Science Says We're Lonely and Lying About It

Despite what the stock photos and Facebook updates seem to suggest, most women aren’t spending afternoons laughing over salad and hanging with girlfriends.

I’m really lonely.

There. It’s out there. In public. For everyone to see.

It’s taken me a while to admit this but, I think if more moms said it out loud, if we admitted it, we’d be all be a lot better for it. See, the thing is, research shows that the number of Americans who report zero “close” friends has tripled in recent decades.

So, while junior naps, and you scroll through your Facebook feed reading endless articles about the top ten types of mom friends you need in your “tribe,” and editorial spreads about “ladies who lunch,” it’s really easy to get a general sense that there’s some kind of cool table that you aren’t sitting at. But the reality is that no one is at that table. In fact, there’s rarely anyone at lunch at all, at least not as often as they’re letting on.

I’m lonely and I have no friends.

It was about six months ago that I really started to think about this topic. I’d been through a bad episode of adult bullying. Yes, it’s a thing. I’m a grown-up woman, who was bullied by other grown-up women. I thought this wasn’t supposed to happen after high school, or even grade school.

As it turns out, I’m not alone. Google “women bullies,” or “mom bullies,” and you’ll find thousands of results about how to deal with women bullying other women in the workplace or, moms bullying other moms or even, moms bullying other children, of all things.

Experts suggest that, often, women who bully other women do so because they feel threatened. We’ve all seen it. In a group of women, everything seems fine, and then, as if overnight, one woman is singled out as a target of the group’s ire. Whatever is different about her makes her a target for dismissal from the group, through gossip, backbiting, and even open hostility.

Of course, women know that quiet, subtle insults are the bread and butter of a female bully. “Indirect relational aggression” is what Jill Webber, a psychologist who writes about mean girls, calls it.

For me, I wondered why play-dates were cancelled, why my everyone was always busy, and why my friends actually thought I couldn’t see them roll their eyes when I was speaking. I cried, and asked my husband why I went through not just one, but two, brain surgeries, without a phone call, a card, or even a text.

As it turned out, according to my bullies, I was no longer qualified to be their friend because I don’t go to church. Apparently, they still prayed for me. 

In my family’s life of military moves and constant relocations, making – and keeping – friends is a premium. So, losing friendships that we’d held onto for over a decade was a blow that I took especially hard. But, my being sad, or even my standing up for myself, was viewed as either mental illness or drama. Dr. Webber says that, when women become overwhelmed with sorting through the painful feelings that come with rejection and worthlessness, “drama” is like a scarlet letter, worn like a brand that makes us fearful of ever expressing future emotion.

The bullying episode was one of the worst experiences of my life. It made me question my entire sense of self. Because we place such a premium on our relationships with other women, we become “painfully self-critical when [we] feel unwanted by others,” says Dr. Webber. We see this premium reflected in sites like Scary Mommy, with an entire section devoted just to keeping, celebrating, and maintaining lady-friendships.

The whole thing made acutely aware that the size of our family’s social circle was was getting smaller just as he was getting bigger. Gone were the gaggles of giggling women sharing cheese crackers and laughs at the playground. Those days were being replaced by long, lonely, isolated afternoons on the couch, waiting for the carpool line, wondering how I could possibly be the only person who feels this way.

You’re lonely, and you don’t have any friends either.

It turns out that I’m not the only person who feels that way.

According to a 2003 Gallup study, Americans reported an average number of 8.6 friends. Additionally, more recent research shows that, because of the explosion of social media, our relationships have changed, and our methods for determining what constitutes a “relationship,” are vastly different.

A 2006 Cornell study of over 2,000 participants showed that roughly half indicated only one “close” relationship. One. Even more importantly, those participants who indicated that they had “no” close relationships were primarily women. 

Social media has changed our definition of “friend.” A 2006 study reported that fully 25% of Americans report having no one – that’s right, no one – to confide in. That’s down from three people in 1985, and two in 2004. Our friends are dropping like flies.

If, at best, we report having 8.6 friends, why do we have, on average, 338 Facebook friends? Remember when we chatted with other parents at our kids’ soccer games, instead of playing on our phones? Or, when we joined leagues and clubs? That’s how we used to make friends. We’ve lost that.

Corynn, a marketing professional, represents a category of moms (and dads) that are almost exclusively dependent on their spouse for social interaction, a group that’s grown from 5% to nearly 10% over a period of 15 years, and is likely bigger now. The same study found that those who depend exclusively on family is up from 57% to 80%.

Corynn says she socializes with her husband because, frankly, he’s her best friend. Furthermore, she says that she’s, “trying to do better and be more social,” because she, “knows it’s important. But between volunteering and trying to spend every second with my kid, who refuses to stay little, I can’t seem to find the time, or a reason.”

Duke University sociologist, Lynn Smith-Lovin, warns that despite the deep bond in these marital relationships, “if something happens to that spouse or partner, you may have lost your safety net.”

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Virtual friends and online bullies.

In today’s technology-driven world, it’s impossible to deny the idea that moms turn to their phones and laptops when they’re home, when the baby is sleeping, when they’re bored, lonely, or just need someone to talk to. Moms find friendship in message boards, in reading groups, in chat rooms, and in Facebook friendships.

Virtual friends, and even analog friendships that were once lost but have been rekindled as a new (albeit less tangible) cyber version, offer solace and keep us company. Online friendships can be a positive force in a person’s life, and people certainly find acceptance and peace in the friendships cultivated online, possibly even beyond real-life connections.

Holly, a single mom raising a teen daughter, says that her online friendships have kept her grounded, reminding her of who she is, and giving her the confidence to be the parent she wants to be, despite outside pressures to be someone else. She says that, for her, “the Internet is truly magical,” and that her online girlfriends are “more supportive, more available, and less judgmental” than her real-life friends.

Even despite our online friendships, when we see a thousand images of laughing women at lunch, laughing women on girls’ getaway weekends, laughing women getting manicures, laughing women going shopping, we get the drift: we aren’t a laughing woman, and we’re definitely not at the spa.

It can be painful to bear witness to all that apparent fun. And it can make us feel as though we’re screwing up. Again. Not only are we screwing up the formula vs. breastfeeding thing, the gluten thing, and the red dye #5 thing, but we’re also screwing up our social lives by being the only mom with, what feels like, no real friends.

While chatrooms and message boards can be useful sources of information and virtual friendships, the can also be easily dominated by a few strong voices, drowning out those that are less vocal, but still have something to say. And being nameless, often faceless, voices gives people license to hide behind their screens and be cruel, vindictive, or even threatening.

The unscientific research.

I asked a small sample of five moms with vastly different characters, jobs, and backgrounds, how many “close,” friends they have. The answers I got ranged from zero to seven. I also asked how often they socialize with their friends. Their responses varied but for one factor: all of the women I asked gave an excuse, and apologized, for not socializing more, including the woman who claimed to socialize every weekend. 

Everyone felt that they weren’t socializing enough. One woman, a stay-at-home mom of four, said, “Ack! I don’t like to admit how infrequently I get together with friends!” While another mom said she didn’t see a “reason” to socialize outside of her family, though she still thought she should. The mom who was least apologetic for her social life explained, “As a natural ambivert, I enjoy seeing people, but I can’t see them too much. Taking too much time to socialize can be draining on my personality…and on my paycheck.”

