Twenty Wholesome Acts Of Love To Warm Your Cold 2020 Heart

I think we can all collectively agree that we could use a momentary break from bad news. 2020 has been, without a doubt, the biggest trash heap of a year in recent memory. I don’t even need to list the ways. I’m sure within just a few seconds you can come up with a list a mile long. It’s been nine months of Murphy’s Law in action.

But for a few minutes, let’s lay all of that aside. There is a time for heavy, and there is a time to take a quick break and think about something good. Like love.

Instead of carrying the weight of the hardest year we’ve ever faced, let’s escape for just a few minutes. What better way to forget how terrible the world can feel than to immerse yourself into people’s stories about ordinary-but-heartwarming times someone went out of their way to show their love?

Scary Mommy asked people to tell us their stories.

Trust me when I say, the answers are exactly what we all need right now to warm our cold, exhausted 2020 hearts. So, in no particular order, here is an adorable list of times that humans showed up, took care of one another, and reminded us that sometimes, love does still win.*

“My husband keeps a dry erase marker in the bathroom. He will randomly leave messages on my mirror. Sometimes he does it after a hard day, but sometimes he just wants to say how grateful he is for me.” –Emily D.

“Ever since COVID Quarantine began, both of us are working from home full-time. He works from the dining room table on the first floor. I work from my bedroom and office on the 3rd floor. Every single day, he brings me lunch on a tray. He’s the best.” –Heidi W.

“My mom is amazing. My dad travels for work, with most of his trips concentrated in the summer months. Before he leaves on his first trip, she coordinates with the doctor and pharmacy to get extra prescriptions, and she sits down and organizes all of his morning and evening pills into boxes for the entire season.” –Amanda E.

“When my husband wakes up to get ready for work, he puts a pillow on his side to block my face when he turns the lamp on, so it doesn’t wake me up.” –Rebecca S.

“My son, Isaiah, can’t speak, so he turns on Elmo videos about love and family, and hands me the iPad to watch. He never gives up his iPad unless he wants to show me love. He laughs and giggles and makes sounds like ‘Mom.’ Last visit, he danced with me to one of the videos. It’s our special way of saying I love you.” –Lori N.

“My girlfriend leaves me love notes, especially when I’m stressed. She slid one under the bathroom door while I was on a video call, and another time she left one in my laptop for me to find.” –Sa’iyda S.

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“He was really scared of my wheelchair when I met him. So it didn’t seem like it was going to work out. But I had a soft spot for him. Ted was the smallest of his litter. He’d been really sick and they didn’t know if he was going to survive. The first time I went to meet him, I collapsed in his owner’s kitchen. But Ted wiggled over toward me and laid down on my chest. Everyone thought it was so cute. It was the first time I’d ever had a health scare that turned into something positive– so it seemed like it was meant to be. There are two options when you get an assistance dog. You can get a dog that’s already been trained. Or you can train the dog yourself—and that’s what I wanted to do. Because I needed something. I have this genetic disease. It weakens every part of my body, but it didn’t get bad until my teenage years. So I had this wonderful life and then it was taken away. I was isolated from my friends for so long. I couldn’t go to school. It reached a point where I couldn’t see a reason to live anymore. I needed something to focus on besides my health. And Ted gave me that. He needed me and I needed him. I watched all the training videos I could find. I read all the books. I reached out to people and asked for help. It gave me a reason to talk to people again. I hadn’t done that in so long. And I learned that I was good at training. Everything just flowed. From day one—we’ve been so in sync. He can fetch me anything. He helps me get undressed. He even watches me when I sleep, and wakes me up if I’m having night terrors. My mom was having to help me with everything before I got Ted. And she loves me so much. But she has two other children, and I know she was getting so tired. But Ted doesn’t get tired. He loves to help. He’s so excited to help. He’ll pick up the same thing seventeen times. It makes him so happy. He’s my world—really. He saved my life. He made me happy again. And he takes so much pressure off my family. He gives me a break from being the disabled child. From being the focus of everyone’s attention. He lets me be a daughter. And a big sister. He lets me be Chloe again.”

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“My husband doesn’t like to cuddle at night, but I do, so he intertwines his legs with mine every night as a cute compromise.” –Lindsay W.

“My husband is a massive movie watcher. I rarely watch TV, let alone movies. Many weekends, you’ll find us on the couch, him watching a movie, and me leaning up against him reading a book. Last year, on our 22nd wedding anniversary, I gifted him with a scratch-off movie poster. I said that I would watch every movie on it with him, and I wouldn’t read a book while we watched. As we watch movies, we get to scratch off the title, and it reveals a picture underneath. I framed the poster, and he keeps it above his desk. Each weekend, he picks a new movie for us to watch together.” –Bekah A.

“My husband is amazing at this. This is one of my favorite stories. The text says it all.” –Rita T.

Courtesy of Rita T

“When our daughter was a newborn, my husband took his shower and get dressed for work in the dark so the light wouldn’t wake me or the baby.” –Kate C.

“Very simple, but my husband gets me a glass of water before bed every night. It started out when I asked him to grab me one while he was near the kitchen, then he’d ask if I wanted one nightly, and now he just gets it whether I want it or not. I’m very capable of getting my own cup of water, but he insists. It’s so sweet.” –Andrea G.

“My husband is deployed, so one of my college roommates and her wife hired a lawn guy to come cut my grass while he is gone, just to take off some of the extra load. It was the sweetest– and one of the most kind and loving things anyone has done for me!” –Carolyn G.

“My older brother and I love puzzles. Probably 15 years ago, I bought myself a new 1000-piece puzzle When I got to the end of the puzzle, I found I was missing a single piece. A couple days later, there was an envelope on the fridge from my brother. It had the piece in it. He hadn’t found it– he had bought the same exact puzzle, and then went through all 1000 pieces to find the one I was missing. I still think this is one of the sweetest big brother moves of all time.” –Libby P.

