Monday, January 23, 2012

It's a Girl! (make that girls...ok, two boys and a girl)

This Friday, my sister-in-law gave birth to twin girls.  It wasn't planned...their birth that is...they were kinda taken by surprise when they went in for a doctor's visit and were then whisked off to the hospital soon after for an emergency c-section.  Although the babies are very tiny and will be in neonatal intensive care for several weeks, both girls are doing great. 

Having a baby is a big adjustment for any parent, let alone twins.  In addition, my brother is beginning fatherhood at an over 40 age.  It will be a big change. He has been used to taking care of just himself for most of his life.  I know he will do a fantastic job, but his life and priorities automatically just changed in a big way.  There will be a lot of learning and re-learning for both new parents as they now begin to navigate life with two people who depend on them 100%.  Now they have to think about the girls first, and then make a decision rather than only having to worry about their own adult preferences.  My brother and his wife might not always agree on an issue, but they'll work through it and figure out what is best for those girls and their family.

I never had to rearrange my life as an adult to make way for Christian.  I have been a parent as long as I have been an adult, in fact, I kinda wonder what it will be like to be an adult and not have a child to care for day in and day out.  I did, however, have to make changes and adjustments when Roger and I got married.   Not only did I have to include three more people and their preferences into my life, but I had to learn to work together with a spouse for the good of our family.  We had to re-learn what we had been doing solo for so many years prior.  It wasn't just saying OK to something our kids wanted, or making a decision about something concerning ourselves and our biological children, we now needed to check with each other.  We had to make arrangements, change schedules and take other people's feelings into consideration.  We had to learn to budget and spend money together.  We had to re-learn and re-set what the rules were in our home.  We each came into the marriage with separate household routines and we had to find a happy medium that worked for the whole family.

For a bit of time we conducted family meetings every week.  It was something our kids will laugh (and groan) about now, but I think it was an important way to bring our family together every week and talk about issues at hand. We had (and actually still have) a talking rope.  Whoever held the rope was the one who got to speak at that time, everyone else had to keep their mouths closed and ears open to listen.  We started the meeting by giving everyone else in the family a compliment from that week.  It really made you think about positives for each person throughout the week - OK, maybe the kids only thought about it a few minutes before family meeting time, but it still made them think.  During the week everyone would have a chance to write a topic or issue on the agenda which hung on the fridge.  Then during family meeting, each person had the opportunity to bring up their issue.  We would talk about how we could resolve the situation  as a family.  Sometimes issues came up on the agenda more than one week in a row because the resolution didn't work or needed tweaking.  We also used it as time to share exciting news and pray together as a family.  Our family meetings might have been kinda cheesy but they helped to bond our family and understand each other better.

We don't hold our family meetings anymore; we don't necessarily require them.  At the time, we needed to have the weekly structured meeting as a time to open up with each other.  Now, we have grown comfortable enough to bring issues up at anytime.  It's a great feeling to realize how far we have come over the past several years. 

Just as my brother and sister-in-law will have an adjustment time with their new family, so did we with ours.  I know they will be fantastic parents to their beautiful girls and I wish them all the best.  And you know what?  I think Roger and I do a pretty good job too!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Confessions of a Stepmom

Let me just preface this by saying, I have never professed to doing everything right.  I try to tell stories of things that have gone good or bad and then what I learned from the situation and how can I do better.  This is a story of something I don't feel like I did very good at all.

Before Roger and I were married....I was married to someone else.  That's right - first confession - I'm divorced.  Well, what you may not know is that this person (my ex-husband) had been previously married before he and I were together, and from that marriage, he had/has three children. 

These children were a bit older than Christian when we were married; the youngest being almost 5 years older than Christian.  We were a blended family, but one where Christian lived with us full time, and my step children came to visit every other weekend.  It was very different from my family today, where all of our children live with us full time.  I liked these kids a lot but I only saw them for about 2 days twice a month.  It was uncomfortable and the relationship was weak.  In addition, these three had been to Hell and back in their short lives and I was determined to make their lives better.  Unfortunately, I had no clue how to do that. In fact, every Friday that they arrived, I was tense.  I felt like they were invading my home.  On one hand I wanted them to be there.  I knew it made their dad happy, and it was what I signed up for when I married him.  On the other hand, they were intruders. They made messes and didn't clean them up; it was chaos for me.  I didn't really know any other step families so I just figured if everyone did things my way, it would work out OK.  Well, that wasn't the best thing for these kids, or for my marriage.  I didn't take the time to learn about them, I was just too busy trying to keep my routine.

