Surviving Christmas: Busy Mama Edition

Are you dreading the holiday season?! Under too much pressure to visit relatives, buy the best gifts, wear the perfect outfit, and cook the best meal? If you’re in a blended family, are you struggling with the custody schedule… are you [like me] devastated you won’t see your kids this Christmas?!

If any of this sounds familiar, keep reading! I’ve compiled my top tips for helping you survive the next few weeks.

ONE: Don’t go into debt buying presents. “It’s the thought that counts” really needs to be your motto. Just think about it… if you go into debt (especially without a full-proof plan to pay it all off quickly… like in January), you’re going to be even more stressed after Christmas with that debt hanging over your head. You don’t need to buy everyone you’ve ever made eye contact with a gift. Do yourself a favor, print some cute, super-cheap Christmas cards off at Walgreens.com (Same day pick-up! It’s not too late!), and mail them to your relatives and closest friends. That’s all most of them need… not to mention, your older relatives will appreciate a traditional Christmas card more than you know. It’s the thought that counts!

TWO: Stop feeling obligated to see everyone. It is not in the Christmas Rulebook that you must sit down to watch a football game with your third-cousin at some point in December. Especially if you have kids, traveling for the holidays can be a nightmare… and hosting can be even worse! If you’re like me and have a family who hosts 12 different events just so they don’t have to see each other, just bow out of it all. It’s not worth the stress to try and show up to every function. Focus on your nuclear family… focus on your kids! In the same essence of “don’t go into debt buying presents,” the best gift you can give your family [every day] is your undivided attention!

THREE: Take the pressure off of “the day.” If you do not have the perfect Christmas morning, with the kids running down the stairs to the smell of bacon and the energy of the Christmas spirit, don’t worry about it! Many of you are struggling because you won’t see your kids on Christmas. I have great news- your kids do not care if they open presents with you on 12/25 or not! In fact, they’d prefer to do it ASAP! Whatever your traditions are, pick an earlier day you will have the kids, and rock it out. On Christmas Day, find something else to do with your spouse or family! My husband and I won’t have our kids this year for Christmas, so we’re taking a mini-vacation to NYC! If your issue isn’t a blended family one- if you’re simply stressed over all the days expectations and activities- relax! Cut yourself a break! You know most of your best life-moments are the ones that didn’t turn out how you planned.

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So to all of my Mama friends out there who are distraught over what the next several weeks will hold, let’s shift your perspective and focus on what is really important. Spend solid, intentional time with your nuclear family through the rest of the year. Worry less about the Pinterest Perspective of Christmas, and more on what is good for the soul. You don’t have to wear the perfect holiday outfit and cook the perfect holiday meal to be the best Mom and Wife in the world. You’re already doing it!

Live a simple, stress free rest of 2017. You’ve got this, Mama’s!

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A Letter to my Stepdaughters

Hey Babies,

First off, I love you. I have since the moment I met you. You changed my life forever.

I love your smiles, your laughs, and your cuddles. I love the way you look at me like I’m the coolest person you’ve ever met (which, by the way, I am not… your Dad has that title). I love the day-to-day with you… our routine. I love waking your grumpy-butts up, forcing you to eat breakfast when you don’t want to, and driving you to school listening to our favorite country tracks on the Bobby Bones Show. I love helping you with your homework, giving you baths, and tucking you in at night. I love your kisses… I dread the day you don’t want to give me hugs & kisses 24/7 anymore!

I love how your little minds work, and how inquisitive you both are. I love teaching you how to do new things. I hate when you fight with each other, but love watching you make up. I love watching you love on your Daddy, and I love watching him grow in his role. He is so good to you… to us.

I chose to help raise you, and to love you like you’re my own as best I know how. I knew it meant I’d never be able to give you any siblings, but that is okay, because you bring me so much joy. I knew it meant I would have to share you with your Mom and Dad, and that I’d always be third on that totem pole. I knew it meant I’d never be a “real mom,” but I knew it would be worth it to have you and your Dad in my life forever.