That’s not to say that these women are completely uncomfortable with their choices, just that they all seemed to think that they should be socializing more. And, they are right. According to research done by Dr. Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Oxford, people need approximately three to five friends for overall wellbeing. And, the feeling of isolation, created from not cultivating friendships, left fallow in a lack of socializing, can be as deadly to our health as smoking, alcoholism, never exercising, and obesity, according to a meta-study that combined nearly 150 other studies, with over 300,000 participants.

So…what?

We think that we know what defines “friend,” based on greeting card sentiment, and on what we teach our preschoolers. But, somewhere along the way, we forget about having playdates for ourselves. We forget about sharing, sending cards, giving presents, and about making phone calls. We forget to say hello to our neighbors, or to stop by on our way home from work, just to drop off a note. We’ve gotten lost. We’re a nation of hibernators, of hiders, of spouses and kids. Despite outward appearances, the data suggests that we aren’t a nation of ladies who lunch, we’re not a nation of people who are happy to be alone, we’re not even a nation of people who are just always happy. In fact,  just over one in ten Americans has a prescription for anti-depressants.

A few things are certain, based on current research and trends: we are losing our friends, we don’t know what to do about it, and we wish it wasn’t happening.

I’ve made an active effort to socialize with friends, to reinvigorate old relationships, and to make new ones. I’ve been inserting myself into my community, putting myself out there, and edging my way into conversations or situations that are a little outside my comfort zone. It’s been paying off and, it turns out, being friendly is a little like riding a bike, you never really forget how.

The Truth About Marriage and How to Carry the Weight of It

Marriage is heavy, and children make it heavier. In order to keep our marriage from drowning, we have to sometimes shift some weight.

We have a running joke in my family from a past fishing trip to Canada where my dad repeatedly transferred his gear into another person’s boat in order to go faster in his own.

He would wave us over and say, “We gotta shift some weight.” while handing over his tackle box and cooler as if that proved a reasonable explanation for lightening his boat and giving me, my husband, or one of my brothers more to haul. This being typical of my competitive dad who can hardly drive on the freeway without channeling Jeff Gordon, we exchanged knowing smiles every time we had to “shift some weight” and watch my dad speed off like a ninja.

We took that trip ten years ago, not long after my husband and I were married, and while we still joke about it with my family, the phrase “shift some weight” has grown to mean more to us over time. It’s become a metaphor for our marriage and the life we’re working so hard to build together. It’s a mantra for the team that we chose to make as a couple, the two of us, I pick you, you pick me, and there’s only each of us together to carry this weight.

If you don’t know, marriage weighs a lot.

We had no clue what we were promising to carry when we stood together all that time ago –mere children – with hearts in our eyes, and nothing in our pockets, believing our love would never die, believing that we’d always want to spend our evenings spooning on the couch watching “Law and Order” reruns.

We didn’t know the weight of being adults yet because, at the ages of 23 and 24, we were just babies. Our apartment cost less than $800 a month. I spent my time smoking cigarettes and writing stories in between shifts at the Macaroni Grill.

Our marriage felt new, and bore none of the wear of growth and change you go through over many years. People often say the past is gone and we can never have time back. But really we accumulate our time like pennies in our pockets, moments and choices adding up to the sum of our lifetime’s worth. Like pennies, time gets heavy.

Now as I sit and think about my marriage, I could easily launch into the hard work of having children, the long days and nights of feeding babies and rocking them to sleep, the arguments about who does what and how. I could talk about feeling touched-out all the time, and list all the things that wear on a relationship.

But I’ve found that the irony of raising kids is not in all the things you have to do, but in the fact that you’ve invited these other people into your marriage. These tiny little people that can suck the living daylight out of you, and do nothing to help you carry the weight of them. These tiny little people making marriage heavier and harder to hold onto. And you don’t know, when you bring these tiny little beautiful bundles of cargo into your boat – believing that they’ll make it so much more beautiful and happy, so much more fulfilling, and amazing – that they’ll also try to sink it like a stone. Not intentionally of course, but by the sheer weight of their being.

Marriage is heavy, and children make it heavier. This is the thing I have learned, we have learned, my husband and I: in order to keep our marriage from drowning, we have to sometimes shift some weight.

Shifting weight for us means asking for help. It’s our message to each other that whatever it is we’re carrying, we cannot do it anymore. It might be that we feel alone, and need the other person to jump in with us, or maybe we need a break and need them to take a break with us, or maybe we need to pass something off that’s too much, too hard, too heavy.

Sometimes we need to call on someone else – a grandparent, a friend, a co-worker, a therapist, a doctor, a healer. Life gets too heavy, and we need help from all corners once in a while. We’re not meant to carry all the weight alone. It will sink us, and our marriage, every time.

Marriage is it’s own externalized entity. For us, it is not our family, it is not our identity, it is not an afterthought that we take for granted like it’s just this crazy thing we did once upon a time. It lives and breaths and we have to take care of it, just like we have to take care of our maniacal oversized children that keep trying to wedge their beautiful little selves in the middle of it every time they hear the beginning sparks of a conversation.

We love our children, but we love our marriage too. This is the thing: if all the extra stuff fell away, if our children were all grown up tomorrow, if it was just the two of sitting at the breakfast table staring at one another, I’d want my husband to feel as though I helped carry the load throughout the years. Not just my share of the load, but the whole load once in a while. I’d want him to feel as though I picked up the load like I mean business, and hauled the weight of it like it’s all I ever wanted to do.

Because that’s what I’d think if I looked at him, separate from our kids, and our stuff, and our dreams. I’d look at him with those little hearts still in my eyes and know that whenever I needed to shift some weight, he picked it up and carried it like an elephant does a flower. Not because he’s the strongest man alive, but because I needed his help.

Marriage is a team, a you and me, a unit. Ours works when we do our best for each other, when we laugh together, and when we learn to shift some weight.

