The Childless Stepmom Syndrome

Recently this “ailment” was brought to my attention and it prompted me to present my opinion on the topic.

As a society we are pretty obsessed with labeling. Everything is a THING. This is valuable if it brings about some real wisdom but mindless categorizing of individuals and their “issues” hardly leads to wisdom. “Childless Stepmother Syndrome” is apparently a thing now, even if only because some women decided it was so. Who knew? {Who cares?}

I would relate this to the “Golden Uterus Syndrome”. I’ve heard Golden Uterus referred to many times over my years blogging and it’s basically about how it is believed that the biological mother thinks she can do anything because she created the child. I suppose it can be valid on some level, but in general a lot of stepmothers use this as an explanation for poor (usually controlling) behavior on the part of “biomom”. Similarly the “Childless Stepmother Syndrome” comes from the same idea, in my opinion. “Biomoms” sometimes attack childless stepmoms because they say we “are trying to steal their children because we can’t / don’t have any of our own.” I believe the issues are far deeper than either “syndrome”.

I don’t believe any of us were fully equipped with the tools to navigate blended family life with ease, because it wasn’t meant to be this way. Marriage was supposed to be a lifelong commitment and the issues that face the parties involved in an emotional capacity are often cloudy, to put it lightly. The circumstances that end a marriage are painful and it’s rare that anyone walks away unscathed. The best we can do and hope for is to continue to grow throughout the process and not remain stuck.

I think these “syndromes” are valuable to look at only to learn more about ourselves, and others. I once also believed that mom thought she had the “golden uterus”. She certainly behaved as though the tiny human I loved so dearly was her sole property and God forbid another try to love and guide him. But over the years I grew out of that. I was able to find some grace and empathy about what she must be feeling. When I say this, I always get push back – “But you don’t understand, she is a MONSTER.” Oh I understand, I just chose not to stay in that place. I just found peace within myself, such that I didn’t need to be concerned as much with her. I went through hell with her too, the concept is not lost upon me.

And when she would fire off at me how I didn’t have children of my own and she was his REAL mother, it hurt. But instead of using that hurt to fuel more hate for her, I used it to learn about myself and her. I have chosen not to have “my own” child at this time for reasons that are my own. I let that deep pain simply point me to areas that I needed to strengthen within myself. But it takes a strong woman to stop with the “syndromes” and casting out a net of judgment laced with bitterness. The best thing I ever did for myself was learn everything I could about who I really was and about other personalities and other upbringings as well. To learn why someone behaved the way they did. And why I behaved the way I did. This helped me to find peace and establish necessary boundaries. It helped me understand and interact far better not only with the characters in my story, but with the rest of the world. 

In case you haven’t noticed, women can be petty. We are emotionally charged beings and we get tangled up with one another quickly. I am not suggesting you can’t hate the behavior of another person. Or that you must ignore the pain inflicted upon you. Or even that you should be the walking epitome of grace. We are only human after all and the best we can do is follow Jesus; we will never be Him. But that should never be an excuse for mediocrity. And labeling each other is mediocre, childish and lazy. It’s EASY to label and blame. It’s hard to empathize. It’s harder to forgive. And it’s hardest to look at our weak points and replace them with solid truth. I really prefer to shoot for having the “Grown Woman Syndrome”. The prescription is personal growth and the prognosis is good.

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Onward.

I sat in that therapist’s chair on a consistent basis for more than four years. Looking at the same sun-catchers on the windows. Searching through tears for answers to her questions. Sometimes I laughed, many times I cried. She nodded approvingly when I’d learn something new about life, the wisdom to make better, more healthy decisions in my relationships and for myself. It was all quite a journey and I do not regret a moment of it. I needed it. I needed to dig way back, to learn about who I was, and what I really wanted. I needed to get a firm grasp on reality, and an even firmer grasp on the path I was walking. Defining my convictions made me strong enough not to continue being knocked around by life’s winds of change. When you are brave enough to go back there, to a place that’s not so pretty, it’s incredibly difficult. You have to muster the strength to face, and eventually shine light in the dark areas of your soul. Positive change is not easy. But it is always worth it. You will be filled with a passion for your own life, and your feet will be steadily planted on solid ground.

This is where you can move forward.

Planning the future was my obsession. Analyzing the past was a close second. But being here and now, I never did well. I didn’t feel the strength and peace it took to stop walking backwards. To do an intentional about face and look ahead with purpose. I didn’t know how glorious it could be to start taking smaller bits of what was ahead, instead of foolishly making myself crazy plotting out my life. You maybe have noticed in your own life, that the story you’ve envisioned is often messed up by another human being not playing their part properly in accordance with your story. Life and circumstances change without notice. You sit and toil. Defeat and complacency often set in. You’re confused, and heartbroken. “I planned so perfectly!“, you say to yourself. “This is not the script!

I have always claimed to be a Christian. I say claimed because I thought I was truly living it. All that time in therapy, and little time with the Lord. My eyes read hundreds of pages of man made self-help, and less than a few pages of our Creator’s life manual. These past several months I’ve made some changes. I’ve been completely immersed in the Bible, and living God’s truth. It was time I finally got in the Word. It started by truly accepting that God’s word and His promises were real.

