Dating Tip #1: Be Selfish (A Guest Post)

I remember a conversation I had with one of my daughters once, one of those discussions that outlasts the ride home so you sit in the driveway for an hour, finishing up shoulder to shoulder and gazing out in the same direction. We had somehow navigated to the topic of dating and the someday reality of choosing (waywayway in the future) someone to marry. But I was clumsy and bumbling about expressing my thoughts that day and I don't think either of us left the car feeling very understood.

Maybe you'll understand why, then, when I read a recent post by Meg Conley I cheered in recognition. (Have you discovered Meg in Progress? If not, you are in for a treat. If yes, you know exactly what I'm talking about.). These were the words I meant to say that day in the driveway, granting absolute permission--issuing both an invitation and a license, really--to be selfish in choosing someone to date and (someday, eventually) marry. I'll read this to my kids at the right moment; maybe you will find these words helpful, too. Meg's graciously agreed to let me repost her piece here today:

I was talking to a good friend the other day about the pitfalls of dating.

There was a boy. He wasn’t that nice and he wasn’t that mean. He talked like he cared and acted like he didn’t. When she walked into a room he would make his way to her eventually. They had dated and then didn’t and then dated again. At the moment, they were back to didn’t.

We laughed our way through the ridiculousness of the conversation until she wasn’t smiling anymore,

“I don’t know. I want more. But is that awful? Setting my standards too high? Being too selfish?”

And then the laughter left me, too. I wanted to hit out at the people, places, situations and inner dialogues that have convinced so many of my sisters that “wanting more” is an unforgivable act of self-centric thinking. As if somehow the pursuit of a life partner is an act of charity and to take our hopes, hurts and desires into account betrays the nature of the enterprise.

I can remember spouting off the same misgivings and gentle questions. Anxious and sure my worth depended on the eyes and evaluations of others. Thank the Heavens for parents that slapped the words out of my mouth almost before the left it. (Well, it wasn’t a literal slapping. More of a rhetorical beating. Really, I admire their restraint.)

They’d throw their hands in the air and talk emphatically. Didn’t I know that choosing my husband, the man I would make my life with, was the most selfish decision of my life? That it was one of the last times that I could sit as a single entity and decide to get exactly what I wanted without the interference of pledge or the obligation of a shared life, shared children, shared disappointments, shared hopes? Be selfish, they cried. Seek for the best. Make yourself what you want and don’t bend for a man that can’t appreciate the god given, mortal mess you are. Find a man to partner, not a boy to parent. Walk away if it gets too hard, too hurtful, too disappointing. Right now, you don’t owe anyone a damn thing. Not a week, not a month and certainly not your whole ever loving life. You don’t owe anyone anything. You only owe it to yourself to find what you want. You get to have what you want. Meggi, what do you want?

It seemed so counter-intuitive. I remember arguing with my dad over it once. At the time, I was dating a boy that made it seem like sacrifice of self was really the sacrament of love. And I believed him. How, I cried to my good dad, how can marriage – the most self-less of institutions – begin with my most selfish decision? Didn’t he know the heart hurt sacrifice of self had to begin beforehand? Didn’t that make the most sense? The good man looked almost disappointed in me. He and my mom had raised me for twenty years and these were the questions I still pondered. I have to admit, it didn’t say much for my learning abilities.

He said my name once,


and then cleared the tears out of eyes and throat with a wipe and a cough.

…you are selfish in choosing a mate because once you commit yourself to a person you’ve decided to never be truly selfish again. Sure, at times you will take time for yourself and splurge and do all the fun stuff we do when we say we are being selfish. But you will never again be able to live your life with only thoughts for yourself, not really. And that is a beautiful thing. If you and your husband are living your marriage correctly you will always be thinking of, working for and loving one another. The selflessness of marriage is the kind that lifts each party up to a place they could not have reached alone. It is not a sacrifice of self. It is a clarification of self. Marriage should make you more of who you are. It should refine you. Both of you. Anything less than that isn’t worth your time.

I think at that point I grumbled something about him always having to be right. He laughed and then was serious again.

Listen, it is important to remember that you are not just being discerning, and yes, even selfish, for yourself. You are being selfish for the children that will eventually come into the marriage. Is this the person that will help your sons and daughters understand their place in the world? Can you both create a sanctuary of love and learning for them? Maybe you aren’t at a place where you can see you deserve that, but surely you know your children deserve it. I hope your mom and I gave that to you kids and I hope you do the same for your own.

It was an eye opening conversation. For years, my parents told me I had great worth and deserved more happiness than my inward thinking heart could fathom. I didn’t ever believe them. But that day when my dad talked about my daughter, I knew, I just knew, that unknown girl was worth the price of a star and then some. I knew she deserved the kind of joy that could crack the universe in two. And somehow, knowing that about her helped me understand it about myself. I had to give her what she deserved and the only way to do that was to get exactly what I deserved.

