Discipline: A Stepmother’s Story

When I promised to write a blog about discipline, I didn’t realize all the feelings it would stir up. The memories of some very ugly years surfaced and while I have grown so far away from that woman I once was, it is still a difficult chapter of my life to revisit.

I am a custodial childless stepmom. I have grown no children inside of me. But I am a mother all the time. I raise an 8 year old boy as my own full time. It’s not been easy. For a long while now, his biological mother has struggled greatly in her life, and has no part in his. They do not visit, she doesn’t come around, in fact I don’t even know where she is at the moment. She quickly faded out of his life once the story of her struggles began to unravel in court.

His father and I have climbed many mountains and seen many things in our time together. As Bear is now 8, it’s been 5 years since we started this journey together.

It was a rocky situation at best.

When I became a stepmother, my Bear was 3. He lived equally with both parents. Before that he was with mom full time and dad had visitation.

He could barely speak because no one was giving their undivided attention to developing his speech.

The Bear was a tyrant; screaming, crying, hiding, kicking, and modeling behavior of his much older brother diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome (according to mom).

He almost never heard ‘no’, and the only one to really kick it into high gear with telling him no and redirecting him, was me.

Along the way we learned that safety equaled security. That although I was byfar the toughest adult on him in his life, he clung to me most. He felt safe with me. My lines were clear. The boundaries were not movable. Ever. To say I was rigid and demanded greatness from him is an understatement. If you’re currently trying to raise a child with a co-parent who seems to be on another planet, I sympathize. I was there. It seemed that mom would systematically undo all of my work in a matter of days, even hours at times. He would return back to our home a complete wreck. Each time more defeating for me than the last. He struggled in school, he struggled socially and his behavior was out of control. At that time, knowing nothing about parenting other than what was modeled to me growing up, and knowing even less about myself, I was really winging it. Because there was a custody battle in place from the time he was 6 months old, both of his biological parents fell victim to the Disneyland mentality. No one wanted to discipline for fear of it being brought up in court. No one wanted to say ‘no’ for fear of losing the popularity contest.

When I arrived on the scene, codependent, immature, unhealthy and ill-equipped to handle such a situation, my instincts took over. Well behaved children grow into great adults, I believed, so come hell or high water I will create an environment in which this child behaves well and does as he is told. On one hand, it was entirely necessary. Having little discipline before me and being bounced back and forth from two ASTRONOMICALLY different homes, he needed a steady consistent force to discipline him. I do not regret that time in our story, as painful as some of it was. When teachers are calling your office to ask you to retrieve the child because he is out of control, if you have no skills to draw from, your reaction is often yell, correct, punish, threaten and do not budge ever. That was me.

This dance went on for some time. And while my high expectations eventually straightened out his bad habits, it didn’t do much for his spirit and it certainly wasn’t helping me in my misery. I was so weighed down by the fact that I believed his every move was an extension of me, that although I’d send a seemingly well behaved and responsible boy to school, the love component, the peace, and the healthy fluid changes that occur within the most functional of families was missing. Something had to give.

I started the long journey of therapy. Nearly 4 years now I’ve been actively involved in my growth and recovery. I’ve had to search DEEPLY within my own childhood, the patterns I fell victim to, and the insecurities that clouded my movement in the right direction. Determined to be a better wife and mother, I searched and searched. But even more important than the role of wife and mother, was the role of a peaceful me. It’s easy to blame your misery on others. If they change, you’ll be okay. Except, change begins within.

I’d like to outline for you some of the things that have helped me most as I have weathered the journey of disciplining and raising this once very difficult child.

 

He is not me.
It literally has taken me years to accept the fact that his behaviors are sometimes just his behaviors. I think we all know that kids are smart, and kids can be entirely manipulative. They are very intelligent small humans. Certainly an argument can be made that he wishes to do things JUST to get under my skin or JUST to be rude or JUST to be hurtful. But I was once obsessed with his every move thinking that it was a reflection of me. I was terrified thinking everyone was watching me, everyone was judging me. If he slipped up, I slipped up. One of my insecurities lies in failure. I was a walking anxiety attack for longer than I’d care to admit because I believed that if he messed up, I was messing up. But that is not the truth. He is not me. He is him. He is his own person with his own wants, his own needs, his own thoughts and this was always hard for me because I believe strongly it IS a parent’s job to take responsibility for their kids. We are dealing with many generations of entitled children now. It’s become a serious issue and it’s one that I do not take lightly. But I know I won’t be the parent who lets him have anything he wants or allows him to be a hot mess without my intervention. I needed to stop making that a concern. My only job is to guide him with what I know, not make him me, or wear his every mistake like a scarlet letter.

 

Set Consistent Expectations. Don’t Waiver. Make it Their Responsibility to Follow Them or Face the Consequences.
We learned early on in therapy that Bear had to earn his privileges every day. That meant that instead of having an all out meltdown because he was misbehaving, we made it his choice to earn his privileges every day. We put the owness entirely on him. If he chose to misbehave he lost something he valued that day; cartoons, bike riding, etc. There were many boring nights where he did nothing but sit in his room. But when a kid is kicking teachers, we were running out of options. Eventually he understood that we weren’t messing around, that he wasn’t getting out of it and that we expected his behavior to be at a certain standard.

