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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.

 

Love ‘Em While You Have ‘Em

Love ‘Em While You Have ‘Em

In the summers, we get to spend extra time with my stepsons and we have my kiddos almost every day, all day. While we love it, it definitely makes things tricky. My husband and I both work full time, so we have to weave an intricate matrix of “I’m-remote-this-day, you’re-remote-that-day” to ensure that someone is home with the kiddos during the week. Throw in business travel, volunteering, and events/dinners outside of working hours, and our matrix would make any flight control tower operator sweat a little.

This is the first week of the summer that I’ve worked from home solo with all five of the kids. I will be honest—I’ve been dreading it. We have some…extenuating circumstances…that ensure when my stepsons arrive, they act like we’ve never met, and I am some kind of axe murderer, just waiting for them to fall asleep so I can eliminate them. After a few hours, they come down from the ledge and remember that our home isn’t the dangerous Den of Iniquity and Child Torture they may have been warned about. They relax again and you can almost see a visible change of “Oh, yeah. These people actually love me. They love Jesus. They love each other. We do fun things here. I do not, in fact, need to sleep with one eye open.”

Lest you think I’m over here on my exasperated pedestal, wondering how anyone could possibly buy into the ridiculous lies and insecurity and jealousy that come oh-so-freely with a blended family, let me tell you—I am the Queen of buying into the lies of the Enemy. The Queen.

 

More often than I care to admit, I believe the same lies that my stepchildren hear from others, from society and from the media. We’ve been programmed by Disney for years that stepmothers are wicked, right? They are jealous, hateful monsters who seek only to lock you in a damp attic so they can have your father’s money and attention exclusively, yes? Hey, I love the attention I get from my husband. He’s affectionate and funny and makes me feel like the most important person in the world. Do I expect him to ignore his kids and pay attention only to me? Good heavens, no! I love how much he loves his (and my) children, and it only makes me adore him that much more. As for the money part—I make my own money, thank you very much. We both work hard to take care of our family and neither of us would have it any other way. Entitlement has no place in this home.

While we can logically separate the stepmothers portrayed in Disney cartoons from real life, we do fall for the lies of the Enemy over and over again. On especially crazy days, when parenthood and work and the responsibilities of life feel like too much, I start to let my hurt feelings and helplessness outweigh the opportunity and gifts I’ve been given. I wish away my life, one blended week at a time. All too soon, these precious (albeit taxing) days of our young family will be gone, and I’ll be left wondering where they went. I want a whole storehouse of sweet memories with all five of my kids before they leave home to start their own families. I want to make the most of the short time I have with all of them. But it’s so hard, when you’re in it.

Maybe you aren’t in a blended family and you’re hearing the same whispers of untruth. Other parents seem to have it all together, and you don’t. If you have to look at one more Utopic collage on Facebook of a perfect beach vacation, with a smiling family in coordinating white and khaki outfits, basking in the glow of a gorgeous sunset, you’ll lose it, right? Here you are, surrounded by 63,337 Legos, none of which are from the same $100 set, and you’ve stepped on 63,335 of them. You’re cleaning up dog vomit with one hand, and confiscating an iPad from a whining child with the other. You have a conference call in 10 minutes and you realize you haven’t made lunch (a lunch that at least 60% of your children will criticize and dramatically gag about). Utopia, it is not. I will readily admit that. What I strive to remember, and ask you to remember is that there are so many moments of sweetness inside the mess of it all. An unexpected hug from my stepson. A little love note from my husband. A mid-day snuggle with my daughter. A meal that is met with an approval rating above 60%. These moments are there. They’re everywhere. I promise. Don’t let the Enemy choke out the joy from the everyday. You are right where God wants you to be, and the season of parenthood is so short. Don’t miss it.

You do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.– James 4:14

Love ‘em while you have ‘em, mamas. One day at a time.