Thursday, March 29, 2012

Thank you for your vote!

I'm thrilled that I've been nominated as a Circle of Moms Top 25 Single Mom Blogger. Thanks in advance for clicking the link to vote for me at least once a day. The link is also up on the left-hand side during the voting period.

I know there are tons of single parents sharing their stories, and win or lose, I'm deeply honored that this blog was even in consideration.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Life Well Lived: Balancing Me-Time

Today's question: How do you put yourself first? How does taking time for yourself help make you happier?

The first sentence that comes to mind is hard to imagine without a martyr-like tone, but try. My first impulse is to say that I put myself first because no one else will.

Unfortunately, a statement like that is hard to hear without imagining that someone's complaining or being passive-aggressive and that's not at all my intent. It's simply a statement of fact.

As a single mom, you can build up a great circle of friends, you can reach out to your family, you can find an online community, but there will inevitably be times when it's just you in the moment and there's no one else around that can take the kids for an hour or let you cry on their shoulder. It's just you and you alone to deal with it.

And I know a lot of married parents that can relate, too. They'll tell me, when their spouse is on an airplane or otherwise can't be reached, "I felt like a single parent." There are differences, of course, but that's what they mean. They experience that moment of having no support system and having to face it right then and there.

Having experienced a number of those moments, I have learned that I do indeed deserve a little me-time. In fact, I need a little me-time every day.

While the girls can stay up later now that they're older, I basically kick them out of the living room at 9 p.m. It's not all me-time from 9-11; I do my prep for the next day, but I am free to watch grown-up TV, read or play Words with Friends, and not have to talk or actively listen. I need those couple of hours to myself in order to feel like I have done something for myself at some point every day.

I also make time to spend with friends. Usually, at lunch during the work week, but sometimes a Happy Hour or night at the theatre. I cherish my friends and having so little time with them makes me appreciate every minute together even more.

The question on the BlogHer post brings up guilt for taking me-time. I'm so over that!

I'm not a perfect mom by any means, but I know that the majority of the time, I put my children first. They're my number one priority 22 hours out of the day. 2 hours to myself is such a small fraction, but it makes all the difference. It helps me be a better mom those other 22 hours. It's a parent's version of the 80/20 rule.

Add your own tricks to finding me-time on the BlogHer post, and enter the sweepstakes to win a Kindle Fire.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Odds and Ends

I'm trying to get back in the blogging world and the best way is just to do it, right? Nothing seems worthy of an entire post, so here's a hodgepodge.

  • I haven't talked about The Power of Negative Thinking in a while, but it still totally works for me! And Sylvia's starting to get it now, too. She hated this one project she'd done for one art class. As she was finishing it, she was SO frustrated, and did not want to go to class, sure that everyone would hate it. There was something else happening that day I can't remember that she wasn't looking forward to, so the whole way to school that morning, she was a grump. I told her, "look at it this way. At least you know today's going to suck! Too often, we think it's going to be a good day, and then it sucks, but you know that going in!" Sure enough, when I picked her up that day, she said the day hadn't been nearly as bad as she'd thought, no one hated her project as much as she thought they would, and she managed to get through the day unscathed. Sometimes, not having a terrible day can be just as good as a good day!
  • A while back, I took the girls to see Fiddler on the Roof, which they loved. What I really loved was watching this one boy across from us in the front row (it's a theatre-in-the-round setting). Before the show started, I saw him and he looked SO bummed to be there. He was trying to keep the bummed look going during the show, but he couldn't help himself. As Tevye danced in "If I Were a Rich Man," he was laughing. By the dream sequence, he was completely enthralled. I love watching people's perception of theatre change simply by experiencing it! 
  • Speaking of theatre and Sylvia, she said something about Sondheim, and I had to smile. I told her, "Just think, if you had another mother, you might not know who Sondheim is." Her reaction was one of horror, "not know who Sondheim is?!? I would HATE that!" Definitely a proud mama moment for me.
  • One day (another morning), Sylvia was in another bad mood and was taking it out on me. Yelling all kinds of lovely things at me. I kept my mouth shut (for the most part), and as she got out of the car, she said, "you're such a..." and slammed the car door shut. I decided not to find out what the end of that sentence would be. Later, she texted me an apology and when we were all in the car on the way home, she mentioned that she'd hit her elbow when she slammed the car door. Riley dryly remarked, "Karma!" Sylvia responded, "I know, right?" I just smiled. (Her elbow's fine now.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Single Parent Appreciation Day 2012

I completely forgot until my sweet friend Nancy just wished me a Happy Single Parents Day is Single Parent Appreciation Day!

