Tips for a Blended Family and Step-Parents

“Blended” sounds like such a nice term.  Some days it feels much more like a pulverizer.

I was 24 years old when I became a step mother for the first time.  I married a man with two young sons and oh was I ever so madly in love with those two boys!  I was enamored with the idea of being their mom. I completely pushed the title of step-mom out of my vocabulary. I whole heartedly embraced the role of mother.

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You’d think that would be a noble way to view your children you’re raising…loving them as your own, but trust me…it comes with many potential heartbreaks. Would I change how I loved them? Nope! It’s just a risk you take…

I didn’t read a book on how to have a blended family.  Back then there were no blogs giving me direction on being a good step-mom.  Wisdom in hindsight is pretty valuable and has helped me now that I’m in a new round of parenting. I raised two step sons. Gave birth to one daughter. Divorced…then remarried a man with two grown sons. I’m currently raising my husband’s 10 year old granddaughter that we adopted when she was 3 months old and her 2 year old little brother. I’ve been on both sides of the blended family fence. I’m certainly not the expert…. I wish someone would have told me these things:

1.  Loneliness,  rejection, and broken hearts will happen.

I think my biggest problem in my first go around at being a step mom, was that my identity was tightly wrapped around my role as a mother.  I didn’t really have anything else.  All my “eggs were in one basket” so to speak.  When the boys would leave for their weekend visitations, I was lost.  I was so poured into their lives that there was nothing left when they were gone.  I’m sort of thinking this is kind of typical for many moms…and when the empty nest season hits, they are devastated.  (If you are an empty nester, read my sweet friend’s blog here:  TablerPartyofTwo.com)  After my first three years of struggling over empty weekends or empty holidays without the boys, I gave birth to my daughter Holly.  Having a baby eased up those loneliness feelings a bit.  But had I not had a baby to distract me then what?  I believe that my over-the-top devotion put a ton of pressure on the boys.  It produced feelings of guilt and anxiety that really could have been avoided if I would haven’t been so co-dependent.  Now, when my little one is gone visiting his birth mother, I enjoy my little break and try to focus on making myself a better mom.  IMG_2911

Rejection is never easy.  Transitioning from one parent to another is difficult for children, especially if there’s pressure from the other side.  When my 10 year old comes back from visiting her grandmother, where there’s no pressure, she comes back accidentally calling me Nanny instead of Mommy.  She then giggles and says oops.  I do the same thing…I end up calling Holly by Maddie’s name and vice versa.  It’s not a big deal.  So when your step child comes back and accidentally calls you by a name they’ve been using all weekend, don’t make a federal case over it.  It’s really not a big deal.  Now, one of the issues I face every week is when my 2 year old comes back from a visit with his mom.  I’m confident that she puts pressure on his during the visit, telling him I’m not his mom.  He tends to struggle in the transition and doesn’t want to run into my arms immediately.  It’s okay.  I just act like nothing has changed, continue to treat him like I always do, and he warms up in very little time and bounces back into the same cuddly little boy that left my arms 2 days prior.

Broken hearts….well that’s never easy.  When I became divorced, my ex-husband played it dirty (in my opinion, not his) by spewing his venom about me to his college age sons.  The results….they refused to have me be a part of their family.   I would have thought that after being the mother that poured love into these boys, the one who was there for every football game, the one who paced the floor with them at night when they were sick, the one who made sure they went to college…I would have thought nothing would break that bond.  But the bond was sabotaged and there was nothing I could really do about it. Yes it broke my heart.  Does it ever heal?  I thought it did…but last night I was presented with the possibility of my step son moving out and taking his 2 year old son with him.  How did that make me feel?  I cried all night long.  As my husband held me, I poured out my hurt over losing my first two sons…and then poured out how I feel like a part of me is being ripped from me.  How do we move on?  We just do.  We just look to God and say….I’m following you….and you’re in control.

