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It actually gave me hope

It was six months after our marriage had ended and my daughter had yet to meet someone I was dating. As far as she knew (if she thought about it at all), when she was with her mom, I was at home or work, spending too much time on the computer, or not cleaning, or going to film screenings.

But I’d been out a few times with the new girl, and dinner would be our only chance to hang out together that weekend. So, I invited her over on a Friday night for dinner with Simone and me.

Andrea and Simone seemed to hit it off right away, so they colored together at the dining room table while I prepared dinner. My daughter did get a little silly at times, throwing a crayon or pretending to bite it, but all was relatively quiet. The two went off to play in another room, so I set the table, finished cooking, and called to them to wash their hands while I put food on the table. Simone didn’t want to stop what she was doing, and that’s where the fun began.

What would this woman think? Would she ever want to hang out with us again?

Have you ever been to a meal with a strange family and the kids started to act out? You sat quietly, uncomfortable, averting your eyes until it was resolved. Suddenly, I was having a rare verbal tussle with my daughter in front of company. I felt self-conscious reasoning with a histrionic three-year-old.

What would this woman think? Would she ever want to hang out with the two of us again? When I finally got Simone’s hands washed, it was another struggle to convince her to sit down at the table. And that’s when she thought it would be fun to knock her silverware on the floor.

After taking a deep breath and internally counting to five, I gently picked my daughter up in my arms, and took her to her bedroom for a time-out. She screamed, she cried, she made me think I’d never be able to bring a woman home again. I told Simone to call me when she was ready to be polite at the dinner table, closed her door, and went downstairs to apologize to Andrea. She didn’t seem too troubled by it, but I could almost see the pot roast I’d cooked getting cold, could almost smell the fresh asparagus turning from spring emerald to steamed green. Simone was calling, so I headed back upstairs. She was ready to come down.

Tossing.. . cookies?

To lighten things up a bit, I tossed my little girl over my shoulder, and brought her downstairs upside-down (if you’re a parent, you already know what comes next). We were both laughing together by the time I got her to her chair. She stood on the cushion, getting ready to sit down, when she threw up all over herself, the dining room chair, the table. The more fluid parts began to make their viscous way down to the carpet.

Here’s what went through my mind in the first milliseconds:

1. Oh, my poor baby, better get her to the bathroom!
2. It had to happen tonight. I can’t wait to tell this story.
3. I’m never going to have a girlfriend.

I conveyed Simone to her upstairs bathroom, and held her hair back as she vomited another time into the toilet, then removed her soiled clothes, brilliantly pulling her shirt over her head and getting chunks stuck in her hair. I stripped off my shirt, picked up my tiny, naked, whimpering daughter, and ran downstairs.

“I’m sorry,” I said to Andrea, “I need to take Simone in the shower.” I waited for this new girl to say something like, “Well, you have your hands full, I’d better go.” But she just nodded, so I turned toward the staircase.

A beautiful mess

Then: “Hey, do you have any upholstery cleaner for the chair? I already took care of the carpet.”

I may have cried later, but I didn’t at that moment. It was one of those times of pure magic – I’d expected this younger woman to make a quick escape, but instead she was cleaning my daughter’s gastric exhalations out of the crevices of the dining room table. I’d been through half a year without backup, making discoveries about the easiest or best way of maintaining a house and being a parent by default (or miscalculation).

I’d fully expected Andrea to leave me to deal with the mess, the sick baby, the lonely house in the suburbs, my doubts. She’d asked a simple question, but, for me, it caused a momentary shift in my sense of the world, in the possibilities for a happy future.

I held Simone’s warm body close to mine in the shower, calming her, and carefully untangled her hair. I made her laugh by gargling the hot water, and helped her rinse out her mouth. I looked at her open, trusting face, and felt horrible for the evening’s events. I’m still pretty good at beating myself up.

Once she was toasty in her fleece pajamas, sitting on the family room floor with a big plastic bowl in front of her and “A Bug’s Life” on the TV, I went back to the dining room to find Andrea.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “What a disaster. Simone’s parked downstairs, and I need to stay with her. So, if you want to go, I’ll understand. I’m just going to put my dinner on a plate and eat it downstairs.” I gave a wan smile, and braced myself for the answer.

She said, “Would it be okay if I stayed with you guys?”

Andrea no longer lives in Colorado — she moved to the East Coast for law school last summer. But I’ll be forever grateful for the way she treated me that evening. It was only my first foray into the emotional juggling act of the single dad’s social life, but the lessons I learned and the optimism it bred have stuck with me.

Excerpted with permission from Best Of The Dating Dad. Original post written in 2004. Eric hasn’t introduced his daughter to a woman he’s dating in a very long time. 

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dating disaster

Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to have a partner. I’m a relationship person. One ex even called me “wifely.” I think it was a compliment? And why wouldn’t I think fondly of being hitched: I once had 11 straight years of having coffee brought to me in bed nearly every morning! (Though that fantastic good luck may have karmically doomed me to spend the rest of my life alone.) advantages to single parenting 

Java aside, I also have other… needs… I’d like met on a daily basis. Plus, I kinda like having a ball and chain. I’d even welcome someone telling me what to do, once in awhile, especially in tricky parenting situations.

Besides, it sure would be nice to have a person crawling into my bed late at night who neither kicks me nor causes me to sometimes wake up completely soaked with urine. To use a totally hypothetical example.

