Categories
Family Love Resolving Conflict

Family

Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

My notion of what defines family has changed over time. When I was growing up, my family was big and glorious and messy and wonderful. I grew up surrounded by 16 aunts and uncles, 6 great aunts and uncles, 3 sets of grandparents, and 2 great grandmothers. I was the oldest child in my family, the first grandchild on both sides, and for 5 years, the only grandchild. That exploded to 25 or more cousins (it’s hard to keep track). Huge. Family.

As I grew up, I collected a few friends – friends like my first best friend. We met when I was 4 and 44(!) years later, we’re still friends. I met others through school that I’ve known since 5th grade who are still friends. And when I turned 18 and moved out, I stayed connected to my family but also began making my first adult friends – many of whom are still a big part of my life. I learned that friends – the people you choose to have in your life – can be just as much a part of your family as the people you’re related to by blood.

Family Is More than Genealogy

Over the past few years, thanks in part to the political disaster we’re living through, I’ve lost many family members. Sure, my mom passed away, and so did my favorite great-uncle and all but one grandparent. But the loss I’ve experienced has been more devastating because it’s like someone filled in details that had always been smoothed out for me. I realized that many people I had been close had hate-filled hearts or deep-seated racism built into their DNA – and no matter how many times we tried to “discuss” it, the conversations ended with me being called an idiot, or me being told that I was “too hung up” on what was happening, or me being told I needed to just shut up and deal with it because “the voters had spoken.” I was even accused of having a hand in hastening the death of someone because I caused so much stress with my political views.

(My views aren’t really all that extreme – I believe in better healthcare (minus the profit motive), criminal justice reform, gun reform and consistent gun laws nationwide, legalized pot with amnesty for anyone convicted on pot possession charges, and student loan debt reform).

The hate and vitriol became extreme enough that I decided to remove it by unfriending/unfollowing people on social media. Apparently, if you unfriend a family member on Facebook, you’ve literally deleted them from your life. But when people share things like photos of Michelle Obama being compared to an ape, or call for all welfare recipients to be rounded up and summarily removed, or the nasty conversation of immigrant “filth” reaches my ears (my son-in-law is an immigrant) that’s something I’m ok without being exposed to – and even more ok that my kids aren’t exposed to it.

Redefining Family

Family isn’t always just the people we were born to; it’s the people we collect – the ones who lift us up, support us, respect us, and care for us. The ones who stick around even when we aren’t doing something for them that they need. The ones who love us the way we are and not for what they think they can force us to be. The ones who want us in their lives. The ones who don’t have hate and harm in their hearts. If those people don’t share DNA, that’s ok with me.

So my kids are growing up in a smaller, tighter circle.  It’s still a great big, full of love, three-generation family. I wish things were different. I wish I had a relationship with the people in my family. But I also know that protecting myself – and my kids – from unbridled hate, judgment, and gaslighting is a necessary thing in today’s world.

Categories
Love Resolving Conflict

Your Kids Should Definitely Be Watching You Fight for These 3 Reasons

Getting Real with Kira Hazledine

My daughter is two going on three, and she is very observant of everything around her. She mimics the casual comments in the household and quotes her favorite movies. She is aware of when and why people come and go, whether it’s work or the grocery store. She is completely in tune with the feelings of others around her. My heart melted when I left for the store and she told me to “be safe.”

The love that my husband and I have for each other are apparent in our own toddler’s words. There are a million ways to say “I love you,” but it’s not always roses, is it? Sometimes that love comes out in frustration and concern. Sometimes we lose our patience with our partner and voices are raised. There are conversations that we reserve for private moments, but I have no issues with my children being present for a tense discussion.

Let me preface this by saying kids should never be exposed to physical violence. Intense anger that involves emotional, verbal, or physical abuse is never something kids should have to experience. Anger is a normal and healthy emotion, but abuse is never acceptable. Don’t be an asshole to your partner.

Anyhoo.

It’s ok to be angry.

There are so many feelings that kids are navigating, and anger is a really tough one to regulate. Kids are constantly told to reign it in because duh. Can’t have my toddler smacking everybody she disagrees with. At the same time, the emotion is so real. If our kids are constantly squashing their anger, they aren’t learning how to communicate it to others.

When my daughter watches me challenge my partner on something, there are times when I’m angry. I’ll say the words, “I’m angry” or “I’m frustrated” for the benefit of all involved. I’m not putting on a show. I don’t want my husband to be confused or have to interpret my feelings without guidance. I’m angry, and this is why. So let’s figure this shit out, because I don’t like being angry with husband. It’s not an emotion I’m fond of, but it’s one I have to work through.

