When your Step-Parenting has lost the Sparkle in its’ Step

I am a single mother of three. Soon I will be married to the man of my absolute most wonderful fairy-tale dreams, and with him come two beautiful young children who fit in age right between my own. People have joked that we are the Brady Bunch, but that’s so far from the truth. The Brady Bunch is a chocolate syrup and sprinkles, whipped cream and cherry, psychedelic mind trip compared to what actually happens when two families begin to blend into one. It’s messy, loud, and scary. There are more tears than you can imagine, more fights than ever before, more second guessing and even more stress to be the perfect parent. Here’s a recap of my life just a few weeks ago.

Five kids under nine, eleven long hours a day without Dad, and little old me. It was the last few weeks before summer vacation ended and the kids were at their craziest and crankiest. The sun was still a blazing hot summer one, the kids were hot and antsy. Add to the mix our impromptu move across town (actually a MAJOR BLESSING, albeit the terrible timing) and as one might imagine, this Mommy’s mind was slowly melting down. There were times during those few weeks that I could feel my body going into panic mode; days when I thought I might have a legit panic attack; days which by 10 am I was asking myself, “Is it too early for a glass of wine? Or a whole bottle?” I texted my future Mr. (father of approx. 1/3 of the little monsters) probably every hour for two straight weeks, grumbling, whining, freaking out over the cell-phone waves, just to relieve a little of the pressure that was building up in my head. He graciously calmed me down during his few quick text breaks at work.

I am new to being a (future) Step-Mom, and I am admitting to the world, it is HARD.

It’s hard when your children are hateful to, or jealous of, your step-kids, when all you want is for them all to get along like birth siblings. (An unreasonable expectation if you think it’s gonna happen within the first year!)

It’s hard when your step-kids figure out your hesitance to punish them and use that to their own advantage, doing things their bio parent would NEVER tolerate. (If you’re anything like me, it is terribly difficult give consequences to my future husband’s kids because I want so badly for them to like me. I’m a weenie, I know. I am slowly getting better at the use of logical consequences for my step-kids, but it’s a slow process.)

It’s hard when you get caught in a…  KID: “My Mom lets me do this at home.”          STEP PARENT: “I am sorry, but that is not how we do things here.” …back and forth. And back and forth. And back and forth.

It’s hard when, after a long, hard day trying your best to be the best Mom you can be, someone says, “I want my Moooooom,” or “I want my Daaaad.” And you think that you will never truly be Mom or Dad in their eyes, and rightfully so; they already have one.

I think it’s important to take a step back in all of  these moments. And I say this in hindsight–because while these things were happening to me, all I could think was, “Woe is me, this is hard, this is frustrating, this will NEVER WORK!” Today, looking back at those few weeks with a deep breath, I realize that all of those moments were NORMAL. They were the healthy growing pains of a new family being born into this world. Our step-family will meld and mesh little by little, week by week, tiny victory by tiny victory. This will slowly get better. And life will go on. And not only that, but while I was stressing and trying to process the crazy /difficult moments, I was too busy to really appreciate the moments of peace: the short stints of time when the oldest and youngest were playing nicely together and the moment that the strong-willed child in the mix decided to share her favorite toy with someone.

Being a parent is hard. Being a step parent is, in my opinion, harder. But the victories, sometimes so few and far between, deserve to be recognized and praised. It is a slow process, but like the Word says in Psalms, Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart…  It will get easier with time.

My blended family might never be a perfect one, but with patience and love (and deep breaths and wine!) we will someday grow into a strong, healthy blended family.

Homeless, but still Human

I see a sagging back burdened with a duffel bag full  stuffed to the brim, dirty pants that are much too short, bare feet, a Rip Van Winkle beard. He stoops over the recycling can in the parking lot, digging out the plastic jugs and cans that will yield him 5 cents a piece–a pithy amount of change that most of us would take for granted.  My heart hurts. Is it mental illness? Addiction? Bad choices or just bad luck? Abuse? Every homeless man and woman in this town has a story to tell.

The seven of us went out for take out pizza (another thing I take for granted) the other night. We ordered boneless chicken wings on a whim and didn’t end up liking them. Back at home, my better half noticed a man digging through our apartment complex trash can. He said he was going to offer the man our discarded chicken–I agreed. I felt the familiar pang of sadness in my heart and wondered what the man’s situation was, but I ignored the pang and went on with my night as usual. The next night while I was enjoying a hot shower (another thing I take for granted), my boyfriend came in and said to me: “That same man from the other night is rummaging through the trash. Do you mind if I bring him some crackers and V8? I know they say if you keep offering food to them they’ll keep coming back, but…” (This is a separate story in itself, borne of an experience we had in Portland at a restaurant.) I’m ashamed to admit I actually thought about it before saying “Yeah, of course. Go ahead.” After my boyfriend left the room I had a serious moment of self reflection and was horrified as I reminded myself, “He’s a man, not a stray dog. He’s a human being, flesh and blood, not a varmint we want to be rid of.”

When did I get to a place where I actually hesitated before offering a little bit of help to a fellow human being?

My boyfriend did bring crackers and V8 to the man, and what he learned was heart-breaking. The man had shared stories of his life as a vagrant. He shared how a few mall security guards had held his possessions from him and then spilled them all over ground while they mocked him. He shared the way it felt to be shied away from in public places because of his appearance. He shared the loneliness of not having a place to call his own, the feeling of settling down under a bush at night to have a go at some sleep. He admitted to drinking alcohol, but honestly, who am I to judge? Am I somehow “better” because I can afford my habitual alcohol binges? And in all honesty, if I was homeless with little hope of help and no where to turn, who knows, I might be boozing it up too.

