~Welcome to my personal story as a first time wife and stepmom. I use this space to share real life happenings in a blended family, funny stories, my personal frustrations, failures, and occasional victories as I journey through this life with two beautiful and challenging stepdaughters. Thanks for reading, and I hope you find something to help you have a better day!~

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Just another day in the life of a stepmom...

Sometimes there are no right answers.

Sometimes all the counseling and therapy in the world cannot help.

Sometimes killing with kindness is no longer an option.

Sometimes all the good intentions in the world fall short.

And sometimes, unfortunately the kids are caught in the middle.

What do you do? How do you protect the kids?

Apparently, for the past 3 or 4 weeks, the kids now get the guilt trip for to talking/texting me while at their mother's. The mother has even stopped responding to any emails or texts from me, but will respond right away to J. Kate informed me that their mother will cry and throw fits that "her feelings are hurt" if communication is made. I'm hurt for the kids, not myself. How can they learn the value of maturity or communication with this example? It hurts. And I'm left once again having to retreat into the shadows and pretend I'm non-existent until this little fit has blown over. The funny thing is, I don't even have a clue what started it or what I did to upset her this time. What makes me more sad is that Jane is too scared of upsetting her mom to even talk/text her daddy. It's just not fair to these girls.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Roller Coasters

I'm learning that in blended families there are lots and lots of additional opportunities for sudden and/or gradual "mood swings". Let me explain. We have the kids with us for a few days and everyone is clicking, routines are followed, and we excitedly plan the next few weeks out. The kids can't wait to come back. So we're happy, feeling like things are going well with the kids. And then, something comes up with the ex (because she hears how happily the kids are talking about their time at dad's and wants to sabotage it to bring the focus to herself). And then we get the "Oh my gosh, I just realized I need the girls with me on your day or weekend because of this or that." Never fails. It's like that every time something big is going on at either house. When we got a puppy, got the beach house, got married, the girls were always wanting to be with us and she would try to find ways to trump it. Then their mom got a puppy, got a new car, got a new house, had a baby--so at those times, they always want to be over there. I may buy them a single headband, and their mom then rushes them off on a "bribery-scapade" and gets them each hundreds of dollars worth of jewelry and accessories that they just bring over and never wear or take back to their mom's. It's back and forth, back and forth, each house always wanting the momentum of kid's affections swinging their way. What it boils down to is insecure and immature adults each craving the affirmation that "Yes, my kid loves me and won't stop just because they love their other family too."

I found out over this weekend that their mom cried and cried for hours last week just because Jane sent me a text that she had finished her book and was bored on a road trip with her mom. Her mom took that text to mean that Jane was blaming her for not having something to do. She said it hurt her feelings that Jane would text me about that. How ridiculous! First of all, the text said NOTHING about her mother. It just said "I finished my book and I'm bored in the car." How insecure must you be to get your feelings hurt over that? How sad for your kids that everything is always about YOU. Anyways, it is sad she is so emotionally immature, but I'm feeling pretty good that I am not nearly that insecure any more. I can tell I've made progress in that department, and it feels good. I actually just had my hair in a ponytail and wore an old sweatshirt around her this weekend and didn't care what she thought! (Okay, done tooting my own horn.)

The lesson is, I think that we in blended families need to learn to maintain a consistent, balanced energy in our homes with and without the kids, whether something big is happening that they are excited about, or whether it is just normal hum-drum stuff. If we teach them to be emotional roller-coasters by our own moods, it is only going to hinder them later in life. J and I have started telling them about all the fun things we do together even when they are not home, to show them we are happy and content. They may act upset and jealous that they miss certain things, but deep down I know they are happy to see us happy. We love having them with us, but life doesn't stop when they are not, and we want them to feel the same way too, no matter which family they are with.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Getting inside Jane's Head...

Okay, so I'm no head doctor, but sometimes I do like to try to get inside people's heads to figure out what makes them tick--especially people I have interpersonal relationships with, or who I know I'll be around for a long time. I like to observe and analyze actions, reactions, body language, cause and effect, behavioral patterns, et cetera. So here are some observations on Jane.

