The Step Mom

I often don’t write about Gamer and Smart, for a couple of reasons. They are my step kids. And even though they say you’re not suppose to look at your step children any differently than your own, you do; well I do. It doesn’t mean I love them any less.

Just differently.

I have a hard time figuring out how I play into their lives. They already have a mom and dad who love them to the moon. But I’m not just a friend either, who just wants them to like me.

I’m somewhere in the middle.

Nothing about being a step, is easy.

One of the sweetest presents our friends gave us as a wedding present was a stack of books about blending families.

I was so grateful, because I didn’t know how we were going to do this stuff. Mike is not from a blended family. I am, but that only happened after I was an adult and didn’t have to grow up in it.

Not only did we suddenly realized none of our friends were from a blended family, but none of them had them either!

How the heck were we going to do this?

Can this even be done?

I’ve heard there’s lots of them out there, but do any of them work? Do any of them last?

Before Mike and I married, our kids got along great. They hung out, they played, they got along just fine.

But imagine our shock to the groans and questions of why, once we announced our engagement.

We were completely blindsided. What had happened? What was going on?

There was arguing, and now fighting. Nothing physical, but what the heck? Were they trying to separate us?

It was during this time were a riff had started.

We were told later, by a professional, that in the beginning they saw themselves as just friends, but as things grew more serious, they had become more like siblings. This was actually appropriate and normal behavior.

Who knew?

I tell you what, it sucked for me. Mike wasn’t loving it either.

We honestly, had no idea what we were getting into. Maybe if we were talking about two or three children, things would be different.

Maybe not.

But blending six from the ages of five to thirteen, who we later found out all but one had mental health issue to deal with as well, really just about took us down. (Butterfly, honey, you’re just a girl. There’s no pill for that.)

Oh my gosh, and once we got married, everything tripled! The tattling, the stealing, accusing, “That’s mine!”, “I didn’t do it!”, the laundry, the mess…it was hard on everyone.

It did not look good. It did not feel good.

But I had hope.

Not because my kids are perfect, or Mike’s kids are perfect, or that either one of us are perfect, but the one who we truly try to model our lives after, is.

Jesus, show me this can work. Guide us. Teach us how to honor you with our marriage and with our children.

Shortly after we were married, we started attending a new life group, from our church. As we went around the room and introduced ourselves, we met Ken and Penny; married for over 20 years and have five adult children. They’re grandparents, even!

And after that, through the same group, I met someone who introduced me to someone else who has blended SEVEN!

Since then, even more couples have become our friends, who have blended their own mess.

So I know we’re not alone! This does work! This can be honoring! We will make it!

Now, we’ve only been married for five years. That’s really no test of time, but our kids now get along again. In fact, sometimes feelings get hurt, because now they actually want to stay when it’s their time to go to their other parent’s house.

And where in the past we had to separate and mark what was who’s, they now share rooms.

Oh, and the mischief! I always said if they ever learned how to come together as a team, Mike and I wouldn’t stand a chance. Well, were there.

While, we are FAR from looking like The Brady Bunch, we’re looking much closer to Eight is Enough. Although, they weren’t really a blended family; they just got a new mom.

Which brings me back to Gamer and Smart. They have a mom, so who am I suppose to be? I’m still trying to figure that out.

I’m finding that’s an even slower process.

Immediately after Mike and I got married, Butterfly started calling him daddy. She asked if she could, before the wedding but we always told her she’d have to wait.

Smart called me mom, one time, but then was quickly reminded by his older brother, that he already had a mom and to not call me that.

It took Smart two years before he stopped calling me Miss. Kim and start calling me just Kim.

It’s OK. We’ll get it figured out. Mike is still figuring out where he stands with my boys too.

So, until then, I’ll just keep loving on them as much as they will let me. We’ve got time. And from what God has shown me, I’m not going anywhere.

I’ve seen the fruit of blended families. And it is sweet!

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” – Matthew 19:26

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How it’s Suppose to Be

It’s been five months now, that Tunes has left our house. I miss him a lot.

A few weeks ago my husband cleared out his room. It was time. What he didn’t take with him are packed in bags and secure in our garage.

We played around with ideas about what to do with his room. I even briefly dreamt of a craft room for myself, but know I still have too many kids at home for that.

