~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, April 30, 2013

Highlights with Kate

Let me go back and catch you up to the present. I'll just briefly touch on some highlights in my experience of learning to be a stepmom.

We'll start with Kate this time. Kate and I get along great. We've had several "talks" and she still cries almost every time she is "in trouble", but she recovers quickly. Five minutes later she'll be singing and dancing and saying "I love you" and "I'm sorry." She went through a phase of peeing accidents between 5 and 6 and that was a big obstacle for her to cross. I still don't know what the problem was, but even now at 7, she waits until it is an emergency to go. I have talked to her and talked to her until I'm blue in the face about going right away as soon as you feel it and not waiting so long. But I never get mad at her, because I remember being the exact same way when I was little. I remember having some accidents when I was embarrassingly too old for that. So I just send her as soon as I see a wiggle out of her and remind myself "She will grow out of it. It can't last forever." We've had to talk about grooming also. There was a long stretch of time when I picked them up from school on days they had been dropped off from their mother's house and she would just look so raggedy. Her hair would never be brushed. She would have on mismatched socks. She would be missing part of her uniform and have stains all over. A lot of those things, she can't do anything about. But I talked with her about at least brushing her hair and brushing her teeth and letting somebody fix her hair. It was getting so long, and she pitched a fit about getting it cut, but then she wouldn't let anyone fix it, so she looked like a homeless child. So we talked about taking some pride in how she looks, and that how you look is a reflection of who you are. Most of that went over her head, but she did start looking better when I picked her up.

In the summer that Kate was 6, J and I got engaged. Kate was so excited! She kept asking me how happy I was and telling everyone she had a new mom. (She already called me "mom" a lot before that, but started calling me "mom" even more now.) She kept saying that I better not say "no" to daddy when we get married. She would draw pictures of our family and daddy and I getting married. It made me so happy that she was that excited! If the girls weren't happy, I'm not sure it would have ever worked out. Kate asked me soon after that where I was going to put all my bigger clothes because my closet was already full. I asked her what she meant, and she said that I'm going to need pregnant clothes for when I get married. I told her I'm not going to get pregnant, but she insisted if you get married, you get pregnant, because she just knows.

I was worried for a while that Kate may not like me very much because I don't baby her like her mother does. Her mother still pushes her in the grocery cart and even a stroller to this day--and Kate is not a small girl! She is a 70 pound 7 year old! But because I have seen first hand and heard many shocking stories about the degree to which Kate is babied, it worried me a bit that maybe I treat her to the other extreme. Maybe I'm too hard on her or expect too much, or push her to be older than she is. But it has just proven over and over not to be true. She still loves me very much. She likes to be independent and do things for herself. And she never asks me to baby her. The only thing she likes to do that is sort of babyish is sit in my lap and cuddle while we watch TV or something. She'll realize one day that the way we make her behave at daddy's house is going to be much more beneficial to her in life than how she behaves at her mother's. So I'm not worried about that any more. She has told me on several different occassions that she wanted to stay with us and not go back to her mom's. Of course that breaks my heart and I just tell her I wish she could stay too.

Overall, our relationship is great. She accepts me unconditionally and says she is so glad "daddy picked you". We have a lot of fun together talking about her day and her friends, and everything her little mind thinks of. The biggest thing we still have to conquer and work on every day is the relationship between her and Jane. Kate gets so hurt, and used to just cry and cry. But now that she's gotten older, she has started retaliating and being mean right back. It is such a constant battle. Jane can be very mean, and pretty much a bully. So we tell Kate to stand up for herself and just not to let Jane treat her that way. But on the other hand, we don't want Kate to turn into a mean bully either. So it is a very fine line trying to advise her how to handle Jane. Don't get me wrong--they have some good moments, and even some good days where they play together nicely. It's not always bad. But when it starts, it seems like it never ends. Constant fighting and bickering and tattle telling and on and on. That is the stuff that will drive a parent crazy! I try to think of new and inventive ways to handle it, like I'm some genius parent, but so far, we're still not over that hurdle. So that pretty much catches you up with Kate. We'll catch you up on Jane in the next post.

