I’ve been gone from this blog for a while–a year and a half, to be exact. While I’ve been writing nearly every day, it’s limited to freelance projects and marketing content. And while I’ve felt the pull to come back to my blog, it was met with a feeling of melancholy and fatigue. And later, with guilt for neglecting something that I consider a gift– the capacity and desire to write.
I couldn’t figure out what the problem was, so I hid from the call to write.
For 18 months.
Champion hider, I am.
When my Dad passed away two years ago (today, in fact), I poured out my heart and soul and the immensity of my grief in a blog that I read at his funeral. I wrote one more blog on the day we buried him, and another to mark our first Christmas without him. After I managed to get all of those hard feelings and acutely personal words on paper, I felt empty of any desire to write another word.
The genesis of this blog was the rosy, doe-eyed hope that I had something profound to share with other blended families. (I just giggled writing that sentence, you guys!) I don’t.
I. Do. Not.
Five years post-blend, I have absolutely NO idea what I’m doing. None. 2016 marked our third year as a blended family and it was the hardest year of our life together so far. One of those “Murphy’s Law” sort of years. By the time we lost Dad, and my mom made it through a hard battle with her own health (two weighty things among a steady stream of other wallops), I was just tired. Tired of being Pollyanna about everything. Tired of trying so hard to create an image of a fully-functioning, “look at us go!” blended family when most days it is JUST SO HARD. Don’t get me wrong– if I could go back, I wouldn’t change it. I would still marry my wonderful husband and I would still welcome my three stepsons into this house and this family with an open heart (not open arms, because we aren’t huggers and that would be super awkward for everyone, but…heart, yes). But if I could go back five or six years and talk to my shiny, naive, “go-getter” pre-blended self, I would sit her down and tell her a few things.
You will never be blended and it will never be smooth— it just won’t. The blending never stops, because the ingredients just keep coming. Once you have the elementary and pre-teen years figured out, here come teenage problems and a whole new set of things to navigate (graduation parties with exes, family events with exes, new drivers, knowing when to show up to events and when to be invisible). None of it is particularly intuitive, because it all involves other humans and their very human emotions, as well as your own very human (sometimes even irrational, if you can believe it) emotions. You just have to do your best and pick your battles. Bit by bit.
Don’t wait for the finish line, my sweet, naive stepmom-to-be. It never comes. And once you realize that, it’s so much easier to cope with the twists and turns.
Sometimes it’s okay to disengage– Gracious, this one is hard. And it took me a long, long time to figure out. I tend to put myself out there when I take something on. I am a bit of a workaholic and super-competitive–driven to do my best in everything. It gets me in trouble sometimes. Not because my intentions are flawed– but because I’m flawed. I don’t take failure well. When I put my heart on my sleeve as a stepparent and it’s met with ambivalence at best and animosity at worst, I literally shut down like a giant, angry baby. One day (and my husband likely remembers this day), I decided that I was done with this perpetual “whole heart, both feet” effort to stomp the funky grapes of our complicated family dynamic into a fine wine.
Most days, it’s more like clearance Boone’s Farm up in here, and I’ve completely come to terms with that.
By backing off from the panicky drive to make everything perfect, things have actually improved. I am far less stressed and resentful because my expectations are realistic. Is our family a failure? Good heavens, no! Our kids are great. Smart, athletic, Jesus-loving, (mostly) respectful…great kids. Every one of them. But I no longer feel personally responsible for making sure of it. There are three other parents in this baffling equation and it isn’t all up to me and my crazy, self-imposed expectations for how this should go.
Fact: (and don’t you dare judge me…I have no regrets) After a particularly tough weekend with one of the kids, I decided to just pretend said kid was invisible for a little bit. Like a few days. And you know what? It helped. I wasn’t rude or hurtful. I was just absent from the tremendous weight of caring so gosh-darned much for a few days while my husband took over all things related to said kid. I don’t even know if said kid noticed I pulled back, but the difference it made in my own mind was immeasurable and good for both of us. Pull back before you splat into an emotional mountainside. It’s fine. Blame me when everyone thinks you’ve gone off the rails.
