Pushing Buttons

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My oldest son, now 26, was the product of divorce from about the time he was four months old. His father found someone new while I was still pregnant and filed for divorce when he was eight days old. I was 23 at the time. Being young and a first-time mother, I had no idea how to handle a divorce and a newborn. Someone wise once said, “You can’t control everything, only how you react to it.” At that time in my life, I reacted to every single thing! We were in court for any little disagreement or argument. Luckily, my parents were helping me with the legal bills. My ex’s father was a lawyer, so he didn’t have any legal costs and loved to go to court. The entire time my son grew up, we fought over any minute detail.

One time, in a meeting with my lawyer, she said to me, “You do realize that he knows how to push your buttons, and he is doing it every time he can?!” I ignored her thinking she had no idea what she was talking about and who I was having to deal with almost daily. We argued over where to meet for pickups, what my son was wearing, if the new girlfriend could pick him up, what he could take back and forth between homes…literally anything there was to argue over, we argued!

Fast forward to today. I am nearly 50 now, and my son is grown. I haven’t had to deal with his dad in several years. As I look back on the lawyer’s words, I realize that she was exactly right! He did know how to push any of my buttons that he could. He pushed me to the point of me arguing and getting upset every time. I now use those words in my life when dealing with others who might try to get to those hotpoint buttons. I take a deep breath and assess the situation. If I realize they are going that direction, I really try to control my reaction. I realized that at 23, I didn’t know how to do this!

I am writing this blog post in hopes that maybe some of you single moms will read this and take it to heart. You don’t have to react to everything the ex does! And realize that maybe he is trying hard to get a reaction so that he can use it against you, whether it be in court or in the presence of your child(ren).

Take a deep breath, look at the situation, and react or don’t. You are in control, not your ex!

-Julie Burr

Stop Apologizing for Who You Are

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Have you ever said, “I am sorry” for pretty much no reason at all? You get so used to saying the phrase it just comes out of you like second nature. Before you realize it, you are even apologizing for bumping into a chair as if the piece of furniture gave you an appalling look of insult!

I have always been one to apologize for everything. But during my divorce and then becoming a single parent, those words, “I am sorry” have suddenly become this barrier I throw up in defense. It is reflex that I developed into a terrible habit that almost too a point I am apologizing for my very existence. I even said those exact words!

I was blessed with a rare treat of a night out without my children. What also made this night even grander was it was an art show I was in with several of my other close artist friends. There were many artists from all walks of life going to be there, and we all shared a love for God. After months of painting, touch-ups, and meetings, the night came, and I put on my new outfit I had purchased for this specific evening and my bright yellow 4 inch, strappy, heels. I looked in the mirror, and for a moment, I felt good about myself.

The night started out amazing. I was able to meet and fellowship with new artists and catch up with old friends. I was able to share my art and tell the stories that inspired them. It was one of those nights that every exhausted mom needs to refresh herself.

However, like many of these social situations, eventually, the topic of my divorce and being a single parent comes up. And while this topic can sometimes inspire and be the very subject of my art; it is often the topic I struggle to speak about as I am not always sure of myself.

I found myself in a conversation with a sweet artist about our work and what inspired us. The conversation turned to my kids and I, as part of that inspires my work. And with a good attempt, I tried to keep it brief. But my complex divorce story is difficult to keep simple. I found myself beginning to feel vulnerable, and eventually, I struggled to try to sift through the doubts in my head. Was I talking too much? Why would anyone want to know about my divorce? Do they think I am a bad Christian? Shouldn’t I be more confident? I am probably talking too much! Soon, I did what I normally do when I lose my confidence; I awkwardly smile and start apologizing for rambling.

A close friend of mine, being aware of my little problem of apologizing too much, quickly joined the conversation. We made a joke and laughed, but then I said the words I regret. “I am sorry I apologize so much. I pretty much apologize for my existence.”

When I said that, it struck my heart. The conversation continued with laughing and fellowship. The rest of the night went wonderfully; however, that feeling lingered on as I went home.

It was like a truth God brought to light. What I said was true. I have this terrible habit of apologizing for no reason. I pretty much apologize for my very being. Here I was a part of this celebration of hard work and art showing parts of our passion and souls, and I apologized for who I am, feeling that is was something shameful.

The sad part is, is it not just this night. When it comes to any point for someone to see the most vulnerable parts of my life, I start apologizing as if they would be insulted. My most vulnerable part of me is me being a single mom and taking life on alone. The brokenness of my divorce is still healing. Yet, these are not things I should be ashamed of and apologize for. These are aspects of my story, and they are part of creating who I am today.

Apologizing outside of honest mistakes and mishaps almost take away the whole meaning of apologizing. Instead, it builds guilt and shame that shouldn't be there.  In no way should anyone feel the need to be sorry for being the person God is creating them to be. Being a single parent is not shameful as it is a brave undertaking. Feeling the pain and being vulnerable from divorce and breaking a part of a family; it is what makes us human.