“I was hesitant to do reciprocal IVF. It just didn’t feel right to expect my wife to carry my biological child and endure the trials of labor and delivery. My wife looked at me and said, ‘The only thing in this world I want more than becoming a mother, is to make you one. Please let me do that for you.’ And she did, with nothing but good intentions, and love in her heart for me, and now our daughter.” –Desiree A.

“I got on the sourdough bandwagon during quarantine, and I’ve given away about 30 loaves to probably 25 people so far.” –Cara L.

“Typically, on Fridays my son and I go get a donut and go to the library for him to pick out books. The library has been closed during the pandemic, but I can still check out books online and pick them up. I’ve been listening to things he talks about or is interested in each week, and then picking books based on that. I want him to know that even though life is weird and out of sorts right now, I’m still listening.” –Amanda W.

“My husband has a close-knit group of friends from college. One of guys died by suicide several years ago. After this happened, the group paid for a year of yard service so his wife and kiddo would not have to worry about it. They also continue to help with things like putting up his son’s club house, and other projects their friend would have done around the house. It’s such a sweet way they show their friend’s son how much his father was loved by his friends, and how much his father loved him.” –Amanda L.

“I fill my wife’s car up with gas every Sunday, so she doesn’t have to rush around on Monday and can focus on getting to work safely. I am not even sure she notices, but it’s one of the ways I show my love.” –Nikkya H.

“My best friend lives five hours away from me. Whenever she mentions specific things she likes, I screen shot it and send it to her boyfriend. For example, she showed me a screenshot of how she ordered her coffee the other day, so I sent him a picture so he can bring her a coffee the way she likes it later.” –Kate D.

“My sister came to stay with us during quarantine. We were drowning with work and no childcare. Her being with us and loving on our kids was a lifesaver. She appreciated the company too after a month of being totally on her own, but little kids are exhausting and even through that, she kept loving on them and us.” –Ann O.

“My aunt sends my kids cards on important historical days and minor holidays with brief, age-appropriate descriptions about the reason for the celebration or remembrance. During the pandemic, she’s been sending them good news cards just to brighten their days. She lives far away and never had her own children, so this is her special way of contributing to children she loves.” Mae W.

I mean…can you even stand it? When people want to be amazing, we are really good at it. The world is heavy and everything is really hard right now, but beautiful things are still happening, too. Try to hold onto that truth, and hang in there.

*Stories may be edited for length and clarity.

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To The Friendships That Last Through The Decades

I met my best friend in the summer of ‘93. We were assigned roommates in college and had never laid eyes on each other until the day we moved in together. Such a strange concept when you think about it. 

Of course, we had no idea how it was going to work out or that we’d become best friends and still know — and love — each other in our mid-forties. 

When you are 18 and leave home for the first time, there are so many other things traveling through your brain that you can only take in so many worries at a time. Well, that and you are more concerned about finding, and being accepted by, a new group of friends … and where the party is going to be that night.

She’s been in my life for 27 years despite the fact that we live a few states away from each other, didn’t have kids at the same time, and our lives are very different now. Sometimes we don’t speak at all, for months, other than a few short messages checking in on each other.

How are you?

I miss you.

I just saw the trees were starting to change and thought of you.

Hey! The Hallmark Channel is starting to play Christmas movies on October 23! Can’t wait!

But last week I sent her a message asking her if she could talk. I was in a bad way and she knew it. When you are friends with someone for almost three decades, you are able to translate what they say into what they really mean.

Within seconds my phone rang. She was cleaning out her closet and we sat down and talked and cried for a few hours and I immediately felt better. Just like I knew I would.

I may not have seen her in a year, but she has my back and she knows I have hers.

We’ve both had other friends come and go, but our friendship has stuck for one reason: because we want it to.

A best friend is almost like your children in your unconditional love for each other. For me, my best friend feels like home and there are times when I really need her. But I don’t need her to prove her love to me all the time; it’s just a given.

This kind of friendship isn’t about being perfect, or never saying or doing something that will upset them. It is about taking responsibility when that happens. It is about letting the little shit go. It is about realizing that no matter what happens, the foundation that your friendship is built on is enough to take you through the months when you barely talk. And the knowledge that, no matter what, you will work it out. 

That foundation is enough to get you through the times when you shut down because your mental health is compromised and you have to get back to you.

It’s enough to recognize when they text you asking you if you can talk, it’s because you are the one they want when they are hurting.

It’s enough to make you feel incredibly lucky when you just think about how rare it can be to have that kind of friendship.

History with a friend has a way of beating everything else. When we are happy or sad or fucking confused, we want the person who gets us — who really knows us — because they were there when we went through that breakup, that difficult family situation, that death, the birth of our kids, our struggles with the anxiety that can swallow us whole.

Friendships that last through the years are the ones that are honest and strong. My best friend doesn’t let me get away with making excuses for myself or letting myself down. She’s not afraid to tell me when someone is treating me badly or when I’m not living up to my potential. She’s not afraid to call me out for my shitty behavior, and she expects the same from me.

If you’ve been friends with someone for decades, it’s because you want to be in each other’s lives.

You want to be there for each other regardless of the terrain and instead of making excuses to lose touch or dump them, you find reasons to keep loving them and stay in touch. 

You know it’s real and true when you can go weeks or months without talking, and you still bring out the best in each other.

Even when it’s just a phone conversation on a Monday, sitting on the floor of your closet.

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Passive-Aggressive Texting Is A Thing: Tips On Avoiding (Or Accomplishing) It

You may be a passive-aggressive texter. You probably don’t know it— or maybe you do, and you’re deploying it selectively. Passive-aggressive texting is real, because as NPR says in an article about the subject, language is always changing. Moreover, the way you use texting may be very different from the way your teen or tween uses it, and little tics could signal nastiness when none is meant.

