Firebirdlifecoach's Blog

Pursuing a Passionate Life

Make a Wish… March 13, 2014

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birthday cakeHere’s an article of mine which was just featured on the Divorce Support Center website. http://divorcesupportcenter.com/

My sons aren’t “little” anymore, though they were when their father and I got divorced. And that was scary! I think the single biggest issue for their father and I

when we decided that our marriage was simply not going to work, was how to end it in such a way that the impact did not negatively affect our children. It wasn’t easy.

Because truly, with the exception of possibly ending an abusive, volatile relationship – how could a divorce negatively affect the kids? The very nature of the beast requires significant changes at the very core of our lives for all of the parties involved, and the importance of stability at home is probably felt most acutely by those who have the least control and resources with which to understand it – the children.

In fact, it is probably true that many couples, stay together “for the children,” despite their own personal needs and desires to separate. Not too long ago, that was probably “the norm,” but not so much anymore. And I am not going to digress here into the “rightness” or “wrongness” of a couple’s decision to remain married or not, there are enough eager voices out there who are willing to judge the life choices of others, mine is not one of them. But I will say this, if you are a parent whether you choose to divorce or stay together – you absolutely have a responsibility to do your best to give your children what they need to grow up into confident, healthy and well-adjusted members of society.

So what does that mean exactly? Well, in the case of divorce, it means keeping your children out of the emotional fray, letting them know how much they are loved, providing as stable and consistent a home life as possible, fostering healthy relationships with both of their parents, being there to support their emotions, and finding other outlets to deal with your own: for starters.

And you may not want to hear this but if you thought that parenting was challenging before, you better brace yourself for the challenges of single-parenthood, which is not to say that it won’t at some point become easier and more normative. But if the situation allows it, the reality is, they still have another parent and is your best option. It isn’t always easy; after all your emotions are running high, too.

But you are the grown-up, and your children need you now more than ever to act like one. Agreeing with your spouse to put the needs of your kids first – is the first step. And you may need to remind yourselves, over and over, and in countless ways, what this actually means on a day-to-day basis – but you will be rewarded in the long run.

Last week was my son’s nineteenth birthday. It was his tenth birthday since his father and I separated. And I was a bit surprised when about a week earlier he had asked me if his dad could join us for dinner. I said, “Yes.” And though clearly it wasn’t the “nuclear family” of yester-year, it was a pleasant evening. I made his favorite dinner and his dad made his favorite cake. I don’t think any of us, for even a moment were fooled by the guest list into thinking that we were the same family that we had been years before, and yet we were still a family inextricably and forever bound to one another.

It was awkward and fine. But most importantly, my sons were both happy, and that’s what it’s all about.

 

Through the Eyes of a Child December 13, 2013

eyes
(As some of you may know, I am a regular, contributing expert on divorce for several online publications. The below post, is actually a copy of my most recent submission, so the “voice” of the article may sound a little different than what you are used to here. That said, I think it’s an important topic, particularly at this time of year, so I thought I would share it here, too.)

“Sorry I couldn’t give you that game console you asked for, if your dad paid his child support on time, maybe I would have been able to afford it.”
“It looks like it’s just you and me for the holidays this year, your mom is so wrapped up in her new family, she doesn’t have time for us.”
“Is your father going to do anything at all for the holidays, or does he just expect that I will do everything, just like I always did when we were married?”

When you read words like that, you may think, “I would never say such a thing in front of my children, even if I was thinking it” and if that’s the case and it never happens – then great! You are doing well, with something that is often very difficult to “master” in the wake of a divorce, particularly, if it was a contentious one. But for many it is hard to not let your feelings and frustrations bubble over, particularly at this time of year, when added responsibilities and financial pressures can make you feel squeezed beyond your normal tolerance level. It’s hard, it’s really hard and sometimes even with the best of intentions, we may vent in front of our kids often in an effort to explain away what we are a experiencing as some sort of inability to create the holiday memories for our children that we had wanted to. But clearly, allowing ourselves to let these sort of comments, slip out can be a lot worse for our kids than whatever it was we were trying to justify or explain away in the first place.