The Rule of 5 “No’s”.
I believe every parent is entitled to parent as they wish. But I do not agree with parents who never tell their kids “no”. This idea that kids can go through life without having to ever experience rejection or how to deal with someone telling them no seems crazy to me. But there is another side to this. I told him “no” or corrected him nearly every time he moved in the wrong direction. Like a toy soldier, I’d put my hands up to move him back to the perfectly straight path. One day my therapist suggested I could only tell him “no” or correct him 5 times in a day. She suggested it would make each “no” or correction more valuable and I would use them more wisely. Instead of correcting the things that weren’t a big deal, I would save them for things that were. Nowadays 5 seems like a high number, but at one time, it was a real struggle for me.

Encouragement.
My parents did the best they could with what they had. As I’ve worked my way through my own personal issues, I am now at peace with my childhood. But my father struggled with alcoholism and I believe often his own anxieties and troubles cast a shadow over his ability to encourage. Also, he was not encouraged growing up. It did not come naturally, sarcasm did. My mother was often so focused on my father that although she tried to offer encouraging words, it too would be lost at sea with the disease. So what did I learn growing up? Encouragement is uncomfortable and sarcastic comments disguised as praise are enough. Except, it isn’t. Recently, The Hands Free Mama summed this up best – I’d encourage you to read it, she hit me right in the heart with this one: www.handsfreemama.com/2014/05/20/to-build-or-break-a-childs-spirit/
It is hard to give that which you do not have. I did not join this party equipped to give healthy encouragement. I’ve had to find those skills on my own. This is an ongoing process. Perhaps you can relate. But I know for SURE that my boy does better by encouragement than discouragement, plain and simple.

Kids Are Feeding Off The Adults.
When you’re stressed, they’re stressed. Although their stress probably looks different from yours. Theirs looks like them bouncing off the walls, or whining about eating their peas, or rolling their eyes when you ask them to complete a task, or screaming/crying/yelling/pouting or anything else that you, as a parent would describe as “off”. If they are “off” stop first and look at you. Are you “off”? I’m not blaming you for their behavior, but they aren’t always equipped to express their anxiety or frustration, and you are all they’ve got for a stable force. If they think you’re upset, they are uncomfortable, so they get upset. Also, they end up modeling everything you do. I said earlier that I was a walking anxiety attack because everything he did would get me worked up. Let’s couple that with the fact that we had a LONG battle for custody, a LONG battle of just getting him to a place of normalcy and that pressure was ALWAYS evident in my marriage. But my husband and I being stressed and becoming walking anxiety attacks? That turned into him being a walking anxiety attack and everything his peers did got him worked up. If one parent is acting out, they are watching, they are following and they are going to be trouble. You can’t control the other adults in the situation but you can control yourself and help them manage their emotions. Which leads me to my next point.

Kids Need Tools For Expressing Themselves.
From a young age Bear struggled with living in utter chaos with his mother and her ‘disabled’ children (as described to us by her, I’ve never really known their true medical diagnoses), along with her unhealthy habits. In order to be heard, he had to be loud. He had hearing loss, and could barely talk. He modeled the behavior of his much older ‘disabled’ brothers. I can not begin to explain how difficult it was to get him anywhere NEAR a normal upbringing. I once believed that being a drill sergeant would keep him in line, and it did, temporarily. But the truth is that Bear had very few skills for expressing himself. In fact, I was always on such high alert from his previous bad behavior that I was often guilty of giving a “life sentence for stealing candy from the store”- meaning I would not always allow the punishment to fit the crime. Worse than that, I didn’t learn until later that what he needed wasn’t an empty scolding, what he needed was to learn what was appropriate. THEN it was okay for him to get punished because he chose that behavior knowing there were other options. We often fly off the handle at these kids because they JUST KEEP DOING THE SAME THING AND THEY KNOW IT IS WRONG. It took a very long time, but I started showing him what was RIGHT and expecting that instead. Much different results.kid-couple-hand-heart-sunset

Overcoming Manipulation.
They will do it. Bear has pitted my husband and I against each other many times. When his biomother was present he would do the same with her. Rule #1- believe them, but know that their word is not Gospel. Be discerning enough to know that not everything they say is absolute fact and THINK before you react. The only guard against manipulation is not allowing it to work. Don’t belittle, don’t yell, don’t make it into a huge mess. Simply don’t let it work. This isn’t always easy if another party is involved, and they wont get on the same page as you. But YOU can choose not to let it affect you, or to let it work against you.

Communication Is Not Optional It’s Required
Kids already know when you’re upset. We take that as an excuse not to communicate with them, which is actually most damaging. Instead, you should calmly relay your feelings on their level. I am frustrated because ____. I am tired. I am having a hard time with ______. Since they are expertat modeling, if you don’t like your weaknesses being mirrored back to you, it’s time to brush up on your weaknesses. One of mine was communication. I believed he was to simply do as I said, because that’s how I was raised. In reality, he is a person who wants to feel like a valued and respected member of the family. If you don’t respect them, they won’t respect you.