Lately, I have felt as though Jane is slipping away into a closed-off space. I'm not sure how to describe it exactly, but things just haven't felt "right" since the beginning of this school year (middle school). It is as if she is distancing herself a little, not getting quite as involved, not showing as much care for those around her. She is drifting off into her own little world, only coming out when she wants, and closing the virtual door behind her a little bit more each week. What I'm not sure of yet is if this behavior is directed towards me individually, or all of her parents as a whole.

I can name a handful of possible reasons for this behavior right off the bat. She is going through puberty, and is so focused on her changing body and emotions, that there is no room for others right now, not to mention the embarrassment and self-esteem issues that come along with that. She has been getting into trouble lately with age-appropriateness, and feelings of guilt could be causing her to be unwilling to connect with us. She has recently seen a lot of things online where she threw her innocent mind away, and could be bothered by the idea of what adults actually do, and doesn't want to think of her father and I in that way. Maybe she is in a stage of resenting the whole "two families" thing. She has been going back and forth, back and forth from Mom's to Dad's, Dad's to Mom's every few days for 4 years already, and has to face another 7. I can understand how that could be very overwhelming and exhausting.

I've tried a few things to pull her out of this funk. We went shopping to buy an outfit for her first Middle School Dance, but she was pretty quiet the whole time. I put some new music and games on her iPad, but that didn't generate much interaction. We picked out Halloween costumes, and the first one I said I liked, she picked right away. That was very unusual for her, because decisiveness is definitely not one of her strong points. She can agonize over the smallest decision such as what game to play, for hours! But as the stepmom, I don't want to try too hard. I feel like I should go about my business and not force anything. I'm going to be watching her with her dad this weekend to see if I sense the same thing with him, or if she's more open with him still.

Another pattern I have noticed with Jane is the "blame game". She literally idolizes the time in her life where her Mom and Dad and her were together living "the fairytale life." She cannot yet bring herself to admit that maybe things weren't as perfect as her fabricated memories make her think. Her mom or dad could neither do any wrong in her eyes (which is truthfully an admirable trait in a kid). However, since neither her mom or dad could have messed up the fairytale, she looks around trying to blame someone or something else.

For a long time, I have personally felt that this is at the root of her conflicts and dislike for Kate. My opinion is that she subconsciously equalizes Kate's existence and presence with the demise of her own princess-hood. Here she was, only child, living in a great big house, with anything she could ever wish for, and then along comes Kate. And then along comes divorce. So in her mind, her memories of "life with Mom and Dad" were sans Kate. And everything thereafter, all the problems, and conflict, and moving, and new family... is with Kate. I honestly think she could very well relate the two in her mind. So now, every time she doesn't agree with her Mother's treatment of Kate and herself, she blames Kate. She says "Kate was pitching such a fit, Mom just had to". Or "Kate got x and y and I didn't because she was crying and being a baby and said she felt sick." So instead of blaming her Mom for unfair treatment, she blames Kate. One day I explained to Jane that Kate's behavior is so different at her mom's than with us because she is allowed to act that way. Any kid who can get away with being bad will do it. Kate doesn't behave differently because she is such an awful kid. I explained that different parents have different styles, and if Kate doesn't get in trouble or face any consequences, it is not Kate's fault necessarily, but an allowed behavior by the parent. Jane seemed to understand, so now instead of blaming Kate for everything she doesn't like, she has started blaming her step-grandma who stays with them over at her mom's. Every time she comes over now, she has a new story of "guess what horrible thing Mary did now?" One day when she's older and wants to know the true story of what happened to her "fairytale" she will learn the truth of her mother's affair and drug addictions. Until then, it's hard sometimes, but necessary to let her keep believing her mother is a perfect saint.