Have you ever really thought about what your child hears and feels when you say something like this? Chances are, it is not what you intended.

It doesn’t give them a better understanding of why there are less presents under the tree. It doesn’t prove to them that you are the parent who has their best interest in mind. And it doesn’t benefit anyone to have them “choose a side”. All it really does is – hurt.

This is their mother or their father that you are talking about. Children need to know that their parents love and care about them and undermining that, doesn’t really just undermine your ex, it undermines the very foundation of a child’s self-worth and self-confidence. It is true in some circumstances, the other parent may be disengaged, non-supportive or even abusive – but driving that home isn’t really the best message you could be giving your child; not at the holidays and frankly, not anytime.

If you need to vent, write in your journal, give out a scream when you are driving alone in your car, talk to your family, friends, therapist, coach or support group – but leave your kids out of it. The best gift you can give your kids this holiday is: yourself. Let them know, you are there, that you love them, are proud of them and a grateful to have them in your life. We can all go without “stuff”. One more video game left on the store shelf due to lack of funds, pales in comparison to the warmth and confidence of a child who knows they are valued and cared for. Do not let your disappointments become theirs. It’s not about the stuff, it never has been. Look through the eyes of your child, take a moment to see the world as they see it – and then give them what they really need. It doesn’t and will never come in a box.

 

My Pride November 14, 2013

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IMG_0617Beautiful, handsome young man,
Towering over his mama.
Quietly traveling along his life’s path.
Responsible, wise, intuitive.
Slyly funny, loves to tease,
A closed mouth grin, sideways glance and twinkling eyes.
Sometimes unapproachable; a feral cat,
Interacts on his own terms.
Internally driven, externally achieving,
So bright, so confident, so calm.
Bursting with pride,
Overflowing with love,
Mama’s baby-boy.

 

Milestones and Memories August 12, 2012

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It’s a big day here – in fact it has been a pretty big summer – family transition-wise that is. I can’t help but think about it – as it feels all immersive. Changes for sure are a constant, day-to-day, moment-to-moment everything is in a constant state of flux – and though at times it can feel rather subtle and almost unnoticeable, that has not been the case on the home front these days. I feel like we are all, my little family and I, going through some major milestones lately – which has the net result of raising emotional levels on all scores and creating a lot of both reflective and anticipatory thinking.

My fifteen year old son has been away in New Hampshire for the last seven weeks, working as a camp counselor at a boys’ camp. He returns home this evening! And I have to tell ya – it’s a big deal. Never have either of my boys been away from home for more than a week ever before in their lives. Not only that, but at fifteen, this was his first job, aside from walking the neighbor’s dog and doing household chores. I went up to visit him last weekend and I couldn’t help but marvel at what a wonderful young man he has become, not that I hadn’t noticed him moving in this direction before, but, “Wow”. There before me was a 6′ 2″, handsome, composed, confident, bright and dryly, funny young man. The same child who went away several weeks earlier, but somehow more “complete”. Watching him transform from his role as the “younger brother” who followed his sibling’s every move as a little boy – into the presence that he is today has been a glorious experience for me. I can’t wait to give him a big, fat hug and am positively anticipating seeing what he will be like in the upcoming year.

And in the meantime, the plan is to go “back-to-school” shopping with his older brother today. (As soon as I finish this blog as a matter of fact.) But this isn’t any regular back-to-school trip – today we are going off to buy him the things he will need when he goes off to college in a couple of weeks! Notebooks, and pens will come later, today we are looking for a mini-refrigerator, a small microwave and the like. Holy cow – my baby is soon to be leaving home. On Friday, he and I spent the day together, visiting an art museum in the city and taking in lunch, it was lovely. And again – as I sat – looking at this beautiful young man – I couldn’t help but to have my heart swell with joy, excitement, wonder and some sadness. This is it – that launching that you anticipate for eighteen years – it is here – and I guess we are both ready. It surely wasn’t always easy – but what a gift and a privilege it has been. Though no one knows what will come  – you know that this shift is huge – and going forward interactions will always be a little different.

