Stepmemo

A note to stepmoms everywhere


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Unicorns In Training

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Courtesy giphy.com

Yeah I fell off for a bit. Sorry, I just kind of quit life for a little while. I noticed a few things, gave everything I had to the kids and a side project or two, and tried to relax.
I’ve felt a lot better after my husband forced me to go shopping and get some nice new things for me. When I was a kid, my mom would get dressed up and go out. She didn’t have a lot, but she had nicer things than me. She also would take naps a lot (she was a single mom working full time, taking care of 2 kids and a mentally ill mother). I understood, naps were kind of a big deal. Both of my parents took them and we (the children) respected that.
Lots of women don’t give themselves time or nice things. They keep putting the kids first and making sure they have new clothes and new shoes so they aren’t singled out in school, and that teaches them a few bad lessons. First, it shows them they are more important in the world than you. They trump you. Some children will see and appreciate your sacrifice, but most of them won’t. They don’t understand the big picture, they just see you, giving them all and taking none for you.
Second, you are showing them how to parent, and that you take no time for yourself when you take care of little people. If this was healthy, this wouldn’t be the number one complaint among mothers.
Take some time, take some money. Not much, but do the basic stuff. Take care of you.
The kids were all very impressed that I bought new clothes, and they keep eyeballing my new boots. I have to guard them with my life!
The kids are proud of me when I finally give in and do stuff for me, but that’s not normal. At their mom’s house, she comes first, sometimes at the cost of everyone else. So the kids have a comparison. This isn’t a view most kids have. I try to show them a different way, that they can still be loving and take care of their families without sacrificing time and health, but I don’t do so well. When I have them by myself, I don’t even take the 20 minutes that I take when my husband is home. I give all to them because I’m taking the place of 2 people. I want to show them a balance, but that’s hard to remember when you have 3 young people all super excited to tell you about their day, and ask big ugly life questions, like “how did the holocaust happen?”. Yeah.
How could you turn that down?
But now that they are older, they see. They know I love them and would do anything for them, like switch jobs and work a second job. Shop at a second hand store and stop having date nights.
But I have to teach them how to be self respecting women who doesn’t need a man’s approval. And that is why I need to start doing a better job of keeping up with myself. I need to be am example of a woman proud to be in her own skin.
Seems easy enough, right? ;P

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Let’s Just Keep Still And Quiet.

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Courtesy giphy.com

Things are settling down “post-indecent” around the house. The kids are pretty quiet. That might have more to do with the fact that middle child is very obviously coming down with something and youngest child is still coughing something up (all over the rest of us, wonder how middle child got sick) but there still seems to be a subdued vibe in the house. I think we all are in recovery mode.
It was an emotionally charged moment, and after something like that and being shaken up, it takes a little bit to get settled back down.
The whole thing only further emphasized how complicated my role is. I live with these little people, I love them, take care of them, help them with their problems and laugh and sometimes cry with them, and here I had no authority. I could say NOTHING about one of my people being threatened or the fact that her advocate in this thing found fault in her for it. She goes over there and that’s it, hands off. Whatever happens, happens.
I started this blog as an encouragement to other stepmoms. This is a rough ride, and there’s no right way to take it. And no matter what, the adjustment period takes a long time, and sometimes it just sucks. I’ve worked hard to get close with the kids, and be whatever they need me to be. It took a long time, and I had to keep giving and trying, whether or not it seemed like anyone really gave a crap at the time. Now that there is a little more appreciation for the work I have put in, things are different, but I had to tough it out and just keep it up for a long time. It took persistence, it took patience that I didn’t always have.
I’ve gotten myself to the point now that when there is gum melted into the dryer, I just Facepalm and grab something to scrape it out. I suppose we’ve kind of worn each other down.
Even though I’ve transformed into some weird mommy-hybrid, and I love them as my own, I can’t protect them or help them here. I can’t do anything, even with my big bad mommy pants on.
So I will just check progress with my husband and hang out with the kids like usual.
Onward!


