Tag Archives: Single Parenting

The one where I’m unable to accept HELP.

My husband and I take part in a cooking team that makes meals for the Sunday service at our church. We only do it once a month, and it’s admittedly a lot of fun. But it’s also 4+ hours of hard work prepping, cooking, cleaning, setting up, serving, tearing down, cleaning more… You get the picture.

Our team consists of four members with random help on the side. But mostly, our group of four is responsible for seeing things through. We each took on a job to get the meal – nachos – done. I decided to take on the cheese sauce. And since I would be at the stove anyway, I’d take on browning the turkey too.

More than once, I was asked if I needed help. And every time I insisted I was fine. I was determined to get it done, to prove I could do it all.

I set about the kitchen, running back and forth to get the meat into the pan while the butter melted for the cheese sauce. I got the rue going, and then began adding milk. Then I rushed back to the meat to make sure it wasn’t burning. I finished adding the milk to the rue and stirred it.

And then I smelled it. Burnt.

Thing is, if I had asked for help, none of that would have happened. I had to bite back my pride and admit that the sauce was ruined. There was no more butter, so one of the guys had to go to the store to get some more. And when he came back, I asked him if he could be in charge of the sauce while I focused on the meat.

The story would be fine ending there. But it doesn’t.

After handing off the cheese sauce, my only job was to stir the two pans of meat in front of me. I could handle this, I got this. My pride was terribly wounded from the cheese sauce fiasco, but I was determined to get the meat cooking right. So when one of the girls came up to see if I could use some help, I told her NO. She started stirring one of the pans anyway.

“But this is my job,” I protested, as if I were a 5 year old guarding my mountain of blocks.

“But my job is done,” she cheerfully replied. So we stood together, all three of us surrounding this stove to finish cooking everything up.  At first I was terribly bothered. It was too crowded. And she was probably stepping in so I couldn’t screw this up too. I felt tied up in knots inside. But then, I decided to let it go. I took a deep breath and let it out. And then we all chatted the rest of the time. It was actually fun.

The meal was done, and we set it out to serve it. I stayed with the turkey while my husband poured the cheese sauce. The other guy offered to take over for me so I could eat, but I told him I was fine. When the line dispersed, I got my own plate. Then I served the stragglers in between bites.

Once everyone had eaten, it was time to start bagging things up. We all started putting things away. The cheese sauce had a ton leftover, so I started pouring it in bags so people could take some home. It was a messy job, and by the fifth bag I was beginning to wonder if it would ever be over.

“Here, I’ll hold this for you,” the girl said to me.

“I got it,” I said.

This time she didn’t fight me. And I saw myself in her eyes as she gave up and walked away.

grumpy girlI was selfish. I was unfriendly. I was a snob. I couldn’t find it in me to step down off my pedestal and accept that I NEEDED HELP.

What is wrong with me? I hate that I do this! The truth is, I can always use some help! I can’t do it on my own! And there’s nothing wrong with working together to get things done.

It might just be my single-mother syndrome. I spent all those years actually doing things on my own, and taking pride in that. Before that, I hadn’t been able to do anything on my own at all. I depended on everyone. But when I got on my feet and was able to provide for my kids without a husband, without my parents, without state money…it just felt good.

But now? Now I’ve got this chip in my shoulder that has me believing that accepting help is a sign of weakness, when it’s totally the opposite of that. There are strength in numbers. And we are here on this planet to build each other up.

I didn’t like that person I was on Sunday. I’m embarrassed at the way I acted. But maybe it needed to happen to drive the lesson home that it’s okay to receive help. We can all use help. It gets things done faster, and it builds connections.

I think this is going to be a hard lesson to forget.

Want more? Download “Golf Balls, Eight Year Olds & Dual Paned Windows” – our Wine Country Mom stories about our former single-parent family life.

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Single-parenting eBook – Golf Balls, Eight Year Olds & Dual Paned Windows

“It was two lifetimes ago when I left my husband, the father of my children.
The next lifetime was spent recovering from the aftermath. But it wasn’t until after that first year – when I woke up into my third lifetime – when I realized I could actually survive being a single mother.”

And so begins the book of stories from our single-parent family, “Golf Balls, Eight Year Olds & Dual Paned Windows”.

Buy it on Amazon: amzn.to/13imM4s

The book chronicles the beginnings of our adventure – telling tales of moody tween days, healing childhood heartaches, single parent dating, and of course, watching as my child hits a golf ball with impressive accuracy at his grandparents’ dual paned window.

