Co-Parenting, Positive Mindset, Single Mom

10 Tips for a Fresh Start After Divorce

Divorce is hard. After all, change is hard and divorce is a whole lot of change.

There are times in our lives when change is generally welcomed:  Going off to college.  The start of a new relationship.  Marriage.  The birth of a baby.  In those circumstances, the benefits of change seem to usually outweigh the negatives.

But breakups, separations, and divorces are not such a positive experience.  Suddenly, the life you had planned out for yourself has come to a dead-end, and now you are faced with a world of uncertainties.

For anyone who has become a single or divorced mom, you probably know what I am talking about.

A million questions plaque you:

How will you pay the bills?

How can you do the work of two people when there is just one of you?

Will you ever find love again?

Are your kids going to be okay?

 Are you ever going to be able to see your ex without wanting to cry or scream (or both)?

Will you be okay?

What is life going to look like for you in five years?  One year?  6 months from now?

It is utterly and completely terrifying.

But what if you look at change as a good thing?

Yes, you can mourn your relationship, especially if you were not the one to choose to end it, but don’t just sit there in the depths of despair and loss.  Pick your chin up and make the most of this new start.

How can you do this?

1. Make a List of Your Blessings

I don’t care how dire your situation is, you have something to be thankful for.  In fact, you probably have many things.  Write them down. No matter how big or small they may be. 

We all have things that we take for granted. What are yours?

Once you have completed your list, put it somewhere that you will see it.  When you feel yourself starting to despair, pick up the list and read those blessings again.

2. Build a Positive Co-Parenting Relationship with Your Child’s Father

This is for your child and for your peace of mind.  No, it is not always possible, but the less drama in your life, the better.  Taking the steps to have a positive co-parenting relationship is better for everyone.

How can you even begin to get there when you are possibly feeling angry, hurt, jealous, a sense of loss…no matter how you feel, it probably isn’t the way you felt whenever your marriage first began. You may feel like you will never be able to look at your ex-husband without feeling hate. But it is possible. And it is the best way to move on in a positive way.

While I could (and will) write a stand-alone post on how to build a successful co-parenting relationship in the future, here are a few tips to help you get started:

  • Reframe: Instead of thinking of your ex-husband as YOUR ex, start thinking of him as YOUR CHILD’S Father. Your parenting teammate. This will help you put things in perspective.
  • Try to focus on the good things he does as a father instead of the mistakes. And remember…we moms make mistakes too.
  • Include him in your child’s life. Keep him informed of events and activities. Maybe you’re hoping he doesn’t show up to the play or soccer game so you don’t have to see him, but your child will probably be sad and hurt if he doesn’t.
  • Be kind. Make light conversation. Don’t get personal (no questions about dating, finances, lifestyle, etc), but DO discuss your child together…his/her successes, struggles, the cute thing he/she did the other day.
  • Send pictures of your child doing life to the other parent when the child is with you. That helps keep both parents engaged in all of their child’s life, not just part of it.
  • If your child’s dad begins dating, make the effort to speak to the new flame if she shows up at pick-up/drop off or at a school event or performance. Be kind. She is someone who is in your child’s life, and the more people who love your child, the better! No matter how different you two may be, you can likely find something in common that you can talk about.
  • Make sure to inform your friends and family that you plan to have a positive co-parenting relationship with your child’s father. Don’t let them put down your child’s dad in front of your child or around you. We’re being positive here, and negativity will only hold you and your child back.
  • When your child’s father does something to make you angry (and he will…after all, you’re both only human), step away. Take some deep breaths. Write down what you want to say. Consider whether this is a battle worth fighting over. Re-read and re-write in a kinder way if needed before pressing send.
  • If your child’s father meets your kindness and positivity in a less than favorable light, be patient. He may think you are playing games. He may feel like you’re trying to manipulate him. Stick to your guns. Be consistently kind. Respect his role in your child’s life. Hold your jealousy in check by re-framing him as your child’s father. Eventually your good attitude will probably rub off as he begins to trust that you are legitimately on his side.

