Ownership and Accountability

If parenting has taught me anything, it is that you have to take ownership of everything you do and say, and you will be held accountable. Period. Kids remember everything. They remember that time you chose to sleep in on a Saturday morning, they remember when you didn’t eat your vegetables, and they remember when you forget to (insert a mundane task here.)

Thankfully, they also remember all of the good things you do– but those aren’t the things that require ownership. If you are a parent that needs your ego to be stroked by your child, reevaluate. If you ever ask your child “Do you love me?” or “Are you mad at me?” or “Do you think we have a good relationship?” then you know you don’t. That is where you need to take ownership of your actions.

Unfortunately, I know parents who ask those questions. Who pit themselves against their co-parent(s) because they need validation. To all of the parents who are working their butts off to give their kids a good life: you are amazing. Keep going! You are doing it right! It isn’t easy, and it doesn’t always feel good. But your kids are your priority, and they notice and feel that. To all of the parents who question their abilities and have reason to: this is where accountability becomes imperative.

Of course, it takes two to tango, and maybe because I don’t have any biological children, I am off base, but if you choose to have a kids, it is your choice to take ownership of your relationship with them, and if your relationship fails, you are the one who is accountable– not your children. And each time you pose a question to them about how they feel about you, you are inevitably guilting them, regardless of their answer, and misplacing the accountability.

I made the active choice to be a mom to two children, I did not go through a pregnancy, raise them from infancy, or do any of the other things that essentially imprint them on you– so this may be harsh– but if you are not positively contributing to your children’s life, leave. If you think you aren’t a good parent, you may not be, and if you are doing more damage than not, please try to pause, step back, and objectively view the situation. The best friends are the ones who are comfortable enough to tell you when you are wrong– can you provide yourself with the same feedback?

When we talk about doing what is in the best interest of our kids, and helping them to become the person they are, it is perfectly okay to take ownership of your own feelings and say– I don’t want this life. If that is the case, make a clean break. Parenting is not easy, and it is not for everyone. Your kids can tell that they aren’t your priority. They can tell you aren’t happy. It doesn’t matter how much you claim to love them, or actually love them, you are doing them a disservice.

Every time the introvert in me wants to hide in my room, I feel guilty. Regularly when I close my door to lay in bed or watch TV alone, my kids end up coming in to snuggle with me or just say hi. Remember that as a parent you have a duty to role model, support, grow, and educate your children. Your job is to help them. Hold yourself accountable when you aren’t doing those things…your kids will.

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“Your children are not your children

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

for they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which

you cannot visit, not even in your dreams,

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life does not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,

and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;

for even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves

also the bow that is stable.”

-Kahlil Gibran

 

#CoParent

There are some moments when Joe and I laugh way too hard together. One of those times was when one of our family members described their role in their marriage as being their partner’s “helpmate.” I don’t even remember now, why I thought it was so funny, maybe because I didn’t understand it yet. But, I think it is officially time to talk about co-parenting, and my amazing co-parent.

To me, being a co-parent means being on the same page. Wow that is hard! The number of times that Joe and I have had to pause a conversation with the kids, go into our room, discuss our plan, and return as a united front, is tremendous. Somehow we do it. Somehow, when there isn’t time for the conversation, we manage (most of the time) to defer to the parent who answers more quickly. We have very different parenting styles, which is hard, but I think it makes our team strong.

I am definitely the strict mama. I am the one who yells about fruits and veggies, and I am pretty sure that Joe would like to live off of bread alone. I am the one who requires reading every day, I am the one who enforces punishments, but I am also the cuddler. I am the mom who likes shopping sprees, and late-night movies, and cooking together, and listening to way too loud music. But enough about me, because this is really about Joe.

Joe is the absolute heart of our family. He is the planner. He is the one who intently manages our budget. He is the one who does the dishes, and walks the dogs early in the morning so that the rest of us can sleep in. He is the practical one, but he is also the sweet one. He looks into all of our eyes when he talks to us. He rarely raises his voice, and he works hard to be a good listener. He makes pizza and challah from scratch. He is always thinking about fun for us to do as a family. He is the one who inspires our Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Star Wars marathons. He grounds all of us, and holds us accountable. I do mean “us.”

A co-parent? I couldn’t as for a better one. He always listens, and defers to me when I am right. He tells me when he thinks I am wrong, and he really allows us to grow together as parents. I hate to say it, but kids aside, he is also a fantastic helpmate. He opens the mail, he brings home wine and flowers exactly when they are needed. He is also an amazing best friend. He listens and problem solves, and as a family, we are truly lucky to have him.

He is the quintessential helpmate and #coparent

Thank you, Joe, for all of the things that you do for our family.

Conditions for Unconditional Love

My son was upset this week. He has been upset for a few weeks. I am thankful that he tells me everything, even when he cries on my shoulder. He often leaves white snot on my black clothing, but I’m glad. He is almost a teenager, and so, yes, I am glad for this time and for his trust.

