Choose your happiness.

One of the things that I have noticed with most stepparents I talk to, is that their problems aren’t usually with the stepchild, per se.  Their problem is the way their significant other treats his/her biological child.  Often, they talk to them like they are infants.  In a non-blended family, I’m sure this also occurs, but isn’t as irritating, because hey, that’s your baby too!  When this infantilization is connected to a child that you are already trying to fit into your new lifestyle and adjust to, it can be annoying, frustrating, and for many new spouses, almost a deal breaker.  If you don’t recognize it, you can subconsciously internalize an animosity for the child that is truly not their fault.  There are a few ways to help with this:

1.  Take a deep breath and realize it’s a super small issue in the grand scheme of life.  

You are with the person you loved and wanted to spend your life with.  You went into this relationship willingly and presumably you knew the strings attached.  We all have strings attached.  So this blended family is a tremendous exercise in compromise.  It will be a struggle, but there are places for you to vent.  Like here!

2.  Spend time with the stepchild.

Spending time together will build a relationship that is lacking in the first place.  You are given an instant family without the parent bonding time you get to develop with your own child over the course of their lives.  Doing little things for the child will also connect you and make you start to feel differently about your relationship.  Make cupcakes for them for school.  Make their favorite food.  Wash their blanket in fabric softener all fresh and clean and have it all set up for them when they are ready for bed-whatever will make that child/teen happy.  Discover what they like and indulge them a bit.  For example, my stepson loves Angry Birds.  I made special Angry Bird magnets for Valentine’s Day to put in his special treat bags for his class.  I felt good about it, he was excited and it was a fun memory to share.  It’s not always easy…but it helps.  It’s part of what I call “creating the mindset you desire”.  I wish to be a sweet, loving stepmom…so I act accordingly.  The hardest part is that with your own child, you often can say what you feel.  You can punish them or redirect them.  With a stepchild, that is a very touchy issue.  In our home, I leave that to my husband.  I tell him if I think something needs to be addressed and he deals with it later in a way that we both see fit. A stepparent has a difficult enough role.  It’s best if they just get to be more of a confidante, friend, mentor, role model-rather than a disciplinarian.

3. Every single day, spend some time alone with your spouse.  

Even if it’s only twenty minutes watching a show before bed, make a routine that is yours.  As your kids get older, you can tell them that they need to be in their rooms by that time (for us it is 9 pm) and settled down.  They can be reading, watching TV, drawing or whatever, but they will also grow to respect that it is time for you two.  Your relationship being solid is good for everyone in the family.  No one wants turmoil, anger and tension.  A nice routine is to have a little glass of wine or cup of tea each night before bed and chat theneveryone goes to bed happy.  We always stop what we are doing and head to our great room with a small glass of wine and watch an episode of one of our favorite shows before heading up to bed.  It’s one of our favorite times of day.

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Photo from http://www.stepfamilyrochester.org/cartoons.html

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Talkin’ bout a revolution.

So as a single mama, I had tremendous independence.  It was probably the reason that my relationship with my now-husband, did not work out in the first place.  He is a nurturer, by nature.  He is most comfortable taking care of everyone.  And I, my friends, was completely and adamantly opposed to being taken care of.  Certainly, that was partially a result of the end of my first marriage and the subsequent inability to trust relationships, but I’m definitely very self-sufficient by birth.  A bit defiant and horribly stubborn as well.  Dangerous mix.  

When I (and my lovely daughter, because she was involved in the decision), decided to marry and move in with my husband and his son, I knew that I had to relax and live in the present, as my Buddhist studies have taught me.  I knew I was going to have to let go of old baggage and roll with the new and changing familial structure.  One that was unfamiliar for sure and a bit uncomfortable even, at first, but one that I went into totally willingly.  Both for the sake of love and for the wonderful family life it would provide for my daughter.  (Back to my oldest posts, she and I have a very close relationship and without a doubt, every major decision I have made since her birth, has been with her first and foremost in my mind).  So we moved in, got married and everyone began learning how to live together (more on that in future posts).

My real surrender in independence became when I gave up the research job I had for about 12 years, to take a teaching job closer to our home.  It allowed me more family time and I could get my daughter from school every day and bring her back to my classroom.  Wonderful!  I did that job for a year and then, missing my old workplace with the two hour daily commute-I headed back there.  But that year was with a much less-paying job and I had to learn to let my husband take over some financial responsibilities.  It was trying, but I went forth with it and we were all fine.  Really.  Fine.  

Back at the research job for two years, the lab underwent major restructuring and was going to be moving across the country.  Left with little alternative (we own a successful business, so we weren’t going to move), I took a part-time teaching job at a local college and worked as an independent consultant for some local businesses, doing computer/web design work.  I also decided to take a couple classes and start work on a different Masters degree-in the Natural Sciences/Chemistry.  So it’s been busy for sure!  But definitely much different than having a 40 hour a week job with a 2 hour daily commute.  After nearly 8 months, I’m still hesitant to say I LOVE this new schedule.  And giving up my financial freedom has been interesting to say the least.  Although I still have several sources of income, it’s much different than having the paycheck every two weeks, of the same amount, deposited into my account.  I’m also uncertain if this is where I’m really supposed to be.  Career-wise.  However, my daughter turns 13 this summer-and I’m definitely noticing that she needs me nearby in different ways…and probably more than she did as a toddler.  I also feel the need to do a million things on the day I am home, just so when anyone asks what I did, there is a whopping big list.  Self-inflicted, sure.  Anyone else have this?  But as far as being able to deal with my husband bearing more of our financial end of things, that has proven to work out fine.  I take care of lots of things that are difficult for him to handle.  I take the kids to appointments, make arrangements for our store when he doesn’t have time and I handle all of the stuff that goes along with home-ownership (including cooking/cleaning).  

End result:  The kids love me being around more.  Fresh baked everything, all homemade, healthy meals.  I was semi like that before, but there were nights each week that were rushed and had more “quickie meals”.  My husband loves it this way, it is a great compromise that gets everyone’s work done.  We make a very effective team.  My vote is still undecided.  I feel more pressure this way, to get everything done because everyone thinks you have so much free time.  When in reality, there isn’t much free time at all.  I often joke about starting a revolution where women accept that taking care of their kids and their home and doing a great job at these tasks, is the most important job and needs to be respected as such.  I feel total empathy for stay at home moms who don’t get the credit they so deserve.   How about it?  A revolution?Image

Scrumptious coconut Easter cake!

Branching out the blog.

So it’s been awhile, right?  But I’ve been pondering what to do with this blog.  Although I still strongly identify with the single mamas, I have been successfully part of a blended family for about five years now.  I am a full-time stepmother of my stepson, as my husband has full physical custody and of course have full-custody of my girl.  Over the past five years, I have listened to others tell me how I need to write a book about blended families.  They have come to me with their problems and challenges and asked for advice.  Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been easy for me, but I think we’ve got a good handle on this whole dynamic and it’s taken a lot of research and compromising.  🙂  

So, are any of you interested in a blended family blog with tips, hints, stories and guest bloggers? Please comment and give me some of your super helpful feedback!