Connections in Chaos

The end of last week was a little dicey…

Shortly after 4pm on Friday, we had our first “the call” from SD3’s preschool. The call was to let us know she broke her arm, and we needed to come pick her up.

WHAT?!

I could write a play-by-play of that evening… how sick we all felt… how her little broken arm felt in my palm… how disruptive SD5 was, making a scene because her Friday night plans had to be cancelled… how brave SD3 was, barely crying all night…

But instead, I want to write about how this event brought our blended family together. How my husband and I spent all evening Friday with BM and they didn’t argue. How Saturday, she actually asked me to spend a couple of hours at her place watching the girls while she went to the store. How since Friday night, my husband, BM, and I have all been communicating so much better.

I dare to say it, but BM and I really did bond this weekend. At face value, we were friendly, we directly called and text each other, and we even spent about 45 minutes “just chatting” in-person on Saturday. SD5 even told me that she likes that me & Mommy are “friends now.” *Shudder* Is that what we are?! BM, without prompting, opened up to me about personal things, including her recently ended engagement. I’m not sure exactly why it happened, but I feel like BM really let her guard down these past 6 days. She even said to me, “I feel like we really got to bond over this [the broken arm fiasco],” and, “If we are all going to be in the girls lives forever, I think it’s important that we get along, and that the girls see us interact.”

Forever? So she actually sees me sticking around forever?? An interesting (and amazing) development.

The optimist in me is hopeful that this is a sign of good things to come. Although I know there will be continued ups and downs forever- as there are in all families- I’m optimistic this is a step in the right direction.

The realist in me knows that may not be the case. I know that I need to keep my guard up around BM, because one week of positive interactions does not erase the way she has acted the past several years. I am not naive, and know that history repeats itself, and her mood fluctuating like the tides is not going to end anytime soon. Her incessant need to control every aspect of everyone’s lives is still at her core, and will still be a weight on our shoulders forever.

Despite the realist in me, I really do feel like we are in a good place right now. It is sad that it often takes tragedy to bring people together, but I am happy I was able to see us all come together for the good of our kids… a task I never thought we would be able to accomplish.

So many “veteran stepmom’s” I follow write about how time is what it takes for blended families to figure things out… “It gets better with time!” I never thought I would have this bonding moment with my kids BM. I would read those posts, and think, “Yeah… that will never happen for us… we will always have a high-conflict situation.” Although this is just one small step in the right direction, I’m so glad we had it.

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Life Changes

I am a huge country music fan.

A few weeks ago, my husband surprised me with Thomas Rhett concert tickets! Which was a huge shock, not only because it was for no occasion, but also because he really doesn’t care for country music.

Anyway, we went to the concert last weekend and it was amazing. He had Walker Hayes and Dan + Shay opening, and they both were great! Especially Dan + Shay… they should be headlining their own tour, for sure!

I follow Thomas and also his wife, Lauren, on social media. They seem incredible. They are the same age as me (which btw, at the concert, he said “I was born in 1990… any other 27 year olds out there?!” and I screamed so loud I could have popped a blood vessel). Their love story is so touching. He puts her in basically every music video. Within the past year, they adopted a baby from Uganda, then found out they were expecting… so they ended up getting a 1 year old then having a new baby within a couple months of each other. Lauren works with a charity called 147 Million Orphans, a Christian ministry serving children effected by poverty in countries such as Uganda. Seriously, read this blog by Lauren about this ministry… absolutely incredible.

At the concert, Thomas sounded so personable, and so thankful for the opportunity he had to perform for us. He spoke about his kids and Lauren, even saying at one point, “My wife’s going to be so mad she’s missing this!” He changed the lyrics to Life Changes to incorporate the birth of their youngest daughter. Everything was so sweet… I had chills- and even tears– through most of the concert.