2. Get rid of the expectations that you are a normal family.

I think whatever you grow up with, that scenario defines what you believe to be normal.  I had a mom and dad and one brother.  Except for the fact that I’m adopted, we seemed like the typical american family.  I didn’t even know anyone divorced until I got into college.  When I became a mother, I had this defined picture of what my family would look like.  What I didn’t picture was a mish-mash of children with different mothers and different fathers, all under my wings, coming in and out of my life.  The disillusionment I felt years ago as I sat in front of a Christmas tree alone on Christmas Eve, while my kids were at their mother’s house and my husband was out hunting, was down right depressing.  Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I should have been rejoicing that my kids were having a wonderful time.  Bottom line…when my eyes are on myself (pity-party) I’m miserable.  When I focus on my kids and their needs and desires, I’m not so miserable…  Also, I had no idea that 20 years later my house would be filled to capacity with little and big ones!  God knows the desires of your heart.  You may be at a low point now, but when God’s in the driver’s seat of your life…you know that things will turn out better than you imagine.

2.  Learn to let go.

Every time my boys would leave the house for their weekend visitation, I would go nuts with worry.  What mental poison would they be feeding them.  I used to freak out when I’d learn they were being allowed to watch rated R movies.  I’d become angry when I’d see the huge bag of sugar laden treats they trudge through the door with.  20 years later I’m presented with the same scenario.  My 2 year old grandson (who already calls me Mommy) faces all the same risks.  But I have no control.  And sitting at home worrying over it doesn’t make him any more safe.  My only tool is prayer.  And trust me, it’s much more effective.  Prayer helps me to not worry and fret.

3.  Stop fearing their choice.

I used to be overly consumed with the fear that my kids would somehow decide to leave and choose to live with the other parent.  That kind of pressure can really mess you up.  Instead of focusing on the potential loss, work on being the best parent, the best spouse, the best Christian you can be.

4.  Create a place where everyone belongs and feels welcome.

I think this is the KEY to being a successful step parent.  We all have the need to feel loved, to feel like they belong, to feel needed.  Myself included.

5. Everyone has baggage. Learn to label the baggage.

Divorce causes damage not only to spouses, but to kids as well. Everyone is coming into the new family with baggage. Look for it.  Identify what it is.  Many times you can’t fix the baggage.  But if you know what the baggage is, you can navigate a little better to avoid triggering old feelings of resentment.  I had no idea that my daughter would have baggage from my marriage to her father.  I worked very hard to shield her.  I worked hard to over compensate for the missing love she needed from her father.  But despite all that, she came with me into a new family with a ton of baggage.  Seeing it and acknowledging helped.  

6. Time is your friend. Be patient.

Get rid of the idea that a happy family can happen over night.  Just because you have a great marriage and you’re super happy, doesn’t mean your children will instantly become happy as well.  Younger children are much easier to adjust.  Middle School and High School…not as easy. Be patient and let time show them that this family won’t fail like the last one.  You can’t force them to be instantly comfortable.  But be persistent in your love and your patience.  And the longer you are consistent, the easier it will be to blend instead of pulverize.

7.  Build it and they will come.

This one phrase has led to my success as a parent:

“The absence of relationship breeds rebellion.”

Make building a relationship with your children a first priority.  When your relationship grows into something strong, the blending becomes something beautiful!

Books that’s helped me:


8 steps to free yourself of aggravation

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Sometimes I get aggravated over really simple things.  Like this morning.  I subscribe to text notifications of one of my favorite pastor’s tweets.   I’m guessing that something went wrong this morning, because I got around 10 text messages within ten minutes…so for the last ten minutes my phone’s been making noise.  And each time I go to look…the first two were okay…but every one after that, my annoyance…my aggravation intensified.  Did I want to throw my phone out the window?  No, but trying to write a blog with my phone going off proved to be a challenge.

“Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.” ~Ambrose Bierce

1.  You have a choice.

Yes, you really do have a choice.  We live in an imperfect world with many imperfect people.  (Me included!)  Because we are born with a sinful nature, we will…yes…sin.  We have times we make mistakes.  Things go wrong.  Sometimes we make poor choices.  It happens.  A lot.  We are put into situations multiple times a day.  Newly married? New job? Even more so…  So why not start out the day with a decision or a choice.  A right choice.  Not to ignore when things go wrong, but to choose living the way God wants us to live.

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2.  Question the purpose.

I can’t help but think of the guy who’s alarm didn’t go off the morning of September 11th.  He rushed out the door, barely said goodbye to his wife and kids, aggravated that he was late.  He didn’t even have time to grab a cup of coffee as he rushed out the door, cursing his stupid alarm clock.  He was on the train when he heard the news about a plane crashing into his office building at The World Trade Center.

