An Interview with my 10 year old

Last month, I wrote about my interview with my seven-year-old son, Ryan. My family spent the first two weeks of November at a beach house while I worked remotely and they continued virtual school. It was a perfect change of scenery for us and the weather was unseasonably warm. When I told the kids I wanted to interview them for my blog, they were super excited.

The first post was actually supposed to be this one—my daughter’s interview, but when I started asking her questions, she couldn’t answer any of them with conviction. Contrast that with my 7 year old who was excited to hop up on the barstool and talk to me endlessly about anything I asked. It was my first glimpse of how aware of others that my daughter was already becoming. At just 10 years old, in the fifth grade, she was nervous to give me a straight answer. Everything I asked her that forced her to look introspectively was “too hard” for her to answer. It was a short interview, but beyond the words, I still learned so much from her.

Some things were easy for her to answer. Like, her favorite things about me and her dad, Josh (when I rub her back and belly at bedtime and when he plays Roblox with her). And her least favorite—my cooking (gee, thanks) and when he yells.

And being able to tell me what actually makes someone a good parent? When you care about your kids and don’t send them to the orphanage. They feed you and give you clothes and a bed. They teach you responsibility and bake and put you to bed at night.

I pressed her a bit more on why she’s so hard on Josh, so unforgiving after he punishes them (vs. me, who gets forgiven quickly). I discussed this a bit in last week’s blog, but there are definitely some leftover scars from Jeff that I’m beginning to see. She told me that dads are supposed to be fun, and Josh used to be fun so I called him dad. Now he’s not so fun, so I call him Josh. All she really remembers of my ex are the happy stories I tell her. I’ve never wanted her to think badly of Jeff or have sad memories from him, so we’ve always focused on the great things about him and how much he played with her, how much she laughed with him. But she was three. It’s a little different than dealing with a growing, hormonal ten year old. And it’s heartbreaking that she ties fun as what makes Josh worthy of the title dad. I think it’s also hard for her to fully let Josh in without feeling like she’s betraying Jeff in some way.

She’s grown up learning about alcoholism in age appropriate ways too, so I asked her about drinking. These were also easy for her to answer:

What would you tell someone about drinking? If you drink too much, you get drunk and go coocoo. 

What would you do if a friend offered you alcohol? I’d take it and say “Thanks” and then smash it on the floor. (A bit of a flair for the dramatic, that one.)

She’s so funny living in this hybrid world where she can be totally concrete and innocent in her logic, and then other times, she tip toes her way into teenage land and knows way more than I’m prepared to handle! That’s been the biggest perk for me this year—she’s maintained her innocence way longer than she would have had she been interacting with other kids at school.

She’s boy crazy and always has been, since pre-school. It makes me super nervous and leaves me hoping and praying that we are equipping her with all the tools to make the best decisions she can.

What makes a good boyfriend? They care about you, spend time with you, and they don’t cheat on you. Cheating is dating another girl secretly. 

Do you want to get married one day? Yes. I want kids. Well I do, but BLECK—the penis in your V. (and she makes a face) Yes, that’s a direct quote.

Do you want to kiss a boy? YES. (A very enthusiastic yes) I’ve never had my first kiss.

What are you most nervous about for middle school? Cotillion. And I’m excited for it. (Cotillion is a southern tradition where sixth graders get all dressed up once a month and go to some fancy place and learn manners and dancing. I remember hating it, but good for her for being excited about it.)

Why are you excited about it too? You get your first kiss. You just hold hands, meet, and then you just do it. It’s weird, I know. (I don’t know where she got this information, but I corrected her immediately.)

And if I had any doubt that she was becoming aware of her body too, then her next answer about why she’s so obsessed with certain clothes erased all that:

I like crop top hoodies because they show your belly. I want to look cute… and look stylish. I want ripped jeans too. They’re cool.

Oooof that one stung. I hate that she’s already aware that girls “show their body” to look cute, and worse, that she’s interested in doing it! She’s so clearly stuck between two worlds right now—one of childlike innocence, where she plays all day with her little brother and is the biggest Santa and Elf believer there is, and one of growing up and falling for the pressures of society, where she worries about the hair on her arms and which boys think she’s cute or who thinks she has a small head.

She’s got so much ahead of her to discover. So much to break her heart and so much joy to uncover. With the insanity of 2020, I am doing all I can to equip her with the skills she needs to face these adversities without letting it break her.

I’m honestly not sure which will be worse—when she discovers that her elf doesn’t actually fly and report back to Santa or when a boy breaks her heart for the first time.

As always you can follow along our family journey on Instagram @theothersideofmotherhood

Example #1 of sweet innocence: She’s crying actual tears that her Elf was so thoughtful and brought her a Santa gift early.

Checking in on our blended family

A lot of times people forget that we’re a blended family. We don’t have custody issues to contend with. I don’t have an angry or vindictive ex. And my husband’s family loves on my older two kids with reckless abandon.