“For the word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does.” – Psalm 33:4

It is not enough just to read however. I must act. We are called to act.

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” -James 1:22

Do what it says.

I’ve had the honor of beginning a new journey. One that faces forward, instead of back. I’ve felt called to ministry for a long time. It lights me up and helps me grow to share my story, to give hope to the broken. Because we are all broken, in one way or another, but especially in blended family life, our hope is often nil. I am currently training in an area of ministry that helps others to find solutions; that gives strength in moving forward. I am so happy that I faced my past. Without it, you have a starting line, but not a history to guide you against running the same dead end race. I encourage self exploration entirely. But one day I realized, I could spend another 5-10-15 years in that office, hashing out the past, and I’d still be in the same place. My therapist gave me many skills for growth. Plenty of tools for change. But I always felt it going back to what wasn’t working, instead of what was. An incredible blueprint for yesterday, but no action plan for tomorrow. I learned one of the greatest truths a Christian has to lean on. The Bible is all about what’s NEXT. It tells us to look at ourselves honestly, to test ourselves, and it clearly demands growth but what it doesn’t do is tell us to dwell behind us. Instead, Jesus told us to look ahead.

“Then neither do I condemn you, Jesus declared. Go and sin no more.” – John 8:11

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” – Galatians 6:9

“Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out before us.” Hebrews 12:1

And this, this is what finally enveloped my weary soul in peace:

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We are told to look ONLY straight ahead of us. To plant our feet firmly in the next holy step. The next healthy step. Jesus doesn’t live in the past, because when we repent, the past is gone.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” 2 Corinthians 5:17

He also tells us that obsessing over the future is ridiculous. He didn’t say don’t make wise choices for the future with the information we have now.

He did however say “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” -Matthew 6:34

How can we overcome this? Many of us are hard wired to worry. To obsess. To plan. We feel like failures when things don’t go the way we anticipated, and we try so hard to lay our own paths instead of trusting God’s.  How is that working out for you? For me, every single time I’ve ignorantly thought I had control of my life, of my family, of my circumstances, God had another plan and continued to shape me until I finally listened. He said He had it covered, did He not?

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” – Revelation 22:13

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

Never once were we promised a rose garden. An easy life. No troubles. All the things we want just because we deserve to be happy. No. That is not the truth.

Jesus said “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”- John 16:33

He told us we WILL have trouble. Not we might. Not if we do enough planning we are good to go. No. We WILL. So what do we do with that truth?

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” – Philippians 4:6

“For with God, nothing shall be impossible” – Luke 1:37

“BUT GOD NEVER SHOWS UP!” you cry out. “I pray all the time/tried praying once/waited for God to fix it and – NOTHING“. I’ve been there too. In fact, I’ve prayed heavily, “How do you expect people to believe in you, when you aren’t moving! You promised if I did this or that, you would be there, you would prosper me! And still, nothing changes!”

I had to learn the hard way, the true condition of my faith – it was conditional. I only believed when He was moving my way. Also, the Word is abundantly clear about how God’s will prevails, not our own. It may not look like what we want, but it is promised to be best for us. FAR better than anything we can come up with. We are to be more like Jesus, full of faith, seeking His holiness, and asking for God’s will. That’s where things start to become clearer for us. The following verses have grown me immensely in my faith:

“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” – Mark 9:23

“Your faith has healed you.” – Mark 10:52, Mark 5:34, Matthew 9:22, Luke 7:50, Luke 17:19

It’s all over the Book! Having faith is not an option. But when we struggle, and we will, we should ask for help.

“Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” – Mark 9:24

“And everything that does not come from faith is sin.” – Romans 14:34 <—Whoa. That is HEAVY.

This literally means we must stay with Him, all day long. Trusting, and moving along solid ground as He calls us to.

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But how can we have faith when seemingly things continue to be negative despite all that we try?!

It’s been revealed to me in this way. The reason Jesus asks us not to judge others, is not only because we will be judged against the same measure toward us (Matthew 7:1). We are not to judge because we are not equipped to do so. Think about it. You are not the same person you were a year ago, or even yesterday. Our wisdom and perspective changes slowly everyday. What we once thought we knew entirely, we may now know nothing of! At best, wisdom is being revealed to us daily, but not all at once. The human mind does not know all, and cannot comprehend all. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:9

This is why it’s so important to trust in the Lord and His word. We only have small glimpses of the future, and can only make the next wisest step.

“Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.” – John 13:7

As parents, we are in a unique position. We know better than our children, often. We have wisdom that they lack. We wish to grow them. But they hate discipline. We are the same, in our relationship with God. He holds all the wisdom and seeks to grow us. We shy away from bad situations and we curse Him in the process. We forget that “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” -Hebrews 12:11 and “Blessed is the one whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.” – Job 5:17

When I got really cocky, about how I was doing my very best, praying, growing, trying and yet, nothing was changing. This hit me:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Perseverance must finish it’s work so that you may be complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But he who doubts is like a wave of the sean, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double minded man, unstable in all he does.” – James 1:2-8

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”- James 1:12

I was the double minded man. I was a wreck. Doing everything I thought to do and going nowhere. I was stuck. I was angry. And I shunned God for it. He woke me back up gently, and allowed me to come back, as only He can. He reminded me of His truth, that praying with poor motives, praying for MY will, whining about trials and thinking I actually knew better than Him would literally never get me what I want.