Oh, yes, I have my romantic dreams. But a 10-day Spring Break visit to my mom’s has reminded me of a few of the undeniable advantages to single parenting.

1. You can load the dishwasher your way.

And peel carrots the way you think is more efficient. Use the amount of laundry soap you feel is right. Be entirely in charge of selecting which method of leftover-storage is most sensible. Tupperware? Ziplock bag? It is entirely up to you. Single parents, savor the small freedoms in your life!

2. No one will question your decision to allow your kid to have a healthy snack a half-hour before dinner.

Or the fact that you’re allowing him to gorge on holiday candy on the actual holiday. There’s the “that’s the point of the holiday” side (which would be the correct side), but there’s also the “he’ll make himself sick/it’s unhealthy and we should never allow unhealthy behavior ever ever ever/it must be parceled out in a sensible manner as approved by the American Dental Association” side. Yes, both sides have their merits. But as a single parent, your side always wins.

3. There’s no chance that some @#$%! morning person will start peppering you with questions before you’ve had coffee.

You’re trying to fix breakfast and pack the kid’s lunch while sipping your java and the only chance of staying on schedule is if you can just continue on autopilot and suddenly someone wants you to process information and use language to communicate? Before 9 am? No sir.

4. You’ll never have to argue over trivial parenting decisions.

Must he wear his sweatshirt even if there’s no chance of frostbite and he’s not cold? Should the sandwich be wrapped in aluminum foil or placed in a baggie? Should she go out in that non-matching getup? Whatever you decide for you kid goes. No comments! Zero judgment or pushback from another adult!

OK, this is technically the same as #2, above. But it’s so awesome, I think we need to savor it twice.

I once witnessed a couple of friends arguing over whether or not the sunscreen should have been reapplied on their 2-year-old at the beach. Parent One started to apply sunscreen. Parent Two said, “I already put sunscreen on her.” Parent One shrugged and continued to reapply, and somehow they got into a 10-minute fight about it.

I leaned back in my beach chair as all traces of loneliness and single-parent self-pity were carried off by the ocean breezes. Serotonin flooded my system and Pharrell’s “Happy” started blasting in my head thanks to the fact that I NEVER HAVE TO DEAL WITH THAT KIND OF BS. Not ever!

5. You can screw up or even knowingly make bad choices and no one living in your home will judge you.* 

Running late? That’s between you, your kid, and the school/camp/coach. Forgot something crucial that your kid needed? Enjoy the fact that you’re able to kick yourself – no one else will be kicking you for it. Just want to enjoy the fun evening with your kid, and bedtime be damned? No one will rub it in the next day with an “I told you so” when your kid starts acting like a ‘roid-raging Attila the Hun. Stressful day? As you help yourself to yet another serving of whatever you already know you shouldn’t be eating, the words, “Shouldn’t you save some for tomorrow?” will be uttered by no one. That missing box of Bunny Grahams is strictly between you and that clearly inaccurate scale at the gym.

* Unless they’re a teenager.

What do YOU love about being a single parent?

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Photo by Gift Habeshaw on Unsplash

Keeping up with Kourtney Kardashian and Scott Disick has never been easy. Their toxic, rocky relationship has played out – or staged out – for years on the E! reality show Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and Scott’s antics have been must-see TV. Emotional meltdowns, alcohol and drug-fueled party binges, and worse – Persistent rumors that he was cheating on Kourt. Meanwhile, Kourtney’s been portrayed as the doting might-as-well-be-single mom, pulling most if not all of the parenting slack with kids Mason, 5, Penelope, 3 and Reign, 7 months, while Scott plays the villain, shirking his daddy duties to make club appearances and party with his boys.

But single motherhood may in fact be the new reality for Kourtney now that she’s reportedly dumped Scott for good after pictures of him canoodling with ex-girlfriend and fashion stylist Chloe Bartoli in the south of France surfaced in late June. And sure, the Kardashians aren’t like you and me, but that doesn’t mean Kourtney will have an easier time going it alone. Reports suggest the new single mom isn’t doing so well, but is keeping a smile on her face for the kiddos while she bakes cupcakes.

“Single parenting is always a difficult thing to navigate, even with celebrity-style help,” says Allen Wagner, an L.A.-based marriage and family therapist. And caring for kids as young as Kourtney’s is especially challenging. “It’s difficult for children that age to express disappointment or frustration when their parents split, but at the same time they’re really needy.” As a result, Wagner says, many newly single parents have a tough time coping when they can no longer ‘tag out’ and ‘tag’ their partner in. But there are ways to keep it together, survive and yes, thrive while flying solo.

Find your village.

Don’t be afraid to enlist help. Wagner says every single parent needs a trusted support network of friends and family to help get through the bad times and celebrate the good. Which is exactly what Kourtney’s doing. Just days after the news broke of her split with Scott, Kourtney took Penelope to Disneyland to ring in her third birthday — in matching Tinkerbelle outfits — along with her famous auntie Kim and cousin North. Grandma Kris Jenner and her boyfriend Corey Gamble tagged along too.

Don’t erase your ex from the picture.

Sure, Scott seriously screwed up, and he knows it. But that didn’t stop him from sending a sweet birthday message to his little girl on Instagram. “1 of the only things I’m proud off about myself. Happybdayp,” he wrote, with a collage of photos of Penelope in other costumes. You certainly can’t blame Kourtney for not inviting him to the birthday outing, says Wagner, but she shouldn’t give Penelope the impression that daddy chose to go MIA. “Each parent plays a significant role in emotionally supporting their children,” says Wagner, “and Scott is a significant part of his kids’ lives.”