Your kids learn important concepts about communication.

Now that my toddler knows that one of us is angry, she gets to observe the clumsy dance that we get through to solve the issue at hand. The conversation isn’t always neat, but we each take turns exploring the other’s feelings and opinions. We dig deeper into what is behind whatever emotion we’re feeling. Despite our anger, we’re not yelling. No one is throwing punches or tossing shit out the window. My kids are watching a healthy conversation play out in a safe environment. They are learning that their voices are important, their feelings are valid, and they deserve to be heard.

You can’t have resolution without conflict.

The most important part about my kids watching my husband and I argue a bit, is that they get to see the resolution. My kids got a good picture of the anger, but they also get to see the concern for the other’s feelings. They see the love we have for each other when the anger dims and then evolves into compromise and understanding. My kids observe as my husband and I hug each other, apologize, and promise to do better.

I won’t shield my children from completely normal parts of any relationship. Disagreements and anger can’t be avoided, and they are hard to navigate under any circumstance. Kids can’t learn if they don’t have healthy examples, and there is no reason to fear normal emotion. Don’t be afraid to fight in front of your kids, because there is a lot they can gain.

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Keeping Marriage Strong Love

Micro-Cheating is a Bunch of Bull Shit

Getting Real with Kira Hazledine

“Cheating” is a subjective concept depending on the couple. Casual flirting could be the norm for some relationships, when in others, it could be a deal-breaker. Yet here we are, with another form of infidelity that is hitting the radar of relationship experts: micro-cheating. It’s the new gateway drug, apparently. Just like a bit of pot will have you on the road to heroin, taking minor interest in another person other than your partner is the road to full-blown infidelity.

What a bunch of bull shit.

Where did we get it in our heads that a committed relationship demanded that we restrict ourselves to one person and one person only for all our needs? How exhausting for everyone involved. One person cannot possibly fulfill every single piece of you, and while that idea is romantic, it’s not realistic.

Don’t get me wrong. My husband completes me. He is my other half and the balance that I desperately need. I don’t know how I would live without him at this point, because life is so great with him in it. However, the man does not want to go shopping with me. I do not want to go golfing with him. We have separate interests that require the presence of separate people to fulfill us as individuals.

Let’s circle back to micro-cheating, because I can already hear the objections as to how platonic friendships stop being platonic as soon as emotions get involved.

What nonsense.

Humans are emotional people. If my husband was looking at some other person and considering how great it would be to be married to them, yeah, I would have a few questions. At the same time, my husband does have relationships with other women where there is a deep emotional connection. Women that have been in his life long before me, and there is more than platonic attachment. It doesn’t equal romantic attachment. These women are not a threat. They simply hold a special place in his heart, and he is fond of them. It’s completely normal.

If micro-cheating exists, we are all guilty of it. Every one of us has blushed when a stranger flirted. What should we have done, react with complete disgust and curse them for the compliment? We’ve all worn a certain dress or shirt more than others because someone told us how great we looked. Apparently, if you dress to impress anyone but your significant other, you’re a micro-cheater.

I scrolled across an article the other day that suggested micro-cheating was telling your partner that you had a business meeting and instead were at lunch with a friend. Micro-cheating is changing someone’s name in your phone because you don’t want your significant other to know you’re texting Brad all night instead of Jessica.

Now, we could argue all day over whether those things are cheating or not, but there’s still a problem. That, my friends, is what we call a lie. In case you’ve forgotten, lying is generally considered to be a no-no in relationships. So in that situation, you’ve got way more problems than micro-cheating.

I don’t buy in to micro-cheating. Dedication to your partner does not mean you can’t be emotionally connected to someone else. I love all my friends dearly, but none could replace my husband. Different things will constitute cheating in the eyes of different couples, which is why communication is so important. But there are no tiers to cheating. Boundaries are important, and so is comfort and compatibility. Decide for yourselves but understand there is no “gateway” to cheating. You’re either committed or you’re not, and that has nothing to do with other people.

 

Categories
Keeping Marriage Strong Love Raising Healthy Kids Travel

Keeping Marriage Strong: Couple Getaways

Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

I am always talking about the next road trip and the importance of family vacations, but escaping alone with your spouse, whether for a simple overnight or a few days, is just as important.

It’s not just good for you and your spouse; it’s important for the health and well-being of the entire family. Getting away together lets you remember the reasons you fell in love in the first place – the love that built your family! And being away gives your kids a chance to appreciate what they might be taking for granted.