So I broke up with that boy. I stopped asking those questions and started asking others. Who was I? What did I want? How could I create my own happiness? And I started living the life I hoped my daughter would lead. One with query and laughter and legs that moved me from moment to moment to moment. Until, somewhere in between a good book and a little grand adventure, I found, and was found, by the kind of man that made me want to be selfish one last, glorious time.

We’re not perfect. I can’t even see perfect from the place we reside. We fight and misunderstand. We hurt and are hurt. We work and sweat and love and kiss and start over again. It’s messy and hard and there are days when I can’t wait for the morning. But I can appreciate his God given self amidst all his mortal mess and he can appreciate me and mine. And sometimes, when the light of our lives is just right, I can see us lifting one another to that gold lit place.

Sisters, stop asking if your standards are too high, if you want too much, if you are being too selfish.

Figure out what you want. Don’t settle for anything or anyone less. And then, once you and that worthy man find one another, work, love and pray for each other as if your heart and souls depend on it.

I hope you do it for yourself. I know you’ll do it for your daughter.

You both deserve it.

Hey guess what? You are completely complete even without “Mr. Right”. Read here and here.

Meg Conley is a writer that specializes in topics of womanhood, motherhood, childhood...basically all the 'hoods. Her blog, Meg in Progress, is quickly becoming a nationally recognized platform for women’s issues and day to day inspiration [and it's also where this post originally appeared]. She speaks at conferences about the glorious state of womanhood and is lucky enough to hang out on TV, HuffPost Live and Sirius XM radio routinely. When she isn't being honest about being a girl, she can often be found holed up in the bathroom sneakily eating left over Easter candy while hiding from her children. 


Letter to a Young Parent: Guest post

We're happy to have Christie guest posting again today, back by popular demand for an encore after her terrific week of posts last year. This one goes out to all of our readers whose kids aren't quite at the teen stage, especially the parents who may have a bit of fear and dread about those looming and mysterious years. In the tradition of Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet, we occasionally try to bring insights and reassurance from other parents who are slightly further along the parenting path. (For instance, remember this post about going easy on the oldest? Or this one about show me who you are?) I love hearing what works for different families. Christie has seven great insights to reassure you that things are going to be fine...maybe even magical. I wish I had read them about ten years ago!

I occasionally get asked by mothers of young children what the secret is to raising great teenagers.

My initial response is that I have absolutely no clue.  My kids are who they are IN SPITE of having me as a mother. [The young moms don't find that answer too helpful.] The next thing that I will tell you is to disbelieve the myth that teenagers are sullen, angry creatures who slam doors and hate their parents.  Some do that, but the overwhelming majority do not.

Every one of my kids' friends are just as happy and fun as they are, so I know that it's not just us.

Teenagers are incredible.  They are funny, smart, eager to please, and up for just about anything as long as food is involved.  They have the most generous hearts and want desperately to be loved and validated.  They are quirky, and messy, and have the best sense of humor.

I would say my number one rule is to love them fiercely.  Love everything about them, even the annoying stuff.  Love them for their actions AND their intentions.  Let them know in word and deed how much you adore them.  Daily.  Love their wrinkled shirts and Axe-body-spray-covered selves.  Love their bad handwriting and pimpled cheeks.  Love their scattered brains and long limbs.  All these seemingly insignificant details are an amazing, magic process at work.  It's like being witness to the miracle of a diamond mid-formation.  All this imperfection is going to one day yield a responsible, serious adult.  A loving husband and father.  Or a wonderful wife and mother.  It's a privilege to be witness to such glorious growth.

Feel that way.  See your teenagers as a privilege.  Don't see them as a burden.  They're more perceptive than you can imagine.  How you feel about them will be no secret.  So just love 'em.

Number two:  Listen and pay attention.  When they walk in the door after school, you have a precious few minutes that they will divulge the secrets of their day with you.  Be excited to see them.  Put down that cell phone.  Don't waste this time making dinner or taking a phone call.  Look them in the eye and hear what they are saying.  Make their victories your victories.  Be empathetic.  It is really hard to navigate high school and middle school.  Don't offer advice at this time unless they ask for it.  Don't lecture.  Just listen.  It makes them feel important and valued. We all need to feel that way.

Number three:  Say yes more than you say no.  The world is forever going to tell them no.  For the rest of their lives, they will be swimming in a stormy sea with wave-after-wave of you're not good enough and you can't do this crashing down on their heads.  If nothing else, I want to be the opposite voice in their lives for as long as I can.  I want to instill in them the belief that they are not limited, and that they can do anything if they're willing to work hard enough for it.  I want to be the YES, YOU CAN in their life.  I want them to leave my house every day feeling invincible.

