The Alternating Happiness and Grief of Life 2.0

I’m becoming more comfortable with the “both and-ness” of this life. I am both homesick for the life I once had and filled with joy at the life I am living.

It was well past midnight when my phone dinged urgently from the nightstand next to me. I debated not checking it: the kids were tucked safely in their beds upstairs and my work rarely requires an immediate response to client issues. I’m not a live organ transplant surgeon, after all. No message I get after midnight needs an answer before dawn.
But my curiosity got the better of me, and I rolled over to check my messages. And there it was, a note from a reader, also up much too late:
“I had to ask you this one question … I wonder when I will stop secretly grieving the loss of my ‘first family?’ It’s been four years and every now and again it hits me like a freight train that it’s over … that this ‘post first family, blended family life’ is really happening. Trying to coparent and trying to bond with step children and trying to ensure that everybody is ‘getting along’ is so overwhelming sometimes … nights like tonight, I just secretly wish that my ‘first family’ was still intact.”
I read it twice, quickly, and then once more as I thought about what to say.

I could’ve written the message myself

Yesterday I called my children to say goodnight and listened to their stories of the day at the beach on vacation with their father. Simon is relishing his freedom, old enough now to spend the afternoon at the pier eating ice cream and talking to girls with the casual, laid back attitude I also perfected at home in the mirror when I was 16. Lottie spent the day in the pool, practicing hand stands, and Caden continued his beach trench digging. For as long as I can remember, that child has spent his week at the beach digging a trench so long and straight it makes me wonder how long it will be before the army recruits him off the sand.
I know where they are and what they had for lunch and how it feels to sit on the deck of their family beach condo, salty air blowing softly at the end of a long day in the sun. I spent my 20th birthday with my beach chair sitting in that low tide, lost in a book before heading to the very restaurant where they ate dinner last night. I know the pattern of the cracks in the bathroom ceiling, and the soft murmured cadence of adult conversation after the children fall, sandy and exhausted, into their beds in the back bunk room.
But I’m not there. Someone else is now.
It was the background conversation that stayed with me longest after I hung up the phone last night. I could hear their father, Billy, laughing with his dad, and his mother’s murmured response. Suddenly, the adults all started laughing, sharing a joke I’m not a part of any longer and in that instant I felt overwhelmingly homesick.
Homesick for a time and place where I belonged, simply and wholly. Where I didn’t have to add a prefix and no one had come before me. Where people were free to love me unencumbered by grief and heartbreak. Where I didn’t yet understand what those words meant, really.
And yet, I wouldn’t choose to be there. I didn’t choose that, after all.
As I hung up the phone, I took Gabe’s outstretched hand and we left for dinner, hand in hand, walking in our now-familiar rhythm. We spend the night working through an investment strategy, diving deep into the details of our latest television obsession, and thinking about where we might find ourselves a year from now.
We spend the meal as we’ve spent our day: enjoying each other’s company and exploring the world around us. We are, like our stride, perfectly in sync. The joy I feel when I am with Gabe, secure in our partnership and overwhelmed by his love, is something I’d never experienced before. I wouldn’t have even said it existed.

I’m becoming more comfortable with the “both and-ness” of this life

I am both homesick for the life I once had and filled with joy at the life I am living. I am both overwhelmed by the complexity of raising six children and on-my-knees-grateful at the chance to bear witness to the miracle of their transition to adulthood. I both miss my first husband’s quick wit and remember its sting. I both worry about the effects of our choice to separate and know deep in my bones it was the right choice for my family.

I spent the morning on a new beach today

I watched the older couples walking, hand in hand, some deep in conversation, some silent. I watched the teen girls primp and preen, carefully adjusting their pose as they captured and posted the perfect candid moment. I watched the young moms and dads slather sunscreen and chase down lost yellow shovels and explain for the fourth time that sand is not for eating.
For just a moment, I want one more chubby toddler. One I share with the man next to me, one who will eat sand and learn to ride a bike in our driveway and belong to just the two of us. And in that same moment I remember that I never want to own another swim diaper or blue plastic bathtub or attend another endless kindergarten orientation.
I both want to wear that teenage-girl black crocheted bikini and not think twice about it and also know I never, ever want to be 16 again.
I both want to walk on the beach with someone I loved as a girl and also know the person I want beside me today joined me much later in my life.
Both, and.

Grief and sadness and gratitude and giddy joy wrap around me

They weave intertwined through my memory, tangled so closely I sometimes can’t separate the two. I’ve stopped trying. I’m learning the experience of one often highlights the other, and this swirling life in progress has enough room for both.
I’ve slowly stopped trying to rationalize or make sense of how I feel in any given moment, and just accept where I am. Feelings are not right or wrong or good or bad. Sometimes I am still sad about a decision we made I know to be the right one. Sometimes I am filled with joy I found only after making a decision that caused people I love pain. A complicated path sometimes yields complicated feelings.
And so, late that night, I respond to my new friend with the truth, the only wisdom I have to offer:
“I get that. I sometimes feel that way too.”
This article was originally published on This Life in Progress.