These days, I have found my security in the Word. I have found my hope, my strength and my path. I am one of the most broken, yet He chooses me, because I am willing.

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Let us stop cowering over our daily lives. Let us stop worrying about what was said. Or what was done against us. How we will repay. Or how we will withhold forgiveness. How we will save and/or grow our marriages. How we will equip our children. Let us live presently with our Lord, focusing solely on His will, bound tightly to Him. The consequence of this type of living is that our characters will be strong, making our impact great, pure and true.

Our focus should be straight ahead. Walk firmly friends.

Dear Dad

I have been blessed to have a lot of people shape my life. They’ve shaped my character, my thoughts, and my beliefs. They’ve shaped the path I take, and they’ve shaped the things that my soul looks for on a regular basis. But none have shaped me nearly as much as you.

I have sat down to write you this many times. In fact, if I’m honest, it’s about 30 years in the making. But I’m not sure until now I would have been able to piece the right words together, or have enough experience and growth to make this half as meaningful as it needs to be.

It’s difficult to even begin to crack the shell of our story. It’s been so colorful, so deep. I guess I’d like to start by thanking you.

For every time you taught me a tough lesson and I spewed attitude back, thank you for your patience. Thank you for knowing what was best for me, and for standing firm in your beliefs so I did not grow up to be a broke, entitled, wasteful member of society. Watching you work diligently and never lying to me about what it would take for me to be successful has been a true blessing.

Thank you for overcoming your own upbringing which lacked great love and encouragement to provide me with one as best you could. There were many oil changes and brake jobs (numerous – sorry Dad). There were many times you pushed me to be better. Actually, EVERY time you pushed me to be better. Thank God you did. I have grown into quite the woman thanks to your perseverance with me. There was a lot of sarcasm and jokes. But I always knew you loved me. And you tried hard to give me that which you were never given. An astronomically difficult task. And I thank you for taking it on for my sake.

For every time you kept your word, and I mean EVERY time, even when it was costly to you, I thank you. You taught me that keeping my word was not an option. You taught me that integrity and character come from doing what you said you’d do, long after you no longer felt like doing it.

The concept of half-assing anything was never part of your being. I thank you for passing it on. It has been my greatest asset and my toughest challenge. To this day I always finish what I start, and I rarely dip my toes in the water – I jump in, just like you Dad.

I never understood how much you did, faced, sacrificed or feared until I had a child of my own in my care. I cannot begin to explain the sleepless nights, the worry, the internal struggle, the countless dollars spent, the time given up, or the sense of pride that pours out of my heart by being a parent. But I don’t have to explain it, because you already know all of what I’m referring to. I can’t thank you enough for being, and enduring that for me.

The road was not always easy, and you may be surprised to hear this, but I want to thank you for that too. I would not be half the person I am today without some struggles in my past that forced me to grow up, own up and search intensely inside myself. I want you to know I no longer view those painful pieces as scars, more like stitches that keep our hearts together.

Creating my own path to “sobriety” has been extremely difficult. I’ve been told for years how I am at risk of catching the disease of “genetic alcoholism”. It’s in my genes they tell me. But I tell them that’s not true. What’s in my genes is a strength they don’t know of. It’s a strength that overcomes such things. It’s a strength I’ve learned from you. I believe being sober is not just about substances. It’s about dysfunction and unhealthy life choices. Without this part of our story I would never have had the need to search for such sobriety. Nor would I have the satisfaction of actually living it. Dysfunction casts a wide deadly net. Every day I work to swim out from under it. To try not to pass it off to my child, to learn from history so it doesn’t repeat itself. But I want you to know that none of this is sad, and I hold no ill feelings about our story. If anything, it’s one of the most beautiful stories ever written.

I’ve never opened up much about our story. I think most people close to me are aware that I have a great respect for my father, but they don’t know how proud I am of you, what incredible life lessons came out of being your daughter, and the amount of forgiveness, patience and hope has existed between us, on both ends.

When you nearly lose your parent, far too soon, to say it has an impact is a monumental understatement. I have had many people I love in my life lose a parent long before they should have. Some of my best friends are these people. I am also married to one. The impact it holds in their heart is overwhelming. If you ask any of them, they would say if given the chance to save their parent, they would give up every last dime, minute and breath to do so. They would trade every one of their possessions and years off their own life to have their parent back even for a day.

I got the closest glimpse of that great emotion in 2004. I was attempting to come to grips with the fact that I didn’t know the exact day, but in the very near future I would have to say goodbye to you forever. I knew the drinking would kill you. I was watching your health deteriorate and each episode was getting more and more destructive. People say they don’t know what’s worse, having a loved one be taken quickly, or at least having some time to say your goodbyes, but having to watch it unfold in front of you.