Number four:  Say no often.  You need to say no to experiences and situations that will set your child up for harm or unhappiness.  Don't let them go to the parties where they will be forced to make a choice at age 16 in front of their peers about alcohol.  Don't let them stay out until three in the morning with a member of the opposite sex.  Be the parent.  Set up rules for their safety, both physical and moral.  You would think this rule goes without saying, but we have known a shockingly large number of parents who don't.  

Number five:  Feed them.  A lot.  And not only them, but their friends, too.  These bodies are growing and developing at an astonishing rate, and need fuel to do so - most of which they prefer to be loaded with processed sugar and hydrogenated-something-or-others.  When their friends know your pantry is stocked to the gills with treats, they will beg your kid to hang out at your place.  This allows you to not only meet and know their friends but to keep an eye on your teen as well.  Make your house the fun house...Your return on investment will be greater than any other options out there.

Number Six:  Don't sweat the small stuff.  When living with teenagers, it can be so easy to see the backpack dropped in the middle of the living room as laziness.  Or the bedroom scattered with dirty clothes as irresponsible.  Instead, and before you open your mouth to yell at them, put yourself in their shoes.  Find out about their day first.  Maybe they are feeling beaten down, and they just need to unwind for a minute and tell you about it.  Maybe they're tired from all that growing, learning, working, and hormone-ing.  If you waste your chance and yell at them about the backpack or shoes or [insert every other possession they own], they will not open up to you.  Breathe.  Ignore it for a bit and put your arms around that big, sweaty kid and give him a hug.  Talk to him about his world.  Find out what he did, wants to do, and dreams of doing.  THEN ask him to pick it up and put it away.

That being said, do I completely ignore the state of my boys' bedrooms all the time?  No, I do not.  But I pick my battles, and I pick the appropriate time to fight them.  Once every seven to ten days or so, I tell them their bedrooms need to be picked up.  Which they do happily, because it's not the running loop of a nagging mom.  They know when I ask, it needs to be done. 

I will not have a bad relationship with my kid over a pile of clothes on the floor.  It's. Not. Worth. It.   I love my kid more than I love a clean house.  I am confident that I am raising humans capable of picking up after themselves, and I know as they mature and grow up, these things will sort themselves out.  I have taught them how to do it.  They will not be in college and literally unaware of how to bend down and pick up their socks.  

Number Seven:  Last, but not least, stand back and watch the magic happen.  If you let them, these glorious creatures will open their hearts and love you more fiercely than you could possibly imagine.  They are brilliant, capable, strong spirits who bring with them a flurry of happiness.  They are hilarious and clever.  They are thoughtful and sensitive.  They want us to adore them.  They need us to adore them.  They love deeply and are keenly in touch with the feelings of others.

Certainly every family's different--unique personalities, different needs. What would be on your list of insights about parenting teens to pass along to other parents just starting to think about those years?

You can find Christie at her blog Stie's Thoughts, where she's been keeping track of her family's adventures and hilarious sagas since 2006. She and her family have lived in Utah, Minnesota, Seattle, Boston (where thankfully my path crossed with hers), San Diego, St. Louis, and now lucky Dallas gets them for the foreseeable future.

Last year she posted about Grandma June's apple bars, being new in town, and all that I can give.

Guest post: Flying to the trees

I'm happy to introduce you to today's guest writer, Jennifer Blaylock. Jenny lives with her family in Maryland, where she is the mother of five children--four sons and a daughter. We happen to share a great grandmother (remember the one who said "go easy on the oldest"?) but even if we weren't related, I hope I would be lucky enough to still number her among my wise and true friends. She's currently in the throes of launching her second son, which prompted today's post. 

The spring of 2014 finds me with the second of my children getting ready to graduate from high school. Honestly, it is still a little surreal to me that these babies of mine have reached such a milestone. “The days are long, but the years are short” is no joke, I’m telling you.

Brock senior pic.jpg

As we get ready for all the busyness that surrounds the end of a senior year, I am making a more conscious effort to savor this time without becoming annoyingly morose and melancholic (you’re welcome, children)—to be joyful in celebrating this launch of my second baby (all 6’4” of him), while making sure he knows how much I have loved the ride. The good, the bad, the ugly, the sweet, the hard, the…well, if you’re a parent, you know. As I think back on my firstborn’s graduation, I am reminded of a little side story that accompanied and paralleled our whirlwind weeks before graduation, and how it poignantly nudged its way into the forefront of that whole experience of graduating a child from high school. I think of it to remind myself that it’s going to be okay.  Life is constantly moving. For everyone. And life is good.

May 22

One day, while we were sprucing up our gazebo attached to the deck with a little spring-cleaning and some new cushions, we found a nest.  The most perfect little bird’s nest you’ve ever seen. Inside were three gorgeous blue eggs.

