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What is it really like to be a single mom?

I remember the season in my life when I searched online to find what life would be like as a single mom. I remember the unparalleled pain. Needing that pain to end, not knowing how and being scared to death.

I had three small children. I lived in a different country than my family, albeit on the same continent and within a ten hour drive. To leave would mean the end of life as I knew it. They say the monster you know is better than the monster you don’t. I searched the internet for stories of what it’s like to be a single mom. I wondered if I could do it. At the time, I resolved that no – that wasn’t the path I wanted for my life and fought to save and rebuild my broken marriage. I loved my husband. I loved my children and I wanted the best for them. And how could it be possible that a broken family was ‘the best’?

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Looking back, I know I tried. I gave my all. I sacrificed a lot – so much so that I died inside. I lost myself. Or rather, I gave myself – until I disintegrated. There are all sorts of quotes and jokes about how terrible exes are, but it’s possible that the person who caused you unparalleled pain, also gave you happiness, and times of excitement and love and wonderful memories. My then-husband and I went through some heartbreaking, exceptionally difficult times that nobody but he and I will ever fully know – but he is a wonderful man. An amazing father and a genuinely good person (who has done bad things – like me!) The first year after our separation, of course, I didn’t remember any of those things. Only the bad. As time has passed, I love and respect the father of my children and understand that all of us are human and all of us make mistakes. Sometimes, horrible mistakes. We both love our children and we are both good parents. (I also want to interject that I caused him pain too. Life is messy. I don’t believe in victims and bad guys. But there are mistakes and there is pain and there is no magic button to turn back time and undo anything)

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And so my first word to any newly single moms is to take the time to let time pass. The first year is the hardest. And yet it’s a mix of emotions. There was so much stress in my home before I left, that I cherished the amazing relief of being able to sing and laugh freely in my own home. I hadn’t experienced that for a long time. And then there were other times that I wondered if I would be able to take even one more step.

During that first year, you have to give yourself time to rediscover yourself. Experiment with life. Try new things. Make time for yourself. Laugh with your children. Tickle them. Play. Feed on positivity. I used to carry motivational books around with me that first year, like The Success Principles by Jack Canfield and Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins. It’s almost impossible to read either and stay in a negative state. When I started to feel alone and hopeless and wonder ‘how the heck am I going to do this?’ – I would read one of those books. I also discovered meditation. Developed my love for wine. Learned salsa. Went back to school to get my degree.   I worked hard to become the type of person I wanted to be, and took the time to explore in my own mind who that ideal version of me would be.10425467_10152492241822978_4872088511917437536_n

Although I feel more settled in my identity, I am still working hard to create the life I want. My situation is probably different than most single moms, as I am living in Ireland – an ocean away from my family. This has created a whole new set of challenges – not having a plan B or a man to call when my furnace breaks or I need to move something heavy. ( Nevermind the challenge of things being different in Ireland – who knew you had to flip a switch to have hot water…and you need to turn it off?! ) I remember when I assembled my bed I felt like Superwoman! “Who needs a man anyway?” It was an entirely different story when I attempted to BBQ – although I have since mastered the art. 😉

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(My first attempt at chicken on the grill!!!)

That’s sort of what it’s like as a single mom. You face challenges, things that seem so intimidating and impossible and so incredibly frustrating when you try to do something you have never done before and you just don’t get it.   But then, you become incredibly strong. Incredibly resilient. I’m never scared to try something new. Okay, sometimes I’m scared – but I never ‘don’t try’. I feel like I can do anything – and most of the times I’ve been right. But that has come from the times where I have honestly thought, “I can’t do this. I can’t.” But I did.   Mind you, there are certain things I’m terrible at. My kids make fun of me for my feeble attempts to light a fire.  I often make fun of myself and the crazy antics that follow me and my journey as a single girly-girl mom alone in a foreign country! Believe me, there have been plenty!

I am (have become?) an incredibly independent person and have done a lot in my life. I’ve faced a lot of challenges – and won. People don’t understand how it’s possible to travel alone, build a career, get an education, raise three kids alone in a foreign country – yet not know how to change a tire.