I do know that there are some men who do not want to be fathers, for whatever reason, and maybe as you read this you feel as if it doesn’t apply to you. Maybe your child’s father left. Maybe he has mental or personal issues that keep him from being able to parent. Maybe he is too focused on his new girlfriend to think about the children. Or maybe he wants to parent but has been abusive to you or the children and it is an unsafe situation. That is unfortunate, and you need to do what is best for you and your children. If you do not have someone to co-parent with, that is okay and your child will be okay. But for those who have a willing participant, a positive co-parenting relationship is worth the work, and it is more valuable than winning every fight.

Lastly, and most importantly, no matter whether your child’s dad is father of the year, or if he is unavailable or violent, forgiveness is key. It is better for you. It is better for your child.

3. Gain Control of Your Finances

I never paid as much to my finances as I did when I was first on my own, with my small little income (even with child support, it was so much less than I was used to). For the first time since I was 23 years old, I had to pay my own bills. Maybe you are in a similar situation.

In that first year on my own, I learned to shop sales, coupon (although I’m admittedly not the best at this), cook healthy but cheap meals, etc. I started to budget and keep tabs on my credit. While it’s still a work in progress, and I still make mistakes, I am learning to make positive financial decisions.

If you are looking for sound financial advice from a fellow single mom, I suggest you check out www.wealthysinglemommy.com. Another great place to start would be Dave Ramsey. You can find local classes or check it out online HERE.

Yes, it is more stressful to be in charge of the finances myself, but it has also been liberating.

4. Volunteer/Help Those in Need

One of the best ways to find joy in a time of grief and sadness is to focus on helping others! You could volunteer at church or at a charity organization, sponsor a child at Christmas (if your funds allow), collect items to make care packages for the homeless, etc. Whatever need in the community that you are passionate about, find a way to work to fill it.

As an added bonus, you can get your kids involved as well. Along with teaching your children how to be fantastic human beings who have compassion and care for others, you may also be helping them as well as they process and grieve as the family that they one had turns into a new type of family.

5. Sketch Out Who You Want To Be

This is a new chapter of your life. Why not take it as a new opportunity and make the most of it?

There may be things that you wanted out of your life that you couldn’t pursue when you were married. Maybe your ex-husband made fun of you when you mentioned something that you were interested in trying. Maybe you just didn’t have the time to devote to your passion while you were a full-time wife and mother.

This is a fresh start. Who do you want to be in five years? Write it down and find activities/classes/etc. to get you there.

6. Make New Friends

This is a new venture, and your life has changed. Some of your friendships will probably stay the same, or even grow closer. Many will change or cease to exist.

Your former relationship did not exist in a black hole, and others will react to your split. Some may rally for you. Some may rally for your ex. (It would be in everyone’s best interest if you would try to be positive and not put anyone in the middle, but some may still choose a side). Some may just feel uncomfortable with how different your life is now and shy away.

No matter how many relationships you retain post-split, it would be helpful to make friends who are just yours and who are hopefully in a similar situation. After all, it is much more helpful to date and navigate this new life as a single parent when you have someone to share it with!

If you want to make new friends, but don’t know how to find them, don’t be discouraged! Check out my previous article about finding new friends as a single mom!

Photo by Something Beautiful Photography

7. Have Fun With Your Kids

This whole thing is new to them too, and it’s probably been pretty darn stressful.

If you used to be a Stay At Home Mom, and now you’ve gone back to work, they may see you less. They may have had to move from their former home. They may have also lost friends as their lives changed.

Look for ways to engage when you are with them. If you have moved, look for exciting and unique parts in the new area. Go exploring. Hit up a playground. Put down your phone. (I’m speaking to myself too here). If you’re exhausted, cuddle up and watch a movie.

Make the most of the time you have with your kids. It will be good for them and for you. Plus, you are likely now splitting that time with the other parent, so those moments are even more precious.

Photo by James Wheeler on Unsplash
Photo by James Wheeler on Unsplash

8. Make New Traditions

This is not just for the holidays (although you should definitely come up with some fun new traditions for every holiday that rolls around).

One of the traditions that we started once I was separated is that every night that the kids are with me, we eat dinner all together at the table as a family. While we are at dinner, we take turns discussing our “highs” and “lows” (the best and worst parts of our day). My youngest also sometimes adds in a “funny”. Extracurricular activities can sometimes make this tough, but with some accommodations (eating a heavy snack and a late dinner or eating a cheap dinner out near wherever the activity takes place), we are usually able to make it work!