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Not Sure What It Means, But Pretty Sure It’s Bad.

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Courtesy giphy.com

Wow. My day started off pretty normal and ended in a small explosion. We did the normal church and then return the kids to their mom’s. We stopped by my dad’s and visited for a little bit, that was very nice.
I went to the grocery store and talked myself into putting down some impulse buys. I’m terrible for that, ” this lotion only costs a few dollars, I’ve needed a pan like this and it’s on sale… ” always things I could do without and ends up adding like $10-$20 to the grocery bill like every week. So I racked up my testicular fortitude and put back a few things, and I was proud of myself.
It’s hard, especially after your go a really long time not doing things or buying things for yourself. It’s like waiting too long to eat, you’re deprived and you go crazy. You can’t stop yourself. So to get to the point where I know things are going to be more stable soon and I can wait is promising.
I was out, I was at the church for my volunteer project and I get a phone call from the middle child. I didn’t answer, my husband was home so I texted him to call her. He texted me back saying she hit her mom’s boyfriend and they were coming to our house.
Holy cow. I’m not worried about how he feels (the boyfriend). I’m not worried about anything but 2 things: what are the long term implications of this, and how will this affect the respect she has for adults?
There are a lot of complicated dynamics at the mom’s house. There are a lot of things I don’t like. The kids look to me for answers, and I do the best I can to explain things and not vilify anyone.
The boyfriend is something like a frat boy, but in his 30’s. Within the past couple of years, he paid for his over partying with prison time. He really likes himself, he thinks he’s very important and wants other people to think the same way. He doesn’t have a nurturing bone in his body. He started his relationship with the girls by demanding they respect him or else. He picks on them, starts fights with them, bosses them around, has them watch his son constantly. Their mom works long hours, is kind of emotionally detached sometimes and tends to side with him.
Today, he began picking on the middle child, and kept going all day. They got into a screaming match, and she made a big mistake and she pushed him. He exploded and charged her, so she pushed her hand out to deflect him and it hit him in the head. Then it got nutty, but no one got hit, and they are all here now.
Part of me feels like this is all my fault. I try to get the girls to believe in themselves and stand up for themselves. I worry that my talks with them have somehow mutated into this incident. I look at this and see myself at her age, and it terrifies me. I want better for her than that.
And I don’t know what this means for her time at her mom’s or where things go from here. She’s really such a good kid, and I’m worried. I don’t want people, anyone, to look at her and see this moment of ugliness, where she was upset and threatened and acted out. I want people to be able to see the smart, funny girl who is deeply concerned about justice, and loves to be silly. She has matured and grown so much, and it breaks my heart for her to have this blemish in the eyes of her mother.
My heart bleeds for these kids. I can’t protect them, I don’t make a lot of the rules for them, and I didn’t make them. But moments like this, and even just in general lately, I feel like they are my own.
Where do we go from here? I cannot choose the way.


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Forging a Family Pod

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courtesy giphy.com Yeah, that’s right, I’m a unicorn. Braving the storm for my little unicorns in training.

Been a bit of a rough week. I apparently have a little party hangover. It’s been stressful, working at a church during the busiest season of the year for a pastor who possibly has the absolute worst case of ADD I’ve ever witnessed in a human being. It’s been trying, and the past 2 days have felt like 4. Not sure how this is going to play out, he keeps forgetting to finish telling me what he needs before he adds the next thing.

I’ve had emergency chocolate as soon as I’ve gotten home for 2 days now.

Today I got home and talked to the oldest child for a bit. We discussed the holidays and what we will be doing, and we talked about a party that will be at my brother’s house. The kids never get to go to my family’s Christmas parties, they are always Christmas eve, and they are with their mom that day. But the oldest said “your family is so cool, I wish our family could be more like them”. She is referring to my in-laws and an incident that I don’t want to give light to.

I told her “we had to fight for what we have. We might be cool with each other, but that was a struggle”. She laughed, but then I told her why.

