co-parenting never say negative things about other parent

The past few months Helena has been obsessed with family stories. “Mommy, tell me a story about when I was  a baby,” she'll ask, and I'll tell her about how once, as a sleeping infant, her laugh broke the pin-drop silence of one of New York Public Library's reading rooms, eliciting a symphony of chuckles. “Tell me a story about when you were a little girl,” she says. And I tell her about being 5 and cutting the acres of lawn on my grandparents' farm with a riding mower. I can see her putting together the pieces of my history, the family history, and how the elements come together to help her understand herself.

Then last week she took it up a notch. “Mommy, tell me a story about you and daddy before you were married.”

I took a deep breath. I spend a lot of energy on not being bitter about things. I pay attention to where I put my energy — I don't want to be one of those women still grumbling about some argument with their ex, 30 years after the fact. Sometimes I worry I swing too far in the opposite direction and tuck away memories all together, afraid that should I pull one one — even a funny or sweet or tender one — all the bad ones will come bursting out in a flood of emotion.

[How to co-parent with your kids' other parent— even when your ex is a narcissist]

Who tells single moms’ kids nice things about their mom?

In the past few weeks I had really sweet experiences with friends' paying lovely compliments to me via my kids.

Like last night when my neighbors came for dinner with their new baby, and over stew and winter salad Helena complained how her mom (that would be me) yelled at her in the mornings. “Well,” my friend said. “When I see how bright and funny and well-behaved you and your brother are, I think what a great mom you and Lucas have.” Which shut my kid up real quick-like.

Or a few weeks ago, my oldest friend Amanda visited from St. Louis. While she, the kids and I ate banana apple muffins in the living room on Saturday morning, Amanda told my daughter what a great mom she has, how she has an interesting career and takes them on cool trips and  some other stuff I forget because I was just so touched and grateful for her friendship, but also that there was someone other than me pointing out my finer points to my kids. Marketing experts know that promotion is far more powerful when coming from a credible third party — in this case, someone who is not naggingly demanding respect and gratitude all the live-long day (that would be me).

Which brings up a big question for single moms: For all you do for your kids, who do you have in your life to point out those things to your kid? In a perfect world, each of us might have a spouse or partner who genuinely adores you, and organically displays that adoration through myriad words and gestures. In the absence of such a partner, who puts into perspective for your kids what a great cook, or hard worker, or loving parent you are?

How do your kids learn to appreciate you? Or do they?

Often, I feel like my kid's really don't appreciate me as much as I think they should (what can I say, I have an ego — it needs stroking from those I love most!). But then I realize that they are listening all the time. I hear Helena telling her friends or the parents I'm meeting for the first time at soccer practice: “My mom is a VERY GOOD writer! And she has a radio show and is on TV!” I realize that she listens when my friends come over and we talk business, and she pays attention when I tell her about my day.

And Lucas goes beyond in his over-exaggerated way to be positive, will say: “Mommy, those muffins are looking GOOD!” or “Thank you for making movie night.” Maybe it his naturally sunny disposition, or my nightly drilling of gratitude practices or constant “What do you say …?” (Acceptable answers: a) Please, b) Thank-you). Or maybe I have nagged my kid into a gratitude stupor that extends to his mother.

I reached out to the mamas in our Millionaire Single Moms closed Facebook group. Here is what other single moms say about how to teach kids to appreciate them:

It’s by example. My 15 year old son and I discuss everything that will have a major impact. We discuss the pros and cons. I guess it pays off because after I took a new job and was feeling guilty about being away from home for such a long day he wrote me a note telling me how much he appreciates all that I do for “us.” — Betsy

I try to emphasize to my son (he's 6) how we are a team. He and I together are a special family and we work together. My mom and dad (who are divorced) both do show support when they visit or talk to my son about being a helper and being kind to me because I work so hard. — Kasia

By teaching them the value of money, so we all know how hard it is to earn it, looking for better prices or bargains as part of the deal While shopping. And then equating precious time as a value, as a resource, and as a necessity in our lives. So everyone's time is valuable and everyone's hard work is meaningful. — Evie

