You May Not be My Husband, But Our Kids Are Lucky You're Their Dad

It feels weird to call ourselves “single moms” because we are technically single, but we’re not alone in raising our children.

Nobody ever mentions the single dads but they’re out there. My kids have one.

They hardly mention the dads who became moms, or the dad who still sends his ex flowers from their kid on Mother’s Day, or the dad whose love for his kids is stronger than his bitterness towards his ex.

We see post after post on social media about single moms having a harder life than ours. We read about how good a job they’re doing teaching their sons not to be like their deadbeat fathers, and how strong they are for doing this on their own. We see posts entitled “Ten Reasons Single Moms Rock” that claim single moms often juggle everything with no time for themselves or work two jobs to make ends meet. Hats off to these moms.

I respect you because, as a “single mom” myself, I haven’t had to endure that. Which means my kids, who are the most important part of all this, haven’t either.

But what about the moms who are single, but are not alone? They’re not alone because the man they left may have been an unexceptional husband but is an exceptional father. For us, it feels weird to call ourselves “single moms” because we are technically single, but we’re not alone in raising our children.

We’re lucky. We may not say it enough, maybe some of us can’t see it through the bitterness and strain that comes from a divorce or breakup. As strange as it sounds, we’re lucky these are the men we started families with, even though we aren’t a family in the traditional sense.

What about the moms who divorced or left the men who are not-so-perfect husbands but are amazing fathers? The moms who share joint custody and only see their kids 50 percent of the time? It seems like we have it easy, and in some instances, we do.

We know that. We feel lucky, even though when we’re just getting back into a routine with our kids, it’s time for them to go again. It makes us sad that they’re being shuffled between houses, and we selfishly want to be with them 24/7. But we’re happy at the same time because they have a relationship with their dad. The relationship they should have and deserve to have with him.

We’re judged on how often our kids switch homes, but we ignore those judgments because we know how important it is for our kids to maintain a consistent relationship with their dad. It’s important because he is a genuinely great person, focused on making them the best they can possibly be, just as we are.

You single dads may feel stupid for treating an ex-partner well when many men don’t. But you’re not stupid. You’re amazing. It’s hard. It’s really hard. Some people feel that they need to cut all ties when moving out of a relationship, but you can’t do that when you are a parent. At least, not if you’re a good one.

To the ones that stay, I admire you. Thank you for setting an amazing example for your daughters and especially for your sons. Don’t be fooled, they notice how you treat their mother.

You’re awesome that you now feel guilty when there is tension between you and your ex, momentarily forgetting the agonizing tension between the two of you when you were together. You’re not realizing the chaos the boy in the house next door calls life. There, the mom and dad are screaming at each other while their little boy, who they think is sleeping, is in the next room listening. You feel guilty that you’re not in your kids lives 100 percent of the time, but you are in their lives 100 percent of the time, you just don’t realize it. You don’t realize that some fathers, who are physically there all the time, are hurting their children more than helping them by staying.

Hopefully, you’ll one day realize what a great job you’re doing. Just because you didn’t do a great job being married says nothing about how you parent. I promise you’ll one day realize how much what you’re doing affects your kids in a positive way. The way you act in front of them, the way you make decisions based on them and not on your feelings towards their mother, will trickle down and shape them into better people.

I can’t wait to watch these kids grow into wonderful men who treat women with respect and beautiful daughters who know that they’re deserving of respect. This is because of you.

It’s hard to remember this in the hard times. Even though you may have exchanged some hurtful words two days ago in a text message, you learn to let it go. For them. You learn to let go of the things she does that drive you nuts and remind you why you couldn’t be with her. But your kids will never notice because you treat her with nothing but respect when they’re around.

That’s not easy. There are reasons why you separated.

It’s not easy going to the park with your children as a single dad, knowing everyone there suspects you are letting mommy have some me-time. In reality, when the fun is over, you still have to bring them home, cook dinner, do potty time, and give baths, all while they’re tugging at your leg to play Spiderman.