When we text, we lack normal emotional cues we use to read a person’s tone, such as vocal range or facial expressions. That makes texting especially ripe for misunderstanding. Our language “has evolved,” NPR says, and the meaning of words and phrases is steadily shifting, especially among younger people.

Want to avoid passive-aggressive texting? Here are some tips. Want to engage in passive-aggressive texting? You might want to add these tips to your arsenal.

Avoid Periods At The End of A Message

As NPR says, periods can freak people out. Because we can just hit “send” at the end of a message, including a period at the end of a statement can  “indicate seriousness or a sense of finality.” When you combine it with something like “OK” or “Sounds good,” this passive-aggressive texting move can indicate a dismissiveness, or even the opposite of what you actually mean.

“Now you’ve got positive words and serious punctuation and the clash between them is what creates that sense of passive-aggression,” Gretchen McCulloch, a linguist and author, tells NPR.

Major Passive-Aggressive Texting Move: Replying “K”

Look, it’s only one other letter. When you answer “K,” you’re indicating that you are, in fact, not okay with something, says YourTango. It signals “sure, I’ll do it/pretend to be okay with it, but I’m really not, and I’m telling you that.” Major passive-aggressive texting move, especially when you combine it with a period. It also signals you don’t have time for the person: you’re not even using an extra letter. 

Thread-Jacking

This happens most often in group texts. Someone will comment on something, particularly something good that happened, and you jump in with a story or anecdote of your own without acknowledging it (“Well, this happened to me when…”) or “Good for you” or even worse, “Good for you, the same thing happened to me…” All this turns your genuine desire for communication into something about them. Total passive-aggressive texting move.

Omitting Emojis… Or Using Them Improperly

According to The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, love ’em or hate ’em, emojis are here to stay. With a smiley face, your passive aggressive period can become more passive aggressive. But with a heart and no period, you’re saying what you mean.

But emojis, Sara Kerr, a business professor at St. Catherine University, explains to The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, can also soften what you mean: they function as the facial expressions you can’t read. The word “Goodnight,” for example, followed by a period, has a passive-aggressive texting-like sound. But “Goodnight” sans period and followed by a heart (or more) softens the statement into what you may actually mean (“I’m leaving the conversation but it’s because you or I are going to sleep, not because I don’t want to talk to you anymore.”).

But when used with any other signs of passive-aggressive texting, an emoji can make everything worse. The ubiquitous smilie face isn’t enough. If you really want to soften things, try hearts or the LOL symbol.

Indicating The Text Is Read… And Not Responding: One of the Most Passive-Aggressive Texting Sins

This is one of the ultimate moves, YourTango says, that indicates passive-aggressive texting. You’re saying, “I don’t care about you enough to respond,” and “I see you, and don’t see you worthy of a response.” If you read it, you respond to it. Period. (pun intended).

Texting Long Paragraphs… Or Texting Over and Over and Over

Texting is by nature meant for short, pithy responses, says The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. If you’re sending a long response, agrees Bolde, you’re signaling that you planned something, and that while you may be saying something, you’re really ticked off about whatever’s happening… or you’re extra pissed off.

The same goes for texting a few-word answers over and over without waiting for a response in between. I’ve been known to pull this with my husband when I’m actually mad at him and don’t want to say so. It signals that there are multiple issues you need to express, and you’re not giving the other person time to respond. Totally passive-aggressive texting.

Texting “Ha”

You’re saying the opposite of what you mean when you text a two-letter response to something meant to be funny, says YourTango. By saying “ha,” (especially when you combine it with the period), you’re dismissing someone and indicating that whatever has happened is not actually funny at all.

Serious Passive-Aggressive Texting Move: “Can We Call Instead?”

Cardinal sin, says 11points. You’re indicating that whatever’s going on is not enough to deal with in a text message, and you need to communicate some kind of nasty message by talking. It’s the texting equivalent of “We need to talk,” and uncool. Like The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says, texting is for short answers. When you say you need to take it to the phone, you’re indicating, through passive-aggressive texting, that everything is not okay.

Multiple Question Marks

11points also notes that the more question marks you use after a statement, the more passive-aggressive texting you’re engaging in. One is okay. Two can indicate urgency. More than two and you’re into “oh my God, I’m so fucking exasperated” territory without actually saying it. Major passive-aggressive move. If you’re trying to be sincere, use one exclamation point… and soften it with an emoji.

Not Answering At All: The Ultimate Passive-Aggressive Texting

I don’t have time for you. I don’t care. I don’t want to read your message. This, especially when combined with a “text read” function, indicates you either: read the text and DGAF to answer, or when the person knows you have a text read function and don’t use it, says, “I don’t care enough about you to even read your message. Avoid at all costs. At least drop a message like, “Totally slammed, will get back to you [emoji].” Remember: if you’re trying to avoid passive-aggressive texting in this situation, avoid the period, soften with an emoji, and use slang like “totally” or “majorly.”

Then make sure you actually get back to the person. Otherwise you’ll piss them off and they may resort to the multiple-text without a response move.

There’s a few rules. Use them as you will: to indicate passive-aggressive texting, or to avoid it. But however you slice it, these things indicate you’re unhappy. Use them wisely.

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Why I Won’t Leave Grief Out Of My Relationship

The hardest thing I’ve ever done is bury my forty-year-old husband. The second hardest thing I’ve ever done is date after burying my forty-year-old husband. (Well, maybe third hardest. Raising two grieving children by myself is as hard as one might imagine.)

But I’m doing it. For a variety of reasons that are the subject of a different essay I haven’t yet found the words for, I’ve decided to jump—jump, wade, stumble, and trip—into the dating scene.

And dating in your (late) thirties is as difficult as the rumors suggest. There are bumps in the road that weren’t there the first time I entered the dating scene as a fresh-faced twenty-something. There are jobs and kids and mortgages. Everyone, including me, is more jaded and set in their ways. There’s baggage that once wasn’t there.