I know ex still tells our daughter nice things about me because sometimes he does it in front of me. (Also he's very good with words… it's the actions he struggles with). And I make sure to say only nice things about him in front of her. That was one thing we agreed on. Also, my sister (also a single mom) and I live together so we get to co-parent some. We make sure the kids appreciate the other one, including helping them pick out cards or small gifts for the other or making sure we get thanked for things we do for the kids. — Robyn

I constantly tell my daughter that we are not lucky, we work hard. She is little but understands that we have a house because mommy worked in the city and did 4 hrs a day on a bus and she knows all the fun stuff we do is because I work hard. She also appreciates that I play with her because she knows no one else (that she sees) plays dolls with their kids. — Lynda

I play into her idols (Gal Gadot' s wonder woman, Xena, and Gabrielle) and tell her that Amazon's earn everything and as a Latina Amazon she respects and honors her elders. I also shoot it pretty straight with her on how the world works. — Vanessa

As my 9-year-old gets older, the affection and appreciation wanes. Honestly, at his age now, and with his temperament, I've found that being more strict helps. He earns privileges. He has chores. When I do something like pack his lunch, that is an extra and a favor, not a given. He THANKS me for that now, because it is his default daily responsibility. When he gets a new toy and doesn't use his OWN money, he THANKS me for it. I walk the line between explaining that our life doesn't just magically happen, and making him feel guilty or bad for all I do. — Angela

I want my sons to know how to treat women and be gentlemen so I teach them to open doors and use manners. We talk about taking care of people that aren't as strong as you and I have my sons make something for me or I take them to the store to let them buy something for me for my birthday or Mother's Day. It's really awkward for me, but that actually really like it and they learn that those days are important for their future wives and daughters. My little guy brought flowers to his teacher the other day cuz “girls like flowers” 😊 — Mary Kate 

Once my nanny told my littles I had to go to work to pay for their house. I (was fuming, but) told them, I don't *have to* go to work, I *get to* go to work, and it gives me purpose, and makes me happy, and helps people who need it, and allows us to have a safe house and a wonderful school. I am *lucky* to go to work. Now when I get home, they ask me how many people I helped today. I think that, a lot of times, they are helping me be appreciative, and not the other way around.

The other component is, I teach them to respect their dad. He teaches them to respect me. Not everyone has this reciprocity in their co-parenting relationship. But if you can show your children you respect their parent, you're also saying, “I respect you,” and this leads to the children showing you respect, as well. I feel like respect & appreciation go hand in hand, or at least, where there is disrespect, there's no chance of appreciation. — Erika

I believe in building others up through words, so I talk up my friends and colleagues in front of my kids. This often becomes reciprocal: empowering speech ricochets around and returns. I try to take positions of leadership that my kids can see, and we talk about self-love and risk taking in the absence of external validation. It gets lonely being my own cheerleader. I often wish I had an external cheerleader, and at the same time, I want my kids to know to that there is freedom in self-validation. — Rachel 

Every morning, I would tell my daughter, OH MY, look at you. You are so beautiful and smart. Look at your eyes and your nose. You‘re so kind and giving. You are my favorite girl in the whole wide world. Now, I'm like her IDOL. She bigs me up EVERY CHANCE SHE GETS. She thinks I'm the most beautiful smartest woman in the world. Lol. Same thing for my sons. But, I think they may think their aunty (my sis) is the cutest of the two! — Vanessa

Don't just say nice things about your kids' dad— share positive stories

But there are so, so many good memories. And I want my children to know those stories because they are also their stories. But more than that, I want them to have a sense of the love that brought their dad and me together, because that is also their love.

And so I told Helena about a road trip her dad and I took when we were dating. We drove from Phoenix to San Diego and on the way home decided it would be fun to play Name That Tune. The key was each of was to whistle a song, and the other would guess. The catch was that I can't whistle. I've heard there is a genetic defect that makes this so, and I don't know, but no whistling Dixie for me.

But that didn't stop us, and so for most of the six hour drive, we took turns whistling Madonna's “Like a Prayer” or David Gray's “The Other Side” or Ray Charles's “I've Gotta Woman” and when it was my turn Emmanuel would listen very, verrrry carefully and try to guess as I earnestly huffed out a hollow whisper of a melody until we couldn't take it any more and would burst out laughing. And then we would start again.