I was officially divorced from my first husband over five years ago. He was an alcoholic, which was the reason for our divorce. He had no custody rights and only supervised visitations—which he hadn’t used in months. My youngest turned two during this period of absence and my oldest was about to start kindergarten. She was heartbroken over her absent father, and thankfully my youngest knew no better.

Two months after our divorce, he died. His girlfriend came home and found him passed out on the floor, and she had to be the one to call 9-1-1 and his family she’d never met.

It was an odd time of peace in my life. I spent hours crying and praying before he died wondering what my future would look like with him, and with the finality of death, there was no more wondering. The kids would grow up with a parent who died, not a parent who abandoned them. I knew that if I was to date and marry someone again, it would be now while they were young. I didn’t want to put them through the added strain of a new man once they were older with more complicated feelings.

So when I met Josh four months later and we became serious, I knew that it was either going to be him, or it was going to be no one for a long time. My kids adored him. They begged me to marry him and make him their dad. It was actually quite embarrassing. I naively thought that we would seamlessly transition into this picture perfect family where they called him dad and everyone lived happily ever after.

Our wedding day 3 years ago

You’d think I would know better by now to think of life as a happily ever after. Life is full of the most incredible highs and our days are filled with so much joy, but nothing is ever happy forever, all the time.

So where are we today, three years later? Generally great. Josh never misses their sports, and he’s a den leader for Ryan’s scouts. He’s home for dinner every night, and we take turns putting the kids to bed.

But the kids still don’t call him dad—something that always surprises me. Especially Ryan, who has had Josh in his life since he was only 2 and a half. But when they are around their friends or other adults, they always refer to him as dad. I’m sure there’s something there for a therapist to uncover. Trying to keep up the idea of ‘normal’ already?

For us, the kids idealize their time with Josh before he was dad. When he wasn’t responsible for discipline and they were small enough for be tossed in the air and thrown on the couch. They long for those fun times, and it’s hard for them to understand why things shifted as they got older (not because we got married).

Josh and I are generally aligned with discipline which has been helpful, but perhaps the hardest thing for our family is how quickly they will turn on Josh and how much longer they take to forgive him when he yells or disciplines.

My kids have always valued our snuggle time together, our hugs, and our bedtime routines, and that’s what Josh just hasn’t quite mastered. He’s not great at speaking in someone’s love language that’s not his own—which for my daughter is a combination of words of affirmation and touch. She’s particularly drawn to touch—hugs, having her back rubbed, sitting side-by-side—and as she gets older and hormones are starting to come into play, we’re watching her self-confidence fade and seeing the need for affirmation be front and center in how we talk to her. For my son, he values quality time the most—and he gets a decent amount of that from Josh thanks to Cub Scouts and a new love of fishing.

A few months ago, when we set our goals for the start of the school year, one of Josh’s goals was to dedicate 2 hours each week to each kid, doing something of their choice. He was good at sticking to it for a few weeks (playing video games, watching Liv & Maddie, etc), but I could tell he was getting dejected when it wasn’t quickly resulting in a more positive response from them. They loved that one-on-one time, but it was novel and hadn’t reached the levels like I’ve earned with them over the years. I can get away with the yelling or the impatience because they are rooted in my love for them. They feel safe and know it’s not going anywhere, even when I’m mad. We’re realizing now that Josh hasn’t earned that with them yet.

He has to keep scratching his way under their skin and into their hearts until they know he’s not leaving them. Again, something about which I’m sure a therapist would have lots to say! But until that day, I’ll say this—everyone shows up. We’ve got each other’s backs, and we all love each other. I can’t ask for more than that.

You can always follow along with our family over on Instagram. I’d love to have you here for the ride.

How I’m prepping to prevent the holiday weight gain

You guys. 2020’s COVID-19 weight gain has been no joke.

I know it’s not just me, but I’m really aware of it now and have hit that motivated zone where I’m ready to make a change. That’s partly because I hated every adorable picture I took with my family on Thanksgiving and partly because Christmas is all about getting cozy indoors with red wine and sugar cookies. I can’t survive a month of that PLUS another quarantine.

Just last week, I was praising myself when I got on the scale and it was only 6 pounds higher than it was in March. But something was way off when I stared at my stomach in the mirror. Normally pretty flat and strong, I could see it was much softer than it had been even 9 months ago when I was still working off baby weight.

You see for me, I lost all regularity of working with a trainer twice a week when COVID hit. It was one of the greatest perks my company offered, and when we could no longer go into the office, that meant no more on site gym or trainers. Trainers keep me accountable. I never bail on my sessions with them unless it’s an emergency, so even if all I got in was two 30 minute sessions with them each week, I GOT IN TWO THIRTY MINUTE SESSIONS WITH THEM EACH WEEK.

It’s taken me months to realize how important that consistency was. Not only the consistency of workouts, but the strength training. That’s where I’m getting soft. I can still knock out a 15 minute HIIT workout or go for an hour walk several times a week, but I’m not lifting the way I did before—and it shows.

