Category Archives: Step-parenting

Firsts

It’s Monday, the 18th day of NaNloPoMo, and I am feeling a bit uninspired.  I looked at today’s writing prompt to get me going.  The prompt is to blog about a post you didn’t publish. I have a couple of those, but not many. Actually, I have many more unwritten posts that I probably won’t be able to publish, for the same reasons I haven’t written them.  The subject is too raw, and the stories are personal not just to me, but to others in my family.

I looked through my blog posts marked “private” and I found this one. When I wrote it my heart ached for my step-daughter.  I felt so helpless, like most parents feel when they see their child sick or sad. At the time, I wrote the post for myself and yet I knew that I would not be able to hit “publish” because like my other unwritten, unpublished blog posts, the subject matter was still too fresh.

Now, after reading this post, I feel enough time has passed that I can finally hit “publish.”

 

As parents, we’ve experienced many “firsts.” We had a first in our house last night. Our first daughter, with her first love, experienced her first broken heart. As parents, it was one of those times watching your child hurt and realizing you can do little about it, except offer some comforting words and the comforting food of a cheeseburger, fries and chocolate shake.We’ve all been there.  But, somehow seeing your child go through it makes it so much more painful. As we talked about her heartbreak, I found myself amazed at her level of maturity, insight and sensitivity.  The tears rolled down her face and she sobbed, feeling bad for being the one to break the news and knowing that in doing so, she may have broken a heart and ended a friendship.I have been on both ends of the spectrum, and in my opinion it is worse to be the one hearing the message, than the one delivering the message.  Maybe that’s because when I was the messenger I wasn’t as attached to the person, or maybe I just wasn’t as sensitive as our 14 year old daughter. I was also amazed, stunned actually, that we were talking about it. She doesn’t share her feelings easily, so perhaps it’s a testament to the amount of pain she felt that she was able to share it with her dad and I. Or maybe she just has a more open relationship about these things than I ever did with my parents. It could also be when I was a teen, I under-estimated my parents and didn’t think they would understand.

As much as it hurt to see her suffer, I also felt gratitude. I felt grateful that we have such an insightful, loving daughter.  Grateful that I felt close to her in sharing such heartache. Grateful that she confided in me, her mom and her dad. Most of all I felt grateful in knowing that this too shall pass and as beautiful and wonderful as she is, she will experience love again. This is one thing I know to be true. I am grateful to her for reminding me of that too.

 

On the Sidelines–Life As a Step-Parent

You may have noticed a lack of blogging going on here.  It’s true. I have been a sporadic blogger, at best. Not the best thing to be if you are trying to build an audience, and definitely not the best thing for me since blogging is how I release my pent up creative energy. Perhaps that’s why I have been feeling more than my usual stress.

Or not. Actually, perhaps why I have been so stressed lately has also something to do with why I have not been blogging. There has been a lot going on in my family right now. Most of what has been going on is not mine to share, so I won’t. But, let’s just say it has been emotionally draining and has required every bit of my attention. The past couple of months of our blended family life has been consumed with teen drama. I mean real life drama–not the made-up stuff. The drama seems to be leveling off now, at least long enough for me to come up for air and take a look around at what’s been happening on my blog–nothing. Truth be told I have been wanting to write about the hard stuff going on at home, but since so much of my “material” is the stuff of other family members, I am really conflicted about whether I should blog about it at all.  But, this is still my blog, so I feel like I can write a bit about it from my perspective, as a step-mom and a mom.

Parenting during the teen years is difficult, and step-parenting during the teen years is really difficult. I have bio sons and two step-dauthers, so I get to experience both, and lately, it has been really hard to be a step-parent of teenagers. When things happen to my girls-and they are my girls even if I didn’t birth them–I want to to step in and help Juan solve the problem. That is not my job as a step-mom. Too often I have to sit on the sidelines and watch as Juan and his ex-wife try to resolve issues with the girls, sometimes in ways with which I don’t agree. Too often I have to support Juan in his parenting even though there are many times I feel like I would have done it differently. Like the Monday morning quarterback, in my mind, and sometimes out loud I catch myself re-playing his moves, criticising his attempts which appear to cause us to lose ground, and the Hail Mary passes which seem to me like acts of desperation. I am a great Monday morning quarterback, and even though I cheer Juan from the sidelines, I am sure my unsolicitied advice to him is as annoying as that player harping ,”Put me in coach.” The truth is often Juan does listen to my Monday morning quarterbacking, and that in itself is not always a good thing. In fact, with all the challenges we’ve been dealing with lately, Juan does not need to hear me yelling plays from the sidelines. He needs to know that I am here cheering him on, but not telling him what to do. This has been quite a test for me, because I’ve come to find out that I am somewhat controlling, and very opinionated. Shocking, I know.

My challenge is that I am trying to overcome my propensity for offering advice, and learning to keep my parenting thoughts to myself, as our family therapist recommended I do. Even though Juan and I are partners in every sense of the word, step-parenting, right now, requires me to be a silent partner. I can listen to his concerns, and support him in his ideas and approach. Even though I am still struggling with this, I learned that if I leave it alone, it can free me from feeling like I am responsible for helping resolve the drama in our house right now. I can’t fix it–it’s not my job.  That’s creating quite a bit of conflict for me right now, since I often feel powerless and sometimes hopeless.

