Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Never Take Them For Granted

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All my people are gone and I am alone this week. Going from family hustle and bustle to complete silence takes some getting used to. Somewhat thankfully, I've been doing this for several years now, so I'm rather used to it, but it never ceases to be unsettling. The difference is that now I have the comfort of knowing that there is a routine to the strange feelings I experience and it's okay to feel weird for a day or two. Then my natural energies kick in and I have so many things I want to accomplish while I have the time that I zip right along and the time usually goes pretty quickly.

But invariably at some point in the day I feel deeply lonely and sad - all alone in the world. It's usually just for an instant or two. Yesterday it was twice. Once when I locked myself out of the house because I lost my keys somewhere between our two cars. One of the cars I had the keys to in my hand, but I feared the keys were locked in the other one. It was stressful and made worse by the feeling that I was all alone and didn't have my backup man. I resolved to get a spare set either hidden somewhere or to a neighbor or both at that moment.

The other moment happens almost daily. It seems to happen at about 9:30 every night. The day is ending, it's dark, and it's too late to call anyone. Thank goodness it passes quickly because it usually strikes as I'm walking around the house cleaning up or putting something away. But it stings intensely for a minute or so.

All this reminds me to not take my loves for granted. Not to let little things annoy me. To appreciate every day that I am tired, worn out and looking at a messy house. The comfort and joy I feel in those days far outshines the loneliness of a perfectly quiet, silent house. Life moves quickly, we lose people we love, kids grow up and move far away. I don't want to regret not appreciating every moment I have with my loves.

I hope I'll remember how I feel today the next time I feel short of patience or fussy about lack of time for myself. Until they do return, I'm taking time for myself to keep myself healthy, happy and strong so that I'll feel good when they return and I'll be good to them too. Must remember how blessed I am despite all the challenges. I am very blessed.

How about you? Do you feel lost when everyone vanishes? Is it hard for you to remember that feeling when all is chaos in the house and you wish you had a magic want to make them all disappear? What do you do to help you remember to appreciate it all? Sending you my very best wishes for peace and happiness in this day!

Monday, June 25, 2012

52 Things Kids Need From A Mom

image via Angela Thomas

Had to share this wonderful book with all of you stepmoms. It had me crying three times in the first few chapters. Written by Angela Thomas, this book is a collection of essays on simple things you can do to bless your kids lives. It is full of love, grace, wisdom and inspiration to help you keep your eye on the important things, create a love-filled home and help your kids thrive. I love that the title is 52 Things Kids Need From A Mom. Not "their" mom or "the woman who gave birth to them" but anyone who stands in the role of mother in a child's life.

I found that it quickly began to change me, change the conversations I was having with Daddy and increasing my vision and perspective about mothering. I immediately began to think about my role as a stepmother on a higher plane, with more understanding of how I could bless my family and it made me realize how I could have more satisfaction as a mom too. I will never wave goodbye to our little one in the same way again after reading Angela's book.

It's a great gift for any mother or soon-to-be mom or stepmom too. If you choose one thing for each week, during the course of the year you could dramatically strengthen your home and the bonds you have together. What a beautiful, simple, and life-changing gift. Check out 52 Things Kids Need From A Mom available at Angela Thomas online store and bookstores everywhere. Angela has also written many other inspiring books you may be interested in so take a browse through the store. Hope you'll enjoy this book!

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Blessings of a Stepmom Community

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What a great week it's been connecting with awesome stepmoms. Sara's beautiful post really got the conversation going and I'm sure it inspired a lot of stepmoms. I really enjoyed reading all the comments on the post and that Sara got back on Facebook. Her words obviously resonated with a lot of women.

One of the comments that really stuck with me was from a woman who has been a stepmom for over four decades. So often we think of the majority of our work being just getting these kids safe and alive through high school graduation and college, but really being a stepmom is a lifetime calling. I appreciated so much that perspective from a few years down the road. Even when they are in middle age, if you have a great relationship they are going to appreciate you influence as a parent in their lives. Love that.

