Searching for Honest Answers

“Don’t lose faith in humanity. There are good people out there. You have the power to make a difference.”

– Akiroq Brost
Photo by Chang Duong on Unsplash

When you find yourself to be the one left in charge after some traumatic experience, it can be easy to be like a turtle… pulling all of your important “things” into your shell with you and doing your best to keep everyone safe and sound.  You automatically start to think only of what is best for you and those who are important to you.  Damn the world for making you withdraw like this and forcing you to become “selfish” for your family.  As a reaction to pain created by a terrible situation, this is very acceptable.  But, be very careful that you do not limit your view for very long.  It can be easy to get into the habit of making quick decisions, and while those decisions may be good in the moment and may get you through to the next obstacle, make sure you pause and consider where you are in the grand scheme of things.

The world is not the enemy, the person that hurt you is not “just like everyone else” out there.  You don’t need to hide from the whole world. You need to maintain connections, build trust with others, and stay in the present moment. Without connections, trust, and current knowledge, you are setting yourself up for a more challenging road.   You don’t need to trust just ANYONE, but you need to trust SOMEONE.   You don’t need them to know everything about you, but you need to have someone to talk with on an adult level. People who you can trust will give you an honest opinion if you ask it of them will offer more than just an opinion, they give you a basis on which you can build.  It is so very hard to trust after being hurt. Having someone you can believe is a beautiful way to start.  It will widen your perspective, especially if you know they are being honest and you find that their opinion differs from yours.  You can dig in and find out why they feel that way and give yourself a chance to reflect on your own opinion and whether it still holds true. Being the only adult at home does not allow for opinions outside of ourselves. We all learn the most when our perspective is challenged, even slightly, which cannot happen if you seclude yourself out of fear.

Having a healthy amount of perspective will serve you and your family well.  It is easy to become overwhelmed and think “I can’t worry about other people and their problems right now, I have too much on my own plate!”  Certainly, your issues may be far worse than what anyone you know is dealing with at the moment, but do not withdraw completely.  It may be difficult to listen without judgment to someone else’s woes when you are going through your own issues. Still, listen very clearly to them and try to sort out a parallel that you can build on with them.  Maybe their issue is vaguely similar to yours in some way, or similar to something you dealt with in the distant path, or even something you hope to never deal with in the future.  Any parallel will help you build trust in that relationship.  Certainly, some people will not be “keepers” because even as friends they cannot offer honest opinions.  You may need to sort through some different people and decide who you can trust.  Having and being a sounding board is a priceless thing. Building trust is the beginning of building your new life to be stronger than your old one.

Photo by Alci Alliata on Unsplash

All of this becomes even more applicable when you are making choices for your kids. How can you make a good decision for your child, lets say perhaps joining a local sports team, without having a larger perspective about what is going on in your neighborhood?  If you want your son or daughter involved with a “team” so they can have friends and be socially healthy, please ask around about the coaches and the dynamic that other parents have experienced before you sign them up.  Some very reputable organizations are ruined by an overzealous coach or a group of parents with unquenchable expectations (think Cobra Kai from the Karate Kid movie!)

You think you are doing something good for your child, only to find out after a few months you have thrown them to the wolves, lowering confidence levels and self-worth… the EXACT OPPOSITE of what your intentions were!  Ask around and you will find out about bad coaches, and save your child some heartache and help them grow or retain the love of the game overall.  Find a neighbor that you can trust to give you honest answers.  Ask a teacher at school that you know loves your child to see what they can “find out” about the coaches with whom your child may be crossing paths.  Whatever you do, please don’t go in blindly and see what comes of it. Even though they may not yet be able to appreciate what you are doing for them at the moment (see more on this here), you still have to be sure you are making the absolute best decisions you can for them. Make sure that you do not cut yourself off from the world, because a limited perspective cannot make informed decisions. You need to make sure that you are exposing your family to healthy circumstances where growth and joy are possible, and the only way you can be sure to do this is by allowing yourself to have a broad perspective.

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All that Holiday Commotion

“Tradition is a guide and not a jailer.”

– W. Somerset Maugham
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Holidays are supposed to be a time of celebration and thankful feelings. Joy and laughter, decorations, bright packages with bows and ribbons… You know, the whole festive picture. So what is to be done when your world is not right, things are not settled, and you just don’t feel any holiday cheer? Trying to fit into the old norms can be disastrous for your mental well being.

