Thursday, August 25, 2011

Know Your Inner Circle

This week I learned an interesting fact about geese. Did you know that when flying in their "V" formation all the geese honk except for one?  The goose in the lead, the one at the tip of the "V" does not honk, but the ones behind him honk to encourage him.  Now, I don't know how accurate that it is, or if there are also other reasons why the geese honk, but it is rather inspiring to know that even geese need encouragement from their friends and family.

When I heard this interesting factoid, it made me realize how important it is for any family to have people to encourage them.  Marriage is difficult, and adding children into the mix doesn't make life easier.  In a blended family, there can be additional challenges since everyone already has their own set of systems and beliefs.  It was important for Roger and I to make connections with other blended families when we got married.  We wanted to have friends that understood what it was like to have these extra issues to deal with, people we could vent with, and people who would encourage us and we them, knowing we are all in the same boat.

I find myself particularly blessed because one of my best friends is also in a blended family.  We were friends before we were both in this blender situation, but I think our state of affairs made us even better friends.  We both have sons and husbands who are near in age.  She too has step-children and can see things from both the step and biological side of the fence.  For years she and I would spend our lunch hours walking and talking, venting and sharing. We would share stories and ask advice.  Most of this happened in the earliest years of our marriages and helped us get over a lot of humps, but we still bounce things off each other.  Hearing her perspective as a biological parent helped give me insight on how to be a better step-parent, and as a step-parent, I was able to give her my point of view and hopefully help her understand where her husband might be coming from at times.  She was the best resource I had for a long time as she was crawling through the trenches right along with me.

Roger and I have grown our inner circle to include other couple friends who are in blended families, friends who grew up in blended families and even family members.  Roger's sister and her husband have been married over 25 years (yep -it's a second marriage!) and successfully raised 6 girls who now all have families of their own.  Knowing these people gives us resources to understand, know, and grow as parents and partners in a blended family. 

When the divorce rate is said to be almost 70% for second marriages, I will use every resource I can find to understand my family, my children and my husband.  We WILL beat the odds!  To do it, we need lots of people honking their encouragement so we don't fall behind.

Ask yourself who is in your inner circle?  Who encourages you?  Do you have someone you can lean on for advice - someone in a blended family?  If you don't have anyone, feel free to start here.  I have also had several people inquire about my willingness to post questions and answers, and I am happy to do that. If you have a question or issue you would like me to address please post a comment and I will answer it in a later post.

There are a lot of great resources out there (in addition to my fabulous blog, that is).  One I have used many times is the SmartStepfamilies site (www.smartstepfamilies.com).   Don't feel like you are on an island  - you don't have to do this alone.   Honk, Honk!!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

This Time - It's Personal

It is amazing how little stuff can hurt your feelings as a stepparent.  I think it is because we have such a desire to be "liked" by our step kids that we take things the wrong way.  In fact, when I look back and think about all the little things I let bother me or hurt my feelings over the years, it is really kind of humorous.

For example,  it used to hurt my feelings that Alex would never write my birthday on her calendar.  She would write everyone else's but mine.  She also used to give every other adult woman a hug when we went anywhere, but would never hug me.  Christian used to not say hello or good-bye to Roger (unless prompted).  Adam used to complain about every dinner I made and would then ask if he could eat something else. When he wasn't allowed to, he would sit at the table and just move his food around on his plate. 

The little things we let bother us as stepparent are truly quite humorous.  I think it is because everything is magnified in a blended family.  We assume the action (or lack thereof) is about us.  It is as though whatever they are doing must be in some way related to us and that is why they are doing this...thing...that hurts our feelings.  When I put it that way, it sounds so self-centered and frankly silly. 

So here's my story...
Yesterday, Alex filled out a form for her college move-in day with emergency contact information on it.  Among other things, I noticed that Alex listed her dad, and then listed her mom.  That's right, she listed her mom - not me (her step mom).  Ouch!  That kinda hurt.  I mean, who has helped raise her over the past 8 years?  Who has taken her to the doctor, dentist, washed her clothes, made her lunches, cheered her on and given her hugs on a day-to-day basis?  I'll tell you who - ME (and Roger)!  So when I see this...betrayal, my feelings got hurt.  I know what you're thinking...um...that's her mom.  I know, I know. I didn't say this was logical.  In fact, in my mind it makes perfect sense for her to list her mom.  First, she's her mom, second, she put our home phone number on the sheet for Roger, so that would reach either one of us, and thirdly, she's her mom.  I get it.  When I pointed it out to Roger, he rolled his eyes..."Don't take it personally," he said, "she had to make a choice."  So I'm thinking:  She made a choice alright, she chose her MOM over me. 

OK:  STOP! - REALITY CHECK:  Ummm..Stacy? Are you in there?  Did you really just think that?  I mean, what - are you five?  It's her mom! 

As I step back I realize how silly it was to get my feelings hurt over something that I am sure had nothing to do with trying to hurt my feelings at all.  In fact, her mom has every right to be contacted, and how would I feel if the roles were reversed and Christian did not list me.  In addition, when we look at the big picture, Alex needs to know if her mom is going to be there for her or not, and this is one way for her to find out. 

The fact is things DO get over magnified in a blended family.  All too often, it's because we think everything that happens is because of being in a blended family but actually most of the things that go on are just ordinary family or parent/kid things.  See, Alex still doesn't write my birthday on her calendar, but that's OK, I celebrate it anyway, and make sure I have an awesome day.  Christian now says hello and good-bye to Roger as much as he does to me, which is only when he feels like it, and certainly not all the time.  Adam still doesn't like every dinner I make but I have since learned that this isn't me and he has gotten a lot better over the years.  Alex still hugs everyone she sees everywhere we go, but she also give me a hug (sometimes.)