Ultimately, we decided to separate our next two oldest boys. They’re both in highschool now and could use the space and privacy. It was a good decision.

When the room was cleared out, my awesome husband also patched his walls and painted. This last weekend he ripped out all the old carpet that came with the house when I bought it, and laid down the same flooring he installed in the other public areas of the house. It looks very nice, very clean.

We bought some room darkening shades he’s going to install and he mentioned we still needed to buy a ceiling fan because it got so hot in there while he was working.

I agreed. Tunes often complained how hot it was in his room.

(Deep sigh.)

I told my husband I loved everything he’s doing to the room. It looks great, but it also upsets me.

He immediately tried to console and told me what he was doing in Gamer’s room, he also planned to do to the other kids’ rooms as well.

That wasn’t it.

This was Tunes’ room. For eight years my little boy slept there, changed there, was sent there. He lived there. It was his.

There were holes in the wall where he hung his TV up, only to move it and to move it again.

There was a big pink stain from some kind of an experiment he was working on that he couldn’t get cleaned up, or hidden.

The curtain rod was wobbly and bent from all the weight of the many blankets he would drape over it to block the light out and then, since his bed was up against the window, would lean on and pull down. I swore he was going to fall through that window some day.

I just feel sad. I feel I let him down. I never got around to making his room nice before he left. I wanted to do that for him. Just like so many other things I wanted to do for him but didn’t. He was in too much of a hurry to get out.

I hope he knows I would have. It wasn’t that I didn’t love him, or didn’t think he was important. I just thought I had more time.

I didn’t leave “my” house until I was 23. I was working and going to college. But by then, my mom had already left. My parents were on the path of divorce. Which was fine with me. She had lived there, but really she had been gone for years.

Maybe that’s the difference. I’m here. I’ve always been here. I’ll always be here.

I don’t know. Maybe this is the way it’s supposed be.

He’s doing really well, from what he’s told me. He’s struggling, but managing.

Everything he’s doing just seems really scary to me. I’m glad he’s not controlled by my fear. I’m proud of him for facing his own.

Today, Justice came home from his dad’s and saw what has been done to the room. He joked with me and asked,

“Hey mom, what’s Gamer doing in Tunes’ room?”

Yeah, I don’t really know. But I’m happy for him. I’m happy for them both.

Communicating

My pastor and his wife came to pick my daughter and I up early, one Saturday morning. We were going to a couple of house dedications for Habitat for Humanity. As I entered the vehicle, he immediately handed myself and his wife a sheet of paper that had the time, date, and location of the houses we were going to speak at.

As we drove off we laughed, and joked and kid, about life and what was going on in it, when suddenly my pastor asked for my address.

I froze. I thought, what an odd question considering he just picked me up from there. I got about half way through my home address before it hit me, he meant the address of the house I was suppose to talk at for the dedication. We all started to laugh.

It was funny.

My son went to his dad’s house wearing a shirt that was too small, stained, and honestly was just weird looking. His step mom text me commenting about the shirt, saying Fun says he doesn’t have any clothes over at my house so she’s going to send some shirts back with him.

I was stunned and furious (with Fun) at the same time. I thanked her for the offer, but explained the child had plenty of clothes. He just chooses not to put them in the dirty hamper to get clean, so when it’s time to go to his dad’s, he has no clean clothes that fit.

Not so funny.

Communication is so vitally important to any relationship. It is easy to hurt someone’s feeling over a lack of communication. There is the potential for so many misunderstandings because we don’t know how to talk to each other.

How many times has a there been a broken relationship because of it?

I know, for myself, my first marriage disintegrated because we didn’t know how to communicate.

We just didn’t do it right. We didn’t talk. We didn’t speak up when feelings got hurt. We didn’t stop to explain our reasoning behind something. We didn’t listen. We assumed the other should have known, they should be able to read my mind by now.

For whatever reason, communication just didn’t happen.

So now I find it funny, two people who sucked at communicating one-on-one, find themselves in a second marriage with kids and step kids and exes (possibly two) and a new spouse.

No wonder second marriages have a low success rate. If two people could not communicate the first time, what makes them think this second time…with more variables, is going to be any easier?