Another tradition we began was to have date nights. I aim to have one date night per kid per week, although sometimes we miss a week here or there. While my oldest is at dance, my youngest and I go out for ice cream or a cupcake and vice/versa. The kids love that one-on-one time with mom that they get less of now than when there was another parent in the home.

9. Try Dating When You Are Ready

Don’t rush into it, but when you want to give it a try, go ahead and dip your toe in the water. Don’t go in with high expectations, but have some fun with it. After all, one of the perks of being out of a relationship that was not good or healthy is having the freedom to pursue a new one with someone else.

I was terrified to start dating again, and while at times it can be exhausting and stressful, it’s also exciting. Just be smart…don’t bring someone that you are dating around your kids too early and try to make good choices. Don’t forget that your decisions this time around affect more people than just you.

When will you be ready to start? It’s different for everyone. Some people are never ready and are perfectly content and satisfied with their lives as is. And that is okay too.

10. Do Adult Things

Spend time with your children when they are with you and make the most of it, but do some things for you too! NOT just dating. In fact, do these things before you ever go on your first date:

  • Sign up for a new book club, bible study group, recreation league, etc.
  • Find out who YOU are.
  • Paper yourself with a spa day if you can afford it or have a DIY spa day with a good book and a bubble bath at home.
  • Go on a walk or run by yourself.
  • Join a gym if you have the time/money/childcare.
  • Try new things you were scared to try before.

Going out and socializing at night with friends is a awesome way to make new friends and potential dates, but moderation is key.

You likely have every other weekend at minimum all to yourself while your children are with their dad, so use this time to grow and figure out who post-divorce you is. She is probably a whole lot different than pre-marriage you.

Yes, it is change.  No, it isn’t fun, but there are positives in your situation, no matter what it may be. 

Focus on those positives and live your best life as a single mom.

Co-Parenting, Friendship, Mom Life, Parenting, Single Mom, Single Mom

To the Married Mom: What Your Divorced Mom Friends Want You To Know

Dear Married Mom:

We were all once like you.  We once had a husband and kids.  We had a family.  Maybe it was picture-perfect, but was wrecked by an affair or betrayal.  Maybe it was never as perfect behind closed doors as it looked on Instagram.  Maybe it was always a hot mess and everyone knew it.

But regardless, we had what you have and now our family is no longer the same.  It has changed.  Our lives have changed.

One of the hardest things about joining the Divorced Wives Club is that it can be isolating.  Whether our old friends just feel like they can’t relate, if they think divorce is contagious (it’s not), or if they think all newly single women want their husbands (we don’t), many of our married friends seem to disappear.

I choose to think that it’s just hard for some of our married friends to understand this new phase in our lives.  Maybe they have questions that they are afraid will be uncomfortable for us to answer.  Maybe they don’t understand why we are only available at odd times (every other weekend we are all in, but the once perfect Thursday nights are now out).  Maybe they think that they are hurting us by talking about their husbands or being invited to family events.

Anyhow, I’m hoping this list may clear a few things up.

  1. We are worried that our kids will be treated differently.

Our kids have been through a lot and we know it.  Many of us carry guilt about not making our relationship work, even if we did all that we could.  We have to answer questions that our kids have, hear them complain about going back and forth between parents, and see them miss out on events because they are with the other parent on that weekend.

We, just like all parents, just want for our kids to be healthy and happy.

Our kids know that a lot of their friends have parents who are married.  They know they are different.

Anything you could do to include our children, to treat them as you did before the divorce, would be so appreciated by us.

  1. Being divorced/separated is not the same thing as having a traveling husband.

While I personally have had a traveling husband, and I know how difficult that is, it is not the same as being divorced or a single mom.  If you happen to suggest as much or call yourself a “single mom” because your husband is gone for a few days or a week, just be aware that you are probably offending a single mom you know.  I know that you probably mean nothing by it, but while you may run the household alone, you do still have someone to do life with.  True single moms do not.

That being said, I personally think that being a divorced mom holding down the fort at home is a bit easier than having a traveling husband in some ways.  When I was married and my husband would come home on the weekends, he would kind of rock the boat of everything we had going on.  Sleep schedules, routines, meals, etc. would be thrown out of whack.  Also, I felt like I had to clean like a madwoman every Friday before he got home.  AND I still missed out on some girls nights, etc. when he was traveling because a sitter was so expensive.  So, while you aren’t a “single mom” while your man is out of town, that doesn’t mean that it is easy or that you have nothing to complain or be frustrated about.  Just know that particular phrase tends to get under some single moms’ skin.