How to Be Imperfect and Still Parent Like a Champ

Like many kids, I grew up thinking that adults had gone through all the stuff, had figured it out in the process, and now dwelled in some distant, long sought land reserved for experienced people who knew the answers, set the rules, and conducted themselves accordingly.
I think of my father’s decisiveness, my grandmother’s grasp of Tolstoy, and my mother’s swift cursive script that flowed out of her hand onto the page without stopping. I think of my elementary school principal’s benevolent yet immutable authority, my seventh-grade Science teacher’s unwavering punishment for acting out in class, and my high school soccer coach’s perfect understanding of the field of play.
These things just were. I never considered disputing them, primarily because they were not up for dispute. They formed the reliable architecture of my childhood house, and the structure and sturdiness of that space felt reassuring.
All these adults, convincing me of their indubitable expertise, meant that I expected to achieve it myself one day. I had every intention of seeing this grownup thing through. I had no idea how, but figured it probably involved a job and an apartment with actual furnishings, some dishes, maybe even a potted plant or two, in a city far from home.
After graduating college, I sat down with my dad and presented him with a plan for how I intended to live my life – or at least the next few years of it. As he politely heard me out, I felt certain he’d agree, and say, “Good job and good luck, oh diligent daughter of mine.”
Instead, he laughed. “Great plan, doofus.” (He liked that word, doofus.)
My heart dropped. Then I got angry. “I’ve thought this through!” I said. “This can work!”
He made a comment about how life doesn’t get solved like a math problem. Then he asked, “Do you think I had any idea what to do with myself when I was your age?”
I nodded reflexively.
“I didn’t know a damn thing about anything,” he said, “but my father had just died, so I moved up here to be near your grandmother. I got a job at a local bank to hold me over until my real life began. Turns out, I wasn’t half bad at the banking thing, so I kept doing it. Then I met your gorgeous mother, and the rest, as they say, is history.”
This was Dad’s way of saying that none of us start out knowing how to do it. We can take a stab at knowing, but life doesn’t cater to our best-laid plans. We do things because we need to, because they’re the right things to do. Circumstances shove us off what we’ve claimed as our path, but then the detour becomes the path – and maybe it’s the right one.
“How are you going to learn if you decide everything now?” he said. “Sure, work hard. Show your worth. But do yourself a favor: Don’t box yourself in before you know who you are.”
Now at 42, 12 years into marriage, and the mom of two sprouting boys, I feel like I’m back there again, at a different yet still dizzying stepping-off point, having recently “graduated” from the structured reality of a full-time package job to embrace the unknowns of working for myself as an editor and writer so I can do what feeds my soul and be more present for my family.
After two decades of a career that fit the “grownup” bill, I’ve finally figured out how not to box myself in. I’ve cast off the old reliable shoulds and plunged headlong into the unpredictable what-ifs and why-the-hell-nots.
I don’t know what will happen next month, next season, or next year – and I’ve never felt better about not knowing. I care little about anyone’s expectations and even less about what people think. I feel light and free and full of life. My mind, at last, is open.
Here in the middle of a burgeoning life, I turned a corner and found myself waiting.
Looking back on earnest 20-something me, so eager to achieve and solve, assert and save, I understand why Dad laughed that day. He saw a kid wanting badly to prove to her father that she could be like him – someone you counted on, someone with a stake in critical affairs, someone who could say things like, “It’s unequivocal!” and, “Beyond the shadow of a doubt!”
He saw a girl who expected to arrive, and upon arrival find that everything becomes clear and makes sense. Perhaps he felt it was his duty to prepare me for uncertainty. Either way, uncertainly is what we got.
Not long after that conversation, Dad’s kidneys failed and he went on dialysis for a few months until our family figured out plan B, which – to everyone’s surprise – came in the form of a donated kidney from my mother, even though organ donations from non-blood relations are exceedingly rare. So instead of heading off into my neatly imagined life, I stayed home to care for two parents recovering from transplant surgery.
When I did eventually land in that job and find an apartment in that big city far from home, I had already learned a few things: I knew that I could be counted on; I knew what it meant to have a stake in critical affairs; and I had felt what it was to be needed, unequivocally. After so many years of receiving, I had finally given something back.
This didn’t make my first foray into “the real world” any less green, less clumsy, or less fantastically self-absorbed. I blundered through my first-job faux pas like an all-star rookie and played at my fledgling love interests like a game of Whac-a-Mole. But through this, I maintained a sense of self-worth, a healthy skepticism of infallibility, and I never expected the F train to drop me off at Adulthood.
I still don’t hold claim to that word, or that state of being. I try to explain to my kids that no one, at any age, has all the answers, that we all make mistakes, and that even grownups with lots of power can be terribly wrong sometimes.
Naturally, they’ve gotten pretty good at calling me out – especially my inconsistencies – and they know I’ll defend my position, but only when it’s defensible.
I admit when I get angry or sad so my sons won’t feel alone or as if they have failed when they feel these emotions, too.
Each time I say that bedtime stories – or dinner, for that matter – can’t happen without their cooperation, they come a little closer to understanding that caring is a two-way street.
And whether I come off as the sharply dressed mom with her shit together or the wildcard mom, unshowered and on-deadline, at the annual school dance, my sons know I will be there.
So what of the reliable architecture of their childhood house? It may not feel as indisputable as mine once did with all its assurances and norms. But they know it’s built on respect and love. They also know they play a part in keeping it standing.   
I don’t want to parent from a separate, quarantined space of mistaken authority and know-how. I want to go through it all with them. I want to feel what they’re feeling and help them sift through the confusion. Of course, I want to teach them, but I also want to learn. I want to show my kids that you can be strong and happy and proud, even in the face of your limitations.
When we’re at Tae Kwon Do together and I miss the mark on the focus pad, I want my sons to watch me regain my composure, find balance, and keep striking until I hit the target square on.

Debate Club: Is the Role of Grandparents to Spoil Their Grandchildren?

Two Parent Co. writers face off on the topic of grandparental spoiling.

Go Ahead and Spoil!

Fiona Tapp

Some rules are non-negotiable, the kind of rules that keep children safe and well, the kind of rules that keep our home clean and tidy, and the kind that ensure children are polite, considerate, and kind.

As long as my child’s well being is being promoted, and he is happy and healthy, I am pretty flexible with anything that goes down at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

My reasoning for being lax about his weekends away are varied, but include my honest assessment that I should be grateful when someone else cares for my child. We all need time away from our children from time to time, whether it’s for some much needed head space or simply because you need to work. Having a reliable person to watch your child is a luxury, and if it’s free of charge as well, you really have hit the jackpot.

To complain and whine about small infractions of your usual household rules when you’re being given a gift that many parents without extended family would kill to have is really very petty.

Parents that demand their rules are followed when their children stay with other adults often claim that they don’t want to confuse their child by having different rules for different households. But this reasoning is completely invalid.

I worked as a teacher for over a decade and can tell you with certainty that my child and yours are easily able to differentiate between varying expectations of their behavior and conduct in different settings. Just as there may be one rule for home and one for school, children are able to expertly navigate between different sets of rules and parenting styles.

When your child is with another trusted adult, you need to acquiesce control to them and allow them to make their own decisions. So many moms try to micromanage every aspect of their child’s life, which can be quite damaging to their relationship with their grandparents. As long as your child is cared for and healthy, does it really matter if they eat a little junk food or watch a little TV?

Staying with the grandparents is often a rare treat. A short break from the usual rules can’t really do any harm. Rather, it helps to develop loving family bonds and memories of enjoying time with their grandparents.

Part of being a grandparent is not having all the day-to-day parenting worries of raising children and instead focusing on the fun bits, which is precisely why many grandparents claim to enjoy being a grandparent more than they enjoyed being a parent. Grand-parenting is, in essence, the very best bits of parenting with all the daily slog and responsibility removed.

So why not just let them enjoy it?

I can’t help but think that by supplying your parents or in laws with a list of rules and regulations they must follow when they watch your child is hugely insulting. After all, they did successfully manage to raise children of their own.

So I say let them be spoiled. That’s what grandparents are for.

