What Not To Do When Blending Families

In my 30-something years of life, you could say that I’ve successfully fucked things up a time or two. Thanks to my masochistic penchant for consistently having to learn things the hard way, I’ve been accused of being slightly impulsive and making mistakes so major, I’d never forget the lessons they taught me. And then I got divorced.

Divorce, in my opinion, was the most royal fuck-up of all, or maybe it was marrying someone I only knew for less than year and hoping for the best. Having left my now ex-husband with a two-year-old in tow, I learned a cold, hard lesson about thinking things through.

So, when it came time to for my fiancé and I to blend our two daughters and create a new family dynamic, you can imagine why I was determined to get it right.

Perfection has never been my goal – that went out the window a long time ago, around the same time I tossed all the skinny jeans I saved from my pre-baby life. But happiness, harmony, and contentment were the new goals, even if it seemed impossible in a home built after two divorces, with two daughters in two very different age brackets.

Hearing horror stories from friends, articles we googled, and even the child psychologist who helped us with the transition, put my fiancé and I on edge. Our anxiety was through the roof as we prepared the girls for the move, made arrangements for movers, and started the official blend just four months ago.

Liuda Lebedz/Reshot

But as it turned out, our visions of miserable, angry children and our fairytale love story turning to resentment and anger never came to fruition. All of our fears dissipated when we saw the happiness in our girl’s faces each time they entered our home.

Maybe it was our level of care and attention, or the self-awareness that comes about when you realize you have little room for error, but whatever it was, we’ve learned a ton in the last few months. I’m not saying our way of doing things in this new blended life is on-point 100% of the time, but we’ve definitely learned what NOT to do to keep the recipe as close to perfect as possible.

1. Hanging on to expectations and assumptions

Get rid of these – asap. Your expectations and assumptions of what your blended family should look like, feel like, and sound like need to not exist. Why? You cannot expect anything from a situation you’ve never been in before. You cannot assume your child, new partner and/or his children are going to do things the way you’re used to them being done. You’re blazing a whole new path here, one that requires a lot of bravery, and also a whole lot of patience.

Your partner’s bedtime routine with their child is going to be different than yours. Their discipline habits, ideas on how much dinner needs to be consumed before dessert, rules about TV and technology will to. Your child may leave her wet towels in places your new partner will balk at, and vice versa.

Expecting anyone to do anything the way you did before you lived with them is like expecting to know tonight’s winning lottery numbers – six thousand percent impossible. 

2. Brushing issues under the rug to avoid confrontation

There will be things that piss you off about your new blended situation. There will be things that piss your partner off about your new blended situation. There will be days that suck so hard even though the days before seemed like heaven. You need to be able to confront these issues to move on from them – building resentment has no place in your new blended home.

Communication is your lifeline. If you and your partner have not learned how to successfully communicate before moving your families in together, I suggest you learn quickly. You may be scared to have any moments of discord with your new partner in front of their child, knowing full-well that you now live in a fish bowl and everything that happens will go back to that child’s parent, but so what? Who cares? This is your new life, and you have to do what it takes to make it right.

3. Fearing the fish bowl

Yes, it sucks, I know. You now live in a world where everything you say or do will be repeated to a person who likely doesn’t support your new living situation all that much. From the way you look when you wake up, how you parent your own child, how you messed up your new stepchild’s favorite dinner recipe, to how cranky you get at the end of the day – this will all be discussed behind your back at one point or another.

GET OVER IT.

The worst thing you can do is live in a way that is unnatural just to avoid being talked about. This is your home now, your world and comfort zone, and if you can’t live in it peacefully because you’re scared the gossip might fly, there is no way you’re going to enjoy this new adventure.

4. Not being mindful of the other parent

My child has a father. My stepdaughter has a mother. Both of these people still play crucially important roles even though they are not under our roof. Moving in with someone else’s child and thinking that you, for one second, can replace the parent who is missing them on the other side of town is a huge mistake.

So is trying to be the “fun” stepmom or stepdad.

For example, my fiancé and I make a conscious effort, every single day and in every situation, to remind our children that their parents matter too. When my stepdaughter asks me for something or wants my advice, I always check with her mom first before giving my opinion or purchasing anything. When my daughter wants to do something that my fiancé knows her father would not approve of, he reminds her of that. This is not only crucial for your relationship with your partner’s ex, but for your stepchild to understand that even when they are not with their biological parent, that there is a level of respect that must be maintained.

5. Trying to spend every minute together

Newsflash: before you blended your family, your partner and his child(ren) got endless alone time together. Having divorced parents often means that children get their parents all to themselves for a while, so having to share them again is tough.

Being a blended family is exciting – it is so damn nice to have a family unit again. But it’s important to remember to allow for some space too, and that overkill is deadly here. I am a staunch supporter of my stepdaughter’s alone time with my fiancé. I encourage daddy/daughter dates, days, trips, and anything that reminds her that she is still the number one lady in his life – and he does the same for me and my child, which makes for a lot more love and respect in our new blended life than we ever anticipated.

Look, blending a family is a constant work in progress. Just like in a typical family dynamic, issues will always arise – but it’s in how you handle them that determines your success, and of course, remembering what NOT to do.

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Why It’s Important For Me To Be Friends With My Ex

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, relationships just don’t work out and the end of a relationship is always a challenge. But when you have children together, things are infinitely more complicated. It can be hard to have a positive relationship, much less a friendship, but sometimes it can be possible.

Being friends with my ex was always a priority to me; I knew that it was going to be the best way for us to successfully co-parent our child.

Our split was a long-time in the making. We’d been together for about six and a half years, the last two of which were long distance. I knew I was unhappy, and he was emotionally checked out, so we both knew it was coming and necessary. There wasn’t an explosive incident; we simply grew apart.

Our break-up was amicable, which makes friendship a whole lot easier.

Our son is still young so being friendly with my ex is important to me. We still have a lot of life left to live, and I always want him to be there for our son. So if I want him to be involved, we have to make the effort.

Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

There are parts of our son’s life we will have to do together. First days of school. Christmases. Birthdays. High school graduation. Taking him to college if he chooses to go. Maybe one day he gets married. Or what about if/when he has kids? I couldn’t force my son to divide his life because his dad and I can’t be in the same room.

Being friendly with my ex isn’t always easy though. Most of the time, it’s really fucking hard. There are a many things I do to keep the peace between us because I don’t want my son to suffer. At the end of the day, everything I do is for my son. I know he loves his dad, and I would never want my feelings to stand in the way of their relationship. So I bite my tongue a lot. And I remind myself that he’s a decent guy and a pretty good dad, so I have no reason to not be friends with him. Sure, he drives me bonkers sometimes, but that isn’t unique to him — any friend can get on your nerves from time to time.

Because I want to have a positive relationship with my ex, I’m upfront and honest. I call him on his bullshit. When he could do better, I say so. We can be friends, but at the end of the day, his first priority is being a good dad.

But I also have to pick my battles. When he’s not pulling his weight, I feel like I’m the one making all the effort. I don’t like fighting, but just like with any other friendship, sometimes you have to let them know when they’re not being a good friend. It’s just in this case, he’s usually being a bad friend and a shitty dad. I can handle him treating me poorly, it’s when his behavior affects our son that I have a problem.

I’m discovering that being friendly with my ex is a learning curve. There is no handbook on how to get along. Some days we can joke around like pals, and I remember that he’s a good guy. We try and look out for each other when we can. He’ll come over and help me put together furniture. Or I’ll let him have an important package sent to my house when he’s working long hours. Last Christmas he got me a nice gift. He didn’t have to, but I really appreciated the gesture.

Of course, we want each other to be happy and successful in life. For us, our careers are a huge part of our lives. We’re both in creative fields, so we understand each other’s struggles. Sharing career wins is an important way for us to show we care. When he books an acting gig, I make sure to congratulate him. And he will tell me he’s proud of me if I get a huge byline. Because our successes don’t just affect us; they affect our son too.

It takes a while, but eventually you do can get to the point of being cool with each other. You have to work at it though; it doesn’t just happen. Some days I have to remind myself to be nice. To treat him with respect on those days when I think he’s an idiot. Making sure that if we’re annoyed with each other, our son doesn’t have to see it. For the most part, we just take it one day at a time.

Even though our relationship didn’t work out, I know he’s not a bad person. The love we had for each other has evolved into something new now. Being friends makes raising our son so much easier. It allows us to hang out with him together. We can sit across from each other at dinner and it doesn’t (always) feel awkward. If the three of us go out together, it doesn’t feel weird. In those moments, I am reminded that he’s just doing the best he can too.

Being able to successfully co-parent hinges on being friendly with my ex. I realize that I’m super lucky in how everything ended. Not everyone gets the luxury of staying friends with their ex, which is why it’s so important to me. Putting in the effort makes a world of difference for us and for our son. When our children can see two people who can get along, they feel more secure. And at the end of the day, isn’t that all we want for our kids?

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To The People Who Have A Problem With Me Calling Myself My Stepsons’ Mother

I consider my stepsons to be my children. They were 8 and 12 when I started dating their Daddy. For 10 years, we shared custody of them with their mother. One week with us, one week with her, back and forth. Throughout their childhood, I drove carpool, packed lunches, restrained myself from creating elaborate school projects because the forms specifically said to make the students do it themselves even though none of the other parents listened and your kid absolutely did not build that Spanish mission on his own. I stayed home from work to be with them when they were sick. I drove them to guitar lessons and Little League practices, hosted playdates and birthday parties, signed permission slips.

I was their mother.

am their mother.

And so is my husband’s ex-wife. She is 100% their mother. I was not a replacement for her on the weeks the boys were in our custody. She and I are not interchangeable, and we are not in competition. Our sons have me in addition to her.

When I married my husband, I expected his ex to have comments on my boundaries as a stepmom. I expected she might even feel threatened by my relationship with her sons.

What I didn’t expect was for other people to feel the same.

One afternoon, I stopped by Henry’s elementary school to pick up his homework. He was in our custody the week he came down with the flu, and his teacher left a pile of worksheets in the office for me to pick up.

“I’m so sorry. Whose mom are you again?” the receptionist asked.

“Henry’s.”

“Oh, I have his pile right here.”

Before she could hand it to me, Henry’s principal stopped what she was doing, barged into the lobby, and announced:

“She’s Henry’s stepmother. Not his mother.”

It took me a moment to understand what she had said. I hadn’t made a conscious choice to call myself Henry’s mom. I had simply answered the question “which kid’s homework are you here for?”

The boys and I had exactly one conversation about what they wanted to call me. Shortly after we met, Henry said to me, “I have too many people in my life with J names. Can I change yours?”

“Sure. What do you want to call me?”

“Pmessica.”

I found it appropriate, given its similarity to PMS, a condition which defines me at least two days a month.

The boys are now 20 and 24 and still call me Pmessica. Their friends call me Pmessica. My friends call me Pmessica. I introduce myself as their stepmother, and depending on the situation, they refer to me as their stepmom, parent, and even mom.

Henry’s Little League teammates would often ask, “Are you Henry’s mom?” And I would answer, “Yes. I’m Henry’s stepmom. His mom is here, too. She’s right over there.” Nine-year-olds completely understood that. No questions asked, except, “So can you open my Gatorade?” They didn’t care what Henry called me or what I called myself. They understood who I was to him, who his mother was, and that they could come to either of us for anything they needed. Why couldn’t adults understand that?

I find that people don’t actually have a problem with me mothering the boys. In fact, it’s just the opposite. I’m praised for the way I love them. But people do have a problem if I call myself their mother. It’s an issue of semantics. To most people, Mother means mother and stepmother means notmother.

If I had walked into Henry’s school that day with my dog and called myself its mommy, nobody would have batted an eye. But calling myself a mom to my human stepchild was somehow interpreted as offensive.