Try a little tenderness.

Scott’s hard-partying, bad boy behavior doesn’t mean he doesn’t love his children. “It indicates a combination of addictions, but more importantly, it’s also a sign that he feels overwhelmed,” says Wagner. “It’s common for parents of young children to feel they’ve lost their identity once they have to become responsible for others instead of just being selfish.” And let’s not forget Scott’s parents died within two months of each other last year and that he’s obviously still dealing with that loss — not productively, but recklessly. Kourtney doesn’t have to forgive him, but a little compassion is always a good thing.

Don’t point fingers.

It’s almost never one person’s fault when a relationship fails, even if that person cheated. “Infidelity is usually a symptom of a breakdown in communication,” says Wagner. “In families with young children, it’s common for parents to communicate only about kids and exchange to-do-lists, to stop going on date nights and stop saying ‘I love you.’ And pretty soon you have a sexless relationship. When people aren’t being validated romantically, it can be easy to stray.” Of course Scott’s behavior was reprehensible. But if Kourtney can understand the role she played in the breakup, however small, that will make it easier to move on.

Find common ground for the kids’ sake.

Kourtney and Scott had very different lifestyles even when things were OK in their relationship.  Kourtney loves tea and green juice, Scott loves his vodka lemonades. Same can be said about their parenting styles — she’s a hands-on mom, while Scott’s been portrayed as being pretty much AWOL. But now they’ve got to focus on co-parenting successfully. “It’s okay if their parenting styles are different as long as they share the same values,” says Wagner. “It’s also important that they respect and trust one another as parents. And the structure and expectations of the kids have to  be consistent whether they’re with mom or dad. There can’t be a good cop/bad cop situation.”

Embrace single parenthood.

A cool, devoted mom from day one, Kourtney has a head start here. After Scott gets treatment for his emotional and addiction problems, he can start building his own strong relationship with Mason, Penelope and Reign. “It’s time for him to decide what is important based on his own experiences,” says Wagner. “Being a parent is a unique opportunity to share yourself.”

 

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I’ve been a single mom since my son Jack, 7, was in my belly, which means my dating life gets, well, complicated. When you’re a single parent, dating is part challenge, part comedy routine. It also feels like deja vu all over again. In fact, most of my single mom dating scenarios remind me of what it was like when I was dipping into the dating pool as a fresh-faced teen. Here’s why:

Fooling around is still risky business.

When I was a teenager my mom caught me making out on the living room couch with my boyfriend Joey*. She was probably more embarrassed than me and gave a loud cough as a signal to stop kissing and get back to studying. Fast forward: My sleepy son wandered out of his room — to pee — and caught me making out with a guy I’m casually seeing. This time I was the one who was more embarrassed. After Jack peed, he decided to join us for a cup of milk. Then and now, my makeout sessions get sabotaged. Busted!

I still have a curfew.

Back in high school I was always rushing to make it home by my 11:30 pm curfew to not piss my dad off — and risk being grounded. It’s not so different these days. If Jack isn’t sleeping over at grandma’s house, I’m rushing to get home so I don’t piss my sitter off by being later than expected — and risk losing her. And honestly, at 12 bucks an hour, I don’t want to break the bank.

I’m still a pretty (good) little liar.

I admit it — I lied to my parents a few times in high school so I could hang out with a guy or go to a club in NYC. My go-to lie was: Mom, I’m sleeping at Melissa’s*. And Melissa told her mom she was sleeping at my house. Well, I’m still lying to my parents about where I go sometimes. Why? Because I don’t feel like telling them about every freaking Tinder or online date I’m trying, because I don’t want to play 20 questions just because I swiped right — and um, all I know about the guy is he’s 36 and had on a blue shirt. I usually say I’m going to a movie and drinks with girlfriends or a book signing in NYC. But I never date without a safety net. My cell is always on me and a good friend always knows who I’m really with and where I am just in case….

I still slink home at dawn.

OK, so I wasn’t doing the walk of shame at 15, but when I was in college I definitely dragged myself back to the dorm in the wee hours with last night’s makeup on and a wicked hangover, and promptly crawled into my skinny twin bed to crash. A few years ago I was dating a sexy, older guy who lived in Hoboken. I fell hard for him and never turned my family down when they offered to take care of Jack so I could have a grownup sleepover. Wining, dining and uninterrupted sex was ahhh-mazing, but then morning came all too quick. As a devoted single mom, I couldn’t just relax in bed, have bagels and coffee and then have morning sex (well, sometimes there was time for that). I would set my alarm for 6:30 at the latest, kiss my sexy guy on the cheek and tiptoe down the stairs in his T-shirt and my jeans or mini skirt, in heels (ugh — heels on cobblestone!) and a topknot. There I was — in my 30s making a mad dash to the car so I could toast waffles and watch cartoons with my kiddo.

I still have to get creative to get busy.

When I was in high school, Joey and I would make out in his car on the top of the parking garage at the mall. After getting caught fooling around at home (see above), it seemed like a good idea. Let’s just say, dates have parked around the corner from my house before dropping me off. I’ve been swept away to a hotel after dinner for a few hours. Sometimes I don’t eat lunch … on my lunch break.

Infatuation is still a thing.

