Archive for April, 2011

Peace, altered photo, Jenny Frech 2011

Yesterday I began writing about being a stepmom because it can be a lonely new world to navigate. I’m not looking for sympathy or revenge. I just want to share my story because it might help someone else.

In my town, I am friends with exactly zero stepmoms. In my whole life I’ve known four.  I have no role models, and obviously regular old mom advice doesn’t apply here, because I’m a regular old mom too.

Much of the advice online is from women negative and angry about their divorces.  They use the platform to spew venom. Ick. Other advice is for women without kids of their own; women that can get out of the house in the evening for kickboxing and manicures.  Not helpful.

Negativity rarely fixes a situation. I am looking for hope.

I am the grown up in these awkward step relationships.  I am the one that can change; so that’s where I start.

Yesterday, I shared my story of the moment I was knocked down and faced with expectations I didn’t even realize I had.  I had too many expectations, but not of the kids.   I don’t expect them to love or even like me. I do expect that they help out a little around the house, and they exceed those expectations beautifully.  They vacuum the yellow room, help with dishes, and do their laundry.  But I draw the line at going all evil Cinderella stepmother on them.  There is no chimney sweeping around here.

Nope, it was the expectations of myself. I had envisioned myself being able to cook all of the meals, keep everyone organized, assign chores, and run kids around town and have nice bonding conversations. I thought that I would always be fair and diplomatic, and that I would relate to my stepkids pretty well. I expected myself to help my husband with much of the childcare. I thought I would be able to jump in and discipline like I do at school. It was frustrating because the harder I tried, the more control I lost.

I was trying to control too much of the situation, which is kind of like trying to hold on to Jello.

I’m starting back at ground level, this time wiping the slate clean of expectations of being the superwoman figure in my house. I do have to be a mother.  My  biological daughter lives with me. I cannot step back completely because I do have a legitimate “mom” role to fulfill.

By clearing away expectations there is more room for everyone to be themselves.

Hopefully I’m leaving enough space for everyone to mourn their losses, but I’ll stay in view in case I’m needed or wanted. I am here, but I’ll let them come to me on their own terms.

I’m not angry. Confused, yes. Confuddled, yes. Frustrated, yep. Uncomfortable, sure thing.

But I can also say yes to strong, hopeful, consistent, loving, proud, and sometimes even a blubbering fool.

I am thankful for the opportunity for personal growth. I’ve always secretly wanted to be a more graceful person. The kind of person that is always welcoming even if they’re busy; has a smile, even if you’re rude; and is truly grateful to see you, even if you’re ambivalent.

I’ve been told never to pray for patience because you’ll have it tested.

Here’s a tip, don’t pray for grace either.

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Altered photo by Jenny Frech 2011

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

That’s how I feel about my remarriage lately.  Being a step mom is hard.  It is THE most difficult challenge that I have ever faced.  And that includes my year of transition to teaching at a school full of negativity in which teachers were quitting mid-day.  At times it’s even more difficult than my divorce.

Before anyone goes running to Jeremy to tell him that these are sometimes the worst of times, don’t bother, he knows.  He feels the same way.

Trying to blend together two families of preteens and a teenager can be tricky.  All of the kids are in different places of healing after the divorce.  All of the kids have different personalities and coping mechanisms.  They all have conflicting loyalties,  and ways of looking at and moving in the world.  All of us have different expectations of what our lives should look like, and what our time  together in the household will be.

I came into this family with no expectations of forming mother-child bonds.  They have a mother, they don’t need me to fill that role.  I have a daughter, I don’t need them to fill that role.  As a teacher, I work with kids about their age every day.  I love my students without being their mom, and the students love me too, in a respected adult kind of way.

That’s how I envisioned my relationship with my step kids.

It has been so much more difficult.

Over spring break, the first real day in fact, two of the kids told their dad that they hated me.

I fell apart, utterly and completely, wailing-on-the-bathroom-floor-apart.

But deep down I knew it already.

The honeymoon of our new family was over, and the shiny newness of dad’s wife had worn off.  The complaints about my choice of foods had been increasing, as had the ignoring and avoidance of me.

I know I shouldn’t take it personally.

I know it’s not about me.  It’s not about my cooking.  It’s not about the color I painted their rooms.  It’s not that my daughter is here too and gets special treatment.

It’s about what I represent to them.

I could be Mary Poppins, or Nanny McPhee, or the pretty girl their dad marries at the end of the movie.  It doesn’t matter.

It’s about the empty place in their home that I fill with a puzzle piece from an entirely different puzzle.