So what am I going to do about? Well first, I’ve not-so-subtly encouraged my husband to get his lazy butt in gear too. He has had an unbearably stressful year at work, and it’s shown. He hasn’t made time for himself to work out in months, and his late nights and early mornings have taken a toll on his diet. Just as I try to give myself grace for the insanity of 2020, I’m trying to give him that too.

But the excuses can’t keep on like this. Especially as we’re entering a slower holiday season than normal. We don’t have endless parties to attend, work is slow, and sports are done. We have no excuse other than wanting to stay in bed longer in the morning or watching one more game show on tv while we have another beer. All bad habits I’d really like to break.

So starting today, here’s our plan of attack for the month. I can’t control how much my husband will stick to it with me, but I know the more successful he is, the more successful I will be!

  1. Back to Macro tracking. My premium membership to MyFitnessPal has lapsed, but I think I can do without it now. My protein number is 130 grams per day (omg, so much!), so if I use the percentage goals, then I can figure out my carbs and fats from there. The reason macros (aka. macro nutrients) are so important for me is that I used them (plus intermittent fasting) to lose the weight from baby #3, and the pounds literally fell off. I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight in less than five months. It was unreal. And other than the discipline in tracking, it wasn’t hard and I felt satisfied.
  2. Workouts in the morning. Admittedly, this is the biggest point of contention with my husband. I’m an early bird and he is not. But if he doesn’t wake up, I don’t have a good place to go and work out since our gym equipment is in our bedroom. The other challenge we have is that our youngest, who is only a year and a half, still isn’t consistent with his wake up time. Sometimes it’s 5am and other times it’s 7. We’re going to try out a 5:30am wake up and try to get in 30 minutes, and we’ll see how that goes.
  3. No more “covid drinking” You know what I mean. So many people, us included, have fallen into this weird drinking pattern where every night feels like a weekend, or we’re so stressed after the long day being at home that when the kids finally go to sleep, I’m dying for a glass of wine or a beer. But kind of like how everyone baked cookies and sourdough bread back in March and April, our waistlines knew that wasn’t sustainable. Now we really need to reel it in and stop this nightly habit. One or two drinks may not seem like a big deal, but I was reminded in a health seminar a few months ago about the boiling frog phenomenon. If someone drops a frog into boiling water, it immediately feels the change in temperature and jumps out. But if the frog is playing in a pot of water and you slowly turn up the temperature, it never realizes it’s in danger and the frog slowly gets cooked to death. I’d rather not slowly boil to death.
  4. No eating after 7pm. I may not completely commit to doing intermittent fasting again this month, but I am committed to not eating after the kids go to bed. It’s just a lazy time where calories just don’t get counted, and I know it has a big impact! Instead, I’ll stock up on Crystal Light pink lemonade because I find that it helps me hit my water goals for the day, and it’s so sweet—which I find incredibly satisfying as a food or booze substitute.

Getting back on track doesn’t magically happen. It takes the right timing and motivation. But if you have an accountability buddy who can do it with you, your likelihood of success increases like crazy.

Here’s to a healthy and motivated holiday season. Come help keep me accountable this month, and I’ll do the same!

The Other Side of Motherhood’s 2020 Gift Guide and Stocking Stuffers

This is a weird year. In some cases, I’m closer to my neighbors right now than members of my family or my closest friends! As we reflect on a year that was anything but ordinary, I’m sharing a few of my favorite things that have made it into my shopping cart lately—from bigger gifts to stocking stuffers, from baby to grandma!

Self-Care

A few fun items for the amazing women in your life—from the Bachelor-obsessed to the wine lover.

                               

For the Littlest Ones

These are all items I used and loved with my youngest! In fact, that dome saved my life at the pool the first summer he was here, and I only ended up with the Sit-Me-Up seat because they gave it to me for free when I returned an old Rock and Play that was recalled! Win! The bath toys below are currently in our tub right now. My son is 19 months and we’ve been using them for at least the last 3-6 months!

                                         

For my Home Edit obsessed friends

Y’all. I am obsessed. My house is a total disaster, but I am taking one small area at a time and finding peace in it. I started with my closet, then tackled the garage, and now I’m onto the kitchen pantry and fridge. It’s a lot. But so pretty! And all of these items are ones I now have in my house.

                                               

Finally, some stocking stuffers and other fun items

                                   

I hope you found some good ideas for yourself and others, and you kick off this month of holiday JOY with exactly that. It’s a time to reflect on all that we have and all we’ve been given—and all we can give. Be a light. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and allllll the time off you can get!

As a reminder, I do receive a few pennies when you click on the Amazon links above. I’ve never actually earned enough for them to cut me a check, but maybe one day 😉

An Interview with my 7 year old

My family has been on vacation at the beach for the last week, taking advantage of our work from home and virtual school shit show that is 2020. It was the first full week that I’ve taken off this entire year, and as it comes to an end, I barely feel like I’ve stepped away at all.

