Monday, November 29, 2010

CoParent's Holiday Survival Guide: Part 1- CoParent Cornucopia

Happy CyberMonday! Hopefully in between juicy cyberdeals on the stuff letters to Santa were made of you chose my blog to hide from the impending order confimation emails. Thanks!
For the next few weeks I plan on blogging specifically about the fa la la la la's and the ba-humbug's of coparenting over the holidays.
This year I was without my little turkey for Thanksgiving. I LOVE Thanksgiving with every fiber of my being- certainly because of the food, but I know that a lot of it has to do with the loose, albeit poignant association with cinematic masterpiece The Last of the Mohicans and my childhood crush on both Uncas and his brother from a white mother, Hawkeye ...sigh....My heart begins to beat like a Huron war drum when I slice into the first sweet potato and as I'm washing dishes, I can hear Hawkeye cry out to me "I will find you!" from beyond the rush of the faucet... Whoa! I digress.
Being without one's child on any day is challenging, but on a day in which family and togetherness are paramount, it's like Magua cutting out Le France's heart (Damn I hope you've seen this movie!). So what's a CoParent to do on such a day? I strongly suggest that you first decide what is most important to you. Are you still into the holiday sentiment even without your little papoose? Or do you secretly take delight the thought of boycotting altogether and having a Happy Meal in your car as you wait in your prime parking space for the Black Friday Midnight Madness sales to commence? DO IT BABY!
If family, friends, and Pilgrim-themed festivities still appeal to you even without your children, that's okay too. I repeat: It's okay to celebrate the season without your little whippersnappers. It's important to remember that while I'm sure they worship and adore you, they're probably not pining away as they fight over the wishbone at your CoParent's Thanksgiving celebration. If you're feeling especially lonely and loserish without your kiddos, why don't you make a plan? Plan to recreate the holiday with Cornish hens and cupcakes when they're back with you, discuss the symbolism of the holiday, and pick fierce Indian names for your tribe just for the heck of it (this last activity is a hit with both preschoolers and college grads alike, promise :-).
It's not about a date on the calendar, but about how you strive to grow and strengthen your family as it is right now.
This holiday season, I encourage you to live in the moment and embrace the duality of your life as it is; a connected CoParent badass one moment, and a strong, smart individual focused on growth and is excited about what's to come in the next moment...

Do you have a CoParenting holiday story to share or are your dreading the next 33 days? Email me lizgrow@gmail.com , or post a comment! I'm also infinitely thankful for your feedback. Find me on twitter, @lizgrow, or on facebook at CoParentConnect.
Until next time!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Wine with the SKIDZ!

In the name of quality field research, I had the pleasure of sharing a bottle of wine recently with some Skidz and the insight and personal experience they provided was invaluable and inspirational.

Katie and Nikki had two totally different experiences; Katie became a step child at the age of 9 and describes her experience as nothing short of a nightmare complete with an evil stepmother. Katie is strong, smart, successful, unapologetically funny and tells it like it is. A true breath of fresh air. She has a wonderful marriage and delightful son, and is committed to dealing with the pain of her childhood in healthy and productive ways including working out regularly, occasional therapy, and wine with the girls.

Katie adamantly maintained that Timing is one of the most critical components of a healthy step-parent/child relationship. When her stepmom came on the scene, Katie was having as hard time dealing with the stressors of being from a "broken home" while trying to be a normal middle schooler. She had an unhealthy relationship with her biological mother so when stepmom came into the picture, Katie was naturally resistant, guarded, and suspicious. Katie admits that even if she were Mary Poppins she wouldn't have accepted her stepmom very easily given the poor timing. The issues with stepmom were compounded when her father offered no support and did not play the necessary role of intermediary, but moved a new woman into the house and left the girls to work out their differences. Not fair.
In the end, the marriage did not work out but Katie and her stepmom overcame their differences and they maintain a relationship to this day.

Nikki's experience could not have been more different than Katie's. By contrast, Nikki's stepmom came into her life when she was 4 years old, and Katie emphatically expressed her love and devotion to her stepmom over her second glass of Pinot Noir. Nikki explained that because her stepmother came into her life at such an early age, she was able to properly parent Nikki and gain her trust. She didn't have the prepubescent angst that Katie felt when a new woman entered her father's life, nor did she think to question her stepmother's authority because she wasn't the real deal. And as an added bonus, Nikki swears that if it weren't for her stepmom's sincere efforts, neither Nikki nor her siblings would have anything to do with their father. Someone give that woman a medal!
Now, as Nikki joyfully plans her future with her adoring fiancé, she doesn't struggle with the common issues that children of divorce face while wedding planning, such as where to seat mom, dad, and the steps in relation to the cake knife. By being open, loving and supportive, her stepmother has not only given her a childhood with less tension from the impact of blending a family, but a life without the emotional baggage or stigma of being a Skid.