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I have a single friend who stayed with me for a while and told me, “I’ve decided I want to be a single mom. You have children you adore but also have your own life. It’s perfect.”     My god, it’s not perfect! It’s hard. I’m a happy person. I laugh a lot. I work hard. I play hard. I have amazing friends. Lots of interests. I’m lucky. But believe me, I fight an uphill battle. I work ridiculously hard, and sometimes, it feels like life is beating me. I still have moments where I feel like I just want a chest to lay my head against and someone to be fighting in my corner. This is not a luxury of a single mom.   You are that chest. You’re the one fighting. For your kids and yourself. So, as the saying goes – pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick and pull yourself together.

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Sometimes you feel like you have two lives. I have single friends and friends who are settled in relationships with kids. I don’t think either category fully understands the other half of my life. I’m single, but not fully… I have kids. I have a family, but not ‘fully’… I’m single. Life is completely different in each stage and yet my life is a blend of this duplicity.

I adore my children. They are the greatest thing that ever happened to me. We laugh. They make me laugh. We share sweet moments and we have an incredibly strong bond.   Before I left, I worried about my children – and although there are many aspects of this new life that I wish were different for the sake of my children, I have to credit them for being amazing.  The great part about kids is they push you to happiness. There have been days where I felt like the world was caving in – until my kids and I would spontaneously burst into a karaoke dance party in the kitchen or a full on tickle explosion.

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They say you only live once, and yet in a sense I feel as though somehow I’ve had the opportunity to live a few lives. I practically ran an entire college when I was in my 20’s. (A season I often try to delete from my memory!) I did the children and housewife thing – complete with regular dinner parties and entertaining almost daily.   I did cake decorating – as a hobby and then as a business. I started my own e-commerce business. Then, when I separated I dove headfirst into building a career – went back to college, worked full time, contracted on the side – in addition to being a newly single mom. Now my kids make fun of me because I always seem to burn their sausages – because I’m always doing ten things at a time! They talk about meals I used to prepare and tease me, “You lost that skill” – except for their birthdays, and Christmas and Easter – somehow my domestic self lovingly shows it’s head. Apart from the things I’ve ‘done’, I’ve also lived in very different cultures – Canada (mostly city life but a year of country life), America (from Pennsylvania to New York to South Carolina – the cultures and different lifestyles in America are incredibly vast!) and now I live in Ireland.

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I’ve decided there is no ‘right’ path in life. Sometimes life is messy. Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes life is amazing. Sometimes you look back on the hard times and see they were a catalyst to something better. Sometimes you look back on the times that you thought you couldn’t take another step – and look where you are now! And then you find yourself with the ground pulled out from beneath you – but you’ve done it before, now you know you can do it again. Life is full of amazing people, opportunities, experiences, laughter, things to learn and discover, skills to master, wines to try! Like a tapestry – on the back it’s a messy conglomeration of coloured string that resembles nothing but chaos. On the other side, is a beautiful, handwoven piece of art. This is life as a single mom.

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Women’s Little Christmas

There is a sweet little tradition in Cork – I’m not sure if it’s an Irish thing or native to Cork. But today, the sixth of January is Women’s Little Christmas. It’s a night devoted to women, to let their hair down and celebrate. The idea is that typically women cook Christmas dinner and essentially work all day to create a lovely holiday for their loved ones. Today is their payback. Men take care of all household duties and women either host parties or go out to celebrate with their friends, sisters, mothers and grandmothers. Some say the idea is a bit offensive, encouraging sexism. But, I think it’s sweet. And it’s huge in Cork, where I live. I’ve never actually celebrated it – I’m off to a birthday party tonight – but love the idea of it!