Now we have kids’ schedules to arrange between school, and home(s), sometimes work. Half days, and holiday breaks. Activities they go to. Grandparents to see. Homework to do. Projects to get done. School supplies to be bought. Doctors’ offices to be visited. Churches to attend. Friends to play with. Birthday parties. Christmases.

UGH!!!

For the sake of our family, marriage, kids and our sanity we have to, really have to, learn how to communicate if we’re going to make this all work.

Here is a list of my suggestions I have found to be helpful when trying to communicate with my new family, and blending this mess.

– Talk
Never assume the other person knows stuff. Even if you’ve already told them, tell them again. And don’t be upset with them if they forgot. At the same time, don’t get upset if they tell you something again, and again, and again. Getting upset does not help with communicating.

– Listen
Listen to what the other person has to say, even if you don’t like them, can’t trust them, it takes too long, or you already know. Don’t interrupt. Don’t rush them. Be mindful.

– Assume the Best
Assume this person means no harm. Assume they love your children just as much as you do.

– Encourage
Use kind words. Build them up. If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say it. Don’t even think it and certainly if you can’t say it to them because it’s not nice, don’t say it to anyone else.

– However, You Can Express How You Feel
Use “I” statements. “I feel disrespected when you pick up and drop off the kids without telling me in advanced.” “I feel you don’t care as much for Peter and Mary because you don’t ask them about their day, like you do with James and John.” Instead of, “Changing the kids schedule without notifying me is disrespectful.” Or, “You don’t even try to care for Peter and Mary, because they’re not your own kids.”

– Avoid Words Like Always and Never.
Seldom does someone ALWAYS wait until the last minute to do something, or they NEVER help around the house. It takes just one time to turn you into a lair and now a battle of honor is about to pursue.

– Keep Your Emotions Out of It
Do not text, email, or call while you are angry. Walk away. Figure out why you are so upset. Calm down. You want to respond, not react. Usually our first impulse is to show them how we reacted to their message. They don’t need to know that. It’s often not pretty and not how we want to be viewed. Instead, don’t say anything. Process your feelings. Talk to someone to help get all your reaction out. And then respond maturely, calmly, and respectfully.

– Don’t Let Them Turn You into a Person You Don’t Like
It would be better to not say or do anything at all, than to say or do something you are going to regret. Stay true to you, and don’t give them that power over you.

– Do Not Ignore
Do not throw your hands up in the air in defeat, saying, “I just can’t communicate with this person.” Figure it out. Even if they do everything wrong; for your marriage, and your kids, figure it out. If it was easy, you probably wouldn’t be divorced in the first place.

– Practice Grace and Mercy
Everyone messes up. It is not unusual for people to suck at communicating. You don’t need to remind them. You don’t need to tell them how horrible they are at it. Assume they are learning. Assume they are practicing. Assume you suck at it too!

I am confident there are many more good tips to consider. These are just a few I try to practice and fail at, daily. Maybe they can help someone else too. Maybe you have some to share with me.

Until then, happy blending and keep communicating!

I’ve Been Robbed

I feel like I’ve been robbed. Not physically, of course, but those kids, they take everything. 🙂

Oh I know it’s not their fault; they’re just kids. It’s all my fault, really. I went into motherhood believing it was a consequence, rather than a blessing.

They are the ones who take, rather than give. They were an obligation, rather than a gift.

Now that I have had a change of heart, I wonder how I could have raised my children differently.

Between the two of us, my husband and I have six kids. Six kids can be expensive, as you might assume. I often feel bad we’re not able to provide them with some of the opportunities that other kids in smaller families have.

People tell me all the time I should put my daughter in dance. I would love to be able to do that, but if I put her in dance, I feel I should put Fun in soccer, and Smart in baseball and, and, well if we put every child in something, we just wouldn’t be able to afford it.

I’ve always felt everyone should have the same. Everyone should be equal. It’s either all or nothing.

But then most of the time it means they get nothing. I hate having to tell them no all the time. But I also feel bad when I let one have something, or get to do something that the others can’t. And they know it, too.

“But that’s not fair!”

Now I know, life is not fair. But I’ve just always felt, in my house it should be. It’s my responsibility to make it be. But you know what? Fair doesn’t always feel right either.