Dating in your late thirties as a widow and solo parent is even more difficult than that. There’s all that comes with simply dating in your thirties, plus more. Guilt commingles with hope. Butterflies of excitement flutter in and through the cracks of a broken heart. New memories are created as old memories play in the back of your mind. There’s never a moment on any date during which I’m not holding two contrasting emotions. (Sometimes I think that ability—to hold two completely opposing feelings at once—is a widow super power, because all super heroes have tragic origin stories, right?) There are logistics that often seem impossible to figure out at best, or completely insurmountable at worst, and conversations that are wildly uncomfortable. And there’s grief.

So much grief at every single step of the way.

The very first date when the man I met looked like a twenty-year-older version of the picture that accompanied his profile: it was dominated by grief because I was supposed to be done with first dates. (To be fair, it would have been dominated by grief even if he’d looked like his picture.)

The first time I went to a restaurant I’d gone to with my husband with a new man: grief layered over grief because the past was playing on loop in my mind, superimposing itself onto the present.

The first time someone broke my heart: the hurt threatened to destroy any bit of forward progress I’d made. Not because the heartbreak was that devastating, but because my heart was supposed to be safe from these kind of trivial dings. And because any heartbreak sends me reeling back to that ultimate heartbreak: the moment I took a breath and he didn’t.

Recently, I was chatting with a friend about a speed bump I’d hit in a new relationship. The bump was minor; the grief was not. The details of the speed bump are largely irrelevant—speed bumps are inevitable when two people with full lives attempt to date. And yet, this speed bump happened to fall around the same time as the anniversary of the day my late husband had asked me to marry him. As a result, the minor speed bump was tearing me up.

A friend advised me to separate the grief. It’s good advice. Sound, logical advice that I should follow. But I told her I couldn’t—and wouldn’t—separate the grief. Not because I was being stubborn, and not because I couldn’t see the benefit of separating the grief from the issue at hand, but because grief is, and always will be, a part of who I am now.

When my husband died, the person I was when he was alive died, too. Everything from the way I smiled to the way I thought and breathed and lived was different. It took what felt like an eternity to learn to be this new person, to think the way she thought and breathe the way she breathed and live the way she lived. It was a hard-won battle, and one that I’m proud to have won (or proud to be learning how to win because it’s an ongoing process). But the only way I could have won that battle was by embracing the grief, by accepting that every moment will have a lining of grief. Which means that this lining of grief isn’t something to hide or be ashamed of, or even something that I want to change. It’s just a part of me, a battle scar of sorts.

As a result, anyone who wants to be with me, as a friend or otherwise, has to appreciate the grief part of me, that invisible battle scar.

Accepting the grief part of me doesn’t mean giving me free rein to be horrible or irrational. If I am, anyone in my life is free to call me out and to expect an apology. Grief doesn’t mean immunity from basic decency or a pass for all mistakes.

But it does mean sometimes I’m more emotional than someone else might be. It means small deals may feel like big deals to me and the date on the calendar is the reason a speed bump suddenly looks like a roadblock. But also I’d like to think it means I’m more compassionate and more able to see the forest for the trees.

The truth is, I can’t separate the grief, because as a young widow, I was forged in grief. That battle scar is too much a part of my foundation. The people meant to be in my life will love me not despite the grief, and not because of it, but because I am me, invisible scars and all.

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Dear Childfree Friends: Thanks For Not Giving Up On Me

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a girl’s girl. Or a woman’s woman, if we’re being age-precise.

Female friendships have played an important role in my life, and I’ve always had a close-knit group of friends to rely on throughout life’s growing pains—breakups, job losses, the works. It was something I prided myself on. After all, friendships are voluntary, with no familial bond to keep us together, making them even more significant.

When I learned I was pregnant with my first, my friend circle exploded in a frenzy of baby shower planning and creating the perfect baby registry. The excitement was doubled by the fact that I was the first one to have a baby—half of my friends were living the single life, with no motherhood plans in sight, and the other half was seeing it as a distant possibility.

In my naiveté, I was looking forward to weekend brunches with the girls and evening strolls at the park with a baby in tow, only to have those dreams bulldozed by the reality of caring for a newborn.

To put it mildly, I was a hot mess. My nipples were bleeding (breastfeeding turned out to be a lot trickier than advertised), and in one moment I became aware that switching from breast milk to formula was inevitable. To top it off, I was shedding hair by the brush-full, and my mood swings were giving my hubby whiplash.

My friends—bless their hearts—helped out by bringing over hot meals and doing our laundry, but one look at my state told them everything they needed to know: There was no way I’d be joining those brunches anytime soon.

And as I changed yet another pair of nursing pads, the curse that is social media let me know about all the things I was missing out on. It wasn’t long before I felt the familiar pang of jealousy in my stomach (and no, it wasn’t my C-section scar) and panic that I’d end up friendless by the time my daughter cut her first tooth.

But trying to make plans was even worse, as I had realized that I’d rather spend my free time sleeping than socializing. Oh God, it hit me one night. So this is what everyone was talking about.

One of my friends joked that setting up a lunch date with me was like scheduling a meeting with royalty. Although I clearly wasn’t Kate Middleton, I knew that the days of spontaneous meet-ups were over. I now needed Google Calendar and an automated reminder 24 hours in advance so I wouldn’t stand anyone up because I forgot what day it was!

However, when we did finally manage to get together, it was worth all the planning in the world. Listening to my friends’ love problems and work troubles pulled me out of my mom brain fog and reminded me that, yes, there is an outside world out there that I would experience again.

Phone calls became more frequent than before, especially if I had a really bad day and needed to speak to someone who was not my husband. But I also made it clear that even though my priorities had shifted, I could still offer a friend support when she needed it. Even though I could no longer relate to the whole concept of getting ghosted by a guy you were dating for two months, I could certainly still call him a total jerk and tell you to block his ass.

Likewise, they listened to me go into every detail of my daughter’s last checkup and my breastfeeding woes, despite them having no clue about what engorgement really felt like and why in the world anyone would want to stuff cabbage leaves down their bra.