Friendship

Tonight, I am thankful for friends.  I feel incredibly lucky to have such amazing people in my life.  I absolutely love the fact that I have people who I talk to every single day – sometimes about nothing, sometimes about everything!  I love how sometimes time will pass – a year, ten years – and I find myself with a friend as if not a minute has passed.  I love the silly laughter, the ability to forget the cares of life and just giggle like girls.  I love the deep conversation, where we make plans to solve all the problems of the world.  I love the people who call me or send me texts “Oh my god – this happened – what should I do?”… and I can ask them the exact same question – and do!  I love having amazing people who let me vent on those days where it seems the world is falling apart!   I’m thankful for friends who lend me their husbands to help with stupid projects that I feel paralyzed to handle.  I love having friends who laugh at me and the crazy situations I find myself in.   The wine nights.  The Skype calls.  The ‘stop-everything-I-need-you’ calls.  The friends I can look to for advice and those I can help along the way.  And then the friends where you forget all the cares of the world, and just laugh.   I love that I have friends in so many different places, from so many different backgrounds, with different life paradigms and interests.  I love my friends who love on my kids.  I love friends who have known me at various stages of life.  And those I haven’t known long but with whom you ‘just click’.

Friendship is a truly beautiful thing.  We are shaped by the people we spend time with, and I feel incredibly lucky to have such beautiful, smart, funny and amazing people in my life!

When you can’t control circumstances, you can control character

“There is only one person responsible for the quality of the life you live. That person is you.  If you want to be successful, you have to take 100% responsibility for everything that you experience in your life.”

– Jack Canfield

Do you agree with this quote?

I love the sentiment.  It is freeing to know that you have the power to shape your own life and happiness.  It is easy to blame people or circumstances when we look at our lives and see that it doesn’t measure up, but that isn’t really a fair assessment.  We all face challenges – sometimes very different challenges –  nonetheless, we have the ability to create the life that we want.

The idea of taking 100% responsibility for your life essentially puts your own destiny in your own hands.  This is an empowering and freeing thought.

As much as I love the sentiment, and strive to apply it in my own life, I do believe it is flawed.  What about child abuse?  Rape?  Kidnappings?  The loss of a parent, spouse or child?  People who have been imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit?  These may be extreme examples, but I believe such extremes are the exceptions to this rule.  Child abuse, for example, can greatly affect that child’s course of life as they enter adulthood.

There is absolutely no way to say that a child was responsible for that type of experience.  It would be just as impossible to say that abuse did not affect their lives.  A person abused as a child is not responsible for what happened to them, but they don’t have to be held back or defined by their circumstances.

The irony is  abusers often blame their victims.  I have a friend who was beaten badly by her mother throughout her childhood. Her mother even kicked her out of the house as a young teenager, threatening to kill her! As crazy as it sounds, my friend adored her mom.  She would tell me how her mom used to come into her bedroom and cry over her at night.  She kept the abuse a secret for most of her life, until recently when some extended family members said some things that let her know that her Mom had painted an entirely different picture, casting a bad light on her.  When she confronted her mom, she half-expected her mom to deny the abuse… but she didn’t.  Her response? “You deserved it.”

I think the only way for a person who has experienced such horrors is to accept, fully – 100% – that they did not deserve it.  Every child deserves to be loved and cherished and protected.  In order to take 100% responsibility for their lives, they have to deny 100% responsibility for such atrocities.  It’s important to re-frame your mind and understand you deserve love and kindness and good in life.  Understanding this empowers you to become the type of person you want to be, to break the mould and forge a new path – of success, happiness and love.

I understand abuse is an extreme example.  The point is, we may not ALWAYS be able to take 100% responsibility for the circumstances in our lives.  We have the power to shape our lives by wisely choosing our friends, people we look up to, how we spend our time, habits, our career path, etc – these actions will shape our experiences.  But there are exceptions.  When you are unable to control the circumstances in your life – you can still control the person you will be.   You can choose your thoughts, your actions, your own identity.  We all face difficult circumstances, some we can’t always control.  But we can always control our own character.  

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My favourite example of this is Oprah. She was raised in poverty and abuse, and yet never talks about this – it doesn’t define her.  Her name is equated with success.  Her character, her choices, her actions, define her.

We all have the same blank slate, so long as we choose to see a new day as a blank slate and not be defined by the things that hold us back!

 

The Best Hot Chocolate in Cork

My kids and I have a bit of a competition going on.  For the past few months, we have been on a hunt to find the best hot chocolate places in Cork.

Bethany and I are tied in our opinion that O’Connails Chocolatier offers the best tasting hot chocolate.  There are so many flavours to choose from, and my kids and I always make sure to choose something different so we can work our way through the menu.  The white hot chocolate and the praline milk chocolate are our favourites so far.