One must absolutely without a doubt consider the age of the child or children when attempting to blend a family. Successful blending can be done at any age with the right mixture of understanding, respect, and patience. What more info on blending families? Email me at Lizgrow@gmail.com and I will do my best to help you become a Coparenting superstar, promise.
Until next time!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Life on the SKIDZ....

Today I asked my sister to tell me what comes to mind when I say the word "SKID", and she immediately replied Skid Row and ...Skid Mark. Um, Yeah....you should know that my sister is the Goddess of Glamour and the last person who would ever appreciate potty humor. I could tell that she was disgusted with herself for even saying it, and, I enjoyed every minute of her discomfort as the perennial pesky little sis :-)

The reason I asked is because while I was doing some online Coparenting research, I stumbled across a step-parent forum where this term was affectionately used to refer to their Step-Kids...SKIDZ...nice. I realize that for as much professional expertise that I have working with Coparents and blended families, I do not have personal experience with trying to parent a step child and couldn't possibly relate to the challenges on an emotional or practical level. However, I am a firm believer that perception is reality and the filter through which we view the world shapes our experience. SO- if you refer to your spouses' child or children in the same way that one would refer to and example of poor frat house hygiene, you don't need to be a psychotherapist to know you're going have some issues connecting with the lil' whippersnappers.

The most shocking thing I see when I work with blended families is the complete and total cluelessness some partners demonstrate when it comes to the step children. The sheer and utter indignance that I witness by step-parents is laughable sometimes...and yes, I do carpe the diem and laugh out loud. Unfortunately, too many couples get caught up in the idealism of the second chance. What they fail to realize is that they are no longer unencumbered singletons who can get carried away in the excitement and romance of it all and that they must consider the children involved.

Should one's children dictate whom they choose to date? Absolutely not. But if you're serious about a person, you must consider their feelings about your kiddos. If they are cold, uninterested, or seem threatened by your kids, you own it to your children (who did not ask for this transition might I add!) to look elsewhere for a partner. You must also be realistic about the fact that his or her kids may not like you as much as he or she does... And that's okay! If you love love love your partner and are committed to making it work Brady Bunch style, start to find things you like about their kids, focus on those positive traits and behaviors, and trust me, it will get easier.

And oh yeah, kick that nasty little moniker Skids to the curb and replace with something more positive...may I suggest StepTreasure? Please send me your thoughts... Until next time!!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Step(ford) Mom

The other night at a friend's Halloween dinner party I had the pleasure of chatting up the most remarkable woman, Jean. While discussing our day jobs, she became acutely interested in my startup for CoParents, http://www.coparentconnect.com/ (shameless plug, yes, but also relevant so resist the urge to get on my website and register right away and stick with me here...). Jean asked the most incredible questions while balancing a glass of red in one hand and a large slice of spider cake in the other and I'm not sure if I was more taken with her grace, her intelligence, or her ability to display both simultaneously while talking to a vampiress with blood (okay, cabernet)-soaked teeth. I automatically assumed that she was living the coparenting lifestyle while nurturing her new marriage and raising her 2 children with her ex.
Wrooooong... As it turns out, Jean was Stepmom to her husband's 2 children and he coparents with baby-mama. She is both goddess of home and hearth and badass career woman, and she embraces both roles with extreme passion. After discovering that her children were not her biokids, I had to ask- what's it like?
Jean happily clued me in about how she rocks her stepmom status on the daily:
Love - Jean explained that when she met her husband years ago, she was not only taken by his dashing good looks and charm, but the fact that he was an amazing dad was the trait that made her heart skip a beat. She fully embraced the fact that they were a tightly connected family unit- including their mother- and rather than feel threatened by her man's deep love for his kiddos, she championed it, knowing that a man with such a big heart surely had room for one more.
Patience- Rather than jump right in feet-first, Jean used her preliminary status as an outsider to learn about their family culture and find out what made them tick. She didn't try to assert her position as significant other and immediately try to start a new chapter in the lives of her now husband and stepkids; she carefully studied the chapters written before she came into their lives so that she could assimilate easily into their family dynamic without much friction or push-back from the kids.
Respect- Though Jean admits to having no real relationship with her husband's Ex, she greatly respects her role as her stepchildren's mother and encourages the children to nurture their relationship with her and enforces her rules in their home. Jean also respects that just like with any meaningful relationship, she must continue to work to build the trust and gain the love of her stepchildren. She explained to me that she did not see it as burden or hassle, but a great opportunity and an honor. What a gal.