It’s a habit to develop for sure.  A habit of questioning why this inconvenience is happing to me.  Ask “why is this happening?”  You may not ever know…  But having faith that God is in control helps.

3.  Where’s your focus?

EVERY time I get aggravated, it’s because my focus is on myself.  It’s my selfishness that robs me of my joy and happiness.

4.   Learn to respond instead of react.

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Angry people seem to act first, and think later.  No doubt Thomas Jefferson’s advice (quoted above) to count to ten or even a hundred before speaking while angry is aimed at giving people time to reflect on the consequences of their actions and possibly avoid impulsive, destructive acts that will be regretted later.

When I get aggravated and want to react immediately, the outcome NEVER comes out in my favor. I mess it up every time.  Mostly because my emotions take over my brain and I’m unable to think straight.  But when I take the time to step back, and think through my response, I do much better.  I’m able to reason.  I’m not crying.  I’m not angry.  I respond out of respect and love instead of anger and frustration.

5. Controlling actions instead of emotions

I really struggle controlling my emotions some times.  No matter how much I tell myself to calm down…I can’t get my heart to stop beating fast or my palms to stop sweating.  Yesterday I spent the day in court.  We were seeking to protect the grandson I’m raising from a mother who has repeatedly put him in dangerous situations.  My heart was racing when the judge called our case.  I felt sick to my stomach.  I couldn’t control those things.  But I could control my actions.  I didn’t speak to the mother.  I avoided even looking at her.  I smiled.  (Amazing how smiling actually calmed my heart and stomach!)

6.  Set the example

Do you have a spouse or a child who gets aggravated frequently? Is it because they’ve seen you get aggravated?  My 2 year old is like a sponge.  He is picking up on emotions and actions.  If he sees his father get frustrated in traffic, he then comes home and gets frustrated with his toys.  He’s learned it.  He’s seen it.  Sometimes just knowing that you are teaching others around you to act like you is enough motivation to make a change.  It may be a child or it may be a spouse…

7. What response do you want?

If you get aggravated with me, then my immediate reaction is to become aggravated with you.  Your aggravation doesn’t motivate me.  It doesn’t make me love you more.  It doesn’t make me move faster.  Perhaps you don’t even know you’re displaying aggravation… Well wake up and become aware.  Nit-picking, bickering, insults….they are not attractive!  And no one likes to be around a couple who nag on each other…  It truly will ruin your social life!

7.  Start Journaling

My biggest help to dealing with frustration and aggravation is to take it to paper with a pen.  I’ve been journaling since I was 11 years old.  When it goes down on paper, somehow it helps me to deal with the emotions I’m struggling to control.  (And yes…my journaling is now translating into blogging!)

8.  Learning to Laugh

I laughed today when the 10th text came in.  I thought, if this pastor knew how his system of sending out tweets failed, I’m sure he’d be scratching his head…struggling with frustration I’m sure!  So try to laugh… It’s much more fun to smile than frown.  Feels better to be happy than angry…

Broken Hearts & Growing Stronger

My pastor told me awhile back that I had a ministry with broken women.

Huh?

Yes.  A Ministry.

But I’m broken…

That’s the kind God likes to use…

Okay…I’m in.  I have a ministry with broken women…

When you’re called to minister to the homeless, you go to a homeless shelter.  When you’re called to be a missionary to Mexico, you go to….Mexico.  But minister to broken women?  Where would I go?

Well I didn’t have to go very far.  All of my very close friends are broken, too.  (They would be the first to admit that.)

When I was in College, I used to go white water rafting on the Rogue River in Medford Oregon.  I remember the first time I went.  I was in the raft with my high school friend Cindy.  It was a pretty terrifying trip.  Every turn was something different.  We didn’t have a guide.  We didn’t have a map.  We just headed out and practically screamed the entire way.  Here’s the thing, the second trip wasn’t scary at all.  I pretty much knew where the twists and turns were.  I knew where the big rocks were.  That second trip, and every one after that, was a much better experience.