David and Clara disagree with us – when David first tasted O’Connails hot chocolate he said, “This is the best hot chocolate I have ever tasted!”  Tonight, however, he and Clara agreed that Butlers offers the best tasting hot chocolate.  The kids had the cookie hot chocolate. “I feel like I just drank four Oreos!”  The free chocolate truffle *might* have influenced their decision! 😉

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(My littlest has been quite enthralled with her newly lost tooth)

But for novelty, we all agreed on the Web Workhouse.  For me, it lacks atmosphere – it feels like the internet cafe that it is.  But my kids had never been in an internet cafe and loved it!  The hot chocolate is very cool.  You choose white, milk or dark – they give you a cup of steamed milk and a chunk of chocolate on the end of a spoon that you stir into the hot milk.  It’s a very fun way to drink hot chocolate.  “It’s not just hot chocolate, it’s an experience”

 

Happy New Year!

It’s hard to believe it’s 2016!  I’ve always loved the idea of a fresh start, and in reality, every moment holds the opportunity for a new beginning.  But there is something about the blank slate of a New Year.

Who do you want to be?  Who are you?  And how does that person align with the person you want to be?  What interests do you have – have you pursued them?  What do you want to accomplish in life?  What’s holding you back?

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The irony about goals and dreams is that they evolve. Maybe this isn’t true for everybody, but it’s true for me.  Life is fluid and the most important thing is to move forward, in the direction of your passions and goals – those goals may change.  There’s a quote that says, ‘Go as far as you can see.  When you get there, you’ll see further’

It’s true.  The secret is in starting.  Discover, explore, live fully and keep going!

One of my own personal aspirations for 2016 is to write more.  Some of my writing goals are outside of this blog, but to start the year off I have decided to write – and post – every day for one month.  I have a lot of things going on in my life, and I can use that as an excuse for not writing often lately – but no excuses!

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You can be or do anything you set your mind to!  Here’s to 2016 being the year when we do.  May all your goals be reached, your heart full of happiness, your life full of love as you follow hard in the direction of your dreams!

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How to redefine your life in 3 (easy to understand – not so easy to apply) steps:

The real secret to change is wanting it badly enough.  Desire is an incredible motivator. So, you want it. How do you attain it?

Read

 Reading changes you.

 “In books, I have traveled, not only to other worlds, but into my own”

Reading expands your thinking. It opens your eyes to new viewpoints, thoughts and ideas. It is nearly impossible to read a plethora of books and be close-minded. Reading expands who you are as a person; not only your intellectual understanding of a subject, but your mind and perspective. Reading ignites your passion and is a fabulous motivator.

 Want to be a master in your sector? Read 100 books related to your field or the subject you want to attain mastery in. Reading one hundred books on one subject will give you depth and breadth in your understanding. The repetition – as well as opposing stances – will forge within you clear and strong insights. Books are living and powerful. Reading this many books related to your field will not only increase your mental mastery and ability to articulate thoughts with authority, but will spur new thoughts and create new ideas.

Friends

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”

If you find yourself in a place where you are not surrounded by people who push you forward and encourage you in the pursuit of your dreams, it’s time to change your circle of influence. How do you find such high quality people? Intelligent, interesting, positive people like to spend time with other intelligent, interesting and positive people. Become that person.

Friends give you a new perspective and show you different trains of thought. They make you laugh, smile and are there when you cry… but don’t let you cry too long.   Friends come into our lives for different seasons and purposes, with a few lucky lifers in the mix. Understanding that life is fluid helps you to enjoy the people in your life without holding on too tightly to those who hold you down.

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“Five years from today, you will be the same person that you are today, except for the books you read and the people you meet”

Mindset

Perhaps the single most powerful, and yet challenging, indicator to your success is your mindset. Your thoughts shape your actions and your actions define who you are.

How do you change your mindset? It takes determination and time but there are some practical steps you can take. Meditate, choose to be positive, write out your goals, write out what you are thankful for, and (looping back) spend time with people that motivate and inspire you. And read lots of books!

“To change your life, you have to change yourself.  To change yourself, you have to change your mindset.”