So why am I writing about a concert? Well honestly, I don’t know. I think it began with the fact that I’m still thinking about it, and still get chills. Additionally, I feel like I can relate to Thomas & Lauren. Thomas said that his life experienced more change in the last two years then he ever could have imagined… and I feel the same way! They got two kids at the same time, and so did I. They hit 27 and so did I (btw guys, we’re way closer to 30 than 20 now… just let that sink in). They faced challenges and growth at a rapid pace, and so did my husband and I.

We all could take a lesson from the Akins family. Their unapologetic displays of love for the Lord, as well as for each other. Their bravery as they share so much of their personal lives with the world, which I can only assume is in the spirit of being “real people” and role models. Their philanthropic hearts. This family is great.

What Stepmom’s want Bio-mom’s to Know.

If you’ve ever searched “Stepmom,” “Blended Family,” or any other related word or phrase, you’ve undoubtedly came across a list like this. Recently, I’ve felt drawn to write a list of my own, from my perspective.

Some things Stepmom’s want Bio-mom’s to know:

Trying to manipulate the kids in to “liking you better” or “feeling sorry for you” is going to backfire on you in the long run. When they’re older and can process things, they are going to realize that their Dad & I always encouraged their relationship with you, despite you always discouraging their relationship with us. They’re not going to care if you think their Dad & I started dating too soon after you split. They’re going to remember how each of us made them feel growing up, and they’re not going to turn against their Dad and I, since we have been a joint, stable, reliable unit in their lives since they were toddlers.

You do not need to repeatedly reference things that happened when you and my husband were together just to make me jealous. Trust me, I’m already jealous enough. While you’re still working through your feelings regarding your split, I’m still working through my feelings of resentment about all of the things you got with my husband that I will never get. All the firsts you got, the big wedding, the pregnancies… Also, the nice things you two had that him and I just haven’t got yet… the nice house, the nice top-of-the-line SUV, the new furniture, the big back yard… It’s tough. Please know I’m human too and I’m processing emotions just like you are.

You can take as long as you need to “get over” your failed marriage, but please cut out all of the petty stuff. The phone calls just to yell, “Why did you pack [SD3] three salty snacks today?!” … Directing us to buy blackout shades and put the girls to bed at 7:30pm… Criticizing everything we do with them, dress them in, etc… It’s exhausting, not to mention hypocritical since you aren’t doing any of the things you’re “telling” us to do. We have joint legal and shared, 50/50 custody. We get to parent however we want to on our time. You know they are well taken care of and safe with us… so please stop being petty.

Custody

I am not your enemy. When the girls talk about things they’ve done with you, I engage in the conversation and speak highly of you. When they say they miss you, I comfort them, and remind them it will only be 2-3 days before they see you again. On the flip side, when they cry and say they don’t want to leave our house, I tell them how much you miss them, and how excited you will be to see them. They actively talk about how they have “two mommies” and they love us both. They don’t remember the time before I was in the picture, so why bring it up? They will only have an issue with their blended living situation if we create one.

You will find someone new. I know you’ve had many failed attempts at a new relationship since your marriage ended, and I’m sure it’s devastating. You will eventually find the right person, and that person is not going to want to see you acting super high-conflict with your children’s Dad & Stepmom. Men don’t process things the same way women do. Men won’t buy into your charade the same way women will… they will see the “crazy” and run for the hills. Maybe that’s what’s happened in your past few relationships? You being a supportive co-parent will ultimately help you find the perfect man for you, and the perfect Stepdad to our children.

In the end… I just want you to know that we’re not as different as you think. We both have big emotions and a lot to process. My best advice for you is to embrace your time with the girls and be fully 100% invested in them, but then embrace your time without them and be fully 100% invested in yourself. I think a little honest, soul-searching self-care will be great for you. Things don’t have to be this stressful forever.

Meant to Be

Maybe God was preparing me to help raise these girls all along.

No, he definitely was. I know that I was placed in their lives for a reason. But maybe, he was preparing me in ways I haven’t considered yet.

Growing up nomadic… living at different points with my grandma, great-grandma, great-aunt and third-cousins, uncle & aunt, cousins & their spouses, even friends for some college breaks… I’m used to being with a lot of people, but feeling alone.