So recently I’ve come across Matthew 20, again. You know, the parable of the vineyard workers? I’ve heard the story a thousand times, but I can’t say I’ve ever applied it to a real life situation.

That is until now.

Recap… A land owner goes into town to hire some workers to work in his vineyard for the day. He promises them a full days wage. Then again, at 3:00 and around 5:00, he goes into town to hire some more. At the end of the day, he pays everyone the same, and the workers who had worked the full day got pretty upset.

Do you know what he told them?

Should you be jealous because I am kind to others? – Matthew 20:15:b

I’ve spent my entire motherhood believing it was wrong to not enforce fairness. It was a sin, really.

Having a blended family has put even more pressure on me, since I would never want Mike to think I’m favoring my kids over his.

But honestly, I now realize I’ve been looking at it all wrong. Instead of judging me, I should have been training them.

I love them all, and I don’t show favorites but it really is OK if an opportunity presents itself for one child, and not for them all.

Should they be jealous because I am kind?

Sometimes one of them can get an extra soda, or go to a movie, or spend the day with grandma, and I don’t need to feel guilty about it.

I do, however, need to teach them to instead of worrying about my behavior, they need to start looking at their own.

Yes, life is not fair. And no matter how hard I try, life is not going to be fair in our house either. And by trying to make it fair, I feel like I’m being robbed of being kind.

We’ve Done It!

It only took four years, ten months and twenty-two days to completely blend our family.

Because four years, ten months and twenty-two day ‘s ago, Mike and I got married and moved his small family in with mine.

We were together in one house, but still completely separated. Tunes and Butterfly had their own rooms, and Justice and Fun, and Gamer and Smart had theirs.

And in the beginning, I think it was appropriate. It was rough enough for my boys to share the same air with these intruders. And Mike’s boys had moved once again. They moved often, but were always together.

So everyone having their own space was very much needed.

It has not been an easy feat.

There has been a lot of arguing about being in someone else’s room, about taking something that wasn’t yours, making a mess, not knocking before entering or being invited. Oh I could go on and on.

But a time has finally came were it was more important for the older boys to break free from their little brothers and have a more teen atmosphere, and the little brothers to get away from the constant hounding to be quiet and knock it off, from their older brothers.

Gamer and Justice slept in their new rooms for the first time last night, as well as Fun and Smart. In fact, upon waking this morning, I learned Fun and Smart had even taken the liberty of rearranging their set up and made it their own.

I’m so stinkin’ proud of how much these kids have grown and matured and well, blended.

Aww…there is peace…

Savoring it….

The teens are still sleeping. Probably will for the next couple of hours.

Currently listening to Fun and Smart converse over the importance of making their beds every morning and keeping the floor clean.

Yeah, I know they will be arguing in a few hours and at the end of the day I won’t be able to see their floor and tomorrow we’ll be walking out the door with unmade beds.

But for this moment there is peace.

And once that moment is over, we will still be blended. We will still be a family. And that makes me very happy.

Our Village Had a Meeting

So, Mike and I were driving Justice to his dad’s when we pulled into a Carl’s Jr joint. He asked solemnly, “What’s going on?”

“We’re meeting your dad and step mom here.”

Silence

I can imagine what is going through his head. Oh crap! Or something stronger.

He had to know this was coming.

After living with his dad, full time for the past month, it was suggested that maybe it was time for him to come back with me half time, again.

Living in a blended family is messy. And even though there are a lot of them out there, there’s not a lot information on how to do it right.

That’s the hard part. Knowing you can’t have your child growing up in a traditional family unit, but still wanting him to feel all the security and benefits, as if he had.

Blending families are hard. And they’re messy. And they’re complicated. And from what I’ve seen it in the rest of the world, seldom make it.

He was sent to his dad’s, by me, because he had another meltdown. He convinced his doctor to reduce one of his meds against my better judgment. I had told him then and there, it was fine, but if he had even something that looked like a meltdown, he wasn’t going to be allowed to stay in my house anymore. His reign of terror had ended almost a year prior, and I wasn’t about to let it come back.

We’ll, it came back and he was sent to his dad’s, much to his delight. He’s been wanting to live with his dad full time, for awhile. It was suggested he did it on purpose. It doesn’t matter. He was gone.

That was five and a half weeks ago.