We have 3 more days here at the beach though, so at least I’m working with a view. And the kids knock out their school by lunch time, and then they’ve been enjoying the unseasonably warm 75 degree beach here in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

For this week’s blog I’ve decided to interview my kids, one at a time—because if there’s anything cool I’ve seen come out of quarantine and 2020, it’s been spending more time with my kids and getting to know them in an entirely new way.

First up is Ryan, my sweet and kind seven-year-old who loves Pokemon, Roblox, and his mama. He flies off the handle and hasn’t learned how to control his emotions yet, but with those big emotions comes so much sweetness and joy too. He’s the best, and he was more than willing to sit with me while I asked him all kinds of questions.

Ryan’s first day back to school – hybrid only, and twice a week – was in October.

First I should say, Ryan has been living his best life since the summer—once we started playing with our neighbors outside again. They are his best friends, and from sun up to sun down, those boys were outside playing in the woods, on their bikes, on the swings, you name it. He barely touched an electronic device unless it was a rainy day, and it made me feel like he was growing up a 90s kid like me. So unsurprisingly, when I asked him about his favorite part of virtual school, he said staying at home with my friends so we can play outside.

His least favorite part? They give us lots and lots of homework.

But his favorite part of being back in school twice a week now? Getting to see my teacher in person. I don’t have a least favorite. I like everything.

We’ve spent a lot of time working on Ryan’s reading so he doesn’t fall too far behind and he can hopefully avoid the struggles we’ve faced with his older sister and learning to enjoy reading. So when I asked him about his favorite books right now, he said Press Start (a great series of books for kids about video games starring Super Rabbit Boy), Stink (little brother of Judy Moody and really funny. I read these to him for now.) and Ricky Ricotta. He said, “I like that I can read them and they’re all fiction. Ricky Ricotta has fighting and Super Rabbit Boy has fighting, racing, and adventures. Stink has cool facts and they have funny things in them.”

Ryan’s such a happy kiddo, so we talked about different things that make him happy and is favorite things about our family.

What makes you happy? My friends because they play with me almost everyday.

How can you be kind to others? Be respectful, listening, play their games.

What can you do when someone is sad? Say, “hey come on and play with us.”

What do you do when you don’t like someone? There isn’t anyone I don’t like. I would just not talk to them.

Fave thing about having a big sister? She’s nice and plays with me. And least favorite? She tries to make me get her a cow in Roblox.

Favorite thing about having a little brother? I can give him hugs and I love him so much. 

And mom? Snuggles with me. And dad? He’s my boy scout leader, he builds everything, and I just love him.

How are you and I alike? We both like reading and snuggling together.

What kind of person do you want to marry? Nobody. It’s disgusting. The kissing part. I want to live with some of my friends. I don’t want to be a dad because I don’t want to marry anyone.

And what do you want to be when you grow up? I want to be a scientist that studies animal eggs. People don’t really know so much about animal eggs and how animals get born inside of an egg.

And finally, what’s the best part about being seven? Because I’m older than most people. And least favorite? I don’t get to go on rides that I want to go on.

Ryan is such a sweet little monkey and I can’t wait to share his sister’s interview in a few weeks. You can follow along with our daily escapades over on my Instagram page @theothersideofmotherhood

Reflecting 5 years later: Supporting young kids with an alcoholic parent

Last month marked five years since my ex-husband passed away from his alcoholism at the age of 36, only 2 months after our divorce was finalized and our kids were 2 and barely 5. 

Shortly before he died, I was really starting to feel healed on a personal level. I was able to handle the consequences of divorce, speak about it (mostly) without crying, and the kids and I were in a good routine. But I constantly worried about long term, about the unknown. How to function if Jeff stayed an active alcoholic and went in and out of their lives for the next fifteen years. 

So, I made an appointment to go speak with a child psychologist about the kids, specifically my soon-to-be kindergartener, so I could have some idea of what I may be up against in the future. How would I talk to her about her dad’s absence? The discussion couldn’t have been more depressing. Bottom line, a girl needs to know her dad loves her. No substitute is enough.

The therapist used the words “hugely devastating” in reference to not having both parents in her life. And as painful as those words may have felt to me, I needed to push him to be involved and make it all about the kids. Because of his alcoholism, his filter was so distorted and everything I did, whether I had malice behind it or not, felt like I was controlling him.

As for what I could do on my own, and what you can do if you’re facing a similar situation—remind them that their daddy loves them. They need a sign that he cares about them. They need to know he’s thinking about them. Kindergarten and first grade would be especially hard for kids because “Me and my Family” is part of their curriculum. Father’s Day is hard enough to contend with, and now I’d get to deal with this from September through June too. 

One of the best pieces of advice I got, was to talk to the kids about their as if he had some illness like a brain tumor or something where he couldn’t engage with them. Telling them things like, “Your daddy loved watching hockey… he loved watching you ride your bike… When you were born, he…” Even though the memories and milestones he was here for were few, I could tell it in an impactful way that could hopefully ease their hearts when they’re older. When he died, the irony that I had done this exercise was not lost on me.