That’s exactly what it feels like to be a stepmom, and know you’ll never have any other kids. Surrounded by people, but still oftentimes feeling very alone.

Now don’t get me wrong… I always had a room and a bed growing up, but never had a nuclear family. The many family members I knew had no relationship with each other, but all had relationships with me. I was the in-between. I was isolated. 

And I never had my mother as my partner in crime, or my father to be daddy’s little girl. It was always just me and whoever my legal guardian was at the time.

I went to college, and almost completely lost contact with my entire family. I worked to maintain relationships with everyone, but seldom had genuine reciprocation. I built tough skin. I built a confidence that I was all I needed. I built resilience that children lucky enough to grow up in a “happy home” could not even begin to fathom.

I used to wonder, “Why me?!” “Why is this my life?” “Why couldn’t I be raised ‘normally?'”

All this to say… I now feel confident this was all in preparation to be a stepmom-only. 

On the one hand, I am fit to support the girls as they transition from home to home. I will understand if they ever feel tossed around, or if they ever feel like the “in-between” to relay information. I will sympathize with them when they inevitably overhear “family drama” and feel like they’re stuck in between a rock and a hard place.

And on the other hand, I am used to being surrounded by many, but feeling all alone. I can embrace being an outsider. I can recognize that blended families are hard to navigate, and persevere, like I’ve always done. In my moments of solidarity, I can bask in the all too familiar feeling it brings, and know that although life isn’t perfect, it’s still an amazing life to live.

You never know how your life experiences are going to impact you in the long run, but it’s a great feeling when you catch a glimpse of reason.

Redirection

Hello, old friends! It’s been awhile since I sat down and put my thoughts into writing. A lot has happened since we last met. Our 2 year old turned 3, we went on a week long beach vacation, I had a birthday, and I got a promotion at work! On deck, the latest news is that SD4 starts Kindergarten in 10 days! (Yes, we eventually decided on a school district by making a deal with BM… tit for tat, you know. That’s another story for another post…)

Another update that has shifted our family dynamic is that a few weeks ago, BM got engaged to her boyfriend of 3 months. I can’t say I consider him a part of the parenting team yet, but he is very nice and I hope that he doesn’t regret his proposal after he spends more time emerged in what is often our chaotic dynamic…

Through this summer, the [mostly] ups and the [occasional] downs (more affectionately referred to as “baby-mama-drama”)… I’ve realized that my feelings have taken a shift. Things that would have rattled me months ago now seem petty and like a non-issue. I have progressed in my feelings of “family,” and have continued developing my parenting style and abilities in this blended family.

The question that is always on my mind now is this big philosophical, and perhaps biblical one: What exactly is my role as a woman if I am never going to bear a child?

It seems silly, right?! I have two amazing stepdaughters. There are thousands of women in the world who are unable to physically bear children for one reason or another, and who are not as lucky as I am to have two beautiful girls to love on and care for. So why complain, Ashley?! Why worry about it?

Despite the obvious reasons above that my never bearing children should be a non-issue, the topic is still regularly on my mind. I’ve become more sensitive to pregnancy announcements, and have become hyper-aware to the fact that most TV shows and songs on the radio are about parenting to some degree. I feel absolutely sick seeing any post from a man about their feelings towards their wife/baby-mama in the form of “She is so strong… what a miracle… watching her carry then deliver our child…” My stomach is immediately in knots over things like this.

But why? There has got to be a way I can feel like I’m truly “a woman” without bearing children. There must be a reason God made me a part-time “second-Mommy” instead of a full-time “one-and-only.” There has to be a way that I can look back on my life when I’m old and gray, and not feel like there’s a void in my life because I never had a child.

So what is it? Where do I go from here?

I’m happy… so, so happy. I love my husband and my girls, and I love my job. We have family goals and I have professional goals, all of which are realistic and attainable. Life is good. So why is this issue always on my mind?