Eventually, you realize that the fact you aren’t together anymore isn’t worth being angry over. Although it makes you sad that your family is no longer together, I hope you realize how happy you make your children when you drop them off and say hi to their mom instead of avoiding eye contact with her and slamming the door.

I know it makes you sad every single time you watch her walk away with them after a long weekend. It makes you feel like you’ve been punched in the gut, like you should be walking alongside them. But I hope you know how happy you make your children when they excitedly lose their first tooth, and you say, “I’ll send mommy a picture.” It’s amazing they aren’t afraid to speak about their mom with you when so many other kids are.

You can never know what that possibly means to them – knowing that you and their mom are still a team, that you still love them together, even though you may not love one another.

You deserve some recognition. You deserve to know that you are amazing.

I wish all fathers were like you. You make us better mothers, and you’re molding your kids into the kind of people this world needs most.

This article was previously published on the HuffingPost

The Secret "=Formula" for a Happy Relationship

If your marriage is anything like mine, you’ve done all kinds of things to nurture the relationship. Luckily, I’ve found the secret- spreadsheets.

If your marriage is anything like mine, you’ve done all kinds of things to nurture the relationship, you prioritize date night, you schedule a session with a therapist when necessary, and you’ve read The Five Love Languages. Maybe you’ve made a date of Happy Hour and a trip to Fascinations. I recommend all of these tactics. But there’s another strategy I endorse, one that I’ve never read in any book or on any website. It’s one my husband and I started using before we had kids, and before we were even engaged.
It’s free. It’s accessible.
It’s the spreadsheet.
When I was 29, I moved across the country with everything I could fit in my Jetta and a very tenuous job offer. Within two weeks, the job fell through. During those same two weeks, I met Dan, who would later become my husband.
For the first time in my life, I was in love, but I couldn’t take a job in another city because that would mean leaving Dan. Meanwhile, I was tearing through my savings like a toddler on a squeezie pouch bender. So, I did what any professional adult would do.
I asked my parents for money.
Dan was horrified, (rightfully so) and offered another solution – a spreadsheet. Somehow, I’d made it through college and graduate school without understanding how to use Excel. First, he showed me how to create columns and rows and enter formulas. Next, I had to fill in all the blanks. Being Jewish, this is the closest I’ll ever get to Confession.
When we went over income, I had to explain I hadn’t been working on days I’d been invited skiing, Saturdays, Sundays, or on short notice. When we reviewed my recent expenditures, I revealed my compulsion to buy an adorable, new pink hat (it was on super sale), why I deserved the lattes I bought on the way to work (I did work, sometimes), and why I needed Nordic race skis – in case I entered a cross-country ski race. Nearly a decade later, I still haven’t done a ski race.
Sharing everything about my finances – including my childish belief that my parents would always be there to bail me out – made me feel extremely vulnerable. It also created an opportunity for Dan to understand me better and to help me get my act together. Ultimately, I gained control of my financial life and saved twelve thousand dollars in one year – a quarter of my income – toward the down payment on the house we bought just before our wedding.
When we moved in together, we merged our finances. Quickly, we realized we had a major problem. I earned less and spent more. My husband, on the other hand, earns more and spends less. While money is a loaded topic for many couples, our particular dynamic escalated the tension acutely.
Our love nest was awash in fear: my fear of feeling guilty about spending money or feeling deprived, and his fear that I’d spend our entire mortgage on cute hats and espresso drinks.
I wondered why my parents never seemed to fight about money. Married for over forty years, I’ve heard them argue about nearly everything else. The graph below demonstrates my theory that couples who fall on the green line (such as my parents) have fewer tensions around money than couples who fall on the red line (like Dan and me). As shown, my father is the higher earning, higher spending partner, while my mother earns less and spends less.
secret to relationship graph
I worried Dan and I were destined to argue about money forever, but the spreadsheet saved the day, once again.
On the first Sunday of every month, we diligently sat down with our spreadsheet to map out our budget, our projected earnings, fixed expenses, and variable expenses. For years, we used this system to ensure that we were on the same page about our finances, that we were spending our money intentionally, and that neither of us felt anxious or trapped.  Meanwhile, when we had concerns, we had a chance to discuss them.
Everything was great… until we needed a new spreadsheet. Five years and two kids later, on a bright Sunday morning, we were expecting friends for brunch. While I raced to prep food, clear piles of paper, and return rogue dolls to the toy basket, Dan scrolled through Twitter with his feet up on the couch. I paused my cleaning frenzy intermittently to give him the stink eye and a task.
As the potatoes browned and the frittata baked, our mutual resentment grew. I was sick of watching him relax when the trash needed to go out. He was tired of my demands. Finally, he took the kids for a walk, leaving me alone with breakfast and my rage.
I texted my sister.
Thankfully, she clearly saw what I couldn’t; that my husband and I lacked a shared set of expectations. Once our friends left, the kids were napping, and our tempers had cooled, I broached the topic. My husband acknowledged my demands felt never-ending. I explained I felt he wasn’t pulling his weight.
Again, a spreadsheet saved the day. Within minutes of our conversation, my husband emailed me a Google Spreadsheet titled “Guest Cleanup Tasks.” It lists every task we need to do before hosting company, organized by room. Over a year later, we pull it up every time we host a gathering.
I love that we have a common understanding of what needs to be done and that Dan now takes an active part in completing some of those tasks. He much prefers consulting the list to find a task, to being bossed around by me. This simple spreadsheet has taken most of the stress out of entertaining.
Clearly, I am a huge fan of spreadsheets in my marriage. But it’s not really about the spreadsheet. A spreadsheet is just a vehicle through which to gain insight into your own values and the values of your partner. A spreadsheet is a means of creating dialogue – and ultimately, understanding – one of the cornerstones of a loving relationship.
As the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Understanding is love’s other name. If you don’t understand, you can’t love.” I would venture to add, “If you haven’t done a ski race, don’t buy the fancy skis.”