The last observation I want to mention is Jane's "clinginess". She constantly hovers, has to be holding hands 24/7, touching in some way, or sitting almost right on top of J or I at all times. Now I don't mind holding her hand now and then or giving a random hug and kiss, but I have to be honest--I get annoyed by this. She is by nature a very "hot-blooded" girl--her skin is always hot and sweaty and she still wants to be so close and touchy. She's not cuddly; she's clingy. I don't know if people will understand this difference. Kate is a cuddler. She curls right up under my arm and cuddles. I love that. What Jane does for some reason, I don't accept as well. I don't like someone following me all over every step I take like a little shadow, to the point where if I step backwards or turn around, I run right into her. I like my space. She likes my space. How do I tell her to go away without hurting her feelings? The other day, we made a quick stop at a store, and were literally parked 5 steps from the door. She came around and tried to hold my hand while I'm putting my keys in my purse, and purse on my shoulder. She couldn't go five steps without holding my hand! I was thinking, "Is this normal for an 11-year old?" J told me he thinks it stems from abandonment issues. Although she was never abandoned, her family split up, and the ADHD compounds her reaction to it. J thinks she is so clingy as an emotional coping mechanism. I get that. So most the time I bite my lip and hold her hot, sweaty hands and let her be my shadow. Certain times though, I just cannot handle it and tell her to go do this or that to get her out of my hair. Sounds awful, but I'm being completely honest here.

So those are some of my latest thoughts on Jane. I'm preparing myself for some crazy teen years to come!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Humiliating Stepmom Moments

So, as all stepparents know, there are moments with stepchildren or ex's that aren't so smooth, especially in the beginning. I've had a few myself, and maybe you can relate, or it will make you feel better about yours. (Pretty much all the examples involve Kate, the younger daughter, because Jane is old enough to have a realization about the situation and actually tries very hard not to make anyone uncomfortable.)

1. Out at restaurant with the girls back as "just dad's girlfriend":

Waitress: "Mom, we'll sit you here by your girls."

Both girls together: "That's not our mom!"

Me: *Embarrassed. Don't have a reply.*

2. First time meeting J's parents--they are at our house for Christmas. Kate is sitting on my lap while everyone is around the table playing a game.

Kate: "Do you like my Mom?"

Me: (Secretly embarrassed she brought this up in front of J's parents, but trying to act cool) "Yes, of course I do. She's your mom, and I like anyone who loves you so much."

Kate: "Well, she doesn't like you. She told me so."

Everyone: Awkward, uncomfortable silence while J sends an angry text to the mother that no matter what her personal feelings are to never, ever talk negatively about me to his kids!

3. Another one involving the in-laws: J's mother called me the ex-wife's name in front of the kids three times! Awkward.

4. Picking up Kate from dance and she throws the "baby card" and curls up in her mom's car acting like she doesn't want to come with me. The Mom looking at me smugly like "Ha ha ha."

5. Daisy is the name of a dog that J and his ex-wife had, and the dog stayed with the ex-wife after the divorce. I was picking up Kate from dance once again, in front of her Mom.

Kate to me: "Do you miss Daisy?"

Me: "Well, I never lived with Daisy, so no, not really." Her mom and I actually shared confused glances on that one, not really sure what was going through her head. But I wasn't comfortable bringing up the fact that her dad and mom lived together with Daisy, with her mom standing right there either!

6. Both the Mom and I were standing in the area after a recital.

Kate: "Momma, look what I made."

The Mom: Turns to look, just to be horrified that Kate is speaking to Me!

Me: "Very nice, Kate!" (pretending I didn't notice what just happened)

7. At a wedding rehearsal, one of the relatives of the bride comes over to chit-chat.

Kate: "Guess what, I'm having a baby brother!"

Lady turning to me: "Oh, congratulations! When are you due?"

Me: (Probably thoroughly red in the face and wanting to crawl in a hole somewhere) "Oh no, it's not me. I'm her stepmom. Her mother is actually the one who is pregnant. No, no, really. Don't apologize. It's okay. This happens a lot." Blah, blah, blah...

8. At a birthday party of a classmate of Kate's:

Another mom: "Are you with...? Wait... I thought I already met Kate's mom? I'm sorry... I think I'm confused..."