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You know where I’m going, yes?  When you’ve been down that river…

Being broken isn’t all that bad.  It’s the breaking process that is horrible.

A little over 2 years ago I started going to Crossfit.  I could barely lift a barbell (with no weights) I couldn’t run to the end of the driveway.  I couldn’t do a single sit-up.  My coach sat on my feet, and even then it was a huge struggle to squeeze out one.  I remember vividly getting that one sit-up done, and laying back down exhausted…spent.

Last week my coach was pushing me to do something really hard.  I looked over at her  and whined….almost crying…I hate this!  It’s HARD!!!  She sweetly smiled at me…and said…”Keep going.  This is making you stronger!”  I felt like throwing up.  I wanted to quit.  But she stood there…talking me through the last few minutes of the workout.  “Keep going…you can do this…you got this!”IMG_4518

Here’s the really cool thing.  It is making me stronger.  I can now lift a barbell easily.  (Okay…I’ll brag…I can lift 270 pounds now.)  100 sit-ups doesn’t scare me.  Everything she has put me through, from every squat, burpee, dead lift… to a weighted sit-up, it’s all designed to make me stronger…make me fitter.

Being broken is a lot like that. When we go through a season of breaking, a time of trials, challenges, and disappointments, we have an opportunity to either fail, quit or become stronger.  Being broken helps us build the muscles of our faith.  It can give us the caliber of strength we’ll need for what lies just around the corner.

When you’re in the middle of being broken, it’s hard to look up and see that you’re strengthening your muscle, so that you can lift more next time.  Or handle something far more devastating…  It all just hurts.

I’m here to tell you….you can do this.  I know it’s hard.  But this will strengthen you so that the next time something harder comes along…you’ll be able to get through it.

I wish there was an easier way to get stronger.  But the only way to get stronger is to lift heavy things.

What’s your heavy thing you’re lifting?

Here are some of the latest broken hearts I’ve witnessed from some of my friends and family:  Ovarian cancer that has spread throughout the body.  A husband who yells and screams at his wife as a response to his stress.  A spouse who’s been unfaithful.  A parent’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s.  A husband’s death due to suicide.  A child’s diagnosis of Muscular Dystrophy.

Proverbs 3:5-6   Trust God from the bottom of your heart;

    don’t try to figure out everything on your own.

Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;

    he’s the one who will keep you on track.

So now that I’m facing another custody challenge with another child, I’ve learned to put my trust in God.  My own strength is nothing in comparison to it being in the hands of my heavenly father.  Someone last week said, “You don’t seem to be too rattled over all this drama.  I guess you’ve been to this rodeo before…”

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My Crossfit Coach Heidi wearing the head band I designed.

Yes.  I’ve been to the rodeo.  I’ve already been down this river.  In reality, my muscles are much stronger.  I have a coach standing over me saying…”Keep going….you cans do this.  YOU GOT THIS!”

Books that have helped me:

Eating Frogs and Procrastination

Hello, my name is Merrily and I’m a procrastinator.  (View my post on procrastination here.)

“Eat a live frog every morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” —Mark Twain

I’m starting off with #1 in the above book One Bite at a Time.  The basic idea is that if you do the worst thing on your plate first thing in the morning, the rest of the day is a cake walk. So if your least favorite chore is doing the dishes, and it’s one of the items on your to-do list for the day, then tackle it first.

I hate having a messy kitchen.  When my kitchen is clean, I’m happy.  So you’d think my kitchen would be clean all the time…since it brings me such happiness.

But here’s how my kitchen looks right at this moment and a majority of the time:

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Not only do I have clean dishes piled up on the right of the sink….by I have pots and pans waiting to be hand washed.

I love having a clean kitchen, but I hate doing the dishes.  Why?  I don’t know.  You’d think since it brings such joy to walk in and smell and see clean things…I’d be in there constantly..  But I’m not.  Now, I’ll give myself a little break.  I work full time.  I have a husband who works full time.  In my household:  29 year old step son currently knee deep in the middle of chemo for lymphoma, my 10 year old daughter with a learning disability (short term memory deficiency) and  my 2 1/2 year old grandson.  So there’s 5 of us.  One is very ill.  One is needing a ton of help with homework every day.  And one is 2 years old.  So I usually get my kitchen spotless every other day, but it only lasts about 2 hours…or the next meal…before it looks like the above.