The mama bird was quite put out when the weather turned nice and she found her secluded spot inhabited by a family wanting to enjoy their outdoor spaces.  The nest lies in a perfect spot, nestled between the outside of the gazebo screen and the tall evergreen bush that rests against it. We have an incredible view, and the nest, mama, and eggs are well protected from accidental touches from the humans. Yesterday our babies hatched! They may not be much to look at now. But they will be.

May 28

Birdie Update

Our little birdies’ rate of growth is amazing. Often, we check on them in the morning and by the evening they have changed. They are getting so big—and even a little fluffy now! Quite a difference from the squirmy, weak, naked-bald babies that came out of those gorgeous blue eggs.

June 6

Today after church I went out to the gazebo to check on our baby birds.  As I opened the door, I immediately froze. One of our baby birds was perched on the ledge next to, but out of the nest. He turned his head all the way around to look at me and then nervously took a few steps—hops really—back and forth; a few inches away from the nest, a few inches back. Time was frozen: me standing there, he making his decision. I watched silently, mesmerized. 

And then, he flew away to the trees.

I walked slowly to the nest. The other two birds were snugly inside and showed no signs of unrest. There they sat, perfectly content, looking up at me. I went around to the side of the gazebo where the nest was secured in the tall evergreen bush and I searched the ground next to the elevated structure and then all around a large nearby tree in our yard. I breathed a sigh of relief. He was not there. He was in the trees.

I had mixed emotions of sadness and pride that our little birdie was ready to fly so fast (only sixteen days!), and felt a strange comfort that the other two remained tucked safely in the nest. I wasn't ready to see them go just yet.

At lunch I told the kids I had been able to witness the little bird flying away. "It was exciting," I said, re-telling the story of his back and forth hopping before his decision to fly away. "But the others are still there." I said.

After lunch we all went out to look.

The nest was empty. 

I thought about it for the rest of the day.
And couldn't help thinking of my own emptying nest. 

Graduation night, a few days ago, was very unemotional for me.

This surprised me a little.

Maybe it was the after effects of such a busy swirl of events that was the month of May. (I am still reeling!) Maybe it was the 400+ graduating class sardined into a high school gymnasium with moms, dads, grandparents, and siblings. Maybe it was the woman sitting next to us who had maybe started celebrating a little early and stumbled and fell every one of the many times she trekked up and down the bleachers during the ceremony (or maybe the fact that she kept yelling for her daughter to turn around through the entire thing). Or maybe it was the heat.

Maybe it was because of the impersonality of it all or the quickened pace of names read and seniors parading across the stage.

A name called; applause, a yell.


I thought maybe I would be more emotional at home during our own little "after party." Seeing all of my children together. Watching Jameson read the sweet cards his brothers and sister had made for him. Fun, yes. Emotional? Not really. “What’s wrong with me?” I thought.

And then there were things to take care of. A summer job in a different state meant a flurry of last minute things: packing, flight check-in, good-byes to friends.

The mucking out of his bedroom. (Yes, son, I'm sorry, it is no longer yours. Twenty-four hours gone has found another's sleepy head in "your" space. Being the oldest, it happened to me as well, and is often the way in large families.)

And then, due to a planning oversight and major error, Bruce and I attended seminary (four-year scripture study) graduation ceremony alone tonight, with our graduate settling in far away on the other side of the country.

The chapel.
The quiet.
The peace.

The images of my son as a baby flashed on the large screen as part of a slide show honoring the seniors. The "awwww" from the crowd.

It hit me then. My son had flown away to the trees.

I was filled with that same strange mix of emotion I had felt for our baby birds: happy-sadness (is there such a thing?), and I no longer held back my tears.

I thought about the empty nest from earlier that day. I thought about how this is the beginning of the emptying of my own little nest.

My little nest that I have carefully, and painstakingly labored over. My little nest that I have kept tidy and nourished my babes in. My little nest that I have kept watch over and made valiant and vigilant attempts to keep predators at bay. And that image of the empty nest filled me with great sadness at what will inevitably come. Until…I had another thought. 

The nest at the gazebo's edge was empty. Completely empty. That mother and father had flown to the trees, too. They did not wait and fret over an empty nest. They had joined their children in a chapter of new adventures high in the trees.

And they sang.


Today's guest post is brought to you courtesy of my sister, Jennifer. She's a single mom just entering the big kid years (her kiddos are 13 and 11). As my younger sister I love to boss her around and tell her just how to do things. The thing about Jennifer is that she is very disobedient to my bossing, always insisting on her own unique way and perspective. Typically, her "unique way" is hang-loose and hilarious. So I keep bossing, she keeps ignoring, and we both keep laughing. In the spirit of honoring all different kinds of big kid parenting, I find her single  mom experience a particular gem. Enjoy.