On the other hand, it took me a while to realize that my friends were hesitant to invite themselves over for a visit because they didn’t want to disturb the family peace. And no one wants to be that person who barges in when a baby is screaming her head off. After we’d settled in with our new routines, I made it clear to my friends that they were welcome to come over, as long they called first.

However, over the course of the first year of my little one’s life, I made some new friends, too. Living in a big city, it wasn’t hard to connect to other moms after I had my first child, and it felt natural to seek out friendships with women who also had a seat on the same rollercoaster. With them, I could go into all of the gross details of my baby’s last blowout and be fairly certain they weren’t internally screaming for me to shut up.

I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that making new mom friends could alienate you from your old friends, and there are many cases where this holds true. But the flip-side of the coin is that new friendships can strengthen your older ones. They balance out your need to talk about mom life to those who can’t relate to it, leading to less resentment in the long term.

Looking back, motherhood proved to be a sifter for the people in my life. Not everyone made it through to the other side, and I must admit that growing apart from some women in my life was painful.

But I am eternally grateful to those who stayed; they’re now my daughter’s favorite aunts, and the best role models any parent could wish for.

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My Kids’ Social Lives Are Important, But So Is Mine — And It’s Suffering

My face lit up with excitement the morning I received a text from the father of my daughters’ friend Kylie. He reached out one morning, early, asking if the girls could FaceTime. I could almost feel the desperation in his text message. He and I exchanged the typical parental text: “What time works best?” “What did you decide to do about this school year — are you sending her to in-person class?” ”Maybe they should talk every day, they enjoyed it.” And with those brief texts, I realized that this conversation was the first I’d had with another adult, socially, other than my wife in two weeks.

I speak daily with my colleagues, of course, but not with my friends. When my daughters figured out how to use the filters on my iPhone while FaceTiming with Kylie before I even knew such filters existed, I knew I needed to get intentional about carving out a social time of my own (and perhaps even learn how to use the filters too).

At the start of the pandemic, I checked in with my friends daily, but as it has raged on, I’ve been less inclined to reach out. Maybe it’s because of exhaustion, or maybe because I am usually the one who reaches out to my friends, the one who checks in. “Just saying hi” or “Just wanted to make sure you’re okay,” began most of my text messages. And I am tired.

I value my friendships greatly, but to add another “thing” to my to-do list these days seems impossible. I need to pick and choose where I exert my energy because that well is dry. To add anything else to my overflowing plate, I need to take something else off. And with school starting in just a few days, I plan on doing some rearranging of my priorities. I won’t have a choice. When my kids giggled and discussed between them how funny their conversation with their friend was, a familiar “friend” of my own resurfaced — loneliness. My kids presently have a better social life than I do. And I plan on changing that.

Right now, all of my energy goes to making sure my kids can stay social, to remember their friends and to connect with them, to feel connected to other people outside of their family. This is equally important to me as my own social life — making sure my kids feel socially connected, too.

In Lydia Denworth’s essay in The Atlantic, “What Happens When Kids Don’t See Their Peers for Months,” she says, “Relationships with peers are how kids learn about cooperation, trust, and loyalty, as well as how to not just receive support from their parents, but also give it to others. Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and the measures that parents, schools, and governments have put in place to limit its spread, millions of children across the United States are missing out on friendship.”

I don’t want my kids to miss out on building friendships, so FaceTime and afternoon play sessions with kids on our block, for now, give them what they need — at least temporarily. And by default, I see my neighbors (the parents of the kids my kids are playing with) a lot more these days. And we are bonding, yes, but it’s different. They aren’t my chosen people and I am not theirs but we are making it work right now, for the sake of our kids.

What I need is different. I yearn for the physical connections, the welcome hugs, and the shoulder to shoulder experience of making dinner together with my best friend. I looked to Google for answers, of course, and searched phrases like “Why it’s important to stay social,” and “new ways to go about socializing during a pandemic” — with no luck or guidance as to how I could change my present social life or improve it in some way. I wanted to be near my friends, have a cocktail over dinner or brunch on a Saturday morning. I found advice geared towards aging adults (which I am, yes, but not yet considered geriatric) or about how to safely gather while staying six feet apart. Nothing practical. Maybe next time I’ll Google “virtual brunch date” and see what pops up.

I have not figured out how to be as intentional about supporting my own social life, which I need — and FaceTime, let’s be honest, isn’t going to cut it no matter how amazing the filters are. My giggles aren’t as cute as my five-year-old twin daughters. Psychology Today notes, “Human beings are social animals, and the tenor of someone’s social life is one of the most important influences on their mental and physical health.” So, moms, if you’ve figured out a way to socialize with your friends, in a way that works for you, that isn’t on FaceTime, please, drop me a line. I mean, we are all in this together, right?

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Let’s Talk About Our First Crush

Let’s do a fun walk down memory lane. Think about your first crush, those first flutters of excitement that were more than friendship. They were waves of affection that maybe you didn’t have words for yet, but you felt them. Seriously, close your eyes for a second and think about the person those feelings were for.

Where were you? Do you remember their name? Magical, right? Those warm fuzzies when the person got close to you or sent attention your way were intoxicating. Or maybe your butterflies made you nervous to the point of losing the ability to speak or make eye contact. Perhaps your first crush made you simultaneously blush and want to vomit. Puppy love is the best. It’s also pretty uncontrollable and can sneak up on us when we least expect it. Now think about, whether told to you directly or overheard, when you knew your feelings of affection were wrong. Did you ever believe you weren’t allowed to express your feelings of attraction or love for someone, either in words or actions?

Now let’s add another layer. Let’s talk about gender, which is different than how we fall in love or develop attractions to other people. Think about the first time you were aware of your gender. Have you ever thought about your gender identity or questioned it?