When Grandparents Spoil it Undermines the Parents

Kathryn Trudeau

As the car pulled into the pet store, I felt that I’d already won half the victory. To this day, I’m not sure how I convinced my Grandma to take me to the pet store, but I feel like it probably had more to do with my Grandma wanting to make me happy and less to do with my excellent skills of persuasion.

I started the begging requests for a white kitten, but my pet mission was nonetheless successful as I walked out of the store with Cookie, an olive green parakeet. I couldn’t have been happier. My mother, on the hand, was not so pleased by this addition to the family. At the time, I didn’t realize how something as sweet as my little bird could be such a source of contention, but now with the experience of being a parent myself, I get it.  

Grandparents, as awesome and special as they are, need limits on their spoiling.

I absolutely believe that children need their grandparents in their lives, if possible. I’m merely discussing the limitations of a grandparents’ role. Here’s the bottom line: While close relationships with grandparents yield many positive benefits, the relationship becomes less beneficial when the grandparents have an “anything-goes” mindset and/or free reign power.

In fact, there are many benefits for a grandparent who grandparents without free reign spoiling abilities.

Prevent sabotage

Okay, Jenny. Your mama is gone. You can watch TV now. Even though you’re grounded, you can watch a little at my house. It’ll be okay.

Nothing sabotages parental authority quicker than a grandparent who completely overrules a parent’s rules or wishes. It might seem so innocent to indulge in an extra TV show or dessert, but deliberately disobeying parents teaches Jenny that, not only can she disobey a parent’s rule, but she can also be sneaky about it. This often sends conflicting messages to children.

When grandparents spoil children within parameters (i.e. parents’ rules), they cannot sabotage the parents’ authority.

Weakening the family value system 

Once Jenny learns that it’s okay to be sneaky to get around the rules, the whole value system of the family becomes compromised. Whether or not the grandparent intended to, Jenny is taught that it’s okay to sneak, lie, and disobey parents. With habits like that, the sturdy value system of a family is at risk.

On the other hand, when grandparents reinforce the rules of parents, it helps to fortify the value system of the child. Supporting the parents instills a sense of integrity and honesty within the child.

Safety

Rules (all rules, from house rules to rules of the road) are designed with one thing in mind: safety. When grandparents spoil children with reckless abandon, the child’s safety can be threatened. I have witnessed this on three occasions.

  • A grandma who allowed her grandson to have root beer floats for breakfast, which seemed like an innocent-enough treat. But the excess sugar caused problems with the boy’s medication.
  • A grandmother who felt inspired to take extra care of her grandson by giving him a daily vitamin. Because she had taken this matter into her own hands without talking to the boy’s mother, the child received double the dose.
  • A grandfather repeatedly gave almond milk to a baby despite the parents’ requests not to, insisting it was a treat and better for the baby. Not only is almond milk not recommended as baby formula, but the parents quickly lost trust due to this form of “spoiling.”

How to spoil within the limits of parents’ rules

Before I have every grandparent knocking on my door, I want to reiterate that I do believe grandparents are incredibly valuable. Grandchildren who are close to their grandparents benefit from their wisdom, stories, and relaxed demeanor. Grandparents are role models and a source of tremendous, unconditional love.

But the truth is, grandparents do not need to raise grandchildren. They can take excellent care of grandchildren without stepping on the toes of the parents.

Spend more time than money

When grandparents consistently arrive for a visit with a toy, it increases expectation for the future. Pretty soon, the child is going to answer the door saying, “Hi Grandma, what did you bring me?” Limiting toys and treats will keep them special and not expected.

Follow parents’ rules

A grandparent who supports a parent teaches a child just how important it is to obey parents. This lesson will continue to be especially important as the child grows up and is tempted to break even more rules.

Love abundantly

A grandparent cannot say “I love you” too much. In fact, there’s no limit on how much a grandparent can love a grandchild. Having another source of unconditional love in a child’s life improves his or her mental and emotional wellbeing.
Children who grow up feeling loved are more likely to handle stress better as adults, engage in more close, healthy relationships, and be more well-adjusted.

A little goes a long way

Like all things in life, moderation is key. A treat here or there is a special way to surprise a child.

Parents of young children have a lot on their plates, from being new at parenting to learning how to discipline children with love. It can be frustrating when grandparents’ spoiling overrides their rules or wishes.

But if grandparents spoil within the parents’ rules, life is not only easier for the parents, but the message sent to their children is loud and clear: Both parents and grandparents offer abundant, unconditional love, are all part of a strong family unit, and everyone has a place in that family structure.

Date Night is Overrated, Here’s How to Get Out of It

Leaving the house is overrated, and there’s plenty of great television you haven’t seen yet. So take a pass on date night.

One of the first things my wife and I were told after we had our first baby – literally a couple of hours after – was that we need to make sure we go out on dates and make time for ourselves.

It’s important, you see, even if only to create jobs for potential baby sitters. But come on, who has time for all of that nonsense? You get home from work, or you get to the end of a long day of picking up after crazy little monsters, and now you’re supposed to pretend to be human?

That’s hard work, and being parents, we’re not fans of hard work. There are better things you can do and, let’s face it, we’re parents of young children, so we’re broke. Why bother spending a load of money on eating out when you can stay home, eat in your pajamas, and watch Celebrity Big Brother?

Sure, you could go to the movies, but have you seen how expensive popcorn is nowadays? Plus, there’s all the advertisements, and previews, and kids on their smart phones. Not to mention the sticky seats. 

So, the next time you get the crazy idea that you need a date night, use these perfect excuses to get yourselves out of it:

We really need some time for “Netflix and chill.”

Now, I don’t mean this like 20-somethings mean it– i.e. having sex. Come on, that’s how we got in this mess in the first place. And, who has the energy anyway? It’s even more tiring than going out.

No, this is proper chilling, lying on the sofa in your pants, covered in biscuit crumbs, binge watching “Stranger Things,” or “Orange Is The New Black” or – if you’ve got Amazon instead – “Mr. Robot” or “Transparent.” Most of these shows are better than what’s playing in theaters anyway, and you don’t even need to leave the house.

We’re too tired.

This one isn’t even a lie. Parents are always tired and will stay that way until the kids head off to college, when you’ll still probably be tired from working six jobs to pay for it all.

Saying you’re too tired works as an excuse because it sounds temporary even though it’s probably permanent. You’re tired now, but hey, maybe later in the week you’ll be up for hitting a sports bar or whatever.

You know you won’t, but leaving it open makes it seem like you’re going to do it at some mythical future time when you’re not so tired. See? You’re still fun!

Now crack open the bubbly and turn the television on.

The kids aren’t feeling well. 

The golden ticket of excuses, this one. It gets you out of EVERYTHING. Weddings, work parties, BBQs – basically anything that you’re too antisocial to go to.

You’ve always wanted a great excuse for these things and now you have one. To be honest, it makes all the early mornings, diaper changes, and tantrums worth it. Of course, when your kids really isn’t feeling well, it’s absolutely horrible and just ruins everything. And it’s not too fun for them either.

But it’s easy to fib and say one of them has a bug, while sending the kid off to bed perfectly healthy, and telling yourselves that: Hey, you never know when they’ll start throwing up, so probably best to stay in just in case.

The weather.

