Friday, October 24, 2014

More Than Just "I'm Sorry"

  • I know I'm not the only mom who insists that my children apologize after committing a wrong, an offense or even an "oops" against a sibling or friend.  But I noticed that my children were offering a brief, unsympathetic "sorry," as if inconvenienced by their own lapse.  A rushed, "Sorry."  Then the child was off to play, expecting the hurt, offended or insulted party to go on as if there was never an incident. Somehow, I had communicated that the word magically absolved the speaker of responsibility.  Hurt feelings, broken toys or wounded body parts remained.

In the worst cases, I would have two crying children: one who was genuinely hurt, the other because the hurt child wouldn't forgive.  "But I said I'm sooooorry!"  This scenario was becoming too common and I noticed a shift was needed.  

My goal was to encourage responsibility and ownership of wrongs and to foster empathy in my children.  So I began to insist on adding a phrase to the I'm sorry requirement.  I'm sorry for breaking your art project.  I'm sorry for knocking over your lego structure.  I'm sorry that I was mean with my words.  I'm sorry that I lied.  

I'm sorry + the reason that I'm sorry (responsibility) + question = Maturing Emotions 

The question point is where empathy can be developed.  What can I do to help?  Did that hurt your feelings?  Will you forgive me?  

We all want to raise empathetic and responsible children, and it is good to say "I'm sorry." But what we really want is a world of people who know what sorry means and how to show it.  For a long time, I believed the words I wanted to hear and now I know to believe the actions a person demonstrates.  In that vein of thinking, I'm teaching my own children that saying "I'm sorry" isn't the same thing as being sorry and showing it.

How do you encourage empathy in your family?  What's your experience with hearing, "I'm sorry?"  Do you make your children apologize?

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Why I Love Mondays (Kind Of...)

I do adore a lazy Saturday and Sunday is my favorite - with worship to start the day and a nap usually on the agenda.  But I'm just nerdy enough to admit that I like the 'reset' of a Monday morning.  It's a fresh start, back to routine, I appreciate the order of a well-planned and predictable day.  That's what Monday means to me.

Routine, I am a slave to you.  I think it speaks about my nature and personality that I thrive on the rhythms of live more than the spontaneous highs and lows.  I often hear others bemoan the arrival of Monday morning, but for me, it's a new beginning.  I'm rested after the weekend and ready to manage the daily tasks of family, home, work and life.  It's a good thing!

These two do not share my admiration for Mondays.  What about you?

Monday, October 13, 2014

How to Get a Great Family Portrait

In-Studio (Sears),
Colors: Grey, Red & Denim.
Single moms, don't bypass
a family portrait!
It's that time of year where I'm looking ahead to Christmas cards and wondering which photo we'll use to include everyone and convey a message of warmth, peace and family fun.  Yeah, one photo is supposed to say all that!  I know, it's not necessary to send a physical card in this era of digital communication, but I'm a traditionalist.  I still love to give and receive the traditional holiday remembrance.

The Photographer - Who is going to take that shot?  Will you ask a family friend? Hire someone?  Set up the tripod?  This decision will impact all the other choices. I recommend the family friend route.  We all know someone who has photography as a major hobby with the equipment to provide a quality result.  It's even better is you have a family friend who is also a pro, just don't expect a discount on services.  When it's someone you and your family know, there will be a more relaxed and comfortable vibe.  Hopefully your photographer will capture the unique personality that marks your family.  Most likely, someone you know will be patient and understanding when inevitable glitches get in the way.

The Wardrobe - Coordinating colors make any group of individuals look like a unit, so working together to get a "look" is important.  No, you do not want to be too matchy-matchy and each person needs room to keep his or her own style.  The way I do it is to select a color palette and let each person choose from their own wardrobe.  I love neutrals, because they will always match your home decor.  But my favorite are rich, colorful looks with limited patterns. Still, don't be a style-nazi and if someone doesn't quite follow the guidelines, let it go.  You can always select a black and white or muted finish to help every better blend.
Taken on our Front Steps
Colors: Black, White, Khaki
The Setting - I love pictures in unique locations, downtown, industrial, gorgeous natural, etc.  But the reality for us is that to get all of us dressed and scheduled on site is tough.  Also, there is something about our own space that keeps us all more relaxed, able to grab and extra layer or adjust some erring makeup.  Gathering at home is the go-to spot for our family portraits, although someday I'd love to have a downtown photo shoot.

The Schedule - It's never easy to get everyone together!  Plan ahead, and just go for it.  Yes, somebody will likely have to miss some time with friends or get to a party late, but the photo needs to be a priority.  I'll admit, this is when I remind others of all I do for them on a daily/weekly basis and share how important this is to me.  Be considerate, but be firm and let your family know this is a big deal to you.  It's okay to care about a photo.