A Rough Week

I know I said I would get back to the story line, but I need to talk about the events of last week while they are fresh in my mind.

First we will talk about Jane. Jane now has an iPad at our house and an iPhone at her mom's. The iPad is hooked up to my account, so I have to put in my password if she wants to download everything, and I can check her browsing history and so forth. She has gotten to the age where she is curious about a lot of "adult things", so I have to keep an eye on it. (This is actually how we had the period and sex talk a few months ago which I still need to write about). So anyways, a couple weeks ago, Jane was playing on her iPad and mentioned a game called "campus life". J and I both immediately were alert. "Campus life"? I asked, "as in a college campus"? She said "Yeah". So we proceeded to ask her questions about what the game was about to try to understand if there might be any partying, drinking, sex, etc. She acted all innocent and said no, it's just about chosing your outfit and going to class. That's all. So after she went to bed, we checked the description of the game in the Apple Store. It actually involved dating and flirting and kissing your boyfriend, etc. So we deleted it and checked on some of her other games. She had three more games that were just inappropriate for a 10 year old, talking about "dressing up in the hottest, sexiest fashions and going to the hottest clubs to flirt with the hottest boys." The age levels on some were marked as 4+! Ridiculous! Anyways, we deleted them all and asked her mother to be more aware of what she plays on her phone also. We talked to Jane the next day and explained that games like this are too mature for her and we better not find anything like that again on her iPad.

So fast forward one week, and what do I find? Another game about dancing on the beach in your hottest bikini with the hottest guys, and flirting it up to win a date! What part of our talk last week did she not understand? This is what gets me sometimes. I am totally cool and calm and collected during the first talk, because it is something we have never sat down and discussed before, and she just doesn't understand. But NOW it's different. We HAVE talked about it, and she DOES understand. She is now directly disregarding our rule. So what do I do? I let J handle it. =) He took her to the store with him and discussed it in the car and she apologized to me when they got home. I've been finding some other games for her that she has really enjoyed and they are actually educational and good for her!

Now, let's discuss last week with Kate. I was upstairs cleaning when I noticed her journal on the floor with a pen by it. It wasn't there the day before, so I figured she must have been up writing in it the night before. She had drawn a lot of pictures and written some sentences. Then I turned a page and read something that made me sick to my stomach. "I am here and I will kill you dead. Whaaa-ha-ha." At that moment, I had a choice. I could ignore that and act like I never saw it. But that would make me no better than the Newtown shooter's mom. Or I could confront the issue and find out why she wrote this. The rest of the day I was plagued with thoughts about how kids that feel bullied, picked on, and made fun of are way more likely to resort to violent acts, either on themselves or others. Then I kept thinking about how Kate is constantly upset because she feels bullied by Jane. (Again, something I still need to write about). Then we have all these kids committing suicide these days due to bullying, and shootings by people who were made fun of a lot. So my mind is in high gear, and I started putting all these things together. Kate several months ago got in trouble with me for repeatedly looking at a picture of a bloodied up little boy on a movie cover in Blockbuster. She also said something once about not getting scared anymore during movies and that she doesn't mind if she sees someone's head get cut off. Then she was playing the game bubble bust, where you just pop bubbles with other bubbles--completely non-violent--but she kept saying that she was "shooting people's faces" while playing that. Another incident came to my mind where she mentioned watching the news with her mother and saw a boys face get burned off. All these isolated incidents came back to me and I began to get very sick thinking that Kate has a violence problem. Maybe she does feel more picked on than we realize, and it makes her feel like she needs to lash out with violence. Maybe we have exposed her to too violent of movies at a young age. Maybe even J and I tease her too much even though we do it in good-natured fun. She is such an emotional child, it could be that she hasn't learned how to take teasing.