Family vacations are so important,  creating memories and experiences that bond you. But you may find the mini-vacations that you and your spouse take together are just as fulfilling.

I really believe these little escapes we make keep our love healthy and strong. And they don’t have to be expensive or extravagant. Dave and I have done everything from spend a week together in Montreal to cook dinner at home, call it an early night, and have a romantic “getaway” in our bedroom. The kids play along and don’t disturb us for the night.

When you take time to be a couple and enjoy time with just the two of you, you come back refreshed and ready to be better parents.

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Keeping Marriage Strong Love Parenting

Reconnecting with Your Partner After A Second Child

Getting Real with Kira Hazledine

Child #2 is a real game-changer. I don’t think any amount of mommy blogs can fully prepare a mom for two kids, but you get the hang of it eventually. However, what I noticed that suffered most was not anything I worried about before the second baby arrived. I was so worried about having time for 2 kids that I didn’t consider my relationship with the person that was there before the kids.

Although I go into it assuming that the kids will dominate most of our time, the reality of that is still a shock. You don’t realize how little time exists that doesn’t involve children. Suddenly the number of children equal the number of adults, and you might even be outnumbered. Time for adults doesn’t exist, at least for a few weeks. It’s about survival as the household adjusts.

Then the dust settles and you enter a new routine, but does that routine include time for your partner? If it doesn’t, it should. Your relationship existed before kids, and the goal is to have it continue after the kids are grown. Every relationship takes continuous effort, regardless of what else is going on. Here are some ways to reconnect:

Go on a date.

If you have access to a babysitter, take advantage. Even if it’s only once every couple months, it’s good to remind yourself what life with your partner was like before children. Sure, you’ll spend most of your time talking about the kids, but you’ll also get to enjoy time a meal without worrying about other patrons getting hit by flying french fries.

If you can’t get a babysitter, make a date for yourself at home, even if it means staying up a little late. Tuck the kids in bed, order yourself a pizza, and cuddle up with a favorite movie. The idea is just to set aside time.

Check in.

Reconnecting also means acknowledging when your partner is at their max. Offering to watch the kids so they can take a shower or read a book alone for a bit means so much and shows that you’re paying attention.

Random acts.

Leave little notes around or pick up their favorite snack from the store. Make their favorite meal or do breakfast in bed. Random acts show your partner that you’re still thinking of them, even though things are a bit crazy.

Remember you’re in this together.

Parenting is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and it would feel impossible without my partner. But unless we are connecting as people, we can’t connect as parents. I know we bicker less when we feel like we’ve got each other’s backs.

Categories
Love Resolving Conflict

Why People Ask What I’ll Do if My Husband and I Separate

Getting Real with Kira Hazledine

I’ve only been married once, so I don’t have the frame of reference for this question that I’ve gotten more frequently than I ever anticipated. I did marry a man from another country, and even I was not privy to all the ins and outs of an international marriage. People are curious, and I get that. But can we at least try to mind our business just a tiny bit?

This is the nosy question:

“What will you do with the kids if you guys get divorced?”

Alright. Hold on a bit.

Let’s just assume for a second that I don’t plan on divorcing my husband. Can we do that? Does anybody have a backup plan if they are in a domestic marriage?

“Ok, Brad, if I decide one day that I can’t stand you any more because you missed the hamper yet again, we will trade every other summer and holidays.”

I don’t think this conversation happens, but I’m only aware of what goes on in my own marriage. I just worry that if you feel like you need a backup plan there are other things to worry about, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Ok. Now let’s assume that I do plan on divorcing my husband, and now I need a backup plan. He’s a citizen of the UK and a legal resident of the US, I’m a citizen of the US, and our two kids are dual citizens. We would certainly be in a pickle if my husband and I decided that we could no longer live under the same roof.

Now, let me tell you. Those that ask this question usually get more than they bargained for. It depends on my mood. I could go the sassy route, but I usually go the political route. Aren’t intrusive questions fun?

My answer begins with this: we would do right by our children. Regardless of our choices, our children would never suffer for it and I hope that’s what every parenting relationship is built upon. Married or not, y’all are parents together and in it for the long haul.

Me doing right by my children means them living in the UK, with or without me.

I would do everything in my power to be in the UK with them, but I would also make the sacrifice of sending the children with their dad until I could get it figured out. It would absolutely break my heart to not have my children with me, but I also know I would never forgive myself if something preventable were to happen.