Helena totally understood the hilarity of the story, and teased me about not being able to whistle (incidentally, she learned when she was 2). Then she sat back on the sofa with a satisfied look on her face, and I knew that she really got it — the whole big story is really about her, and that that story is indeed full of love.

Today, December 31, is Emmauel's birth date, but in light of his brain injury decided instead to celebrate the date of his accident in April. I still associate today with him, and got thinking more about the good times we had together. I'm posting this essay I wrote about him, and us, from before we had kids. And it makes me think of him reading it for the first time, then standing up from the computer, smiling, and giving me a hug, and saying “thank you.”

In Defense of Back Hair

My husband’s hairy—and I love it

Shortly after I started dating my husband, a colleague forwarded around one of those jokey emails to women in the office. The subject: “The morning after: Reason No. 249 why you shouldn’t drink so much.” In the email was a photo of the backside of a naked man, curled into a semi-fetal position, innocently asleep in a mussed up bed.

He was hairy as hell – covered from the nape of his neck to his ankles. That was the extent of the joke.

My boyfriend, I thought, could beat this guy in a follicle count, hands down. “Too bad women everywhere are laughing at this poor guy,” I said to myself. “Too bad for the women.”

While the covers of many men’s magazines are graced by slick-chested bucks with glistening biceps designed to make women swoon, I savor the virile-yet-cuddly nature of my Mediterranean husband’s equally buff body, which happens to be totally encased in a healthy coat of fur.

I love my husband’s body hair. I love that it is soft. I love that it is a little bit rough. I love that it is the epitome of masculine. I love running my fingers through it and nuzzling my nose in it. I love the look of it.

It really is tragic that more women a) don’t also love hairy men; and b) that those who do are not encouraged to express it. After all, in single circles, women often cite hairy backs as a reason for dismissal, akin to living with one’s mother or wearing a high school class ring. In The 40 Year Old Virgin, Steve Carell’s character is persuaded that he can get laid only after he rids himself of his luxurious chest sweater. While watching Carell scream a shrill “Como se llama!!” as chunks of black wool are waxed from his pink flesh, I couldn’t help but pity the many fuzzy men who are subjected to the nation’s bigotry against the hairy.

It’s interesting that women spend so much time and money ridding their own bodies of hair in an effort to purge themselves of anything masculine. And yet we persecute men whose bodies flaunt their Y chromosome.

After all, being hairy is like being bald: there isn’t a thing you can do about it. And if you do try to do a lot with it, there’s a good chance you’ll do something ridiculous (like shave, wax or Nair some unspeakable body part, swim with your shirt on, or, worst of all, let shame drive you to become a 40-year-old virgin). Instead, a man who can conquer the world despite possessing a physical characteristic that is widely accepted as ugly has a certain inner strength, a certain charm, and a definite sex appeal. And if he can laugh at the bush that is his body, all the better.

Not long after my colleague emailed around the hairy-man warning, I was examining Emmanuel’s hands. They are strong, with appropriately trimmed nails and a slick of mane on each finger. “Why does your knuckle hair grow sideways?” I asked. “They’re comb-overs for my bald spots,” he said. Since then, we’ve taken to exploring the unusual Moon Pie-sized swirls his body whiskers form on the sides of his torso, jawline and elbows.

He calls them crop circles and I pretend my finger is getting sucked into them like a whirlpool. Lying in bed one morning, I asked him how he gets the hairs out of his nose. “I coax them out with treats,” he said. Instead of hiding behind his hair or, worse, being shamed by it, my man’s turned his hirsute nature into a source of self-deprecating humor that I find sexy as hell.

And then there is the part of him that is beat down by body-hair hate. I appreciate his vulnerability as I listen to his childhood woes of playing pickup shirts–and-skins basketball and peeling off his jersey only to have one of the guys snark, “We said skins.” Or overhearing his junior-high crush trash talk another guy with a hairy back. Or how he enjoys sunbathing only on the beach in Greece, where he can relax among the other shaggy dudes.

