Holiday Traditions- Creation to Blending

Growing up in a family that did similar things each Christmas season, I valued what became traditions to me. Opening one present on Christmas Eve, getting up early in the morning to see what blessings were under the tree, breakfast as a family, baking Christmas cookies, looking at Christmas lights and eating similar dishes during Christmas dinner. 

When I became a single mom, I vowed to create similar and new traditions for my son. I wanted him to be able to look back at his childhood and hold that close to his heart. Creating these traditions were fun for us and kept us feeling as joyful as we could even when some years were difficult. Living over 800 miles away from any family, we had to make the holidays our own because we weren't always going to be able to be with them.

I encourage all single parents to create traditions for your family.  Do something that each child will remember year to year. You'll be surprised how easily it becomes part of who they are during those times. Make sure those traditions don't include spending a lot of money because let's face it, some holidays are more difficult financially.

For my family, this season is new and has been interesting to say the least. The traditions that my son and I are used to are now embracing another person.  As we embrace him, we also are learning to mesh our traditions and expectations together. Decorating ideas and styles, picking the cookies to bake, learning what traditions are important to the other person...those are all areas we are focusing on this year. As you enter this season in a blended family, be sure to talk about what is important traditions for each of you.

Some traditions that we've taken up and might work well for your family are:

1) Drive around and look at Christmas lights. We like to do this on Christmas Eve with hot cocoa or cider.
2) Attend a Christmas Eve service.
3) Read the Christmas Story on Christmas Day.
4) Stick presents under the tree all month long. Pick one to open the night before. Our tradition is to open the PJ's presents the night before so we are all in new pajamas.
5) Sit by the fire (if you have one) and watch a Christmas movie.
6) Frost sugar cookies.
7) Send out Christmas cards.
8) Write joyful notes to neighbors and put them on their door.
9) While driving around looking at lights, place a note of thanks for the hard work that went into giving a show for all to see.
10) Pick one new ornament per person each year and place it on the tree. This is a great way to build an ornament collection for your kids as they grow so that when they move out, they are set with decorations for their own tree.

May you have every joy that this season can bring!

- Meg

It's a Merry Christmas!

This year is unlike any other for my family. For the first time, I will wake up on Christmas morning to a tree full of presents, a wonderful husband and a great son all at the same time!  We will enjoy this time together and give thanks for Christ's birth as well as each other.

While encouraged by the blessings I have this year, I am reminded of how much my life has changed  in just one year.  If I go as far back as to remember my first Christmas as a divorced mother encountering a Christmas alone with a newly five year old I am brought to tears of gratefulness for God's mercy on our lives.

We were living in an apartment that I had recently emptied in sale to afford the rent.  We didn't have a lot but we had plenty in terms of how bad it could have been. We had been living off of .99 chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, peanut butter sandwiches and milk. By Christmas day, we had been blessed 10-fold by various people and life seemed to be looking up. Although there were presents under the tree for both of us from family and friends, I was unable to do much for my kiddo personally. I remember shopping at the dollar store with $20.  I bought 20 items and wrapped them individually. I will never forget how happy my son was with those presents. He felt overjoyed at the thought of unwrapping so many presents and never once gave thought to worth. It was about the gesture.

As I reflect, I smile and laugh a little. I STILL shop at the dollar store for presents and they STILL make him smile. Although I'm able to afford greater priced items, there will always be a fond connection between us and the dollar store items. They are perfect and enough. Everything else is fluff and a blessing.  That year, the blessing was in the seemingly small stuff and I'm encouraged to always remember that.  Happiness does not require a lot of money...just love.

May the feeling this Christmas be that of love and may we also remember that while presents are fun and make us feel good, they are not the reason for Christmas.  May we reflect on the true meaning for this season and enjoy the gifts of life that God has granted us.

Merry Christmas!

Read: Christmas on a Budget

- Meg

Single to Blended

Life has taken a turn for my son and I this year.  After 7 years of living life officially as a single mama, I married a wonderful man. He has been an answer to prayer for myself and for my son.

Many times in 'The Single Parenting Journey' blog, I referenced that it is okay to be single and parenting alone and that it can be successfully done. I still firmly believe that however I, along with many single parents, have longed for someone who could come beside me as a parent and as a partner in life. Not to fill a necessary void that was in our lives, but to add to our lives.  God has been faithful throughout my journey as a single parent and has blessed us with friends, circumstances and opportunities that only He could provide.  All of this, I keep in my heart and treasure the time that I grew and learned so very much about dependence on my Lord and Savior as I raised my son solo.

As I wrote a blog about my life adventures, thoughts and advice for others, I wondered if this day would ever come.  The day where my life story took a sharp turn.  Rather than a single parenting journey now I am in a blended family journey. My husband does not have his own children and was never married. Although it seems ideal to a single mom because baggage seems low, it too presents an interesting array of blending that is required.  Never parented, never married, always focusing on his dreams, goals, new husband is now faced with the challenge and adaptation to a son and a wife. Learning to think for 3 instead of 1.