This week, Spring Break, with my kids off to their Dad’s house, I jumped into the car with my sister Sarah and two of her four children for an epic road trip from Texas to Utah.  There have been so many moments during the trip when I see my sister in the act of everyday parenting that remind me of my children and the moments I am missing, but there are equally as many moments of hilarious laughter and fun memories.

Deciding to end a marriage is understandably one of the most difficult decisions of your life, and I put it off for years for fear of the sort of frayed existence we would all have once that thread had been severed. 

And just as I had imagined, once it inevitably happened, a whole new world of shuffling began. I am a full-time parent Monday through Thursday morning and then a single girl every Thursday night and every other weekend.

School holidays alternate between parents, creating a weird spectrum of either being completely in charge with no help from a partner or being everyone’s favorite childless aunt.  It’s an all or nothing existence, and switching gears between these roles is often challenging and sometimes just plain annoying.

Obviously I would prefer to have my children with me all of the time, but after those first few desperate weekends without them, slowly, as with all things, I began to get used to it.

The shuffling has had some worthy benefits.  It gives me time to catch up on work, date, and stay connected to friends and family.  I have a closer relationship with my siblings and their children than would otherwise be possible.  In the constancy of full-time parenting, there is very little time to build deep bonds with a niece or a nephew, but in the shuffling world such things are possible.

In its best iteration the shuffling creates a wider circle of life and understanding for all of us.  The children enjoy having friends and traditions at both houses, and because of our frequent absences from each other we openly value our relationships with each other.  Because we are made to miss each other, we are also made to understand how much we really mean to one another.

In its worst, it’s a discombobulated mess of reestablishing authority and patterns of living over and over again.  We are constantly restarting with each other and relearning how to work together.

Obviously, my goal is to live the shuffling in its best iteration as much as possible, and over time I have learned to enjoy my kid-free time.  I have learned to stop mourning my losses and just enjoy the chance to be the favorite aunt or girl about town. I have learned to just let go and give myself over to jumping in a car and heading across America with my sister, or Face Timing with my daughter from the top of a mountain because it was the only chance that day to talk, or speculating for hours in different sessions with both nephew and son on what we really want in our bunker during the Zombie Apocalypse.



Step-mothering for newbies

Today I'm thrilled to be hosting a terrific guest post from Andrea L. Golding, a friend and recent mid-stage stepmother who generously agreed to share her thoughts about gaining an instant mid-stage step-crew of four boys, 7-17, all at once. I love her insights and honesty as she talks about her experiences in negotiating her new life that suddenly included lots of gym socks on the floor, merit badges, eye rolling, and fifty percent custody. Thanks, Andrea!

In November of 2011, I had a pretty great life. I had a job in the federal government that I mostly liked and I lived in Alexandria, Virginia – a great community full of interesting things to do – and next door to Washington, D.C. – an even greater city with even more interesting things to do.  I owned a home in a funky, but slightly down-trodden little neighborhood completely full of interesting people.  (Those stories would be an entirely different, but fascinating blog post.)  I was fully integrated into my neighborhood, church congregation, and work environment. 

Later that month, I “met” (online) a man who had real potential.  Actually, compared with the dregs of society I generally found in the world of online dating, he had tremendous potential.  We shared membership in the same church, he was good and kind, he had a good job, and he could use who and whom correctly.  (His correct grammar is, honestly, why I continued talking to him after our initial communication.)  Scott also had four sons (17, 14, 11, and 7 at the time), lived in Jacksonville, Florida, and couldn’t relocate because of custody agreements.  Now there was a dilemma.  To complicate matters further, at the same time I was trying to figure out whether this relationship was for real, I received a job offer that would allow me to live in Copenhagen.  Denmark.  For two years. I know!

However, I felt in the deepest parts of my heart that I would never be happier with anyone other than Scott.  I decided that, after many false starts and lots of waiting, this was my chance for love.  I took a great big breath and …. jumped!  In late July of 2012, we packed up my house in Alexandria and drove our not-quite-big-enough U-Haul to Fernandina Beach, Florida.  The morning after we arrived, we closed on a house and moved in later that day.  The next day, I drove Scott and the boys to the airport so they could fly to the Northwest to see parents/grandparents before the wedding.  I flew out the next day to spend some time with my family in Utah.