So, it is personal, and it's OK to feel a little bad or sad sometimes.  Just remember the big picture, and that your issue is probably little.  Focus on what is best for the child, and don't take things so personally.  After all...it's not all about you.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Divorce...and A Few Other Dirty Words I Know

Years ago, divorce was a dirty word.  In fact, I don't think any of my friends had parents who were divorced.  It just wasn't something that was talked about, and a shadow was cast on those who participated in these ungodly activities...divorce..ugh.

Until recently, I thought these perceptions had fallen by the wayside.  I was wrong.  I was recently talking with a woman (we'll call her Sally - but that isn't her real name so don't even try to figure out who she is really) who felt the need to share much of her current life with me.  Sally doesn't know that I am divorced nor that I am in a blended family (and proud of them, if I can be so bold.)  Anyway, Sally proceeded to tell me about her neighbors.  Mostly about the boys, they're teenagers (this is another one of the dirty words I know).  These boys are 19 years old, and 17 years old, and as I am listening to the story, I thought, that's kinda like my family.  She then goes on to tell me about how these boys are hoodlums.  The 19 year old will probably be OK, but the 17 year old is just awful, she says.  She goes on:  He's going to get himself in trouble with the law and its all because his mother divorced when he was 4.  She continues to tell me that years 1-5 are the most important in forming a child's - I don't really remember but I am sure it was something important - and the mother was so wrapped up in her divorce that she didn't pay any attention to her children so they are just lost.  In addition, she tells me, this mom was a single parent (dirty word #3) and it is important to have a father around to help raise boys.

At this point I decide that it is probably best not to tell her that I was a single parent for many years.  In fact, Christian's father wasn't in his life at all.  It wasn't until I married my ex-husband, that Christian had a "father" in his life, and Christian was almost 6 years old by then.  Then, I got divorced...and I was a single parent again...wow...Christian must really be doomed according to Sally.  I also didn't dare tell her that my husband was divorced too, and that my step kids' mother is hardly involved in their lives at all.  What do you think she would say about them...probably hopeless.  No, I decided not to tell her any of these things, because I have found that when people make those kinds of stereotypical and judgemental statements, they already have their minds made up.  In fact, if I were to mention my situation, they would just say...oh, but you're different. The truth is:  No, I'm not different.  My divorce was hard. Being a single parent was hard.  Nevertheless, these were my choices.  I certainly haven't been a perfect parent, but I have done my best and tried to do what i thought was right. 

This mom that is Sally's neighbor might be doing her best too.  I don't know what her situation is, but my guess is that if her kids are as bad as Sally indicated, it might not have anything to do with the fact that their mom is divorced.  People jump to conclusions and assume that kids are the way they are because of a divorce situation, but sometimes kids just make bad choices.  Kids who come from homes where their parents are still married can walk on the wrong side of the tracks too.  In fact, just because their parents are married, doesn't mean their home life is great.  It also doesn't mean that their parents are involved in their lives or even good parents for that matter.  Divorce does not dictate how a child is going to turn out in life.  Look at our pastor, her parents were divorced and now she and her husband are pastoring a mega church!  www.valleyfamilychurch.org  That's awesome!!

Divorce doesn't force the particpants into a certain mold anymore than it stipulates how a child's life will turn out.  Life is about choices and we all have a choice to accept people for who they are or judge them by their circumstances.  We also have a choice to use our situation as an excuse for failure or turn it into something exceptional.  What will you choose?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Vacation Time

Roger and I believe that summer vacations are an important activity for our family.  I think part of it stems from each of our childhoods, where neither of us really went on a regular summer family vacations, except maybe to go visit family.  As we brought our family together, we decided hands down that this would be a regular thing for us. 

Each year we and the kids look forward to going away somewhere.  Sometimes it has included other family members, and sometimes it is just the five of us.  It has definitely been a time for bonding.  I think we learn so much about each other when we are confined to small quarters for an extended period of time and frankly have no one else to communicate with except ourselves.  Roger and I have tried to be creative with our vacation plans but also stay within a budget. 

This summer is the first year we will not be taking a family vacation.  We figured this might be the case with Alex's graduation, the kids' pursuit of employment, along with their desire to attend church camp and their church discipleship program I mentioned a few weeks ago, so last year we planned accordingly and took a two-week long vacation out west. This is a picture of us at Yellowstone National Park.


It is a little sad and disheartening to have this change, but it reflects the change in our family as our kids finish high school and move closer to complete independence.  Our plans are to continue some type of family vacations as the years go on, so that not only do we continue to bond as a blended family, but as our kids develop their own relationships and families, they too get dumped into the mix.

I definitely think the vacations have helped shape our family over the years.  We have been forced to get along or go home...and we don't want to go home.  There have been challenges, like below at Disney when the are kids are tired and done, and often ornery.  This was about 5 or so years ago.


But having to deal with those things have just grown us closer as a family.  Looking back, I think making the decision to do family vacations is one of the best things we have done that has helped to bond us together.  We rely on each other, and really get to know each other, good and bad.  Below are a couple of pictures from our trip to Michigan's Upper Peninsula (the UP) a few years back.  I wasn't sure how the kids would like it but we all had a good time and Christian got to see where he was born.





Build the memories, invest the time.  You don't have to spend a lot on a big fancy vacation, but take the time to go away and get to know your kids, stepkids, spouse and family as a whole.  It will make all the difference in your blending, bonding and growing.