I’d say neither. What’s worse is watching it happen by their own hand and knowing there is nothing you can do to stop it.

You couldn’t possibly remember much of this part of the story, so after many years passing and much reconciliation, I can tell you now.

In late 2004 I was sent to Denver on a business trip. I was there before my boss and had some time to kill so I asked the hotel front desk person to please call me a cab and I decided to venture to an outdoor mall in the area. When the cab showed up, it was a minivan with so much shit on the dashboard I can still remember it clearly. It was covered in stickers; bible verses. He was a kind man, softspoken and genuine. It was a fairly short ride over to the mall, and we didn’t say much.

After some brief conversation about why I was traveling, a quick rundown of his family and mine he said, “You have worry in your eyes and you don’t have to. Give it to God. Pray on it.”

I was taken aback. Who is this creeper? I thought.

“Pray? I can’t imagine that will help at this point, but thank you.”

“What is it that has you troubled?”

At that moment something snapped. I had been holding in so much emotion and fear that it showered this random cab driver. I was surprised at how quickly I had opened up to a stranger like this but I said, “My father is struggling with alcoholism. I don’t think I can help him anymore and he doesn’t want to fix this. So we are all just sort of watching.”

He smiled, “Well God is bigger than alcoholism. He helped me get sober”, he replied, with more confidence and peace than I can describe.

I said that was nice but I wasn’t sure my father believed in God and that throwing the Bible at him wasn’t even an option.

He said, “He will. God woke me up, He can do it for your father too.” Then he pointed at one of his stickers.

 

Hebrews 12:11 :

‘No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.’

As we reached the mall I turned back again to tell him I appreciated the ride and that I hadn’t meant to be rude, just was in a rough place.

He smiled and said, “If you ended up in my cab, it was no accident”.

I felt like the wind was knocked out of me. Crying and trying to catch my breath I called mom. “I don’t know what just happened, I think it was like an angel! He said dad would be okay and to pray on it and I don’t even know what to do with that!”

I have a romantic and whimsical spirit, but I don’t believe in fairy tales. Perhaps that man said all the right things at the right time. Perhaps it was just some wildly blabbering crazy Christian. But something inside of me was stirring.

I now know and identify that feeling as hope.

Months passed and things got worse before they got better. Isn’t life funny like that? Just when you start to think things are going okay, they turn and you had better be ready.

It was at that point that I had accepted the fact that you’d be dying. There was nothing anyone could do to stop it. So one night alone in the dark, I just started talking to God.

Dear God, you talk an awfully big game. If you are as you say you are, you will fix this.  You will come in and clean this mess up and you will save him. You have one hell of a soldier down here and I’m completely convinced that the story does not end like this. He is a phenomenal man, just hurting and misguided. You say you are there for people like that. You’re holding the pen, please write something else.

I begged and pleaded. I didn’t realize at the time that God is not a cosmic vending machine and He won’t just give you what you ask for simply because you want it. But I believed then, and now more than ever, that He wasn’t finished with you in 2004. It was His will that you had a story to tell and more life to live. He uses His strongest soldiers to fight the biggest battles and He was, and is still, using you.

Not long after that was the day I will never forget. When I went to check on you, and couldn’t find your pulse my heart sank. Frantically calling for mom and getting 911 on the phone, my mind was racing.

No way God. Not like this. You promised. You told me he wasn’t done yet, not like this.

When the paramedics finished their work, and brought  you back to me I looked at you desperately fighting back tears and said, “Are you done now? Can we please be done now?”

You were sick and scared and God had humbled you pretty hard that night. I can’t imagine you remember it. It was then  that my unstoppable fierce father had to see that he was human too and that seeking help wasn’t a weakness, but the highest form of strength. You may not remember, but you responded with, “Yes I’m done now”. And this time, I knew you were telling the truth.

The following months were torture for you and I knew they were, but that’s when I started really praying hard. It’s been said, “If God brings you to it, He will get you through it”. And He did, because He wasn’t done with you yet.

What He created out of those ashes is what I now refer to as a walking miracle. And that walking miracle is you.

That was nearly 10 years ago. Since then I’ve had the pleasure of watching you love on your children, your grandchildren, your wife, and most of all, yourself. So much has changed since then. The amount of work you’ve done is absolutely incredible. And thank God I got to watch it, because it turns out I needed a hell of a lot of work too. And had I not had such a beautiful example to follow, I don’t know where I’d be.

People laugh at my Christianity sometimes. They see my sarcastic spirit, they watch what they believe to be my story from the outside and they judge. They laugh at what they view as my lack of intelligence. At how absurd it is to believe in something I can’t see. But some things surpass intelligence and what we can wrap our minds around. As the most intelligent man I know, you of all people would understand the silliness I speak of here. The idea of that craziness in the bible. That craziness nearly makes your scientific mind burst, yet your soul is covered in the spirit. One day you had superhuman strength and I don’t believe it was an accident. And watching that was all the proof I’d ever need to believe in God. It took proof to believe in God, Dad; that I will admit.