It’s that mom and dad will never be back together.  It’s that they don’t like that I do things differently from their mom, but if I did them the same, then I would be trying to take her place.

It’s a no win scenario.  I’m the easiest target of their hurt, grief, and confusion. They cannot be mad at mom or dad.

It has nothing to do with me.

They can’t love me right now.  They would be disloyal to mom if they loved me.

It has nothing to do with me.

I’ve stepped back.  Instead I’ve let dad take over the running of the chores.

Jeremy does all of the cooking, most of the running around, and all of the tucking in at night.

I have nothing to do with his kid management, just the management of my own child (which is a biomom stepmom balancing act in itself.)

I’ve stepped back.

But, I am here for the kids.

They can absolutely count on me.

When I realized what they were struggling with, my heart began to break for them.  But I’ve stepped back.  I won’t push.  I won’t tell them what to eat.  I won’t tell them to clean the bathroom.  But I’m here.

I’m not going anywhere.

I’m here because I’m growing, learning, and falling deeper in love with my husband, my best friend, every day.

Our relationship grows through the messiness of our blended family.  Sometimes we are stretched so thin, it feels like we might break.

He listens,  we talk, and we both get grayer and grayer as we face these new challenges.

I’m here because I’ve committed myself to be my husband’s helpmate.  He loves his children deeply, so I am here.

It may be the worst of times.

But I’m not going anywhere because it’s also the best of times.

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Our kids love a good joke.  In fact, they will take a mildly funny situation, and remember it like it was funniest event ever.

Like the time when I was visiting Jeremy’s house for dinner while we were just dating.  An onion fell into my Diet Coke while passing the plate of condiments.  Hilarious, I know.  Right?  Nah, but the kids love that story.  It cracks them up every time they remember it.

This morning, before leaving for school, I steeled myself for April Fools jokes from my students.  I promised that I would not believe any stories that my students told me.  Not a one.

During a fire drill today (no foolin’, the chem teacher had a minor mishap) my friend told me that she went to the doctor and she didn’t have the stomach flu after all.  I totally bought it.  All of the possible scenarios shot through my head.  Why is she telling me so early?  Will she be back to school next year?  How will they get through next year as her hubby finishes school.

“Are you nervous?” I asked.

“Gotcha!” she said.

I shook her and laughed hysterically.  I didn’t think that I would have to watch out for my friends.

Yesterday, my carpool buddy, Marissa, and I decided to try to pull one over on our other carpool buddy, Brad.  Brad was playing hooky the day before spring break to go to opening day at Wrigley Field.  We tried to tell him that there was a mandatory staff meeting on Friday and they were holding our checks until we went to the important meeting.  I cracked and laughed.  Brad didn’t buy it, “Yeah, so there won’t be any direct deposit, and I won’t be able to afford to go to Chicago.  Ha ha.”

I have one class of Freshman Biology.

The kids are goofy, funny, good natured, but uptight about their grades.  Yesterday they had a midterm.  This afternoon I gave them a fake lab with familiar, but very difficult material, that was to replace their midterm grade.  The directions directed them to read ALL directions before beginning.  They also stated that if they made one mistake they would fail.

There were gasps, dropped jaws, and lots of questions and pleading.

The last question on the lab stated, “Please explain the biological reasoning behind why Edward from Twilight glitters in the sun.  Then write today’s date on the front of the paper and realize that you’ve been fooled.  Please do not laugh or let other suspect.”

The students were stoic.  I thought they were mad.  Finally, one student, who is very good natured, was in a panic about her work.

“Aren’t you going to show us how to do this?  This is hard!”

The rest of the class busted a gut.

They are better than me at keeping a secret (and reading directions).

When I got home today, Jeremy and I pulled a joke on the kids. We needed something that would affect all of them, without being too mean.

I made a fake letter from the camp they attend each summer, describing that the camp had been seized by the government for back taxes, but stating that the camp would go on, just in a different location – an awful one.  Their favorite camp has two beaches, canoeing, miles of trails, nice cabins, and lots of nature.  (See the letter below)

Two of the girls couldn’t believe it.  They had to read the letter themselves.

Ellie looking on the bright side said, “well, the boy in the blow up pool does look like he’s having fun.”

After examining the evidence, the first two girls decided to skip camp this year.

The third girl thought that it would be fun to camp in tents on an old Walmart parking lot.  She still wanted to go.

Finally, Jeremy said, “We have to decide whether or not you want to sign up.  Registration ends April 1st. You would be a fool to want to go to camp this year.”

They caught on, and after the shock was over, they were in on the fun.  Now, how to fool big brother?

The name of the camp has been changed to protect the innocent. This is totally fake.

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