Sure, it’s been sunny for about a week now, but look at that cloud over there. Suspicious right? It could pour down at any minute, and ain’t nobody got time for getting wet on date night.

Plus, lightning could hit the house, and it would be irresponsible parenting to go out and leave the kids at such a risk.

And hey, you’ve seen Sharknado, right? JUST SAYING.

Plus, what if it doesn’t rain and it’s too hot and the kids wake up because they’re too hot? Best to stay in.

It’s a scary world outside that front door and there’s just so much good television you haven’t seen. Think of all the stuff you missed in those early days before kids had regular bedtimes.

So kick back, order another pizza (who cares that the delivery guys know you by name now?) and give date night a miss. You’ve earned it!

When Your Mom Tribe is Not What You Expected

Tired as the phrase may be, it truly takes a village. And sometimes, we’re more surrounded and supported than we realize at first glance.

It takes a village.

What a cliché, I used to think. Of course – before I had children.

Because back then I didn’t need a village. I had my husband, our dear friends. We had our jobs and our hobbies and our travels and our home. We loved our far-flung village, family outside of the country who we could call and email and visit any time. And they came to see us too. Reminded us that we weren’t alone and could call them for anything. And we did. Well, we would have – if we weren’t already so assured (smug, almost) in our own self-sufficiency.

But then the kids arrived. One – two – three in rapid succession. And suddenly I realize that I’m an outsider, standing alone just beyond the village gates. Desperately searching for my tribe, my people. The ones everyone says I should have. NEED to have. The ones who are going to help me through this.

They were right, of course. It does take a village. I see now how important the tribe is. To pick up a preschooler while I take a toddler to the ER. To watch a sick child while I run to pick up medicine. To delight in our kids’ visits, welcoming me with an ear and a shoulder when it’s all become too overwhelming.

It seems that everywhere moms are boasting about their tribes. Their close knit mommy groups that coordinate everything from carpools to casseroles. Built in play dates every day of the week. Field trips. And impromptu home gatherings where everyone toasts with wine and laughs about the trials of motherhood.

And I wonder – where is my village?

It’s becoming big business. Every week I see a new app or website that boasts higher success rates for matching you with the perfect mom friend. Like a dating app, except instead of romantic chemistry you’re searching for mommy chemistry. Someone who sides with you on all the mommy war topics. Who you can let your hair down with. Someone who will come over when you’re at your worst, help you pick yourself up, and take the kids out for ice cream.

Do I need to download a mommy friend dating app to find my tribe??

I complained about this to one of my non-mom friends. She is unapologetically child-free, living her best life and diving head first into excitement and travel as she sips her bubbly and flips her shiny, freshly washed and highlighted hair. I grumbled about being too old to find mom friends. About how the moms I meet locally are no less than one to two decades younger than me, with nothing in common.

“Eh, F it,” she shrugged, “Who needs ‘em anyway? This is yet another reason why I’m not having kids!”

She topped off my glass and we laughed. Then moved onto topics like upcoming events and dream trips.

But still, the following Monday while she was at work and I was with the kids, I found myself anxiously searching for my tribe.

So I made dinner plans with an old friend. Someone who is my age, but whose children are nearly grown. A person I have shared more laughs and aspirations with than I can count. I knew that she would understand, and I wasn’t disappointed. She listened to me and nodded knowingly.

“I know, it’s so hard to find people you can trust,” she sighed.

We talked about our kids. College plans for hers, preschool plans for mine. Joked about her visit to my hospital room after baby number three, made complete by a bottle of margarita mix. Commiserated over the crazy-making that parenting can be. And she suggested that over time I would likely find local moms I vibe with.

So where are they?

I turned to my best male friend, a surfer carpe diem-type guy who is forever inviting me out to happy hours and meals with the gang. I finally agreed to shower and attend a ramen outing. As I sat with my son in the company of men, I whined to the guy next to me about how I can’t find any mom friends with whom to do this type of thing. He reminded me that he’s a father, a single father at that, and has been a longtime friend. But I told him it’s not the same. He reassured me that I’d soon find some mom friends – I probably just needed to get out more.

So I did. I ventured beyond the local parks to a further park. And lo and behold – I met someone! Someone about my age, with two children, and we clicked. We laughed and joked and agreed to exchange numbers. Then she let me know that she would contact me the next time she was in town. Turns out she’s the aunt who lives across the country.

I shared the story of the new mom friend who almost was with another friend later that evening, an out-of-state friend of almost two decades, with whom I talk several times a week. I told her that my little one was sick, and if I could just find someone to come by and help for two hours, I could catch up on my work. She understood and said she wished she could still help. Before she left the state, she was that person. The one to come over and relieve me over a lunch break or in the early evening. The one who would join me and my clan, her two kids in tow, on outings to Costco and Target. And now she was gone.

How would I ever find new mom friends?

I texted my frustrations to a dear friend who lives about an hour away, a person I met at work many years ago. She’s the friend who cared for my other children while each of their siblings were being born. She’s someone I trust completely. I told her I felt like I was losing my mind without the quintessential mom friends that everyone glamorizes.

She texted back immediately, as she always does, comforting me and letting me know that she would come by that weekend. Asking if she should take a day off work during the week to help me. Reassuring me that we would figure it out. Together. That I wasn’t alone in this.

And suddenly it hit me.

THIS is my tribe. These people, and the others in my life like them, ARE my mom friends. Whether local or not, moms or not, and even female or not, these people make up my imperfectly perfect village.

They support me. They laugh with me and cry with me. They show up for our events, our celebrations. They bring us meals and wine and gifts for the kids. They send me cards. They miss the children, ask about the children, beg to babysit the children. They visit us and call us and text us – for no reason at all. Just because.

They may not be here every minute of the day. They may have other obligations. They may not even reside in the same state. But they are HERE. Available to me on a moment’s notice. Supporting me and checking on me and expressing their willingness – their desire, even – to drop everything should I need it. Expressing their love. And I love them right back.

This, I realize, is what makes a mom friend. Not the women perfectly manufactured from the mom friend mold, but – by definition – the people who surround a mom, and who are her friends. That is a tribe.

I realized that while I’ve been peering into the gates of a village to which I felt I had no entry, my tribe has been there – right behind me – the entire time.

On Loving and Losing My Stepdaughter

It was not my place to build the bridge between my husband and his daughter. But as the years have passed, I realize I can build my own.

She messages me in the middle of the day, “Hey.” And that’s it. 

I never know how to respond. But there are so many things I want to say.

“Hey Kate, sorry I suck.”

“Hey Kate, I know it doesn’t feel this way, but I think about you all the time.”

“Hey Kate, I know you have no reason to believe me, but I never forgot about you.”

“Hey Kate, I was so young when I met you. I didn’t know what to do.”

She doesn’t expect much from me, but I already know that no matter what I say, it won’t be enough.

I just turned 40. My hair has started its slow fade from a bold, shiny brown to a dull grey. My hands hurt after a busy day at work. I know I’m not old, but I’m not who I was when I met Kate.

The invincibility and the eternal hopefulness that once spilled into everything I did, and everyone I loved, has been trampled by reality. I tread much more lightly. I hesitate to make my once mighty, now mild, presence known when I enter a new space. Maybe the reason I tend to be more forgetful is because I have so many things to think about. I feel like memories are becoming ever more distant and details are harder to remember.