I am the first to admit that being a stepmother is different from being a mother, in much the same way that being a father is different from being a mother. But we are all parents. For those of us who take an active role in our stepchildren’s daily lives, stepparenting is parenting.

And that declaration cost me a pilot deal at a major network.

My husband and I were pitching a show about our blended family when I uttered the words, “stepparenting is parenting.” The female executive, who is also a mother, was visibly taken aback by the statement, so much so that she refused to look at me or address me for the remainder of our meeting.

Ultimately, a different network did buy our show. But those executives buckled too, during the rewrite process, insisting that I devote a scene at the end of the first episode to the off-screen mother. They worried viewers would consider her a bad mom if she allowed her children to be in the custody of their father and stepmother for an entire episode of television without making an appearance.

I left the show after the filming of the pilot.

The unmarried male executive with no children later told me he thought it was inappropriate that I had challenged the note of needing to see the mother on screen. I told him I thought it was insulting that he assumes people view my sons’ mother as irresponsible for leaving her children in my care for an extended period of time without checking on them. That call went well.

My husband and I have since adopted our youngest son, Levon. I am not his first mother, nor did I give birth to him, but no one argues that he is my son. No one challenges me when I call myself his mother.

My parenting responsibilities for him are different than they were for his big brothers, but I can say without a doubt that my love for my three boys is the same. They are my sons. And no matter what name you call me, kind or otherwise, I am their mother.

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I Love Being A Single Mom

Let me say this now. Being a single mom is hard as fuck. You rarely get free time, your kids don’t appreciate you, society doesn’t respect you, and you’re literally doing everything by yourself. But there’s actually something beautiful about it too. When you’re doing it all by yourself, you’re calling the shots. And when you have all the control, no one can tell you what to do. Even on the days when it is so hard I want to curl up in the fetal position and cry, I’m happy being a single mom because I get to do whatever the fuck I want.

I’ve been a single mom for pretty much my son’s entire life. And while his dad is very much in his life, he doesn’t really get involved in the details. I’ve made all the important decisions about how I’m going to be raising our son. Granted, if my son’s dad ever chooses to take an interest, I of course would welcome that.

But until that actually happens, I’m the HBIC. Early on, one of the biggest things that made me happy being a single mom was breastfeeding. I always knew that nursing past the age of one was important to me. And as long as my son was still interested, I didn’t want to stop simply because of his age. Even though my ex never said outright that my extended nursing bothered him, there would be comments here and there like, “Oh, you’re still doing that?” or “Aren’t you going to wean him?”

“Nope,” I’d cheerfully reply, knowing there was really nothing he could do. Especially since we didn’t live together.

A lot of the things that make me happy being a single mom seem pretty basic. For example, I get complete control over my son’s wardrobe. Whenever his dad buys him things, it’s clear he doesn’t really pay attention to what our son normally wears. For instance, he bought our four-year-old shoes with laces, knowing full well that our kid can’t tie his damn shoes. Which means he expects me to tie his shoes all the time and/or he expects me to be the one to teach him how to tie his shoes on top of everything else. Needless to say, the shoes sit in the closet (thankfully he bought them like two sizes too big).

And I get to make sure my son is learning all of the things that are important to me. Mainly things that would be abstract if he lived in a house with me and his dad. I identify as queer, and living in a hetero-presenting household would make it harder for him to understand that not all romantic relationships look like a stereotypical hetero coupling. But seeing me dating a woman, and being around that, normalizes it in a far more tangible way.

This may not be something people think about, but having the freedom to just pick up and go is another amazing benefit of being a single mom. Say, if we’ve been stuck in the house for whatever reason and I whisk him off to an afternoon at Target, or maybe out for a cupcake, or a late night at a friend’s house, I don’t have to get home because someone is expecting us to be there. I don’t need anyone’s permission to do whatever I want with my son.

The freedom is definitely something that makes me happy being a single mom. I have always needed to have control over my life. And when I was in a relationship, I would happily make compromises, but now, if I don’t want to, I don’t have to — as long as my kiddo isn’t in danger. Because of this, it’s kind of hard for me to fathom the concept of having to check in with someone about things like dinner or how much money I spent on groceries.

I’m most happy being a single mom because my son gets to see me kicking ass. Having my son see his mom as a strong, independent woman who is handling her shit means the world to me. I want him to know that women are fucking badasses who can do whatever the fuck they need to do. And honestly, I don’t know a better way than raising him by myself. Sometimes he sees the not-so-great side, but mostly, he knows Mom is doing everything for him by her damn self.

But perhaps the biggest reason I’m happy being a single mom is when my son throws his arms around my neck and tells me how much he loves me. Sure, he would probably still say that if his dad was more in the picture, but hey. I have no problem admitting that I’m super petty. Doing it on my own usually makes me feel like a boss.

I say usually because of course there are days when I feel like I’m literally drowning.

Being a single mom will probably never get easier. I know I’m lucky to have support from my kid’s dad, but gosh, it’s not enough. Sometimes I do wish that his dad would take more of an interest in the details. It doesn’t have to be all the time, but getting to occasionally share the mental load would be nice.

Ultimately, though, I’m happy being a single mom, if for no other reason than I get to call all the shots. And that means a lot.

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To The People Who Ask ‘Isn’t It Hard To Love A Kid Who’s Not Your Own?’

When I first became a bonus mom, I already had my hands full with three biological children of my own. I had lots of experience in parenting different personalities and a successful co-parenting relationship with my ex. What I expected was to love my stepdaughter (she was a pretty likable kid), support my husband in his parenting role, and help establish a stable home environment after an acrimonious divorce. I never expected to love her as much as I loved my own children or to feel like my heart had grown a few sizes overnight.

Maybe it helped that my stepdaughter and I “clicked right away,” as she likes to say. Maybe it’s that I didn’t feel the need to “mother” her at the beginning and was patient about how our relationship developed. Or maybe it’s that there were really no opportunities to treat one child differently when there are three others under your roof who demanded equality.