Our bond was forged in the depths of ugliness and growing pains in the lost youth of 2 people not ready for a family. Moments like my brother sitting on the bed with me, holding me while I shook and cried while our father tore our house apart in a jealous rage. When my mother threw our prized antique gumball machine out the car window, shattering it in the street while fighting with my father the day we moved out after the divorce. When my brother would knock on my wall late at night to ask for something when he was sick, or just to talk, or have me listen to some music he was into.

I was a best friend to my mother, and I was a partner in crime with my father. Things were crazy, and things were ugly, and we survived things that only the 4 of us can understand. My parents may be divorced, but we are a pod.

When I moved into the house with my husband, the whole family was traumatized. The kids never saw the divorce coming and their whole world had just shattered. My husband wasn’t prepared for the mourning he was to do over his marriage. It seemed like the only one who wanted me there was the oldest child. There were fights, disagreements with their mother, times when we all were upset for one reason or another. Times when we had to defend our decisions and our best efforts in the eyes of family.

Our struggles as a blended family may not have been as frightening, or as visceral as the struggles of my childhood, but the 5 of us have survived things that only we can understand.

Not everyone gets that. They want to stand outside and judge, but it doesn’t matter. They are not inside our “pod”, they weren’t forged in the fires with us.


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Wake Me Up In January

Courtesy giphy.com   Yes, it's time to hibernate. Just like this.

Courtesy giphy.com Yes, it’s time to hibernate. Just like this.

I am radically uninspired to work today. I would like nothing more than to nap in protest. Just go to bed and stay there till maybe Thursday. Make some sort of cocoon out of the blankets with just a tiny hole for my eyes and nose to stick out, and hibernate.

Yes, I realize it’s early in the season for hibernation, but it’s like a pre-game for the holidays. November and December are a crazy blur. I think they are for any parent. You go in to it like “this will be great! We will have family over and good food and we will all have a great time!” Then by Christmas you’re doing crazy things, like crying because you ran out of butter (true story).

I do this every year. Every year I get all amped up for the holidays. Every year, it wears me down, things go wrong, people get mad at you because your schedule doesn’t match their ideals, or you can’t be in 3 places at once. Or, despite having told them ahead of time, they buy someone the same gift as you. And you have to be awesome and return your gift and start from scratch. Every. Single. Year.

This year, the odds are already against me. I’m already wiped out and done for, and we’re not even close yet. I’m prepared for people to be upset and disappointed with me. And I also am prepared to not care. They are NOT walking in my shoes. They don’t know what I do from day to day. They may not understand the sacrifices I’m making for my family (the little tribe I live with, not extended folks).

That’s okay, they don’t have to understand, I just hope that they have enough holiday cheer to reach out and help without judging. Support without criticism.

So if you have a family member who’s got a lot going on, or if you yourself are dipping below the waves a bit, now is a good time to make bonds of reinforcement. Be proactive in protecting yourself against the season. Get an ally. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or ask someone if you can help.

Because holiday time in the land of Mommydom is a crazy place, and sometimes it helps to use the buddy system to not get lost. Or lose your mind. Good luck! I’m hibernating.


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Sunday Gut Check. (Not Probiotics)

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Courtesy girl-heroes.com. i think more of us agree with this than will admit!

Sometimes, it’s ugly. Sometimes you look at the big pile of yuck before you and it’s like a wave. Like a never ending wave of garbage, gross, messy garbage. It will pile up and seem to tower over you.
And you will have more than one of these garbage towers in your life, probably more than one a year.
The easiest thing to do with this giant steaming pile is to look upon it with fear. You do that and it all owns you; the obstacles, the bills, the emotional issues, the everyday stream of stuff to do will all no longer be yours. You will be theirs. You will have lost the upper hand in the situation.
Sometimes, when it’s real ugly, like hurricane Katrina ugly, you can’t even look.
Sometimes you have to just keep your head down, do one thing at a time and just keep chugging along, knowing you are doing your best. And in spite of whatever garbage spills from the mouths of those around you, that is all you can ever do.
Don’t look up, just know you are doing your best and keep reminding yourself that you got this.
You’ve been through worse.