Show Your Emotions, But Know Your Emotions.
This is on the same line as communication. I don’t believe kids should never see you angry or sad or frustrated. But they do FAR better when you can explain why you feel that way. It took me SO long to be able to say statements about my feelings because not only did I not even know what they were, but I felt it a sign of weakness for me to apologize for them or have to explain them. This was a misconception from my childhood as well. I hear often about parents who are just simply spent, they are drained, they are overwhelmed, so they don’t give of themselves to their families. This is understandable but kids don’t get that. Instead of making them feel bad about being alive, or feel like they’re pestering you, just be honest, on their level. Know where your frustrations lie, and communicate them.

Yelling Does Nothing.
It’s been said to never yell unless the house is on fire. I used to think that was quite a crock. I yelled alot. It got his attention, and he knew if I was angry, I meant business. This was because that is how I was raised. My dad is very commanding. When he yelled, you better believe we listened. But it didn’t guide us or brighten our spirits, it instilled fear. I still lose my temper, but I am quicker to apologize and take another path. At this point, yelling at him doesn’t help. He will listen and he knows he is in trouble, but it’s MUCH more effective for us to let him own his own consequences, give extra time instead of getting mad that he’s going so slow, or model him different reactions. If the only thing he knows is max volume, max anger, there was no in between. Plus no kid wants to be yelled at, it’s scary and it hurts their self esteem. Instead I try hard to express what it is I want and give him time to react. I once was so impatient with him he lived in a hurry, just like me. What a miserable existence. I’m working hard on this now.

Take Their Stories/Wants/Ideas Seriously.
If they are sharing it with you, it’s important to them. LISTEN. They may not always want to talk to you for fear that you’ll get mad, or tell their mom, or judge them, or whatever. This is a matter of trust. Don’t beat yourself up if they don’t come running to you with every little thing. But do your best to make yourself available, and neutral, for when they do.

You’re A Better Parent And You’re Just Waiting For The Other Fools To Catch Up?
I can relate, I was in the same boat. I was so angry that mom seemed to be completely lost on the basics. He doesn’t wear that size shirt. His coat smells like smoke, could youPLEASE not smoke on top of the child? He is too old to be wetting the bed, how hard is it to be consistent in potty training? He shouldn’t be drinking Mountain Dew. He needs more than 6 hours of sleep. That medicine is expired. Don’t let him watch Jerry Springer. He shouldn’t be saying ‘shit’. You had him for 3 days, no time for a SINGLE bath? This was the tip of the iceberg.  I will not dive further into the mess that we endured, but I will tell you this, it was EXHAUSTING. It shattered every ounce of strength I thought I had. I quickly became someone I hated, fighting that nonsense tooth and nail. But eventually I realized that all I can do is my personal best and at least he would have ONE strong home. One place where he was clean. One place where he got good sleep. One place where the rules never changed. And as incredibly hard as it was, it made a difference. Our story is unique because her lifestyle ended up overshadowing her parenting abilities by the standards of the court, and he has been in our sole custody for years. But at one time, I dealt with all of this too.

A House Divided Against Itself Will Not Stand.
You need to remember this starts INSIDE your home. A battle between two houses is tough, but if you aren’t on the same page in your own house, your success is unlikely, so start there. My husband and I have been like ships passing in the night when it came to parenting. We still are sometimes. The only thing that has ever brought my husband and I back to neutral ground has been communication. The finger-pointing has never helped. I know, because it’s been done so many times. Now we try to identify specific triggers. We find the parts that are our weakest, and try to come to some mutual agreement on it. When I know for a fact that Bear is going to do something that puts me through the roof and my husband is likely to blow it off, I try to remind him why it’s a problemand offer a solution. This has saved my marriage, and my sanity many times. But we have nearly split on numerous occasions due to discipline disagreements alone. It took a GREAT deal of trial and error in this department.

You Don’t Know Where You Fit Yet Somehow You’re Stepping On Toes.
You do your best to tread lightly. You support your husband. You ask opinions of mom. You try to offer suggestions. You try to be good to the kids. Nothing is ever good enough and nothing is ever right. How defeating. Teachers won’t talk to you, kids report back every evil stepmother rule that you impose. I get it, I was there. At some point you have to distinguish the difference between being confident and cocky. The reason stepmothers get a bad rap is because somewhere along the line some of them think they run the show and expect high praise for their efforts. Finding your fit in a disciplinarian role can feel IMPOSSIBLE. For me this was the biggest issue. No chance in HELL would I be raising a child as misguided as the Bear. When I showed up he was off his rocker and in horrible shape. I took it upon myself to straighten THAT mess out as quickly as possible. But the only reason that even worked was because mom was so wrapped up in her own chaos and dad had never seena mother step up like I did so everyone eventually went with it. Someone had to get this kid in order and I was the only one stepping up to the plate. In hindsight that was unhealthy, unwanted, and caused a great deal of stress on myself and my marriage. Looking back I can’t believe it all shook out the way it did, but even when I tried to tread lightly, somehow I pissed mom off. Somehow I was too tough for my husband’s tastes. I literally could not win. No one seemed to see things as I did, and it beat me down badly. But when you’re faced with this situation you need to do some serious soul searching. Take it from me and learn from my mistakes. I was not confident in the beginning so instead I made up with my insecurity by boldness. Believe in yourself, KNOW yourself, and trust yourself. BE HUMBLE. Be kind. And if you’re doing your best, be okay with that.