Driving Scott and the boys to the airport that day was a revelation to me.  The boys were super-excited about air travel and seeing the grandparents.  They were bouncing all over the back seat, torturing each other as you do in small, enclosed spaces moving at high speeds.  By the time we got through the 30-minute drive to the airport, I was a wreck.  I said goodbye to Scott through sobs and scrambled back into the car.  I spent the drive back plus a few more hours trying to figure out if there was any way I could get out of this gracefully.  It didn’t take long to determine that grace would have nothing to do with an exit.  We had purchased a home together, I no longer had a job, and I had a tenant living in my home in Virginia.  Oh, and then there was that wedding planned to happen in less than a week.  After a few more hours of snort-sobbing and a good night’s sleep, I came to the conclusion that I had come this far and I might as well give this marriage/step-mother thing a shot. I could re-think it later when it might not be quite as embarrassing since I had given it the old college try.  How’s that for a marriage strategy?  Inspiring, no?

Once we got down to regular life, things were better than I thought they would be.  The boys and I got along fairly well and things poked along through the fall.  I actively avoided spending time alone with them because, honestly, the prospect terrified me.  Looking back, I think I was afraid they would see through the Carol Brady role I was acting the heck out of and discover me for the fraud I was. However, they are very good boys and really wanted the situation to work so they kindly did not take down the adult who was obviously the weakest in the herd.  Besides that, we only had them fifty percent of the time. 

When that first December rolled around, Scott and I took them to buy their Christmas gifts for each other.  It was horrifying.  Foot-stomping, can-I-haves, and disappointment at empty shelves in a packed Super WalMart were all part of the experience.  I shudder in memory.  When their mom came to get them at 2:00 pm on Christmas Day per the custody agreement, I’d had them ready and waiting for an hour.

Things improved from there.  For my birthday in February I received some handmade planters for the deck and a cake with “We (heart) U” on it spelled out with chocolate chips.  I started to see that they really cared for me that day and weren’t just tolerating the situation.  I also received a hand-made Mother’s Day card in May because he couldn’t find a step-mother card in the store.  He’s very literal, that one.

Suns Game.jpg

So, after this long exposition you probably want to know what I’ve learned about entering kids’ lives as their step-mother when they are part-grown. There is nothing earth-shattering here, but here they are:

  • They are each their own person and able to exercise a great deal of influence within a family, both good and bad.  Dealing with others’ moods and personalities in an intimate space is not something I’ve done in the last 25 years or so.  Lots of adjusting there.
  • Fifty-fifty custody is the BEST!  There is enough time to enjoy them, but just when they start to get truly irritating . . . Behold!  It is time to send them to their mother.
  • It is incredibly rewarding to make a difference in the way kids develop their personalities, values, and ethics.  For example, since joining the family I’ve consistently taught the boys about (harped upon?) the need for women to have strong roles in the community, workplace, church, and home and that only good things will result.  I’ve also expanded their political awareness.  Since I have lived in rural Florida, I have not been to one public place with a television that plays any news channel other than the most conservative one available.  Not that there is any reason why it shouldn’t be playing, but seriously?  That’s that only valid source of news available?  Hopefully, the  boys are starting to ask some of those questions themselves.
  • I enjoy talking with them and being their friend.  In the interest of brutal honesty, I have to admit that it has only been during the last two months that I have been able to say that, but it is true.  We often really enjoy being together.  Actually, I should probably survey the studio audience since I’m not sure the boys enjoy spending time with me, but at least I enjoy spending time with them.
  • It is okay to want to spend time by myself or as a couple.  Since Scott has spent the last few years focusing exclusively on the boys, once in a while I have to drag him out the door to spend time with just us, but generally we are on the same page.  In my world, that fifty-fifty custody agreement has been vital to a healthy new marriage in the context of a step-family.
  • It is a challenge not to speak negatively about the ex-spouse.  The boys say and do things from time to time that make both Scott and me raise our eyebrows, but we work very hard not to say anything negative about their mom EVER.  We let her rules apply at her house and ours at ours.  Values are different in each home and so activities differ.  As challenging as this is for us, I can’t imagine how the boys must feel having two different regimes to answer to.  They are brave souls.
  • This is not news to parents of kids these ages, but the pre-teen eye rolls, sulks, and persecution complexes make me cuh-razy.  I wish they could easily understand that the world (and especially your step-mother) is not out to get you and that someone, somewhere on the face of the earth has had it harder than you.  I certainly haven’t figure out how to deal with this one yet except to grit my teeth and talk quietly, but passionately to the cantaloupe I am slicing for dinner.

We still all have a long way to go, but the second year has been considerably easier than the first.  I am starting to see light at the end of the tunnel and am no longer just hanging on until they leave for college or a church mission. Although we’ve had some ups and downs (hello summer vacation), things have been progressively better through the year.  This year, when we took them Christmas shopping again it was abundantly clear that we have all changed and perhaps progressed a great deal.  We actually had fun this year including laughing and gentle teasing and part of the driving done by a driver with only a permit.  (I have developed nerves of steel, I tell you.)  The older ones provided advice to me about presents for the younger brother and they were all pretty good sports about budget limitations.  It was great!