I am filled with nostalgic memories of my two boys, and with a heart-tugging bittersweetness as I look forward along side of them at their futures. Changes happen every day, but these ones feel particularly big. My babies, my boys, my young men – always cherished – always loved – they fill my heart with pride and joy. I will miss what was – and look forward to what will be.

 

Study-hall-house, shhhhhhh January 5, 2012

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The environment in the house tonight is “all work”. It distinctly has that feeling of being in a college dorm during finals week. Everybody hunkered down doing their work quietly, seriously and individually. And yet, there is, at least for me, this sense of shared experience and camaraderie. It’s a little strange – but I have to say – “I kind of like it.”

“The senior” is working on the final draft of an essay that is due tomorrow. Unfortunately, he is a bit of a procrastinator, so the pressure is on. He has quietly secluded himself in the computer room – doesn’t like any noise, doesn’t want any distractions. Okay with me, as long as he is getting the working done. I am happy to tip-toe around if that will help him do his best work.

“The freshman”, having misunderstood the due date on an important science lab – is finishing his math homework – while I finish up on the laptop, when he is ready to get to the lab – I shall relinquish “my” computer and begin dinner prep. I certainly have more that I would like to get done on this machine tonight – but I believe his deadline is more pressing. So once dinner prep is complete – I shall switch my efforts over to written projects, lists and writings.

“The boyfriend” is stationed at his usual spot on the dining room table – attending to the tasks he has on his “to-do” list. Willingly and supportively working with the family schedule and flowing right along. The only sound to be heard is the gurgling of an empty stomach, as he too adjusts with the pushed-back dinner schedule.

So dinner will be late, cause I am putting off relinquishing my machine until I absolutely have to. Hopefully, we will all join together for a little repast – regain our strength and get back to our individual tasks replenished and renewed. We shall see…

I know there have been times when the house felt this quiet before – but there is something in the air that feels different. For me, my moments with this blog are numbered as I know I have to give-up the machine momentarily. I just wanted to mark this funny little moment in time. And put the wish out to the universe that I hope we all get accomplished what we need to tonight – and are able to rest easy – with the satisfaction of knowing that we did our best. Shhhhhh…..

 

Meeting “The Man” July 20, 2011

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My son just left to get his hair cut. It’s a big deal for him, not exactly as big a deal as it was for Samson – but close enough for this non-biblical tale. For the last year or so – with varying degrees of enthusiasm – he has been trying to get a part-time job in this relatively small town. There isn’t much out there and until a month or so ago his prospects were looking pretty bleak. But it seemed that he had finally landed something at a local pizza chain and went in last week as planned to fill out the required paperwork – only to be told, “Come back next week and in the meantime – get your hair cut.” And so, reluctantly he trod off to hair salon with old photo of a younger, shorter “tressed” version of himself in hand as a guide.

My son – “has my hair”. Not literally of course I have plenty of my own – but genetically he seems to have gotten the thick, curly locks of his Italian-American mother, and though it is not as long as it was a year ago, he doesn’t wear it short. And it suits him. He is a good kid, who likes to think of himself as a free-thinking, non-conformist – and his hair was such a notable characteristic in his overall look – that there is probably not another physical change in his appearance that would have as big an impact. So cutting his hair is really not something he wants to do – and yet he is accepting it as a necessary trade-off in getting a job, which clearly he wanted and needed even more. It’s one of those “life lessons” he likely will not forget.

In order to make our way out in the “real world” there will be a lot of compromises along the way. Sometimes we choose to go along with what is asked of us, and sometimes we do not. The trick is knowing who you are, what is important to you and what you are willing to give up or not. Learning to negotiate the compromise is something that we need to master on some level as we face the responsibilities of living life in this world. I will miss my son’s longish locks, but I am proud of the young man who made the decision to get them cut in order to move forward. He can grow his hair again one day if that’s what he wants to do – and the growth he will get from this experience is just one step out into the big world that will require a lot more from him some day.

