Thursday, March 29, 2012

I'm Blended and Proud

Have you watched any old Disney movies lately?  You know some of the one's I mean..."Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" or "Cinderella"...the one's that have wicked stepmothers.   How about the "Parent Trap?"   Have you watched that lately?  It's the movie where the twin girls try to get their divorced parents back together and drive out the younger, soon to be stepmother.   Frankly, its every divorced child's dream....because in the movie it works.

Our society has just been riddled with stereotypes when it comes to step families. Stepmothers are evil, stepchildren are wicked and treated poorly, stepfathers abuse, and we're all a bunch of troubled misfits.  You've heard the term red-headed stepchild, as if to imply that a non-biological child isn't good enough to get what the biological children receive.  Think about how Cinderella was treated, she had to cook and clean, and wore rags, living only to serve her evil stepmother and stepsisters.  Movies and stereotypes have altered the reality of what a step family can really be like. 

Think about when you are at a party or in a some social setting, and someone mentions a friend getting a divorce. You can just hear the gasps as though the end of the world is near.  I was at a conference for work just this week and the presenter was telling a story about an elderly client who had recently lost her husband.  He went on to mention how she didn't have anyone to help her...."only a step-son"....and the presenter wrinkled his nose and sneered as he said this.  "Wow!" I thought.....what a reaction to the four letter word...STEP.  It saddens me to think that that word - step - provokes such negative connotations. Sure, there are some step families that are not as successful as others, but that isn't because of the "step", as there are traditional families that fall into that same unsuccessful category.

It is my hope is to make things different.  I am here to tell you that divorce is not a dirty word.  It doesn't have to be whispered, no one needs to gasp, and you have nothing to be ashamed of, if you've gone through one.  If you are in a blended family or step family as a result of divorce or death, you need to stand up and be proud of who you are and who your family is.  Divorce is a circumstance you encountered, and it is not an indication of the person you are or are not.  Death is an event beyond our control, and if a remarriage and blended family bloomed after a loss, then praise God for second beginnings.

I would like to propose a plan to chip away at these archaic stereotypes.  Sunday is April 1st, it is the start of a new month, the start of Easter week, and the start of your new beginning in your step/blended family.  If you are in a blended family, know someone in a blended family or just want to support blended families, I challenge you to make a choice on Sunday, April 1st.  It's time to make a difference.  Here is what you can do - grab a sticker name tag, grab a sharpie and wear this declaration all day on Sunday, April 1st:  I'm blended and PROUD! 

When people ask you what it means, by all means share what we are doing:  tell them about your family and how important they are to you.  Let's take a stand and break those stereotypes!  Let's tell the world that we're part of a blended family and proud of it!

If you choose to particpate, I encourage you to leave a comment and let us know how it goes.  We are excited to hear about your success!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Only 42 1/2 More Years To Go!

I've been married for 12 years....to two different people....and not both at the same time.  Come to think about it, there was probably a year or so that I was not married, so I guess I've really only been married for 10 1/2 or 11 years, but again, not to the same person.  In fact, almost 20 years ago, I was married to a third person, but only for 3 months, so I guess you can say I have been married for 10 years and 9 months, but to different men and not at the same time.

I recently heard someone mention they have been married for 29 years, and after pausing, he remarked that it has been to the same woman.  At first, I was rather offended by his comment.  I'm sorry, but not everyone has walked down that road....in fact 50% of us most likely have a different story.  I realized that his remark wasn't aimed at me and he certainly wasn't trying to insult me, he was just proud of his wife and their life together.  Actually, I truly commend and congratulate him. I think a long marriage is something to be so proud of and I applaud and admire those who carry big numbers with them.  My parents will have been married for 45 years next Sunday (April 1st - no joke!).  I think its fantastic.  I takes a lot to be married to the same person for along time.  Whether you are currently married, or have been married, you know that among other things, marriage takes a lot of work, patience and love.

I can only boast about being married for 7 1/2 years to the same man.  I wish I can say I travelled the road that would bring me at 12 years of marriage this year, but my life hasn't gone that way.  I'm OK with that because I am very happy and content in my life today.  Even though it has only been 7 1/2 years, my children witness first hand a team working together for the good of the family. They have stability, structure and a place to call home (without any doubts).  They see parents who laugh together, do things together and really just enjoy each other's company.  They observe two people who still hold hands, hug, kiss and like to cuddle.  They claim they don't like to see some of those things, but I think deep down they do...it tells them that we're in love and makes them feel secure.

So who cares if I've only been married 7 1/2 years to the same man, one day we'll get to double digits. I would rather have the marriage I have today, one built on love and respect and with God at the center, than any marriage without those elements.  Every day is a fresh adventure and we are plugging away at life in a blended family.  Our goal is 50 years of marriage....only 42 1/2 years more to go!  We're well on our way!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Bite your Tongue and Zip your Lip

I'm not really the kind of person who beats around the bush.  I pretty much tell it like I see it (or like it is), and don't hold too much back.  As I have gotten older (or grown up, perhaps) I have learned the subtleties of not saying everything that pops into my head. I have actually learned to think before I speak...on most occasions.

With that being said, I work very hard at zipping my lip when it comes to voicing my opinion about any of the kids' other parents.  I don't want to make it sound as though I am this "negative Nelly" walking around only thinking bad things about the other parents, because that is not true, I always hope for the best.  However, my experience has been such that my children often get let down by their other parents.  I think the hardest thing for me is seeing that disappointment and not being able to say what is really on my mind.  Since our home is the primary home for each of our children, I have witnessed that disappointment first hand.  As a stepmother, it is hard for me to see and understand how a mother can let down her kids as I have witnessed.  As a mom, it breaks my heart to see lack of follow through from a dad, when it comes to my son.