Lest you be confused, things certainly aren’t all rosy.  One of the highlights of our recent family conversations was a wish expressed to his dad by the now eight year-old.  “I wish you and mom would get back together.  Andrea could live with us too; she could cook for us.”  All of a sudden, I was Alice.  That took my breath away.  Since then, both Scott and I have taken pains to ensure that they see us as a couple and make clear that I am not just the cook.  I still cannot get over the hurdle of referring to “our family” or telling them that I love them.  I have faith that it will happen someday, though. 

Andrea has lived in northern Utah, Seoul, Philadelphia, northern Virginia and currently resides in North Florida.  She is a daughter to an amazingly tough mother, sister to three hilarious women, wife to a truly great man, and step-parent to three really good boys.  After leaving a 12 year career at the U.S. Department of State, Andrea now devotes her free time to the local Friends of the Library organization, quilt guild, Boy Scouts, her church, and an early morning religion course for high school students.

Guest Post: Being new in town

We've got a treat for you this week! Since Sarah and I are both traveling along the trail of tears (i.e., each launching a daughter into the big wide world), we're featuring a guest writer on Nest & Launch this week.  If you're the kind of soul who clicks on the links in posts you may already be familiar with my friend Christie, since she is the wonder woman who is my friend-making guru and who inspired my long-delayed picture hanging. She's also one of my true, move-a-body friends and I'm so happy she agreed to fill in this week in our absence. You're going to love her:

At the end of May, our family moved from St. Louis to Dallas.  For months, we talked about it with our three kids (ages 15, 13, and 11).  How great it would be, how much they would like it, and how easily they would make new friends.


A few weeks in, and we had a handful of potential friends.

A few months has now come and gone and we all realize one thing:  Mom and Dad were big, fat liars.

It has been okay, they don’t love it (yet), and it’s definitely not been easy.

But we have learned a lot of lessons that I definitely think could help other mid-stage parents out there who find themselves on the early side of a move.

The first thing we did was dive in and get involved.

Within two weeks of arriving here, I had enrolled all three of my kids in summer camps at their respective schools.  This was a scary prospect for a teen/tween – showing up to camp and not knowing a soul. 

For the boys, it became a new and exciting endeavor.  They took this opportunity as a chance to reinvent themselves and are both trying a new sport.  Happily, they are finding that they really like it.  Football is king here in Texas, and they are embracing that mentality wholeheartedly.   Something, I am sure, they would not have tried in our old school.

For my daughter, it was both a hit and a miss.  One camp was fantastic.  A sport she had never tried plus patient coaches left her feeling confident and eager.  The other camp was full of girls who have played the sport in club for years.  She came home sobbing and dejected.  Painful lessons, but great life experience nonetheless.

Secondly, we threw a party for about 20 families in our neighborhood within a week of moving here.  Yes, there were boxes that needed unpacking still.  Yes, we didn’t know any of the neighbors.  And, HOLY MESS, our house was not remotely put together the way I would have liked.  But it introduced us to families we otherwise wouldn’t have met that first week.  They fell all over themselves praising us for our outgoing attitudes, never knowing just how scared we all were to do it.  Bonus:  It motivated the Husband to get all my pictures hung up on the walls.

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Third, do not underestimate the power of the “mom card.”  I have seen these from the time my kids were little, and always thought they were a great idea, but never bothered to get some.  Having a box of them ready to go with our move has been invaluable.   Whenever we have met someone new, I have pulled one out of my purse and instantly provided our names, address, and phone numbers.  It’s a tangible reminder for new friends to keep you on the radar, too.

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Fourth, we have asked our kids to look in their church classes for someone they think they would like to know better.  Then, I’ve picked up the phone and invited that family over for dinner or dessert.  People have the best intentions, but life gets busy.  You cannot sit around and wait for people to come to you.  Put yourself out there and be proactive. 

Lastly, and most important, just keep trying.  Attend any and all church, school, or community activities, even if you don’t want to.  I have attended a book club I might not otherwise, a community fundraiser, and a “mommy & me pool group” that was definitely geared to mothers of little kids.  But all have proved to be a great place to connect with other women and, at this point, we’ll take all the connections we can get.

Be patient.  Planting new roots is a slow, laborious process.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  But when enough time has passed, and those roots are secure, you will wonder why you ever felt at home anywhere else.

You can find Christie at her blog Stie's Thoughts, where she's been keeping track of her family's adventures and hilarious sagas since 2006. She and her family have lived in Utah, Minnesota, Seattle, Boston (where our paths thankfully crossed), San Diego, St. Louis, and now lucky Dallas gets them for the foreseeable future. She knows how to find a posse of fantastic friends faster than anyone I know.