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I Hope That’s Not a Turd on My Slipper

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courtesy oz.wikia.com

So tomorrow is Friday. Big deal. I had a moment this week. It was a moment of trying to let go and move forward. Those are a little gross sometimes, occasionally you step in the mud. Going forward is never easy.

Raising a family is a lot of work, and it’s more complicated when the family is not quite yours. You do the manual labor and trip over yourself to balance out the public relations between 2 households. It doesn’t seem as rewarding as actual parenthood. There’s no “hi mom” at every event, no hugs, or “I love you”. You are present at holidays, but not remembered, except for being in the kitchen.

There are little things. I keep little momentos of their lives, and they think that it’s amazing I care enough. They tell me things that they can’t always tell anyone else. Dad is a guy, and mom might not appreciate it. I do my best to hold in all of my reactions and not act like anything is a big deal, like not having a “our little girl is growing up!!” moment when the middle child got her monthly this summer (TMI). I know that’s key to having their trust.

I didn’t want this whole “stepmom” thing to be it. I was more than just the lady who cooked and cleaned and drove everyone around. I was more than the nanny, than the live-in maid. I had a hard time with thinking that this was enough. I started trying to volunteer for things, I started this blog, I started trying to reach out and make deeper connections with people. Well, at least this blog worked!! I can’t believe how many people are reading this!!

Well anyway, after all that stuff that was supposed to make me feel like a “real girl” fell through, there was still a house to run. And a couple teenage girls who need help through this sick, sad world (Daria reference). I had a long talk with one of them today. I had a chance to have a deep, meaningful conversation about how to ask someone if something is wrong without making them think you’re weird, things high school boys will dump you for, and lots of talk about her trip to Africa (she went last year with her dad).

She got a little choked up at the end of the conversation and cried a little, and then her mom came to pick her up. She hurried up to wipe away the tears and picked herself up before walking out the door. She only let me know about that little moment.

It was hard to let go of those things. I wanted to make a difference, I wanted to make friends. I wanted to be a person outside of my house. But I came home and there was a person here who needed me to talk to and had no other options.

I had to step up and work hard. And now I have to step forward and leave some things behind. I hope there’s no mud on my shoe, I don’t want to track any dirt where I’m going. Even if I don’t know where that is.


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A Gift To Every Father

Obviously since I am a stepmom my husband is a father. He is a different kind of father. He is close with his kids. They joke around, have inside jokes, wrestle in the kitchen while I’m trying to make dinner. When one of them is having a hard time he sits close to them and speaks softly, gives them time to process their feelings, find their words. He goes through their problems with them to help them through. He works hard to give them everything but has the wisdom not to give too much. He teaches them to think for themselves, be their own people. He encourages them not to make mistakes he had made but promises to be there to help if they do.

This is not to say he’s never lost his temper or forgotten something or hurt someone’s feelings on accident. He is still human.

But he learned all of these things from his father. He learned what it meant to sacrifice for your family and that it’s not always easy but you work through it, because that’s what being a man is.

And I married him because, although my father’s techniques may have been slightly different, that is what he showed me a man should be.

Fathers take heart. Your legacy is in details you may not even see. The people you are forming today will take your lessons and pass them forward through the generations.Your legacy is the love you have for your family, and that is the greatest gift of all.


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The Process of Making Real People

Oldest child’s 8th grade graduation was last night. She had a good time taking pics with her friends (me with the camera) and then going out for secret ice cream.  Nothing is quite as good as secret ice cream.  Her grandmother had come with and it was nice for her to get to spend some time with the oldest.  Grandma was a little emotional that she’s growing up so fast.  Everyone likes thier little people to stay babies.

I think it’s funny, I watch everyone else around them all, it’s like they are holding their hands in front of them, trying to stop them in time.  Trying to hold them from going forward.  They don’t like how fast they are growing up and they wish they could stay small for just a little bit longer.  I don’t see it that way at all, and I’ve been in this race for about 5 years.  I know what it’s like to have a little person you see all the time (I lived with my niece), someone who you gave the baby Heimlich and wiped their butts and stayed up in the middle of the night with them.  Then you go away for a little while and come back and it seems like you just turned your head and they are in kindergarten.  Everything they learn seems so impressive, no matter what it is. “you learned how to do that now?! You’re turning into a real person!”