But I remember the day I met Kate.

Her father and I drove for days. We left the New Jersey shore on a humid summer morning and headed west. I planned a route to get us to Arkansas in less than a week if we didn’t stop too much.

The stops we made in the other states we crossed should have been more memorable. Nashville and Memphis are faint blurs in my mind, maybe because I’d just turned 21 and felt compelled to drink whenever I had the chance. Maybe because I was so focused on getting to Magnolia, Arkansas.

In my mind, this would be as simple as checking off an item on a to-do list. We were heading out to see Kate. Kate’s dad was divorced from her mom, and a year had passed since he’d last seen his little girl.

The child in me was excited to be instrumental in their reunion. Convinced that he would be lost and empty without his daughter, I took him by his willing hands and yanked him into my world of impulsivity. We dropped everything for this road trip.

We arrived to find two girls and a boy standing beside Kate’s mother, and she directed Kate to go greet her daddy. Kate meekly ran into her father’s arms and gave him a soft, quiet hug. She was giddy, but polite. And she called me ma’am.

We spent a week in Magnolia and we saw Kate each day. Her meek demeanor changed as she got more comfortable with us. She was easily excitable and very expressive. Her little heart was overflowing with love and she had plenty to go around. She boasted about having two daddies and said she loved them both over and over. Her stepfather smiled and shrugged at us whenever she pointed this out in front of him.

Kate was delighted in that classic little girl way, every gift we gave her, every meal we treated her to, and every ride she took in our car made her little heart soar with happiness. I insisted to her father that we stay awhile. A little girl needs her father. I know this from experience.

It’d been days into months into years since I’d last seen my own dad. I wanted to save this girl from that crooked balance of a life lived somewhere between great hope and deep disappointment. We settled just south of the Arkansas/Louisiana border in Shreveport.

My heart was in it for Kate, but I quickly started hating Louisiana. My inability to adapt to a new place blurred my understanding that time and patience were the only things that could make me more comfortable. Louisiana is starkly different from New Jersey, and while I could have lived with that, I didn’t want to be so far from my family and friends.

Maybe it was this that dampened my mission to save this girl from life without her father. Maybe I realized that I alone could not be the one to force devotion and duty for her upon anyone. Maybe it was because I grew tired of encouraging visits, gifts, and involvement. Maybe there were many reasons I took a step back and started thinking more about myself, and less about “saving” Kate.

Months went by and we didn’t see her anymore. We returned to New Jersey and had a child the following year. I thought about Kate, and how she would love to hold her baby brother. I had naive faith that this could happen. I was certain that their father would feel consumed by love for both of his children, and he’d want to see her again. An innate wholehearted desire to be a father to his children would usurp his shame and cowardice.

Our baby was so darling and beautiful. I assumed that every time he held our brand new son, his daughter crossed his mind. I believed his love for Kate, rekindled and inspired by the birth of our son, would make him shove hesitation aside and propel him past the fear he allowed to take control.

He would no longer be too scared to attempt resolve, and he would pick up the phone and call his ex-wife. They’d discuss how he’d re-enter his daughter’s life for good. At first I hinted at this fantasy of mine. Then, I asked him how he felt about taking such actions. Finally, I started resenting him, and wondering if he cared about her at all. He couldn’t articulate his feelings except to say that it was, “too much to deal with right now” because we had a new baby, and we were barely getting by.

Consequently, he fell behind on his child support. Partial payments weren’t enough to keep him out of court. First, it was garnished wages. Then, it was a levy on our joint bank account. We lost much needed tax return money.

Court orders arrive, promising arrest warrants if he failed to appear. His ex-wife sent letters through an attorney stating he’d no longer have to pay child support if he signed his paternal rights away, and allowed her stepfather to adopt her. My heart dropped. It seemed like impossible debt from which we’d never recover, but I was absolutely sure he’d never sign those papers.

I held our baby on my hip as I signed for the last certified letter and wondered what made him work so hard for our child, but not for Kate. I fought with him about her, but it didn’t make a difference. His whole family agreed with him, saying this was, “for the best.”

I thought about that little girl and how on earth I might explain this to her someday. It’d been two years since we’d spoken. She was almost nine years old when he made his decision. I sent her little gifts on Easter and Christmas that year. The following year, I asked him if we should send her anything. I don’t remember his answer, I only remember being sad and disappointed.

I didn’t know that this could actually happen – that a signature on paper could erase a child from our lives. She went from being a someday to being a never. I could list a million excuses to justify why I wasn’t brave enough to object, why I didn’t take it upon myself to earn and pay that child support and the arrears, why I didn’t understand his family supporting his decision to stop being her father, why I wanted to help but felt that I couldn’t.

None of that matters now.

I thought of Kate all the time. It would have been more practical to wish that she’d forgotten about us. But I always hoped she’d remember the short time we spent with her. Even after her father and I divorced, I still believed that she would come back into his life and she would meet our sons. I still believed she’d remember the trip, and the time we lived nearby. I even hoped that she’d remember a little bit about when she was small, her parents were still together, and she saw her father every day.

His dismissal of her existence seemed as easy as turning off a light, and walking out of a room. I spent our whole marriage doubting his seemingly steady devotion to our children. Had Kate never existed, I would’ve taken his actions at face value, feeling proud and confident about his love for our sons.

Instead, any minuscule sign of indifference toward their wellbeing made me fear that he could turn his paternal love for them off as easily as he turned it off for Kate. Was he acting? Was he going through the motions, feigning the love of a devoted father just for show? Could I trust the love he professed for me if it was so easy for him to forget about his little girl? Living in constant insecurity wore me down – we had so much conflict and strife. So, before our oldest son turned ten, I chose to leave the marriage.

Twelve years slid by. Twelve years of wondering how Kate was doing. Twelve years of seeing cute little toys and clothes and TV shows that I wondered if Kate would love. Twelve years of wondering what she looked like, where she was, what she loved, and whether or not she needed her father. Twelve years of expectation turning into diluted hope and wishful thinking that her father would say, “I want to make things right with my daughter.”

When Kate was almost twenty years old, I found her profile on Facebook. She was nothing like I remembered, of course. The last time I had a good look at her, she was a cherub-like child. I marveled at the young woman whose photo stopped my heart.

Kate and I exchanged messages for a bit and I gave her my number. I rehearsed every possible scenario of this phone call in my mind for twelve years. I was ready for anything. Whatever she wanted to know or hear or tell me, I was ready. I would tell. I would speak. I would listen.

Her soft voice and southern drawl made me smile. Ever since my first pregnancy, I’d dreamt of this day. Kate’s brothers are my sons. And if I knew nothing else about her, this fact was enough to keep my heart wide open with space reserved just for her.

She’d done nothing wrong. None of this was her fault. It didn’t matter that the rest of the family seemed content to pretend that she never existed. It didn’t matter that her father and I were divorced, it didn’t matter that I could not remember the last time he’d spoken of her. Kate wanted to talk to me.