So later that evening after J and I had talked it over, we brought Kate in and made sure she knew we just need to tell her about a new plan. (If she feels like she is "in trouble", the girl will completely shut down and just cry and not absorb anything you say or give you any answers to questions.) So we brought up the journal and what we saw in it and asked her why she wrote it or what it was about. We got nothing. She just sat there and played dumb and acted like she didn't remember. So that angle didn't work. So then I asked her if she ever felt picked on. She said "Yes." I asked her where she feels that way the most--at school, at home, and she immediately answered "By Jane." I asked her how it made her feel other than sad. She said it makes her want to hurt Jane, physically. So now we are getting somewhere. So then we talked to both girls and established a "stop word". If either of them feels made fun of or picked on or bullied by each other or even us, before they start to feel angry, they just say the word "red" and it stops immediately. We explained we are going to have zero tolerance from now on for violence or for bullying. We will be more careful about movies we watch and games they play. So far the "stop word" has been working well. Kate has used it a handful of times, and everyone immediately stopped. We still have a lot of improvement needed in the "getting along" department, but hopefully this incident is a baby step in that direction.

Friday, April 19, 2013

What is a stepmom?

I'm going to interject with some present day thoughts. I'll pick back up with the story line in the next post. I read on Facebook the other day a quote that said "Stepparents are wonderful people. They choose to love someone else's kids as their own." Now, while I know that all stepparents are NOT wonderful, there is a truth hidden in this statement. It is found in the word "choose." Being a good stepmom definitely begins with a choice. You must indeed choose to love someone else's children as your own. That one choice has multitudes of implications that become evident as you live this choice out.

Now I understand that there is a connection and feeling that only exists between a biological mother and child which cannot be duplicated. But that is a gift. A mother doesn't choose to have that connection. The kind of sacrificial love I am writing about today is acquired by choice. A stepmom chooses to do, do, do for her children, knowing she will never receive any praise or recognition on Mother's Day. In fact, her children won't even be with her, and will not think to give a card or notice her. That day is for their mother. A stepmom chooses to love her children not as her "husband's kids", but as her own, knowing that while they will love back, they will never love her back as their own mother. A stepmom feels hurt and pain with every failure or disappointment that comes to her children. She rejoices in their happiness and achievements. She is overjoyed and wants so bad to shower them with praise and love after a performance, but must hold back in the shadows, because that place is for their mother. She is content to be overlooked in the crowd at recitals or school plays, just happy to be there to witness these events. She knows this is just the beginning as it will be repeated at graduations, weddings, new births, and on and on throughout life. Their mother will always have the spotlight. Yet, stepmom continues to give and be all that she has to their well-being and happiness. She chooses to call them "my children" even if they never call her "my mom". She chooses to be there and make herself available in case they ever need her, knowing that nine times out of ten, they will run to their mother, yet she stays for that one time they actually do come to her for help. She chooses to spend hours teaching valuable life lessons, responsibility, maturity, and manners knowing she will never get the credit for how wonderfully they turn out. She will wipe tears, fix hair, go shopping, clean clothes, hold them in sadness, dance with them in happiness--all the while knowing that they will never fully appreciate the sacrifice. She will never wear the "mother of the bride" pin, or help pick out the dress, or get the "Best Mom" charm bracelet or birthstone rings.

Being a stepmom is a choice to never expect anything in return. It is a choice to be taken for granted. It is a choice to be overlooked. Yet it is a choice she makes anyway because she loves. She gives. She is selfless. She is stepmom.

I chose years ago not to have my own children because I was told that I was a "very selfish person". Knowing firsthand how devastating a selfish parent can be, I decided to never become a parent. Now, as fate would have it, I'm in a position that requires even MORE selflessness than a parent--a stepparent--and I pray every day that I can live up to this challenge and be okay with loving unselfishly from the shadows. Most days it seems like an indomitable mountain, but every once in a while, I'm given the grace to move that mountain stone by stone.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