It can be very difficult to sort through this inner turmoil. Making matters worse, you may feel like the whole world has its eye on you…. trying to see if you are “alright,” which may seem supportive, but in reality it is a LOT of extra pressure. This may be, for example, your first holiday as a single parent… or your first holiday out on your own… or your first holiday after a divorce… whatever your situation, it is different and it is stressful. If you try to make it just like every other, it will feel very much like a fraud to you and those you love. It is time for a change. Just like you reinvented your environment for a fresh start, you can reinvent this holiday. You can take this moment in time to refresh and refocus your holiday norms, making them more bearable after a change, and also showing that ever-watchful outside world that you are taking the reins in your new situation and molding your new world to your expectations.

Choose one or to “traditions” from your “old holidays” to keep up, as that will be very grounding as you move forward in your life. Try to make these the very oldest ones that you can remember, like from your own childhood or from stories you remember being told of your parents childhood. Those are good for you to remember and continue. (Maybe, holiday baking with the family, or getting a Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, like you always did when you were a kid.) Take every other thing that you have done more recently around the holidays and just forget about it. You are going to make some changes this year.. You are going to re-establish the traditions. I know, I know… you are saying “but isn’t a tradition supposed to be TRADITIONAL???” If you have kids and they ask you “why aren’t we doing blahblahblah tradition this year?”, you will simply say, “that is what we used to do, but now we do THIS instead!”

Here are some ideas that might trigger something inside you for a new holiday tradition… They lean towards the free stuff, but there are plenty of things things to spend money on too.

  • Take I night out to drive around a nicely decorated neighborhood and oh- and ah- at the light shows.
  • Make a night of inviting friends over to have some mint-flavored hot chocolate made the “old fashioned way” on the stove with coco and milk
  • Find a group of friends to carol (or if your have instrumentally talented friends, have them play their instruments!) near a religious establishment that is collecting people for the holiday. (Some churches have live nativities with hot chocolate that already draw an appreciative crowd.)
  • Take holiday-themed books out from the library and read them aloud with your family a few nights in a row
  • Search the local papers (also available at most libraries) to see when there will be festive things going on in your area
  • Ask the local high school when their Winter Concert will be (almost always free) and take your young family along to see the “big kids” playing holiday songs.
  • In some areas, the county or local “symphony orchestra” will play a free or low cost concert aimed towards encouraging young children to pick up an instrument.
  • Look for local reenactments that are done in your area each year around the holidays.
  • Start a “cookie day” or “cookie exchange” with your new neighbors, or old neighbors that you have never really met.
  • Find a local plant nursery and see what seasonal selections they offer, many have ornaments or supplies for building your own wreaths and whatnot
  • Create a chain out of construction paper to hang around the house
  • Please list other ideas in the comments!!

The idea here is to do something DIFFERENT this holiday, and make it a new tradition for your family. Your world is a different place now, and holding on to wanting everything to be “just like it was” is a recipe for disaster. It won’t be the same, even if you want it to be. That can cause some serious depression if you are not on the front lines trying to sort out a way to overcome. Put the decorations in new areas, or if you can afford it, but some new ones. Reach out to people and share joy with them. Make some crafts or food together, which can generate good feelings and bonding, which can help heal your heart. It is difficult to do these things when you are sad, but twice as important.

If you are having money troubles, which happens when thing fall apart…. most schools have a charity system set up for families that fall on hard times… don’t reject this help! This is the community you live in coming together knowing that hard times happen to all of us, and likely have happened to them in the past, and they want to make sure that families can enjoy the holidays despite what they may be going through… Take the charity, and once you get yourself better positioned, give back to that same charity for others.

Accepting your Harshest Critiques

“To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.”

-Elbert Hubbard
Photo by Anna Dziubinska on Unsplash

      Everyone that you encounter in everyday life has their own story that you don’t know.  Some are on a downward slope; some are trekking up a difficult mountain.  Some may be in the midst of a life disaster; others are proud of themselves for having just dug out of a deep hole.  In your daily interactions, this is really important to keep in mind.  Even those on the “lows” will try their best to present themselves well to strangers, but they can be very fragile.  So, when dealing with the cashier at the store who made a mistake, or with the girl at the office that seems to be forgetting everything today, you don’t know the full story.  They may not have slept at all last night due to a newborn with a cold, or because of a teenager who is going through some difficulties at school.  Maybe they just visited their mother with dementia, or their best friend after a difficult cancer surgery.  Just like you have faced difficulties and have wanted and hoped for empathy, you should be ready to offer it at every interaction. 

      Many of us are still working on rebuilding our worlds after disaster, others are trying to become the best they can be; but, ALL of us are a work in progress. It takes time and a tremendous amount of effort to get where you are going in life.  Regardless of how hard you try and how far you have grown, those that are watching your progress from the outside will always have some opinion of your choices and evolution.  Sometimes they are supportive; many times, they are not.  You may find that they are harsh and critical.  Finding others on the same journey as you will provide some sounding boards for feedback, but be careful to be conscious of the opinions from those that may not actually be moving forward. They can drag you down. 

