There Ain’t No Elf On My Shelf (And That’s Okay.)

An opportunity for bright, new holiday traditions – without obligation.

The holidays are a challenging time of year for single, step and blended families like mine. Traditions that once had sweet roots in the family I created find themselves soured in “the other family” we have become.
Every year, I’m confronted by those traditions. Every year, it’s a lump of coal come early. Continue reading

Family, Creating a Place to Belong

Where do I belong?

I see it in my kids’ eyes when they look at me when we reunite after a weekend with their dads. It’s a quiet searching, a longing, an uncertainty reaching out for reassurance. It’s a question:

Where do I belong? Do I belong with you?

And I see it in their actions. As soon as we get home, they check their rooms, “Can I go see my room?” They flit around the house perching briefly here and there, noticing little changes, arranging and visiting their things before they “settle.”

Did anything change? Is it all how I left it?

Then, of course, there is their behavior. The limit testing – testing, not only whether they belong, but whether it is safe where they belong.

Are the rules the same? Is she the same?

And I remember it from my childhood – looking over my shoulder as I left one house, worrying forward as I approached the other.

Sometimes I felt like there were two me’s – one for each house I lived in, one for each set of parents. {Tweet}

In retrospect, I think there was.

(Does this experience also apply to “regular” families with “regular” kids? I think so. Share your thoughts in the comments!)

In school, I loved being on various teams. I know I’m not alone when I express how grateful I am to the coaches who build those teams. We were family when my own family was hard to belong to.

But even beyond the team itself, the places were the same, the rules were the same. When the rhythm of public school called for a migration into summer routines, on my return each year, I knew where I belonged with those people, in that place, under those rules.

Baby Bird Returning

Until recently, I was always just trying to either survive my family or help them survive the world, so belonging wasn’t anything I gave much thought to.

Do you remember the first place you felt a sense of belonging? What about the first time you wanted to belong to something?

(How would your children answer these questions? You could ask them.)

For most of us, the first place we felt like we belonged was our family. And for most of us, we certainly wanted to belong to it.

Did you always feel like you belonged to your family?

The winds of life lead us all in unexpected directions. Many of us have felt like we have lost at some point.

do you belong

This bird’s nest above the door at my mother’s house was there for years. I wonder if it is the same bird family that still lives there.

I’ve talked with several adults who had solid, secure childhoods but remember what it felt like when a bit of family news wasn’t shared with them, remember what it felt like when they discovered their childhood bedroom was turned into an office, or remember what it felt like when their parents divorced later in life.

They felt left out. Moved out – maybe betrayed. It was a disorienting time, a confusing experience.

I imagine it is like being a baby bird who after several flights from its nest, each trip growing longer and longer, returns one day to find the nest is no longer there – or that new birds belong there.

One more question: how does it feel to be confused about where you belong?

Family is a place

Though there are many sad origin stories, and though we may have wished it had all been different, for most of us our first family was our first opportunity to belong.

They were there before playmates. They were there before classmates and before first dates – before the man married and the children born. We took our first tentative flights into the world with our brothers and learned to navigate life from our parents. They roped us in, bound us to each other, drew us together until many became one, one thing to belong to – a family.

Family is a place to belong. {Tweet}

And when the greedy playmates, mean classmates and bad dates happen, by design, we can return to our nest and find that our family is still there.

This is why developing a strong family identity, so we know where we belong, is something we need. But where do we begin?

I don’t know.

When I went off to college, leaving behind my teams and friends and a youth group, the only belonging I felt was to an old boyfriend. (You can imagine how that worked out!)

I went reeling into the world without much to balance me for years. And it has been a cycle. Despite many ongoing, positive familial relationships, with the recent death of my mother, I feel once more uprooted.

So even now, in my more grounded state, developing a family identity – a place to belong – for my own children is a hard to figure out.

(That’s how {TFB} came about – because I was (and am) struggling with how to protect my children from feeling lost in their own family in its ever-changing state.)

What do you do for your family, if anything, to help your children belong? Do they remember their way home – do they recognize their nest?

This free workbook contains what I’ve learned so far.

Lean In: A Response to Wendy Bradshaw PhD’s Resignation Letter

DEAR PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS EVERYWHERE,

Don’t go.

I know a hard wind is blowing – I see the rawness it leaves on my own children’s faces when they come home from school each day. I experience the force of it with them when we sit down at our round table to brave homework each afternoon.

But don’t go, Wendy Bradshaw Ph.D.

THE LASTING MARKS YOU LEAVE

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be you.
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Mourning My Saints, Remembering My Roots

A Story About Family Identity From the Ground Up

This week we lost our family dog to cancer, and while the dog was truly the sweetest pup ever, I find myself grieving my mother who gave us the dog and has herself been dead for more than three years.

It feels like with every little loss like this one, I lose a hint more of what remained of her in this world – the lingering wisps of her sliding away, carried right out of my life on the back of a passing wind. And I’m an observer – round eyes, hands bound.

Whoosh.

Continue reading

What to Do When Co-parenting Isn’t an Option

Co-Parenting from High Ground

For Justine, a fellow parent with limited co-parenting options.

I had big plans for this article. It was going to be didactic and helpful – a foundational resource article for parents trying to co-parent amicably.

Then I read a story about a parent trying to better her life – setting life goals, eating right, prioritizing family – but stuck in a toxic co-parenting relationship. And now I’m just all kinds of mad for her. Why? Because I can relate.

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A Single Mom’s Letter to Her Son

A 12 Year Journey with a Boy

Dear Boy,

On this night 12 years ago, I was several hours into laboring with you. I was alone in my apartment, but in just one hour, I would have enough of the relentless waves of discomfort and call your father to ask him to drive me to the hospital. And not long after, if 12 more hours isn’t long, life would change forever.

With your birth, our family would be born.

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Why Labels Matter, Like It or Not (This is Why I’m Renaming My Husband)

What’s In a Name?

In high school, I got an award for being an “Advice Queen.” At the time (thank you seventeen) I was flattered thinking it meant people thought I was wise.

Now, I’m sure that what it really meant was that I shared a heap of unsolicited opinions about things that were none of my business (thank you thirty-three), and people noticed.

Though I’m sure I am a little more legitimately wise, am careful about sharing my opinions and try desperately hard not to give unsolicited advice, thank goodness I have a good friend who really is wise and really does give good advice.

Recently, she gave me a gem about labeling or naming. She said, “Call it what you want it to be.”

It got me thinking.
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How I Won Back My Family By Losing the Fight

PeaceKeeping: Leaving the Charge & Losing to Win

I didn’t intend to start with a story about warfare. But this is reality.

Our families are under attack. 

Whether the first thought that popped into your head when you read that statement was a connection to what’s happening in the world today, outside the boundaries of your own family, or a connection to a personal struggle you are having within it, I bet you know the attack I’m talking about.

You probably have an opinion about it, too. (Feel free to share.) But this is how I’m fighting. Continue reading