I have to learn a lesson

As Kate turned five and started kindergarten, she became more aware of the fact that she was expected to behave and be more responsible for her actions at daddy's house. She already figured out that daddy doesn't fall for the tears trick, and now she was being held accountable for other things. Yes, J does lay down the law and expect obedience. Yes, he is stricter than their mother, and always comes through on his word. If he threatens with a certain disciplinary action, you can bet it will happen. If he promises a reward, they get it. It took Kate a little while to figure this all out and understand that if daddy says "Stop playing with your food and eat it" that he means it. The same held true for "Go upstairs and brush your teeth" or "Pick up your toys", and the big one "Don't lie to me--I already know the truth." So Kate went through this phase of saying "Daddy is mean." This made me angry. Yes, angry. There were so many times I had to bite my tongue and count to ten, but you better believe she got a lecture every time I heard this out of her mouth. "You have the BEST daddy in the world, Kate. He loves you so much. He buys so many nice things for you. He takes you on really nice trips. He cooks for you, cleans, does your laundry, irons your clothes, brushes your hair, plays games! And so he wants you to listen. Does that make him MEAN? You are such a lucky girl to have this daddy. You don't understand it yet, but there are some really, really bad dads out there. Some kids don't even have a dad. Some kids have a dad that is in jail. Some kids get beaten by their dads. Some kids have a dad that ignores them and doesn't love them. YOUR dad is NONE of those things. I wish I had a dad like yours! He helps you with homework every night. He is at every single school function whether he has to take off work or not. He tucks you in bed every night and gives you kisses and hugs and tells you he loves you all throughout the day. How in the world can you think he is MEAN? If you don't listen to a dad like that, then something is wrong with YOU, not HIM!" Okay, yes, these lectures were a bit much for a five year old, I know. But like I said, it really, really gets me to hear her say that. The next time I heard her call him mean, I was in tears. I got so emotional and upset trying to explain to her how lucky she is, that I just gave up. A five year old just doesn't get it. I had to keep telling myself that she is too young to understand. I would have to let this battle go. It's not her fault that I have daddy issues. One day she will get it. I was overreacting and worried that this meant she would start resenting him and end up choosing later just to live with her mom and I know that would hurt J so much. But my going all psycho wouldn't help either. It's between Kate and J, not me, and I know that there is no way the love between them will ever go away. That's the security there is in being such a good dad. Your kids may wander for a time, but they will always come back because they KNOW there is acceptance and love there. I guess it was my turn to learn the lesson. Thanks, Kate.

Understanding Jane

Jane has been a bit more of a challenge to figure out. I must say right up front though, the reward of satisfaction when you actually do something right that "clicks" with her is so much sweeter. Jane was seven, going on eight when I was introduced as "Daddy's girlfriend". Now the very first thing to know is that Jane is very much a daddy's girl. She of course was more aware of her parents getting divorced than Kate. She always talks about her memories of her life with them together with such a superior air, like she was a princess living in a castle, and now she has to live as a "commoner". Jane doesn't like change. She doesn't have an open mind toward new things or ideas. So, I was a bit more shut out with her. She was always nice enough, but I had a feeling she was just tolerating my presence.

Another thing to understand about Jane is that she has ADHD. She has been on medication since she was five years old. Now at the time, all I "knew" about ADHD was that those kids are "wild and misbehaved and just need strong discipline". That's what I had been brainwashed to believe by the Christian school I grew up in. They taught that conditions like this are not even real, but that psychologists make up a lot of stuff to make money and sell drugs. Now of course, I know first hand that kind of teaching was a bunch of hogwash by people who don't want to believe that there are actual conditions that "spanking" doesn't fix. Okay, I'll step down from that soapbox now. So obviously, I had a lot to learn about ADHD in order to understand Jane. I came to find out over time (after several mistakes and apologies) that this condition is a lot more complex than I realized. It causes impulsiveness, fidgetiness, mood swings, inability to focus on one thing, disorganization, forgetfulness, low self esteem, need for constant reassurance, difficulty making friends and interacting socially--to name a few, and I'm still learning to this day more about it. Yes, the medication curbs a lot of that in Jane, but some things she will always have, and as she becomes more aware of how it affects her personally and how to control it, she will possibly be able to get off of medication as an adult one day.