My son is learning how to adapt to 2 parents in our home instead of 1. He's learning how to figure out this new relationship of "Stepdad" with his relationship of "Dad".  He lives with us and still visits with his biological father. How does this all play out? Feelings and emotions that he never had before are there to try and understand.  He has a daily example of a man which he never had before. A firmer spirit to discipline, chores, routine...the way a man thinks of these things.  Still having his mom who he's known his entire life there but the role shifts and I no longer am "everything" but I focus on "mom things".  It's been quite a change for my young man.  He's experiencing love and respect for a man in our house, not just his mom.  It is a great change for us and I already have a handful of stories to share. Stories that will bring a tear to your eye and stories that will bring laughter to your heart.

For me, this is quite a steamroller of emotions.  At first, the thought of marriage a second time around was frightening and I wasn't sure I had what it would take to make that commitment again. I had become quite independent and was certain that I could remain single if that is what the Lord willed me to do. Through experiences with my now husband, it became clear that he and I were meant to move forward. I've never felt surer of anything else. With this change I have had to pull back the independence a bit, realizing that we both run our household and that sharing in decisions, money and life experiences is necessary.  When I became single, I learned to be single. I have had to relearn how to be married.

My hope in continuing this blog is that I will reflect on times of single parenting while also diving into the daily needs of a blended family. I have changed the title to "The Single-Blended Parenting Journey" and hope that you will stick with me as I blog and document our journey as a family. I hope it helps you in the journey of life you are in.


The Art of Giving

Not long ago, my son and I had gone to a restaurant for a lunch out before we did some shopping. In this one day out experience we had some very teachable moments about giving and discernment. As we drove up to the restaurant, we passed a man standing on the corner with a gas can at his feet.  He was holding a sign that read, "Ran out of gas.  Stranded.  Please help."  As car after car drove passed him, ours being one of them, my son asked me why we did not hand him money.  I told him that it was odd he was far away from any parked car, standing in the middle of a place people can only hand him money rather than just give him gas.  That if he'd come up to me at a gas station with his can, I'd gladly fill it up.  I suggested that he wasn't necessarily stranded.

We then entered the restaurant which can be "to go" or "dine in".  We ordered our food and at the register were asked if we wanted to donated $2 towards feeding hungry children.  I said no, and received a little snarl from the cashier who said, "well okay!".

We then went on our way to the store to complete our shopping. As we walked inside we were met with a donation box for another hunger fighting organization. We walked past it. After we were done shopping, we walked back out the same door to be greeted now by a woman who was asking us to donate towards an organization that helps others. I said, "no thanks" and kept walking as I wasn't feeling good and didn't have any cash on hand.

My son turned to me again and asked, "Why did you say no to all of those people wanting help?" I answered that if I helped each and every person that asked, there would be nothing left for us.  He said, "Oh, okay" and we got in the car and headed home. The entire events of the day kept playing over and over in my mind, as you are likely thinking they should have.

The next day during discussion it was confirmed that people don't have to give in those ways but can give online and be choosy about who we give to.  That we can only give so much and we just can't simply give to all who ask because sometimes people are dishonest.  That the Lord will lead us to give and where.

This conversation AND the topic of giving of course is still swirling in my mind. I have a little mending to do. Explaining to my son that giving is good! Giving is what God wants us to do and although sometimes it isn't safe, if we feel a nudge, we are to listen. I need to explain that not helping 4 out of 4 people/organizations within 2 hours time is not okay. That I could have reached out to at least one.  Seeing those situations through the lenses of my son's innocence to help others has taught me a valuable lesson.  I have been blessed and should use my blessings to help others when possible. One need is not more important than the next but that is where God will lead and provide the nudge we need to act.  Our choice is whether or not we choose to listen to the nudge.

More Privacy Please

There is an epidemic in our society and I believe one of the main causes to be social media. As much as I love the world of social media and use it personally and daily, what it has done is create a window into everyone's life.  You see the good, the bad, the joy, the details and quite a lot of things that really shouldn't be public at all. I blame social media for a lot of the reason marriages and relationships are deteriorating. 

The temptation to do or say things on social media is causing an "open diary" and people overshare too often. Not only do people share too many details with their "friends" but people also have developed an entitlement to know each and every move that their "friends" are making. Back when I was a kid there was a lot of privacy. I didn't have to worry about my mom putting up picture after picture of me on Facebook and catching those embarrassing moments for all of her friends to notice, comment on and laugh at. It was private and I was able to grow up with a sense of security in my surroundings and with trust for those that I confided in.  I was also choosy with who knew what and when.