Check Your Ego.
I don’t have enough time to go through all the ways I changed this child’s life. All the hours I’ve spent investing in him. All the money I’ve given. All the tears I’ve cried. All the changes that I can attribute directly to my efforts and mine alone. I can say, with 100% confidence that this kid has a far better chance in life all because of me. I have given him more than he would EVER have gotten without me. But I find myself immediately resentful when I start looking for thanks. To this day I still get hot inside when I think of all that I’ve done for him and that I am not getting proper recognition. It’s easy to do, you’ve probably done it too. All those expectations translate into me being annoyed by the Bear, me lashing out at him, or me over-disciplining or disengaging at times. But the truth is I dove in and changed his entire life, not because I’m a saint, but because I was too unhealthy to knowany better. I can’t very well blame anyone else for that, or expect much thanks from the outside. At this point, I have to accept it as a truth that I know, and find peace with myself. You need to take some time to think about why you’re so invested. Because investing yourself in anything is only going to produce a beautiful ending if you have the right expectations. I was an over the top mother. I gave every last minute of my day, dime in my wallet, and ounce of my sanity to this child. I did it because I loved him, yes. But if I’m honest, I also did it because I wanted to feel better about myself. Because I wanted to shame his biomother for the hell she put us through. I wanted praise. I wanted thanks. I wanted vengeance for a shitty few years and I wanted power over the situation.

These are all horrible reasons to give of yourself. And they translate into every interaction you have with these kids. Bear didn’t ask for an unhealthy biomother who would eventually walk out of his life. And he sure as hell didn’t ask for a wired up stepmother to come in and fill the void. He is just a kid. He needs guidance, love and encouragement. And while I could easily give money, time, discipline and correction, those other things, were not my strong suit. And to this day I’m STILL working through them.

Get a A Wise Circle – STAT.
This one is tough. We are faced with our own beliefs about discipline, the beliefs of the bioparents, and of course, our ever faithful “you knew what you were getting into” crowd. These are constantly battling each other. I don’t recommend exhausting every mommy blog resource and listening to the same old tired advice or directives. Branch out. Seek. Explore. Follow your heart. If you believe your kids need something KEEP FIGHTING FOR THEM. I surround myself with people who constantly challenge me to grow bigger. They ask tough questions. They have seen me cry. They have prayed for me. They have pushed me. They have congratulated me. They have kept me humble. This is what you want. The catty crew of know it alls won’t teach. The misery committeewon’t encourage. You may be wrong. Find someone who will call you out. You may be right but your heart is scared to move. Find someone who will help bring back your boldness. A true wise circle is not a group of yes men. They say it takes a village to raise a child. Make sure your village isn’t burning down the block behind you.

And last but not least…..

Hindsight is 20/20, When You Know Better – Do Better, Trust The Process, And Other Cliche Ideas.
They are spoken for a reason. I no longer regret the mistakes I made with Bear, because I forgave myself. I did the best I could with what I had at the time but I NEVER settled on that. I don’t make excuses anymore, I make changes. I never trusted the process. In fact I fought the process every step of the way. Until one day I realized that life keeps moving no matter how hard you want it to stand still and you can either grow with it, or stay stuck. I chose to keep moving and learning and I still make that choice every day. I am not the same person I was when I met Bear. But I had to go through ALL the valleys to enjoy the peaks.

Today I am at a point where I am able to reflect upon my mistakes and turn them into lessons. I do not fear for the future, nor shame myself for the past. We are all doing our best, but our best includes growth. If you aren’t moving toward a better you, you are going to be miserable. Start today with what you have, and keep taking healthy steps. The alternative is to remain stuck, and if that’s not working for you, which I imagine it’s not, I encourage you today to try something new.

Our story was bleak at best when I started. I simply decided to alter the ending.

 

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Dear Mom

Mother’s Day is not only about being a mom, but loving a mom. It’s been said that you’ll never really know what your mom went through until you become one, and I find myself often thinking things like, “that must have been hard on my mother”, “she must have been proudest at times like these”, and “I’m tired, she must have been so tired sometimes.”

My mother is the kind that will be happy with the smallest thing. She never expected much for herself, in fact her needs often took a backseat. But as we approach this day, while she’d be content with a Hallmark card (I pick out some good ones), a flower, or the other usual gift, I thought it best in my 30th year to instead write her this, and share her with you too.

Dear Mom,

As I stumble along finding my place as a mother, I want you to know you made it look so seamless. For the past 30 years you’ve floated along, loving me and guiding me and being a constant force. Maybe that’s why I have found it hard at times. See, I believed from watching you that mothering was a task that just came to us women. Turns out this deal can be hard as hell. You must have spent some nights crying or yelling into the pillow. Lord knows I have. This Mother’s Day, instead of giving you the material thanks, I want you give you this, from my heart.