Want to add some of this magic to your relationship?

View and edit “Guest Clean-up tasks via Google Docs

Edit or view “Money Factor” Graph in Canva

When Inspiration Strikes, It’s Time to Have a Baby

Fighting baby fever becomes almost impossible once a fresh little bundle enters your friend circle.

I had left the pill behind in early October.

We were still preventing, but my husband was close to finishing his Ph.D., the one I had made him promise to try to finish within two years after we were married. Miraculously, it looked as if he would actually be done when he’d hoped to be done, right down to the day. 

I was teaching at the first full time job that I truly loved: I worked hard, but my students worked equally hard if not more so. We had fun as I introduced them to the Spanish language and Spanish-speaking cultures I’d come to love over years of classes and study abroad. My colleagues were hilarious, friendly, and smart, the perfect group of educators to work with as we built a brand new high school program. I don’t know if I could have loved the life I was living more.

Except that I was neck deep in baby fever. Not enough to dive fully into trying mode, but enough to start tracking, dreaming, thinking, and watching far too many YouTube videos of people announcing their pregnancies to shocked friends and family members who would then shout with joy and cry happy tears. 

December approached, and with it the due date for the baby girl of our close friends. She would be the first baby born within our close circle of 20-something mostly graduate students. I’m sure that my level of eagerness in anticipation of her birth is second only to the level I have now felt for the births of my own children and niece. A baby. A baby!

I came home one night after a late school event, to find my husband laying on the couch with his laptop in front of him.

“Guess what?” he said.

I knew in an instant.

“She’s here!?!” I practically shouted, dropping all of my bags at the door and rushing over to the laptop screen to see the pictures her parents had sent to their friends and family. She was tiny and sweet and perfect. Given my level of excitement, I could only imagine what our friends must be feeling. 

