Step in Love – Don’t be a statistic

I hate statistics. I hated taking the class in university and I don’t really like being one either. Did you know that 50% of statistics are made up?

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Even though stepfamilies are more common than “traditional” or nuclear families, it’s still not an easy road to navigate. There are a lot of analogies use to describe stepfamilies. We talk about throwing a bunch of ingredients into a food processor and blending them all together until they become one. We also hear about stepfamilies being like “slow-cookers”. It takes time for all the flavors to blend together and create something palatable.

I likfood-and-drinks-mixer-and-blender-842233e those analogies mainly because they involve food, but they don’t really work for my family. I don’t like the blender analogy because it suggests that we lose our individuality in order to become a unit. I prefer the idea of a mosaic.  No one loses themselves in the new family. Rather, each person’s uniqueness is left intact to create a beautiful one-of-a-kind picture. Let’s be real, combining two sets of traditions, rules and values can be very difficult and unrealistic at times. Someone will always feel as though they are losing out. Plus, the whole blender analogy is kind of gross when it involves humans.

I believe the answer lies in the name itself. We are called stepfamilies after all. In most cases, blended families begin the relationship out-of-step with each other. We inadvertently step on each other’s toes. Those times when It feels like when we’ve finally made progress and have taken one step forward, something blows up and we realize we’ve actually taken two steps back.

It all comes down to walking or stepping together through life. We need to take one step at a time and enjoy the journey together. Being a step-parent is probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do. Not because I don’t love my step-daughter, but because these situations aren’t exactly ideal. They usually arise from a sense of loss (divorce, death, abandonment). I find myself second-guessing decisions a lot, over-analysing things and trying to control every detail instead of letting things evolve organically.

“…and walk in the way of love,  just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us” Ephesians 5:2

“Walk (or keep in step) in the spirit and you will not carry out your selfish desires.” Galatians 5:16

Those stats at the beginning of the post actually represent my family situation. If we don’t want to become a statistic, we have to take steps to make things work.The environment of my home will be set based on the actions  I choose to make on a daily basis. When I get out of bed each day, I’m faced with choices. I can choose to yell and criticize or I can choose to listen and embrace my family members with love and humor.

One last idiom. If we can step into each other’s shoes, we might just have a different perspective on our situation. To me, this is “Stepping in Love”.

Step in Love – What’s my role anyway?

c20b48b28d4a456527e076df80bc4d20I’m a mild Tiger-Mom who happens to be from the Caribbean so my kids have to deal with high expectations. Sorry, it’s in my blood. Actually, I’m not sorry at all. I expect them to aim for high grades, work hard at activities that they choose and never live with a sense of entitlement. I have a hard time lowering my expectations…except when it comes to myself. (More on that in another post)

I grew up in this type of environment, so it’s all I know. My bio-daughter is used to it as well. She is the classic overachiever and seems to thrive when she is challenged. My stepdaughter is also brilliant, insanely athletic and very creative but being pushed doesn’t motivate her. It actually stifles her. She needs more nurturing. I realized when she came to live with us, I had taken on the role of “Governess”. For those of you who don’t know what this means, think back to The Sound of Music and the oldest daughter, Liesl repeatedly saying “I don’t need a governess!” A governess is an educated woman who teaches children in a private household. I helped my stepdaughter skip a grade and end the year with A’s and B’s. I’ve  taught her how to do a back walk-over. I thought I was giving her the things she wanted and needed but the connection never seemed to deepen.

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My stepdaughter’s favorite scene from the Sound of Music – ENJOY!

It would have been easy to focus on everything I was doing for her and blame her for this lack of connection, but I knew I was the problem. Just as Liesl never embraced Maria until she became ‘Mother’, my stepdaughter would never really connect until I moved away from the governing/ruling role into the mothering/nurturing role. She was setting the pace and I needed to follow. Our disconnect came from a place of her not feeling like I loved her the same way as her sister, my “real” daughter.

I still teach her things and push her to get good grades, but I also hug her more, laugh with her more and be a mother to her, because that’s what she needs and that’s the role I am privileged to play in her life.

Photo Credit –  Pinterest

Step in Love – Stop trying to blend in

CanUSLoveI grew up in Canada – a country known as a cultural mosaic. We bring the diverse aspects of our individual culture, tradition, heritage and language and co-exist together.  Now I live in the USA which is a melting pot, rather than a mosaic. The aim here is to assimilate people into the American culture. I can see the merit in both perspectives. Let’s just leave it at that.

When it comes to my family, however, I come out strongly on the side of mosaics rather than blends. Here’s why. When you attempt to blend the new family together, aspects of the individual gets lost in the whole.  A  mosaic, on the other hand, is made up of fragmented pieces of material, such as glass, tile, stone, pebbles, that are placed on a bed of cement to form a picture or design. On their own, each piece is unremarkable, but together they make a beautiful picture. You might need to squint to see it, but it is still there and intact.