Thank you for never wavering in your love for me. Not a day has passed by in my 30 years of life that I thought you didn’t love me. I am finding it is not always easy to show love, somehow you managed to do it even on your angriest days.

Thank you for never judging me. I never believed I had to be anything specific, I just had to find myself and be my best. I wish you would have told me how hard that would be, but in true ‘you’ form, you let me figure it out for myself! 🙂 You never put me down or told me what I wanted was wrong. Looking back, that was the best gift you could have given me. You never put me down when I was in horrific shambles. You just stood fast and said, “You’ll get through it, you always do, you’re enough.” I’m not sure you know how much that meant.

When I told you I wasn’t sure I’d ever want to have children of my own, or that I didn’t think this marriage would survive, or that I really thought life was too big for me at times and I wasn’t sure what to do with myself, you never once told me what to do. Instead you gave me courage. You told me to look inside myself, and that you would love me no matter what I did, or what I became. Because you never forced your opinion or beliefs on me,  you forced me to form my own. You forced me to mold myself. You forced me to be the best version of me I could be, and you still do.

Thank you for being so proud of me, no matter what I did. Each new adventure I’d come to you with, you would just say, “you can do it”, and you knew I probably would. The day I graduated high school, and college the first time, and college the second time, and got new apartments, and got new jobs and promotions and decided to take on bigger and bigger challenges, you were always there. You never expected me to do any of those things. I always knew you would love me even if I was half the person I am today, but it was that endless love that pushed me to do more.

Thank you for showing me God and Jesus, as best you knew how. Thank you for helping me have faith, when I had none. Thank you for never telling me what to believe, but making sure if nothing else, I believed in myself.

Thank you for showing me the value of telling the truth. I always knew if I misbehaved, there would be consequences, but the consequences for lying to you were the worst, because it hurt you more than anything else I did. You taught me that lying is dangerous, that it hurts relationships and once trust is broken, it is not easily earned back.

Thank you for showing me the value of hard work. For teaching me that I can have and do anything I want, if I move my ass and light a fire in my soul. No one would hand me anything and to this day, you were right. I am so thankful that you taught me this one especially. When my friends had new gadgets, clothes and free rides, I had to work. Man I was pissed. Today I want you to know that you were so right (although, you already knew that!), and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Thank you for showing me your financial confidence. There MUST have been times when the ends were barely met (I know, because now I’ve been there) but you never shared it with me. All you did was feed us, clothe us, and give us what we needed. We knew we weren’t rich, but because you were responsible, we were covered. I’ll never forget that.

Thank you for showing me some serious strength. When times got tough in our family, you had every right to breakdown, but something in your heart said to keep fighting. I know that too, because I’ve been there too. You showed me that marriage was hard. That commitment meant WORK and when you said ‘in sickness and in health’, you meant it. It’s been a theme in my soul for a long time and I owe that to you. You showed me that the most important relationship was a good marriage first. That if you didn’t fight for your spouse, no one else would. You never gave up, in so many aspects, and for that, you have burned an example into me that has been the only guide I’ve had at times, and I’m a better woman for it.

Thank you for teaching me to love simplicity. You know how my brain gets going and my dreams get larger than life. You are familiar with this personality type, because you’re married to it. You reminded me to keep my feet on the ground and remember to breathe. You showed me I can be a superstar while still enjoying the basics.

Thank you for keeping your door open. Always. You never shut it on me. I still call your home my home, and I still often want nothing more than to sit on the swing in the backyard, hear birds, feel wind on my face, smell fresh cut grass and see my childhood. Having that home to return to has brought me back to reality more times than I can count.

Thank you for teaching me to laugh. Laugh at myself and laugh when everything is failing. Thank you for singing me High Hopes (Sinatra) as far back as I can remember. Sorry I got pissed when I found out at 21 that you didn’t make it up. In your defense, you never told me you did 🙂

Thank you for setting the blended family stage by never calling my brother my “half-brother”. Thank you for never hindering my relationship with him when I was old enough to try to create one. Thank you for always allowing me to feel whatever I wanted to feel.

Thank you for teaching me to respect myself and others.Thank you for reminding me not to be so hard on myself, because you know I am. Thank you for teaching me that my body was mine and that it was meant to be cherished and protected.  I never have forgotten our talks about this, and today I am a much stronger woman for knowing that not only my brain and heart were special but my body was as well.

Thank you for taking in my son as your own and treating him exactly the same as your blood grandchildren. This is probably one of the most touching for me. You didn’t have to and yet you always did. You never turned him away, even when things were so nasty. All those times that I was terrified to bring him into the family, that I was afraid I was doing this all wrong, that I didn’t know what to expect or how he should behave or what the hell I was doing. Every time you’d say, ‘he is not a step, he is just a boy and the country is good for him. He is always welcome’.

Last but not least, thank you for doing your best. This parenting thing is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And you and I both know I’ve done some hard things. This tops the list. I just wanted you to know that every single time I have a rough day, something to celebrate, or I just plain am working through my life with a child in tow, I think of how hard you worked and how much you sacrificed. I think of how I wouldn’t be who I am today without you. And I am so blessed to have had 30 years with you. I pray for a million more. You mean the entire world to me.