His step mom and I have been talking. It’s so nice to be able to do that. I can’t handle talking to his dad. Too many hurt feelings. To many trust issues.

It’s not always easy between the two of us. We disagree on a lot of stuff. But often I feel we unofficially agree to disagree. I think we sometimes hurt each other’s feelings, but we don’t hold grudges. We let them go.

Obviously this is just my side of the story, but I think she would agree this works. I’m so grateful it does. You know, for our kids sake. We can somewhat give them a united front.

A combination of things have lead us up to this meeting. Finding out he has Pyrrole Disorder that can explain his meltdowns and has a treatment to alleviate them, is huge.

However, it was Justice’ inability to decide if he wanted to come back without changing his mind that warranted a sit down with everyone.

He had told his dad he wanted to stay. He had told his step mom he wanted to come back. He had told me he wanted to come back. Then told his doctor he wanted to stay and as soon as we got back in the truck, he told me he wanted to come back!

Yeah, he had to know this assembly was coming.

Can I tell you how nice this gathering was? It wasn’t a bashing of Justice. No intimidation. No cornering. At least I hope not.

No criticizing the other parent. No egos were bruised. No arguments, or disagreements.

We were all able to express our concerns, listen to him, and be a family or a village. Whatever it takes.

Justice is coming home. Do I think it’s going to be smooth? Ummm, no. Do I think he’s going to change and suddenly be the easy kid? Ah, no. Do I think the four of us are providing him with as much security and benefits as a traditional family? I feel we’re heading in the right direction.

I am encouraged. I have hope. I feel blessed.

Thank you Jesus for helping us blend this mess.

Conflicted

Last night I got to talk to my ex wife. Actually she’s my ex’ wife, but I affectionately call her my ex wife. She’s my boys’ step mom.

I like her. I like her a lot. I pray for her a lot too.

Dear Lord in heaven, please don’t let him screw this up. Protect her. Keep her safe. May she be a light to her husband and our children.

She’s been a blessing not only to my ex, but our children as well. I’m very grateful for her.

Last night we talked. My son, Justice, who now lives with them full time, is angry. He’s angry at me, but also very sad.

I was grateful she called.

He’s angry at me because for 12 years he has lived with me full time. He thinks I’ve kept him from his dad.

He doesn’t think it’s fair. He thinks it would only be fair, that since I got his childhood, his dad should get his teen years. That’s his black and white thinking.

But he’s sad. Yeah, we know he’s always sad, but she says it’s a different kind of sad. He misses his mom.

I miss him too.

What do I do? How do I explain to him I felt I was protecting him. How can I get him to understand that living with me was what I believed was in his best interest,  without bashing his dad?

I don’t want to share the details of my decision if sharing them hurts my son. Hurts their relationship. Hurts how he sees his dad.

Things are different now. I feel he is safe. His dad is in a better place. This is why he was eventually allowed to live there, instead of just come over.

I just don’t want to be the one to tell him why things have changed.

How conflicted he must be feeling. Being angry at me but also missing to be home. I hate that he’s hurting.

My ex wife is giving me a chance to talk with him this afternoon. What am I going to say?

You know my parents divorced. I wasn’t 14, but I was still living in their house. I stayed with my dad.

Both my parents have remarried since then. You know what was weird? Seeing them together. Not seeing my mom and dad together, but seeing my mom and her husband and my dad and his wife, all together.

Isn’t that weird? I’ve never seen them fight. I’ve never heard them speak badly about the other. I never felt like one parent was trying to persuade me not to love the other one.

I knew why they got divorced. I asked and my dad told me. He didn’t bash my mom. He didn’t let his emotions tell him what to say. He didn’t make her sound worse than what she really was. He was honest with me.

Maybe that’s how I need to be with Justice. I don’t need to bash his dad. I don’t need to let my emotions tell me what to say. I don’t need to make the reason he stayed with me worse than what it was.

Maybe I should just be honest with him. And if he’s still angry, then he’s angry. If he wants to still stay with his dad, he can stay with his dad.

But regardless, I’m going to hug him, and squeeze him, and tell him that I love him.

And whether he lives with me, or lives with his dad, or when he lives on his own…

I’m always, always going to try to protect him, look out for him, and maybe start being a little bit more honest with him.