13 Key Elements That Keep Your Sex Life Hopping

Great sex is not rocket science. In fact, many happy couples have these 13 things in common.

In an amazing book titled “The Normal Bar,” authors Chrisanna Northrup, Pepper Schwartz, and James Witte conducted an online study with 70,000 people in 24 countries. They were curious about what might be different about couples who said that they had a great sex life, compared to couples who said that they had a bad sex life. Even with the limitations of self-report data, there are some fascinating implications of their results.
One thing that’s very interesting to me is how their findings compare to the advice Esther Perel gives in her book “Mating in Captivity,” and in her clinical work in general, in which she assists couples in improving their sex life. Perel tells couples not to cuddle. She also believes that emotional connection will stand in the way of good erotic connection. This brings me to a key finding from the Normal Bar study.

Fact: Couples who have a great sex life everywhere on the planet are doing the same set of things.

Additionally, couples who do not have a great sex life everywhere on the planet are not doing these things.
Inspired by the Normal Bar study, as well as by my own research studies on more than 3,000 couples over four decades, I’ve identified 13 things all couples do who have an amazing sex life.

  • They say “I love you” every day and mean it
  • They kiss one another passionately for no reason
  • They give surprise romantic gifts
  • They know what turns their partners on and off erotically
  • They are physically affectionate, even in public
  • They keep playing and having fun together
  • They cuddle
  • They make sex a priority, not the last item of a long to-do list
  • They stay good friends
  • They can talk comfortably about their sex life
  • They have weekly dates
  • They take romantic vacations
  • They are mindful about turning toward

In short, they turn toward one another with love and affection to connect emotionally and physically. In the Normal Bar study, only six percent of non-cuddlers had a good sex life. So Perel’s intuition runs counter to international data. What is very clear from the Normal Bar study is that having a great sex life is not rocket science. It is not difficult.

Fact: Couples have a bad sex life everywhere on the planet.

The Sloan Center at UCLA studied 30 dual-career heterosexual couples in Los Angeles. These couples had young children. The researchers were like anthropologists – observing, tape-recording, and interviewing these couples. They discovered that most of these young couples:

  • Spend very little time together during a typical week
  • Become job-centered (him) and child-centered (her)
  • Talk mostly about their huge to-do lists
  • Seem to make everything else a priority other than their relationship
  • Drift apart and lead parallel lives
  • Are unintentional about turning toward one another

One researcher on this project told me it was his impression that these couples spent only about 35 minutes together every week in conversation, and most of their talk was about errands and tasks that they had to get done.
So, if we put these two studies together, what does it tell us? It says that couples should not avoid one another emotionally like Perel recommends, but instead follow the 13 very simple things that everyone on the planet does to make their sex lives great.
Emily Nagoski’s wonderful book “Come as You Are” talks about the dual process model of sex. In the model, each person has a sexual brake and a sexual accelerator. In some people the brake is more developed, and in some people the accelerator is more developed. It’s important to learn what for you and for your partner steps on that sex brake that says, “No, I’m not in the mood for lovemaking.”
It’s also important to learn what for you and for your partner steps on that accelerator, that says, “Oh yes, I’m in the mood for lovemaking.” We have a mobile app designed for this purpose. It consists of over 100 questions to ask a woman about her brake and accelerator, and over 100 questions to ask a man about his brake and accelerator. Those questions are also available as one of seven exercises in The Art and Science of Lovemaking video program.
Great sex is not rocket science. By being good friends, by being affectionate (yes, even cuddling), and by talking openly about sex, couples can build a thriving relationship inside and outside of the bedroom.
This article was originally published on the Gottman Relationship Blog. Over 40 years of research on thousands of couples has proven as simple fact: small things often can create big changes over time. Got a minute? Sign up for their Marriage Minute here

Date Nights in the Parenthood Era

I want to feel like my husband and I have left our date nights like we used to before we were parents.

“What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know. What do you want to do?”

This is not the opening exchange at an Indecisives Anonymous meeting. (I’ve never actually been to one, I can’t decide if I should go.) This stimulating conversation is the exchange that begins date night with my husband.

A long time ago, in the land of skinny jeans and carbs, my husband and I could ponder the, “What do you want to do tonight?” question for hours and still come up with something fun to do and have a great time doing it. Since we’ve become parents, this question has a pressure for which I was unprepared. We’ve got to figure out what to do with our precious date night time right now. We must connect! We must have fun! We must make our Golden Time remarkable!

These days, my brain is too overworked from answering tough questions like which brand of kids’ fruit snacks is less deadly, and will our toddler’s Spiderman costume turn him into a spider. For date nights, I’d like to suggest a romantic evening of staring at the wall, but I know my husband and I need time to connect, so I’m not sure that’s going to suffice. The best plan my tired noggin can think up is dinner and movie. Admittedly, this is not very creative or exciting. Unless it’s a movie with Chris Pine, then it’s very exciting! (My husband loves Chris Pine.)