I was one of those girls who went gaga for guys and talked about them, wrote about them and daydreamed about them nonstop. As a single mom, finding a cool guy who likes kids and is not a sociopath is a big deal. So I’ve definitely texted my girlfriends about how awesome Ken* is. I’ve imagined marrying Ken and my son calling him Dad. We have another baby. We live in a home with a Spanish style roof. Dating is a huge, exciting deal for a single mom! You want to scream it from the rooftops!

Breakups still really, really suck.

I was a teen drama queen when it came to breakups, and that hasn’t changed since becoming a mom. Dating as a single mom requires so much time and planning and organizing. When you lose the person you spent two years loving, trying again seems like such a project. But there’s a silver lining: Taking a break from men is often just what the doctor ordered. Dating is so much work I never rush into a rebound relationship. And there’s hardly any time to mope, because you have a kid to take care of and baseball games to attend, lunch to make, homework to do. Being a single parent actually makes for a better breakup.

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent

DID YOU LIKE THIS POST? Sign up for our weekly newsletter in the box (above, right)!  You’ll get great new essays, advice and ideas by and for single parents, coming to your email inbox. Also, register for our Singlewith Forums, to become part of our community and start connecting and getting support from fellow single moms and dads. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter (@singlewith) and Instagram (singlewithphotos). In short, JOIN US!

For more on single parent dating, including single dad Eric Elkins’s hilarious dating disaster story, check out Singlewith’s romance page. And for more on the subject of how trying to date as a single parent is like dating as a teen, go over to Wealthy Single Mommy, aka Emma Johnson’s great blog, for her take on the subject.

Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

A Singlewith.com exclusive by Christine Coppa

“I think Adrian wanted to be born. I felt him. I felt Adrian. I felt his spirit.” – Adrian Grenier’s mom, Karesse

Entourage hits theaters tonight and while I’ve been a huge fan of Adrian Grenier’s witty work – his star turn as Vincent Chase on the HBO series that inspired the buzzed-about movie, his flirty role as Andy’s boyfriend in The Devil Wears Prada and, yeah, he drove me crazy with Drive Me Crazy, too – I was much more entranced by his directorial debut, Shot in the Dark (available on DVD) in which he embarked on a personal quest to find his absent biological father he’d met only a few times.

It takes an ‘entourage’ to raise a family

Behind every absentee dad is a single mom. I had the pleasure of interviewing Adrian’s mom, Karesse Grenier, about raising Adrian alone, with limited support and resources.

Here, she shares details of Adrian’s conception, expectations she had for her unborn child’s father, the bond between a single mom and her son, and more.

Meeting Adrian’s father

Karesse, who was 25 at the time, describes Adrian’s conception and that time in her life as “going with the wind.” It was 1974 when she met John Dunbar, Adrian’s father. They met in upstate New York at a summer camp run by the Theosophical Society, an organization that brings together wisdom and knowledge from all religions, exploring spirituality and “the essential oneness”  of all beings. “I taught the kids yoga and spiritual movement,” Grenier says. Adrian’s father, then 24, was working in the camp’s kitchen. Grenier says he was very handsome with a gentle spirit, but very quiet. “I took that as him being strong inside and stoic.”

“I did all the talking,” Grenier admits. “I was making the relationship, the fantasy and the romance. It was the ’70s. We were in the moment and there was a physical connection, plus the camp was a very magical place.”

Grenier remembers sipping wine in the evening with Dunbar, then a fantastic lightning storm. “We ran in between the lightning bolts in the woods.”

Reacting to the pregnancy news

“I was living in NYC with my roommate and I called John to tell him I was pregnant. He was nervous… but thrilled. However, John did not offer any direction as to how we would live and was always looking to me for what’s next,” says Grenier.

Grenier got serious, fast, as she faced the reality of being with child. “Oh my God, I’m really going to have a little person!” she remembers thinking. “My body was changing. How was I going to work and live?  She felt John needed to grow up a bit and admits being intolerant of him. “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen,” was her attitude. Grenier’s motto for her new life as a parent: “Whatever I did before, I’ll just do the same thing. The only difference is I’ll have my ‘little gremlin’ with me.”

“I didn’t have too much support,” she says. “I did go home to New Mexico to have the baby. It was day-to-day, hand-to-mouth. I’m the oldest of many kids. I was home, but I was on my own.”

Adrian’s early relationship with his dad 

Adrian’s father did come to New Mexico for his birth. “I wanted to be friends with John,” Grenier says. “I didn’t want to be with him, romantically, but I wanted him to be a part of Adrian’s life.”

She made her feelings clear: “I kept telling him, I’m not going to be committed [to a romantic relationship].” Dunbar went back to Ohio, married and did not see Adrian again until he was six. “His wife initially wanted to embrace a relationship with Adrian. This was a good sign, I thought,” Grenier says. During the visit, “Adrian was upbeat and loving. For him, this was another opportunity to have company.”

But the company didn’t last. “I don’t think Adrian was bummed when he realized John wasn’t going to be around after that visit,” Grenier says. Since his father hadn’t been a big part of his life before the visit, 6-year-old Adrian didn’t seem to experience his dad’s departure as a loss.

Being Adrian’s single mom

Adrian.Karesse
Adrian and Karesse

 “I moved back to New York when Adrian was a month old. I breastfed him until he was nearly two-and-a-half,” says Grenier, who today is married to a wonderful man named Bob. Adrian calls him his #2 dad and even jokes he has DNA from both John and Bob.

Adrian and mom share a similar favorite moment from when Adrian was a young boy.