In reality, our kids don't go to see their other parents very often.  Christian sees his dad sporadically, and Adam sees his mom only once a week.  Since Alex is away at school, she gets to enjoy the luxury of seeing who she wants whenever, and that seems to work good for her so far.  This weekend, as Adam prepared for his weekly Saturday night visit to his mom's, she let him know that he couldn't come over because she was going out with her boyfriend.  So, Adam stayed home with us instead.  I will not use this as an outlet to badmouth the other parents, but I will let you draw your own conclusions and think what you will.  But here's, the deal:  Our home is always open to our children; day or night, weekday or weekend, it doesn't close. There is no, "I'm sorry you can't be here right now", because this is their home.  If our children did not live with us full time, this home would still be open to them at anytime.  What I struggled with Saturday night, however, was seeing Adam sulk and mope and have a generally disgruntled attitude over the course of several hours. Sure, he got over it, but he had every right to be upset, disappointed and feel let down. 

I have witnessed our children's disappointment over the other parents more than necessary:  showing up 3 hours late for a Christmas morning visitation pick up; not calling to wish happy birthday; promising to attend a school/sporting event, only not to show up; not returning a child's phone call after four messages were left in one evening; not giving your child a phone number where they can reach you; no bed to sleep when they go to visit, no dinner because that should have been provided before being dropped off...I could go on.
Again, my purpose is not to badmouth the other parents, only to state the realization, that whether you are the custodial parent or not, you are still the parent, and you need to act accordingly.

I would love to tell my kids what I really think when I hear these situations with the other parent, but I don't, because that won't help them.  Instead, I offer an ear to listen (and mouth zipped), a hug if needed, and a word of encouragement to talk to the other parent about how these actions make them feel, because I am sure the other parents don't realize the affect their actions have on their child. 

Friends, if you are in a blended family and are not the custodial parent of your child(ren) please heed my advice:  You are still the parent.  You are still super important to them.  When you make a decision or choice about something, think also about how it may affect that child.  If you think they don't care, you're wrong.  If you are the custodial parent, bite your tongue, and keep your negative comments to yourself.  It won't help your child, and it won't make anyone feel better. If you have to get it out, vent with your spouse for 5 minutes (Roger loves it when I do this), then zip it and move on.

Please know that I am not the perfect parent.  If there are any doubts, please read all of my previous posts for proof of that fact. This is simply a reminder that we (all of us parents) are in this together for one purpose:  the betterment of our children.  We took on this job willingly and there is no backing out now, so let's all try and do the best job we can...for the children.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Ghost Pains

The other day I ran into a friend I hadn't seen in quite awhile.  We took a few moments to catch up, and then both being runners, the conversation turned to how our running was going.  I told her I was back in action after my stress fracture this summer and now training for a half-marathon.  She mentioned that she too had suffered a stress fracture not too long ago and was back running as well.  She went on to say she feels great, but sometimes she gets these ghost pains in her leg which makes her anxious that the injury has returned.  I have experienced the same sensation, and it causes me concern.  Since running is an activity that brings me both emotional and physical liberation, the hiatus I took to heal was challenging to say the least, and the last thing I want to do is re-injure myself. 

As my friend and I parted, I thought more about her phrase "ghost pains."  I never put it in those words before, I think the word I used was "paranoia."  I like ghost pains better, it makes me feel less neurotic, and it can also be applied to other things too.  In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that ghost pains are a regular part of my life.  Not with running so much, but certainly in relationships. 

I think one of the reasons God hates divorce is because of all the pain it causes, not just at the time it happens, but continually.  It's not just pain to the husband and wife either, it is pain to the kids, and pain to their extended families.  Early in our marriage I had a difficult time trusting Roger.  It truly wasn't him, it was me.  I didn't know I could believe him when he said he was going out that he would be home that same night because I remembered it was different in my past....I had ghost pains.  When we would have an argument and he needed a break, I didn't know he would actually come back and talk with me later, because I didn't experience it that way before....more ghost pains.  When he would call his sister or nieces and have long conversations about "who knows what", it took me a long time to understand that those conversations weren't him talking about me behind my back, he really just missed his family.  I had experienced it much differently before.....ghost pains.

One time after Roger and I were first married, we had a huge argument.  I would love to tell you I don't even remember what it was about, but I do, and I am still so embarrassed about it that I can't even share it...yet.  But I digress.  While having this argument, which progressed from the upstairs to the main floor, and finally to the basement, I lost sight of our kids.  Outside of the yelling (mostly mine) it was quiet.  When I finally calmed down and got over myself, I went looking for the kids.  I found them.  They were all upstairs in Adam's bedroom. They were all together on the bed.  Music was on (obviously trying to drone out our fighting) and they were trying to appear happy.  I looked at them; they looked at me.  My heart sank.  I knew what they were doing in there - together.  They were hiding.  Hiding from what they had heard in the past...fighting...anger....divorce. Shame on me....I caused them ghost pains. 

I never want my kids to worry about Roger and I getting a divorce, because it isn't going to happen.  I never want them to have to go through that pain again.  I don't remember what I said to them, all huddled in that room, all I can remember thinking was "What have I done?"  I can't say Roger and I have never had another argument, but we've never had one like that again and we never will.  I do think now, that our kids know that our home is a safe house.  We offer stability, structure, fun and love.  We have rules, but those rules are meant to protect them.  Most of all they know they can count on us as and rely on us, no matter what.

Ghost pains are bound to happen when you have had a traumatic incident.  The important thing is to remember that it's just a "ghost" and it's not real.  Keep your head up, push through it, and keep on running!