We took dinner to them the following week, and they invited us to eat with them. I didn’t dare to ask if I could hold the sleeping baby, so I was grateful when her mom offered to let me. I’d held babies before, but I’m not sure if I’d ever held a fresh, days-old baby.

As she was placed into my arms, I stiffened my shoulders. I stayed seated, absolutely sure that if I moved a muscle I would drop her. My arms grew tired holding all six-and-a-half pounds of her in such a frozen position. I cooed and smiled in the most dignified way I could muster, unable to throw myself fully into embarrassing baby-coo voice while other adults were present.

I caught glimpses of my husband’s face as he looked on, awed and a little afraid. He knew I was taking the first few steps past the point of no return into the deepest waters of baby fever. I was about to be a goner.

We talked about trying more in the coming days and weeks. We celebrated the completion of his dissertation and our anniversary.

“When do you really want to start trying?” I asked.

“I’d like to find a job first,” he said, no doubt influenced by the subtle hints I’d dropped over the years that I might want to stay home longer than the 12 weeks of unpaid leave my employer offered. He wasn’t one to be pressured by stereotypical male breadwinner roles, but of course he wanted to use the terminal degree he now had, and he wanted to allow me the flexibility to choose to stay home if we could work it out.

I did want to stay home, but I wasn’t so sure I wanted to stay at home badly enough to wait until he found a full time professorship before trying to get pregnant. I’d still have summers and spring break off, and my parents lived in the same town and would likely be more than thrilled to help care for their first grandchild.

“I could keep working,” I gulped as the words left my mouth. I’d plunged under. I wanted a baby. I really wanted to start trying.

“And I would stay home? You sure you would want that?” he said.

“Well, I think I’d prefer to be the parent staying at home, but I don’t have to be. I’d have some leave and you could keep looking for jobs and have my parents watch the baby sometimes.”

“Okay. Well, I’d still like to keep talking about it more. It’s a big decision.”

It was a big decision, but at the same time, it wasn’t. We both knew we wanted kids. One of the early conversations in our dating relationship had been about kids – we both knew it was a deal breaker if the other person outright did not want children someday. What if we weren’t able to get pregnant? We’d probably adopt. The desire was strong.

One night, after Christmas, I finally dropped the line that my husband and I now joke about:

“Ok, I’m driving this boat.”

We had thought about, reasoned, talked, analyzed, and painted out all the scenarios. We had gone around and around on the ready/not ready circuit, not fully realizing that there’s no couple on earth who has ever claimed 100 percent readiness. I was done with all of that – it was time to just finally take the leap.

He laughed with me after the words left my mouth. Nervously, maybe more giddily on my part, we stopped trying to make it not happen. I told myself I’d stop consciously tracking anything and just let it happen. Yeah, right.

One day I decided to look at ovulation calendars online. You know, just for fun. In went the first day of my last period, click went the mouse on the “Calculate” button, and, voila, out came the calculation for my most fertile days.

I sat there, dumbfounded. I hadn’t expected those dates, and if the calculation was right, I might be pregnant, at this moment. I might actually have a baby growing inside of me, at this moment. I knew we’d unintentionally made that window. I smiled, my heart did this funny little flippy-floppy jump, and I squealed at the canine friend sitting next to me. He wagged his tail.

I called my husband and told him. I could hear him smiling nervously over the phone.

A few impossibly long weeks later, I woke up early specifically to take a pregnancy test. And there it was: those two blue lines, clear as day. I made my husband come into the bathroom just to double check that someone else saw what I was seeing. He did. We laughed, he sighed, I started thinking about it all.

I offered to watch our friend’s new baby a week later while my friend went back to the lab where she worked. With no other adults present, I cooed in full undignified mode, sang, smiled, and changed her diaper about five more times than was necessary over the course of the four hours that I was there.

“Did you know you’re our inspiration baby?” I asked as I changed that fifth unnecessary diaper. “It’s true. There’s a new friend for you, growing inside me, and I’m pretty sure your arrival helped jumpstart this whole thing.”