The Tone - Casual and Comfy?  Adventurous and Cool?  Classy and Sophisticated? Formal or Relaxed?  Let the personality of each member come through.  Even the smallest members may have a preference for what they wear.  My youngest is still in the goofy smile phase.  I don't sweat it, that's just how he is during this season (and the for the past year now).  Does your teen have wild hair? Let that shine through.  Is your middle schooler in a awkward phase?  That's okay, you will love the memory.  While your wardrobe draws you together, the tone of the photo will convey its own message.

Taken in our living room:
Colors: Maroon, Cream, Black & Denim

Recently I was talking with a friend about expectations and she shared about her last family Thanksgiving where expectations were impossibly high.  There was a large family gathering, including step parents and step siblings and a family portrait was on the schedule.  She said the photo turned out great but that she can't look at it without remembering the chaos of that day.  Don't let this be your photo story.  Plan a little, but go with the flow and strive to make even the photography experience a pleasant memory.  

Do you have a great family portrait? any horror stories? What are your thoughts when you view past pictures?  Do you send out a holiday card?  None of these are the ones we will use on our card this year, but I promise to share once I send them out!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Lessons Learned During My First Marriage (That Turned Out to Be Wrong)

We learn things throughout our lifetime.  Some are good lessons, some are not - sometimes we have to relearn to make up for the falsehoods that we pick up along the way.  Below are several things I thought were true, but I learned were not.  Have you had to 'relearn' anything?

1. It's better to keep the peace than prove my point.

2. Loyalty to my spouse is worth whatever losses may come.  I can't tell anyone about the trouble in my marriage.

3. Speaking my mind will create discord.

4. It's normal to feel less cherished and desirable as the years march onward.

5. Pouring myself into my children/church/job can fill the ache for intimacy.

6. As we grow and change, we will naturally grow more together.

7. It's okay (and normal) to go long stretches without sex.

8. My opinion is less valuable.

9. God values my marriage more than he values me.

10. My husband will know I love him if I keep a perfect home.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Five Essential Step Mom Skills -

Few people think about being a step mom before they begin relationship with someone who already has children.  Even fewer can anticipate the true requirements of this weighty, oft-maligned role.  I love my step daughters!  I am grateful that my own girlie gets to experience a sort of sisterhood and she adores being lumped in with "The girls."

1. Notice the opportunities and and let go of the expectations.  I was looking forward to a relaxing afternoon, puttering around my garden and home but my step daughter surprisingly asked me to go shopping for a prom dress.  You bet I took that chance and we had fun with extravagant gowns and lunch together.  It's these moments to grab onto.  Later, when she didn't want to do something together, I remembered it's not always true that she would rather be alone.


2. Think about the needs of your step children first.  You cannot walk into their lives, move into their home thinking you will be their "Savior."  Remember the losses that brought you into their life.  That pain can be redeemed, but it will be a tender, confusing dynamic, especially for them.  Let gentleness rule and hold your tongue more than you speak.

3. Grow Thicker Skin. You are going to be taken for granted and taken advantage of.  Your opinion will be minimized or disregarded.  Your influence is limited and your control handcuffed.  All this will happen in your own home.  At times, you will feel like an outsider within the walls where you sought comfort.  You have great influence, but most likely very limited authority.  Let your husband take the lead in setting rules, household behavior and expectations.  Give him the security of your devotion to him, even when he sides with his children over one of your wishes.  This is wear you earn your battle scars, friends.  This is when you need a comrade in arms, look for support outside your family unit.

4. Stay in the game.  It can be tempting to withdraw when you feel you will always play second place to the bio mom, but it is important to keep reaching out, keep engaging and keep the lines of communication with your step children open.  It's not all going to go smoothly.  Sometimes you will feel snarky or selfish or jealous or whatever.  Sometimes your step children will push you away because they feel confused or conflicted or moody or just too busy to bother.  Don't let that be the rule of the day.  Stay engaged and keep supporting them.  Ask them to come along to the store, to get a manicure, to walk the neighborhood, to go for a hike.  Get on their Instagram, SnapChat, Vine accounts.  Watch their shows on Netflix.  Find ways to connect, not everyday but at least often enough to be aware of their world (this may be true for all teens).

5. Encourage your step children to spend one-on-one time with their dad.  Remind him to ask his girls out for a date (or to the game, if he has boys), give him cues as to when they may need an extra dose of attention or when one has had a rough week.  Don't expect all his attention and affection, let him love on his children.  Never put your husband in the place of having to choose between his children and one wins.

BONUS: Be gentle with yourself.  Don't expect perfection.  There is a learning curve to becoming a step mom and you must be gentle with yourself as you navigate this territory.  If my step daughters know that I'm on their side, that I love and support them and that I will do what I can to help when needed, then I believe we have been successful.  Take care of you along the journey so that you can offer your best self to your family.