In the summertime, the "big three" would come and stay for an extended time.  I was glad they were there, but at the same time it was a huge transition. Then once we all got used to it, they would leave to go home.  It was weird.  I felt uncomfortable.  I was tense and angry.  I didn't handle most things right.

In my own defense, I wasn't completely the evil step mom.  I really did want the best for these children; I still do, although now they are all adults.  I tried to do the right things, like try to teach them responsibility and support their extra-curricular activities.  I just went about it the wrong way. The oldest boy actually came to live with us before our divorce.  I got to know him much better and I think our relationship grew a lot.  When my marriage to their father ended, it opened up the opportunity for me to step back and take a look at myself, my contributions to the demise of the marriage, and what kind of parent/stepparent I really was.  These are probably things I should have evaluated BEFORE the marriage ended but we humans sometimes wait until its too late. 

I realized at least one important fact that I wish to share which was:  I could have done better. When Roger and I began dating, I knew changes had to take place if the relationship with him and our children was going to last.  The biggest thing I have tried to change is putting myself in their shoes.  Not one child of divorce asks to be in that situation. They do not deserve the anger and hurt we feel as adults as the result of our bad choices. It is not their fault that we don't care for their other parent or agree with their parenting styles, but it is what it is and we - the adults - need to get over it.  So in this round of marriage (which I like to call the final round), I choose to think first, and act later.  I don't do everything right the first time, but I am able to step back and say "I'm sorry" when I've screwed up.

I hope that my "other" stepchildren can forgive me for all of my mistakes.  I hope they know that I truly do care about them and want the best for them in their lives.  I hope my current children also know that I'm doing the best I can.  Maybe one day I'll finally get it all right. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Starting Over from Square One

I am recently back on the road running again after nearly six months of injury, and recovery from a stress fracture in my left tibia (that's the lower leg bone for those who are not skeletal experts like myself).  It feels great to be running again, but I have to admit, going three miles is a real challenge right now.  Don't get me wrong, I'm no Olympic medalist, but at 5'2", I'm pretty competitive in my age group.  In most 5k races I compete in, I generally place in the top 3 in my age group.  This past Spring I even trained really hard and ran my first marathon with my son. (Check out the story if you haven't already:  Running With My Son

Even though I love to run and it is something I have worked on for years, it amazes me how quickly I can lose all the ground I gained with previous training.  I feel like I am starting over from square one. I find this true in our family too, even though we work so hard to blend together, we can often become divided.

I remember when we were first married, Roger and I seemed to only argue about the children.  We probably agreed more than we remember, but rather than stepping back and listening we each took the side of our biological children and divided we stood.  It didn't matter what the issue was, Roger was siding with Alex and Adam and I was backing Christian 100%. 

I think in a new blended family it is normal to defend your biological children.  I know we both felt as though we were all they had and we needed to protect them. If we didn't stick up for them, then who would?  What we have learned, however, is that although it is important to support your children, it is just as important to show them a united front with the parents in the household.  If you are united, it will give your children a sense of comfort and safety, even if they don't agree with the situation or decision.  You need to be a solid foundation in your marriage for your family to grow effectively - whether you're a blended family or not.

So, last night Roger and I had a disagreement over, well, something really stupid.  We rarely argue, but something just set us (I mean me) off.  Over the years we have done a much better job of backing each other up rather than defending the kids.  We have learned to listen to all parties involved and not just jump to the defense of our own biological child.  Last night however, we immediately split down the line with our disagreement and Roger defended Adam and I backed up Christian.  

It is truly amazing how quickly we reverted to old habits.  I don't remember that happening in quite some time, but just like with my running, when you don't work on it every day, your tendency is to revert back to the beginning.  I think it is because working on having a strong marriage is hard, and doubly so in a blended family.  Not working on it is easy but the hard work is worth it and pays off in the end.  The argument really didn't last very long, in fact we were laughing and talking within the hour.  I think it is fair to say we both realized Roger was being pretty ridiculous...OK we were both being ridiculous...I guess. 

Don't let something silly set you back.  It is normal and OK to have disagreements but remember that your marriage is what made this family and without it, there's nothing.  Be united.  You got married because you love this person and you want to spend the rest of your life with them, and the children will move out long before that happens.  Keep up the training so we can move onto the prize and don't have to go back to square one.