      Unfortunately, a lot of the time you will find your harshest critics will be the elder members of your own family, which can be frustrating and difficult to tune out.  Even worse, though, is when it is your own children… Little kids that don’t understand why you are spending time building yourself up, instead of time with them; older teens or young adult children, who resent you for changing their surroundings, even when it was not your choice to do so.  They know you well enough to know which jabs and digs will hurt the most, but they are young enough to not realize how painful these jabs can be when the world is already beating you down.  When the very people you are trying to make abetter life FOR are the ones who seem the least appreciative, the worst feeling of wanting to give up can start to take hold in your very soul.

      You want to be attentive to your kids in every way, but you can’t be if you are not first attentive to your own needs.  Like the airplane pre-flight safety demonstration tells us, we must first put on our own mask before helping others secure theirs.  What use will you be to your kids if you are not working on being the best you possible?  How will you lead by example if you are a crippled mess yourself?  It is your job to drag your family through this rough patch, even if they are kicking and screaming, into the best life you can offer them. 

      Your older children are starting to see how the world works outside of your household, and sometimes they feel enlightened beyond their years when they see what seems to be a “better way” happening at someone else’s house.  Remember thinking how great some other family was compared to your own as a teen?  You know, that one family whose kids were allowed to do whatever they wanted?  They didn’t have to do homework or even go to school… maybe even drank and smoked without reprimand. Were you incredibly jealous of that lifestyle as a teen?  Looking at it now, as an adult, it is absolutely horrific how little those children were cared for and looked after, and many of those children had a difficult time entering adulthood. 

     Your kids may critique your choices, but hold in the front of your mind that you are making these choices for yourself and your family with THEIR best interest at heart, and that YOU have more perspective than they have. They are not aware of the nuances of the full situation… there may be things they have been completely shielded from for their own well being (like when lawyers start getting involved…).  Their opinions have worth and weight, so listen to them and hear their concerns.  If they are valid, be sure to let them know you have considered them in your choices.  Try your best to explain to them your reason for your choices, though they still won’t likely understand, and then do what you have judged to be best and accept your choice. 

     It hurts, very deeply, to have this criticism, especially from those you want to give the best life too.  Hold on to hope that in the future, when these children have grown and seen first-hand some of the difficulties this world can throw at them, they will have some more perspective and appreciate those hard choices you made “back in the day”.  For today, just hold your chin up and take a few deep breaths.  Protect them from danger, provide them a good life, teach by example, and give them tools they need to enter adulthood with the necessary skills.  Check off that box and consider it a job well done. 

Embracing the Transformation

It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.

-Charles Darwin

Sometimes you may feel tempted try to re-establish what you have lost, wanting to find some semblance of normalcy after a huge life change.  This is a mistake!  When you find your life has been cracked and broken beyond repair… when it has been shaken to its very foundation… it is primed for a new beginning.

What you lost is gone now, but that doesn’t mean that you need to desire the same thing.  What you lost had its flaws.  What you lost had inefficiencies, frustrations, and deficits. What you lost was NOT perfect.  Now that it is gone, you have a chance to CORRECT the things that were lacking.  Do not settle for something similar to what you already had.  You may have been forced to make a change you didn’t want to make, like it or not.  Don’t overlook the fact that you were given this perfect and golden opportunity to make your life BETTER than it was before. 

First things first.  It can be horribly depressing to walk into the front door of your home and see everything exactly how it had always been, except for that ONE piece that is now missing… it emphasizes and magnifies the missing piece.  There it is, looming right in your face day after day.  Don’t let this be!  Most people don’t find themselves financially able to relocate, but if you can, MOVE to a new home.  

Start fresh. If you can’t up and move, at least change every aspect that you possibly can.  If you have a house, now is your chance to CHANGE it for the better.  Move every piece of furniture. Take every picture off of every wall and swap it for pictures from other rooms. Change window dressings, add throw rugs, move the television, drive in a different direction on your way to work and other daily habits…. Change EVERYTHING! If you have kids who have their own rooms, swap them around completely.  It will be good for them too, since they can see that you are accepting and embracing the concept of change, and that IT’S OK. It may seem like change just for the sake of change on the surface, but really, it’s a chance to reset your perspective.  It is a transformation, and, like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, you and your family will be coming out of this more beautiful, stronger, ready to spread your wings into the wind and take off!