The other idea that comment sparked was the depth of knowledge and wisdom there is out in the stepmom community. Besides having friends your same age to learn from surely we all have older and younger friends, family and neighbors who have valuable wisdom to share if we will just ask. One of my favorite things to do is just ask people to share their wisdom about a specific topic with me. People so rarely get asked to share their wisdom and I think they appreciate it. They also enjoy sharing it. It's amazing how they will always say something that resonates with me, inspires me and helps guide my journey ahead.

So I'm going to make a bigger effort to reach out to other stepmoms and enjoy their wisdom. It will make my path brighter and better every day. Sending you very best wishes for your home and sweet families!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sara W. - Embrace Second Place

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Editor's Note: So thrilled to introduce inspired stepmom Sara. I think you'll be able to relate to her emotional experience finding her way as a stepmom and find inspiration in the lessons she's learned. It definitely triggered some heartfelt feelings when I read it and her wisdom has stuck with me as I think about my own family.
A whole decade into it, I still sometimes feel like I need stepmothering school. Don’t get me wrong. I knew what I was getting into, and the husband and the darling toddler were worth the trouble ten times over. Still, it’s not exactly what I had expected. Stepmothering is hard. But there are saving graces, the greatest of which for me has been learning to embrace my spot in second place. This has saved me over and over again, more so every time I re-learn it.

My awakening to my standing as second mom came early on. We had been married for about eight months. The boy was three. I would pick him up from daycare on my way home from work, and we would sing songs and talk all the way home. He was full of questions and imagination. He would call me Mom, but he was not confused. I asked him why he called me that, and he grinned and said, “Because you’re my stepmom.”

It lasted until the day his mother picked him up from our house, and he energetically waved to me from the car and shouted, “Bye, Mom!” The next time I saw him, he caught himself calling me Mom, corrected his mistake, and told me he wasn’t allowed to call me that anymore because he only had one mom.

Ouch doesn’t begin to cover it. So naturally I put up a protective shield. I could not allow myself to love this little child that freely or openly again. It was too risky. I could get hurt emotionally, maybe even killed. For several years, I was more reserved. I still loved him; I was just not quite so unrestrained about it. I didn’t like the situation. I knew I was a good mother, and I wrestled mentally with my second-chair status.

But I began to accept it. I would laugh off the “You’re not my real mom!” moments with responses like, “OK, but would you like a real peanut butter and jelly sandwich?” He would laugh too. I even learned, when he would say he liked his mom better, to say, “Oh, I like her too,” and the tension would dissolve.

That’s how the light came on. I didn’t have to be number one. I just needed to open my arms (and the tougher one, my heart) to the boy when he’s here. Yes, when he’s here, he is mine. Right? Almost. That attitude, while well-intentioned, missed the mark. I was still trying to have some moments where I could be number one. And here’s why that just didn’t work for us.

Treating him like he was mine meant shoving him into the mold of our home and expecting him to fit. People would ask me if I thought it confused him to be expected to follow our rules. My response was always, “Of course not!” After all, he’s a smart kid. If he can understand the different sets of rules at school, church, and his friends’ houses, I’m pretty sure he can get how we run things around here. Besides, he is part of this family, and he can function as such. I may not be his real mom, but I’m the mom of this house.

Treating him like he was mine also meant that our way of raising him would be undone as soon as he went back to his mom’s. She had different rules for movie and video game ratings, sleepovers, bedtimes, almost everything, it seemed. So while these things were not confusing to him, they were frustrating to him and to us, and more importantly, they ignored who he was.

One day when I was unloading my frustration on my sister, she asked me why I was so worried about what this kid does and doesn’t do. Is she crazy? I thought. Because he’s my kid! “No, he’s not,” she corrected me. The light went on again, only this time a little brighter. My job is to love, not to try to raise him as I would if I were his only mother. Not only do I not have to treat him like he’s mine, I shouldn’t!