At the end of the day, kids need two things—to know they are loved, and to know they are taken care of. I could provide both of those things, and I know if you’re raising your kids and took the step to separate them from an alcoholic, then you’re filling that need to. 

My kids will always know they are loved, even if their dad wasn’t going to be able to show that. I will. My parents will. My neighbors and friends will. It truly takes a village, and that’s what we’re here for—supporting and loving everyone as our own. 

When kids are less than six, they don’t understand the permanence of things, so it’s hard for them to understand that mom and dad won’t be together again. I think telling my then three-year-old off the bat that mommies and daddies don’t always live together may have actually done some good. And at that age, I did lie to her for the reason she didn’t see her dad often. I focused a lot on his work and that he was in another town, and because of that, he couldn’t make frequent visits. Those were the reasons he couldn’t see her—not that he didn’t love her.

For us, it worked. I knew it couldn’t be a long-term plan, but in my eyes, it was age appropriate. And if there’s anything I’ve learned with kids, it’s that everything is a phase and you always have to come up with new plans as they change and grow.

Today, my son is seven and still doesn’t ask questions about his dad or how he died. He has had my current husband in his life for all of his memory, and so far, it’s kept his questions to a minimum. I have always answered the questions that my kids ask—but only when they ask, and only answering exactly what they’ve asked, nothing more. When he has questions, I’ll be ready.

My daughter is ten now and is full of questions. Good questions. And hard ones. She understands a lot about alcoholism. The biggest issue we face is that she sometimes shares too much with her peers at school, and I’ll occasionally get a note from her teacher to remind her that it’s pretty adult stuff and it’s not appropriate for her to discuss. It’s a fine line of being able to share her story without shame and forcing it on other kids who are still innocent to the things she’s dealt with so young. I’m always working on our communication and honesty so that as she enters these teen years, she’ll still talk to me, share with me, and make the best choices she can.

Excepts taken from my book, The Other Side of the Door, available on Amazon. 

Checking in one month after Rise Health + Happy

Last month, my best friend and I had an epic 8 hour date. It was in my playroom, from my couch, with a train table as our coffee table and foot rest. We were watching Rachel Hollis and her team give us a RISE conference virtually.

My friend and I both attended her first virtual event in May. She was in North Carolina, and I was sitting at my computer here in Virginia. That was fine, but she so graciously suggested how much more fun it would be to watch together. So she drove up and spent the weekend with me!

We both left the conference inspired and motivated, but we wondered how much we’d actually put in to action. Of course, none of the information we heard was new or surprising, but it was bundled so compactly in a way that could simply force the change out of you if you let it.

Anyone who has followed me for a while knows that I’m a bit of a Cherry Coke Zero addict, and often I reach for those way before I consider water. And that doesn’t fly at a conference like this. Drink the damn water is her motto, and it’s a good one. Admittedly, switching over to 80+ ounces of water a day is not easy for me, so I eased my way into this one. I had lots of soda in my garage that I needed to finish first. But to make it last longer, I found myself starting with a water, then reaching for the soda. And I was slowly going from 3 a day down to one. I never expect myself to be someone who is content on just water, but I’m definitely getting better about drinking it. Mostly because my skin had become so dry in September that I knew I wasn’t hydrating by body properly, and if I didn’t get it on track now, the winter would be a disaster.

So a month later, water intake is looking good.

What about self-care? I try to wake up on my own with enough time for me-time in the morning, and even before the conference, I’d set a goal to journal and read the bible five mornings a week. Watching the conference, reinforced it for me. This has been one of the easiest ones to keep. I’m writing in my Start Today journal which includes 5 things I’m grateful for from the day before, and I repeat the same 10 dreams I want to see come true in the next ten years. The idea of manifesting them in to reality by keeping them top of mind is fascinating to me, and I can’t wait to see what I can dream up!

After I’ve finished with my journal, I spend a few minutes in the bible. Right now, I’m workin through this new testament in a year bible, so each day is short and sweet. I’m only about a month behind, and I haven’t let that stop me from chugging along to see it through. Most days I just read 2-3 days worth of content to help me catch up. I WILL be finished by December 31st, ready to take on something new.

The incredible Jay Shetty asked me to Think Like a Monk and start meditating. I admit, it hasn’t happened yet. Not even 60 seconds a day. I suck, and I’m sorry. I’ll try again tomorrow?

Kelly LeVeque of the Body Love books was my friend’s favorite and was excited for me to be introduced to her. I loved the idea of filling my plate first with the good stuff – leafy greens, protein, fiber, and good fats. In theory, so easy. In practice, so hard!

I am so busy during the day right now with working from home and helping my elementary kids succeed with virtual learning that my go-to is always a protein bar or a handful of nuts or a Hershey kiss. I’d say it’s not more than once a week that I actually make a real meal during the day.

Our dinners are excellent and healthy, but lunch is a complete grab and go situation. Because I know this is an area that I can’t stress over right now in my current season, I’m focused on succeeding with intermittent fasting and continuing to do that well. Delay, don’t deny is much easier for me to take on right now that worrying about meal prep for lunches too. Meal prepping dinner is amazing, but I don’t have the mindshare to take on another meal in 2020!

