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Back in the Saddle

Back in the Saddle

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.

 

Why would anyone want to do THAT?

Why would anyone want to do THAT?

Since this is our first meeting, I would like to start our cyber relationship by offering you an uncomfortably tight virtual hug.  You need one, right?  If you stumbled across my page, you might be a member in the big, bumbling, wonderful club that is Blended Families.  If you are like me, you may not have been aware that at no additional cost, membership also includes a lifetime position in the Man-Eating, Gold-Digging, Home-Wrecking Evil Stepmothers Club.  You don’t even have to apply!  It’s automatic!   Your husband’s ex-wife will provide ample, constant, and some might say even excessive recommendations to the voting board (your new stepchildren) and your membership will be assured.  Ladies, it’s your job to get kicked out of that club.  For some of you, it will be easy.  For others, not so much.  For a select few of you, your adoring stepchildren will sing your praises as you braid their hair and craft haikus about how perfect your newly blended family is.  If you’re in the last category, please get out. Okay, okay…you can stay.  Your time will come.  Puberty. Breakups.  You’re not immune, my comfortable friends.

Now that we’re clear on the basics of membership, you might be wondering how to answer the question “Why would anyone want to do that to themselves?”  Sign up for a lifetime of stressful weekends, awkward family functions, holiday visitation jigsaw puzzles, etc?  WHY?  Because it’s worth it.  It’s that simple, and that’s what you have to remember. Because you love the person that you married (or are going to marry), and for that reason, you had better love what comes with that person with every ounce of love and understanding that you can muster, or you will find yourself right back where you started, and the kids will suffer more than they already have in the aftermath of their biological parents’ breakup. No pressure.

Blended families need the kind of support you can’t find in the average self-help book.   I don’t mean to imply that I have all the answers that the books lack.  I don’t.  Most days, I don’t even know what the question is, let alone how to answer it. What I do have, is a very supportive husband, who happens to be my best friend; 5 wonderful, silly, sweet, kind-hearted kids (step and biological); an extended family who rallies behind us and treats all of our kids the same; and most importantly a strong faith in God.  Somehow He never gets tired of my pitiful pleas for wisdom and my constant apologies for screwing it all up.

This is not a blog to bash exes, rant about step kids or trash your spouse.  That being said, my primary language is sarcasm, and honestly, if I don’t joke about it, it’s probably not important to me. My family–all of it, in all its forms–is of the utmost importance to me.  So prepare for the sarcasm, friends.  It’s my medicine and I hope that in some small way that it helps heal you too.