We now bend the rules in our home for him. Don’t get me wrong. Our house is still ours. It’s business as usual on the day-to-day things. But on the big issues, I step back and let his dad work it out with his mom (his real mom).

I love this kid. And I have learned to accept what is. It’s not just OK if he doesn’t love me quite the way he loves his first mom, it’s appropriate. The more he matures, the more I see that he is hers. He thinks like her. His sense of humor has glimmers of her. His attitudes are hers. That is as it should be. She is his mom. She is number one.

I am his stepmom. I am number two. And the way I see that is this: it’s actually a high station. Being someone’s second mom is an honor. It’s one step away from the real thing. Once I embraced that, it freed me up to freely love a great kid.

Sara W. became a stepmom in 2002, and she and her husband have since welcomed three additional children to their family. She has been a professional writer since 1997 when she earned a degree in English from Brigham Young University. After she became a mother, Sara began freelancing so that she could continue to do what she loves while putting her real job, being a mom, first. Sara and her family live in Utah. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Father's Day : Teach them to Appreciate Their Dad

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On this Father's Day weekend, one of the best gifts you can give your husband is to help your stepkids see how much he loves them, all the good he does, learn who he is and teach them to show their love and appreciation for him. Stepkids learn a lot from how you talk about their dad. You can  help them see what a great guy their dad is when you take a few moments to compliment their dad in front of them and others. 

Talk to them about their dad's many talents and strengths. Make sure they see the many hours he works to support the family, to help them and to keep the home running smoothly. Most importantly when you are gracious and kind to their dad in word and deed you set a tone for the home that others will follow.

Happy Father's Day to all the great dads out there!

P.S. Monday I'll post a great guest post by stepmom Sara about learning to make peace with stepmomhood. If you'd like to share a guest post or great inspiration about stepmomhood get in touch here.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Stepmoms Must Stop Cyberbullying Their Stepkids

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It's happened to all of us at some point. We find out someone dislikes us and has been spreading unkind words about us. Now it happens online and we call it cyberbullying. It hurt deeply when this happened to you, didn't it? It's painfully unnerving to find that there are people who wish us ill rather than hope for our best success.

Now imagine being a kid who's suffered through the break up of your home and family and then had your parents invite new spouses into their lives whether you like it or not. And that you're left living a half-life in two places, shuttled between these two homes until your 18-years-old whether you like it or not. Then, stand in that kid's shoes and imagine that the new spouse is sharing gossip about you online.

That can't help make life any easier. Stepmoms, treat your stepkids like you would like to be treated. It doesn't matter whether they treat you well or horribly. You are the grown up and you have to act like it. When you speak unkindly about your stepkids online you are participating cyberbullying. Yes, cyberbullying.

Live the golden rule. You willingly joined this family. These kids have no choice and are stuck with you (like it or not you aren't perfect either) and with all the circumstances brought into their lives by all the adults' decisions and actions. Have some compassion for these kids and have the maturity to be supportive and kind. And remember what we've always heard, "if you can't say anything nice, then don't say anything at all."

Your spouse deserves your loyalty and best wishes for the success of his children. If you aren't on board with that, you have made a terrible mistake offering to join this family.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Keep Your Family Laughing

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When you think about your spouse or your best friends what are the things you remember most about them and keep you feeling close to them? I think of two things. First that they stand by you in bad times and offer love. Second, all the times you've laughed together so hard that you were crying and breathless.

As the mom of your household, you have a massive amount of power on the mood in the house. In fact you hold almost all the power in the situation. Husbands and kids are brought down or raised up by the tone you set for the home. Even if they come home in a terrible mood you have a big impact on how they'll handle it once they get inside the front door.

If you set a light-hearted, cheerful tone to the home, they will look forward to being there and being near you. If you are tired, dragged down by household upkeep, and take things a little too seriously, you will find yourself in a house where people hide in the farthest room from where you are: the basement, their bedrooms, the garage, the backyard -- or at someone else's house.