As I’ve said in other posts, stepfamilies are usually precipitated by some kind of loss. These are the broken pieces of the mosaic. We are “broken” because of failed relationships, abandonment or even death. This is not to say that people in these families are flawed, but in many cases, they have experienced a painful event that has led them to where they are now.

When people see the inner-workings of any family up-close, things can look messy. We lose our tempers, yell and take each other for granted. If you take a step back, however, you will see a beautiful picture emerge. Sometimes it all depends on your perspective. Even though a loss had to occur, the new family is formed out of love. This is the cement that holds all the pieces together in the mosaic.

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I remember a time when I had to fly internationally with the kids without my husband. It was early on in our marriage and I was still adjusting to being a stepmother as well as the mother to a newborn. Thankfully it was a short flight from Bermuda to New York. As I was getting off the plane, a woman approached me and said “You have a wonderful way with your children. You’re an amazing mother.” I cried when I heard those words. They seemed so implausible to me. Looking back, I don’t see why I was so nervous. Both of the girls were amazing on that trip. I created a lot of undue stress at that point in my life because I didn’t know how to handle the self-imposed expectations of being a stepmother. Sure, other people can place expectations on you, but it’s the ones you place on yourself that are often the hardest to live up to.

Up to this point, all I could see was the brokenness, frustration, and confusion. This stranger allowed me to see our family through her perspective. Here we were, a family of four adjusting to our reality. Far from perfect, but established in love. Our picture is still being created. I hear that artwork grows in value over time. I believe it.

Step in Love – Top 10 Stepmother Realities

Since the beginning of time, stepmothers have had a bad rap. We’re not trying to poison our stepchildren with apples, or send them off into the woods to starve, or stand in the way of them finding true love. I’m kind of sick of all this bad press, so I’m here to set the record straight about stepmothering. I give you my Top Ten Stepmothering Realities.

1. You love your own children differently than your stepchildren

This is the elephant in the room, so let’s start with it. This is a natural feeling. The biological bond between a mother and a child is among the strongest. What we need to remember is that love is not a feeling. Love is something you need to put into action every day. We choose to love. We choose to nurture. John 15:13 says that Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for your friends”. Replace the word friends with stepchild and you will see the miraculous happen. Your love (agape) for your stepchild will become just as great as your love for your own child.

2. Even though you feel alone, you’re not alone

1300 new stepfamilies are formed every day. Don’t let anything stop you from reaching out to other people who can help you. There are times when you need to get help from a professional, such as a counselor, but other times, all you need is someone who will listen without judgment.

3. “Wicked” has two meanings

There are times when we feel “wicked awesome” and other times when we feel like “evil personified”. Of course, we aim for the first one but don’t beat yourself up if “Mrs. Hyde” rears her head occasionally. In my personal experience, this happens when something else is out of balance. Be honest with yourself about the way you’re feeling and try to work things out. Remember, Mr. Hyde eventually poisoned Dr. Jekyl…

4. You went into this with your eyes open

We might have started out wearing rose-colored glasses, envisioning the sweetness of the Brady Bunch but reality set in and things aren’t always so rosy. It might be tempting to shift blame, badmouth the ex, or lose your temper with an unruly child, but remember you chose this path. That said, each family is unique with their own dynamic and challenges, give yourself time for everyone to adjust. Embrace your choice as one of the best decisions you’ve ever made.

5. There will always be another woman in your husband’s life

…who happens to be the mother of his children. She’s not going anywhere, so suck it up and get over it.

6. Marriage is a lot of work. Remarriage is even harder 

This is especially true for the children who have been displaced. Not only do they miss their home, friends, family members and pets they have to adjust to a whole new set of rules and traditions. It’s also harder for the couple. The odds of breaking up increase with each marriage. Don’t become a statistic.

7. Your stepchild might not want your marriage to succeed

In fact, they may even fantasize about their parents reuniting. This is especially heartbreaking because it is totally understandable. Kids don’t often understand why their parents broke up in the first place. As the stepmother, you are the one who is standing in the way of this reunion. Expect a lot of anger aimed directly at you but just don’t take it personally. Again, this is one of those simple, but not easy feats to achieve.

8. If you want your marriage to succeed, you need to fight for it

Love each other. Respect each other. Communicate constantly. Laugh a lot. Play together. Get frisky often. These strategies are all simple, but they’re not always easy when the stress of daily life comes at you. Make a conscious effort to commit to these behaviors on a consistent basis. Don’t expect them to just happen.

9. Life sometimes feels like a rollercoaster ride

A lack of clear expectations, ambivalent emotions, and feelings of alienation can make you feel like you’re going crazy. One day you and your stepchild adore each other, the next day you’re mortal enemies. This is normal and given time, the ride becomes less bumpy. Remember, you can stay on the ride or you can get off at the next turn. The choice is yours.

10. You can do this

You are stronger than you think you. You are more equipped than you believe yourself to be. Enjoy each day for what it is – a new opportunity to love each other and grow together as a family.

This can be your reality.

Photo Credit – Photobucket