He told me that his biological mother regularly reminds him that I am not his real mom. He cried. I asked him what her reasoning was. He said because I didn’t give birth to him. He looked off, he quietly thought. He told me that was a ridiculous reason. Children who are adopted don’t consider their birth mom to be their “real mom,” he said, likely thinking about his adopted, sweet, baby cousin.

Later, he told me that he didn’t care what she said because I was his support. The next morning, working to tread the fine line between being the “cool mom” and talking badly about his mom, I wanted to cry for him. I told him clearly:
I don’t care if you call me mom.
I don’t care if you call me Ema.
I don’t care if you call me Alyssa.
All I care about is being the support you need, when, and how you need it. I want to be the parent you need, whatever that means to you.

He hugged me so close. I felt his snot soaking through my shirt. He lifted his head and smiled at me, his eyes full of water. He walked out of the house, headed to his real mom’s.

He yelled, “I love you, mommy!” And slammed the door behind him.

From day one, my son and I have been connected. Even when I was living across the country he would call me, FaceTime me, talk to me one-on-one when I was in town for the weekend. And I never introduce myself as my kids’ mom or step-mom. I hate those titles. I always say that I am their parent. I am. It is not my intention to replace or interfere– but I think that any parent who actively and responsibility works on their relationships with their kids, gets that. When your kids are your priority, you are happy for the relationships that they have. You know it takes a village. I know it does. I have a great village. I also know that being unpopular, strict, annoying, and a slew of other adjectives, makes me an active and attentive parent. It means that I love them when they are all of those things, too.

The day after this conversation, my fiancé’s aunt told me a story about her daughter and ex-husband, and a conversation they had recently had. Her daughter, in her late twenties, looked at this man in his fifties, and said one of the most insightful things that I have heard in years. He had said “I am your father, and I love you.” And she told him that was untrue. She went on to explain that a parents’ love is unconditional, and he had too many conditions. Asking her to choose between a person she loves or a thing she likes, and a relationship or time with him, is not love.

The parallel feels real to me. Right or wrong, that helped me understand parenting, my real mom counterpart, and perhaps what the next several years will look like. I brace myself every day for the time that one of my kids might say, “you’re not my real mom!” It hasn’t happened yet, and I hope that is because they understand my conditions:
Be kind.
Be honest.
Be the best you that you can.

We are all human. It isn’t my job to convince them not to feel. My job is to hear them, teach them, respect them, and (un)conditionally love them.

Why I Smile for My Kids

Wow. Parenting is like running a marathon for which you could never possibly train. Step-parenting is like that, but instead of a marathon, it’s a triathlon, and you are wearing a leather bodysuit and heals, and you can’t change, so you better adapt quickly because everyone watching is watching you.

Last week I had the biggest challenge yet. Honestly I feel like I say that every week, but I think this time it’s true. It really doesn’t matter what happened, what matters is how I felt simultaneously incredibly proud of my kid, but also super furious with the person who hurt him, with my fiancé for letting it go on as long as it did, and with my child for being so forgiving.

What? What kind of parent is mad at their child for being forgiving? I guess I will delve into that another time, but the point is, I had a lot of emotions all at one time, which is exhausting. As much as I wanted to cry, and yell, and sleep, and run… I did not. I smiled.

The reason I smile for my kids is because they deserve it. They deserve to see a smile. They deserve to have the reassurance of a smile after a hard event. They deserve to learn how to smile at strangers, to see the world as a good place, and to feel what a smile makes you feel. A real genuine smile makes you feel seen.

Seeing my kids as humans is what makes me the parent that I am. Respecting their boundaries and having them respect ours is hard lesson that we practice and teach. Teaching them to have a voice and to use it in a way to bring thought, understanding, and clarity to yourself and others is why we work so hard to build our children’s confidence. (Frankly, it shocks and appeals me that all parents don’t prioritize this.)

Granted, they are 9 and 11, so spoiler alert– the answer to the question, “what kind of parent is mad at their child for being forgiving,” is: the kind of parent who wants their child to unapologetically say what they think and feel when they are advocating for themselves, and never waiver. The struggle for me is that kids waiver.

Joe had to check me this week and remind me that kids like to please people who are in a position of power. Gosh that is scary. Luckily, my kids don’t care about pleasing me because I am their safe space. That realization was everything.

So, this person who made my kid upset, who shook my family to its’ core, might cause my kid to feel the need to please, but only because he recognizes the lack of forgiving, understanding, and competence in them.

So I smile. I smile so they know they are safe. I smile to trick myself into being in a better mood sometimes, and I smile because at the end of the day, I have amazing children, an amazing life, a desire to protect my family, and those are the best reasons in the world.

Teaching Opportunities

As a parent might, my fiancé subscribes to the age old adage “pick and choose your battles.” To my detriment, perhaps, it seems to me that every battle is the one I choose. And while I do love to have a good heated discussion about right and wrong, today it occurred to me why I am constantly on the battlefield with my kids.

When you pick a battle to fight, you are picking a teaching opportunity. (Un?)fortunately for my kids, I think that everything is a learning experience. And I want to teach them.