Dinner and a movie gets us out together, but oftentimes we find ourselves rushing through the dinner portion of the evening only to find me falling asleep through the movie portion of the evening. It feels hurried and forced. I only have a limited amount of time to prove to my husband that I’m still that fun gal he married – that I can totally stay up past 9:30, laugh at his jokes, and use words like “gal” easily in a sentence. I’m scoring very high on using words like “gal” in sentences, but I keep falling asleep in the middle of his jokes. Our Golden Time in not very golden.

I want to feel like my husband and I have left our date nights like we used to before we were parents – full of each other, the kind of happy-full I feel like after I’ve eaten that ridiculously enormous chocolate cake from Claim Jumper (don’t ask me to share). Mostly, though, I leave our time together feeling hungry like I’ve eaten my toddler’s portion of vegetables (ask me to share). I want more him. I want more us. I want more chocolate cake.

In an effort to help us connect more, I started trying to come up with different ideas for our date nights. Maybe the dinner and a movie thing just wasn’t conducive to connection. We tried staying home and catching up on TV like we used to. We tried going out for long dinners with no other plans like we used to. We tried heading out the door with no specific itinerary except maybe to get dessert like we used to. None of these helped me feel more in tune with him. Now that we were parents, was this just the new norm – me falling asleep face down in our appetizer in the middle of his punch lines? Had we changed that much?

I’ve definitely changed, and it isn’t just my wardrobe. Yes, elastic pants have replaced tight-fitting jeans and 9:30 PM is my new midnight, but I feel my insides have shifted, too. As a stay-at-home mom, my days are filled with my child. My focus is all-kid-all-the-time with only an occasional adult-alone break to use the bathroom, and even then I occasionally have a toddler-sized chaperone. I’m constantly a mom, always tuned into that mom-channel within. Maybe the problem isn’t with us, the problem is me.

I keep looking for time with my husband to be like it was, and that’s the true problem. I’m not the same person I was before I had a child. Why would our date nights feel the same when I don’t? I was slow to figure it out (I’ll blame that on lack of sleep for over a year), but once I stopped expecting our Golden Time to feel the same, an immense amount of pressure dropped away. Our time together began to have a lightness that sparked that connection for which I’d been searching.

Date nights with my husband aren’t what they were, but I am cool with this. Releasing the heavy expectations of our previous time together has freed up space to allow them to be what they are: a reflection of us now. Sure, my husband might prefer I stay up later than 9:30, but we are a couple with a kid. I may not get there. However, this doesn’t make me any less great of a “gal” or us a less fun couple, it just makes us partners with a kid. Enjoying our time together for what it is has made all the difference. That and starting our dates at 4:30 pm.

What You Can Do When Your Kid Prefers One Parent Over the Other

Though it’s not uncommon for children to prefer one parent over the other, it totally stings. Here’s what you can do to make it through.

“No! I want daddy to do it!”
Your three-year-old has wedged himself between the bed and the dresser and refuses to let you help him get dressed.
“Daddy’s at work right now. Mommy’s here! I can help you.”
You attempt to get closer and his little hands push you away.
The hurt inside you grows. “What makes dad so special? I’m here with you all day. And this is the thanks I get?” you think to yourself.
What are you supposed to do?
It’s not uncommon for children to prefer one parent over the other.
Sometimes this is due to a change in the parenting roles: a move, a new job, bedrest, separation. During these transitions, parents may shift who does bedtime, who gets breakfast, or who is in charge of daycare pickup.
Sometimes, a preference comes around the birth of a sibling. One parent cares more for the infant, while the other parent spends more time with the older children.
And sometimes, it’s just because daddy does better bathtimes. Or mommy tells better bedtime stories.
Regardless of the reason, being rejected by your child hurts.
Thankfully, there are things you can do to survive this difficult stage.

Tips for the “non-preferred” parent

Manage your own feelings

It’s okay to feel a variety of feelings when your child pushes you away. And, it’s okay to tell your child how you’re feeling (“I feel sad then you tell me to ‘get away!’”). But keep the big tears, angry thoughts, and hurt feelings to yourself and fellow adults, rather than sharing them with your child.

Build connection

If the relationship between you and your child is strained, take time to work on strengthening your bond. Spend quality one-on-one time with your child on a daily basis. Join your child in activities they enjoy. Or create “special” activities that are just for the two of you.

Empathize with the struggle

There will be times when the other parent is not available to come to your child’s rescue. In these moments, start by empathizing with their big feelings. Then, set a boundary. “I know you wish daddy could help you. It’s hard when he’s at work and mommy has to help you get dressed instead.”

Look for tips

As hard as it may be to admit, there may be something to learn from the “preferred parent.” Maybe the songs dad sings during bath time take the anxiety out of hair washing. Or the little game mom plays gets him moving in the morning. Stay true to yourself, and see if you can incorporate some of these tips into your parenting too.

Positive self talk

It’s easy to get down in the dumps or to start doubting your parenting when your child prefers another caregiver. Remind yourself that this is a stage, that you are the parent your child needs, and that your worth is not defined by your child’s positive response. If you can’t shake the negative feelings, seek support from a mental health professional or a parent coach.

What if you’re the “preferred” parent?