Health care in the UK is free. If my children were to get sick, and I pray to the powers that be that it never happens, they would not get the care they need in the US. That is a fact. My children would not have access to the best doctors because we don’t have the income. My family would be crippled by medical bills, where right across the ocean, my kids could have access to free health care without financial ruin.

Education is better and safer. The UK is known worldwide for their comprehensive education structure and I would be doing them a disservice by keeping them here where the most important part of the day is the Pledge of Allegiance. I can also send them to school knowing that they will be doing fire drills and not active shooter drills. There are no bullet-proof backpacks or cots being peddled by lobbyists. My children would be safe at school, which is exactly how it should be.

Ultimately, we have plans to move to the UK for these same reasons and many others. However, if my husband and I were to separate, I wouldn’t drag my children back to America. They have a right to a better life, and I’m sorry (not sorry) but given our current administration that life is not in the US.

Next time you want to ask a question about something that is probably none of your business, consider what argument you’re about to get into.

Categories
Keeping Marriage Strong Love

Out of Ideas and Time? Gifts to Your Partner Don’t Have to be Complicated

Getting Real with Kira Hazledine

It’s officially panic weekend for those who haven’t gotten their significant others a Christmas gift. Kids are easy: A color book and whatever toy and they are pretty happy. So why do we struggle when we are giving gifts to our life partner? I know, it’s tough to give a gift when you are already the greatest gift they have.

LOL.

Aside from wrapping yourself up and hiding underneath the tree, you need some real options. It’s crunch time, but rather than peruse the prepackaged aisles of hot cocoa packages and movie night presents, think simple. What does your partner enjoy?

Honestly, my husband could get me chocolate or ice cream for every single anniversary, birthday, and holiday and I would be completely content. He knows me. That’s what I love. Mix it up a bit with different varieties of chocolate or even upgrade to the “fancy” kind and you have one satisfied customer.

What about experiences that you two can do together? Create your own coupons that offer massages, date nights, or something funny like vacuuming or doing the dishes. If you two are music lovers, find a local concert. If you are foodies, seek out a new restaurant you’ve never been to and grab a gift card.

Maybe your partner would love some peace and quiet. If my husband told me that next weekend was completely mine and handed me a movie voucher, I would be ecstatic. I love my children, but “me time” doesn’t happen often. Even creating a collage of family photos with the kids and their sticky hands would be such a special gift, and it’s nothing that anyone could find on the Wal-Mart shelves.

Don’t overthink gift-giving. That’s not what the holidays are about and it truly is the thought that counts. All your partner wants to know is that you tried, even if you missed the mark a little.

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Keeping Marriage Strong

This Communication Mistake Made Me Blind to My Partner

Getting Real with Kira Hazledine

Communication is so freaking hard. No class prepares you for how to communicate with others. We are taught basics in kindergarten, like how to share, and not punch little Sally when she steals your markers. But what about how to truly discuss our feelings with another person without sounding like a complete dodo bird? No one teaches you that.

Even after navigating your first friendships and romantic relationships, you never truly get it right. You crash through adolescence and early adulthood, and you think you’ve got it handled well enough. You know how to express yourself and how to make yourself heard. Especially in the age of #metoo, a woman needs to roar louder than ever.

Except I was roaring so loud I couldn’t hear my husband.

My husband and I have an incredible foundation of communication. As a long-distance couple for several months, communication was all we had. The only dates we had were on Skype, and texts were our love letters. We shared our darkest secrets and we learned really quickly how to communicate when physical touch was never an option.

And I foolishly decided that we had it on lock-down. I knew how to communicate with this man. I could talk about my feelings all day long and never worry about holding anything back. Except I made a huge mistake. I was so confident in our ability to communicate that I didn’t realize he was only listening. He’s such a great listener, and I’m such a great talker, that I never even knew something was amiss.

I made the mistake of becoming complacent in my communication skills with my husband, and not recognizing that he wasn’t being heard. I was so busy communicating my own concerns that I wasn’t doing any listening, and I didn’t even realize until he was visibly suffering. He had things to say, and even though he speaks in a few words when I speak in full paragraphs, there’s no excuse to the fact I was ignoring him.

In any relationship, there will always be new challenges. You won’t always communicate the same way, because nothing will stay the same. The goal is to grow and change together, and that demands communication in every step. What worked when my husband and I were miles apart does not work now. What worked when we had one kid does not work now that we have two.