But I always believed in you.

I’ve never showed you my library. But it’s glittered with literature that helps me understand your heart, where it was then, where it is now, and how to take what you’ve overcome and write it into my own story, my own future, and the many generations to come in this family.

I read constantly to grow, to learn and to be more. But what’s most crucial to me right now, today, is not to dwell in past hurts, but to tell you how grateful I am for every single day with you. Because you are a walking lesson to so many, whether you know it or not.

Thank you for teaching me one of the most valuable lessons of all; that change starts within, and if you are strong enough to face the mirror, you are strong enough to overcome any adversity that comes your way. It’s a personal discipline that you must submit yourself too. I had long forgotten about Hebrews 12:11 and that part of the story until recently when I saw it again.

Personal discipline. The only way to bear good fruit. And you showed me that in every season of my life so far.

Thank you for teaching me that grace is about having a relationship with someone’s heart instead of their behavior. That forgiveness can be extended even in the worst of circumstances. And when you truly believe in another person and know their heart, it changes everything.

Thank you for giving me a fighter’s spirit. For showing me that I don’t have to believe everything I’m told, that I have a very powerful brain and will of my own and I can determine my fate. Thank you, every day for continuing to fight your own demons, who once tried hard to take you down. You always were much stronger than them.

Thank you for teaching me that struggles can make for a powerful story of redemption. I am proud of that past and to be just like you:

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Thank you for teaching me to stop running from myself. To slow down, to live for today:

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People say a parent often simply wants more or better for their children. Somewhere deep inside they want to protect, direct and be an example. I want you to know, there was no better example than you.I cherish every piece of you, good, bad, humble, bold, and strong:

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I am forever grateful for a father like you.

All my love.

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Love Versus Duty: A Stepmother’s Story

Why am I here?

Have you ever asked yourself this question? Of course you have. Unless you somehow had a true glimpse into everything that blended family life would be, you probably have been blasted by its reality more than once. It maybe even forced you to step back and think….what on earth am I doing this for?

I believe deep down my heart has known that God had a great plan when He cleverly collided the lives of myself, my husband and his biological son. Although, I can’t say I always trusted it would be a great plan, and I tried to control it’s course repeatedly. If you read my blog on discipline, you are already aware that our story was very rocky. And it was in those rocky times where the beauty and love I once felt for these two faded away before I could even realize it.

I’ll never forget sitting in my therapist’s office one afternoon. She warned me that if I let resentment creep into my heart I’d be in great trouble and that we had to stop it before it started.

Stop it? I thought. We’re way past stopping it. I am beyond miserable here.

You see somewhere along the line, everything that I was doing for my little family was coming from a place of duty instead of love. When you move based upon duty, you expect thanks. You expect to be seen. You are doing things because you believe you have to. And most importantly, you are doing things with anger in your heart. That was me. While I’ve never been the girl to sing while folding laundry, I was like a million miles away from June Cleaver. Oh you can bet I was a supermom, but I was a super task mom. If you gave me a task it was done, quickly and efficiently. I’d keep taking on more tasks, and never filling myself up. In fact, not only did I never fill myself up but I never took an ounce of pleasure in it. Everything was a task. Every. Single. Day.

When you’re in a hostile blended family situation, it is very hard to see any silver lining. I had my nose to the grindstone every day. I was always rushed. I was always miserable. I kept adding tasks to my plate and waiting for some thanks. It’s funny because now I see that all that outside work did nothing for my insides. From the outside, people really thought I was a saint. “Wow!”, they’d gasp when they got a glimpse of our story. “You are amazing! How lucky they are to have you!”

Yes, how lucky they are indeed. And while I can admit I was taken for granted for far too long in some respects, in another way I wanted an unfair amount of thanks. If you’re like me, you need to know that your husband and these kids can never really pay you back. Think about it. You’re taking on something so large and abstract, there really is no way to extend full thanks, or to reciprocate. Some of you can argue you never receive thanks at all. I sympathize. But I’m learning now that things look far different when you’re moving from a place of love instead of a place of duty. And most importantly, it’s time to answer that very important question – why are you here exactly?

We get so wrapped up in our mom tasks and in doing anything we possibly can for thanks that we sometimes take it to an unhealthy level. In fact, when my marriage was in horrible shape, nearly at the end of our rope, my therapist challenged me again. She asked repeatedly, “You sound so unhappy. Why are you still there?” After I had run out of all the obvious reasons and we had worked through that portion, I answered the only answer I had. “I don’t know”, I admitted.

“If you’re not there out of love, you are there out of duty, which will inevitably make you miserable”, she explained. “You are there for the wrong reasons. Your marriage is no longer your marriage, it is your addiction.”

My what? 

Along the way I had to learn that when two unhealthy adults come together, it is a real challenge to create a healthy family. At one point, every member of my wise circle had exhausted all of their encouragement and was finally saying it’s probably time to throw in the towel. They were tired of seeing me in such misery and they know I’d tried all that I could and it still wasn’t working. But there was a tugging at my heart.

You’re not done yet.