The health of a stepmom and stepchild relationship is crucial for the family unit to thrive. I’m sure if we hadn’t “clicked,” my husband and I would have thought twice about getting married.  Maybe if all of the kids hadn’t developed an inconceivably close bond instantly, we’d be looking at a very different situation. But, we did and they did, so here we are!

The question I now dread most is, “Isn’t it hard to love a child that’s not your own?” I mean, would you ask that of someone who’s adopted a child? The love I feel for this quirky, often dramatic, resilient kid only differs in that I haven’t had the pleasure of being there to see her grow up from the ages of 0-6. There are lots of stories and funny experiences that I have to learn about through their re-telling. But meeting someone when they are older doesn’t mean that your bond can’t be incredibly strong or that your love for them isn’t as valuable.

Although I’m sure she was a bit shell-shocked when she first came to live with us (being an only child and suddenly being thrust into an energetic home with three other kids will do that to you), I never thought about treating her differently. She was assigned the same chores, expected to behave in the same ways — to show politeness and kindness towards others, and most of all, to be be respectful.

The only way things were different parenting-wise was in the way we disciplined. When she misbehaved, I stepped aside and let her dad handle it. When she got stressed about going back to her mom’s house after a fun filled weekend with her siblings, her dad was the one who took her for a walk and talked to her. If she had a complaint, I let her dad take that one too. It not only helped to strengthen their relationship, it also helped her see that although I parented her in many ways, I was not there to “replace” anyone.

So to answer the question, “Is it hard to love a child that’s not your own,” no. Not for me. I’ve had my own specific journey to motherhood with my stepdaughter. It just may look a bit different than the normal path. I didn’t carry her for nine months and excitedly prepare for her to be born, picking out baby outfits and wondering what she would look like. I missed the joys of her first smile, her first word, her first steps.

What I did experience was the beautiful excitement of knowing she’d be coming into my life permanently, the getting-to-know-her phase as I figured out her likes and dislikes, the first steps of a close bond forming when she started to trust that ours was a forever family, the joy of helping her achieve things she didn’t think she could achieve, and…there have been plenty of “firsts” since I’ve known her. I’ve been proud of all of her accomplishments, all of her successes and I’ve held her close when she’s had her fair share of disappointments. She craves my attention when she’s with us. I crave for hers when she’s not. Biology doesn’t lead to love. It’s the commitment to your child that does.

 

We are Scary Mommies, millions of unique women, united by motherhood. We are scary, and we are proud. But Scary Mommies are more than “just” mothers; we are partners (and ex-partners,) daughters, sisters, friends… and we need a space to talk about things other than the kids. So check out our Scary Mommy It’s Personal Facebook page. And if your kids are out of diapers and daycare, our Scary Mommy Tweens & Teens Facebook pageis here to help parents survive the tween and teen years (aka, the scariest of them all.)

The post To The People Who Ask ‘Isn’t It Hard To Love A Kid Who’s Not Your Own?’ appeared first on Scary Mommy.

Stepparent Love Is A Different Kind Of Love

When my husband and I found out we were expecting, he had one main fear — that I wouldn’t love his then six-year-old (my stepdaughter) as if she was my own. I wouldn’t love her “the same” as I loved my son.

And he was right, I wouldn’t.

To him, this meant that I would love her less. That there would be an enormous disconnect between siblings and that I would treat them differently. But what he didn’t understand, what one cannot possibly understand until they are raising another woman’s daughter alongside their own flesh and blood, is that stepparent love is not a lesser love. Stepparent love is a different love.

And so, my dear stepdaughter, I’ll try to explain it to you in a way that you may one day read and understand.

When we first became a family, you already had six years of life behind you. I didn’t witness your first steps, I didn’t feed you your first solids or give you your first bath. I didn’t cry when you were born, and I didn’t get to hug your daddy and admire what a beautiful little baby you were in the hospital room after having you cut from my body during an emergency c-section.

But, more importantly, you weren’t raised to tell me you love me. You weren’t raised to respect me as your parent, or to treat me as a mother, or to hug me goodnight, or to miss me when I wasn’t there, just as I didn’t get my first practice tucking you in until you were six-years-old. And while these may be reasons my love for you is different than the love I have for your brother, they are the very things that make our relationship even more special.

You chose to love me. You picked me, and I picked you. When you tell me you love me, you mean it. Because you don’t have to love me. When I tell you I love you, it’s not because I saw you take your first breath or feel you kick and grow within me for nine months. My love for you was not instilled in me. It’s because I’ve gotten to know you, because we’ve shared nearly three years of life together growing as a family, and I truly love you and the person that you are.

Without you, your daddy wouldn’t be the man I love and married. You changed him, long before I ever came along. Long before your brother was even a sparkle in our eyes. Watching your daddy raise you has been an honor and a blessing and is undoubtedly part of the reason I fell in love with him.

Without you, your brother wouldn’t squeal with happiness every afternoon when it’s time for school to let out. I’d know nothing about Five Nights at Freddy’s, or Minecraft, or how to unconditionally love another woman’s child. My son wouldn’t have a funny, witty, creative and helpful big sister to learn from and admire.

Without you, our family wouldn’t be a family.

And so, my dear stepdaughter, my love for you may be different, but it’s no less of a love. I may never be your mother, but I will always be your stepmother, and that’s a pretty important role to fill. I will continue to watch you grow and thrive, to support you in your every endeavor, to cheer you on in any sport or hobby you wish to pursue, and to be there for you any and every time you need me. I will tuck you in at night, I will bring you one more sip of water when you can’t sleep, I will brush the tangles out of your hair when you need help, and I will hold you when you need a little extra love. You are special, and you are mine…and I would choose you over and over again.

 

We are Scary Mommies, millions of unique women, united by motherhood. We are scary, and we are proud. But Scary Mommies are more than “just” mothers; we are partners (and ex-partners,) daughters, sisters, friends… and we need a space to talk about things other than the kids. So check out our Scary Mommy It’s Personal Facebook page. And if your kids are out of diapers and daycare, our Scary Mommy Tweens & Teens Facebook pageis here to help parents survive the tween and teen years (aka, the scariest of them all.)