 

School of Thought September 20, 2010

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Yesterday, I took my 16-year-old son for a preliminary look at a couple of nearby college campuses. He wasn’t really very enthused about the trip. In fact he simply didn’t want to go – and was very unhappy that I was disturbing his Sunday plans to do his chores and his homework and then go “hang-out” with his friends. “I know”, I said “but this is what we are going to do – so let’s make the best of it”. It was a long and grueling struggle and honestly by the time we got to our first destination, I was feeling pretty frustrated and defeated by the emotional wrangling to get there. But at that moment, something shifted, I am not quite sure what, and reaching a compromise that involved driving through, rather than walking around campuses we began a process that felt better for both of us.

The point of the trip – was not for him to choose one of the schools we were seeing (necessarily) but rather to get the sense of what different kinds of campuses “feel” like and to begin to get a perspective on the differences between big and small, public and private, suburban and urban campuses, and to begin to have a sense of which environments felt best to him, cause right now he has no idea of what he wants to study or where he wants to be or even how to begin the process of making such a choice. Additionally, I was hoping that it might give him a bit of inspiration; something to start getting excited about, something to fuel his resolve to work hard this year so that he can have choices about where he will eventually end up attending school. Ultimately, I think it was a successful experience, though earlier in the day I wasn’t so sure.

What I didn’t elaborate on is that in fact we have choices all along life’s path. That midway through his college career he could change majors and schools, that years from now, he may decide to go back to school for a degree in a totally different area, or that he may find himself working in a field that has nothing to do with what he “thought” he wanted to do, and loving it. That can all come later. The reality is all we really ever have to work with is what we bring to the table in the present moment. Sure, a good education from a well-respected school doesn’t hurt when opening up opportunities for future choices, but life can always surprise you with a curveball or two – some good, some not so good.

Nonetheless, this doesn’t dismiss us from becoming active participants in the process. We all need to have goals, to have dreams and aspirations for the life we want to lead. The choices are ongoing and constant, we can give ourselves the opportunity to do what makes us feel like we are at our best or we can choose to settle. But the responsibility is ours alone. Your life is what you make it, and there will be plenty of times when you have no clue as to what direction you want to head in but the possibility always awaits for us to find it out there. The trick is being open to the whispers of inspiration that surround us every day and the fortitude to follow our dreams. To make mistakes and to try again, to be disappointed and to persevere, and to be the person we know we were meant to be – that’s the ticket.

 

Birthday Wishes August 19, 2010

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Yesterday was my oldest son’s 16th birthday. Eek! And Yay! And Wow! All at the same time…

Hard to believe we are here already. This feels like a big one. From the maternal perspective, I really feel the awareness of his growing into a young man, up and away. I couldn’t help myself from spending quite a bit of time reflecting and reminiscing on his life (and subsequently, mine) these last sixteen years and thinking about the future ahead of him. There’s definitely a bittersweet aspect to it all, as I am filled with a myriad of emotional reactions to his growing up and moving forward.

No one fully warns you when you start thinking about having kids what a roller-coaster of emotion you are about to embark on. It is a truly profound experience. The “wanting” I have felt as a mother for their happiness, for their safety, for their lives and experiences to be filled with all the good and beautiful things in the world and none of the pain and suffering is stronger than almost anything else I have ever experienced. And when you couple that with the awareness of how little control you actually have over the whole business, that experience can be quite staggering. There are many times along the way when as an honest person I have thought to myself, “My God, what was I thinking!” And yet there has never been anything so amazing and beautiful, either.

So as he (and I) pass through this touchstone, and he is learning how he wants to position himself in this life, I too am learning (slowly but surely) how to adjust my role to allow for his growth, to be there to guide and limit, support and encourage, to keep loving and loosen my grasp all at the same time. It’s not easy, in fact I have never done anything this difficult in my life, but it is worth it. The scrapes that I tend to, may be more metaphorical than physical these days, the healing and growth more internal than external, but as I try to ease back and let him make his way, I know that he is an incredible person and I look forward to seeing not only all that he is, but all that he will become. Happy Birthday Sweet Boy, mommy loves you!