Now they are changing and transforming into the people they will be. It’s so cool to watch them slowly morph into adults, figuring out what they like and who they are, where they want to go.  They want to know things, but big, important things.  They ask questions about things they see on the news, they want to know why laws are a certain way, why other cultures act a certain way.  They want to know why.  And you know what?  If we don’t know why, they will find out why, and that is wonderful.

So the oldest is going to high school, and I can’t wait to see who she will be as she matures and finds herself. It’s going to be complicated, high school always is, but this is the final contractions, the birthing pangs of her personality.  It will be a long labor, but it’s very important to stand vigilant these next few years; what comes out in the end is the beginnings of the woman she will be.


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The Work it Takes to Make a Family

We had a little sit down with the kids yesterday, and talked about life together. The outcome was that it was felt that I run the house (which, as a wife, it should be – within the husbands wishes – don’t go painting the house pink or demanding crazy things, but take care of daily business). They see that I do a lot, the youngest said she felt I was mean sometimes because I don’t let her have enough candy. There’s not much to be done about that, she doesn’t agree with sugar, and then we all suffer. So no, there’s not much candy in the house. But they all said I was intimidating, so I thought about that. I really took that to heart, not offensively, but trying to see why they would think that. 90% of the time, I’m just yelling, it’s not at anyone (maybe the dog), so I let them know that. Then this morning, I remembered something.

When I first moved in, everything was a mess. There wasn’t much structure, my husband was “emotionally digesting” a lot, the kids were adjusting, and I was being told on all sides that I needed to be a “mommy” now. I wanted to be nice to the kids and be like an older sister. I didn’t want to tell them to do much, and I didn’t want to rock the boat. So I just did everything. I went to work and came home and made dinner and did all the laundry and cleaned. And you know what? I didn’t sit down for about 6 months. I don’t suggest it, this was not the way to start. And I found that out the hard way.

After we all started getting used to each other, the kids would blatantly tell me they didn’t have to listen to me. I wasn’t their mom and I couldn’t do anything to them. So times when I had to watch them without my husband was pretty intense. They would wrestle in the living room, not want to go to bed, argue with me, make a mess and not pick it up. The middle child told me I was ugly, and the youngest told me it was her birthday week and I had to do whatever she told me. They were testing the boundaries, because they are little people and they want to know how much power they have. This is normal.

My husband didn’t really know what to do here. He was scared to support me because he didn’t want the kids to think he loved me more. This is also normal.

But everyone told me I had to be the person in charge and be the authority in a situation where I clearly had no authority. And that was when I started yelling.

It was the only thing I could do. I had spent months pleading, asking, reminding, urging, writing on a board, nagging my husband… to no avail. I was a joke. The house would be a mess, I would be working my butt off, exhausted and stressed, and they would be laughing that I was upset about it. They didn’t take me seriously. I felt like the live in housekeeper. That was my only role.

I know this kind of power struggle is something all stepmother go through. I hear this from others, it’s stressful and hard. It feels like no one knows what you’re trying to do, and you are going through this alone. It seems endless.

But even though the kids think I’m intimidating now (which means I almost never really have to yell anymore, I ask them nicely and I think they hear a yell, and they do what I’ve asked and get on with their lives) and they talk to me like a friend. They are excited to tell me things they’ve accomplished, they will ask me for help with things and we have long discussions about important things, like history and the bible and anything that may be bothering them. They are doing well in school and are happy, and don’t mind being themselves. They are great kids, and I have to work hard and carefully make ALL of my decisions (how I act, what I say, what I do, how I talk to my husband, everything) to keep it that way. It takes time, but it’s possible to get to harmony with a mixed family. Keep talking, keep trying, and just love them for who they are.