That’s what I’m going to explore, and process through this blog moving forward. I’d imagine that the content of my posts moving forward will remain similar to what they have been in the past, but know that I am writing from this place of personal hardship. Of grieving a loss that I ultimately chose. Of learning how I can be a woman without being able to do the very thing that makes me one.

This is my journey, and I hope you continue to follow along on this wild, beautiful, mess of a life I’m living.

Friday Thoughts

Disclaimer: I just learned that you can make playlists on YouTube two days ago. Yeah, I’m nailing this whole “millennial” thing.

First, let me start by saying that I do not feel this way about any of my ex’s…

 

… but I hope that one of them feels this way about me! LOL. Like, don’t you hope you messed up [at least] one of your ex’s like this?! #Petty

Anyway y’all… this song tugs at my heartstrings!! I know Blake didn’t write it, so allegedly it’s not directly about Miranda or anything (yeah okay, Blake…), but man. The emotion in this performance!

#TeamBlakeAndMirandaForever

I’ll tell you what song does directly apply to me, in reference to my husband…

 

For real, though.

This weekend we’re celebrating Father’s Day celebrating my husband and my father-in-law and all they do for our family. I even bought myself my husband a Father’s Day gift… we’re getting family pictures made! I am thrilled.

We’re also 9 days away from leaving for the beach! I’m not sure what I’m most looking forward to… playing in the sand with the girls, shopping, or the look on my husbands face when he realizes I really could just lay by the pool for 12 hours a day.

This will be our first family vacation, as well as the girls first big beach trip ever. So we’re pretty much as stoked as can be!

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There I am…

Happy Friday, Friends!

Reasons to be Thankful.

I follow several different blended family blogs and social media accounts, one of my favorites being @stepmomquotes on Instagram. This page allows followers to direct message the admin questions, then the admin posts them for anyone to reply to.

As you can imagine, this page gets a little wild sometimes. But it has led me to realize that although our blended family is not yet a well oiled machine, we don’t have it as bad as others.

For example, BM has never once said anything negative about me to my husband, or to me directly. We see each other frequently, and our interactions are always neutral or positive. It seems like so many BM’s out there target their ex’s new significant other. Now don’t get me wrong, she was less than thrilled when I first made my entrance into the family, and she did have some expected words to say to my now-husband, but it was never anything off-the-wall.

Another example, anything high-conflict is always through email, texts, or calls (which we’re constantly trying to stray away from). And her “high-conflict” is never threatening, cursing, slandering, etc… her high-conflict is always just about her wanting to be in control of everything… she just wants the final say. Look, so what if she calls to pitch the exact same custody schedule that we pitched (and she denied) last month?! I don’t need the “credit” as long as time is continuously shared even. Do ya thang, baby-mama…

As far as we know, BM isn’t actively trying to turn the kids against us. This also seems to be a trend in the sites that I follow. I’m sure she tries to make herself seem more fun, likable, etc… but as far as we know, she isn’t downright telling the girls to dislike us, or saying negative things about us. SD4 is like a parrot, so I’m pretty sure we would know if BM was saying something crazy about us.

Last week, there was an article that went viral on social media about a family at Disney World (or Disney Land…?). There was a picture of the child, and then on either side stood her four parents, wearing shirts that said, “Mommy” “Daddy” “Stepmom” and “Stepdad.” I saw this post and “liked” it on Facebook, thinking “we could never be like this.” When my husband saw that I “liked” it, he sent me a screen shot of a text from BM that morning. She had sent him the article, and wrote, “I wish we could be like this.” I could not believe what I was reading… she actually wants things to be amicable! I was floored.

Again, we definitely do not have a perfect system. Our situation is a seemingly constant struggle for time- having shared physical custody- and a difference in parenting styles between the two households. We could have it so much worse. We are over two years into this, and the chaos has definitely minimized as the time has passed. I am looking forward to seeing how the conflict hopefully continues to minimize.

When things get tough, I remind myself of these facts. I remind myself that there is still hope for us to do this two-houses thing right, and to be great role models, support systems, and parents to these baby girls.