A thousand thank yous would never be enough.

All my love.

 

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The Dreaded Awkward Mother’s Day

Ahhh Mother’s Day. The day for remembering our moms and basking in the love of our children we so proudly get to mother. The day of cards, flowers, and handcrafted masterpieces. The day of respect, help, love, joy, and beauty.

Unless you’re a stepmom. I received a message the other day that stopped me in my tracks and made me decide to write this.

 “Please post something about the dreaded, awkward Mother’s Day that’s approaching.” 

Please know if you’re new here, I have been in therapy and dedicated to this blog and my personal growth journey for a long time. And Mother’s Day is still an awkward day for me on some level. That is not because I’m selfish, it’s because I’m not. I do enjoy my Little Bear making a day about me. He loves and cherishes me and is thankful for me, I know that. He puts his heart and soul into his gifts for me. He talks about Mother’s Day with his father for weeks leading up to it, to make sure that the day is not forgotten for me. He makes me promise not to look in his backpack as it gets closer to the big day so I don’t spoil the surprise he is crafting. I have learned to accept this love of his and to know that he truly cares deeply for me and our relationship is our own.

But the reason I still find this awkward is not because of my feelings, but because of his. Our story is different than many. I’m not sharing Mother’s Day with the woman who created him. When she chose to stop being an active part of his life, I still continued to encourage him to try to be an active part in hers. I asked if he wanted to call her, and during holidays, especially Mother’s Day, I asked if he’d like to call her or send her a card. After a long enough time where she was minimally responsive, these holidays came and went. I can count the times she’s called in the past few years on one hand. Each and every time he refuses to talk to her, but we continue to give him the choice. 

I am confident that we are doing all we can on our end to remain neutral in their relationship. I am confident I am giving him the tools to do as he pleases without feeling any pressure. I am confident because I had to grow enough to do this (it took some intense work). That’s how I know it’s real. 

I try very hard not to project feelings I do or might have about the situation onto him. He may go all day long without thinking about her. She may never even enter his mind. She may be a thing of the past to him – someone he distantly loves, but no longer gives him the time of day, so he has moved on. But for me, I’m sensitive to this part in his story.

The point in all this is that my story should serve as proof that children can love and honor two mothers on this day. An involved and loving stepmother is just as entitled to a nice Mother’s Day as a biological mother, in my opinion. The day doesn’t just have to be reserved for the person who created the child. The trouble comes in when grown women put their agendas, feelings, and wishes above that of the child’s. It often stems from jealousy, and it truly does create this horribly awkward dynamic for the day. It can leave everyone feeling tense and uncomfortable and puts the child in the middle. 

Mother’s Day is a perfect example of what blended families can be about, and often sheds light on the not so pretty as well. A child shouldn’t feel like they have to choose who is a “better” mother, who is “more” mother, etc. I want my Bear to always know that his biological mother loves him, and SHE DOES as best she knows how. You can fight me that “loving” is showing, and “loving” is doing. Before I did all the work I did on emotional stability and dysfunctional families, I would agree with you. But now, I do not. She only has a certain capacity to show love, to do acts of responsibility and to better herself at this time. That should never suggest she doesn’t love him or doesn’t care about him. As of right now, she has not chosen to fill the role appropriately, and I have. But understand that doesn’t make one “more” or “better” mother and he should be able to love us both. I realize this may sound unacceptable, but I assure you, if you can’t grasp that concept, it’s because you’re not there yet in your growth journey. 

I am not jealous of her, but I once was. I am not mad at her, but I once was. I am not afraid he will disown me one day to run back to her, but I once was. The difference? I am now completely confident in my relationship with him, which has nothing to do with her. That has allowed me to remain neutral at all times to their relationship, and realize it has nothing to do with me. The reason so many people battle in their blended family is because they don’t know their role, and they believe these relationships are all supposed to overlap. But that’s simply not true. My relationship with Bear has nothing to do with his relationship with his bio mother, and vice versa. We get into trouble when we believe one is better or more and what is happening between THEM is hurting US. It’s all a common myth. 

It can be VERY TRUE, and I’ve lived it, that one party is trying to do damage to your relationship, in order to better theirs. But I promise you that doesn’t work in the longrun. As hard as it is to stay focused on your relationship when you feel someone running after you burning the beauty you’re so desperately trying to plant behind you, you must know that one day, the kids will turn around and watch them doing it. They will see it for themselves.

It was always hard for me to accept any of these truths. It was hard because they all seemed impossible. Mom was winning! At every turn! Take the high road???! Let it shake out??? That is crazy! SHe is undoing everything I’ve created! No matter what I do, it’s never enough! The courts are all on her team! No one is listening to me! 

First, if you are that miserable…it’s time to look inside. That’s an order….take it directly from me….because I lived it. Second, if it’s that bad, it’s time to reevaluate your relationships. If you believe no matter what you do, the kids still favor mom and treat you like trash, the only one who can change that is you. But I believe that is not the majority of situations. In EVERY situation, you have a hand in the outcome. You can do something differently. You can make changes. 

