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When Family Traditions Become a Burden: Single Mom Struggles

When Family Traditions Become a Burden: Single Mom Struggles

Family traditions mean different things to people. Traditions can be events, projects, crafts, stories or just a certain dish on a special holiday. Family traditions are important in building stronger relationships among family members of different generations. But, keeping family traditions when far away from family or as a single mom can become a burden.

When parents split, children are faced with two homes that often do things differently. Holidays and events are shared or alternated giving little opportunity to maintain consistent family traditions. I remember making a Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesdays in years my son was at his father’s for the holiday. It was my way to spend quality time with him and let him enjoy the recipes of my childhood.

A Different Mardi Gras Tradition

Mardi Gras isn’t celebrated the same in Hawaii as it is elsewhere. In Hawaii, Fat Tuesday is known as Malasadas Day. The malasada is a Portuguese doughnut, heavy on yeast and eggs, deep fried and coated with sugar. Modern twists to this recipe have cinnamon-sugar coatings as well as custard, chocolate and coconut fillings.

As a child, Malasadas Day was a day of excitement and pride for me. Growing up in a Portuguese family in Hawaii meant this was a day where we really got to share our culture and aloha spirit. Grandma would start the dough the night before, wake to pound it in the middle of the night and start cooking the malasadas around 5:30 am. Living just a few minutes away, my brother and I were able to get up early before school and help.

The job of the malasada sugar-coater was important. You needed to toss them in the sugar without crushing them. The reward: first taste of the delicious treat, still hot from the oil. The thought of the hot, soft dough mixed with a little crunch of the sweet sugar still makes my mouth water.

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Growing Up and Moving Away

It is more and more common for children to grow up, go off to school and move away from their hometown. This was true for me and many of my friends growing up. Hawaii is a small state with limited resources and jobs. Many of us could simply do better leaving the state. It isn’t easy to make a weekend trip back to the islands; a flight is approximately five hours and costly.

This means traditions risk dying. I was living in California with a roommate from Hawaii the first time I tried making Grandma’s malasadas recipe. It’s a chore and leaves a mess or dough and sugar in kitchen crevices you didn’t realize you got close to. Up before work to make a few dozen to share with co-workers and friends became my tradition.

As Family Traditions Slowly Fade

Family traditions such as Malasadas Day can fade away as those who are the architects stop doing them. Over time, my grandmother got older, the family and friends who would normally share the doughnuts weren’t around and she stopped making them. I was glad I had started. It’s a thread to my childhood as well as a link to our family heritage. I’m the 4th generation of my family to be born in the islands. In the world of DNA testing to determine your origins, I feel blessed to have a very clear picture of my family history dating back to the late 1400s in Portugal.

New Family Traditions

Getting married and having my son in California offered the opportunity to start many new traditions, some blended traditions between two backgrounds and some just new ways of doing things. Putting your mark on your own family traditions is important, too, especially if you are far away from the original rituals.

plantation banana tree

It was always important for me to make sure my son understood our heritage. We’ve visited the Hawaii’s Plantation Village, doing almost a Where’s Waldo trying to find the picture of my Grandfather on the walls talking about the plantation’s labor rise. We toured the homes that show how the different immigrants and plantation workers lived: the Filipino homes set differently than the Portuguese and Japanese. It shows the diverse culture that has become the cornerstone for Hawaii’s diversity.

Making Malasadas on Fat Tuesday

When he was in elementary school in California, my Malasadas Day tradition grew. They had Mardi Gras parties at school; it was a natural way for me to help him share his own history and tradition, rooted in a Portuguese plantation family in the islands. Even my own family laughs and says that I’m crazy for doing this every year. The amount of time I’ll spend in the kitchen the night before and early in the morning to make the doughnuts is akin to preparing for Thanksgiving dinner.

Then I remember, my glee as a child running into my grandparents’ home before the crack of dawn to get my place by the sugar pan. There are fewer memories that give me as much joy as Malasadas Day. In fact, mastering the many recipes of my family has been my passion for the past five or six years. Now that we are back in the islands, I get Grandma’s taste of approval to know I’ve done it right.