The post Stepparent Love Is A Different Kind Of Love appeared first on Scary Mommy.

Single Moms With A Co-Parent Are Still Single Moms

Being a mom without any support is hard. But when you’re a single mom without any support, it’ll damn near kill you. Because not getting a break is fucking hard. Single moms don’t get to do things for and by themselves very often. We devote our entire beings to keeping our families afloat. More often than not, we’re the ones doing all of the heavy lifting. ALL.

There is nothing easy about being a single mom. That’s why it’s important to stick together. So to say single moms with support — whether it be physical, emotional or financial — are somehow less than single moms who don’t isn’t fair to any of us.

I have been a single mom since my son was three months old. Thankfully, I’ve had a great support system, but I’m doing 98 percent of the work raising my son, and 100 percent of the financial burden is mine. Even though we lived under my parents’ roof for the first few years, I was the one who did everything for him.

And yes, his dad has always been in the picture, but for almost four years, it was long distance. When we finally did move closer to him, he was all on board to be this great hands-on dad. I had grand dreams of the kind of co-parenting relationship we’d have, but the reality is much different.

By then he realized that the life he’s made for himself wasn’t really conducive to being a dad. And instead of adapting it to better accommodate his son, he gradually cut back the amount of time they’d spend together.

I can vividly remember the night last summer when I sent him a text, begging him to step up and give me support. He had spent the entire school year either picking him up or dropping him off a few days a week — but never spending time with him longer than the time it took to get home. And when summer came, he fell off the face of the earth. First of all, it wasn’t fair to our kiddo, but more importantly, I was drowning.

Fortunately, we came to an agreement where he took him a few hours a week, which was a relief.

Make no bones about it though, that time is rarely leisure time. I usually do things like go grocery shopping, run errands, clean the house, and work.

Recently, I had a fellow single mom say that because my son’s father is still in the picture and they spend time together, I’m not a “real” single mom. As if there are levels to being a single mom. We single moms with support are “real” single moms. We’re still out there taking care of our babies, making sure that they have everything they need.

When my son spiked a fever of 105 and had to be rushed to the emergency room, you know where his dad was? On vacation in Asia. When he came home from his trip with a cold, he tried to shirk off, and I reminded him that I caught our son’s cold and had to not only take care of him and myself, but I also still had to work through all of that.

Being single moms with support doesn’t mean you can just pick up and run off whenever you want. A few hours away for a work event or a date can take hours of back and forth planning. Plans made months in advance get forgotten, and then instead of him compromising his time, I’m the one who makes the sacrifice.

I may be one of the “lucky” single moms with support, but if my son has a doctor’s appointment, I’m the one who misses work for it. When he needs new pants, I’m the one who has to buy them. I’m the one who did all the research for preschool and kindergarten, who is busting her ass to try and make plans for the summer. His dad never even asks about any of it, let alone takes an interest.

Yes, there are many single moms who don’t have the luxury of alone time. Who have no choice but to drag their kids along with them to Target or the bank. They work really fucking hard, and it’s not fair that they don’t get to have a few minutes or hours to themselves. All of them deserve so much more than they’re able to take.

But here’s the thing. Support always comes with a price. They say they can help and then they flake. Family and friends have lives too and you can’t always rely on them to be there for you. For every one thing you get to do, there are a hundred things you don’t get to do. Our grass may seem greener, but trust that it isn’t as green as you may think it is.

Single moms are fucking heroes. We’re out there killing it every single day, even when we feel like we’re failing. It can be so hard to see just how amazing we are when you’re standing in the middle of a filthy house with a kid hanging off your hip whining or telling you at the last minute about an assignment due the next day. Or when you’re working overtime to make sure that the electric bill gets paid and you barely get to do much more with your kids than put them to bed. We’ve all in those trenches together.

But to say that single moms with support aren’t real single moms because their ex pays them child support isn’t fair. Or those who have a custody agreement and get to be childfree for a few hours or a few days. When my son’s father volunteered to take him overnight, he ended up bringing him home early the next day because he wanted his mommy. Just because we may get a break from our kids doesn’t mean we ever get a break from being moms.

A “real” single mom is any mom who is parenting without a partner. A partner and a co-parent are two very different things. That’s why single moms get so upset when married moms try to claim single mom status. Because those women have partners, even if they aren’t always physically present. Single moms are just that — single. Most (if not all) of the time, we’re doing everything. Every-damn-thing.

Single moms with support and without it are already facing impossible societal judgment. We shouldn’t be making it worse by fighting with each other about who gets to claim the title of “true” single moms. We should be lifting each other up, goodness knows we need it.

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When I Tried To Get Child Support For My Kids, I Realized There Is No Safety Net

I’m frustrated and angry and completely nonplussed.

I’m sitting at the little window in front of a bright red phone, a landline in a world of wireless communication. It’s (ironically) incredibly fast to find service through it’s singular purpose: child support enforcement uses this red phone.

It’s been over three years since my ex-husband has attempted to communicate with his children. After his initial showing at court, his lawyer ended up dismissing him as a client and his signature was thereafter replaced with failure to appear. Certified mail was left uncollected and unsigned for; regular mail was thrown away unopened and in-person court-appointed knocks to his door were met with strange behavior, such as a returned knock and refusal to answer. I never pursued collecting child support owed because I found myself so grateful to just have my kids and be away from his abusive, demeaning, terrifying hold on our lives. Plus, I’m stubborn and I’ll be damned if I ask for help from that man. If he pays me, he’s alive. If he doesn’t, I can go on pretending the Earth is washed of him forever. That he can’t hurt me or my children anymore.