As a step mother, we have unique and challenging roles.  There is great sacrifice, but also great joy.  I encourage all step moms to join the Sisterhood of Stepmoms where there is laughter, understanding and support.  At times, it feels like you are facing hard things alone, but you are not.  You are on the front lines and are leading a winning force!  Are you a step mom?  Did you have a step mom?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Another Journal

The seasons are changing here as the harsh, blinding rays of summer lengthen to the golden beams of autumn.  My life is in a season of consistency and less change, too, and yesterday I completed the final page in my current journal.  I'm always a bit surprised to actually arrive at the last page...the story is not yet complete.

I remember the various seasons of my life by the journals I used to reflect upon them.  Those journals are treasures to me.  I get to start a new one today!  What adventures will it hold?  What concerns, what joys, what change?  I have given my life to be lived for Christ and as such the pages are His to write.  I anticipate the story ahead.

Do you journal? In what ways to you measure your days?  

Friday, September 19, 2014

Stepmom, You Can Contribute to Family Identity

I've been doing this step mom thing for just over a year now.  I certainly haven't learned all there is to know but I am determined to do my best to love my bonus/step daughters well.  I don't want to replace their mother, I want to be a supportive and loving grown up to supplement their growth.

When my three bio children and I moved into the home of  Mr. Wonderful and his daughters, we were floating in the blissful clouds of love.  Still, I knew it could feel like an invasion to two teenage girls if suddenly they were required to share a room, watch cartoons and babysit.  We have done some reading and I've talked to others who were raised in various sorts of blended/step/half relationships and these are some of the choices we made.
  • Keep as much of their personal space the same as is possible.  I remember the value of privacy as a teenage girl and I wanted the girls to get to keep their rooms.  This space has provided a sanctuary when the irritations of little children get to be too much.  It has been a place of consistency throughout their lives before, during and after the division of their original family. When they need a place to retreat, they go to their rooms.  The rooms are next to each other and connected which I hope provides a sense of companionship and camaraderie.  Do not move into your new home (their old home) and change up everything in their space.  Leave some of the decor, incorporate their childhood photos, make sure it still feels like home.  Over time, this can change but don't be the whirlwind that rushes in making your step child feel displaced at home.  This will damage your future relationship and create resentment.

  • Learn some of their favorite meals.  Like all the experts will tell you, I feel family dinners are important.  That time around the table, the give and take of conversation and the traditions will be remembered.  But I didn't cook for my step daughters prior to our wedding and and every family develops its own style.  I asked Mr. Wonderful and the girls about what kinds of meals were their favorites.  I was even handed a recipe written by their mother, and it's in my rotation of meals.  There is always special appreciation when I make the effort to cook from a menu that reflects their personal family history.  
  • Honor their traditions, even while building new ones.  Sometimes it takes two Christmas trees to bring cheer to the whole crew, sometimes it means trying new recipes, sometimes it means encouraging their goals when you had no part in molding them.  Sometimes it means keeping out the crazy sculptures from art class that were there before you arrived.  Anything you can do to honor the history will help create identity for these children who have experienced a great rift in their personal stories.  The crazy artwork doesn't have to hang forever, but I didn't want to be the step mom who barged in and changed everything to accommodate my taste and style.  Yes, I look forward to the day I will get to choose a new sofa and remove the photos of strangers (to me) from the refrigerator.  But those things can wait, they mean something to those who live here.
  • If possible, make a bridge with their mama.  There may be some awkward moments, but I promise your step children will be much more relaxed when they know they are free to love their mother first.  I don't want to compete for this role and do my best to support her (bio mom) at every opportunity.  If you are both at functions to support the children, be willing to be in the background.  Encourage your step children to reach out and to spend time with their bio mother.  When you truly want their best, you will see this is the best choice.
  • Don't force togetherness.  One of the things my step daughters say they appreciate is that we give them space and have let bonding happen naturally.  We do create opportunities for memories and have a few family excursions that we all loved, but mostly we have tried to let each individual set their own pace for connection. Sometimes a step child senses a closer bond forming, enjoys the deepening connection but then feels confusion and pulls back.  It's weird to feel closer to any woman than your own mother.  Your feelings may be tender and it's okay to be confused yourself, but don't make the step child responsible for your feelings.  Deal with it in another safe relationship and let it be like water off a duck's back.  The ebb and flow of connection will come back around in time.  You be the consistent one and give your step child the freedom to determine what is the most comfortable relationship for him or her.
I know I've made mistakes and will probably make many more (as a step mom and in life).  So it helps me to remember that I've tried my best with what I know at the time.  Along with the mistakes comes more experience and healthier, more realistic expectations.  Blended, step family life is full of complicated calendars, negotiations, lots of give and little returns in the short term. There are easy triggers of loss and pain, baggage and at the core are children both small and older who are shifting back and forth in loyalty and actually moving between homes.

As a step mom, we can provide stability, freedom, encouragement and support.  We can remind them that while their family has changed, many things have not.  They are loved, cared for, safe and have lots of grown ups rooting for them!  We can notice when one of our step children needs extra care, we can demonstrate selfless actions and encourage dad in his role.

You can be an outside voice and example to your step children.