Because I wasn't prepared, I'm re-running a post from Single Parents Day 2009. Here's a list of reasons why I'm grateful to be a single parent:

1. I am no longer in an unhealthy relationship, which means my children are not growing up in a house full of distrust and harsh words.

2. I spent the first years of my daughters' lives so wrapped up in dealing with my husband, that I was not a good mother to my children. I am grateful that I have now spent more years of their lives being a better mother to them than I was when I was married.

3. My checkbook is my own. I no longer have fear when I hit the ATM since I know exactly how much I have, and how much I've spent.

4. I have sole legal custody. I am grateful that I don't have to fight with my ex about what is best for the girls.

5. I am no longer waiting for someone to show up and co-parent my girls. I have accepted the responsibility.

6. I have control of the remote. And I don't have to worry about the toilet seat.

7. I am grateful for my parents' help. I am grateful that this has brought us closer together.

8. I am grateful that single parenthood brought me back to Southern California. After living in several cities and a few different states, I know I am home.

9. As much as I bitch about having a deadbeat ex, I am grateful for my job and my ability to provide my children all of the necessities, and some extra.

10. I am grateful for the friendships I have made and those that have reached out to help and support not only me, but my daughters.

Okay, so this life ain't easy. There's not a day that goes by that doesn't present some new challenge. And sometimes I fail. But I'm here. I get up every day, and my first thought is about my children, and nearly everything I do - even the things I do for me - is for their benefit in the long run. Yep, I'd much rather be me, the single parent who is at least striving to meet the challenges, than my deadbeat who can't even show up for them.

Single parents, take a moment today to pat yourselves on the back. And if you're a friend of a single parent, take a moment to wish them well today .

Thursday, March 15, 2012

More Single Parent Rhetoric

While I'm loathe to post two semi-political posts in a row, I can't stop myself. I have to take issue with this:
In an effort to encourage people to get married, Santorum has proposed eliminating head-of-household exemptions for unmarried parents, while tripling their value for married parents. "We shouldn't have incentives for people not to be married," he said in October.
First and foremost, this simply isn't true. Having recently filed my taxes, I have my paperwork handy.

In order to qualify for a Head of Household status, one has to be single and caring for others, which includes not only children and foster children, but also parents, step-parents...basically anyone that lives in your household and depends on your income for their living expenses.

The Standard Deduction for Head of Household is $8,500. The Standard Deduction for Married Filing Jointly is $11,600. The Standard Deduction for Single or Married Filing Separately is $5,800.

The quote left me under the impression that the Head of Household deduction would be greater than the Married Filing Jointly. Of course, it's not. If someone were looking for incentives based on tax code, the incentive to be married filing jointly is certainly greater than to care for others as a single person! 

If anyone thinks that $2,700 (the difference between the Single Standard Deduction and the Head of Household Standard Deduction) is enough to raise two children (or care for one or more of their elderly parents), they clearly have not looked at the price of milk in the last 80 years. Or diapers or clothes or school supplies. Here in SoCal, it doesn't even pay the rent for the additional bedroom!

The average cost of raising one child per year is nearly $14,000

So if you're single and wishing you could get that extra $2,700 in tax deductions: just say no. That "incentive" is not nearly enough to get the job done.

If you want to devote yourself to the care of another human being, if you want to hold a crying baby for hours, if you want to see how inventive you can be during emergency diaper situations, stand in line for hours at the kiddie roller coaster, at pre-school registration, at Back to School Nights, buying school supplies at Target, in the waiting room at doctor's offices and emergency rooms, decipher text shorthand, answer the question "what's for dinner?" ten billion times, go through 10 thermometers and 4 lamp shades in 3 years, get thrown up on in the middle of the night, get woken up to hugs and kisses (or tears), feel the truest, deepest love that could ever exist and bear witness (and responsibility) for being there for someone's entire life...and spend over $200,000 dollars in 18 years...then by all means, take that $2,700 deduction as the SMALL token it is once a year for a job well done.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Balancing my dollars with my personal politics

I am an atheist. I'm a single mom. I support the equal right to marriage (and divorce :). Not only am I a liberal, but I'm fairly certain that even if I wanted to switch parties, at least some prominent members of the GOP wouldn't want me to be part of theirs.

I also sign petitions, and choose where to spend my consumer dollars based on what I know of a company's business practices, and I choose not to watch certain TV shows or movies based on what artists have said or done.

I've heard these choices and decisions of mine as denying someone their livelihood.