Our margins financially (and emotionally) are razor-thin. So when our car started slipping while shifting, I panicked a little. I took her in, and the mechanic who always hates to give me the terrible news tells me old Volvo doesn’t have long before her transmission falls out the bottom. My $29 in checking won’t cover a new car, or a transmission. I take substitute teaching jobs when I can nearby, and teach as many classes as possible at the university I’m incredibly lucky to work at. I write grants for a local nonprofit on 30-day contracts because I can do them while my kids argue about who has more milk, and it’s something. I get to be with my kids, and that is almost always enough. Until it isn’t. Until a mechanic tells you that you’re well and truly screwed because your only means of transportation is about to enter its grave.

My son is three and my daughter is five and we’ve adjusted to life because, really, they’ve only known life with me. My boy was maybe five months when we left, and my daughter doesn’t remember anything except a few scary moments that she’s grabbed hold of because it’s her only recollection of  a different life. They both crave a dad–but it’s not on the menu, so they content themselves with mommy doing Hulk impersonations and reminding them that families are all unique in how they are made.

What is more difficult to adjust to is the knowledge that I’m not going to be miraculously saved. I don’t know if it was brewing in me for some time or not, but sitting next to that red phone as the support enforcement specialist spoke kindly and uselessly to me, I felt my entire stomach sink.

“I’m here to, um, to file this paperwork,” I say awkwardly. My kids are sitting next to another kid, watching Ice Age in the lobby, laughing with their new friend.

“What’s your case number?” She asks.

“I don’t have one,” I reply.

She looks closer at my papers. “Oh, right, this is a new case. Okay, so it looks like there hasn’t been any payment…ever. Okay…” she shuffles page after page, looking for spots to fill in, telling me about the process. I feel myself holding my own hands tightly and wonder if I look old, because I feel like a child internally but know the last five years have done nothing but mark up my eyes and face. My body has gone from lean to matronly, my hair has gone from kempt to managed, and my heart is still warm, but oh my god, so heavy. My words have gone from pleasing to succinct and honest in these situations.

“I’m nervous,” I say. “I’m nervous he will retaliate. I haven’t pursued this because it’s just, you know, poking a bear.”

She looks at the papers. “Did you mention that in here?”

“There was a box to mark about domestic violence or restraining orders. I marked it.”

She scanned the page. “Sorry, where? These are new forms to me,” she passes them to me.

I point to the tiny box, the one that you mark if you’ve had someone choke you, rape you, trap you in a doorway, pin you down. The little box with the tiny check mark that is supposed to somehow relate that someone screamed at your toddler for peeing her pants, scaring her so much she would poop on the floor before asking for help from him again. A checkmark, a singular checkmark, to indicate you think he’ll gun you down if you make him mad enough by standing up for your kids or yourself.

“Is there a restraining order?” I nod, and tell her it expired in November, over five months ago. “You should get that to us, with a written statement from you that you have concerns over safety of yourself or kids. That will change how we do things.”

“How will it change?” I ask. “Could there be protection?”

“Well, if he does threaten or react badly then we can back right off. We don’t want you or your kids in any danger.”

This is where the nonplussed feeling settled on my face. “So…if he is a big enough bully, he gets his way?”

“Essentially, yes. Your safety and your kids’ safety is more important.” She is speaking truth, but not seeing the injustice of it. Or maybe she is, but she’s as impotent as I am about it.

She tells me they will start with certified mail to let him respond and set up payments. I tell her it’s been three years and he doesn’t know how to write a check properly. He won’t do that.

She continues, saying it will likely be around six months before they can file contempt. “Even after three years of nonpayment following a court order?” I ask. She says, likely.

“Then we can pursue suspension of driver’s license, and see if that gets his attention. Where does he work?” She asks. I try not to laugh derisively.

“He probably doesn’t. At least, not officially,” I say. “He does have a trust fund that matured in October when he turned 35.” This is where I feel skeevy. The only way I would go after that unearned income of his would be if I had two kids, one dying car, and $29 in checking. So here we are.

“Okay. Well, we’ll start with certified mail, give him that six months to respond, then we can send a person to his address to serve papers.”

“He won’t answer. He won’t sign. He doesn’t open mail. He is suspicious of everyone and will punch a messenger before signing for anything.”

“Well, we have to legally give him the six months, then we can look into the trust fund by about a year’s time for backpay. Often the fathers will demand to see their kids and say the mother hasn’t let them see the kids, so we will need the parenting plan. When does he have the kids?”

Now I’m just done. Against my will, against my reserve to not look more foolish and pitiful and desperate, I feel my eyes well up with tears. “He doesn’t have the kids, ever. The judge ruled abandonment. He’s not allowed to see them, he has to have a psychological evaluation, everything.” She hands me a box of tissues.

“Have you been to the domestic violence resource center?” She asks quietly. I nod. They helped me get out of that house when I thought I’d die there. “Would you like to apply for TANF?” I shake my head. I don’t qualify, because I have three jobs that pay around $200 more a month than the cut off. “Well, I can file this, and you can call next week after Wednesday to talk to your social worker.”

I shake my head again. Now the tears are just rolling down my cheeks with reckless abandon. I tip my head up as though I can suck the moisture back in, yet another futile endeavor. “I…it’s not worth it. It’s not worth pressuring him. He’ll just take all the money out in cash so it’s unfindable, he’ll demand to see the kids, he’ll make our lives hell again. It’s not worth it. I’d like my papers back, please. I…I don’t want to file. I’m sorry. Thank you for your help.”

I stand up, and I know she looks at me and sees me precisely as I have been unwilling to see myself the last three years. Stuck.

My mother prays for a savior, some financial rescue through a fine gentleman ready to take up the mantle of caring for the dysfunctional wayward daughter and poor disheveled offspring. I think I still hope for it, too, but with a disgusted feminist self scoffing at the very sentiment. This isn’t the 1950s, mom. Or literally any time prior to this modern age. But then I stop, and I realize the incredible resolve the women who came before me had. However disheveled and tired, however unfairly treated or unceasingly demanded upon, I stand better than my forebears. Because of the women who walked through more, withstood more, fought for more, I stand.