It’s a difficult place to be in. I’m sure I am not alone, as a step-mom or a parent of teens. In the meanwhile I am waiting, on the sidelines, for it to get better.

Do you ever feel like you have to parent from the sidelines?

Pottery, Leather or an Umbrella? The 9 Year Wedding Anniversary Gift

Today is my 9th wedding anniversary. The traditional gift for this anniversary is pottery. Maybe so you can throw it at your spouse? The modern gift for this anniversary is leather—hmm, much more interesting. I like what my step-daughter Erica said about this anniversary, “You’ve beat your high score!” As two people who have been married before, whose marriages did not make it much past the 7 year-itch, I know she is right on. I realize 9 years married is a drop in the bucket compared to our parents’ 51 and 47 year marriages, but I look forward to reaching those milestones with Juan. That means I will be 90 years old when I finally get the anniversary gift of gold.

When I think about the past 9 years, I am still astounded by all that we’ve shared together. I guess it really shouldn’t surprise me much, because when the groom has two daughters ages 5 and 7, and the bride has a 4 year-old,  the newlyweds have to hit the ground running. Well, forget about running, the bride and groom have to hit the ground sprinting. There’s very little time for even a water break.

In the first year of marriage alone, we began a major house remodel, living in our house as we added on 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a family room. Erica and Nico started kindergarten, and Olivia started in a new school. I became pregnant. We had to buy 2 cars, one a minivan (of course), and another when  I was in an accident that totaled my completely paid for Honda. It was a challenging year. We like to joke that the only thing we did not do was take up drinking to handle all the stress.

I’d like to say that over the next several years, it’s gotten easier and there are fewer worries, but I would be lying. I think that first year married probably set the tempo for our lives together. Life is still incredibly fast paced. The pressures of having a blended family are great. Dealing with three parenting households is very complicated. Still, I think that we have learned a lot in these years together, and while we occasionally forget we are on the same team, we are quick to remind each other. Sometimes, it feels like we have to endure so many challenges as a blended family, that the only way to get through it is to huddle close to each other, knowing that we are in it together—for the long haul.

I like what we heard at Nico and Erica’s graduation the other day, “We need to learn to dance in the rain.” Yes, we have bright, sunny days, and we have  rainy days. But, with Juan as my partner, I know that we will dance through the rain together.

Maybe I should give him an umbrella?

O Happy Day!

On Being the Step-Mom on Mothers Day

When I became a mother to my two boys, it was in the typical fashion: wanting babies, making babies, growing babies, birthing babies, loving babies. I bonded with my baby boys quickly and easily, as I nursed hem, changed their diapers, and cared for them.

When I became a step-mother to my two girls, it was in the typical fashion: dating their dad, loving their dad, marrying their dad, learning to love them. That’s right, I said learning to love them. One of the more important things I have discovered along my step-mothering journey is to allow myself time to love my girls. I don’t know that I ever experienced a crystallizing moment in my life when I knew I loved them, but I can honestly say that I have grown to love them. Yes, there are definitely days in these teen years, when they challenge my loving feelings, but I think that is pretty normal, even among fully biologically related adolescents and their parents. During these trying times I think to myself that it was a really good thing that I became a step-mother when the girls were little. It has allowed us time together when they when they were sweet and cute, before they became hormonal teens.

Juan and I started dating when the girls were 6 and 3. I can still remember the first time I saw Erica. She was in Juan’s car, perched up on her car seat holding an empty bottle. She had long since given up drinking from a bottle, but she still held onto an empty Playtex nurser as her comfort. When I asked her about it, she told me “I just like to hold it.” My heart melted a little. I’d like to say that at that moment I instantly fell in love with that little girl with a quick smile and fly away curls, but I would be perpetuating a myth that becoming a step-mother makes you love your partner’s children automatically. It doesn’t. In fact, becoming a step-mother probably has less to do with love and more to do with compassion and endurance. Step-mothering is a test of love. A test of the love you have for your partner, and the love you have for your family and the family you hope to become.

Juan and I have been married almost 9 years now. This year I will celebrate my 8th Mother’s Day as a step-mom to my girls. Every year, it’s a little awkward, and every year it get’s a little easier. On one of my earlier Mother’s Days as a step-mom, I woke to the sound of activity. Juan let me sleep in a little but I could hear the unmistakable sound of kids trying to stay quiet as they started their Sunday morning. The custodial agreement between Juan and his ex-wife stated that the girls would be with their mom on Mother’s Day. It was our weekend together but of course, they needed to be with their mom on this special day. They were excited to go and share with her the handmade gifts they created at school. When I got up I could see that Olivia had two beautifully wrapped packages waiting on the window seat in the living room. I commented on the packages and she said that the gifts were for her mom and aunt. Olivia left a few minutes later calling out to me, “Happy Mother’s Day,” taking both presents, and leaving me empty handed, and feeling hollow. Ouch.