You’d be SHOCKED at how different things become when the kids know you truly are the bigger person, you truly aren’t out to damage their relationship with their mom, you truly are okay with them feeling any way they wish. Kids KNOW. Once his chid therapist said to me, fake it til you make it. And all that faking did was make me more miserable. I had to do the work to become GENUINELY okay with my relationship with him and GENUINELY okay with his relationship with his bio mother. I am not suggesting you don’t protect these kids. If they are in a situation like mine was, get them out of it, but don’t do MORE damage by telling them they can’t love a part of them. There ARE ways to handle this maturely and responsibly.

If you are hurting this Mother’s Day, it’s a great time to examine some pieces of yourself and your situation. But I will ALWAYS encourage you to be the bigger person and keep working until you get to the point where you understand that their relationship has nothing to do with your relationship. When that day comes all will be different. 

If you feel jealous about the gifts, look inside at why. If you feel sad that they want to spend time with their mom and not you, don’t feel slighted. If you feel you deserved more today, uncover what it was you were expecting. If the kids prefer you over mom for this day, don’t gloat, stay humble, it just means they have found a real bond with you. 

If you’re like me, you’ve gone through many “my” days where you wish the kids would JUST ONCE let you have your day. My birthday, a recent promotion, etc. There have been many times where I thought I deserved a day that I could enjoy without whining, drama, or Bear taking away the shine that was meant for me. And rightfully so, on those days. 

Mother’s Day is not your day -this goes for bios and steps alike. It’s not a day for you to be admired, for you to be thanked, for you to be doted upon. It’s not a day for you to set expectations, and it’s not a day for you to be validated. If you’re having a let down this Mother’s Day, it’s because you’re looking at it all wrong. 

It can be a pressure filled day for kids. They don’t want to disappoint anyone and they want to love everyone equally. If they feel pulled toward spending the day a certain way, don’t make it worse by pulling another way. This is a good opportunity to shine light on the puller, the one applying pressure. Don’t be that person. It’s hard enough for the kids to live without having to feel bad about who matters to them. The perfect family model would allow kids to love everyone who loves them, and all the adults would be secure enough in themselves to let that happen. But since that’s not generally the case, work toward making that your goal – just yourself. If the other party wants to make Mother’s Day messy, there’s nothing you can do about it. But you don’t have to make it messy too. 

I sympathize with those feeling like they want more. You want more recognition. You want more validation. You want more love. You’re giving it all and you just want some flicker of hope that it’s worth it. The truth is, there are no guarantees with stepparenting, but there are odds. The odds are always in your favor when you remove expectations and let the kids love and honor in any way they feel appropriate.

I leave you with this. The day should be about celebrating the role, in any way it’s taken shape. It should be about celebrating the kids. It will look different for every family. But if one person is desperately trying to make the day “their day only” and pressure the kids, that’s an insecurity issue. Don’t let it be yours.

 

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Your Blended Family Will Be Different. And I Can Prove It.

I need you to know something. Today. Right now. If you’re reading this, you’re amazing and your blended family will be different than so many others. You’re in for bigger things than the majority of blended family members. You are NOT the majority. You have a fire in your soul that can’t be extinguished and you are going places. You may not think your “small” influence can do that, but I am telling you it can and it will.  Do you know how I know? Because you’re reading this and because for every one of you trying, there are hundreds of others doing nothing, or worse, causing harm.

When I first started my blog, I had come a long way, but I was far from a stellar stepmom, parent, wife or woman. I wasn’t my best but damnit I was trying. I was searching. I refused to settle into a life of blended family misery and I knew it was going to take more effort than anything I’d ever attempted before. It’s EASY to settle, people do it every day. You literally have to do NOTHING to settle. Life’s changes may move you but you can fit comfortably into complacency in each new season.

I’ve said from the beginning I don’t need a million followers, I only need committed ones. If that means I am never well known, or only a small percentage of the blended family world reads my work, I am okay with that. As long as the ones that join me on my journey are committed to more. I realized recently how relatively small my following was. I say relatively small in the fact that the internet has a huge amount of users, and if 50% of marriages are ending in divorce these days, it seems that at least some of them may want some support, right?

Now, I recognize the very obvious fact that my name suggests I am only interested in one very specific category of person on the planet – the childless stepmom. I graduated with a degree in marketing, so I know all about what it takes to market properly. For funsies, I decided to check out some other Facebook pages for blended families – pages with far more generic and seemingly welcoming to all types of people… their followings are of similar size, if not smaller.

So what gives?

Content. Purpose. And the market. The pages that are loudest, most dramatic, and exude the most negativity….those have some of the biggest followings of all. And I’m not just talking about blended family topics. I’m talking about in general. Have you ever noticed how many people LOVE to complain?

THEY NEVER STOP. It’s always someone else’s fault. They are obsessed with their negativity. It enraptures every ounce of them. They are so full of hate and complaints that you actually just feel bad for them and wonder – do you REALLY not know there’s another way??

But not you. You know my content will be real, and not always pretty but it won’t ever be like that. It will be the place where you get encouragement, hard questions, and real struggle with intent other than staying stuck in our own misery.