So overall, I’d say that while I haven’t done a 180 in my life since attending the health conference last month, I have made some changes that are on their way to becoming habit. I’m drinking so much more water. I’m intentional about my me-time in the morning. And I’m aware of what I eat, even if it’s a poor choice. It’s better, for sure. Now my challenge is to finish the rest of 2020 strong, not letting the cold weather and time away from work throw me off my game.

And if you need a place to start, Rachel’s “Five to Thrive” is a good place. Wake up earlier, drink the damn water, move your body every day, cut out on food that’s bad for you, and give gratitude. If you do even 2 of those a day, you’ll be on your way to a healthier and happier lifestyle.

Showing Grace for the Addict in your Life

Addiction is a hard and miserable thing for both the addict and for the addict’s loved ones. Let’s start with that. It’s hard to know what’s enabling and what’s showing grace and kindness. It’s hard not to scream and shout at them for letting you down yet again. And if you have kids, it’s hard to explain to those little guys why their dad (or mom, or aunt, or grandpa…) acts a certain way. It’s just hard. And it’s miserable.

I will say, I’m not an expert on how you provide kindness and grace while still married to an addict. I remained blind to my ex-husband’s alcoholism for years, even though I admittedly knew he clearly had a problem with drinking. It wasn’t until I walked in on him pouring whiskey in a Coke can at 7am that my reality shifted. And I personally felt that I would only enable and prolong his behavior if we stayed together, so he was out of the house within 2 months and we began our separation.

At that time, our oldest was 3 and our youngest was about to turn one. I desperately needed a partner to help with this difficult stage of parenthood, and mine repeatedly failed to show up. I was angry and hurt and frustrated, and then I felt like I’d explode looking into my daughter’s tear-filled eyes as she asked about her daddy and why she didn’t see him anymore, why he didn’t love her.

It’s easy for me to sit here now and tell you all I’ve learned since that time. But in the moment—when I was in the thick of the pain and confusion and anger—it was impossible to know what to do. Begging him to come visit might work on occasion, and he was usually good at a quick phone call to her if I asked enough times, but as his alcoholism began taking over his life, I knew there was no relying on him. I had no idea if he was going to be in our lives at all a year or five years from then. I had no idea if he’d be homeless, in jail, or dead. And trying to reconcile how our sweet suburban life had taken such a unique and difficult turn took a lot of reflection and prayer and community.

As you think about the addict in your life, I can offer 3 pieces of advice to help you manage your emotions:

  1. Separate their behavior from who they truly are/were. If I could go back to the start of our relationship and ask him what he thought about deadbeat dads, alcoholics who give in to the disease, or husbands who abandon their families—I can hear the conversation in my head, and it’s comforting and reassuring. The man I married wouldn’t have acted this way. The disease had mangled his brain so much that his reality was no longer mine. His ability to function as he had before no longer existed. And every day I need to remind myself that the man he became is not truly the man he was.
  2. Limit communication. Listen, it’s so.damn.hard. to keep your mouth shut and not spew off a nasty text or voicemail when he bails again on a visit with the kids or when he doesn’t call on their birthday, but I promise, he’s not in the mindset to hear what you are saying (see #1). If your kids are young like mine, then their sense of permanence isn’t developed yet, and their sense of time is ever-changing. You can get away with more, even though their tears make it impossible for you to live through. They need love from other similar outlets (eg. if their dad left, is there a grandfather or uncle who can step up for special visits, go to dad events at daycare, etc.). And if your kids are old enough, I highly recommend teaching them about addiction—not only for the benefit of knowing their parent didn’t abandon them by choice but also for their future and health and awareness. And get them in therapy—group, church, one-on-one, whatever makes sense for your family.
  3. Overly communicate with and support your kids. As an adult, we have resources at our fingertips to help us deal with our emotions, to teach us about addiction, and to guide us to peace. As a kid, they are relying on you—the stable adult in their life—to show them the way. Again, this varies wildly by age, but as you learn, share with them. My 3 year old is now 10, and every year her questions get a little more inquisitive, a little more grown up, and I can share with her a little bit more. By this age, I talk with her about how alcoholism is genetic, and she needs to be careful. At 10, she tells me she’ll never touch alcohol, but of course, that’s unlikely to be the reality. So, we talk about peer pressure and what she can say when someone does ask her if she wants to try something.

This advice is nothing earth shattering. In fact, it doesn’t scratch the surface of all you’re going through to manage life right now. And honestly, it’s easy for me to look back and share this advice with you. My ex died with a BAC of 0.39 at only thirty-six years old. It was 18 months after I walked in on him with the coke can.

So all those fears I had about him being in and out of my kids’ lives were put to rest. I know that’s not the reality most of you will face. It’s a constant battle to remind yourself that who he is today is an altered version of the real him. It’s a version of him that hurts others, hurts you, and of course, hurts himself. The pain we all go through is traumatic and long, but if we let it, it’s also what leads to incredible growth and strength—just as any hard time can do.