I was very unsure of how to connect with Jane. My first approach was just to try to be a friend. I would play games and color and watch movies with her, but I felt like we weren't connecting. We never talked about anything more than what we were doing at the moment. Maybe that time was helpful for here to grow to trust me or accept me. I don't know. But I finally realized that I couldn't make her open up to me. When she is ready, she would. So until then, I happily kept playing and coloring. I also realized that being older, she was more aware of the fact that my role wasn't really a "friend". Perhaps she felt threatened that I was trying to take her mom's place. Now while she is a daddy's girl and has constant "fights" with her mom, she is very defensive of her. (One rule J and I established from the very beginning was to never talk negatively of their mom in front of the girls, no matter what she does.) So we never say anything bad openly about her, but sometimes we question something they told us happened at their house, or question why or what or where... and Jane is very quick to cover up anything negative or possibly incriminating. So I knew immediately that Jane wouldn't take well to my being a "mom" to her.

After thinking about what to say for a few days, one day while helping with her homework, I casually started a little "talk." I mentioned that I just wanted her to know that while I may do a lot of things for her that a mom does, I'm not trying to be her mom. I'm not trying to take anyone's place because I know she already has a mom that she loves very much. I also explained to her that I'm not necessarily just a friend either, and that I'm just as confused in figuring out my place in her life as she is, and maybe we could help each other learn together the best way for this to work. Yes I'm an adult and an authority in this house that she has to respect and listen to, but where does it end? It's very gray. Where do you draw the line? What are the boundaries of a stepmom? Where do I stop being just "friendly" and start being an authority? At what times is it okay for me to correct, and when do I need to take a step back and let her get away with bad behavior and let someone else correct it if they care to? She promised me that day that she DID love me and that she would try to not be resistant towards me any more. Like I started this post, because she is more of a challenge, the reward is so much sweeter. Just hearing that one sentence from her had me floating on clouds for probably a week!

First lesson with Kate

Kate was just 4 when she became part of my life. She accepted me so warmly and without any question or judgment. That was so reassuring for me. She was on the tail end of pull-ups and sippy cups. The first thing that impressed me about her was how much of a cuddler and snuggler she was. I felt like she barely knew me, but she was perfectly content to grab her blankey and curl up with me on the couch to watch a movie. At first, I felt like I was overstepping my place. "I shouldn't be snuggling with this girl. Surely she can't trust me yet. This feels way too much like a mom for me." But once glance over at J's face let me know he was perfectly okay with it, even emotional over the sight of Kate curled up with me. So I had to swallow the big lump of insecurity and fear, and the "mom" feeling that was completely foreign to me, and just hold her and snuggle. Even to this day, that is one of Kate's favorite things to do.

My first "teaching time" with Kate was over her constant fake crying. It was at least a full five or six months of us eating together before I can remember one time that she didn't cry at the dinner table. Every little thing that happened, she just made herself cry to either get out of something or get some extra attention. Being raised myself by a complete "no-nonsense" drill sergeant mom, this really bothered me. J would try to talk to her, but he would lose his patience after a while and just end up yelling, which made her cry more. I just started by saying a few things here and there in a non-chanlant way such as "Why are you crying? You're not hurt. You should only cry if you are hurt." As time when on, I added a few more lines like "Crying all the time means you are acting like a baby." And then the bribing started. Ok, Kate, if you can make it through this whole day with no tears, you can have a special treat. The first time she did it, we celebrated like it was a birthday! She eventually got through it with a lot of encouragement, prodding, and pushing on our part. The worst part was, I would feel like I made a lot of progress, and then she would go to her mom's for five days, and when she came back, it was like reprogramming. One step forward for two steps back, right? (She was consistently very babied and favored at her mom's until the age of seven when their mom had another baby. So that just made our job even harder!) She got it though, and now she is always happy and smiling and talking and singing. She hardly ever cries, and has turned to less exhausting tactics to get attention!

So with my first lesson finally a success, I thought maybe I really could do this stepmom thing.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Beginning

June 5, 2009 (Little did I know or could ever have imagined, 3 years later on this exact day, J would ask me to marry him!) I worked as a surgery technician for several ophthalmologists, and did some babysitting on weekends for them for some extra cash. I got a call from newly single (of 6 months) Dr. J to come babysit on Friday night, June 5, 2009. He has two daughters. I had babysat before when he was married, but it had been over a year since I had seen them. We'll call the older one "Jane" here on the internet and the younger "Kate". Jane was one month away from turning 7 and Kate was 3 1/2. When Dr. J got home that evening after a night out with some friends, his intentions of pursuing more than a professional relationship with me became evident from his flirtatiousness... But this story isn't about he and I. It's about the kids. So, moving on...