 

Balancing the Scale July 15, 2010

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Yesterday, I had the distinct pleasure of watching a single hummingbird flit around my yard for what felt like an inordinate amount of time. I have a garden full of bright, pink phlox which apparently it found particularly attractive, and it buzzed from one flower to the next doing it’s thing. After a moment or so – it flew over to my apple tree where it lighted for a bit before trying the flowers again. And then, as if it heard my wishes for a closer view, came to one of the hanging baskets on my porch, just a few feet away from where I sat before disappearing into the neighbor’s yard. What a treat! I cannot ever remember having the opportunity to observe one for what felt like such an extended period of time. It really started my day off on the right foot.

I wish I could say that the rest of the day was as wondrous as that little moment had been, but it was not. Though it was particularly productive, which I needed immensely, the afternoon took a major dip as my teen son and I locked horns in what I guess would be considered a “battle of wills”. Nobody won. And though as the evening wore on – the overall mood relaxed tremendously – I think we were both hobbling a bit from the experience.

A simple sweet high to start the day, an emotional, tense low to punctuate the afternoon and a quiet resolve by the evening – it was quite a ride. This morning – no hummingbirds are treating me to a sighting and I am feeling a bit worn-out still from yesterday’s tussle. Navigating the highs and lows is a constant daily challenge we all face. There are moments of grace and episodes of stress and our job is to reset the system as best we can to face the events that confront us on a new day. As I slowly work my way over to my own reset button I find that I am filled with a sense of gratitude and wonder.

The universe has blessed me both with its simple sweetness in the form of a beautiful observance of nature and a willful and amazing son. Feeling the love I do for both and the privilege to be in such close contact with the things and people I adore is the gift that will refuel my battery cell this morning and give me the energy to face whatever this new day holds in store for me. My recommendation for the day – find that thing (or things) that give you your inspiration and hold them in your focus – it is the wonder of these simple beauties which can magically transform our experiences.

 

Parenthood’s Secret Societies April 13, 2010

I am now officially the mother of two teenage sons! Yesterday my youngest turned 13, and there is no denying it now, not that I would necessarily try. I now have the slightest glimmer into the secret society for parents of teens. I remember feeling similarly when my children were little. I had taken my son to the mall to do a little shopping, and we had his stroller with us. I had previously been able to move freely through the mall traveling among the various floors by escalator and stairs but now I was in need of an elevator. When a salesperson directed me to the back corner of one of the department stores to the elevator there I came face-to-face with a legion of parents with strollers waiting for their ride. I remember thinking I had unofficially been inducted into the “secret society of stroller moms” that previously I had not known existed. There is a similar sense – being a parent of teens – though this time instead of a hidden elevator or a secret handshake – there is a nod, eye-rolling and sigh – as we recognize each other as part of the club. As if to say, “Yeah, me too, good luck with that!”

This is a challenging age, there is no denying that. As they get older, and begin to individuate our once pleasant children can become oppositional in their independence as they strive to make their own decisions and begin the transition into adulthood. It is amazing to observe and it is not without quite a bit of pride and wonder that I am able to watch my sons become the young men that they are, but the process can be difficult as I now have to confront my own issues with letting them go and easing up on their constraints. After all, I am not looking to raise to dependent individuals who are unable to make decisions on their own or who aim to live eternity under the roof of their mother. This is what it’s all about – isn’t it? Letting them go, watching them grow and develop and become happy, self-confident, fully functioning contributors to society – is the basic framework for what our goal is as parents(though I really could flesh that out quite a bit more, I believe you get the idea). That doesn’t make it easy however and yet I do not think any of us are best served by focusing on the difficulties.

So though I may be a member of the secret society, I choose to endeavor to do my best to focus on the positive aspects of this phase of their lives. Sure there will be plenty of sighing and eye-rolling – but there will also be many smiles and beams of pride. People love to unite around their shared misery – I choose to enjoy the wonder of seeing these two young men emerge into the world.  In Appreciative Inquiry they call this “Fanning” (see: Jacqueline Bascobert Kelm, Appreciative Living; The Principles of Appreciative Inquiry in Personal Life, 2005) it is a simple method of positive reinforcement, focusing on and encouraging the behaviors you want rather than on trying to eradicate those you do not. I think we all might do better with that approach. So the next time someone ask me how old my kids are, the answer is “I have two teenage sons – and it’s great!”