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Why Take On Extra Work to Keep Family Traditions

Here in Hawaii, you can buy Malasadas easily. I happen to share the name with the bakery known world-wide for it, Leonard’s Bakery (no relation). It isn’t the same as making them. I’ll likely have no help from my teenage son but he’ll enjoy the rewards. Mom and Grandma will as well. It will give everyone in the family reason to talk, reminisce and bond.

That is the true reason we take the time and do the work to keep family traditions. I don’t know where the tradition goes in the next generation. It’s not for me to force the tradition into the next chapter of our family history. But I do feel it is my role to facilitate keeping the traditions that I loved as a child and my family worked so hard to keep and share.

Finding Your Own Traditions

family traditions reading books

Malasadas Day is a big day around here. Family traditions don’t have to revolve around holidays or big events. Reading to your child at bedtime is a tradition they will remember and value. My son and I used to go from the book to an adlib story about one of his stuffed animals. It was silly and fun, sparked creativity and is remembered to this day, long after he has outgrown his “stuffy days.”

Sundays at the beach or a local park with friends are simple traditions that provide security and consistency for kids. I think they also provide some security and consistency for us parents. As a single mom, there have been a lot of different things that uprooted normal big holiday traditions. It’s hard when you alternate holidays. It’s always been the little things that help ground me as a mom, feeling like I’m providing my son the same level of lifestyle blessings I felt as a child.

That is the reason I spend the time and overcome the burden of keeping family traditions.

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Dating with Kids: Is He Ready for Your World?

You’ve made the decision to get back into the world of the living and that includes dating. Being afraid of how your kids will factor into the equation is normal and natural. Take the time to decide on how you will deal with date nights, talk about your new friend and whether or not he is really ready for dating someone with kids.

It doesn’t matter if your children are little or teens getting ready to leave the house soon. Dating with kids is hard and requires a game plan. Things can get even more complicated if you are co-parenting and dating. Be flexible throughout.

Here are the best tips we could find to help you jump back into the world of dating:

The Start of Dating with Kids

The start of dating again can be exciting, scary and overwhelming. It’s just the way things are. Be patient and know that time is on your side. He might need to figure out dating someone with kids too. It’s going to be a process.

Slow Down Before Jumping Into Dating with Kids

Double check your own readiness before you really start going out to meet people. Think about your own healing. The last thing you want is to get yourself in a bad relationship simply because you felt lonely. Do the work on you to get over your ex and determine the big things you want in your next relationship.

Know Yourself and Figure Out Your Needs

We are all different. Some of us just need to get out, be with adults and feel attractive. We want to date but aren’t looking for anything serious. Others don’t want to spend a lot of time and energy on things that have no potential. Know where you stand on this. Neither is wrong; it’s about taking care of you in the long run.

Keep It A Secret at First

It can be exciting to meet someone who really makes you feel wonderful. Be giddy with your girlfriends but don’t start sharing things with your kids until you know something meaningful is in the works. Meeting the new man in your life is stressful for kids. If this happens a lot, stress can increase and it can also lead to kids having a poor understanding of long-term relationships.

Calm Your Kids’ Fears

Kids from divorced parents can be concerned that one parent is being replaced. When you realize it is time to start letting your kids know that you are dating and maybe even getting a bit serious, be diligent about explaining that no one is getting replaced. Mommy and Daddy will always be Mommy and Daddy – bottom line. Repeat as necessary.

Avoid Searching for Mr. Perfect

We once heard Dr. Phil speak about looking for Mr. Right. A paraphrased version of his advice: Go find someone that meets 80% of what you’re looking for. No one is perfect. Go look for Mr. 80 Percent and then learn to compromise and accept the other 20% as we are all human. We took note of this – who wouldn’t, it’s Dr. Phil.

Have What If Conversations with Kids

You don’t need to tell kids that you’re going off on a date. In fact, it’s better to not bring things up unless you really see a future. But ask your kids about what if scenarios like, “What would you think if mommy met someone new?” This gives your kids a chance to express themselves without the pressure of thinking they need to please you.

Don’t make what ifs about you, make them about your ex and your kids, like, “What if you won a shopping spree to Hello Kitty?” Keep it light and let your kids say what they think while also imagining new things in the world.