  1. Unless you got married less than 5 years ago, your dating advice is old school. But we still love it when you try to talk girl-talk with us.

We LOVE that you care about our dating life (if we are talking to you about it…unsolicited questions are not so welcome).  It is nice to have someone to talk to about that cute guy we met or the last date we went on.  But wow!  How times have changed!  Not only is dating in general totally different with dating apps galore, but dating with kids is light-years different than dating without them.

Just remember we are trying to figure out this new dating world too and may make some mistakes along the way.  If you can just reserve a bit of judgment and try to be encouraging, that would be great!  And, yes, we do appreciate all of your advice…we just might not take it.

Also, the phrase “I’m so glad I don’t have to date these days!” is probably meant as a way to relate, but it can kind of sting.  Most of us aren’t exactly thrilled to have to go out into the dating world the second time around.

Photo by Huy Phan

  1. Complaining about your husband to us may be a bad idea.

There are three types of divorced women:

TYPE ONE: The well-adjusted ones who are not bitter and who want to hear everything about your life.  You can have an occasional vent session with these girls and they are not offended or bothered in the least (I fall under this category).  But not every divorced woman is there yet.

TYPE TWO: The ones who are hurting.  Complaining to these friends about your husband is like complaining about your kids or pregnancy to someone who just had a miscarriage or is dealing with infertility.  Unless you know for sure your friend can handle your vent sesh, try to be sensitive to her feelings.  While you may be upset that your husband didn’t take out the trash last night, your divorced mom friend has been taking it out by herself every single time since her husband walked out.

TYPE THREE: The bitter ones.  These should be easier to spot.  If your friend is a little too gleeful of your irritation with your husband, and especially if she encourages separation or divorce, stay away from her.  She is toxic to your marriage.  A good friend (married or not) would suggest counseling or reconciliation if you are having issues.  I personally hope my married friends have life-long and happy marriages!  If your friend isn’t on your marriage’s team, drop them.

  1. Please don’t leave us out now that we are single.

We want to be invited on that girl’s trip or to the family cookout.  We miss you.  Our kids miss your kids.

I was so thankful for those friends who still invited me to things after I was divorced.  A few of my friends truly made me feel as if nothing had changed.  They still invited me to adult events where couples were, and to be honest, since the guys usually hang out with the guys and vice versa, I didn’t stick out like a sore thumb.  We were still invited to family parties and cookouts and events.  They made me feel normal.  They made my kids feel normal.

I also had other friends who no longer invited me.  It was as if since I was a little different, I wasn’t welcome.  Or maybe they thought that I would feel uncomfortable, so instead of leaving the decision of whether to attend up to me, they made the decision for me.  Either way, it hurt.  It made me feel weird, out of place, and alienated.

So, if you are on the fence about whether to invite us or not, please invite us.  We’ll make an excuse if it feels too uncomfortable, but we will appreciate the invite all the same.

Photo by Kelsey Chance

Oh, and another thing…if you go to church, invite us to sit beside you on Sunday.  It can be weird to get used to sitting alone at a service where almost everyone seems to have someone with them.

  1. We may have changed, but we still have things in common with you.

I know that having a husband is a big part of your life, and it used to be a big part of ours.  But even though we no longer have that in common, we still have other things that we share with you.

After all, we still have kids and all that comes with that.  Most of us probably originally became friends over our kids anyway…that’s what moms do.

Plus, even though we are no longer wives, we are still women.   We still love neighborhood ladies events, shopping, dancing, trying new restaurants, laughing with our girlfriends, weekends away, etc.  Whatever we did with you before, we still love now!  We can still be friends.

  1. We try to make the most of our “free weekends”.

For those of us who have our children every other weekend, that time is precious to us!!  I know that I personally have my kids 80% of the time.  That means that 80% of the time, I do it all.  I don’t have anyone to pick up the slack or to pass the kids off to if I need a break.  On the flipside, I’m totally alone 20% of the time.  No kids.  Not as many responsibilities.  So, in that 20% of the time, I try to do the majority of my socializing, dating, etc. as well as catch up on housework and my to-do list.  There is nothing worse to me than a wasted “free” weekend.