Now that everything in your visual field is different, you are off to a great start!  Sit down and write a list of everything you always wanted to do.  This is different than a bucket list, like traveling to Italy or going skydiving. Instead, list all of the things that you personally expect from yourself in this lifetime.  Consider that you have all of the power over the choices in your new situation.  Did you always think you would have a specific career? Did you always want to own your own home? Did you always want to have a college degree? Did you always want to own and operate your own business?  Your list will be specific to you and you only. Do NOT list things that other people wanted you to do, what they though you would be good at, or what others expected of you… This is 100% about you. You are going to make some plans for your future in your new surroundings without any old objections holding you back, because EVERYTHING has CHANGED and YOU are going to CHANGE RIGHT ALONG WITH IT! 

Don’t bog yourself down with details.  You don’t need to plan out how you are going to accomplish everything right now.  You are just going to bring your personal goals for a better future into clear focus in your mind.  Imagine what it will feel like when it is accomplished!  Having goals in mind will help you sort out how you’re going to take your life and rebuild it in the direction of those goals.  From the foundation up, brick by brick, you now have a chance to build your life as you have always imagined it should be!

Get Going and Get Prepared!

The best day of your life is the one on which you decide your life is your own.  No apologies or excuses.  No one to lean on, rely on, or blame.  The gift is yours – it is an amazing journey – and you alone are responsible for the quality of it.  This is the day your life really begins. 

~BobMoawad
Photo by Tomas Jasovsky on Unsplash

There are moments in life when you can truly feel the weight of the world on your shoulders… Moments when it feels so unfair that you and your loved ones wake up to find a new mountain plopped down right in front of you.  The moments when you realize that everyone who is important in your life has to turn to you now.  Is it scary or intriguing? Are you nervous or excited?  New situations allow for open-ended possibilities! You realize you are responsible for everything that happens from here on out, at least for now, and the pressure is on!

OK. Just breath. We don’t have time for anxiety attacks…. Instead,we have to make a plan to squelch that anxiety.  You WILL lead your family through.

Priority one!  A wide-eyed and honest assessment of your situation must be done.  Since everyone’s starting point will be different, this section wil be a work in generalities. Nevertheless, there are a few certainties everyone will need to check off the list:

  • Do you have a safe place to live? If not, priority number one must be to find that place.  There are places that will help you find safety for you and your family. (Try the Red Cross near you to start… https://www.redcross.org/… I will try to post more options on the Links page of this site. )  A friend who can spare a room… family that will let you stay until you can get your feet under you.  If you already have a safe place to stay, think about how incredibly fortunate you are to have this basic need already fulfilled!
  • Do you know where your next meal is coming from?  There are countless websites that will list low budget meal plan ideas.  It always amazes me how far a bag of rice and a few canned goods can really get you when you are hungry.  Getting a good set of basic recipes under your wing will ensure that you can make due.
  • Do you have a steady and reliable income? If not, there are plenty of helpful community resources, also meant to get you back on your feet when you are down on your luck. If you already have a steady job, you can now consider yourself THREE steps better off than many others!

If you have the three basics above already checked off, count your blessings! Let’s not stop there. One more thing….

  • Do you have a bank account?  You need a checking account and a savings account.  Both are necessary and non-negotiable.  People who lack a checking account can easily be prayed upon by dubious schemers (think, check-cashing fees, payday loans, etc.) that want to nickel and dime you as much as possible. Nothing irks me more than knowing that there are companies that wait to pray on those who are down on their luck.  A savings account is also required.  The best way to prepare yourself for the unknowns that are guaranteed to come up in life is by setting a bit aside EVERY time you get money (on pay day or otherwise) so that you never have to panic about money.  Think about the peace of mind you will give yourself if you know that you are OK if there is car trouble, layoffs, accidental fire, health emergency, unplanned emergency travel, etc…  Buy yourself this peace of mind one deposit at a time into your emergency fund.

These are the practicalities… There are also emotional needs that you need to tend to so you can do what needs to be done.  Often times, in cases where you find yourself with new responsibilities quickly, there is a period of a form of mourning involved.  Mourning the death of your previous life where you knew what to expect next.  Don’t short change this feeling or dismiss it. You are allowed to feel this way.  Take some time each day, maybe a half an hour or so, where you can sit alone and really think about how the changes are effecting you and about your loss.  You are alone, so, by all means, cry if you need to!  You may need a brave and strong front for your family so they feel secure, but you need to give yourself time to vent your feelings so they don’t come out when you don’t want them to.

Check off each of these points and reflect on how much you already have. Then start to build up from there! One brick at a time, your life will come together.