Balance Your Time

If you are co-parenting and dating, do your best to do your dating when your children are at the other parent’s home. If that isn’t possible, be mindful to not be out every Friday night or stop all those fun traditions you have with your children like Saturday cookie baking. This helps keep the crazy co-parenting routine as normal as possible for kids who thrive on continuity.

Relationships Start to Get Serious

When the rubber meets the road … (maybe not the best analogy here) but time has come to think about the next steps of the relationship. This might be a bit scary for you in many ways because you might not be ready to introduce him to the kids, but you might be talking about getting more serious.

Stay Tuned-In to Yourself When Dating With Kids

This goes back to slowing down and really assessing your own feelings, desires and needs. Remember that it is normal to have all sorts of feelings. Self-affirmation is important at this stage. This is where all that fun and excitement might start to feel like work. Keep those feelings in check.

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Talk to Your Partner

If you haven’t already started to talk about introductions to kids, this is the time to start planning. Both of you need to be ready and comfortable when the time comes. The more you talk about this, the more you move in the direction of building a family together. This is the time to talk about parenting styles in depth.

Don’t leave that up to, “well he’s just easy going.” You may be in for a surprise when his favorite loafers are doused in a soda-shine by your son.

Offer Soft Invitations to Older Kids

By now your children probably already know about him. At least they have a good idea even if you think they don’t. Kids are smart. If you have older kids, this might be a good time to give them the power to choose. Ask them if they want to join some casual date scenarios like grabbing a pizza or going for a hike.

Let Kids Express Their Fears

Giving children the chance to express their fears is important. Don’t forget to acknowledge those fears. Your children rely on you to be their protector. Let them know you realize they are afraid, maybe even angry at times. Reassure them that their feelings are important and you will always be there to listen to them and help them.

Introducing Your New Love Interest

It’s hard to say when that time will be, it’s different for everyone. But at some point, you will realize that your new relationship isn’t some fling and you want to start really exploring a future together. It’s time to introduce him to your children. And maybe it’s time for you to meet his.

Consider A Conversation with Your Ex

Co-parenting and dating is not very easy. Talking to your ex may not be feasible depending on how bad the breakup was and how much time has passed. With that said, getting your ex on board before you introduce the kids helps disarm him and could even help you gain his alliance when talking to the kids about Mommy’s new friend. Remember though, setting co-parenting boundaries is important.

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Keep the Meeting the New Guy Informal

Don’t make the first meeting between your new love interest and your kids a major event like a birthday party or holiday gathering. Those are stressful without meeting someone new that will have a huge impact on your life. Make the event something where no one feels restricted to sit at a table for a full dinner awkwardly.

Get Your Kids Feedback

A simple, “what do you think?” will open the doors of everything going on in their minds. Let them talk. Don’t censor it and don’t interrupt. Some of it might be hard to hear and you may feel defensive at times. Take a breath and acknowledge their thoughts and feelings. This goes a long way to reassuring them that they are your priority. There is plenty of time to talk about your side of the situation.

Give Everyone Space and Time

Don’t jump from the introduction to family dinners every night. That can overwhelm anyone. As much as you want to integrate everyone into one happy family, everyone might need a little time to make small adjustments to normal routines. Integrate families slowly when you are dating with kids.

Open Discussions for Problems

He might seem like the greatest guy in the world but if his jokes or the way he hugs make your daughter uncomfortable, she needs to know she can come to you about it. That’s an extreme example to illustrate the point that your kids need to know that if a problem arises from anything from inappropriate language to corporal punishment, you need to and want to know.

The End Game: Fully Integrated Families

That’s the goal, right? From dating to help you move forward to a fully integrated family where everyone feels good is what moms dream about. Though the road may seem a bit bumpy at times and it could feel like it will never happen, just remember to keep communication with your kids and your new beau in check.

Over time, what seemed awkward when dating with kids will become normal. Kids want to be happy but they also want you to be happy too. As time goes on, if you keep giving everyone opportunities to talk, your new family can grow into a wonderful example other single mom find inspiration in.

Being a single mom does mean you are parenting solo, but it doesn’t mean you need to be alone. Join the Tribe for support, resources and fun.