Well, first of all, these people seem to be doing just fine. There are a few top rated TV shows which I won't watch because of certain actors or a premise that I find personally offensive. And there are shows I don't watch because they're not my kind of shows, I've watched the show and didn't like it, or I never got into it because there are only so many hours in the day. We all make choices every day on what we watch, and we do so for our own personal reasons. I'm not obligated to make sure everyone in show business (or the shoe business or any other business) has a livelihood.

Also, some people watch these shows (or listen to that radio show) because they totally agree with that person. I recognize and acknowledge that not everyone shares my belief system. That thing they said or did might just be supporting their livelihood because others love it as much as I hate it.

I also recognize that some people love the publicity they get for saying or doing something shocking. I'm not even certain these people actually believe everything that comes out of their mouth. Sometimes, I wonder if they only say it to shock and offend...and to get higher ratings.

Lastly, my dollars and my time are exactly that: mine. I don't necessarily think that my boycott of a company will change their mind or put them out of business, but one of the benefits of capitalism is supposed to be that it's my choice as a consumer where to spend my money. I've never forced anyone else to not shop somewhere...I don't have that kind of control anyway! But just like we choose a grocery store by location, sales or coupons, we can also make choices for political reasons. If someone asked me why I don't shop somewhere, I'm happy to tell them, but I don't expect that they will join me. For all I know, someone could decide to shop there for the very reason I said I was boycotting them! On the same token, I can say no if you invite me to a certain restaurant that supported a proposition that bans equal rights.

It's not right or wrong to boycott for political reasons. It's not right or wrong to choose one service provider over another. And I'm sure these businesses and persons factor in their own behaviors with their own bottom lines. We all make choices as consumers, as citizens, as parents every single day.

The only "wrong," really, would be to presume that everyone will agree with me.

Monday, March 12, 2012

What Stability Really Means

This post sat in my drafts forgotten for a while, but was originally inspired by the thoughtful discussion at Since My Divorce on the decision to rent or own post-divorce. Divorce attorney Brian E. Arnold's comment was something that took me a few years to learn:

You...think that the kids will care, when all they really care about is going to the same schools and having the same friends. It is a hard road, but you can do it.
One of the things we're told over and over as we're going through the separation/divorce process is how critical it is to maintain stability for the children. Unfortunately, like the phrase "parental involvement" in education, no one really tells us what that means.

Stability does not mean you spend more than you can afford to keep a house or a child's extra-curricular activity. Our kids are far better off having financially stable parents that are secure in their ability to provide food and shelter.

Stability does not mean you force everyone to spend a holiday together while Mom and Dad are tense and uncomfortable, and the children just wait for the fight to ensue. Stability means that the children can relax and enjoy the company of Mom or Dad. (If you are amicable, by all means, enjoy, but don't force something if you or your ex is not ready yet.)

Stability does not mean you hold yourself back from trying something new now that you're "free," like a new job or going back to school. If you're feeling confident and proud of yourself, your kids will feel confident and proud, too. Even if it means a change in the schedule.

While very few people look forward to divorce, we do it because we truly believe it's the best thing for ourselves and our children. We want to do right by them, and because of our best intentions, we take on sacrifices eagerly. Sometimes, too eagerly. Sometimes, our children would be happy for change that creates real stability.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Personality versus learned behavior

I figure if this concept is worth talking about to two different friends for two different reasons, it's probably good enough for a post.

Both of them were telling me about the strides they've made in overcoming what they believed were character weaknesses. In each instance, I had to disagree.

I have to say, Situations Matter has really stuck with me, and the reason I disagreed with my friends.

One spoke about overcoming his obstacle to asking for and accepting assistance. While he was pleased with this, he also addressed it as a "hang-up" he had. When we spoke about it more, we realized where his resistance had been learned. He'd had someone in his life that offered help with major strings attached. That experience taught him to resist help.

Another was wary to talk about a new man in her life because of past relationships gone wrong. She spoke about having closed herself off for so long, and learning to open up again. I countered that maybe she needed that time. And she's also been putting herself out there in other ways, keeping incredibly busy with other extra-curricular activities in addition to working full-time. She didn't shut herself down, she just went after other things.

Some of the best people I know spend far too much time beating themselves up and working hard on themselves...and there are others I know that would never think to look inward that really should!

Of course, we want to learn from our mistakes. Of course we should all strive to be better people. The difference, I think, is in understanding that our reactions are usually based on learned behavior.

"The big picture" is seeing all the moving parts; the who, what, where, when and how does indeed tell the whole story.