How to be a Friend....
How to be a Friend to a Parent that is Divorced, Single, and/or Remarried
It's that time of year! The holidays. Which also means relationships can get tricky. This is the kind of post that I wish someone had written for me 5 years ago. And while I may not have the wisdom of King Solomon, I do have some experience I can share with you. I actually think most people have good intentions and would be horrified if they knew they had caused pain to their family or friends. So this post is for you. For those that want to learn and be a good friend.
When you say...
"I don't know how you can be without your children."
Or even worse:
"I could never be without my children every other weekend/week/insert custody schedule here."
Here's the thing. Divorced/single moms and dads already deal with guilt on a daily basis. Oh - you don't? That's great. I'm going to need the name of your therapist. But for the rest of us, it's a cozy side-kick that we work really hard to shake. So when you say things like this, it's not loving, kind, or compassionate. What we actually hear is "I'm a better parent than you because I would fight harder to be with my children."
Listen. If you ever find yourself having to navigate a custody arrangement with someone you once cared for and you fight so that your children cannot spend time with a parent that loves them dearly (just like you), then what you actually are is very selfish, immature, and unable to put the needs of your children first.
Now - that is probably not what you were trying to say. So I'm here to upgrade those phrases because I'm a good friend.
"Wow. It' must be really hard to parent and do all the things by yourself. I'm really proud of and impressed by your strength."
"You are such great parents! And when you don't have kids you are setting a good example by living life to the fullest. Lemonade from lemons anyone?!"
One of the first things you learn when navigating co-parenting is that your children need to feel secure and that you are OK when they are not around. If they think mom or dad is a weeping puddle on the floor when they are gone, they will have anxiety, guilt, and will not feel free to love their other parent or have fun. It's actually OK to have fun and enjoy your time when your kids are away. I'm giving you permission. It's good for you and it's good for them.
For those that struggle with accepting new children into their extended families...
I get it. Especially for the older generation, they can find navigating blended families and new family members tricky. I'm here for you. And I have good news. It's not that hard!
Suddenly you have new step-grandkids and parents in your family. You haven't known them since birth. They have fully formed personalities and you aren't a part of their history.
Here is what you do. At Thanksgiving, pretend like you invited your best friend and her grandchildren to Thanksgiving dinner. That's right. You don't share an ounce of DNA with any of these people. But I'm guessing it's still really easy to make them feel welcome. You set extra plates. You include them in photos. You spend time visiting with them. See? It's not hard.
Rusty and I have our faults NO DOUBT. But what we don't struggle with? Favoritism. Our kids are treated so equally it almost seems unfair. If you are a parent or grandparent that can't seem to help yourself in favoring certain kids/grandkids I suggest therapy. Not in a mean and snarky way. Nope. I mean that in an "I have a great therapist and I'm happy to share her number with you" way.
For step-parents that have family that doesn't quite accept them....
So you are a new (or not at all new) step-parent and maybe you have step-kids or new family members that don't quite accept you. I could list the possible reason for this, but there are literally hundreds, so let's just assume you are a good human being (not perfect) that is trying your best.
Perhaps you still have a kiddo that introduces you a decade later as "my mom's husband." Or you visit your step-kid in their dorm room and you are literally the only person in the family not on the photo board. Maybe Mother's Day or Father's Day passes without a peep. Here is what you do:
1. Lower those expectations. I literally have girlfriends in their 40s and 50s that hate their new step-parents. Why? Because it's not their mom/dad. It's not logical. I'm sure those people are good people. What I'm trying to say here, is that this is not a battle you want to fight because it often can't be won. But I'll tell you one thing I know so truly that I can feel it deep in my bones. Loving people well will never be a regret. When you are old and gray you will never regret loving others when they couldn't love you back. I cross my heart and pinky swear it.
2. Self Care. Get some therapy. I'm such a fan of therapy. In fact, if you aren't in it, I may think a little less of you. (Just kidding). Take care of yourself. Eat right. Get rest. Exercise. Get massages. Read books. Surround yourself with amazing friends. If you don't have amazing friends ask God for some. That's what I did and He delivered big time.
3. Surround yourself with people that love and support you. I'm about to get mean here and you may not like it. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE AROUND PEOPLE THAT DO NOT LIKE YOU. I'm not talking about your kids. Every parent has kids that don't like them. I'm talking about that "friend", neighbor, parent, church member, in-law that you know doesn't like or support you. EVEN AT THE HOLIDAYS. That's right! You get to chose who you spend time with. There is time to suck-it-up-buttercup for sure. But on a regular basis, you don't have to subject yourself to someone that doesn't support you or want to see you succeed. You are just setting yourself up for a dumpster fire of issues that you literally don't have time for.
And no - that doesn't mean you hold the kids hostage. Don't get along with some extended family? That business is between adults and as long as they are not hurtful to children then encourage that relationship. Send them on their merry way for a visit and enjoy a glass of wine and the house to yourself. For real. It's called being a grown up.
Finally, I want to add a disclaimer here good friend. I am CERTAIN that 5 years from now I will read this post and think it's garbage. At least parts of it. There is a fear that if we don't get everything perfectly right or say everything exactly correct then we shouldn't speak at all. But just because we can't have the conversation perfectly doesn't mean that we shouldn't have it. I wish we could have this conversation face-to-face with a cup of coffee because then I am SURE that whatever I said that might have offended you would be solved because we would see each other's faces and hear the correct tones.
Have people said and done these things to me? Obviously. But I don't for one second believe they meant harm. In fact, if I was still married to my first husband and had not walked the road of single-mom, blended family wife, step-parent, I would have done and said the same things and my heart would have broken when I realized I had hurt someone's feelings. It cannot be said enough that a person's heart is what matters most here. Try to remember that love is not easily offended. And even if they did mean it - you're better for believing the best.