It’s hard to be pushed away by your child, but being the preferred parent can lead to feelings of helplessness, confused, and torn between two people.
Here are some tips for you:

Support the “non-preferred” parent

It’s easy to jump in and “save the day” when your child is calling for you. Instead of swooping in, encourage your child’s dependence on the other parent. You can stand close by, respond with empathy, and remind your child that he is loved by so many people, including the “non-preferred” parent.

Talk about “same” and “different”

When you are alone with your child, emphasize things that make each parent unique. Brag on the other parent’s strengths. Point out things that you both do well. Or, have your child list a few things she loves about both parents.

Be aware of hurt feelings

Keep in mind that the other parent may be struggling with your close relationship. Even though your child’s preference may make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, the other parent may be feeling jealous, frustrated, or hurt. Put your pride aside and give them time and space to talk openly about their feelings. (Remember, the tables may be turned in the future!)
Thankfully, your child is growing and maturing.
With time, they will move past this preference and realize that it’s possible to love both parents in unique ways.
Until then, take a deep breath, find some inner strength as you are passed over for hugs and kisses, and silently smile when the other parent is called in to change a messy diaper.
This article was originally published on Imperfect Families.

6 Simplicity Hacks for Parents Who Would Rather Spend Time Doing Than Planning

Here are some strategies you can use to minimize decision-making and maximize time and energy for the pursuits that bring you joy.

“How’s it going?”
“Busy. Good, but busy.”
We’ve all had this conversation. However you feel about busy-ness – whether it’s a badge of honor, something to be avoided altogether, or just an inevitable part of life – most of us do not enjoy managing the minutiae of the busy life. I know I’d rather spend my time tickling my kids, reading something without pictures after they go bed, or checking out the new yoga studio down the street than figure out how and when I’m going to actually do all that stuff.
I spent my childhood longing for the sweet freedom that adulthood promised. Now that I have it, I find I’m actually happier when I go out of my way to limit the number of choices required of me. That experience, it turns out, is not unusual. According to psychologist Barry Schwartz, less is more when it comes to options. People tend to be happier when they have fewer choices.
Enter routines. We know they’re good for kids but they might be better for adults than we give them credit for. By creating “rules” for what, how, and when we are going to do things, routines limit or even eliminate the pesky choices that drain our time and energy, leaving us with more room to engage with the people and things that matter to us.
Creating routines takes some up-front investment, but once you have them dialed in they’re worth the hassle. Here are some strategies you can use to minimize decision-making and maximize time and energy for the pursuits that bring you joy.

1| Divide and conquer

My husband and I have a deal: Until 7 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday I am free to “sleep in” or work out while he gets our kids dressed and fed. Monday and Wednesdays, we switch roles. This has been our agreement ever since I got the green light to exercise after our first child was born.
Kate Darby and Marc Neff, who are professors, parents of two, and avid runners, have a unique way of making sure they both get their miles in. On weekends, one parent drives the kids to the park and the parent runs to meet them. On the way home, whoever ran to the park drives the kids home, and their spouse runs home solo.
Katie and Daniel Westreich, parents of two, take the concept a step further. Every week, they grant each other an entire day off from parent duties of any kind, including even seeing their two children. Westreich jokes they have trademarked the arrangement “20 percent divorced.”

2| Schedule all the things

Savvy parents take the time to schedule all the things in advance. Jessica Ziegler, the co-author of Science of Parenthood, relies on phone alarms for everything: “One for Get The Kids Up, one for 10-Minute Warning/Brush Your Teeth, one for GTFO.” What did we ever do before phone alarms with customizable labels!?
Joy Jackson, a stay at home mom of three, has a phone alarm scheduled to ding three times a week at 9:45 p.m. after her kids are tucked in for the night. “It’s the sex alarm,” says Jackson. “It says, ‘Hey, reminder, you guys like each other, but have your busy days made you forget?’”
Lorin Oliker Allan is a stay at home mom who relies on a weekly delivery from a local farm for her family’s eggs, milk, and produce.
Elyana Funk’s two daughters have piano lessons every Thursday afternoon, which means Thursday is always pizza day. Says Funk, a non-profit administrator, “I order it earlier in the day and schedule it so that it arrives when we do.”

3| …And use a shared electronic calendar app to do it

My husband and I started using a shared Google calendar when our first child was born over five years ago. My husband had been trying to bring me over the dark (read: electronic) side for years, but as a paper lover at heart, I wouldn’t budge – until we had a child and I had to make sure someone was watching our kid every time I went to work on a Saturday, worked out, or met a friend. Now, I’m never surprised when my husband “invites” me to happy hours with men I don’t know, and he’s come to expect “invitations” to girls’ night.
Galit Breen is a mother of three and author of “Kindness Wins,” a guide for teaching your child to be kind online . Breen has had her kids enter their own events on the family’s iCalendar since her two older kids were 10 and eight. “We’re all on the same page,” says Breen. “They don’t need reminders from me because they’re the ones who put them there, they see double-booking instantly so that we can take care of it in advance, and it’s so much less busy work for me!”