There may be dangers and risks to helping others. Some of us become jaded when we offer food to a transient only to have it rejected. Some of us stop giving because of that one time we saw a homeless person buying alcohol with donated money. Some of us refuse to give because we are scared for our own personal safety. I don’t advocate putting ourselves in danger. I don’t advocate perpetuating addiction. What I do advocate is having respect for our fellow humans. I advocate giving what we can (time, prayers, a kind word, a nod and a smile, material goods or money if we are able) when we can. We have SO MUCH.

Some simple ideas: Fill gallon ziplock bags (or better yet, dollar shopping totes) with non-perishables (crackers, juice, granola bars, apple sauce) and travel size toiletries and first aid items (ointment, band-aids, deodorant, tooth brush/paste, gum), and keep them in your car for whenever you see someone who looks like they could use a bit of help. (What’s the worst they can do–toss it? You’ll be out a few bucks. Big deal.) Hand out blankets when it’s cold at night. Join a local homeless outreach group. Donate money or time to an organization that helps people get back on their feet. Plant a row or two of extra veggies in your garden to donate to a food bank. Keep water bottles and snacks in your car to quickly hand to roadside vagrants.

We haven’t seen the man again, but I am so grateful that his presence reminded me to get my selfish head out of my butt.

Step Parenting in Three Simple Steps

Dirt in the sink. Sand in his eye. A pinecone in her face. Yogurt spilled into the freshly prepped dinner. Swan dive off the top bunk. Doggy pile gone wrong. A slap to his face. A shove to her side. “It’s alllll YOUR fault!” A bucket of facial hair dumped on his head. (Don’t ask.) A pile of freshly mowed grass thrown on hers. “Don’t step on my PILLLLOOOOWWWW!!!!” Two tequila sunrises (For me, not them!). And all this before the day was half over.

Adulting is hard. Parenting is harder. Step Parenting? Off the charts. Like, 38 hour labor with no epidural coupled with explosive diarrhea and projectile vomit (Yep, both ends) HARD.

When my live in boyfriend (now fiance!) informed me that he would have his kids (whom we get to have over 3 nights a week) with him during the summer for two straight weeks, I was excited. The fact that I would be watching them single-handedly, along with taking care of my own three kids, while my boyfriend worked during the week, was minor. “I’ve got this,” I bragged to myself. “They are gonna be rock stars for me.” Never mind the fact that I’ve probably only had them alone maybe a handful of hours during our relationship.We spend lots of time together, of course. But Dad’s always there. He’s tough and strict, and I’m, well…not. I know they like me. But do they respect me? Will they listen to me and obey me? These are not questions I asked myself.

I should have.

As luck would have it, the first day I was to watch them alone started directly after we returned from the worst. family. vacation. EVER. Their Dad had planned an amazing weekend in Portland, complete with a stay at Embassy Suites, dinner out, swimming, FUN, a trip to OMSI, the Lego store, and lots of FUN, some FUN, and even more and more FUN. The vacation was to end with a trip to the jeweler to pick up my newly sized engagement rings. And then we would frolic off into a field of daises like the Brady Bunch. Well, as luck would have it, the kids decided to be urchins at the hotel, gremlins for dinner, and hellions at the mall. We ended up driving home in the morning, stressed and exhausted, no swimming, no Lego store, no OMSI, no fun. We got the rings, but I think on the way home we were both actually wondered (for a split second), do we REALLY want to do this?

The answer, of course, is YES, we absolutely do. But there’s no question, every day’s not gonna be like an episode of Full House. The issues have only just begun. Parenting Styles (He’s strict, I’m much too lenient.) and Sibling Dynamics (We’ve both got an “oldest” and an “youngest” who have their positions usurped every time we combine households.) are two of our main struggles, and there a million other things that pop up daily.

The advice I hear echoes: “Be consistent.” “Present a unified front.” “Make sure they know the rules.” “No playing favorites.”

Back to that first day I watched the kids on my own: I know I walked into it blind, and it didn’t go so well. But I also know it’s just the beginning. It’s going to take time, maybe even years, to build the bond I desire to have with my (future) step kids. In fact, according to a Focus on the Family article, (Find it here) realistically it will take anywhere from TWO to SEVEN years for a step family to truly integrate into what feels like a real family. Yikes.

I read a verse the other day that I found comfort in:An inheritance gained hurriedly at the

The verse tells me that a good inheritance cannot be rushed. Blending a family to make a beautiful whole from two halves can definitely be a beautiful thing, a good inheritance, but it will take time. Patience. Prayer. If you’re emotional like me, it will take some tears. Mistakes. Re-takes. Hugs. And more time. 

Oh yeah, as for my title, Step Parenting in Three Simple Steps…I don’t know what those steps are currently. I don’t have all–okay I don’t have any–of the answers yet. But I know the key lies in LOVE. I’m going to love the crap out of my kids, my fiance, my future step kids, and my God, and I’m going to try, and try, and try some more. I’ll take all the advice I can get, I’ll implement what works for my family, I’ll have success and victories, and I’ll also make mistakes and fail. I’ll wipe off the tears and I’ll pray, go to bed, wake up, and try again. Because that’s what love–love for my family and my future step family–does.