On the day that Jean married her husband, she also made a serious commitment to his children; not to replace their mother, but to be one more person who will love and support them unconditionally for life. It was Jean's first and only marriage, and rather than making it about her as most brides understandably do, she chose to walk up the aisle with her new family arm and arm.

Do you have uplifting and inspiring Stepparent stories? Please share them! Step-parent questions? Ask away. Your feedback is always greatly appreciated. Until next time!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Surprise! You Suck!

Ah Coparenting, where sharing is indeed caring....you share equal amounts of time with your child's parent so therefore, you share all chidcare responsibilities as well- Joy! And if you smell sarcasm here, you're not in my kitchen (though it's a commonly used spice, I must confess). I feel very lucky to be able to parent my daughter and give her 100% of Mommy when I have her, and be 100% partner, therapist, blogger, whatevah when she is busy getting the best of her father.

And so it goes...UNTIL....Surprise, You Suck! Like a hot-and-sour-soup-filled water balloon to the face, you are yanked back momentarily to those days when the failures of your relationship stared at you over the breakfast table. I assure my clients that Time + Self-Awareness + Respect = Healing, but I've never been so great at math.

The truth is, Coparenting isn't for wussies- as a coparent you are forced to work with your Ex on a daily basis whether or not it's "your time" with your child, and yes, that makes you both acutely vulnerable and available to their constructive criticism (alright, I added a pinch of spice there).

My professional advice? Listen. Breathe. Consider. Move on in a positive way....and treat yourself to a pumpkin spice latte, which I am certain contains trace amounts of Prozac, but I digress. This person isn't just some school yard bully, they are the reason you have your little pumpkin (or pumpkins for you really good farmers out there!). Rather than reacting in self-defense, respond to them appropriately and take time to consider their concern. Sure, it could be an empty and hurtful insinuation meant to ruin your day, or it could be a very good point. Either way, you won't be able to tell the difference if you're whipped into an emotional frenzy and are hell-bent on hurling a stinky soup bomb right back.

Please share thoughts, stories, and tips!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Baby-Daddy Bump-In

Last night I went with fiance, family and friends to the Wurstfest-- a "10-day salute to sausage" and my town's brilliant homage to it's German heritage. Like a giant magnetic porkchop on a stick, this festival draws huge crowds every year and my hometown effectively shuts down to accommodate polka-loving pilgrims. One can imagine how, on the 2 weekends that the 'fest is rocking, it's the place to see and be seen and always turns into a deep-fried reunion of old classmates, neighbors, coworkers, teachers, and yes, Exes. It never fails that I run into a few former beaus at the fest every year, we'll exchange a polite air-cheers with our plastic pitchers of beer, and carry on.

However last night, I discovered a new category of reunion I'll affectionately label the "baby-daddy bump-in". I was thoroughly enjoying an evening in the BierGarten with my crew when I spotted him standing only 30 feet away. It's not so unbelievable and it wouldn't have been as shocking to me, had not it been his weekend with our 5-year-old daughter V. I immediately begin to wonder where she is, who is babysitting, and why the he didn't bring her along for some good old fashioned German fair fun- what the hay?! 

Before I know it, I am walking in his direction. (Did I mention that he is there with his fiance and V's soon-to-be stepmom? Oh yeah, there's that..)
When I approached him, his group scattered and at that point, it occurred to me that perhaps my presence evoked a time when we weren't so cordial and these folks were desperately trying to maintain their Bier Buzz. Fair enough. In any case, I thought it would be best for me to directly ask where our daughter was rather than wonder all night, or worse, ask her when I pick her up from school on Monday and commit the most heinous of coparenting sins, thou shalt not pump your child for information.   

Our conversation was brief, friendly, informative, and left me feeling exceptionally grown-up. I also felt like a great parent, openly communicating with my daughter's father  despite my own insecurities and discomfort about chatting up the happy couple while my own fiance was lost in the Wursthalle, undoubtedly being flung about the dancefloor by one of those overzealous yet enchanting Omas. 

Many coParents will allow their own unresolved emotional baggage to cloud their judgement in similar situations and lose focus on what should be their ultimate goal-- to separate their own issues from their parenting. A healthy coparent relationship requires respect, trust, and cooperation between mom and dad. When each parent is able to live their life under the assumption that they love and will care for their child equally, some of the burdens that are placed upon children who live in two places is alleviated and thus the child can be a child, not a mediator, messenger, or witness to bitterness and negativity.    

As It turns out, V was with her soon-to-be step-grandparents at Build-a-Bear workshop, and the thought of her snuggling up next to her furry custom creation (undoubtedly a sassy pink princess-y something) warmed my heart and made my night.