4| Simplify your meals

Melissa Proia is a stay at home mom of three kids under the ages of six. She has egg frittatas every morning for breakfast. It may sound elaborate but it’s actually far simpler than even cereal or instant oatmeal. Once a week, she mixes up a nine eggs, a pound of ground turkey, and veggies, bakes them in a casserole dish, cuts and wraps them into nine squares, and all she has to do is grab one and heat it up each morning.
On Sundays, Sam Watts – a busy stay at home mom who juggles five part-time jobs – plans her family’s meals for the week, puts all the ingredients on her shopping list, and does her weekly shopping. Having this system dialed in means she never has to take extra time to think about dinner.
Amy Muller is a mom and project manager who volunteers for her local Boulder, Colo. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America chapter and hits ballet classes in her spare time. Muller takes it a step further with a weekly dinner schedule featuring chicken Monday, taco Tuesday, and pizza Friday, that rarely, if ever, varies.

5| Batch process

Never do something one at a time when you’re going to need to do it every day, every week, or every month. Stay at home mom Meryl Hertz Junick does all her school lunch prepping at once. This way, she says, “I just need to refresh the containers in the insulated totes each night or morning.”
I make a double batch of just about every time I bake muffins or prep a meal in the slow cooker. Those items freeze well and my future self always thanks me.
With two children in elementary school, Elyana Funk says it feels like her family attends two birthday parties every weekend. She saves time by stockpiling birthday presents.

6| Do it the night before

I am the worst procrastinator. The more deadlines I have, the cleaner my house is. But even I swear by doing as much as I can the night before. I make my kids’ lunches while I make dinner.
Elyana Funk has her coffee pot prepped and ready to go before she goes to sleep.
Brittany Bouchard, a bank manager and mom of two girls, makes getting her kids dressed a breeze by putting entire outfits together on a hanger. So instead of helping her children choose a top, a bottom, socks, and underwear, each outfit is pre-planned and ready to wear. All her kids have to do is grab a hanger and go.
Jess Allen – the popular online trainer and fitness blogger at Blonde Ponytail – even preps her kids’ breakfast the night before to make mornings smoother.
When I was a kid, all I wanted was the freedom to be an adult and do whatever I wanted. Now that I’m an adult, that freedom can feel overwhelming and I find myself longing for some of the constraints I had as a child. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the occasional Netflix binge, third glass of wine, or extra helping of dessert. But I am happier when I can put some of my adult responsibilities on auto-pilot and devote my limited mental energy to the areas of my life where it matters.

Finding Time to Create the Lives We Want

How are we filling up our lives and what’s the why behind it?

A few weeks back, a friend and I were sharing our experiences about fitting exercise into our already-full lives as working parents. At one point she said, “I know you’re able to fit in exercise and a lot more into your life. It makes me believe it can be done. I think I need to get better about managing my time.”

I hear (and say) this line often. When we parents are overwhelmed, need to take on a new project, or fit in some more stuff into our lives, we call our beloved friend – time management. Yes, it’s ultimately about how we manage our time, but not just in terms of getting more efficient or productive. It’s also how much we understand about who we are and what matters to us. How are we filling up our lives and what’s the why behind it? Ultimately, it’s about what kind of life we want to live and the impact we want to create for our families and in the world.

First and foremost, it’s about being very clear about what’s important to me at this point in my life. This changes over time as my needs evolve. The relationships I have with my kids, my husband, my work, the greater world, and, most importantly, myself have changed. It’s asking myself, “What do I need in my life and how much is enough? Can I let go of (or outsource) some so what I have on my plate is the right use of my time?”

My marriage is incredibly important, yet spending time on the couch every night once the kids are in bed isn’t my highest priority. Do I miss those days of spending a lot of time together? Yes, absolutely. However, I’m okay with my kids staying up late so we can spend more time with the kiddos together. My house often stays messy and that’s a choice we both make to have time to exercise, work on our projects, and spend more time with the kids at night. Again, I dream of having that brochure-ready home and I know many, many parents have homes that look like hotels, but I’m not willing to make the tradeoffs at this point and, on most days, I feel fine about it.

It’s also being managing my energy. There are activities and people that fill up my energy bank and there are others that completely deplete me, then there are some that are neutral. It’s been useful to be aware of where my energy level is so that I know how to optimize. Exercise and nature are two of those energy-boosting activities so, a couple times a week, we put both the kids in the stroller and head out for a long walk after dinner (the preschooler loves the idea of a night hike to a coffee shop to get an apple or croissant while making pretend soup with the sand and sticks on the way). We all get exercise and my husband and I get to connect on our walk back while both the kids sleep peacefully in the fresh air.

A couple months back my son and I spent an entire Sunday afternoon with lots of paint. He did his pre-school version of exploration and nurtured his creativity while I got to do my version and, as a bonus, create a piece of art for our living room.

Finally, it’s about planning – meticulous planning. The people and activities that matter are often on my calendar days, weeks, and often months in advance. The camping trips, dates with my husband, time with my close girlfriends, and self-care retreats are often marked in advance on calendars. I spend Friday afternoons planning my work and non-work week to make sure I’m spending my days in ways that matter.