I felt a surge of excitement, mixed up with relief. Kate was the elephant in the room for the duration of my marriage to her father. Even after our divorce, when he’d provide for, indulge, or champion one of my sons, my heart would whisper, “what about Kate?”

She was the person I had hoped for and wondered about for all this long time. Any girl with a slight resemblance made me imagine what she looked like. Whenever our caller ID showed a number we didn’t recognize, I wondered for a split second if it might be her.

To finally hear her voice made my distant, hopeless dream come true. Talking to Kate after all these years felt like receiving a precious gift that I felt unworthy to accept. After she told me all about her life, what she wanted to study in college, and where and how she lived for all these years, she had so many questions. 

I answered them all. I told her the truth.

I didn’t know why her father never called. I didn’t know exactly why her mother wanted her to be adopted by her step-father. I didn’t get into the details back then because at that time, I felt like it was not my place. I told her I didn’t understand any of it, that if it had been up to me, things would be different.

I hoped that she understood this – it was never up to me. I would have made her part of our family. I would have sent her photos and videos of her brothers. They would have called her and we would have sent her gifts every holiday and on her birthday. I told her all about her brothers and confessed that they didn’t know very much about her. After her father signed away his paternal rights, her name was rarely mentioned by anyone in the family, but I never forgot about her. 

Kate is now twenty six years old. She has her own life, her own aspirations, and her own struggles 1,400 miles away from me. I can’t make up for two decades of lost time and I don’t have all the answers about her father’s absence from her life, but I will always respond when she messages or calls. I’ll always let her know she is welcome, she is family, she is treasured, and she is important.

I don’t know if that’s good enough for Kate. She deserves so much more. I can’t fill the hole her father left in her heart. All I can do is promise that nothing she says or does will ever change how I feel about her. All I can do is make sure she knows that I’m here for her now.

“Hey, how’s life?” I message back.

It’s not enough.

5 Ways Divorced Parents Can Help Their Tween Feel More Secure

If navigating divorce feels confusing to you, imagine how it feels for kids. Keeping these things in mind can make this new arrangement easiest for everyone.

I’m sure you didn’t expect to be in this situation when you said your “I dos” and spoke those “for better or worse” vows. When you stood beneath the huppa, or kneeled in the church, or at stood the edge of the ocean. Wherever you were when you declared your undying love for one another, I don’t think you ever saw that love dying.

And I’m sure a future of shared custody and visitation rights didn’t occur to you when you were holding that newborn baby in your arms.

But somewhere along the way, your marriage got messy and out of control. The love departed and, in its place, arrived the need, the want, the necessity to separate. And that’s all very well and good. I don’t believe parents should stay together for the children at any expense.

But now what?

You are standing on the corner of unsure and unsettled (the opposite of that Walgreen’s corner of happy and healthy) signing papers and arranging dates involving your children’s living situation. Your custody arrangement could be a 5225 split. Or a 4223.  One week at mom’s. One week at dad’s. There are numerous options. If it’s confusing for you, think how it is for your child.

I’ve been on both sides of this situation. I’ve had stepchildren come on the weekends and summers. I’ve lived through the every other weekend visitations. I know how draining it can be, both emotionally and physically.

Currently, I’m helping my daughter with her two exes and three children. It can be complicated and messy.

Here are a few things to remember to make it easier on everyone, especially the children:

Don’t let your child live out of a suitcase.

It’s bad enough going back and forth. Taking a suitcase may make your child feel as if he’s only visiting the home he arrives with his belongings in a bag.

Each house should have the necessary items such as toothbrush, pajamas, clothes. Yes, you’ll need to buy these things in duplicate, but it’s a small price to pay to make your child feel at home.

Don’t make your child responsible for clothes left at one house.

It’s hard enough for a tween to remember where everything is when they only live in one house.

Don’t blame your child if the sweater Mom bought ends up at Dad’s house, and doesn’t come back. Go get it. This goes for Tupperware, silverware, lunch boxes, and any other item. These things are not worth fighting over.

Do keep track of books and sports equipment.

I know kids need to be responsible for their own things, but when one parent drops them off at school, and the other one picks them up, it’s unreasonable to expect your child to lug soccer gear around all day at school.

Without lockers, it’s hard to take that big heavy Language Arts book to school in order to get it to the other parent for the evening. As the parent, you should bring those things over after school. 

Do divide up medicines. 

With insurance the way it is today, it’s impossible to get double prescriptions. Divide up any necessary pills.

Don’t bad-mouth the other parent.

Don’t put blame on the other parent. Most importantly, don’t try to outdo the other parent. Just be yourself. And if you should remarry, put your children’s well-being first. Don’t marry someone who isn’t going to love your child.

With some preparation, hopefully, if it’s Tuesday night at Dad’s and there’s a math test on Wednesday, the math book is on your child’s desk at Dad’s house. And if there’s a hockey game on Saturday, and it’s Mom’s weekend, the sports bag is at Mom’s.

Scrambling around at the last minute looking for everything breeds bad attitudes and discontent. Not to mention, headaches and aggravation from driving around at all hours of the day and night looking for textbooks, and sweatshirts. 

If you approach the situation with maturity and thoughtfulness, you won’t find yourself inside that old joke, “Who’s on first?”  Instead, you’ll be able to keep track of belongings, and keep everything in it’s place. Especially your child’s happiness and sense of security. 

The (Passive Aggressive) Love Your Spouse Challenge

Four days of status updates to express gratitude for my spouse? Fine. Should I start with the way his dirty clothes make it NEXT TO the hamper?

Day 1

Wow, Kayley Hudson! You got me again girl, with the latest challenge sweeping Facebook! So, just to make sure I have the gist: for four days you want me to publicly practice gratitude for my spouse in my status updates? Hmm, can I just dump a bucket of freezing ice water over my head instead? LOL! (Srsly tho, thanks for clueing me in! I was wondering why there seemed to be an uptick in photos of Jess and Adam with their noses pressed super casually together while they shared a cake pop. It’s all coming together now!)

Alright Facebook – what can I tell you about my longtime hubs, Travis? I guess the first thing that comes to mind is his adorably childlike demeanor. I mean, how cute is he in this pic, wearing his favorite, soy sauce-stained Batman tee? And need I say how adorable it is when he thinks the “Dark Knight” is appropriate attire for a dinner party?

Really, I think my favorite part of the day is picking this shirt up off the floor, right NEXT to where the laundry basket is. This guy is certainly a superhero at our house! Even if he is a 44-year-old man with dander allergies.

In short – thanks babe, for always helping me to see the world through the eyes of a child. A dirty, lazy child.

Day 2

He may be a big ‘ol kid himself, but Trav is also the father of our two, beautiful, boisterous boys: Hamilton Liam and Amadeus Troy. As you can see in this candid, color-coordinated photo session wherein our entire family balanced casually in a weather-beaten wagon beneath a majestic oak, (Precious Memories Photography – mention me for 30% off your back to school pics!)

Trav is a real hands-on father! Really, looking at this photo takes my breath away. You’d never know that mere moments before it was snapped he’d been letting Hamilton Liam jump repeatedly off a hay bale dangerously close to some rusty farm equipment. (Hey babe, I get it! Twitter doesn’t check itself! ) Anyway, as every Mama knows, tetanus shots in the ER are a super fun way to wind down on a Sunday afternoon.