And you can do hard things.

You can read more about my journey in my memoir, The Other Side of the Door, available on Amazon.

Recipes for moms who hate to cook

My first husband was a chef, and I got married when I was 23, so I really never had to spend my time cooking much. I love to eat, but I hate slaving away at something that is going to be gone in 10 minutes, if I’m lucky. 

But now that I have 3 kids and not a lot of time on my hands, I’ve had to really get focused and intentional on our meals so that we don’t end up with mac and cheese or pizza for dinner 5 nights a week. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes they get mac and cheese for lunch 5 days a week, but not dinner. And probably only because I don’t like it. 

So when I was preparing to go back to work after my maternity leave last year, I decided I wanted to try my hand at meal prepping. I found some great recipes on Pinterest for crock pot meals (the only “cooking” I really do), and I headed to Costco to load up on beef and chicken to make a dozen meals. 

Let me tell you now, if you’re just starting out with meal prep, don’t try to do 12 meals at once. I’m pretty sure it took me 4 hours and my entire Sunday of free time. But, you could get away with doing 6 meals—making two recipes and making each one three times! I do that often with taco meat when I have ground beef that needs to be used up. I stick it all in a pan and brown it up and separate it into freezer bags.

TIP: Get brand name freezer bags, preferably ones with a zipper so you don’t end up with leaks. 

I have several go-to meals that are always a hit with my family to help kickstart your meal prep

1. Mexican Chicken Chili

This one is a family favorite, and it’s completely flexible based on the ingredients you have. I almost always forget to add cheese (since it gets added day of), and sometimes I don’t have any peppers or onions. In fact, I usually just throw in some onion flakes. The one trick with this recipe is that you need to allow ONE HOUR at the end of the day to finish this recipe since you cook cornbread on top and set the timer to HIGH for one hour. It’s so good though, and everyone in our family loves it!

2. Honey Sesame Chicken

There are a ton of recipes out there for this one, which is again what I love about crock pot meals—it’s hard to mess up! I throw in a package of chicken breasts (of the 3 pack you get at Costco), about a cup of honey, a cup or two of ketchup, and some soy sauce. I’ve never even had sesame seeds on hand to add them at the end!

3. Cheesy Chicken and Rice

This isn’t one I’ve ever made as a freezer meal, but it’s super simple and one a non-cook could easily wow their family with. This is what I made for my husband the first time I cooked for him when we were first dating! You’ll need chicken, Yellow Rice, corn, a can of cream of chicken, and some shredded cheddar cheese. You could easily freeze the chicken, corn, and cream of chicken and then just cook the rice and add the cheese day of. I also save a few calories by making this with fat free cream of chicken, and I usually cook the rice the night before so it’s one less thing to do for dinner prep on the day of.

And so we don’t forget dessert…

4. Marshmallow peanut butter balls

My cousin introduced me to these heavenly bites years ago, and I make them for parties, holidays, and pretty much any event I can get away with. 

1 package white chocolate chips (or melting chocolate)

1 cup peanut butter

2 cups rice krispies

2 cups mini marshmallows

*wax paper and baking sheets

  1. Melt Chocolate (I’m lazy and just microwave, stirring occasionally)
  2. Add peanut butter, stir until smooth
  3. Mix in rice krispies and marshmallows
  4. Drop by the tablespoon onto wax paper in a baking sheet
  5. Chill in refrigerator (not freezer) until firm

After I drop them on the baking sheet, I add sprinkles based on the holiday or event (red and green for Christmas, for example).

One time I ran out of peanut butter in the middle of making these, and it still turned out great with only a half cup. 

So there you go. Just a few of my favorites that are staples at my house. I usually mix these in with fresh fish (salmon in the oven literally requires NOTHING added to it), spaghetti or gnocchi, tacos, and one night of pizza or other take out. And whenever I can, I take others up on their willingness to invite us over for a meal… and bring the peanut butter marshmallow dessert!

Trusting my gut: Handling the divorce process with an alcoholic

Apparently, I don’t always have the best judgement. When I was eleven, I liked Tonya Harding and thought for sure she was innocent. Now, she does shit like celebrity boxing. When I was in the 5th grade and watched the white Bronco speeding down the highway, I didn’t think OJ was a murderer.

“Why would he do that?” I thought.

I wanted to believe the best in people and did not know how cruel the world was.
As an adult, I still pretty much see the world that way. For years, I hid myself from the truth in front of me because I wanted to believe everything my husband told me—about his anxiety, about giving up liquor, about drinking less than one beer. It hurts that I almost let him break that good spirit in me, and for that alone, I knew I could never be with him again.

Even though I knew I couldn’t be with him again, in the back of my mind, I was always left
wondering, “But Ashley, what if he never takes a drink again? What if you ruin your kids’ chances of having a two-parent household because you’re stubborn?”