Moments of serendipity are few, but knowing there are fun things to look forward to gives me double joy (anticipation plus the real event), and I can manage my energy more effectively around the things that fall into the “have to do” category (dishes, are you listening?).

Yes, I’d love to have a few more hours in my life every week. I’d love to have time where I can spend hours reading, going to a leisurely yoga class, volunteering, and having long conversations with people who matter. But, at this season in my life, I can still have these, of course in abbreviated chunks that are often interrupted by the kids. (“Mom, I need food even though this is your precious 10 minutes of reading time before bed,” or “Mom, can you please wipe my butt even though I know you’re trying to drink your bowl of soup?”) I’m not going to complain. I’m grateful for these rich, joyful, and magical hours that I have in my life.

Avoid Saying These Two Words When Arguing With Your Spouse

Changing your outlook to one of partnership as opposed to two people against one another could lessen the heat of your arguments.

An argument with our significant other can turn into a lot of unnecessary finger pointing, and let’s be honest, these arguments are sometimes so trivial. When you’ve been married to someone for 10 plus years, even a wrong look can cause a fight.

I’m all about being honest with myself and I know it’s impossible to never have these fights. My goodness, you are with the same person day in and day out. Remember in high school when you would need a “break” from your best friends? Too much is too much. Marriage is that on steroids.

We are blessed to marry our best friends, we are lucky to have someone waiting for us at home every night, and life is simply sweeter when you share it with another. It can also get dirty, messy, and down right rude at times.

I was watching a movie starring the great Jennifer Anniston as her character was in a marriage counseling session. (Yes, I do take notes from movies). What the therapist said to her hit me like a brick.

The therapist counseled not to say the words “you” or “I” when arguing with your spouse.

What? Seriously? That’s the base of all arguments! On the other hand, what she was saying made so much sense.

It’s wildly easy to say, “I feel like you get so defensive!” or “You’re just so tense!”

By doing this, you are automatically pointing a finger at your spouse and, in some ways, putting them down. You’re attacking their person and suffocating their pride.

That is not your job.

Marriage is a union, it’s the binding and blending of two souls. You become one person. There is no longer a “you” or an “I,” it’s “we.”

Changing your outlook to one of partnership as opposed to two people against one another could lessen the heat of your arguments.

Let’s say you’re arguing over your spouse constantly arriving home from work late. Instead of saying, “You arriving late is putting a lot of pressure on me. I always have to feed the kids dinner and put them to bed.”

Try this:

“In our house, there is a lot of pressure at night time. We need to get the kids fed, bathed, and into bed. The evenings will be a lot easier if we can both tackle these chores.”

Do you see how much nicer that sounds? All of a sudden, you guys are a team, both when you’re getting along and when you’re arguing. Your “fights” have changed from straight-up fighting to a conversation. Your spouse won’t feel attacked and you have been able to express your stress and worries.

Honestly, it doesn’t matter who’s really to blame. You’re married, honey. Your spouse’s faults are your faults.

Name-calling is another no-no, even if you’re calling your spouse “defensive” or “uptight.” These terms are very hurtful when directed right to your spouse. Instead, try expressing them this way:

“The mood in our house feels uptight and stuffy. Let’s find a way to make our days a little more care-free and happy.”

Wow. The whole dynamic has changed.

When you said your vows, you promised to protect and honor each other. Name-calling is not protecting, pointing a finger and placing blame is not honoring.

Give it a shot, removing “I” and “you” may save hours of arguing. The two of you may even come to a reasonable and friendly resolution.

It's Easy to Ask Why I Didn't Leave the First Time

I said it only takes one time for him to lay his hands on you for you to know he is abusive. Until it actually happened to me.