Everyone is assigned male or female at birth based on their biological sex. Sadly, some doctors and parents choose to force visibly intersex babies into boxes by performing non-consensual surgeries to create or remove genitalia or sex organs that don’t “match” the chosen gender. Along with the assumed gender assignment is the assumption that we will all agree with that assigned gender. But what if we don’t? What happens when we don’t accept the gender label or a binary label at all? Who’s wrong and who holds the answers to our own identity?

If your most authentic self has always been accepted, you may never have considered that someone who experienced the same explorations of self has grown up believing or being told that their experiences were wrong, bad, and sinful. This makes a person feel that they are wrong, bad, and full of sin for something they have no control over.

I and others folks who identify somewhere on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum are constantly being challenged and asked or forced to change who we are. We are expected to prove that what we are feeling is valid or correct. We are asked and expected to answer so many questions, only to then be openly doubted; the difference is that we are expressing ourselves in a way that is not perceived as “normal.” But what is more normal than a first crush? Or a person’s sense of self?

My friend Karen (the good version of Karens) at The 21st Century SAHM posted this meme to call out this double standard.

Sexuality and gender are fluid, and everyone’s journey is different, but kids have a pretty good sense of themselves from an early age. Unfortunately, some people think transgender or queer kids equate to sexual deviants, then these same people reveal themselves to be hypocrites when they sexualize kids by assuming their relationships will be heterosexual. With the assumption that a child is straight and cisgender, adults tease kids who have different gender friendships by asking when the wedding will be. Adults are quick to tell a child they will be a “heartbreaker,” dress them in shirts that declare “Stud Like My Daddy,” or warn parents to lock up their daughters lest a boy can’t keep his hands to himself. These misguided heteronormative ideas sexualize kids and hurt LGBTQIA+ youth. Gross and more gross.

According to the Human Rights Campaign LGBTQ Youth Report, 67% percent of youth report that they’ve heard family members make negative comments about LGBTQ people. And when queer kids aren’t at home, they are at school where only 13% of youth report hearing positive messages about being LGBTQ. There is damage in the vocal negativity and in the silence that doesn’t let kids know that the negativity is wrong and that they are far from being bad or someone who should live in shame or fear.

People are interesting if nothing else. Some people wonder why there are so many kids coming out these days. People say they don’t remember there being “so many” gay or transgender people when they were younger; this new wave of queer youth must be a fad. But when a person comes out later in life, perhaps even after a straight marriage or a life lived as a gender that wasn’t right, people judge them for waiting so long. How could you not have known? Look at the damage you have caused.

Many of us did know at an early age, but we hid who we are because we knew it wasn’t safe to come out. And when we did finally let the world know our most authentic self, we may have hidden even longer because of too many years of internalized shame and the need to live up to expectations put on us by society and family.

Be this kind of Karen and listen to your kids. Support them. Just like you probably knew who you liked when you were in elementary school, your kids do too. And as sure as you may have always been about your gender identity, trust your kids when they aren’t sure about theirs. Parents need to put the same ease and open-mindedness into accepting the idea their kid may be queer as they put into assuming their kids are straight and heterosexual.

Age doesn’t equal ignorance. If a child trusts us enough to share their truth, believe them.

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What I Wish Women Knew Before Dating A Dad

If you’re dating and you’re over 30, chances are you’re going to end up meeting a man who has a kid. It’s practically inevitable. Some people know that dating a man who’s a father is not their jam. And that’s great. It’s better to know your limits from the beginning. However, plenty of women enter relationships with fathers willingly. And while they may think they’re ready, there’s a lot they don’t anticipate. As a woman whose ex is a father who dates, there are some things I wish women knew before dating a dad.

Even if a man doesn’t have primary custody of his child (or children), if he’s a presence in their lives, he’s going to make them a priority — whether he has a custody arrangement and/or contributes to their lives financially. If you’re going to be with a man with a child, you have to know you’re going to be second. You have to be able to handle that, or there are going to be problems. Sometimes he’s going to need to cancel to pick up his kid. You may not be able to take a trip because he has child support payments to make. There are things you’re going to have to sacrifice. Some women may think they’re fine dating a dad, but the deeper they get into the relationship, the more they realize they’re not so into it.

My son’s father has been in a relationship for the last three years. His girlfriend is great and has a good relationship with my son. But even with a good relationship, things come up that can put a strain on a relationship. For the last few months, my son’s father has been unemployed due to COVID. I was working more and asking him to take our son for longer periods of time. He was on board, but his girlfriend was not. Her fear is my rambunctious six-year-old interrupting her work time. She has a lot of meetings all day, and having my son around is distracting. This put my son’s dad in a really difficult situation.

My ex wanted to take our son, but it was causing friction between him and his girlfriend. I tried to be as sympathetic as possible, but I admit, I was frustrated. I understand his girlfriend’s concerns about being distracted. That’s literally been my reality since March. She has an office that she can hide in. I don’t. I have had to hide in my bathroom to do phone or video meetings, and my son has barged in on those meetings because he has to pee. I needed help, and my ex is committed to raising our son together. Also, his son desperately wants more time with him. Ultimately, he had to come up with a solution that worked best for him.

What I wanted to say to his girlfriend — but didn’t — is that this is the reality of dating a dad. My son is rambunctious anyway, and being stuck in the house for the last six months isn’t helping. But if she’s going to be in a relationship with his dad, she’s going to have to deal with it. Because at the end of the day, my son is his father’s top priority. And as inconvenient as it is to have a loud child around, that’s life. I didn’t want my son interrupting me during a phone interview with an important source, but that happened. And I had to roll with it. She only has to deal with him being around for a few hours, a couple days a week.

It sucks when my ex’s girlfriend gives him a hard time about seeing his son, because then he feels like he has to choose. It’s not fair to put fathers in that position. Yes, it’s true that biologically or even legally, this isn’t your kid. But as soon as you make a commitment to the relationship, this kid is a part of your life. We all have to be adaptable, because life happens. And a dad shouldn’t have to always be the one to compromise his relationship with his kids.