So, if you do have a weekend free when you would like to have some girl time: grab brunch, get a little pampering, etc., call up your divorced mom friend!  If it is her free weekend, she would probably love nothing more than to have some girl time with you!

  1. But when we are with our kids, we don’t want to leave them.

I cannot tell you how many times I have said no to a kid-free event on a weekday or a weekend when I have my kids.  Yes, I need a break.  Yes, the 12 days straight with my kids without having help can drive me insane.  But I work full-time.  I spend most of my evenings shuttling kids to afterschool activities.  When I have time to spend with my kids, I want to hang out with them.  I DO know I need time for myself and so once in awhile I will do something for me, but don’t get offended if I say no, even if I have someone to babysit.

The worst part of becoming a divorced mom is that almost every single MNO takes place on a Thursday, no matter what it is: Bunco, Book Clubs, etc.  It’s hard to justify getting a babysitter for a Thursday night when my kids are going to their dad’s for the weekend the next day.

Photo by Jordan Whitt

  1. Our kids are going to miss important events because they are with their dad, and we hate it.

My kids have missed out on a lot when they were with their dad.  Even though he and I co-parent very well together, he lives 3 hours away.  Which means that my girls miss a lot of birthday parties, sleepovers, playdates, and other events.

Our kids are sad to miss out and we are sad that they have to miss out.  But don’t stop inviting them!!  They may be able to make it next time!

  1. Our stress level is high.

Oh what I wouldn’t give sometimes to have someone to share the load with.  If anything, I think I miss that the most.

Just someone who could watch the kids while I ran to the store.  Or who could unload the dishwasher.  Or do the night time routine so I could just have a little break.  Someone who could help with taking the kids to their afterschool activities.  Someone who could be there with the kids so I could run out to a girls’ night without feeling guilty about it.  Someone to share paying the bills.  Someone to take over with discipline when I’m burned out.  Someone to back me up when the kids want to keep arguing with me.

It is stressful doing it all on our own.

And on top of that, we are the breadwinner in our family.  And we’re worried about our children’s well-being.  And we’re trying to make sure our kid doesn’t miss out, because they already miss out on having both mom and dad there in their home together like all of their friends whose parents are still married have.

And if we’re dating too….oh boy.  Have you seen the people on those dating apps??  Remember how stressful and nervous you were to go on a date in college when all of your girlfriends were there helping you get ready and sharing in the experience with you?

Well, now it’s just as nerve wracking, but you’re getting ready on your own, and most of your friends can’t really relate because they have been married for eons.  Plus, if you end up going on a date when the kids are with you, you’re trying to get your kids settled with a sitter and battling “mama guilt” before you head out.

So yeah, it’s stressful.  And it never ends.

Photo by Kevin Grieve

  1. We are exhausted.

Like I’m not 100% saying that I am “having a newborn at home” exhausted, but I’d say I’m pretty close to that most of the time.

Look at everything I listed in #10.

My days are spent:

  • Getting kids up for school, packing my child’s Gluten-free & dairy free lunch, getting myself ready for work
  • Going to work for 8 hours
  • Rushing (always rushing) to pick up my kids from daycare and the sitter’s to get them to dance (one of them dances or tumbles every day).
  • We get home. I cook dinner.  Because not only is it expensive to eat out all the time (and out of budget), but my oldest can’t have gluten or dairy, so I have to make special meals for her.
  • After dinner we: practice dance/stretch/sometimes watch a tv show/play basketball/walk to the park on our one early dance day.
  • We do bedtime routine/devotion/prayer/my youngest begs me to sleep with her. I try not to fall asleep and give myself a time-limit on how long I will stay.  I stay about 30 mins longer than I tell her I will.  She still cries when I leave.
  • I do dishes and laundry and clean if I can muster the energy. Or I fall asleep in bed with my clothes on.  Or I have already fallen asleep in bed with my youngest and stumble to my bed in the middle of the night.
  • I set my alarm to do the same thing the next day.

While not every divorced mom shares my exact schedule or circumstances, almost all of us have one thing in common: We are trying to be everything to everyone, while trying our best to support our kids and help them have the best childhood possible.  All with no partner to help.

And, yes, those of us who have every other weekend off can sometimes catch up on sleep on that off weekend.  But we’re also so busy making the most of the that time (we have so much to do to get caught up around the house) that if we DO catch up on sleep and rest, we are behind a day when the kids come back.