I never understood how anyone could stay in an abusive relationship. I was independent and strong. I said if a man ever laid a hand on me, even once, I would be gone, no matter what.
I was unapologetic and unforgiving towards victims because I was sure I would never let it happen to me, just like anyone who’s never been abused is sure they wouldn’t let it happen to them.
I said it only takes one time for him to lay his hands on you for you to know he is abusive. I said you should leave right then and there. Until it actually happened to me. You have no idea what you would really do until you are in that situation.
The first time won’t be a hit or a punch. Sometimes abuse is never a hit or a punch. It can be pure emotional and psychological abuse. Sometimes the abuser won’t lay a hand on a woman until she tries to leave. And then he will kill her.
I have been in an abusive relationship for four years. It began with psychological abuse, and then with him breaking inanimate objects. For the first two years, he never laid a hand on me, and to this day, he has never actually hit me.
But he has broken my rib, left bruises up and down my arm, and thrown me onto shattered glass, among many other abuses that weren’t actually outright punching me. He has made it easy for me to defend him and say it was an accident.
But I am not ignorant. I am a smart, educated woman who knows the signs. I can look inside my relationship and see it. I can hear my husband spout off the stereotypical lines of an abuser verbatim. He would tell me it’s my fault, that I shouldn’t have provoked him, that I made him this way, that he used to be a nice person.
Colleen Hoover said in her book “It Ends With Us” that you lose sight of your limit. There’s a limit of what you are willing to put up with before you are done. With every incident, you stretch your limit further and further until you lose sight of your limit altogether.
They say it only gets worse, he will never change. I fully believe that, but I don’t want to.
My partner hasn’t laid a hand on me in three months. Sometimes I think maybe he really is changing. I am a stay-at-home mom to our children. We own our home, our car, and everything is in his name. I have no money and nowhere to go. So I want to believe he is changing.
If you think you would leave right away, you’re wrong. It takes time to leave.
Why, when people hear a woman is in an abusive relationship, do they say, “Why didn’t she leave?” and not, “Why did he hit her?”
It is dangerous for people to have these expectations of victims of domestic violence. It is dangerous for people to make victims believe that it isn’t common, that they are alone in not being able to leave. The truth is you never leave the first time.
People condemn women for staying, but so many circumstances in our society make leaving feel impossible. Sometimes there is no help to be had by the police or court system. The abuser controls everything and will destroy you if you try to leave.
Victim shaming needs to end.
Just because I’m not leaving my children homeless or taking the life they know away from them doesn’t mean I’m not the person and mother that I thought I would be. I am still the same strong person that I was before. Strong comes in many different forms.
Right now, I am doing anything it takes to survive. I do what I have to do for my children.
If you suffer from domestic abuse, you are still beautiful, strong, and capable, no matter what anybody tells you. You are no less because you have stayed, or because you will stay again. You have been through more than some people could imagine. Going through something others haven’t is what makes you strong – not the opposite.
That does not mean you should never leave. Sometimes it means you need to prepare beforehand to leave safely.
I’ll say it again. It takes time to leave. And when you find a way, you will come out even stronger.
If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic abuse, please consider getting the help you need. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline or consult the resources at the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

Forget Hand Washing – This is How Moms Should Prepare For the Season of Perpetual Sickness

The sickest time of year is coming up. When I say “sickest” I don’t mean the slang term for “coolest.” I mean ill. It’s the illest time of year. When I say “illest” I don’t mean the slang term for “best,” either.
We could be at this all day.
Flu. I’m talking flu. Let me state right now on the record that I am not on board with making “fluest” slang. Don’t do it. (But if you do I want credit for it.)
During this time of year people are going to have snot running, coughs exploding out of their faces, and sometimes intestinal issues. How do you protect yourself from this? Wash your hands … I guess. That isn’t really what we are addressing here. What we are going to discuss is how to prepare for the inevitable sickness to come.

1 | Do Kegels

I hear you saying I am crazy. Your evaluation is noted, but let me explain. When you have had a baby there are some muscles that go rogue sometimes. I call them the pee pee muscles, but I’m almost positive that is not the technical term.
When you have a cold in the winter and you’re coughing the pee pee muscles can give out on you. I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus, but they let the whole system down by allowing some pee to escape. It’s bull. If this is your first winter after having a baby, do yourself a favor. Throw in some Kegels to try to show that area who is boss again. You will thank me some day, or more likely you won’t because you will never know what could have happened.

2 | Eat a bucket of ice cream

Do you know why you must make the sacrifice now and eat the ice cream? Because when the flu comes around and every one is vomiting, you will need that bucket. That will be the designated puke bucket and you will be so thankful to have it. Do the work. Sure you could use a bowl or large sauce pan, but the empty ice cream bucket is better. It’s what we used when I was a kid, therefore it’s the only way.

3 | Scotch tape practice

There is going to be a limit to the amount of sick time you can take at your job. This means that you will likely either come to work sick or come to work after being up all night with a sick child.
To prepare for getting through the work day on very, very little sleep I suggest getting right up into your mirror. Once there, take out scotch tape and practice different ways of securing your eyelids open. While you are playing around don’t be afraid to give yourself a scotch face life. It’s the least reward you can give yourself for being such an awesome mom.
Perfect this scotch tape makeover ahead of time. You need to be able to do this in your sleep because who knows? You just might be half asleep.

4 | Sound proof

Do you have the means to sound proof the house so you don’t have to hear those toys singing the same three songs over and over? If you don’t have the funds for that, the next best thing is to put them on the upper shelves. It’s best to do this before you get sick, because I guarantee that your child will find every loud toy in your humble abode to play with when you are not feeling well. They will find things that you swear you sold in a garage sale months ago. It’s like magic.

5 | Man law

Don’t get the wrong idea. “Man Law” is kind of like Newton’s Law, but it says that if you are not feeling good it is guaranteed that your husband will also come down with something. He will come down with something “worse” than you. There is no recourse for this except to prepare for this and practice your are-you-freaking-kidding-me eye roll.
Thank you for reading through the list. Please leave your preparation tips below if you have any. Make sure you let us know how amazingly well these worked for you.
Here’s to wishing you a healthy year!

6 Guiding Principles for A Successful Co-Parenting Partnership

There is no miracle solution to co-parenting after a divorce, but a good place to start is consistently treating your ex with respect and love.