So I pressed on. And I realized that if I don’t start living with joy in my soul, things would never change. That included saying no, and meaning no when I wanted to. That included sharing my feelings instead of letting resentment build. And that included looking at my child as a gift instead of a chore. Did that one hit you? Because at some point, many stepmothers start doing this. I obviously fell victim myself. Once I adored every move he made. And it didn’t take long before I was so wrapped up in the BS his mother fed us, the lack of his father’s thanks in my eyes, and of course the lack of his thanks too. How unfair, really. An 8 year old boy cannot express adult thanks. And while my husband and I have a long way to go, it starts with knowing my happiness never truly rested on his ability to thank me. And learning what I did about functional families and mental health, I can’t expect much from biomom. So my contentment all came back to me. It was my responsibility to take control of my life.

There’s been a stirring in my soul on this topic for a while. The topic of doing things because you want to, not because you have to. I love deeply the idea of sharing my story with others and helping them through this whole thing. Because I know there was purpose in my pain and that purpose is to grow myself, and help others too. Last Thursday I was at my church going through a leadership training for small group ministries. I love the idea of ministering to those in this blended family journey and I decided it would be good for me. I received a text message during the training. It was about Bear.

My 8 year old boy has hearing loss, and recently was fitted with hearing aids. Overall it’s been a beautiful experience and I am so proud of him for hopping hurdles and dealing with the not so kind comments from mean and/or ignorant classmates. But at least a few times Mama Bear has come out. If you touch my kid, I will lose it. I can teach him to properly deal with comments and hurt feelings, but touching him is out of the question. One incident escalated past his teacher and onto the principal. This has been a trying time for me. I don’t want to see him hurt but I have to learn to let him fight some of his own battles and pray I gave him the right skills.

Out of nowhere, Bear announced recently that he would be doing karate in the school’s talent show. He also said he’d like to break a board. His father is trained in karate and he’s taken classes as well, so this was a great thing for him. They practiced many times. The child has broken plenty of boards with ease. But the night I was at training, he couldn’t do it. The text I received was from my husband. Bear was heartbroken and obviously full of anxiety. He had planned to get up in front of the WHOLE school; an INCREDIBLE act of courage, and break this board. Now, the night before the show, it seemed that might not go as planned.

A tiny Bear heart crushed.

A Mama Bear heart crushed.

I responded to just encourage him as best he could, and that I would do all I could to try and leave work early to be there to watch him. My husband has a terribly inflexible work schedule, so I knew I’d be the only spectator, if he had one at all. Hopefully knowing he may have a supporter in the audience would help. Especially if that supporter was me. A mother who cared and supported him.

You see, Bear’s biological mother is not in the picture. And though he doesn’t voice it much, it’s a blow to a child. And as much as I’ve stepped up to take on tasks, I haven’t been a superstar in the area of encouragement and love. I am not an awful person by any means, but there is duty and misery and then there is love and joy. I have always lived life quickly. There is not time to enjoy the present. We have exactly 6 minutes to complete this task until we begin the next task. Bear doesn’t work well like this but he’s adjusted for me. His past behavior hurdles led me to overcompensate in structure and it’s not been an easy road. My husband NEVER works well like this and many battles have ensued.

But now, I knew it was time to change.

I am a human resources manager. I am solely responsible for many very vital things in the lives of a great deal of people and their families. It is a terribly busy time of the year for me. I could have easily justified not being able to get out of work. But there was not a thing in the world that would keep me from getting to that talent show last Friday.

And it wasn’t to prove I’m a better mom than his biomom.

And it wasn’t to remind my husband of all that I sacrifice.

And it wasn’t for thanks.

And it wasn’t for praise.

It was because in that moment there was not a thing on the planet that was more important to my son. And I rearranged my entire day to be there. I prayed hard all the way to the school. I asked my coworkers to send some prayers/ positive vibes/ whatever they fancy out to my boy.

I pulled up scared to death I had missed him. But thankfully a dear friend of mine whose daughter was performing said I wasn’t too late.

The Principal announced his name, “on deck”. My heart was racing. I desperately tried to arrange my phone to record this, knowing if he nailed it he’d want to watch it 7 million times. He started, the crowd was silent. He nailed his flying kick – he’d been working on it so hard. He bowed, and they thought he was finished so they clapped.

The gym teacher and Principal  walked over to get the block of wood and hold it in front of the crowd.

“Oooooohhh!!!!” The crowd realized what was happening.

He raised his little hand, and with every ounce of his sweet soul he smashed that board beautifully.

The crowd went nuts!

And me?

I was bawling. The other moms were trying to toss compliments at me and I couldn’t catch my breath.

In a classy move, the gym teacher high-fived him and then waved his hand away in “pain” as if to tell the crowd, “Look how strong he is!”

The pride inside my soul was pouring out of me. Strong is an understatement. This kid has seen some serious trials. This kid has endured a great deal. This kid has come out on top where many kids wouldn’t.

This kid is a walking miracle.