It is imperative in a relationship that you are able to communicate with your partner, but it’s so important to remember that communication is a two-way street. When you’re complaining about all the hang-ups from your day, don’t forget to ask about theirs. As you’re ranting about every little stressor, check and see if it’s a good moment to unload your emotional baggage. Don’t forget that when you need them, they probably need you, too. The only way you’ll know is if you communicate and focus extra on that whole listening aspect. Everyone deserves to be heard.

 

 

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Keeping Marriage Strong Pregnancy and Your Newborn

10 Postpartum Rules for My Partner

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Getting Real with Kira Hazledine

The postpartum life can be dicey for all involved. I know I have a short fuse shortly after giving birth, and I do what I can to not take my frustrations out on my husband. However, there’s such a thing as helping yourself. My husband can make both our lives a lot easier by following these 10 postpartum rules so that we come out the other end of the newborn stage still happily married.

  1. Don’t tell me about any of your aches or pains. Nothing you’re experiencing compares to the pain of childbirth, and I’m allowed to be a little selfish right now.
  2. For the love of god, do not invite anyone over without running it by me first. I might like your best friend and even love your parents, but I’m not about to entertain. Don’t make me hide in the bathroom with our newborn, because I will.
  3. If you have a slight cold, or the dreaded man-flu, suck it up buttercup. I could literally give two shits right now about your runny nose and sore throat. Sorry, not sorry.
  4. It’s ok to say that you’re tired. We both are! Newborns are rough. It’s not ok to challenge me to a competition of “who is the most tired.” As an exclusive breastfeeder, I will kill you in your blissfully undisturbed sleep with your worthless man-nipples.
  5. Bring me all the snacks. Don’t question me or my motives. I’ve been deprived of various foods for 9 months, and I deserve all the nourishment I feel like having.
  6. I get control of the remote whenever I want it. I’m bored out of my mind sitting on my ass while stitches heal and the baby breastfeeds, so I get to choose what’s on the tv.
  7. Don’t ask why I’m crying. I don’t have an answer for you. Hormones are driving my thought patterns and it’s not rational. Just ask how you can help and give me a hug if I need one.
  8. If there are other children, get them out of this house. I don’t care where you go or what you do. Have ice cream for dinner. Just leave me alone, preferably while the baby is sleeping, so that I can get some rest.
  9. Tell me I’m beautiful and mean it. I feel like a rock star for giving birth to a human on some days, but other days I feel like a hot mess in my mesh panties and leaking boobs. I need to know that you see the awe in what my body has accomplished.
  10. Let me know that I’m doing a great job, every day. There’s a lot of pressure on moms to be perfect, and we are far from it. When I’m frustrated because the baby won’t stop crying or I can’t stop phoning the pediatrician for every hiccup, let me know that I’m kicking ass at this parenting thing. We can only do our best, and we are at our best when we have the support of our partners.

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Categories
Parenting Resolving Conflict Teens and Tweens

Teaching Our Kids the Value of Friendship

Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

As a stay-at-home mom turned work-at-home business owner, I don’t meet a lot of people. Since Dave works from home, too, it’s difficult for us to make new friends. The only people who come to our door that we don’t know are the Mormon Missionaries. Luckily, the friends I do have are ones to cherish. Dave is still friends with his best friend from grade school, Ed; and I’m still friends with my first friend, Rachelle.

Friendship is such an important aspect of motherhood. I’m still friends with a few friends from high school. And I’ve made great friends with some of the mothers of my daughters’ friends (cheer practice and dance lessons used to get me out of the house). These friendships are important, not just for me but to show my children how important friendships are.

According to research (Ferrer & Fugate), “Friends are vital to school-age children’s healthy development. Research has found that children who lack friends can suffer from emotional and mental difficulties later in life. Friendships provide children with more than just fun playmates. Friendships help children develop emotionally and morally. In interacting with friends, children learn many social skills, such as how to communicate, cooperate, and solve problems.”

Friendships last when the people in the friendship know how to be good friends. Kids learn that from the friendships they see. Do you treat your friends with respect? Are you there for them when they need help? Do you do thoughtful things for your friends? Are you a loyal friend?

Parents can foster friendship skills in children through (1) positive parent-child interactions; (2) parents’ roles as supervisors, coaches, and advisers during children’s play; and (3) parents’ roles as providers of social opportunities.

It takes time to build friendships and establish and maintain that sense of trust. It is important for children to understand and develop the skills for building and maintaining different types of friendships and relationships with their peers as well as other people in their environment. When our kids see us behaving in a way that demonstrates the power and value of friendship, they will model that behavior in their own friendships and relationships.