Show me who you are

Back many years ago (*cough* 2008 *cough*), I started a parenting blog project called Letters to a Parent, a collection of letters by parents for parents about the art and practice of raising kids. Since I'm away from home today I thought I would share one of my favorite guest posts from that project, written by my aunt Annette when I asked her how she and her husband, Scott, approached raising her three (now grown) boys. I think you'll like it, too. I especially love her overarching approach of "show me who you are":

Scott and I had this parenting notion: Show me who you are. This was extremely helpful. When our sons showed us who they were - as they were figuring this out - they turned out to be delightful and talented people. Not one of them fit a preconceived notion of who they might be.

Photo via  You are My Wild

Photo via You are My Wild

Support their interestsWe did not make demands on Scout participation or certain athletics or after-school activities. We had only one "must" and it was that they must take piano lessons until they could accompany others. Each of them did this and we were amazed when they continued their lessons way beyond the point where we thought they would quit. As parents, we paid for a lot of lessons in several fields, drove them to their lessons until they could drive, and we attended every activity we could, which turned out to be most of them.

Photo via  You are My Wild

Photo via You are My Wild

Feed them and feed any of their friends, and let your home be the gathering place. This involves extra money and lots of late hours, but it was great having them know they could always invite friends over, and our home came to be known as a "safe place" to hang out, by kids and parents alike. As a result, we knew their friends well--and enjoyed the interaction. Also, one cannot underestimate what we learned while everyone was hanging out here. The casual eavesdropping opportunities were tremendous - so we had a pulse on what was going on with them and their friends. This also leads to another tip: drive them and their friends where they want to go. The parent at the wheel becomes invisible and SO MUCH info is dropped in the conversations.

Look for something to praise and compliment every single day - and then SAY it, don't just think it. Also tell them you love them whenever they walk out the door or end a call. Every single day. We always did this, but became extra-motivated when friends of ours lost their son in a car accident and were comforted knowing that the last words exchanged were, "I love you."

We are strong advocates of natural consequences for choices and behaviors. We also tried to be VERY consistent: we did what we said we would do (so we were careful about what we agreed to). Most of our house rules and policy evolved through a democratic family council method. Our boys had a lot to say about what happened in our home, even down to furniture choices.

Photo via  You are My Wild

Photo via You are My Wild

We granted them three (and only three) "saves" for each school year. They had to use these saves wisely - having us bring stuff to school they forgot, etc. This helped them to be responsible for their work. If they had to stay after school for detention - my coming to get them was a "save." Each son had only one detention in all their school years. But they each had one. Each usually used up their "saves" in a year. Now that they are grown, we have funny family stories about these.

Reflective listening is powerful and helps them know they are heard. This method also defuses arguments. As parents, we worked hard to listen and allow them to talk, then we'd feed back what we heard in a neutral tone of voice (sometimes hard to do): "You must feel very frustrated." "Wow, that must have been hard." "Yikes, what did you choose to do about THAT?"

Photo via  You are My Wild

Photo via You are My Wild

Have them check in with you when they come home. We always waited up for our kids, no matter how tired we were. They had to check in with us. We placed two comfy chairs at the end of our bed, and the kids developed a habit of dropping into those chairs or on the foot of our bed to talk about their night or day. Sometimes we would be there into the wee hours. We had an unspoken policy if they wanted to talk, we would listen (and stay awake).

Let them have complete stewardship of their rooms. I RARELY went in their rooms. Laundry was done only if it was delivered to the laundry room. Each of them went through a period when they lived wearing the clothes off their floor and sent their laundry down in huge heaps occasionally. If they wanted to keep the rooms messy, then that was their choice. (Choose your battles.)

Photo via  You are My Wild

Photo via You are My Wild

Which brings me to my final three tips for parenting teens:
Have fun with them every single week. We often had some family activity each week.
Laugh a lot. "Save the day with laughter," as Grandma taught.
Talk (and listen) a lot. Be sure to ask questions that cannot be answered with a grunt or shrug, a yes or no. Here are two good leads, "Tell me about..." or "How did you feel when...?"

Wow. I'm going on and on. It's kind of fun to think back on this and realize that a lot of this really worked. We still love each other. We’re friends. They are delightful and responsible adults with unique talents. I occasionally told them back then, and I've told them a few times since they've left home: I have many weaknesses and have made errors, but one thing I know about myself and about them is that I was a really good mother. They seem to believe my press statement.

Annette Paxman Bowen is the author of three books, including one about connecting with teens. She currently works as a public affairs director.

All photos in this post are used by permission from the fantastic photography project You Are My Wild. In their words: "You Are My Wild is a weekly portrait project that brings together 14 photographers to document how they see their children." It's a favorite internet stop for me every week. I love the loving lenses of these glimpses into family life around the world. It's definitely worth following.