You HAVE TO protect your “little family”– Your “little family” is the family you dragged into this circus with you on the day you said, “I do.” For me, it’s my son and daughter. For my husband, it’s his three boys. While we are a family of seven, and I refer to all five kids as “our kids,” I’ve learned that our O.G. families need the security of our targeted time and attention. It might be popular opinion to say that you have to keep everything even and do everything with everybody every time, but I’m going to just tell you that’s all complete crap.
Kids have love languages. Kids have individual needs. And your kids didn’t ask for any of their needs to be sacrificed for the sake of “keeping it even” when no one but you is keeping score. The least I can do is acknowledge and delight in the fact that they still crave time with just me. It will come in different forms as they get older, but I can’t emphasize enough how crucial it has been to the well-being, self-confidence and comfort of my biological children that I make time for the three of us to remember and celebrate that we are a strong “little family” inside a crazy, wonderful “big family.” And while we do lots of vacations and activities and dinners and movies with the “big family,” I will always make time to celebrate the three of us, and it makes a difference. So by all means– show love evenly in your family, but don’t be afraid to do it in varying equations and in creative ways. No one has a tally sheet, making sure it’s all in perfect balance.
Find out what matters to your kids and do that.
To that end, I took a quick camping and horseback riding trip with my son (just the two of us) while my daughter was at church camp, and it was so refreshing and encouraging, that it spurred me to find my words again (no pun intended). I may not have any of this figured out, but I no longer feel like a giant fraud because of it. I’m happy to have learned a few things, and whether the rules change again tomorrow or in ten years, I know that through God’s grace, it is (and I am) enough.
Feels good to be back in the saddle. At least for today.
Have you ever stopped to think about how weird it is to cry? I mean, how did God decide that the ultimate expression of extreme human emotion would be salt water dripping uncontrollably from two tiny little drain holes in our eyes? It’s just weird. We’re happy and we cry. We’re sad and we cry. We’re in pain and we cry…
What a bunch of leaky sad sacks we are.
I hate to cry. My emotional engine typically runs at one speed, so it feels very unnatural to succumb to something that’s so…natural. The rest of my body is in agreement with me. I know, because I’m allergic to my own tears. No joke—my traitorous eye-terrorists leave little red shame trails on my face. Every. Single. Time. Since I cry approximately once every leap year, this has never been much of a problem—until recently. I seem to cry about everything lately. Happy crying. Sad crying. Stress crying. Pain crying. I don’t know who this emotional lunatic is, but I miss the old robot me.
The past couple of years have been some of the best years of my life, but some of the hardest too. In the last two years, I married the love of my life, became the stepmom of three fantastic boys, quit a job that made me want to give myself a lobotomy most days, started a job at a company that I love and respect, and became even more involved in my church and my community. All wonderful things. In the last couple of years I was also diagnosed with an incurable and wretched GI disorder, I had to all but stop running—which has been a huge part of my life for the better part of 20 years, I have had to learn how to be a stepmom to the aforementioned boys, I lost my grandmother, and my husband and I have had to juggle his self-employment with my new job and all of the stress that comes with both of our career paths, all while navigating a new marriage and blended family. It hasn’t been easy, but every moment was part of God’s plan for us. The happy, the sad, the painful and the downright stressful—all part of the plan. Just knowing that makes everything seem much more manageable, doesn’t it?
Through all of this, even on my worst SOD day, I’ve kept my emotions in check for the most part. I cried when my grandma passed away, and even then the feeling was so foreign that it almost felt like someone else was operating my face. Don’t get me wrong– I love my family so much that it scares me sometimes, but my tear ducts haven’t traditionally felt obligated to weigh in—that’s all.
Today, I wrote down every stressful or nervous or negative thought that crossed my mind during the day. I was amazed at the extent of the thoughts I had. Looking at that list, I realized just how trapped I am inside my own stoicism. I think mothers feel like it’s their duty to keep it all together sometimes. I know I do. When I can’t keep it together, and it all starts leaking out my stupid face, I feel like I have failed somehow, and my “Pillar of Strength” merit badge has been ripped away.