I get how hard it is to have to play second to children. Their needs should always be more important. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t a priority in your relationship. It means that you have to be more willing to share your partner. Unfortunately, that’s how it is when you’re dating a dad. You have to constantly make the commitment to being okay with the fact that your partner has kids that aren’t yours. It’s important, especially before you get married, to check in with yourself and make sure you’re still okay with the arrangement. And if you’re not, then you need to communicate that.

As you continue dating a dad, you need to know — it doesn’t get easier. Kids only get older and need more time and attention. So you may be fine when they’re toddlers and then be miserable once they’re in grade school. At some point, you need to be honest with yourself. Ask yourself if you’re really cut out for being in this relationship long-term. You may think so, but then quickly realize that you’re reaching your breaking point. That’s where the friction comes from; women not being honest with themselves and their partners about how they feel about those kids. If you ever think you could second-guess or not feel comfortable with it, you need to be open about it. You may be saving everyone a lot of stress down the road.

As the ex and mother of a child, I can assure you most of us want to get along. We don’t want you to resent our kids. It makes our lives more difficult. It is our sincere hope that you love our babies as much as we do. And if you’re one of the ones who do, thank you. Dating a dad isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. No one will fault you for that. In fact, it’s more commendable to know your personal limitations.

But if you’re going to do it, you have to go into it with the understanding that your life is going to change. You really have to be ready for that.

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Teach Your Kids To Check In With Their Friends Right Now

With school starting in the middle of a global pandemic, everyone’s anxiety is running on high: parents’ anxiety, teachers’ anxiety, and—don’t forget—kids’ anxiety, too. We also have a high-stakes presidential election coming up. The news is scary: colleges are shutting down; experts are worried about this coming flu season. Whether you’ve chosen to do homeschool, virtual school, or in-person school, we’ve all learned that we’re in this pandemic together. We’re not going to make it to the other side happy and healthy unless we pull together, and making sure to check in with each other is one of the most important things we can do.

We need to teach that skill to our kids, and we need to teach it now. 

Aside from being an important interpersonal and empathetic skill our kids will need later in life, a check- in helps everyone. Kids often know things before adults do. A child will tell another child things they won’t spill even to a trusted adult; a simple check in can show a kid who may not be in trouble now, but who might see trouble later, that there’s a safe place to go, a safe person to talk to. Moreover, when kids are having trouble, a whole family may be having trouble.

Kids want to help others. They just don’t know how. When we proactively teach them how to check in with their friends, we give them the tools to help, and that boosts their own self-esteem. They have a way to help; they have something to add. They can be a vital part of this web that holds up our world right now. And to a kid in the middle of all this worry, that little bit can go a long way.

But COVID…

Obviously, these check-ins are going to look different than they would before COVID-19. Normally, your kid might talk to their friends on the bus or at recess or in the lunchroom. But with so many schools going virtual, they’ll have to rely heavily on classroom behavior and social media to monitor their friends. Their check-ins will look a whole lot more like PMs and DMs, like Snapchats and Facebook messages, than they will the traditional sit-down and chat.

Some of the signs of sadness will be different, too: statuses that seem off, comments on Twitter or Snapchat or TikTok. It’ll be easier to text a friend than it will to grab a latte—it’s hard to hold a decent conversation from six feet away. But nonetheless, you have to teach your kids to look for signs and to reach out to friends. Here are some ways to do it.

How To: A General Check In

There are several different ways to check in. The first kind can happen in any situation: when a person seems okay or not okay; when they seem like they need help or don’t need help. It works in any situation, and kids can use it casually with their friends as a chance to practice active listening (really listening and asking questions based on what’s said, not waiting for their turn to talk, keeping the focus on the other person). It can help cement friendships and make your child more empathetic in general.

This check in, adapted from the one by Mental Health America, has your child ask another several things:

  1. How do you really feel today? No (giggle) “fine” isn’t enough of an answer!
  2. What kinds of stuff have you been thinking about? Is it good stuff or bad stuff?
  3. What are you looking forward to?

It’s important that when your kid does this check in, they let the person speak as long as they need to. They can ask questions, but the questions should ask for clarification of the answers, and any comments they make should be brief and sympathetic (“Wow, that’s hard,” or “Cool! Tell me more!”or “Man, I bet that made you sad,”), and keep the focus on the other person.

Keep It Non-Judgmental

They should never say things like “it’s no big deal,” or “don’t worry about it,” or “chill out” or “calm down.” Those phrases invalidate a person’s feelings. Use an example like this with them: maybe a really smart kid is worried about a test they’re certain to ace. Rather than say, “Oh, chill out, you know you’ll get an A,” they could say, “We all worry about tests sometimes. That’s such a rough feeling. I believe in you, though.”

When they invalidate a person’s feelings, they’re judging which feelings are okay or not.

Teach your kids that’s not their job. They are not the arbiter of someone else’s inner life. You feel what you feel. Period.

Tell them that a word to a trusted teacher—”Hey, if you could do something special for Josh today, that would be cool. He’s kind of sad”—could go a long way. Then it’s your job to ask if they checked in with their friends that day. You don’t want to turn them into mommy’s little spy, but you need to ask questions about who they checked in with, and if the kid seemed sad, probe a little deeper. If a certain kid seems sad or anxious all the time, take it to someone who can do something about it.