Having a protective order really helped me keep my resolve through everything, and I know that’s not something that a lot of women have the “luxury” of having as they go through a divorce. If I’d been communicating with him, we may have gotten along or maybe we would have fought. He may have broken sobriety sooner. I have no idea, but I hypothesized that dinner once a week would turn in to spending all day Saturday at the house. And then it would be picking someone up from daycare, and it would feel like we were still us. Still broken. Still sad. Still uneven.

I desperately needed to hold on to the fantasy of a good and thoughtful and hardworking man who could love me and my kids, because if I didn’t, I’d for sure lose it. I’d been surviving on fumes for eighty-one days at that point. It felt like forever, but in reality—it was nothing. I had so much work ahead of me. So much exhaustion, and so much strength to find.

But I knew I could do it, and I knew I could make it on my own. The problem now is that I knew how awful and hard it was to be a single parent, and I just didn’t want to do it. But I had to be strong because it was the right thing for all of us.

At this point, I think he was still sober—or at least, trying to be. I stalked him in countless ways to try and get a sense of where his head was and how sobriety may or may not be going, but without seeing him and talking to him, it was a lot harder.

Next up, it was time for our court hearing to discuss custody and child support. Our guardian ad lidem (GAL) was involved, and I felt good about how things would go. Jeff hadn’t gone to rehab as we’d discussed. He barely had a job. Was living at home with his parents—and we could both agree we’d never let the kids stay there overnight because they smoked. For the short term, I had no concerns about the safety of the kids or the court allowing them to stay in my care one hundred percent of the time.

But I was still so concerned how it would turn out. It felt shameful and sad to turn our kids over to the courts. That’s what I’d done. Yes, Jeff caused it, but I did it.

Court was unbearably awkward, and Jeff was in a simply jubilant mood. It was odd—and off—and made me feel like he’d taken a few shots before getting to court to settle his nerves. He rambled on and on when the judge would ask a question and never really made any sense.

I spoke to the GAL about Jeff’s behavior in court, and he said, “Can I tell you something? I thought the same thing [about him being inebriated], but I didn’t know him enough to know if that was just his personality.”

When I told him, no, that definitely wasn’t normal. He said, “Damn, I wish I’d known. I would have had him breathalyzed right then.”

I was so mad at my lawyer. Why didn’t she tell me this was something that gets done? We could have done it day one when we went back in June. We could have done it in August. What a mess. And now I’ll never know if he was drinking before court those days.

A few days later, I woke up to some urgent texts from my mom because Jeff called her at midnight. He appeared to have been his usual drunk self and was agitated, aggressive, and generally made no sense. She was on the phone for an hour with him complaining about the PSA and how he deserved $125,000 from me, how he is going to get custody of his kids, and on and on. Just a general mess.

Obviously hearing all of this confirmed my gut instinct, and I felt proud of myself for trusting it for once. That day, Jeff went to Peyton’s daycare to have lunch, and the toughest part is that the visit was great. Her teacher said that their visit was adorable. He was engaging with her and she had a blast. Once it was time to come in for nap, she started crying and he rubbed her back—and then he started crying too. One of the older assistants came over and sat with her while Jeff was there. Her teacher rocked her after he left and said it caught her off guard how emotional SHE got. For anyone involved, even on the periphery, it was heartbreaking to watch someone fall apart, and it was so obvious he loved his kids, and he could be a great dad. That was the horrible part. He was just throwing it all away.

All that said, I know this teacher dreaded me coming in to pick up Peyton that day and having to tell me all this. She started so positive with how great the visit was… then she got to the “but.”

“Welllllll, I don’t know for sure since I didn’t experience it, but Miss K said she smelled alcohol on him before he left.”

Great. Bless her heart.

Then she said, “But they were outside and so sweaty. It could have just been in his pores from last night.”

Okay, even so. This was someone who was supposedly ninety days sober.

Next, I picked up Ryan, who at this point was still at another in-home nanny and not at the same daycare. Jeff showed up there after his lunch with Peyton, and my nanny said he was an emotional wreck. He came in and just put his head on her shoulder and cried and cried. Eventually she got him to calm down, but she said that was the worst ever.
“I almost offered him a drink just to calm him down,” she joked.

Great, again. Once he was calm, she said he had a great visit with Ryan too. Great dad, bad alcoholic. The nanny finally admitted that she thought she caught a whiff of alcohol too when he was leaving.

His brother tried to remind me not to focus on speculation and only on fact. But let’s be real—that’s how we got into this mess. I knew in my gut what was going on, but until I caught him at 7AM pouring whiskey into his Diet Coke, I didn’t KNOW. Is that really what I wanted to wait for again?

It’s hard to catch a manipulative alcoholic like him. He put all his energy in to hiding it. After that incident, he went radio silent for a few days, and I was worried.

Would I always feel this way?

Would I always wonder if he was drinking?

Did I hope that he was drinking?

That night I rocked Ryan to bed and just cried and loved on him and didn’t want to let him go. All I could do was focus on those kids who needed me to keep a clear head and keep trusting my gut each and every day.

Excerpt taken and modified from my book, The Other Side of the Door

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