I do get my daughter to help with the dishes, but many times she is helping with the 2 year old.  Or doing homework.  But I procrastinate on the dishes.  And the silly thing is…it’s only takes me about 15-20 minutes to actually clean the kitchen…so what’s my deal?

So this week…my frog is cleaning the kitchen.  First thing.  Before I start any other chore or work duty.  I’m going to see how that goes this week.

Are you wondering how last week went?  I got up at 5:30 am every morning.  I got dressed.  I drank my coffee…read in my devotional. Enjoyed a wonderful hour with my daughter before walking out to the bus stop to visit with the other moms.  (Something I love doing!)  The thought of waking up so early terrified me.  But in reality, it was wonderful!!!  Yes, I’m a little more tired at night…  But what am I missing?  I don’t watch television when I crawl into bed.  I go to sleep.  Hmm….not a real loss there.  And I’m getting to spend more time in the morning, getting things done!  I feel so prepared for the day.  I’m in for another week.  And this week’s frog will be cleaning up the kitchen as soon as I get in from the bus stop!

Oh…and by the way….I finished with this blog post…and cleaned my kitchen. (TOOK 20 MINUTES!) Here’s what it should look like…and yes, it makes me HAPPY!

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What’s your frog?

New School Year Brings New Habits: Simplify = Happiness

First day of school at the bus stop

First day of school at the bus stop

I ran into one of my neighborhood moms last week at the grocery store.  She expressed what I think we all are feeling right now.  Great excitement for the kids to start back to school.  For our neighborhood, that day is today.

My friend was complaining about how much weight she had gained over the summer.  Vacations and travel had ruined her diet.  Sleep habits were completely ruined.  Her house was a wreck.  As she walked away, she said something that rang through my head all weekend…”Monday I’m going to start something!”

I kept thinking….what is that something?  How do you start “something” unless you really know what it is… (My old mantra:  You can’t shoot a target you can’t see!)

So over the weekend I decided to write down on paper the easy things that school forces my family back into.

1.  Go to bed at 8:30 each night.

That was it.  Sleep habits will return to normal.  I really couldn’t think of what else school forces us back into.

So I decided to write a list of things I wanted to change.  The list was long.  Too long to start in just one day.  That would be complete culture shock for me and my family. But the first and most significant was getting up 30 minutes before the kid(s) so that I could enjoy my coffee and have quiet time.  That means getting up at 5:30 am.  In the 27 years that I’ve been raising kids, I’ve never done that.  Am I crazy?  Could I keep that up? The encouraging thing is….I’ve never worked out like I have been the last 2 years…so maybe this can be another major change in my life.  But today I got out of bed at 5:30 am.

Here’s some habits that I’ve maintained over the summer and will continue into the new school year.

1.  Workout 4-5 days per week.(Crossfit925)
2.  Eat Whole30 (I’m on day 25) (Whole30.com & It starts with Food.) (I’m blogging about my health journey  @ MerrilyBrown.com.)

I got a little overwhelmed when I started writing out my list of everything I wanted to change, improve or renew.  So overwhelmed I almost deleted this blog post.

Luckily I came across these tips from author Leo Babauta from his e-book 52 Changes.

1.  One Change at a Time. Just one. Don’t make several at once, because then they’ll all fail.

2. Small Changes Only. Don’t try to run 30 minutes if you haven’t been running. Just do 2 minutes. Small changes are more likely to stick.

3. Enjoy the Change. If you don’t enjoy it, it’s not worth doing. And it won’t stick anyway.

4. Iterate. If a change fails, figure out why, and improve the method. Or pick another change.

5. Pick a trigger. A trigger is something already ingrained in your routine that you use to anchor a new change. For example, go for a walk (the new habit) right after drinking coffee in the morning (the trigger).

I’m starting this week out with getting up earlier.  And I succeeded on day one.  I’m pretty excited!

Next week I’m going to start using the suggestions in One Bite at a Time: 52 Projects for Making Life Simpler.  I’ll be blogging about my progress.

Who wants to join me?  Will you get up 30 minutes prior to the kiddos?  (Or let me know if you already do this and how it’s helped!)

Have a great first day of school!