I wasn’t prepared for the adult highly-emotional stakes that came with you. I wasn’t prepared for the comparisons, the judgement, or the jealousy. I wasn’t prepared to feel scared… scared that since you’re not “mine,” you won’t be in my life forever. Scared that one day, you will want nothing to do with me. Scared of never being taken seriously., or considered a parent by anyone.

I promise to always put you first. I will show up to every extracurricular, parent-teacher night, and college tour. I will be there when you have your first heartbreak, and will help you pick up the pieces. I will help provide a life for you that I only dreamed about as a child. I will do whatever I can to make sure you have the best possible opportunities in life, and I will teach you to work hard to achieve your dreams. I will show you that as a woman, you can still be a total boss. I will keep it real with you… I don’t want you to ever crash-and-burn, but sometimes you have to learn lessons the hard way. I will be there for you through your successes and failures. I will show up, in every sense, always.

I hope you always love me as much as you do now, as  3- and 5-year olds. I hope through the rest of your childhood, we keep building a relationship that you don’t want to live without. I hope that you always know I am here for you, and that you really do have my whole heart in the palm of your hands. Please don’t forget about me when I’m old and gray, because you’re all I have.

I love you, always. Thank you for being so inspiring, and for teaching me how to love on a level I never imagined.

Love,

Your Stepmom

Co-Parenting: My Biggest Fears

Although wildly beneficial, I have a lot of fears when I think about opening up our minds and hearts to better co-parenting with BM.

While we were parallel parenting for the past several years, we were a four-person family. The kids had their family with us, and they had a separate family with her. I felt protected. I didn’t feel threatened. As much as possible, we ignored that BM even existed when we had the kids. Now, we’re calling & texting more frequently, and she’s always in the picture.

Will the kids stop viewing me as a mother-figure, since BM is so regularly involved within our home? Will my role change from a parent in the home, to a roommate? Am I still needed?

Does her presence remind my husband of a time they all lived together? Is he reminiscing about the good times? If he’s able to communicate well with her now, should I feel threatened?

Will my husband stop asking my opinion, and start asking hers? Will he be able to protect all of our feelings, or will I need to sacrifice for the greater good?

Will I let my guard down, stop documenting as much, and will it all come back around to bite me in the ass? Will my sarcasm come out around her, and will she laugh about it now, but twist my words 5 years from now in court? Will we let her in too close, and will she eventually try to take the kids from us?

How do we know whether or not this relationship is sustainable long-term? How will the dynamics change the next time she has a boyfriend?

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I am not an insecure woman, but sometimes these fears get the best of me. Some fears are out of resentment of the experiences BM shared with my husband that I will never have. Some fears are out of patterns exhibited by BM over the years, and the likelihood of history repeating itself.

All I can do is have faith. Faith that she means well… that her intentions are pure. Faith that “I want what’s best for the kids” is genuine. Faith in my marriage, and faith in my husband. Faith that we, jointly, will raise strong women who are not damaged by our adult problems.

Lastly, I need to keep faith in myself. I am stronger than the fears that sometimes surface. I am stronger than the doubt and insecurities that occasionally get the best of me. I am prepared to provide an excellent life for these children, no matter how our situation may change over the years. I can do this… we can do this.

Fear is heavy, but regret is heavier.

Co-Parenting: How We Got Here

Last week, I wrote about how I’m willing to give co-parenting with BM another shot. I feel like it’s important to reflect on how we got here, and what this means for us.

I started dating my husband when he was freshly separated. I knew that was a dumb thing to do, but my gut told me to take a chance on him. I’ll let you all imagine the types of rumors BM wasted no time spreading once she found out about me…

The girls were 11 months and 2.5 years old. Our challenges included a BM who felt like she was left out of the blue… like her husband abandoned her and their kids. Me moving an hour away for a job I had accepted prior to our relationship starting. A poorly written separation agreement with a lot of gray area, allowing BM to bend and mold it to her mood on any given day… which sometimes had me driving an hour just to learn she wasn’t okay with me spending the night in the same place as the girls, so I’d drive back. A long, drawn-out home sale. Slandering my husbands name to everyone she came into contact with. Lots of arguments. Lots of tears.