This morning I found my kids arguing over a book, at the top of their lungs. Normally that may not be worth a conversation, but the fact that the dogs hadn’t been outside for their second morning walk, which is the responsibility of the kids, made me feel as though a lesson in time management was necessary and perhaps I would sprinkle in a dash of “priorities” for good measure. It turns out, being trained in project management makes me qualified to talk about those two things pretty clearly. As it also turns out, it gave me a moment to think about priorities for myself.

img_9861Of course, my number one priority is my family. Sorry work– I love you– but no. And today at work, I realized that if you have expertise and opinions to share, you will almost certainly encourage a better outcome and product when you communicate openly and honestly. It’s true, adults of all ages, stages, and stations have trouble with communication, I see it daily. My hope is that as adults, as parents, as teachers, we can put our egos and anxieties aside and TEACH those around us.

So anyway, this morning after I asked my kids why they felt that arguing over a book took priority over a puppy potty break, and after some stomping, attitude, and a few hugs goodbye– I was greeted this afternoon by one child who told me how much she missed me today. And another who apologized for being “rude” this morning. I would call that a teaching opportunity success.

Perhaps as adults we can take a hint from kids. The things that seem like a disaster in the moment, aren’t. Mistakes can be corrected through attention, patience, and kindness, and the most successful folks in our midst all had great teachers. We are all good at something– start teaching others about it.

Childless Aunts–I LOVE YOU!

15621702_10208511004472431_8133066518828900771_nOne of my favorite “childless aunts”, a category of which I was a part until very recently, told me that they were the most under valued group of women in society. Well, she didn’t tell me, she posted the article on Facebook. I guess society really has it wrong, because as far as the childless women in my life go, and in the life of my kids, you all are KILLING IT!

I will never be able to explain how much value I place on the women who were there for me in my life. Whether related by blood, or chosen as a relative, it makes no difference, you all count. My mom, who is of course, amazing, happens to have one really perfect child, so she won’t get much more of a shout out on this topic, but my aunt will.

My mom’s sister is a childless aunt. I have to tell you, she was, and is, one of my favorite people to talk to. My aunt is one of the most incredible women I have ever met. She is absolutely one of the reasons that I have been so driven in my life and my career. She listens to me, supports me, encourages me, laughs with me, and I am beyond lucky to have had her as a role model. She also happens to have the same favorite restaurants as I do, and is into the same ridiculous reality TV, like Southern Charm.

15672699_10157968354220243_4607518299365025844_nAs for my my best friends, most of whom are childless aunts to my sweet monsters, you all are amazing. Yes, even those of you with kids (but this isn’t about you, sorry). Emily, the person who turned me onto this mistaken societal notion, is definitely in the top 10 of my children’s favorite people. She also shares my niece, and is incredible competition for her attention. She thinks of every holiday, birthday, and special occasion. Honestly, she is way more fun than I am.

There is so much to be said about women like these. These women will shape the minds and hearts of our children. They also have the ability to give our kids a safe space to talk, great memories when mom and dad aren’t home, and they inspire us, as the first role models that we have, apart from our actual parents. It is almost like we should be thinking 15622315_10157970515100243_466442928479118806_nof them as an “other mama?”

We also must not leave out all of the babysitters, nannies, caregivers, and teachers that watch our kids when we are not around. You make an amazing impression. You raise children. You teach them. Thank you for that. (Megan and Mary, I am looking at you!)

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So, to all of the childless aunts, thank you so much for shaping me, my kids, and all of the kids around you. Thank you for the adorable clothes, the beanie boos, the toys, the lunch and dinner dates, and for listening to us when we need to talk about something that mom isn’t ready to hear. You mean more to us as both children, and parents, than you will probably ever realize.

How It All Started, Really.

When you meet a guy who is tall, and hot, and educated, it is hard not to swoon. When he tells you that he has two children, there are a few reactions that race through your head whether you mean to, or not.

  1. Married?
  2. I should probably walk away now.
  3. I’m probably going to stay though…

Normally, I would have cut this conversation short. Something like serendipity kept me there. He wasn’t married. That was a good start. So fast forward through our love story, which I will share later, and I am the other mother to two amazing kids.

The first time I met these sweet monsters, we went for crepes.  We went to the park, also. Although our kids spend the majority of their time with us, they were with their biological mom for the weekend. Much to their dismay, and mine, I was then headed back to the airport, and to Baltimore.

That was the other part I forgot to mention–I was in a long distance relationship. He, in Houston, me in Baltimore. Have you ever tried co-parenting from halfway across the country? To two kids you barely know? I have!

The next time I would come to town, the kids would be staying with us. I would get an immediate dose of child-reality, and if I am being honest, I loved it. When we picked them up from school, the kids blew past their father and almost knocked me off of my stilettos with two of the best hugs I had had to date.

I have basically been in love ever since. Sweet, exhausted, grumpy, snuggle, stomping, laughing, door slamming, hugs and kissses, love.