Since my face isn’t really giving me a choice, and since I feel like maybe there is a lesson in here somewhere for me, I’ve decided to just let my acidic tears fall where they may . Maybe the old robot me is still in there, but this new, dribbly, soft version of me can co-exist with it. Being a human is hard, but what a blessing it is to feel things worth crying about, right? It reminds us of what we have to lose, what means the most to us, and the grace we’re given to overcome the hard times. If you’re feeling like you’ve misplaced your robot too, I’ve got a box of Kleenex with your name on it.
Okay, half a box.
Two. Two used Kleenexes with your name on them.
Rip off that hero badge, mama.
My five-year-old daughter has a loose tooth. While she is one of the most fearless little girls I have ever met, this tooth is really causing her some woe. I have tried to explain that it’s barely hanging on in there—connected only by a few tiny strands of tissue. It doesn’t have any big, scary roots, and she would be much better off if she just pulled it. Instead, she worries, and she does that disgusting thing that all kids with a loose tooth do—she moves it around with her tongue and adjusts it back into place when it slips around. Disgusting, yes? It’s an exercise in futility to delay the inevitable moment when the tooth slips out into a bite of food, and with great relief, your child admits that it would have been better to just pull it in the first place, before they reached the “dangling stage.” Oh, but my dear little daughter can’t see it that way right now.
“I’m afraid it will hurt if I pull it, Mommy.”
“But, it hurts now when you chew and brush your teeth, right?”
“…and it’s making a blister on your tongue from rubbing it, right?”
“Yes, but…it might hurt if I pull it.”
“It might, but for less than a second. Isn’t that better than it poking you, and causing a big, painful blister?”
“But, Mommy—it might hurt if I pull it.”
There is no reasoning with her that the brief twinge of mild discomfort when she pulls it is worth the pain she will prevent by not letting her jagged little tooth exist in uncomfortable limbo.
It seems silly when you think about it in the context of teeth, but I do the same thing with conflict. I go to great lengths to avoid it, no matter what pain it might be causing me. Rather than biting the bullet and experiencing the fleeting discomfort of addressing what is bothering me, I let it dangle around in my head and my heart, poking me with its sharp edges.
My husband and I are two of the most non-confrontational beings alive. While we’ve never raised our voices to each other and we have had very few arguments, every issue that requires a semi-serious conversation feels like an epic event to me. My husband, however, in addition to being non-confrontational, is also very pragmatic, so it’s not an emotional tsunami for him when these conversations arise. For me, it’s like I have a thousand little jagged teeth to pull at once.
My distaste for “conflict” is certainly not a result of my husband’s response to it. He treats me with love and kindness when I finally muster up the grit to ask him if we can talk. By the end of the conversation, I feel like a child—holding my harmless little tooth in my hand and wondering why I made such a big deal about getting it out. His sweet spirit and compassionate responses make me a little braver each time I need to discuss an uncomfortable subject.
If you ask my ex-husband what personality flaws I possess, I know that a lack of verbal communication tops the list. I have never been comfortable with expressing my feelings verbally, so I would resort to a carefully worded email or note, edited dozens of times. That was exasperating for him, because he is a “take the bull by the horns” (or “tie the tooth to the doorknob” in this case) communicator. When your communication styles are mismatched, it only serves to amplify the frustration of one person and the anxiety of the other. Both parties then need to work even harder to meet the other’s needs.
If you are on the other side of the spectrum, and you are a more…aggressive communicator, there are still a few things that can benefit both of us:
- Think before you speak (but not for days like I tend to do!).
- Pray, asking God to show you any hardness in your heart or irrational thoughts or expectations.
- Be honest with your loved one that communication is a challenge for you (whether you are a “puller” or a “dangler”), and ask for patience upfront.
- Don’t get so caught up in yourself and your carefully-planned words (or impassioned rant, as the case may be) that you forget to really hear what the other person is saying in reply.
I have so much work to do in the area of communicating with boldness. Unlike my daughter, however, who will continue to protect her loose tooth like a precious, stabby pearl, I am going to resolve to “just pull it” next time, and become the communicator my family needs me to be.