If anyone has the habit of apologizing because we feel the vulnerable parts of lives might offend someone, it needs to stop. It may be hard, but we need to work hard to try and not say, “I am sorry,” when we did nothing wrong.

Instead, we need to lay our worries and doubts before a mighty God who can carry it. We need to remember we loved, redeemed, and made by a wondrous Creator who cares for us deeply. And even if our journeys as a single parent is difficult and leaves us vulnerable, we should never feel ashamed.

NaTacia Z. 

See more blogs from her at her site https://blessedsinglemom.wordpress.com

White Mom

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This is going to get messy. This post is my attempt to be as open as possible about an important, complicated issue: race. In it, I am sure I will reveal my own ignorance, selfishness, and cultural blinders. Please know that this is not meant to be directive. The intention behind this piece is open and inquisitive. I offer no answers. This is a vulnerable assemblage of my real experiences and fears. In the spirit of Chronicles 29:17, I want to share “willingly and with honest intent.” I am not sharing because I think this is an issue for which I need to be appeased, but because I think it is important to have honest conversations about the things that impact our parenting. I am certain I’ve made mistakes in life and in this piece, but I want to talk about it. As with all things parenting, I am certain my experience is not unique and am hoping that we can create a dialogue to become the best parents we can, together.

Navigating the world as a white mom to two biracial girls has always presented unique challenges. There are numerous instances I can recall when my racial difference from my daughters was acknowledged in unexpected ways. I remember having my girls, at ages 1 and 2, in my shopping cart and overhearing an elderly white couple behind us in the aisle scoff and whisper (in that pronounced way people whisper when they are feigning secrecy but really want you to hear), “What a shame! Those could have been two beautiful white girls.” I’ve had more than one white mom tell me that my kids are “not like other black people,” as if that is a compliment.

Not all instances are so cruel. Small children have asked me why I don’t look like I am their mom. Curious adults have asked me if they are adopted. The racism and audacity of others in 2019 is no longer appalling and is something I talk openly about with my girls. It is not something I thought too deeply about when I was married to their father, and his family was in the picture. There was something that relieved a good deal of the pressure of talking about race when our family was a functional, happy mosaic of difference. Now that the only biological family they interact with is white, it worries me more.

I will admit that it was something that made me hesitant to date my current partner, a white man. I liked him for a long time before I let him know. I still wrestle with worry about what it means to my kids’ development that I have “replaced” their black father with a white male figure in their lives. Are they going to read it as a sign that I prefer white men, or think white men are better suited for parenting? Yikes. I hope not.

Have I done something wrong that my oldest daughter prefers Taylor Swift to Beyonce?

What did I do to my youngest daughter that she seems to only make friends with white girls?

Why can’t I get my girls to love the women of Black Panther as much as they love Wonder Woman?

When I get excited that they’ve made a black friend, am I tokenizing that child?

What does it mean now that the recipes handed down to them are the epitome of blandness instead of the cuisine of Southern black culture? As much as I love my family, none of us can throw down in a kitchen the way my ex-husband’s mother could. I’ve actively tried to rectify this with often embarrassing results.

Two years ago, my oldest daughter became interested in Kwanzaa. So we researched and decided to celebrate the holiday. I had the fantastic idea to make sure we ate traditional cuisine, including a Kwanzaa cake. The kids stared blankly at the cake, and I felt like I had failed at properly constructing the awesomeness of this cultural fare. Turns out, my failure went far beyond baking.

The Kwanzaa cake was a lie, perpetrated by a white “chef,” having absolutely NOTHING to do with Kwanzaa. How the fact that that she referred to corn nuts as “acorns” did not tip me off to this fraud is a testament to how strongly my guilt had overridden my ability to think clearly. I mean, why was I even watching a white woman demonstrate African American culture? What a mess. This incident was so eye-opening to me. This is when I knew that my guilt was so much more about me than about my kids, who thought I was ridiculous.

To be frank, I am worried that they’ll resent me. I am worried that I am robbing them of a rich cultural upbringing. I know there is a huge part of their identity that I will never understand. I can speak with authority about what it’s like to be woman, but I don’t have much to offer when it comes to the experience of being black in America. It is not my lived experience.

Perhaps I’ve just been in academia too long, and my inclination to think critically is overriding my ability to listen to what my kids really want and need when it comes to race. Often times, I fear that I veer into the racial justice version of Idris Elba’s Impossible Hulk (Google the SNL skit for reference). I have gotten, “I know, Mommy, stop!” several times when infusing race into the discussion of their school curriculum. Do I push past that, or do I listen? Holy cow, I wish I knew. More than anything, I want to do the right thing for my kids.

Right now, I am at a place where I just listen. I listen to my girls. I listen to the experiences my biracial students share about growing up. I try very hard to listen to others, though I know I can do better. I pray about it, but more importantly, I pray about it with my girls. I have come to realize that it is important to let them see this struggle. I don’t ever want them to think that I fully understand or hold any level of expertise on this issue. The best I can do, at this moment, is to make sure they know that I know it’s important, that I support them, and that I don’t have all the answers.

A. Smith