There is resolve to be found in bondage. When there are no other materials at hand, you augment and fully use the tools found around you. When you have no margins, you squeeze tighter together to adjust to new margins. You make them wider through perception. That’s all truth is, anyway, isn’t it? Perception?

She slides the papers back to me, neatly bundled in the little black clip I dug out of a basket on the counter at home, next to random, mundane yet precious rocks and dead dandelions.  She smiles that sad smile that says, Sorry there isn’t help for your kind of problem, and I reassure her with a crass joke that maybe my ex will get hit by a bus and all this trouble will go away. She offers a chuckle, but it’s 9 a.m. and it’s unlikely I’ll be last hard story today, or the most tragic.

I pull my kids from the screen, bid their newfound friend farewell, and we walk our little circus out to the car that I bless each time it gets us from one point to another. How I appreciate each trip, each ability to reach a destination free of breakdown, knowing that a breakdown looms large in the future. I wouldn’t have that gratitude if the threat were no longer there–or at least, it wouldn’t be as pervasive in my daily life.

My rearview mirror holds my daughter’s blue-paint speckled, tangled hair. She is gesticulating with her wide gestures and dramatic flair, and buckling herself in like such a good girl. Her brother is racing her without mentioning it, no doubt hoping to get the jump on her without her noticing. As they click in and settle for a trip to the second hand store to dig for Harry Potter books, I readjust my margins on what it means to have a beautiful life.

A beautiful life is about the refining, the perfecting, of all that makes it challenging and noteworthy. Just like how grateful I am to have my children, because I might have lost them. My car, because it might go at any second.

My life, because I wouldn’t notice these sweet, poignant, precious moments if they were muddled and softened with easy living.

What a gift I have, kicking my seat, arguing with each other, waking me up to talk about mean elves in my room, Mom. Wrapping their little arms around me, jumping out from behind doors to startle me, rolling their eyes and dissing my food. Without this, it would be far too quiet. Besides, a car is a car. We’ll live. We’ve been through worse–and look how far we’ve come.

Life is perfecting.

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3 Reasons I Might Cancel Plans (And I Make No Apologies For It)

Call me a cliché, but there is nothing that will help you get your priorities straight quite like having a kid. For me, popping out my one and only kid was like the magic sleigh ride straight out of the people pleasing path I had been on my entire life – a fix I never knew I needed so badly.

Once this little person entered my life, the same one who made me feel strong and worn out all at the same time, it was as if I had zero desire to give of myself to anyone or anything that seemed to interfere with my time in a way I wasn’t comfortable with.

And I had even less of a desire to apologize for it.

Allow me to rewind this mixtape of emotions for you however, back to a time when “yes” was the only word in my vocabulary. A rough childhood and a hefty mix of anxiety coupled with daddy issues and a lack of self-confidence will do that to you. It’ll leave you unable to advocate for yourself, unable to say no to plans that you’re hardly even interested in, and have you running yourself ragged all for the benefit of other people.

I wince with regret just thinking about it.

But this was me. For 31 years, it was as if I paid myself no attention, ignored my own wants and desires, and let my needs fall to the wayside in hopes that I’d be keeping everyone else around me happy. I let my girlfriends make the choices for lunch plans, dinner plans, and even trips. I dared not give my opinion on how awful the meal I had at everyone’s favorite restaurant was for fear of being shunned.

And don’t get me started on relationships.

But then she happened. Having my daughter not only helped me to realize the power of unconditional love, but absolutely taught me to love and honor myself as well. The notion that I, me, the one who never felt worthy enough of anything, had grown and borne this beautiful creature made me realize – shit, I guess I am pretty amazing.

And my entire outlook on life, starting with myself, changed for the better. (Unless it was you on the receiving end of my “I can’t make it tonight!” text.)

With a child in my life, time suddenly felt fleeting. Every moment began to mean something so much more than it ever had. The fact that each phase of my daughter’s life began to pass so quickly, leaving me in the dust and wondering if I could ever slow down time taught me just how precious my life, my time, and my energy really were.

I became a single mom when my daughter was two, leaving me with even less time to enjoy my daughter – 50% of the time to be exact. I started blending a new family just two years after that, which if you know anything about blended families, requires a hell of a lot of time and devotion – the kind I am always thrilled to give. I run a business that demands all of me, a lot of the time, which leaves me damn near dead at the end of each day. So, if I don’t come to your party, forget to send you a long-winded sob story about why I couldn’t be there, or straight-up cancel plans at the last minute – there’s a reason for it, but I’m sorry because I cannot apologize for putting my family and I first.

Here are three reasons why I RSVP’ed “No” or cancelled plans at the last minute:

1. Your special event coincided with precious family time.

It’s not that I don’t love you. You could be my very best friend in the entire world – but if it’s my night with my daughter, it’s very likely that I’m not coming. Arranging for a sitter is hard enough for anyone, but literally crushes your soul when you have to do it knowing that you only get to enjoy half of your child’s childhood. And then if the stars align, my fiancé and I might have BOTH of our girls at the same time, meaning holy shit – the world comes to a screeching halt so we can all kick back and enjoy our time together. Listen, some of you reading this get 18 years of your children. I get nine. So even if your event is black tie and the open bar is flowing like the salmon of Capistrano, there’s only a 50% chance I can come.

2. My ex and I had to swap a night.

Sure, maybe I said yes to that dinner, that much-needed girl’s night, your baby shower, a birthday party, or the royal fucking wedding. But as my divorce agreement states, my ex and I give each other the “right of first refusal,” which means if one of us has a conflict that must pull us away from our child, we give each other the respect of swapping a night instead of calling for a sitter. If my ex calls me at the last minute and is stuck at work, you bet your ass I’m jumping at the chance to have extra time with my girl, even if that means I’m sending you a last minute “something came up” text.