A failed mediation to create the formal custody agreement, followed by a 3-hour long court battle, which thankfully ended in shared physical and joint legal custody. More gray area in the custody agreement… arguments about trade times, vacation times, clothing exchanges, bills, school district… the list goes on. I was able to get a job back in town, and we moved in together about a year after we started dating… just after the custody agreement was finalized. I really feel like this is when we began to truly establish our family, and things started to fall into place. We got married about 8-months later (December 17, 2016… almost our anniversary!).

We had countless disagreements for the next 9-months or so. Any change to BM’s situation (i.e. whether or not she was dating someone) had a direct impact on the girls and their happiness, and we always were fielding questions and doing damage control. Picking a school district for SD5 was the biggest topic of debate yet. Everything felt like a competition. I meticulously documented everything… every text, email, and phone call… every bruise, poorly packed lunch, etc. Just after SD5 began Kindergarten, we were able to modify the custody agreement– this time in mediation! The custody agreement is direct, with 50/50 overnights and all previous kinks worked out.

Our big break (pun intended) came when SD3 broke her arm just over a month ago. We started communicating better. BM let me in a little, and allowed me to help instead of excluding me. I noticed I stopped breaking into anxiety attacks at the mention of her name… I’ve even started to view her as a teammate. As I mentioned last week, the girls and my husband have all been much happier. Today, I concluded a 5-Day Co-Parenting Challenge by Kandy Apple Mama.

Would I suggest starting a relationship with a newly-separated Dad to anyone? No. Are we perfect co-parents who have it all figured out? Hell no. But have we made significant progress in the past 5 weeks? Absolutely. It happened organically, not intentionally. It took time, patience, and a change of perspective. I still have my doubts and fears, which I’ll cover in my next post, but I am thrilled to see us moving in the right direction for the benefit of our children.

‘Till next time. Cheers!

Co-Parenting Update: Let’s be Realistic.

About 10 months ago, in a time of despair, I openly contemplated if co-parenting will ever be possible for us.

Now, approaching our 1 year wedding anniversary, followed by 3 years of being in my husband & kids lives, my perspective has shifted… a little.

As you know, since SD3 broke her arm, communication between BM and I have taken a 180: meaning, we actually speak to each other outside of in-person exchanges. Nothing too crazy… but we have shared pictures, upcoming community events, insight on the girls, and even some fluffy “girl talk” (mostly her opening up to me, while I decide whether or not I’m ready to let her in). We have even briefly discussed how we want a good relationship with each other, and I let her know the ball was in her court, as I didn’t want to push myself on her.

So all of this “friendship” has been going on for about a month now and just yesterday it dawned on me… the girls have been so much happier lately! It is clear that they do not feel as stressed out or anxious as they usually do. There has been little-to-no crying about going back and forth between houses, and actually less mention of BM at our house from the kids, as well as from my husband and myself. The girls seem so relaxed… and I feel it!

In addition, my husband seems less anxious about BM. Apparently, my relationship with her has directly impacted his relationship with her. He doesn’t seem to view texting or calling her as a “chore” or a death-sentence-of-a-task. They have a long way to go before they can have a pleasant relationship… there’s too much history and damage there… but I’m happy to see my husband seemingly holding less of a grudge. I had no idea how much our inner-feelings about BM were subconsciously impacting the mood of our home.

All this to say… I think I’m about to get on the co-parent bandwagon.

I recently stumbled across a blog called Kandy Apple Mama. Can you believe it’s a blog & business CO-OWNED by a BIO-MOM and STEPMOM?! Can you believe they all live together with their husbands and kids?! Ok now that the shock is out of the way… these two women write about being Co-Parent Champions, and even offer a free 5-day course to help you become one! I signed up today.

We owe it to our kids to work together, since it clearly has a positive impact on them.

Over the next few posts, I’m going to discuss how we got here, why I think co-parenting is important, my fears going into it, and whatever else comes to mind. It’s my blog, right?!

Hang tight, Mama’s! The best is yet to come.

I Was That Girl.