“I would wake him up early, wrap him in a blanket, put him in the car and go on adventures,” Grenier says. She also loved bike riding with Adrian once he turned 7.

“We would bike from the Upper West Side to the ferry and then go to Staten Island. There were these fantastic abandoned warehouses to explore.”

Karesse Grenier’s advice for other single moms

Be honest with your child. “I never kept secrets from Adrian,” Grenier says. “I always spoke very positively about his dad. ‘Dad does love you,’ I would tell him. I liked to remind him that human beings have weakness and his dad wasn’t strong-willed, but that one day you will know his love is real for you. People can’t always act on their feelings.”

Don’t let guilt get in your way. “I went to a psychic before Adrian was born, because I felt guilty about bringing Adrian into the world without a dad and wondered if I pushed John away,” Grenier says. “The psychic told me that my child had his own personal destiny and  came here primarily to be with me for his purpose… that was the choice of his soul.”

Don’t let society stigmatize you. “I encouraged Adrian to be aware of this,” Grenier says. “I didn’t want him to be pitied because his father wasn’t around. Adrian and I didn’t lack. You can be as fulfilled and as whole as anyone.”

Know that you’re enough. If you end up as a single mother, Grenier advises, understand that you are a full, complete human being and you can provide your child with everything they need. The support of a male figure is ideal, but not necessary to hold your family up.

Adrian Grenier’s advice for kids who have an absentee parent

After speaking to Karesse, I emailed with Adrian to get his take on having an absent father. “It’s hard sometimes not to have the support from parents that we want, but you’re not alone,” he says.

“We all have to make the circumstances we’ve been given work for us,” Adrian adds. “Some people are born without dads; some people are born with dads that have one leg. Whatever it is, all of life is a unique, special opportunity to rise to the occasion.”

The hardest thing about being a single mom, according to Karesse

“It’s having to be a nurturer, loving parent, provider and in the older years, a disciplinarian,” she says. “You do it all alone. You have to wear two masks. As a boy growing up with a single mom, they want that comfy pillow to lay their head on and don’t always understand the tough-love boundaries coming from Mom.”

How Adrian’s art was able to change his life

Adrian,  8th grade, playing the prince in "Into the Woods"
Adrian the summer after 9th grade, playing the prince in “Into the Woods”

“Adrian was always creative and loved music,” his mom remembers. “He had a natural ear for music. He was expressive but a little shy. I never thought of him as being an actor.”

Adrian took his creativity to another level when he directed Shot in the Dark and Karesse thinks it helped his relationship with his father, beyond what we saw on camera.

“Adrian said, ‘I’m going to take a camera and find my dad. And I said, ‘OK, that will be cathartic.’ I never thought he’d make it into a movie and show the world!” Grenier says, laughing.

“It took a lot for John to even take Adrian to the house to meet his wife [her feelings had changed since the visit when he was 6]. She hung up on him when he called. He had to go back a few times to shoot.

“She was resistant. In the documentary, she talks about this stone in her heart – closed-up feelings and pain – having to deal with her own personal challenges of not being able to have her own biological child with John.”

Grenier’s take on the issue?  It is important that a stepmom or girlfriend embrace her partner’s history and the relationships that come with that history. It is not always that simple, she says, but in the end openness and acceptance of the role of stepmom will define and build character.

Where are Karesse and John now?

Today they are friendly, Grenier says. “He’ll give me a hug at events and I know that John is proud of Adrian. Debbie, too, is always warm and truly gracious.  Everyone has come together and found peace in what has connected us in life.  Adrian is at the center of this bond, reuniting us with a gentle reminder to keep our hearts open.”

“Adrian loves to document things on film. [Shot in the Dark] was a public event. That was good in the sense that it brings you to the stage and you become less significant – you’re part of a greater purpose. You’re sharing a story with the world. The documentary opened up doors and conversations not just for us, but also for others going through similar family events.”

Where are Adrian and John now?

“I celebrate my mother on Father’s Day,” Adrian says. “She was a mother and a father to me for so long. There are father figures in many different variations. John is my dad in his own way, amongst other role models and people I look up to.” (Hear that kiddos? Give your single mommy a Father’s Day gift this month.)

Is Adrian ready for fatherhood, himself? 

“I don’t have expectations that he has to give me a grandchild,” his mom says. “I would welcome it, [but] he has to find his own way.”

Grenier says her son is very happy to have a Bohemian life – who cares about the white picket fence? Adrian values individuality, autonomy and honest communication, she says. For him, “Nothing has to be ‘legal’ official or to standards determined by society’s perception of normal.”

So, would he ever choose to become a single dad? I think he’d be open to having a kid alone,” his mother guesses. “But having a partner is going to give him peace in the long run.”

She’s right-ish, says Adrian: “I’m big into the idea of chosen family, where you build and create the family that is right for you,” he says. “Sometimes it’s better to depart from a situation that is destructive or perhaps isn’t best serving you, even if it is biology, blood. We’re all one big family under God. I would adopt, and I think I could raise a child alone, but I would not choose to – it takes a village.”

The bottom line on single motherhood, according to Karesse

I asked Grenier for her definition of single motherhood.Very rewarding, very defining of your character,” she says. “It ultimately defined me as a person. [It was] a big leap of faith.”

How well does Karesse Grenier really know her son?

Ent_ 0045.DNG
A still from the Entourage movie.

Does a single mom know best? Just for fun, I asked Karesse to answer a few questions about her son. Next, I followed up with Adrian. She did pretty well!