The Check In: When Someone’s Sad

Your child is going to encounter sad people. You want your kid to be the kid who steps up, not the kid who steps away; the one who does a check in, not the one who check out. To make them that kid, arm them with the right words to say and the right things to do to help someone who’s hurting. We’ve adapted this helpful checklist from Beyond Blue, an anxiety and depression service:

  1. Ask if they want to talk about it. Maybe they do. Maybe they don’t. If they don’t, your kid could say something like, “Talking can be good. Do you have someone you’d rather talk to who I can go get?” If they say no, skip to #3.
  2. Listen. Just… listen. This is where that practice in active listening we talked about above is useful. Sad people don’t want you to talk about yourself, wait for your turn to talk, or hear about this one time your life sucked the same way. They want you to hear about them and validate them. And remember not to judge!
  3. Be there. Your child can say something like, “Do you mind if I stay with you while you’re sad? If I can’t do anything else, maybe I could make sure you aren’t sad by yourself. You don’t have to talk.”
  4. Later, tell an adult. Assure your child that doesn’t mean the kid will get hauled to guidance or the principal’s office. It means that adults need to know who’s having a rough time, and if kids keep having a rough time again and again, they may need help.

When Something Seems Really Wrong

Your kid, especially if he or she is a teen, may encounter people who are more than simply sad. The National Alliance for Mental Illness gives a list of things to alert your child to watch out for: things that merit an immediate check in and a report to an adult. Be honest: these things will trigger all the alarm bells. But also be honest that these behaviors are life-threatening and trigger all the alarm bells for a reason. Explain to your child that telling an adult about this type of check in might make their friend angry—but it’s better to have an angry friend than a friend in dire straits that they didn’t help.

  1. A withdraw from social activities, or seeming down for an extended period of time
  2. Self-harm: cutting, burning, etc.
  3. Threats of suicide, or even comments like, “The world would be better if I wasn’t around,” or “My family/friends would be better off without me.”
  4. Sudden and extreme anxiety that prevents them from doing normal things
  5. Signs of an eating disorder: not eating, vomiting, using laxatives, taking appetite suppressants, etc.— no matter what their weight
  6. Use of drugs or alcohol (at all, if they’re younger, and excessively or dangerously, if they’re a teenager

Obviously, you’re not going to tell your elementary schooler to watch for the use of drugs and alcohol. But a check in is something every single kid can do, even a kindergartener, and they can have a big effect not just on the kid who’s being checked on, but on your kid’s self esteem. It gives them a sense of agency: they can help too.

When we say we’re in this together, we mean all of us. That includes kids. Give them the chance to be there for others, too.

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I’m Sorry I Didn’t Answer Your Text—I’m Just Burned Out

My phone has always been, and will always be, a mess of untouched notifications. There exists an entire contingent of people who immediately clear their phone notifications. Those people have a visceral reaction to seeing all the little red circles with the too-high numbers beside too many of the apps on my phone screen. But messy phones are like messy rooms, and they (whoever they are) always say that messy rooms are the sign of a creative mind, right?

I like to tell myself that anyway. And I have no intention of becoming a person who instantly deals with her notifications. It’s probably not that difficult, but also, my to-do list is long enough, and my general feeling about it is “eh.” I’m ambivalent, at minimum, about the ignored notifications.

But there is one notification bubble that doesn’t feel like “eh,” and that I am more than ambivalent about. Yet it remains, the number inside the red circle swelling, as I continue to avoid doing anything about the red circle at all.

It’s the notification for a new text message.

There are so many reasons I forget to answer text messages. Sometimes I read a new message, and if I can’t instantly answer, I forget to respond because it’s pushed out of my head by a thousand subsequent things that I need to do. (In that case, it doesn’t add to the high number in the red circle, of course, but the text message has still gone unanswered.)

Other times I forget because the answer requires more than an emoji and two words, and I don’t have the mental bandwidth at the moment to compile the words the response needs, or my brain is otherwise occupied focusing on other words.

And sometimes I simply forget because I’m tired of pandemic parenting and COVID living and it’s taking all my energy to just do both. Because I’m burned out and tired and having nothing left to give, even to a few words on a screen.

At this moment, there are a handful of text messages sitting on my phone from June. I never opened the messages to read them, though I know what they say. I had a chance to read them as they appeared on my locked phone screen and then I made the conscious choice not to open any of them. Because the notification, the red bubble with the high number, was going to “remind” me to later answer the text message. It did not. It has not. And as a result, I haven’t spoken to the particular friends who sent those messages since June.

To those friends, I’m sorry I didn’t answer your message. Your messages weren’t about logistics—I respond fast to questions like: Does the local supermarket have paper towels today? Your messages weren’t memes that needed nothing more than a “haha” reaction, and they weren’t messages that required immediate attention for another reason. They were messages that spoke to the heart of this life, of solo parenting and pandemic parenting and grieving while living—even if that’s not what they were meant to speak to. They were largely innocent messages that asked how things were going or what the kids thought about distance learning. They were messages that if I wanted to answer honestly—which is the kind of answer you deserve—would require cracking open the walls I’ve built these last six months and admitting to myself how hard this all is. Admitting the same to you.

The truth is that I can’t admit that. If I do, the floodgates will open, and I’ll have to admit to the simmering guilt constantly telling me I’m not doing enough for my kids, and the weight I’m carrying as my to-do list grows exponentially despite my best efforts. I’d have to admit to the undercurrent of fear I wake up with every morning, hoping today isn’t the day I learn that the choices I’ve made to keep my family healthy and reasonably happy have been wrong. You see, I couldn’t answer your text messages, because then I’d have to admit to you, and to myself, exactly how burned out I am. So I’m sorry I didn’t answer your text message. As they say in the movies: it’s not you, it’s me.

I know there are phones out there where my text messages are sitting unanswered, waiting as little numbers in red reminder bubbles, and I forgive you for forgetting or overlooking or being too burned out to answer my text.

Because I’m sure your reasons for not answering are the same. Your reasons may be identical to mine or they may be reasons that I can’t even begin to imagine. We’re all living through a pandemic and we’re all trying our best.

Most importantly, when you do text me, I won’t ask why my original text went unanswered for so long. I won’t make you feel guilty for holding me as a number in a little red bubble for so long. I’ll know you’re doing your best to be everything for everyone. Instead, I’ll be grateful to see the message from you, because maybe it means that, for the moment, you’re feeling a little less burned out. And I hope that’s true.

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