Recently as I was scrolling through social media, I came across an old friend of mine from grade school… and pictures of what appears to be her boyfriend and his two young daughters. They were decorating the Christmas tree, and looked like they were having so much fun!

My immediate feelings about the picture were disgusting… “She would be a horrible Stepmom!” “She is a party girl!” “She is such a bad influence!” “She never grew up!” “Those poor girls… I hope they don’t get too attached!”

And then it hit me… I was that girl.

Now, I wasn’t exactly that girl… after high school, her and I walked two different paths… but I was “that girl” nonetheless. Through undergrad- and even graduate school- I went out with my friends, flirted with everyone, and basically did whatever I wanted to… just like this old friend of mine did. I was young, carefree, and although somewhat responsible, also neglectful of countless responsibilities. I thought I had it all. I thought I was invincible. Honestly, I was loving life. I was that girl.

I am certain if you polled my Facebook friends (which we all know are usually acquaintances), the majority would say they were shocked to see I had started dating a man with two [very] young children. They would also tell you they were even more shocked 1.5 years later to see we got married, and I had become a Stepmom.

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So what does this mean? What did I take away from this brutally honest moment of self-reflection?

ONE: People Grow. I know this, because I grew. I’m on the fence when it comes to the “Can a person change?” moral debate; however, I am a firm believer that everyone grows with time and experience. For better or for worse, we learn, we adapt, we love, we lose, and we persevere. You can never hold on to your past image of someone because in the blink of an eye, they have grown.

TWO: Women are Brutal. Really, I was disappointed in myself for my initial thoughts about this old friend. As women, we need to be nicer to each other. We need to cut ourselves- and each other- some slack, and give each other the benefit of the doubt sometimes. Following someone on Instagram who you haven’t actually seen or talked to in 10+ years hardly gives you the right to place a judgement on their life, much less assume you know them or their character.

THREE: My Family Saved My Life. I really believe that. I met my [now] husband at a vulnerable time in my life. I had been on the up-and-up from undergrad for about 3 years, was completing my graduate degree, and had all the tools in the world to become successful. On the flip side, I still had a wild side [paired with a drinking tendency] that really could have impacted my life long-term. My husband and his kids put everything into perspective for me, and truly saved my life.

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As the old saying goes, don’t judge a book by it’s cover. We, as people, are lifelong learners. We are forever bound to personal growth… not to mention, each of us hit our milestones at different times in life. Be kind to each other. Assume good will. And most importantly, never forget that you don’t actually know most of your social media friends.

Self Awareness

In a world where many (including myself) believe society has become a little too sensitive, we must spend some time reflecting inward, and fostering self awareness.

As I’ve mentioned, since SD3 broke her arm almost 3 weeks ago, BM and I have been communicating better. (Better = From no communication besides in-person trades, to small communications in the form of texts & picture sharing). Since we’ve been developing our one-on-one relationship, I’ve been thinking about her self awareness over the years, as well as my own.

Does she, perhaps, know how horrible she has been to my husband? Does she see poor judgement calls when she makes them? Have her negative words and actions just been out of rage and resentment? Rage of a failed marriage… resentment watching her ex remarry, and his wife raising their kids? Disappointment in not being able to find her right match and move on? Is she, perhaps, not a narcissist, but rather acting off of raw, human emotion?

Then I wonder about my own self-awareness… How have I come across to her over the years? Although her and my husband have historically had a pretty volatile text/call relationship, her and I have always been pleasant in-person. But no matter how nice I’ve been, I’m sure I have naturally upset her. Maybe not me directly, but certainly what I represent… So how have I come across? Have I shown her my human side, and have I kept petty comments to a minimum?

At the end of the day, I don’t know what the causes of past actions were, and I also don’t know how I’ve come across through it all. I don’t know how our blended family will grow and develop in the years to come. I don’t know if we will continue on our roller coaster, or if these few weeks have been an indicator that things are smoothing out.

What I do know is I can continue working on myself. I can continue reflecting and developing a deeper self awareness. I can keep molding into the best version of myself, because the girls deserve that from me.

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