The stories were adapted from the tales I told in this blog. Because of the contract I agreed to with Amazon, you will no longer find those stories here in this blog. But the cost of this eBook is being kept super low so that it’s easy to buy.

And if you wait until Monday, July 29th to buy, you can actually download it for FREE.

It’s my way of saying Thank You for all your love and support in our many transitions in this single mom adventure.

For more on this book, visit my author page at crissilangwell.com.

One more thing, if you download and read the book, be sure to let me know what you think of it in the Amazon reviews. Thank you!

The fine art of being selfish (excerpt)

I’m currently in the process of taking old posts of mine and putting them together in a book.  Right now I’m working on posts I wrote in 2009 – the days when I was a single mom with two kids and had just met my Mr. Wonderful.  Today I edited one of my favorite inspirational posts, one with advice I have given many times over to lots of moms – whether single or not.

How to regain your sense of self instead of placing your whole identity in your kids.

(P.S. I just wrote an article for the newspaper on a mom, on a journey through fashion, who emphasized this truth as well.  Check it out HERE)

Look for this chapter in my upcoming book on single parenting!

THE FINE ART OF BEING SELFISH (excerpt)

When kids are young, we as moms become totally immersed in motherhood. Suddenly everything is about the kids. It’s our tendency to go from being totally involved in ourselves, our work, our marriage, and our friendships – to being involved solely in our kids. Upon the arrival of these little beings, our whole world suddenly revolves around them.

It’s hard to break away from that.

I was no exception. For most of my married life, I was a stay at home mom. I volunteered at my daughter’s preschool. I carted the kids every single place I needed to go. I gave up going out at night in favor of staying with the kids. I sacrificed my personal interests and dreams one by one as interests and dreams wrapping around them took their place.

I was a mom. That was my name, my identity, and my world.

Most days the kids were the only beings on earth that heard my voice. I’m not saying that this is how it is supposed to be in motherhood, or even that most moms suddenly mutate into this being that resembles more gray than any other color. But that’s what happened to me.

For me, it took a divorce to shake me out of the clutches of “hermitting” into motherhood. It was jarring when my kids spent their first weekend away from me with their dad. I knew that I was aching to have a break, to not have anyone to worry about other than myself. But once that happened, I had no idea what to do with myself. How did I survive before the kids came along? What did I do with myself and my time? Suddenly there were too many hours in the day, and the world was much too quiet. I knew I needed to do something with this gifted time, but what? I didn’t have a lot of friends, having let a lot of friendships go to the wayside as my focus changed. And I really hadn’t done much else but kids’ activities in the past several years.

I needed a plan.

End of excerpt. Read the rest in the eBook “Golf Balls, Eight Year Olds & Dual Paned Windows“.

 

Kid-free week

Right now my kids are a couple days into their visit with their dad. He doesn’t live close by, so their visits are mostly dedicated to longer weekends or vacation times. This means they don’t get to see him very much. Luckily, social alternatives like cell phones and Facebook have allowed for a constant communication between them. The other result of such few and far between visits is that I get pretty used to them being around. So when they aren’t, the house is pretty empty.

This time around, it’s a little different. It used to feel ultra lonely when they’d leave for their dad’s house and I was stuck in an empty apartment. There is only so much cleaning and straightening that can be done. And the quiet that was once so coveted starts to feel louder than the noise. Even taking advantage of being kid-free by going out still meant I was coming home to an empty house. This time, however, I’m not alone – Mr. W and his son are still around while my kids visit the other half of their life. But even with the added company, it’s hard to know what to do with myself when my whole identity is wrapped up in being a mother.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I have definitely taken advantage of the reprieve from parenthood so far. I’m not even going to pretend that I’ve been moping around the house, because I haven’t. Even though my kids are older and don’t require a ton of assistance in whatever they are up to, I’ve found a ton more time on my hands to do things like read a book, relax in the sun, and even enjoyed a visit to Francis Ford Coppola’s pool in Geyserville (seriously a must for all you families!) without having to keep an eye on the kids to ensure they weren’t drowning or bugging anyone around them. A delicious Mai Tai even made it to my hand, thus enhancing my relaxed state. 🙂 

Before the kids left I made it a point to spend an even better amount of quality time with them. The night before their departure, I dyed their hair the awful red color they had been begging me to ruin their do’s with (see photo). Actually, I kind of like it – if I can just perfect the application process. The day they were to leave I did every single bit of their laundry, including all the towels that had been dyed red. I had been up all night with stomach yuckiness – no doubt a result of nerves over my kids being gone for so long – and I hung out on the couch with my daughter as we folded laundry and watched chick flicks. And before we made the long drive to their grandfather (who would transport them the rest of the way), I bought us all smoothies at Juice Shack, which we happily slurped the whole way there.