When the show was over, I saw him looking around to see if I had come to watch. I tried desperately not to cry so I wouldn’t embarrass him in front of his friends. I showered him with praise – and it was real praise. None of that forced nonsense. He was proud of himself, and I was proud back. No expectations, just love.

And in that moment nothing else mattered.

This has changed the entire trajectory of my home life.

Yesterday we all played catch. This kid can throw a football perfectly. I never knew that. It’s not that I never let him be a kid, or that I never engage in activities with him. But I have spent far more time on tasks than on what matters; the things that can’t be measured in currency, time, or milestones.

This morning as we drove to take him to school, I saw this mini dinosaur (okay it was a snapping turtle but it was huge) peeking out of the mulch in our neighborhood.

“Did you see that turtle?!” I yelled.

“No, where??” he said with that excitement I remember loving deeply a long time ago …. but had forgotten.

I put the car in reverse and backed up. He looked shocked. We are under a time crunch after all. Because we get to school on time – my time, with no distractions, and we move methodically, never veering from the plan.

I put on my flashers and said, “Come on! Let’s look at this thing! Be careful don’t get too close…”

He got out and we walked up together. I took pictures. We talked about what it was probably doing out there. And how we shouldn’t get too close and bother it. And for a split second I realized I had a glimpse of something I had been so desperately searching for.

Happiness. Peace. A Functional Relationship.

This is what it looks like. This is what it feels like. I’ve been so obsessed with creating a happy life I forgot to live one.

Who cares that it took 3 minutes out of “the usual plan”. It’s 3 minutes he will remember. And it’s 3 minutes that filled me up and helped remind me why I am still here.

turtle

I am not suggesting I am not going to stumble with this, because I will. I will lose my temper. I will get hurried. Life moves so fast. But life is more than deadlines, time limits, immovable rules, and stress.

I learned that while you can’t do everything out of love, the more you do, the happier you’ll be. I encourage you to try re-framing these scenarios in your life. When we are with those we love, we want to help them, serving selflessly and asking nothing in return. If this is not possible, it’s time to re-evaluate your path. You can influence more than you think by changing your perspective.

 

And the next time you’re faced with being moved by love or duty, choose love. Even when it’s hard. Even when you don’t want to. Be careful not to drain yourself, and take care to love your family as treasures, not tasks.

 

 

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.

 

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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Calming Your Inner Storm

I hate anxiety. I really really hate it. Over the years I’ve struggled with worry, and when I married into this situation…..look out! I have walked more valleys in this blended family than I ever thought possible. I try very hard to keep a positive attitude, but let’s be realistic – when shit hits the fan, my initial reaction is not peace. It’s not to be calm and collected. It’s not to remember how God can help me, and it’s not to remember how to stop and think of the many different perspectives before my nerves and thoughts get up and run away.

They say when something disturbs the peace of your heart, give it up.

I say, easier said than done. You can’t give anything up until you’ve realized why you don’t need it, worked through the feelings and then were strong enough to release them, in my experience. I feel like some people were born with this incredible trait – they don’t give a shit about anything, or anyone. And when someone pisses them off, they cut them off, and move on. Smooth and simple. I’m not convinced that’s necessarily a positive trait, but I am convinced I don’t have it and probably never will.

When I feel nervous, guilty, or generally uneasy, it’s like my insides are trying to crawl out. Sorry for the description, but that’s anxiety to me. It’s right in my belly and moves all through me. But worse than the physical symptoms for me, are my thoughts. I start to feel like I can’t stop thinking about it, and it totally robs my peace.

But one thing I’ve learned is that we can either pretend our feelings aren’t there, or sit with them, as GOD AWFULLY uncomfortable as it is, and let them sharpen and change us. Recently I had something happen that brought up a long dead (so I thought) set of feelings, and my first reaction was to get rid of these feelings as fast as humanly possible. Just make them go away. I don’t want to feel overwhelmed, I don’t want to feel anything. I want to go back to feeling the calm before this. Can you relate? Of course you can. All seems to be going okay and then some shitstorm breaks in and messes everything up.

This happens to us all the time. As life was never promised to be easy, it brings about trouble. I always loved the saying, “you can’t calm the storms in your life, but you can calm yourself.” As soon as this shitstorm came about today, I thought immediately that I just hated those feelings, and I wanted to rid myself of them quickly. But then I took a deep breath and remembered, I can just get through this…or I can grow through it.  The difference is that growing through it ensures wisdom. Getting through it ensures when it comes back (and it will – trials are a guaranteed thing), I will feel the same way the next time, and the next time and it won’t have taught me anything.

One lesson that’s currently on my radar is sitting with my feelings and letting them change me for the better. The definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting different results. If you’re like me, when the same storms come upon us, we often think “when will I ever learn??” The answer is that we learn when we walk into the shaky space that is uncomfortable yucky feelings and we allow ourselves to decipher what those feelings really mean about us. This helps us grow and this gives people and situations less power over us. Turns out it is really possible to calm our inner storm, but only if we find the tools within ourselves to weather it properly. Don’t let your feelings be cinder blocks that hold you down. Let them be lighthouses to a better you.