I put the new diaper on with much trepidation about whether or not it was fitting snugly enough around her not-yet-chunky legs.

As I snapped the buttons on her onesie, I paused, looking down at her.

“Just, uh, don’t tell your parents quite yet,” I said, winking. “We need a little time to tell our families first.”

The Power of Checking In With Your True Feelings

The urge to react when confronted with your own feelings is strong. Resist that habit through the practice of regularly checking in with yourself.

Yesterday I jotted down my feelings every two hours. It was part of a seven-day conscious parenting challenge from Dr. Shefali Tsabary, author of “The Awakened Family.”

She believes that when we pay close attention to our feelings we’re less likely to react to them. We typically react then feel because our emotions often scare us, or make us uncomfortable, and we run from them. However, when we run from them, they change form and come up in all different ways. When we feel them, we don’t react to them in dysfunctional ways.

At 7:44 am I wrote, “I feel energetic. Happy. I feel like I’m a good mom. My sons are both at my legs wanting from me, and I’m not even bothered. We are about to go to the park and library. Life is good.”

Mid-morning I was still whistling a similar happy tune.

Come lunch time I was still peaceful, balanced, and motivated.

All my reflecting doubled my joy by making me so mindful and reflective of it. I was grateful.

Then my husband came home from work. I was so excited to see him, but within minutes I could tell his energy was completely different than mine. He literally (okay, it’s still figuratively) killed my vibe. My cheer was zapped, and I snapped, “What the hell is up?”

He told me he was feeling anxious about my upcoming trip to New Jersey. He didn’t want to be away from the boys and me for more than two weeks, and was upset I proposed such a long trip. He was also upset about some things my dad said, about feeling uncomfortable in our home, and preferring to see us in New Jersey.

As he was releasing his distress, our discussion got heated. He was in control, but intense. I felt myself start to boil, but rather than yell or flee as I usually do, I told myself, “You feel like running away and yelling. You want to get angry and mean. You’re not mad though, you’re just uncomfortable. The storm will pass.” 

And you know what? For the first time, by bringing complete awareness to my feelings, I didn’t react. I didn’t stomp off, get mean, or slam doors. I hung around and talked. We even came to an understanding, and were able to salvage the evening.

I know it wouldn’t have happened like that if I wasn’t in the habit all day of checking in with myself, and being completely in tune with my feelings. I would have created a fight or left the scene, and the whole situation would have been dragged out. Being acutely aware of my emotions was powerful. I stayed in touch with myself, rather than run from the discomfort.

Then today came. It started at 6 a.m. and by 9, I was stir crazy. My toddler was fussy and the house was a mess. Everywhere I looked, there was chaos. I wanted to get out, but the children were still naked, and it seemed like there’d be 540 things to do before reversing hard out of the driveway.

I walked into the kitchen and saw three bowls of water with little bits of fishing lures in them. The floor was soaked, and a blender with the remnants of the inedible concoction was sitting nearby. I started snapping at my four-year-old, “You can’t make a mess and just leave it here! Plus, you shouldn’t even be putting these worms in the blender. It could break it, and Daddy doesn’t want his stuff wasted. I’m upset when you leave a big mess behind.”

He started to cry, “Mommy, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make a mess.”

And that’s when Dr. Shefali’s notion about our reactions never being about others hit me. No one makes us explode, yell, or hit. We are always in control of ourselves, and our negative reactions are never justified by someone else’s behavior. 

I took my son to the chair and said, “Javin, I’m feeling irritable because Asher has been very fussy and the house is messy and I want to go somewhere. Your mess isn’t the only problem. I reacted like that because of how I was already feeling.” He look relieved as he wiped his tears, smiled, and hugged me.

Then I said, “Do you want me to show you how to clean up that mess, and do it together as a team?”

He hopped down from the chair and into the kitchen with his hand in mine. I made a silent vow to continually practice checking in with myself to identify my true feelings before snapping and breaking.