Since they left, the kids haven’t called me once. And I haven’t expected them to. In fact, it’s a good sign they haven’t because it means they are having a good time. Their dad, on the other hand, has been wonderfully keeping me informed of what they are up to. He called me the day they arrived with their grandfather to let me know they were there safe, and to go over the details of Taz’ diet and videogame restrictions, and other such instructions my little mini-mom DQ gave him just to be on the same page. He called on Father’s Day to fill me in on the events of the day and what he had planned for the kids. And he even admitted today that the Taz stayed up all last night (and has been sleeping all day) when the Ex forgot to snag the video game controllers before they went to bed, sending me a photo of the little gamer.

It’s a huge difference from the tumultuous way we used to interact with each other in the first few years of our divorce.

There are a few more days left before the kids come back. It’s funny, when the kids are here I can think of a million things I’d love to do that require kid-free time – most ending up in some sort of beachy scenery with a tropical drink and next to no clothing. However, with the kids gone, I find that my time is pretty much the same as when they’re here – just quieter. I do miss the kids, and can’t wait to see them again. But at the same time I would hate to let this rare opportunity pass me by without taking advantage of the situation a little – thus missing it once it’s gone.

If you could snag a good amount of kid-free time, what would you be doing with it?

Merging families without marriage

Sound off: Is an unmarried merge of families setting a bad example for the kids?

Two weeks ago I wrote about moving in with my boyfriend, Mr. W.  This was a decision we did not take lightly in our 2 ½ years of being in a relationship with each other, and I’ll be moved out of my own place and into his by this weekend.  By moving in with each other, we are each giving up our total independence of having a space to call all our own – something that became very sacred in each of our single lives.  We’re giving up the separateness of our families as we combine them into something new.  But these are no longer sacrifices as we gain so much more – more time with each other, a shared life, a break in the financial obligations, and all the other perks of living with the one you love.

There was plenty of discussion before we finally came to this stage of feeling confident enough (and out of shellshock from our previous divorces) to be able to live with someone we love once again, plus going through the complicated process of combining families.  We’re making a bunch of decisions that are solidifying the permanent status of our relationship – but without yet being married.

Understandably so, several readers took issue with this – questioning the example that is being set for the kids, as well as feeling that “it’s a slap in the face” to those who are married.  I had originally written this article as a story of hope for those just starting their single parent adventure, feeling pulled apart by the financial hardships and lack of time that go along with that role.  But I realized there is a whole other issue at hand that needs to be discussed –

Merging families without marriage.

According to a survey conducted by the Census Bureau in 2007, 6.4 million couples chose to cohabitate before marriage – making up roughly 10% of all opposite sex coupled Americans, and rising almost 1.5 million since 2006.  And of that number, 45% of them had children living in the household that were related to at least one of the cohabitating adults.  And while past research showed a higher percentage of failed marriages in those who chose to live together before marriage, the present research shows there’s virtually no difference.

I have several friends who chose to live together before marriage.  One couple in particular just recently tied the knot, and is now in the final stages of an adoption process that will make their unified family complete.  Another couple, who has no children, is showing no interest in ever getting married.  And yet it’s unthinkable that they would ever split up despite their lack of marriage license.  My sister (also no kids) is in the process of planning a wedding with her fiancée while also living with him.  And one couple that swore off marriage yet raised a whole family together for 30+ years finally bit the bullet and exchanged rings a few years back – after their kids were raised, finished college, and making lives of their own.  Heck, even the royal couple, William and Kate, are setting their own cohabitation example for the world while in the spotlight by “living in sin”.  And another couple I know are raising their two children together and are unmarried.  In fact, they weren’t even allowed to marry until recently, being that they are also lesbian.

I have friends who did not move in together at all until their wedding night – planning a life together in separate homes, yet letting the reality of it be a mystery until they were legally joined. One I wrote about here, her marriage 6 months ago also symbolizing a sacred promise to her new husband.  My own parents just celebrated 34 years of marriage last week, starting their new life together on their wedding night.  And another couple I know who waited until marriage to cohabitate has been married for 40 years – yet are now living in, not only separate beds, but separate homes, just so that they can remain happily married without killing each other. 