3. I’m honestly fucking exhausted and wasn’t in the mood.

Again, I might have said yes to these plans originally. But guess what? Now I’m fucking tired. My daughter was up three times last night because that’s what we’re dealing with right now. I got stuck putting out a work emergency with a client that drained all of the patience from my soul.  Swim lessons went awry and required me to perform an exorcism on my child because she thought she saw a bug in the pool and now I am fresh out of fucks to give. It was a really great idea in theory to catch up over wine in the middle of the week, but right now, the idea of putting pants on is enough to make me cry.

If you’re reading this and understand where I’m coming from, you’re likely a really, really good friend of mine who gets it or a beautifully evolved soul who feels just like me. If you’re reading this and think I’m a huge bitch who shouldn’t be invited out of the house ever again – nah, it’s not like that. I’m not a bitch. In fact, I love my friends in ways I could hardly describe. I just finally learned to love me more – me, my time, and the little human I grew inside of me most of all.

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Why I’m Giving Up On Dating Apps (For Now)

It started with another divorce. Today, I’m tip toeing through the minefield called “dating.” I have one startling revelation which has never been had in my life. It is accompanied by the inevitable curiosity in one question: “Do I have a real, actual equal?”

I am not a half. Nothing is missing, besides sex. My extreme utter happiness resides in the all-knowing profound decision to find one possible good lover, although I prefer him to be more. There is the desire to have my creative freedom wrapped around a male in order to satisfy my sexual appetite. No more dullness. No more mundane. Instead, I want to find some kind of beautiful, a bright shining brilliant, sweat-inducing high. I crave this desire. I want it all the time every day. I will nag and ask and wonder when will I get to create more fantasies.

How many lovers toss me aside? What’s it been now, 4 or 5? I don’t want the pattern to continue.

Yes, I’m on the dating apps. These glowing lures only provide an easy, cheap instant gratification which occasionally leads to a few nights of mind blowing sex. It has provided me countless opportunities resulting in those always awkward first meetings. I am beginning to grow weary and worn from having to always meet someone new. At 37 years-old, “first dates” are beginning to become an unwanted hassle.

I keep making certain, repeated mistakes: I’m too accessible. Too easy. Too ready. Too much. Too open. Too honest. Too scared. Everything they learn about me in the matter of a night has to be overwhelming.

It’s a reminder how none of us lead an easy existence. I’ve heard their stories too, and I can relate to some of them.

Still, here I want the golden goose egg containing the answer to the modern dating world. One where I can drink, screw, work, and love, the place where every little niche is perfectly placed allowing me to have it all. The expectation, on my part, is they must have some damn devotion. That’s all I ask.

In this new modern electronic dating world, it’s beginning to feel as if we’re all replaceable here. Apps. Swipe. Welcome to the dating lottery. The roulette wheel lands on another stranger. It’s a coin flip to direct hookups and always available accessible sex, or is this the beginning of an actual relationship?

As I find myself judging another man based solely on his looks, location, and education, I’m questioning, “What does any of this have to do with chemistry?”

Take the personality quiz. Insert interests. Give people conversations starters, although most people will almost always start a conversation with, “Hi, how are you today?”

My mother raised me with manners so I respond, “Fine, thank you. How are you?”

It’s as if we’re running into co-workers walking down the hallway on a Monday morning, except this goes on all day and night. The stupid pleasantries, meaningless conversations are seemingly never ending. There are times I stop checking the apps. I delete them. I tell myself how apparently my equal doesn’t want to be found, the timing isn’t right.

I repeat how maybe he doesn’t exist on a dating site. Perhaps my equal is sitting behind a computer creating words, like I’m doing here. Or he could be under a car rebuilding his cherished classic. Or he’s out in the woods running trails trying to exhaust his mind as much as his body.

The Internet has made everything cheap, easy, and mostly faceted toward an imposter syndrome. We create who we want to be. We market ourselves as products, not people. The pictures are selected based on the how pretty the light is reflecting off our faces. We hold the selfie angle to the slimmest angle hiding our double chins, and we snap. Edit. Use filters. The end result is far from the daily image staring back at us in the mirror.

From these fake hyper-edited images, we’re online trying to find real love or a real lasting sexual partner. The ultimate end is even when we find something satisfying, it’s never enough.

Everyone, both men and women, are sitting at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Some of us are ordering the prime rib platter. No matter what the waiter puts down in front of us, we’re constantly eyeing what other people have sitting on their tables. Craving and salivating at what we didn’t choose, never taking the time to savor our meal.

This is the noticeable difference in dating today. Everyone seems to be constantly eyeing the menu after they’ve already ordered.

I’m watching men text, direct message, and swipe while sitting in front of me at dinner. This is the exchange we have made, and we call it “dating.” In being given every option, dating seems to be on the constant lookout for the next easy thing. And I’m too accessible. I’m too eager. I’m too ready to fall back into a comfort zone or at least a regular getting laid schedule along with some semblance of them pretending to actually care about me.

Throughout all these encounters, inside of me is still beating an unbreakable romantic heart. It tells me how men can still be faithful, how they are looking at me instead of a thousand others steeped deep within their phones. I do have an equal, and he wants the same things I want from this newly technological dating world. He wants an old-fashioned romance, and sex.

Dinner. Dates. Movies. Couch snuggles. Kisses. Morning sex. Midnight sex. Kitchen dancing. Inside jokes. Make believe futures. Adventures. Hiking sex. Vacations. Toasting to little accomplishments. Talking about the important aspects. Mulling over stupidity, and laughing. Waking up with arms wrapped around my waist. Consideration and true admiration. It is these everyday things I want. I’m holding out hope for something real.

My only hope is to one day sit at a place where there isn’t a phone in sight. To sit across from someone who isn’t looking for better, sneaking glances at other people’s orders, because we know we have exactly what we want sitting in front of us.

Still, one observation is always more powerful than dating.

I’m not single. I’m free. Free to choose. There is a freedom inside of me looking to make something which I’ve never tasted in my lifetime. I belong to no one other than myself. This is me as a whole, an entity entirely and completely seeking only myself. It’s a startling revelation to have defined at rather a dull moment in a lifetime. The exhilaration rests not in finding my equal, but perhaps in finding my true authentic self.

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