Of course, being the wife of a hairy guy is not all snuggles and testosterone. There are the furballs that drift menacingly across our apartment’s wood floors. I buy more Drano than permitted by the EPA.  Short and curlies wind up in most salads I make. Recently I was at Crate and Barrel, and became enchanted by a white shag rug. Then I thought: ”How am I going to keep this clean?” There was no sale.

But such hassles are the price you pay to enjoy the company of a hairy man. I sometimes wonder if I really do love the hair—or do I just love Emmanuel, and have learned to love the things that go along with him? After all, it’s not like he is overweight or wears Old Spice or has white-guy dreadlocks. Maybe along the way I just passively accepted it as part of the package?

Once in a while I imagine what it would be like to be with a guy with a smooth, hair-free back. In my mind it’s as pudgy and clammy as a fetal pig. So maybe there is something to that hair. Not only is that web of fuzz the lense through which I came to see, know and love Emmanuel, it’s also a bonus point, a toy at the bottom of your favorite box of cereal, or realizing that the funky mold growing on a lovely cheese actually makes it all the more delicious.

Originally published 2013. 

About Emma Johnson founder  Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist and author. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker," her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Emma's Top Single Mom Resources.


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  2. Emma on August 18, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    Thanks Pam. I think it can be hard for divorced families to keep those good memories alive — so much hurt can get in the way, and the parties involved are not hanging out and naturally chatting about old times. It takes extra effort on our part to keep these family stories of-mind.

  3. Pamlet on August 17, 2013 at 10:49 pm

    What a beautiful post, Emma! I tell my youngest stories about his folks all the time. He was so young when we split that I don’t think he realizes sometimes that there was so much love between the two people he now knows to be cordial, yet separate.

  4. Emma on January 5, 2013 at 6:14 pm

    Tiffany – thanks so much for sharing. Your note is so eloquent and true. I’m feeling a little choked up reading it.

    “they have grown-up with me as the storyteller for both sides of the family.”

    I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance and power of stories, and this really hit home with me.

  5. Tiffany on January 5, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    “But there are so, so many good memories. And I want my children to know those stories because they are also their stories. But more than that, I want them to have a sense of the love that brought their dad and me together, because that is also their love.”
    This is an excellent point, and your insight came at the perfect time for me! I’m finally past the “every time his name comes up I want to scream” stage, and can talk about him as “Dad” now. My children are teenagers and they have grown-up with me as the storyteller for both sides of the family. I realized that if I stopped the “other sides” stories now, that they would be losing out on a valuable part of their history. However, the ugly side also made me think that “he doesn’t deserve this”-but that’s what we continually need to push aside so that our children will continue to understand their own story. My love for my children is my strongest motivator. I realize that in sharing stories about their father, I am ensuring that their own stories remain whole and full of love!

    • Brian Smith on February 10, 2016 at 6:42 am

      Thank you for making me feel so much love and I can’t tell you enough that your life with your wonderful hairy husband Emmanuel was so good to read. I have as you point out been made feel like a freak since I also have a hairy back. I am now in my 50s and you know I now don’t give a Rats.
      Its been so liberating in small circles but on the whole I tend to stay shirted and I hate the beach with lots of people. Living in Australia its all about body image and the waxing and shaving of men and I feel this has emasculated us all, But I feel the tied is turning.
      Its interesting when I step out of my shirt I find although small there are women and men that like it. My sexuality has had to adapt due to my hairy body but I now see that has been a good thing.
      Have become a Daddy since I have a full beard Ned Kelly style, and I keep very fit so although covered in hair I am in good shape for my age.
      Currently holidaying on the South Coast of NSW Australia in a remote beach area where there are no people for kilometres so just on sun set I was able to swim and walk naked along a kilometre of beach and GOD IT FELT GOOD.
      So nice to know there are some women that love hairy men or is it just that you love the Man and he just happens to be hairy!!!

      • Emma on February 11, 2016 at 8:57 am

        Really glad this helped :)

        Funny, I’m currently involved with a man who really, really prefers a full bush. Mainly because of the attitude that is is natural and reflects a healthy body attitude — both on the part of the woman, and any man she might be with. Refreshing!

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