I have a deep concern for both aspects of the spectrum. Parents put up numerous pictures of their kids on Facebook without privacy settings, comment about private conversations with their children, rant about their children/relationships/feelings and just simply post too much. Knowing that social media is forever, what you say about your children, their other parent, their situations, etc will follow them, and you, for the rest of your lives. When you are struggling as a single parent, sometimes our feelings are clouded by our overwhelming emotion or just plain stressful situations. The intimate thoughts we have are just that, intimate and should remain private. Have a mentor, yes but please keep your personal information and feelings private. You'll run into judgemental people who then feel owed an explanation for how you feel rather than just supporting you.  That will be stressful.

Then there is the other side of the coin. People need to mind their own business. Who you date, how you are coping with this or that and the details and decisions of how you raise your children are your private business. Be careful what you write on Facebook and keep your situations clear of anything that will interfere with your parenting.  Others should not have the ability to get to your children with details you are still figuring out how to parent them through.

Example:  You lose your job and don't know what you are going to do financially.  Make sure you've parented your children through this and that you are emotionally stable for the multitude of questions you are going to receive and play interference for before you post on social media.  It will only add to the stress of the situation to draw numerous people in with their "good intentions". 

What I'm getting at is that we need privacy now like we did 30 years ago. 

Be choosy. Be careful. Most of all, use good common sense when putting anything up online.

What Children Need to Succeed in School

Everyone around me is eagerly awaiting Fall and the aroma of pumpkin spice can be smelled in most coffee shops. As much as I love this season and the peaceful feelings of the holidays nearing, it is certainly a time for my family that has started out by jumping from one stress to another. Most of the stresses have been good, some not-so-good, but all of which we will be able to look back on and see God's hand.

Along with the start of a school year at a new school for my son, who is now freshly in middle school, we have moved into our new house and are living in boxes. It's a delightful time of making memories and building our future, but I have to admit that the stress felt overwhelming last week when my son brought home a less than ideal progress report card.  Reality quickly set in that my focus has not been exactly where it should be. I was depending on him to self-manage with homework and studying while I focused on all of "life" that was happening around us. In my efforts to keep the house and activities in a forward progression, I neglected one very important element; my son's focus and environment. He didn't even have a good place to sit down and do his homework, let alone focus on his studies.  Now, I will admit that I felt terrible at first but I quickly turned that guilt into determination to do better for him and us.

He has a desk.  He has a work area.  Best of all, he has my undivided attention while he does homework, organizes his backpack and prepares for his day at school.  I feel a lot less stress now that I've refocused my attention.  I believe he also feels less stress with being more prepared.

This wasn't easy, though. I mean, we are literally living among boxes that need to be unpacked, chores that need to be done and so much to prepare for in the coming weeks. To sit and just "be there" for him is very difficult.  I find myself up later than I should and scrambling to do the other items. BUT, my priority is that my son is on the right track and that he is enabled to be the best he can be.  In my opinion, even greater than an area to work is that he knows I am standing right beside him as he, himself progresses forward. To me, what our children need to succeed is the support, encouragement and accountability of their loving parent(s). Without that, no amount of a great work area set up will be worth our investment. Our children need us. He will eventually be enabled to work more independently, but for now my time is the greatest gift.

Here's to better grades!

Bless the Lord, Oh my soul!

Do you remember where you were on September 11, 2001? Were you sitting at home watching television? Were you at work agonizing over the tragedy along with your co-workers? Did you fear for people who were in harms way or for those who had already been killed? Maybe you even knew someone who was affected and maybe you, yourself were directly affected as a result of the terrible events that unfolded that morning across the United States.  Today seems like the perfect day to write about using every breath and ounce of my being to sing praises to the Lord for all he has done and will continue to do!

I distinctly remember what I was doing on that otherwise sunny and beautiful morning.  I had just sat down with my cup of hot tea to prepare for the day at the office and my then, husband had just left for work.  I never usually turn on the news, but for some reason this day I was inclined to waste the last few moments of my morning watching the television before heading to work. I tuned in just in time to see the second plane hitting the south tower of the World Trade Center.

As many of you can relate, utter shock, horror and disbelief came at me all at once.  Not understanding the meaning of anything I was seeing, my first instinct was to cry. Cry for those affected and cry in fear of how this would affect my world as I knew it.  My first instinct was not prayer, peace or turning to the Lord in any fashion whatsoever.  Fear, worry and a feeling of being unsafe in a once seemingly safe world took over me. Eventually, like many, I did turn to God and prayer mostly asking why and what would be next for our nation.  As the hype of prayer and turning to God faded around our country, I began to realize how easily the nation will turn to a God that it regularly shuns when faced with fear, worry and lack of safety. It felt to many like no other option.

The reaction of that day the weeks following are a good example to me of how I am NOT supposed to be living. I am not supposed to turn to fear or worry but am to turn to God. I am to teach my son through my actions that despite the world crumbling around us, whether literally or metaphorically, that God is the answer and that He is where we find our refuge. May we never forget that our ultimate peace is found in Him.