December 25, 2010 Dr. J and I hadn't seen each other outside of the office because of a strict no fraternization policy. He had gone on to date some other women, and I had dated another guy for a couple months. But we both found ourselves alone and bored on Christmas day, so we met up to play some darts and eat Thai food. From that day, we knew we wanted to see each other more, policy or no policy. So eventually i found another job and we made the dating thing official. He told me lots about the girls, and at this point I was really unsure about him having kids, but I didn't want it to stop me from giving our relationship a chance. I quietly observed how much he had to do by himself for these girls, and fell more and more in love with him for being such an awesome dad. He would take them shopping, get all their school clothes ready, iron, help with homework, cook for them, take them to movies, plan fun activities--I mean, this guys was Super Dad or something.

May 2010 Around this time, I started to gradually spend more and more time with the girls. At first I would stay at their house and "babysit" one while J took the other one on a daddy/daughter date so they could get to know me better. Eventually, they would invite me over for movie night or pizza. Once they became more comfortable with me being around, J told them we were dating, and they could expect to see more and more of me. They were 7 and 4 now, and didn't fully grasp what it meant until they saw their daddy kiss me one night. (Jane told me later she wondered why daddy was kissing the babysitter!)

Evertything seems peachy, right? Well, I left out one little detail: the girls' mother. Yes, that complicates this little fairy tale a bit. They were divorced in 2008 after she had an affair. They got shared custody, which means they each have the girls 50/50. So yes, the girls already have a mom who is involved in their lives. Things between us got off to a bit of a rocky start. She first found out J and I were dating around March and immediately sent J a very spiteful and probably drunk text. It was along the lines of this: "Kristi? Really? How could you? Don't you know the rumors of her and Dr. D? Don't you know she is super religious? It will never work. You're making a bad decision." Of course J showed me this text because he never keeps anything from me, not even in the beginning, even if it might be hurtful. Yes, I was hurt. I felt like she was judging me, and she barely even knew me. She had met me a few times before, but never said more than "Hi" or "Bye". How dare SHE--the one who tore his life apart and made it a living hell, and hurt him more than anyone--SHE warn him about ME? I'M the bad decision?? No, lady! YOU were the bad decision! So, from the beginning, she and I were less than friends. It took a while to get over this, but over time, she had to get used to the idea that I wasn't going anywhere. Now my concern was not how she felt about me, but whether she would voice her negative feelings about me to the girls. That wouldn't be healthy or in anyone's best interest.

Over time, I became more and more involved with these two sweet girls, and they really started growing on me. It wasn't long before we started exchanging "I Love You's" and hugs and kisses. I knew it was going to be tough to figure out my place in their lives, but I knew I had to try.


Stepmom. Me? I never would have dreamed it. But here I am, 75 days away from marrying the love of my life, and officially becoming a stepmom. The word itself carries such negative connotations in today's society, thanks mainly to Hollywood and reality TV, but also the ugly human nature of so many failing stepmoms in real life. So how do I possibly step into this role with a positive outlook, and have any ambition at all to turn this word stepmom around in at least one household of America? Wouldn't it be easier to just be selfish, focus only on myself and my husband, and let the kids just tolerate me or hate me or act like I don't exist? Yes. That would be much easier. But that's not me. I love my fiance too much to act like that. I love these girls too much already. My heart is too full of things I yearn to teach them, things I need to show them, things they aren't getting from anyone else, to just stand by and not care. As much as I have already and will continue to get hurt along the way by getting so emotionally involved, if I can influence them to be better people and make their lives better in any small way, it will be worth it.

So here is my story from the beginning and leading up to the present. It won't be easy to write, or to read. I will have to admit so many mistakes and failures. I will have to relive intense pain. But I'm hoping it will be therapeutic in a way to get all these thoughts and feelings down on paper, and maybe someone else will benefit. Who knows? So let's go back to when it all started.