To my partner in crime: back when we first became parents, I saw you staring down at your sons with such wonder, and I just knew you’d always be there for them…always quick to hand them an iPad, or fall asleep in the middle of the living room floor while the Diaper Genie festers to the point of a biohazard explosion. Here’s to the World’s Best Daddy! <3 <3 <3

Day 3

And here we are on date night! Woo-hoo! I believe this was Valentine’s 2013? Yep, pretty sure it is, as that is, in fact, the last time we went “out on the town!” As many of you know, Trav is more of a homebody. More of a “let’s illegally download something awful with Vin Diesel, order Chinese, and spill more soy sauce on our shirt” kind of guy.

Hmmm…trying to remember where we are in this pic? Just kidding! I know exactly where we are, because I planned the entire thing, didn’t I, babe? Just like every date we’ve ever been on. (Wacky Juan’s on 9th has super yummy mojitos, FYI!) I remember you REALLY loved those mojitos, didn’t you, hon? If memory serves, you downed four, and when we got home you flirted with our 16 year old babysitter. 😉 I bet she totally would have taken you up on your offer of a “basic HTML tutorial” if you hadn’t tripped and knocked over the kitchen island, you silly goof. 

Ah, well… You may not be Mr. Romance, but here’s to always knowing where I can find my man: on the couch surrounded by shards of Bagel Chips.

Day 4

Speaking of romance… If we’re going to talk marriage, I, of course, have to mention the boudoir! *blushing* True, things aren’t as spicy as they used to be, but that’s just because we’ve discovered the spices at Mamma Mia’s Calzone Shop! (Bonus points: they Seamless!) We’ve both indulged a bit too much lately, and we’re now more 50 Shades of Grated Parm!

But just the other night, when I was eating one while crying, you suggested we “fool around” after. And we almost did. Until you came to bed, didn’t even notice my new underwear set, and then made me wait 10 full minutes for you to close down an app. (No babe, Pokemon Go isn’t foreplay! You aren’t going to find Pikachu in there, LOL!)

I eventually just snapped off the lamp and stared angrily at the ceiling for an hour while insisting I was fine. Tee hee! Well, as all married folks know, the mood isn’t always right! I’m sure we’ll try again soon! (i.e. when the planets align and the moon explodes.)

Jeez, already the last day of the challenge! Too bad, because I really could go on and on! This has been a lot of fun, so thanks Kayley! This whole experiment really made me stop and think, wow – what did I do to deserve this fella? Even now as I type, we’re sitting side by side, and he’s audibly picking at the dead skin on his heels. And all I can do is think: I’m so glad this is how I’ll spend the rest of my waking days on earth. Truly, I am #blessed.

And I now nominate my chum Chelsea Boggs, who’s been married even longer than I have! Have fun Chels! Can’t wait to see those pics! 

My Nanny Became My “Village” – And Saved My Sanity

When things got tough, turning to the woman who shared nearly all of my life was more therapeutic than I could have imagined.

I sat on our retro L-shaped couch in our living room, me on the shorter end of the ‘L’. “I think he’s going to divorce me,” I told my nanny, my eyes welling up with tears.

My throat felt thick with sorrow. I didn’t know whom else to turn to. I didn’t want to call my friends back home – I felt too much guilt, shame, and embarrassment about admitting this truth. After all, I lived in paradise on the North Shore of Kauai and from all accounts on social media, my life seemed pretty grand.

“Oh,” she said, quietly.

Her hazel eyes looked at me warmly, loose wisps of her reddish blonde hair framing her friendly face. “What happened?”

Just 30 minutes earlier, I had texted her to see if she had time to chat. She lived in what we called “The Love Shack” on our property, a one-time surf-quiver storage unit turned sparing abode and gladly came into the main portion of the house. We created an arrangement in which she traded childcare for rent, and it was the best partnership my husband and I created since having the baby.

My daughter had just fallen asleep. I knew I had about an hour for adult conversation, for someone other than my husband to listen to what was happening in my head.

Madeline had already been privy to our dynamic, given that she saw us throughout the days and nights. She knew that my husband and I had different approaches to life and distinct temperaments. While we were both committed to raising our daughter in the most conscious way possible, we were sometimes less committed to the evolution of our bond with one another. We felt emotionally maxed-out and I needed to vent.

“It’s going to be okay,” she reassured me. “You know that, right? Whatever happens, you are a brilliant woman. You’re strong. You’re an incredible mother to Wilder. You’re going to be okay.” I shrugged. It was rare that I let myself cry, and even rarer that I had a witness to it.

“I think that your husband really loves you, and he really just wants everyone to be happy,” Madeline observed. “But he takes a lot on and when he can’t fix it, I think it’s really hard for him.”

I listened to her words. Her observations and reassurances did not feel like hollow niceties meant to placate me, but rather insights that were coming from a woman who shared my home. She shared my life. She participated in various elements of my family.

In a way, she was more than a friend and better than family. We had just enough closeness and the right amount of emotional distance by setting up prior healthy boundaries that we could be in this space of honesty with one another. We did not have such personal ties in what the other person was thinking, because we weren’t too deeply invested the way we would be if we were family. And we didn’t have to worry about how things would ultimately pan out for one another, because it did not altogether substantially impact our own lives.

Madeline, in many ways, became a sort of life coach confidante, precisely when I needed her the most. Living on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, I often felt like she alone made up the tribe that so many parenting experts say women need to survive and thrive after having a child.

I could believe Madeline’s words and sentiments, because we had leaned in to so many meaningful conversations before. There were many times when I needed her help bringing Wilder to an appointment, and as we drove the half hour to get to town, I took the opportunity to talk about my feelings, my concerns, my wishes, and my challenges all while my daughter fell asleep in the backseat.

The rawness and vulnerability of motherhood meant that it wasn’t difficult for me to drop in and come from the heart, since I was perpetually living from this edge. Yet, the part of our dynamic that made it such a safe space to share was the fact that she showed up just as willingly to be vulnerable with the goings-on of her life.

We developed a mutually respectful, symbiotic, and definitely dependable relationship. I knew that when I texted her in the morning with the day’s schedule, she would show up. She knew that if she had any questions for me as a friend, an employer, and a landlord, I would show up for her. That element alone created a sense of stability in my otherwise newly chaotic life.

I started to wrap up our conversation. I knew my daughter would be waking soon and I wanted a few moments to myself before she did. I also knew that nothing in my relationship with my husband was going to be resolved that moment, or that night, or even that month. He and I would continue to have conflict, reconcile, seek support, and struggle within our own development as parents. I just needed to talk to her so I wouldn’t implode.

As I stood up, Madeline walked around the coffee table and came to give me a hug. “You’re doing great,” she said.

That simple acknowledgment, whenever it came from another soul in my life, felt so validating. These few words could fuel me forward into another day, another sleepless night, another week. Being able to be show up just as I was in that moment with another person who was not going judge me was a gift and a blessing beyond belief.

I had no idea that in hiring Madeline as a nanny, she would be nurturing me back to health.