Me: "No, no, it's okay. You probably did. I'm her Stepmom."

Lady: "Oh, Stepmom. Yeah."(Turns and walks away because who would want to socialize and gossip with a stepmom? C'mon!)

These moments used to really hurt and get me down for days. Now, I've learned to expect them and even manage to laugh about them. Oh, the joys of being a "Step"!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

My OCD drives even me crazy!

Some days I hear myself talking and see myself running around like a busy-body, and I wonder how it is possible that my family tolerates me at all, much less even likes me! I feel like there are days where I am constantly correcting, getting after, nagging--whatever you wish to call it. I can feel myself being constantly upset, and I wish I would just relax and be happy. If I notice it, I'm sure my husband and stepkids do also! So I try to just sit back and have the attitude that "anything goes", and that drives me even more crazy!! I can only sit down and be at ease when everything around me is in order. Yes, I suffer from a major case of OCD. I'm always going around behind my family, picking up, closing doors, hanging up, folding, putting away, turning off lights, wiping up, straightening--and I have to seriously wonder if having a clean, orderly house is worth all the effort. What am I losing in the process? Does everyone view me as a complete nag who cannot relax? Would they rather have me not giving a care, and just be there only for fun and giggles? If so, I'm in need of a major personality makeover. I don't know if I can pick up one of those at the local Target or Wal-Mart.

Friday, October 4, 2013

It's that time again...

It is getting closer to the time of year now where we have to get together several times as a "blended family" for different events. After not having any combined interaction for about 5 months with our kids' mother and stepdad, now we have volleyball games, basketball games, birthday parties, parent meetings at school, programs, recitals, and on and on for the next 3 months. In the past, I have always dreaded these events, and made myself so nervous for no reason. I would obsess about what to wear, what to say, how to act, and how the kids will treat me in front of them. This year, I'm pledging to change. I will not give it a second thought. I will act normally, just as I would if it were just our family going to the event. I have realized it doesn't matter what they think of me, and I probably will seem like a much nicer person if I am just cool and relaxed anyway. I am sure the girls have sensed the tension in the past, and I do not want that anymore. We can do this together and stop being so "fake friendly". This time I am honestly going to try to be genuinely friendly. I hope I'm not setting myself up for failure or disappointment. My husband will probably reap the biggest benefit from this change, because he won't have to blame himself for having me in this awkward situation anymore. He can relax knowing that I am relaxed. That is the plan anyway. Let's see how it works!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Am I a mom?

So, there's something that has been nagging me lately... Am I a mom? I have been doing a lot of reading and research on being a stepmom lately, and have been exposed to several different, and some conflicting mindsets of other stepmoms out there. I have read all the way from one extreme of "Yes, you're a mom. They are your kids too. You can refer to yourself as 'mom' and discipline and make decisions for them" etc., all the way to the other extreme of "No. You are not a mom. You are their father's wife and that is all. You have no right to be an authority, be respected, correct, or be involved in their lives" etc., and about every position in between. So naturally, I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle, with a good balance of the two mindsets, but where exactly? I'm a person who likes to have rules and regulations drawn out in black and white for me so I know where to fit in, and where to stay away. I suppose every stepfamily has its own unique dynamic, which makes "where the stepmom fits in" a decision based on one's individual family's needs.

Certain days I feel like a total mom--running the kids around, helping with school work, fixing dinners, buying clothes, going to birthday parties, etc. Then, the kids are suddenly not here for a few days, and I look around at the empty house and think, "Okay, who am I now? I'm suddenly not mom anymore." So I go back to just being me the "wifey" and become comfortable with that, when suddenly--BAM!--the kids are back and I must become "mom" again. Having part-time kids is so confusing and wonderful and exhausting. I just feel like a tennis ball some days, being bounced around from one side of the court to the other.

Maybe the label of "mom" just isn't quite as important as the person I actually am. Maybe it shouldn't matter to me what label I give myself, and just focus on being the best wife I can and best stepmom I can, and just stop trying to figure it all out!