Adrian’s favorite ice cream?

Karesse: Coffee

Adrian: Vanilla chocolate chip, or strawberry. I like simple flavors

Adrian’s favorite movie?

Karesse:  Splash

Adrian: Amadeus

Which does Adrian prefer, acting or playing in his band The Honey Brothers? 

Karesse: The Honey Brothers

Adrian: I like being in front of and behind of the camera. They both fulfill me in different ways.

L.A. or Brooklyn?

Karesse: Brooklyn

Adrian: Brooklyn

Adrian’s favorite food: 

Karesse: Avocado

Adrian: Avocado

Favorite dish made by Mom:

Karesse: Veggie tacos

Adrian: Veggie tacos

Does Adrian have a girlfriend?

Karesse:  I don’t think he’s in a committed relationship.

Adrian: No comment.

What’s Adrian’s favorite drink?

Karesse: I don’t like him to drink! Don’t ask me.

Adrian: Tequila and soda

Adrian’s favorite color:

Karesse: Blue or green

Adrian: Blue

Where does Adrian want to travel next?

Karesse: Australia

Adrian: Croatia

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featured photo by Kevin Winter © EdStock

Entourage photos by Claudette Barius, courtesy Warner Brothers Pictures

family photos courtesy Karesse Grenier

You know your kids have a sweet tooth. But could you be overindulging it without realizing, just because you’re single?

Most parents have a standard list of kid concerns: grades, friends, growth curves, along with who the hell are Zach and Cody? Single parents have pretty much the same list, but it does occasionally get torqued up by The Situation: Does not being in a traditional nuclear family have any long-term downside? And what can you do about it?

You might as well surrender to the Disney Channel now, but you should consider keeping an eye on sweetened beverages. A new study from San Francisco State University finds that kids from  recently separated or divorced families are more likely to drink sugar-sweetened beverages than kids in families where the parents are married.  And this raises their risk for obesity and heart disease as they grow older (not to mention tooth decay!).

The connection between family breakups and obesity

The link between divorce and obesity isn’t a new one. For a couple of decades now, scientists have noticed that, after controlling for socioeconomic and physical activity, the children of divorce are more likely to have a higher BMI (Body Mass Index) and thus more likely to be obese as adults.

Does overweight necessarily mean unhealthy? That can be a gray area: There is tension between body image and our understanding of how BMI influences health. But with 1 million kids experiencing divorce every year, and 34 percent of U.S. 6- to 11-year-olds considered overweight, instead of obsessing over a scale you might just take a look at what you’re serving for dinner – and how often your family’s eating meals together.

Divorce shouldn’t mean the end of the family dinner

E. Mavis Heatherington, the ground-breaking author of For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered, was the one of the first academics to make a career of studying single parents. While she is best known for noting the resilience of most children who experience divorce, she also observed a decline in family mealtimes.

Jeff Cookston, professor and chair of psychology at SF State, wanted to take a closer look at how this decline in eating meals together might affect dietary habits in separated or recently divorced families. His team looked at four behaviors closely tied to BMI in adults: produce consumption, how often you eat meals out, whether you eat breakfast at all, and the consumption of sugary beverages.

Do you use sugar as a post-separation stress-reliever?

While divorcing families tended to eat less produce, the real difference was in the juice. Kids in intact families drank a sugary beverage one out of every three days, while those in the study drank 1.3 sugary beverages a day. Four times as much!

“That was a pretty big difference,” says Cookston. And it was easy to understand: Amid the stress of divorce, the sugar buzz is an easy fix. The brain experiences pleasure, the meal goes a little more smoothly. Often enough, the parent doesn’t even notice the beverage choice.

Connecting with your kids may cut their sugar intake

One encouraging finding in Cookston’s study was that difference in sugar consumption between children of divorce and children whose parents were still married goes away when you account for family routines—activities that connect parents and children. In other words, the more engaged single parents were with their kids, the less sugary drinks those kids consumed.

The study was meant to be preliminary, but the findings were strong enough to encourage Cookston to proceed directly to devising an intervention. And while that work is not yet finished, he’s still free to advocate for the shared mealtime as a healthy family foundation.

Turn the chore of meal-making into a whole-family ritual

As a single parent, you may not have extra time to spend bonding, when you’re busy doing all the other things your kids need. But including your kids in meal prep and eating together can be a big part of the solution. “All of these bits and pieces of family life can get wrapped up into mealtime,” he says. Planning meals, shopping, preparing, eating, and cleaning – together – is a tremendous opportunity to teach about nutrition and to solidify family routines.

Your presence is the best stress-reliever of all

That means being present with your kids, physically and emotionally, but also being “present” in the mindfulness sense – living in the moment. “When you are cooking you are very much in the moment,” Cookston says. “You don’t want to cut your finger, you want to make sure you browned everything right. That’s family time together, and it’s very present. We don’t have to think about the fact that mom’s not here with us. We don’t have to think about a number of things that might be distracting and stressful for families.”

“And quite frankly, cooking is a life skill children need,” Cookston adds. “It’s much easier for me to just make dinner for my family than to enlist the kids’ involvement and engagement, but the kids don’t learn the life skills in that way, and ultimately I can’t delegate that work to them later.”

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“I don’t know how you do it!”

