch a double feature at the movie theater. I’m looking forward to it.

The question comes up pretty quick when you first separate. How to handle the holidays and birthdays. My suggestion is to not worry about what the ex is doing when it comes to gifts. Be yourself and do what is best for the kids. Don’t feel like you have to exchange with that person. But there are many relationships that end amicably and gift exchanges may be in the cards. That is so amazing and kudos to you both. Either way can be done in a healthy fashion so the kids understand that life goes on and it’s going to be okay. They pick up on our cues. No matter how sad or angry we feel, don’t let the kids see. At some point, it’s okay to let them know you are sad or hurt, but let’s not make it the holidays. Let them be kids and enjoy it.

So, I’ve shared my adventures, but there are so many more ways it can be done, as opposed to my “everything is separate” way. One of my girlfriends spends Christmas morning with her ex-husband and their family. They do a gift exchange, but the presents they buy for each other are from the kids. They buy the kids’ gifts together. I think this is a great way for the kids to see that their parents can still get along. It makes future events, such as weddings, birthdays,etc much more comfortable.

I have another girlfriend who just got back from an overseas trip with her soon to be ex-husband. They took their kids out of the country to visit his family over the Thanksgiving holiday. I watched her post pictures of her trip on Facebook. It looks like they had a fabulous time. As for Christmas, they are with Dad, to celebrate as his family celebrates, on Christmas Eve. but go back totheir mom’s house that night so they can wake up Christmas morning there. Dad comes over super early Christmas morning in his PJs and they all spend Christmas morning together.

I love hearing what everyone’s traditions are. While my divorce was not as amicable, we make it work and try to make things comfortable. But hearing other traditions shows that there is definitely hope and they holidays don’t have to be a source of anger and sadness. Please share your traditions too. We would love to hear them.