There’s a place to vent, and I won’t ever take that away from anyone. But how long are you going to be the person who gets screwed without letting it change you for the better? Or how long are you going to be the person to make rain and cry about getting drenched in life?

You see, I believe there are many many more people on the planet looking to better their situation, but they haven’t found me or someone else who can help them yet. More importantly the majority of what’s shoved in their face online is negative. People spewing hate like it’s their job are abundant and the ones looking to really find peace are lost in the shuffle. People NEED to know there is another way. They need to know that the journey I’ve taken isn’t BS, it isn’t for show and it can be taken by ANYONE.

That brings me back to you. I swore as I got bigger I would not change for anyone. I would remain authentic. I would not compromise my mission, or my work to make others comfortable. And I still won’t. I will continue to help people along their journeys who WANT to be helped. I will continue to show people that the only way to peace is to be the bigger person. Slinging mud won’t cut it and you’re better than that. We all are.

I am always faced with people who probably want help in some way, but it’s masked with extreme hate, anger and it’s an uphill battle talking to them. They aren’t in a place yet where they understand the strongest ones are those who forgive. The strongest ones are those who are patient. The strongest ones are those who make their own worth GENUINE instead of trying to make themselves look better by cutting others down.

And then I’m contacted constantly by those people who know they need to change but don’t know how. They may not even fully understand that the journey to fixing any situation starts with fixing themselves, but they are trying. They work hard and they give real effort into being positive and strong. Negative and weak is easy. Is that who you want to be?

As a refresher, I will never veer from the following positions:

– Being humble does not prove you’re weak, it proves you’re wise

– Confidence is NEVER loud and it is NEVER rude

– Forgiveness isn’t about them, it’s about you

– I went on a life changing journey – that started by looking in the mirror. That takes ZERO fault away from anyone else. It did however make me a stronger, wiser, better woman. And the journey will never stop.

Again, your blended family will be different, and I said I could prove it. Here’s how.

Since I have never watered myself down for this online group, you know what you’re getting when you come here. When you visit my page, and when you read my blogs, you know it’s going to be truthful, inspiring and sometimes hard to read. But you keep reading. You keep coming back. You keep reaching out. And you keep trying. And that’s how I know you’re incredible, you’re different and you are stronger than so many others. That’s how I know that your blended family will be different than so many others just because ONE person cared enough to try and make a difference, even if it was ONLY to better themselves. But by changing you, it causes a ripple effect through everything you touch. You may not believe me, but it’s true. Negativity breeds negativity.

What are you breeding?

I need you to know today your counterparts are out there everyday, pathetically bashing behind a keyboard. They are in their misery circles. They are endlessly complaining. They are obsessed with their own negativity and it’s taken over their entire lives.

You? You’re not them. You’re finding your way to better things. You’re doing very scary work. You’re loving, you’re growing and you’re doing it without apology. And it’s NOT about competing with others. But I can promise you in the peace competition, you will ultimately win.

I made The Childless Stepmom for me to grow and share my story. But it’s gone way beyond that. The Childless Stepmom is for all of you, every single person who has ever been touched by a blended family. I do this for you. I do this so you know you don’t have to be a mean, spiteful, hate-filled mess. There are other choices. So every day you keep getting back up to be better, and keep walking with me, you are amazing, you are different and you are set so far apart from the others.

I am only one person. I am just a woman who wants more for her life and has big crazy dreams and goals but I am a person who lived to tell the tale of getting better and living fuller and I will never go back. I am so thankful that you’ve joined me, and for what it’s worth, as someone you don’t even know, I am SO proud of you.

You’re doing what so many other people wish they could do, but they don’t have the guts; face themselves, remove hatred, and try to make their blended family beautiful.

You don’t have to be a hateful mess to succeed as a stepmother. That has the opposite effect. You don’t have to be a jealous raging biological mother. It doesn’t make you better than anyone. You don’t have to be a father who slumps back and let’s the two duke it out. Step up, you have responsibilities too. In fact, these TIRED OLD PLAYED OUT BEHAVIORS only cement the stereotypes.  Stop masking insecurity with loud dramatic outburts. Look in the mirror. Try harder. Find that which pisses you off and let it change you. Do you realize how much power is in that? Letting your anger change you instead of destroy you? Because that’s what happens every time you get worked up. You get a choice. You have the power to choose what it does to you. It’s doing something to you whether or not you want to admit it.

I’m on a mission to make beautiful healthy blended families. Will you help me? If you know someone, like you, who could use the encouragement, tell them there are places they can go for help. Rants are nice, I’ve had a great many. But they won’t fix your soul.

Today I not only want to thank you for coming this far with me, but I want to point out how amazing you are.

I’m not suggesting we can’t ever be down. We will be. I’m not suggesting we never complain. We have to. I’m not suggesting we never vent, cry, want to quit, say mean things, hold onto anger, withhold forgiveness or have bad days. But I am suggesting that parking there is settling. It’s settling on mediocre. It’s settling on misery. It’s settling on insane repetitive behavior that keeps us stuck and wondering why we’re miserable. Misery loves company. Some people just talk about it and never move. That’s settling.

Settling is simple. And you are anything but simple.

 

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