When you’re a single parent of a special-needs child, your partnered friends of typical children will say that, over and over again (with great enthusiasm). I never know how to respond. On the one hand it’s a compliment, but part of me wonders if they are they throwing salt over their shoulder and thanking the gods that they are neither single nor the parent of a special-needs child. The simple answer is that you “do it” because, well, what else would you do? The bonus to being a single parent of a special-needs child is that despite the challenges, it is incredibly rewarding. Kind of like you managed to launch the Normandy Invasion all on your own.

Getting the special-needs news.

My daughter, Eliza, was born at 26 weeks and 4 days, weighing 1 pound, 4 ounces (to put this in perspective she was about the size of a small bottle of water). From the day Eliza was born I knew I was going to be the parent of a child with some kind of special need. The unknown was what the needs would be, would they resolve or would they be lifelong special needs. Not having a third trimester in utero causes a whole bunch of things to go awry and despite the mantra of some organizations that “support” parents of premature children, they don’t all magically “catch up” by the age of two. Eliza is now nine and is in an integrated class, with a paraprofessional to assist her and she still receives occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy. To get to this point Eliza spent 100 days in the NICU, has had over 5,000 hours of various therapies and her medical needs are attended to by eight different specialists. But if you saw her in the playground, you’d just see a wonderful child having a grand time.

Other single parents of special needs kids are more blindsided by their child’s delay or disability. Some delays, disorders or disabilities didn’t show up until early infancy, the toddler years or in some cases, not until the kids are school age.

Regardless of how or when you became aware that you had been inducted into this select group of parents, there are a few pieces of advice that universally apply:

Take a deep breath.

(Okay, it is going to take lots of deep breaths or possibly you may need to be reminded to actually breathe). When your child is first diagnosed you will realize that there is no partner in the room that you can look to and say “what should we do?” because there is no we. It is just you. You may be surrounded by family and friends (or not) but at the end of the day, the decisions are yours alone. The good thing about making the decisions on your own is that you don’t have to deal with another parent who may think that a procedure, therapy or evaluation is unnecessary. You are also spared the resentment that inevitably arises if you are the parent who attends to most of your child’s daily needs. My partnered friends in the land of special needs have to work harder to maintain their relationship, so there is a hidden bonus to having to make all the decisions on your own.

Avoid Dr. Google.

When my daughter was born and gravely ill, I decided that “Dr. Google” would be my decision-making partner. Not the best of ideas I have ever had. In seven years of partnering with Dr. Google I have come to realize that no one publishes a study that concludes with “Hey, this all turned out pretty okay!” So until you are a wee bit further down the special needs highway, try to avoid Dr. Google as your decision making partner. The internet is flush with websites, blogs, studies and support groups for just about every special need. Some offer up helpful advice, others offer up platitudes and some are downright depressing. Medical studies are the most difficult to decipher. It is important to remember that virtually anyone can publish a “study.” The results of a particular study may be alarming, but then on closer examination you realize the study was done on 36 children in a remote area of Bali, so likely not the best “study.” With some practice though you can find out about new therapies or treatment that may not be known to your child’s medical providers which might be worth pursuing.

Be prepared for platitudes.

Friends and family will, with all great intentions, tell you things like “you’re never given more than you can handle” or “things happen for a reason.” Really? My stock answer over the years has become that if people are not given more than they can handle, then why do we have fully booked mental hospitals? I would get angry with these platitudes or the all-knowing sentiment that “everything will be just fine.” Since I saw no one with a crystal ball, I pretty much summarily dismissed these comments. It has taken a long time for me to realize it, but the friends and family who made these comments simply did not know what else to say and they really did think they were offering up helpful or kind wisdom.

Find at least one person you can talk to.

Since you have no partner to complain to about these inane comments, find the friend who says, “Well, this sucks” and complain to that person. That person may not be walking in your shoes but at least they are rolling their eyeballs with you about the platitudes.

Make yourself a map.

Once you’ve gotten over the initial shock of your child’s special-needs status, you now have to figure out how to navigate new worlds. Instead of a handful of well-baby check-ups each year, you may have to navigate multiple specialists, Early Intervention, more than a few therapists, and in later years the education system. In Eliza’s first year of life at home she had an average of four medical appointments each month and an average of nine hours of physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy each week. In the perfect two-parent household, one parent often becomes a stay-at-home parent to manage the ever growing list of doctors and therapists. As a single parent you likely do not have the luxury of quitting your job so that you can attend to all of this. So what to do? What helped me was getting a really unattractive and enormous whiteboard that I mounted to the front door. I drew a monthly calendar and listed every appointment and therapy session.

Learn the art of defensive scheduling.

Depending upon the modifications you can make to your work schedule (start later in the morning, leave early, take an unpaid day once a month, work 4 longer days instead of a typical 5 day work week, win the lottery) you will need to schedule medical appointments around your schedule and often schedule multiple appointments for the same day (this will often require sucking up to the medical office secretary or occasionally begging). If your child has multiple specialists, I preferred one-stop shopping and had all of the specialists at the same hospital.

Insist on clear communication.

Since you won’t be able to attend every therapy session (unless you win the previously mentioned lottery) insist that the therapists use a communication notebook to record comments about each session so you don’t have to decipher what happened from the nanny or sitter. I set up a private Yahoo Group that Eliza’s therapists all joined and we could all post comments and questions and it was enormously helpful and alleviated some of the guilt that I felt in not being at every therapy session.

Pat yourself on the back.