  1. When the kids come back after a weekend with dad, it is hard.

So, picture what it’s like when the kids spend the weekend with Grandma and then you get them back.  We all know about that “adjustment period” right?  Well, for many of us divorced moms, we deal with that every other week.

When kids see dad only every other weekend, they tend to get a little spoiled at his house.  I’m not faulting the dads for that.  It’s just that…when you don’t have to actually be a parent to your child every single day, you can let things slide.  You want to make the most of the time the child is with you, and you want for the visit to be a great experience.  It makes sense, and I would probably feel the same way if I were in an “every other weekend” dad’s position.

My kids definitely have different rules at their dads.  There’s more candy and sweets, a lot more screen time, and no responsibilities.  My youngest sleeps with her dad (she is very cuddly), which makes it SUPER fun when she comes home and wants me to lay with her until she falls asleep.

Very doable two weekends a month.  Not practical or feasible when I have to use the time after the kids are in bed to get the house in order.

  1. We are on a budget.

No matter what kind of lifestyle we had when we were married, no matter whether we have gone back to work or if we get child support, we are probably on a tighter budget than we were when we were married.

I had a sweet friend once who was trying to help me house hunt.  She told me that the house down the street from her (in our old neighborhood) was for sale.

While I could have afforded that house when I was married (and I do receive child support and have a great job), I couldn’t move in the same type of house that I had had before my divorce.  Some may be able to fund a similar lifestyle, but most of us have had our budget take a bit of a hit.

  1. We can do it all (almost). But sometimes we do need some help.

We are strong.  We can do almost anything.

Since my divorce, I have learned to kill bugs, conquered my fear of being in a house alone, started paying all the bills by myself, taken up every household chore…

But when you or your kids are sick with something major, you never wish you were still married more.

When I had the flu, my friends dropped off soup, crackers, tea, and medicine to me.  When my daughter had the stomach bug and I couldn’t leave, my friends dropped off Gatorade, Pedialyte, and saltines.

While we don’t want to be pitied, and we can do a lot on our own, there are just some times when we need some help.

There are also some household issues that I can’t tackle alone.  A friend sent her husband to help me hang a light in my house.  My brother-in-law checked out my car when it was acting funny to see what was wrong.

My dad and boyfriend helped me put the furniture together in my house.

Even though we have to do almost everything alone, it is nice to have a little help when we need it.

  1. Please don’t trash our ex-spouse or get involved in the drama of our divorce.

We all have our moments when we want to vent about our ex, but it isn’t healthy for us to dwell on the past or on his bad traits.

I know you may have things that you want to say about our former spouse, especially if you didn’t like him or the way he treated us, but please don’t use our time hanging out as a trash session. Also, please never say anything negative about our child’s dad in front of the children!  After all, no matter what you think of him, he is still the father of his children, they love him.  They don’t need to know everything that their father has done wrong, just as we don’t want them to know everything that we could have done differently.

If you get too involved in the divorce drama, you aren’t going to be able to be supportive of a healthy co-parenting relationship (which is best for the children and all involved).  Your negative behavior could even cause us issues in court as most custody agreements include a clause about disparaging remarks made about either parent in front of the children.

Instead of bashing, keep our mindset positive and help us find solutions to our problems.  Encourage us to make some time for us (maybe even offer to watch the kids for a bit so we can relax).  Remind us to keep our eye on the prize of a healthy co-parenting relationship so our kids can be healthy and happy!  That is what we really need…even if we don’t realize it!

As an added bonus, if you don’t get overly involved in the negativity, you can treat our ex kindly if you see him at a band concert or dance recital without feeling weird and awkward, which is a win-win!

The Verdict

Even though some things in our lives have changed, your friendship is still valuable to us!

Don’t give up on our friendship or shy away just because you don’t understand exactly what our lives are like now.  I hope this post helps those married mamas who are having a difficult time relating to their newly divorced friends, but if you are having a hard time connecting to an old friend who has gone through this huge life change, just ask her about her life now.  She may be dealing with the same things as me, or she may have other challenges, but either way, the path to understanding begins with open dialogue.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez

I’d like to thank those friends of mine who have been there for me through all of the changes in my life, who have never ceased to include me, and who always made my kids and I feel like part of the group!  I love you!!!