 

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Lessons With The Strong- Willed Child

Little Bear is 8 now. For those of you who are new here, he is my stepson, only in the fact that we don’t share blood. I have no biological children of my own. I’ve been raising the Bear since he was 3. Myself and my husband have him full time, and there is no contact from his biological mother. She has not been in his life in a few solid years now. It’s been quite the journey. If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ve seen the story, and how long and involved the court nonsense was, the behavior hurdles and all around ….. let’s just say it was tough.

Nowadays he is a good kid and it took an intense amount of work to get him there. This Bear of mine could be classified as a strong-willed child. I don’t go around classifying children, but as classifications go, the kid who is dead sure he is right and will battle it out until proven wrong…and then be pissed of when you proved him wrong….yeah that is my kid. I can’t say I blame him, the strong-willed piece, a lot of that comes from me. And I have no problem with this whole “strong-willed” idea because simply put, those are qualities that, if fostered properly can be abundantly positive as he grows older. IF FOSTERED PROPERLY.…I know, I get it. I’m working on it. We’re working on it. But today something interesting happened and it made a beautiful illustration for a totally necessary life lesson. It’s probably a lesson you’re having trouble learning, or have had trouble with in the past. So here it comes.

For a long time the Bear and I struggled in our relationship because he is my little mirror in many ways. I have historically not done well with being wrong (again, working on it) and therefore, he also has often felt the need to express how he is right. You see where this is going. A while ago I learned that battling a child was not only pathetic, but futile. You’re probably wondering why it took me so long to learn such a simple lesson. Well, don’t judge. I am willing to bet many of you have been there too. Often times, because he is 8, its just a matter of miscommunication, or something that he simply doesn’t understand yet. To HIM it all makes perfect sense what he is saying, to me, I see the holes in the story. But that is very dangerous. If you never let your children (or anyone you’re in a relationship with) speak their mind, and learn to bring about different ideas without stiff-arming each other, you’re pretty much screwed.

Yesterday, he was at a spring break camp. When I picked him up he insisted that the next day was electronics day and he could bring a video game. False, I thought, since TODAY was electronics day, a fact which I was positive of. Like many children, the Bear has been known to slide a few mistruths my way, sometimes on accident, sometimes as a sheer manipulation tactic. My go-to response would have been no, no video games tomorrow, blah blah and it would have been a battle. Because HE WAS SURE HE HEARD THE TEACHER SAY HE COULD HAVE THEM and it would have meant lots of pain for him and annoyance for me. So I went in a different direction when we got home. Since he was so positive that was the case, instead of me immediately shooting him down, I said, do you mind if I call the camp to ask? Part of me was waiting for the blood to leave his face if he knew he’d been caught lying…but the part of me that’s growing thought, who knows…perhaps he is right. He agreed I should call. Turns out he was told that. It was true.

Crises averted.

Fight averted.

I am a highly sensitive individual. As such, my intuition is normally spot on. This is a huge sore spot between myself and my husband. I can read this child like a book. I don’t let him get away with much. But sometimes, you have to trust your children, and sometimes, you have to take a step back and think….I could be wrong.

So this morning at breakfast while stuffing his face with strawberries he said “Our field trip is an hour away, that is why we get to take electronics. It will take so long on the bus.” When I asked where it was, he confidently answered the name of the next town over.

An hour he swears…but I know I can get him to the next town over in 10 minutes. No way he is going to the next town over today. Put 2 fighters in the ring…and again…you see where this is going.

So I tried my new battle diffusing attitude, and calmly explained to him that the town he named was about 10 minutes if I took him in my car by myself, but perhaps because they were taking a bus it was longer, or maybe they meant it was an hour both ways, or some other variation of God knows what he thinks they said, blah blah blah, I just said okay and let it drop. He did not. He wanted to fight rounds and rounds and rounds over this thing. I calmly reminded him that it wasn’t that big a deal to fight over, and we would check when we arrived.

Pro-tip – Kids are smart but they are not perfect at communicating. Believe them when your intuition tells you to, but stop making their every single word into gospel. Especially with regards to issues in the other house. Some could be true, some could be stretched. Be careful how much of their words you make into earth-shattering truths. This will save you a lot of drama in the long-run. Promise. Took me a long time to learn that one too.

Pro-tip 2 – It actually is okay to agree to disagree sometimes. We often worry someone thinks they pulled the wool over our eyes so we won’t drop it when it’s obviously going nowhere. Seriously. Drop it sometimes. Who cares who is right every single time?

Back to the story.

I get him to camp this morning and see the field trip location today IS an hour away…the field trip in the next town he was describing this morning is ANOTHER day. A simple miscommunication. As soon as we both saw it, he slinked back, embarrassed. Yet another moment for me to step up, or mess up. I said gently, “Buddy, it’s okay to be wrong, but that is why it’s best not to fight over every little thing. Be careful how hard you fight, you could be wrong.”

It was a good lesson for the both of us.

Today remember there’s no perfect formula for this. Sometimes you will be right and you have to fight for what you believe in. But relationships of every kind are not black and white. Be humble, you could be wrong.

 

humble