Once you have achieved a level of organization that the NASA launch team would be in awe of, you will inevitably meet some partnered stay-at-home parent who will tell you that she (it is usually a woman who says this) made the hard decision to quit her job and stay home since it was best for her special needs child. This will invariably deflate your sense of accomplishment since it implies you are not doing the best for your child. But the thing you need to remember is that you have achieved something great because, on your own you have managed to not only love, feed, clothe and house your child, but you have managed to attend to all of those extraordinary things that your special needs child requires to succeed. This thought may not alleviate all of the guilt you might feel by not being there for every therapy session, but you can feel smug that you did all of this by yourself (and there is nothing wrong with feeling a bit smug now and again).

Find a village to help you.

Some members of the village you thought you were part of before you became a special needs parent may not be too welcoming. Much like the parents throwing salt over their shoulders while in the same breath telling you they don’t know how you do it, some members of the village may distance themselves from you. If you’ve had a difficult pregnancy or your child’s special needs were apparent at birth or shortly thereafter, you may find that your pregnant friends want to avoid you like the plague. It is hurtful, but I suspect they just don’t want to be reminded that they too may not have the perfect water birth in the woods with a doula under a full moon and a prefect child. Give them time. The good villagers will return.

Connect with other special-needs parents.

Your village will expand to include new friends you never would have met, but for your child’s special needs. These are people who understand what it is like to raise a special needs child alone. You should fill your village with people who celebrate your child’s milestones (no matter how delayed) and rejoice with you when your child no longer needs oxygen at home, rolls over for the first time at thirteen months, first talks at three or finally has the fine motor function to stick her finger in her nose (which isn’t as easy to do as one would think).

Remember to take care of you.

Often lost in all of the special care your child requires is you. My biggest failing was, and is, not taking some time for myself. It can be exhausting raising a typical child alone. Raising a special needs child alone can deplete your reserves to a critical level. Finding time isn’t the easiest thing to do. If you can save a few hours a week or month by buying everything online for delivery to your home, do it. If someone nebulously offers to watch your child, respond immediately with a date and time. If someone offers to do something for you (cook, walk your dog, help plan a birthday party, put a crib together or get your car inspected) assume they mean it and take them up on the offer. People do want to help but most of the time they don’t know what you need so don’t be shy about speaking up.

Rejoice in your child every single day.

The rewards of raising a special needs child as a single parent is that the two of you have done this together, that you have made the hard decisions on your own, that you have made the right decisions on your own and that you have a beautiful child who will explore the world with you. Eliza is a wonderful artist, not your average Crayola-loving kid, but a child who will debate over using oil pastels or ebony pencils when planning her work. Eliza is currently inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe and wants to learn everything she can about the artist, where she lived, the materials she used, how large her canvases are. This child, who was not predicted to survive, who was given slim chances of leading an average life, who has worked so hard to achieve things we take for granted, like walking and talking, looked at me as she lay in bed in one night, slapped her forehead and proclaimed “I can’t believe Georgia O’Keeffe is dead!” And I smiled, because I know that despite everything, we will be better than just fine.

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I often am asked whether or not I would consider getting married again.  For a long time, my response was something like,  “I’d love to.  But to be honest, I think I’m going to do a George Clooney it and be a bachelor forever.”  But Clooney got married, so I replaced him with someone else who’s made a career of being a single guy — Derek Jeter. Then he got engaged to model Hannah Davis, something more unlikely than the Yankees captain being honored by the Boston Red Sox, archrivals beat the Yankees in the 2004 World Series, when he played his final game in Fenway Park and retired his jersey.

My heroes are failing me…

Actually, it’s quite endearing.  Men who once had committed themselves to not being committed seemed to have found someone who complements them so well that they want to finally settle down.  For the most part, that’s what everyone wants.  It’s what I want.

Been there, done that

However, I think about the many conversations I’ve had with my single friends who are tired of dating and think happiness is finding someone they’ll fall in love with forever. But having the traveled the road from great first date to saying “till death do us part,” I find myself putting them on game on how this life partner deal really works — the overwhelming odds are that they are going to get on your every last nerve.

They will try your patience in ways that will surely make you do things you swore you would never do andpromised them you wouldn’t do back when you were dating.  You will consider — and probably carry out —acts that your partner once said were deal-breakers because you know they actually won’t be. You will dread knowing everything they are going to say before they open their mouth. But they are still your best friend and you love them more than anyone else on the planet.

“But I don’t want to compromise!”

I can’t lie, I actually miss that.  However, just thinking about all that comes along with it makes me more than a little wary to want to settle down again.

Perhaps my biggest phobia about commitment is the idea of co-parenting.  I have been a single father for almost five years and I know almost nothing about sharing parenting responsibilities.  Even while Cydney’s mother was alive, I stayed up all night, cleaned the bottles, and did most of the work. She passed away when my little girl was only nine months old.  For better or worse, all I know is being a single parent.  There is a good chance that part of my wanting to play the field for the rest of my life and have relationships that don’t last forever is because I am not used to accomodating someone else’s parenting ideologies and compromising on things like what school my child goes to and a million other things.  It has never been a part of my or my daughter’s lifestyle.

The pressure’s on

But Cydney wants me to have a serious girlfriend and get married. She wants a stepmother and siblings.  In fact, she says I need to do all of this by next week.  As stressful and draining as it can be sometimes, I love being my daughter’s everything.  Maybe this is the one part of my life where I want to and feel like I am justified for being a little selfish.  But I guess if George Clooney and Derek Jeter can find people worth committing to forever then maybe I can do the same.

In the meantime,  I still have Jamie Foxx.

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