It’s gotten better since then. I know Juan remembers the bitter sting I felt that morning when I realized that all my efforts caring for the girls went unrecognized. It was a painful lesson, that as much as I cooked their meals, washed their clothes, combed their hair and helped them with their school work, I was just the step-mom. But it was also a lesson in compassion for me, and it continues to remind me that as difficult as step-mothering can be for me, step-daughtering for them is just as difficult. Of course, they love their mother, and even through the teen conflicts we endure right now, I know they love their dad. Loving me, is a little trickier. Isn’t it a fantasy of nearly every child of divorce, no matter what age, that your parents will get back together? How do you love someone who is the obstacle from your parents ever getting remarried? How do you love someone who does the “motherly jobs” without betraying your loyalty to your “real” mother. It’s complicated and I am sure the girls felt conflicted, and still do feel conflicted at times.

That morning was a reminder to me that I needed compassion to fill in gaps as I learned to love my girls. Yes, it hurt, but they needed time to get to know me and what our relationship as step-mother/daughters would be. We needed time to grow to a place where they could love me without feeling they were disloyal to their mom. I needed time to know them, and not feel pressured to love them instantly. Different from bonding with my newborn sons, bonding with my girls is prolonged, and seems to be a more back and forth; a shared process between me and each daughter. This process is evolving still today. It is constant shift in what it means for us to be in relationship with each other, especially since now Olivia lives with us full-time and Erica spends the majority of her days with her mom. Through it all, I am loving their dad, loving my family, and I am loving them.

Happy Mother’s Day to mothers and step-mother’s everywhere.

On our wedding day, the day I officially became their step-mother.

Mothers Day morning update: Juan surprised me with this link to a video he made and posted to You Tube. Watching it made me realize that through all our years together we have really bonded as a family.  Plus, it made me really cry!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8NmfBNCYeg&feature=youtube_gdata_player

 

 

 

Ring Ceremony

Not long ago Juan and I took an extended lunch hour from work to attend a ring ceremony at Olivia’s high school.  What’s a ring ceremony? Well, I am glad you asked, because I didn’t know either, until I went to one.

Olivia is a junior at an all girls  Catholic college prep school. I never went to Catholic school growing up, much less an all girls school, but if I had, I would have loved to attend this school. Her school is in a diverse, urban neighborhood. The school is over 100 years old, founded by a very progressive order of nuns. So progressive in fact, that the nuns actually defied the archdioceses directives and abandoned their habits in the 1970′s. The school’s motto is that the young women who attend are educated to be of “great heart and right conscience.” I see Olivia maturing into a woman of right conscience. Olivia too, is loving her experience at this school, and when she came home last year with the order form for her class ring, she was very excited about the idea of getting a ring for the school she loves. I was less than enthusiastic about spending so much money on a piece of sentiment that wasn’t even “real” jewelry.

The Rings

Olivia’s class ring reminded me of my own, long lost piece of tin. My class ring was pewter, and had  a blue stone, for my school color. It was probably the most expensive piece of jewelry I owned at the time,  but it was not “real” jewelry.  I ordered it from a catalog and when my class ring was delivered,  I picked it up from the student store, and proudly slipped it on my finger. I think I wore it for the next two years until I graduated high school and then took it off when I went to college. I haven’t seen it since.  My class ring was a sentimental symbol of the times, that quickly became a token of a chapter in my life that ended when I went to college. Knowing this, I tried to dissuade Olivia from spending so much money on a piece of jewelry which was sure to become cast aside once she graduated high school. She could not be dissuaded so we ordered the ring for her waited for its arrival. When the ring arrived, she told us that it would be presented to her in a ring ceremony, and invited us to attend.

The ceremony included music played by a worship band and a choir. Olivia thrilled us and her her classmates, by playing the drums as part of the band. She had been studying drums for a while, but she doesn’t like to play for us. Other than the drum banging going on in our garage, it’s hard to know she actually is making any progress drumming. There was a brief moment of panic when I saw that the dress Olivia was wearing was so short it made it difficult for her to sit behind her drum kit and not be embarrassed. Luckily, she was wearing a sweater and she took it off and draped it across her lap as she played her drums.

A girl and her drums

During the ceremony the rings were blessed, and the girls received special notes from their “ring sisters,” girls from the senior class who acted as mentors to their younger classmates.  At the designated time in the ceremony the girls received their rings returned to their seats and then placed the rings on their fingers.  This moment, they were told, officially marked them as upperclasswomen, making them leaders in the school and giving them the special responsibility to be examples to their younger classmates. It was a special moment for Olivia, and for me. While she was officially becoming an upperclasswoman, I was that much closer to having  step-daughter who would soon be leaving home for college. It was a bittersweet moment. Their are definitely days when she is in full teen mode and I think I am ready for her to leave for college,  but there are more days where I realize how quickly the years have flown and how the days we have together are coming to a close.

It was a very special day for Olivia, and as it turns out for me too.

All manicured and ready to go!

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