And then there are my single mom friends who choose NOT to live with someone else while raising kids.  One in particular has only been divorced for 4 or so years, has a steady boyfriend, and promises she will never marry nor cohabitate again.  She enjoys her personal living space too much, and she’s adamant in her unwillingness to ever give it up – especially while raising her kids.  This same mom lived with her ex-husband before they got married and had children, and shared a wonderful marriage with him before they grew apart and divorced.  

So here’s your chance to sound off – no judgment.  I’d love to hear your point of view about living together before marriage in general.  Do you see a problem with it?  Does your view change if there are no kids involved?  Do you think relationships suffer from living together before marriage, or suffer if a couple does NOT live together before marriage?  Do you have a personal story to share?  Let me know.  And as always, anonymous comments are welcome, but mean comments are not.

Goodbye single mom home.

So Mr. W and I are planning on shacking up in the next couple of weeks.  We’ve been working out the details for several months now.  Mapped out are how the kids will be going to school, how the finances will be split up, who gets to park where in the driveway, and calendars coordinated to include a merged family’s daily schedule.   Each kid has their own room, and they’ve selected colors to paint the walls and make their space more personal (DQ has a lovely shade of brown, the Taz chose a wild shade of bright golden yellow after I put my foot down over “Startling Orange”.  Trust me, it was definitely startling). And Mr. W’s son gets a brand new room that we’ve had built just for him.

Every day I’ve been setting time aside to go through the corners of each room, separating my items into ones I want to keep and ones I want to give away.  It’s not a fast process, placing my hands on things I haven’t seen for years, bringing memories of the past several years flooding back in.  There’s my diary that I kept from the very beginning, chronicling every triumph and mistake I’ve made in my dating life after divorce (oh, the juicy shame in that little book!).  There’s the box of art that contains a Mother’s Day card that turned into an “I’m Sorry” card when the kids spent the morning fighting while I waited for their promised breakfast in bed.  There are the clothes I no longer fit into when I took a stand and decided to lose the weight I’d put on and take pride in my appearance.  There are the blue flowered plates I coveted so long that now sit in my cupboard.  And there are cabinets upon cabinets of kitchen supplies I’ve collected over the years when all I started out with was a drawer full of borrowed silverware, $2 ugly dishes, a few dented baking sheets, and a pan I used for everything.  All of it is now to be divided up, bit by bit.  And while it’s freeing to be rid of some of the clutter and exciting to be moving into a new life, it’s a little melancholy as well.  For in those boxes, I’ve divided different compartments of me – deciding what of myself I’m keeping and what I’ll be saying goodbye to.

I moved in here a scared single mom.  I had never lived on my own, and frankly, I had doubts about what I was capable of.  Could I afford to feed my kids and pay my bills all at the same time?  Would the landlord kick me out once she realized I was just a silly girl playing make-believe house?    Would my mom say “I told you so” when it proved to be too hard and I needed to move back home?  All we had in the house was a kitchen table and our beds.  But it was after a few friends made the house a home by furnishing the rest with donated items that I realized it.  This was home.  And I was determined to succeed.  I became a wizard with my money, making it work each month even when I wasn’t exactly sure how it happened.  I watched every penny, and my landlord never had to worry about when my rent was going to come to her.  I went from a stay-at-home housewife to a full time worker, to where I finally am now in the desk I’ve always wanted to sit in.  We graduated from a timid family just barely scraping by to a seasoned one that knew the ins and outs of being a one parent household…and having that be no big thing. 

Frankly, we made it. 

I think I needed to prove this to myself more than anything, that I really was capable of anything even when I wasn’t coupled in a marriage.  I created my own white picket fence reality.  It may not have been perfect to everyone, but dammit, it was mine.  Being a single mom didn’t diminish who I was, it made me more.  And I take pride in that as I leave my single mom house behind and join into one of a partnership with Mr. W.  Yes, I’m saying goodbye to my complete independence, my very own bed, bills and schedules that are dealt with in my own way, and dinners on my own terms.  But in exchange, I’m gaining space I’ll share with my best friend, another son, a partner in parenting three fantastic kids, waking up to the man I love every morning, someone to help me clean and cook, help with the bills…  I’m gaining a co-conspirator in life.  And knowing that I could do it all on my own, that I did, what I’m gaining now means that much more.