Getting divorced is never part of anyone’s five-year plan. How many women have walked down the aisle, gazed at their handsome groom, and thought, “I can’t believe I am going to be the future ex-Mrs. Jones? He is going to be a great ex-husband!” How many dads have locked eyes with their newborn sons in the hospital room and thought, “That’s my boy. I can’t wait to throw the ball around with him every other weekend.”
Zero, I imagine.
Divorce was never supposed to happen to us or to our kids. It takes us off the path we envisioned for our families. Once we get through the initial shock and awe that follows the divorce, divorcees struggle to define the new family relationships, including the ones with our ex-spouses. We are also left to learn new ways of co-parenting and to create a new village, or rebuild our existing ones, to help us care for our families. Co-parenting is no simple task.
I have had periods of extremely successful co-parenting with my ex. So much so that other parents are shocked to learn that we are indeed divorced. I have also been that mom who has been (embarrassingly) engaged in full-on verbal battle with my ex at a school event. There is no miracle solution to co-parenting after a divorce, but a good place to start is consistently treating your ex with respect and love. Not romantic love, of course, but human-to-human, parent-to-parent, we-share-amazing-children-and-always-will love. How do we accomplish this post-divorce, even in the most contentious relationships? We keep it simple, start small, and remember it is all for the children. As you continue on your journey of co-parenting, consider adopting the following behaviors:

1 | Accept what is

“Happiness can exist only in acceptance.” – George Orwell
We must accept the end of the marriage before we can enter into a healthy co-parenting relationship. This means no more what-iffing, no more blaming, and no more hating. If you are still trying to figure out why or how the marriage ended, it will blur your ability to treat your ex in a loving way. Do not rush yourself through this important process. You will come to acceptance at your own pace. When you are at acceptance you will feel it in your soul. Your children will mention something about your ex-spouse and you will not shudder at the sound of their name, you will not feel defensive or competitive, and you will recognize and appreciate the love in your child’s eyes for your ex.

2 | Make a conscious decision to put the children first every day

“That was the day she made herself the promise to live more from intention and less from habit.” – Amy Rubin Flett
Live with intention. Find a way to remind yourself that today you will put the children first and you will treat your co-parent with love and respect. Create a mantra and repeat it as needed. “Model loving behavior” is my newest mantra and I repeat it to myself over and over throughout the day. It is a simple reminder that I want my children to see me as an instrument of love.

3 | Compliment your ex

“Anyone can find the dirt in someone. Be the one that finds the gold.” – Proverbs 11:27
When your children share a story with you about your ex, challenge yourself to complement your ex’s parenting. My son shared a story with me about a fun game he played at soccer practice. His dad is the coach and I took this as an opportunity to model loving behavior. “Wow, Dad seems like a really fun coach. You are so lucky to have such a great dad.” Emmet’s eyes lit up. There are so many opportunities to show your kids that you see good in their other parent.

4 | Say sorry

“Pride is concerned with who is right. Humility is concerned with what is right.” – Ezra T. Benson
If you mess up and talk down to or about your ex in front of the kids, do the right thing and apologize. The ego must be set aside when co-parenting. My children recently witnessed me yelling at my ex about the soccer uniform he forgot to pack for the upcoming weekend. I later said to my ex in front of the kids, “I am sorry I lost my patience before and talked to you disrespectfully.” I apologized for one reason and one reason only: the kids. It did not matter who was at fault. I wanted to set a good example for my children and ease any tension that the previous argument may have caused their adolescent, yet complex minds.

5 | Keep some pre-divorce traditions

“Family traditions counter alienation and confusion. They help us define who we are; they provide something steady, reliable and safe in a confusing world.” – Susan Lieberman
My ex and I still celebrate our children’s birthdays together. We meet up in one of our homes to celebrate the birthday child together with smiles, laughs and memories. It is a priceless gift to the birthday child. It offers a full family tradition for their memory bank and it models loving behavior and well-placed priorities.

6 | Learn from your mistakes

“Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intellectually.” – Henry Ford
It is okay to mess up as a parent and an ex-spouse. It is an opportunity for growth. When you find yourself breaking one of you own personal co-parenting commandments, hold yourself accountable. Spend some time before bed, reviewing your behavior for the day. Where did you go wrong and how do you feel about it? Acknowledge it, determine how you could have handled things better, and let it go. Be aware and be willing to change, but do not beat yourself up.
My 13-year-old daughter recently commented in the car, “Mom, I feel so lucky because even though you guys are divorced, you are still good friends.” This simple comment serves as concrete evidence that we have been doing something right for the past six years. Behind the scenes, we are not actually the best of friends and there is a lot of tension and
conflict regarding finances, rides to sporting events, and medical and educational decisions. Children are resilient and their love is unconditional. They hold on so tightly to the positive and are quick to release the negative. They love us for us and they forgive fully and easily with a heart full of love. We can learn so much from them if we remain open-minded.
Post-divorce parenting is a challenge, but it sure does build character, strength, and resilience. No matter what, you are doing something right. And if you begin to question that, look at those beautiful children. They are that pat-on-your-back that you so deserve. It is not easy, my divorced comrade, but remember, you are not alone and it is worth it!