There are many studies that show that children laugh many times more a day than adults do. It's time to turn that around. Be someone who laughs. Be cheerful. Do whatever it takes to keep your mood light. Watch a silly TV show. Share jokes as a family. Watch ridiculous YouTube videos. Be playful and fun.

People are always more important than tasks. You will always be rewarded in your relationships when you put them first. I have had many times lately where I have stopped & realized that someone in my family needed me and my love that very moment. Like a clap of thunder over my head, I felt impressed to stop and go spend time with that person.

Comically, this often happens when that person is being a bit of a pest trying to get my attention, which brings more emotions of annoyance than love and patience. (Hey, I'm laughing about that, how about you...are you laughing?) But when I see what they are really trying to communicate it's easy to put frustration and whatever task I'm doing aside and go have some fun and give some love. It's always a blessing to me and to them in the end.

While it's so easy to feel we're the ones guiding getting everything done in the family and around the house, I bet we'd be much better off putting ourselves in charge of happiness, laughter and fun. Imagine how much impact that could have on your family every day! Powerful! Laugh it up, Mama! Laugh it up! Go have some fun today.

Here are some links to get you laughing:
Aha Jokes On Parenting & Parents

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

10 Ways To Teach Your Kids To Serve Others

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Teaching children to serve others is one of the most powerful lessons you can teach them. It will affect how they interact with others for the rest of their lives. Lessons on loving and serving others are some of the strongest memories many adults have of their childhood and their parents.

Kids have to see it in action and if you start them young they love getting involved. Even if it's a little more challenging when they're a little older, they will still remember the sense of accomplishment they feel afterwards more than their grousing at the beginning.

Here are 10 things you can do with them:

1) Take dinner to the home of a family who has had a new baby or has a family member in the hospital. Kids can help prepare food and color a special picture or card for the family. They are so proud when they get to deliver dinner with you.

2) Adopt an elderly neighbor. Get to know and visit them often. Drop off some cookies, ask them to tell your family a story about their life, watch for little things you could help with around the house or yard and check in on them after bad weather. You can also invite them to go to the park with you or to a family barbecue.This is especially great if your kids don't have living grandparents or grandparents who live nearby.

3) Collect needed materials for your school or a local community center and donate them. Earn money by doing odd jobs and ask friends and neighbors if they would be willing to contribute to the cause. Then go as a family to make the delivery.

4) Get to know a military family in your community who has a dad or mom on deployment. Offer to give the mother a break by helping watch the kids or attend to any odd jobs she might need. Taking care of a family while one parent is away is a challenge, especially when family members are worrying about the safety of their loved one every day.

5) Donate used goods to a local charity. Go through toys, clothing and other belongings and look for things you can donate. Take your kids with you to deliver the goods and take a few minutes for them to learn what happens to the items after the donation and who is helped with the funds.

6) Offer to collect a friend's or neighbor's mail, care for a pet, water their plants or cut lawns during summer vacations. This is old fashioned neighborliness and we need more of it in this world. People really appreciate this kind of help.

7) Take garbage bags to the park or beach and spend a few minutes cleaning up. We try to do this every time we go to our favorite beach. We have picked up a lot of trash and left the beach looking a little nicer. I still remember watching at a distance a friend at a busy LA beach walking through the crowd picking up trash. I was impressed!

8) Teach them to write thank you notes. Make it a regular habit in your family. Teaching children to be thankful, rather than just expect everything on a silver platter is an important part of growing up. As toddlers they take and take and take. As the get older, it's critical that they learn to see where things come from and appreciate their blessings. Make it a habit to have cards, envelopes and stamps easily available to the family.

9) Gather and donate books and magazines. There are many hospitals, rest homes and other care facilities that accept donations for reading material for their guests. Go through your own bookshelves then check with friends and neighbors and see if you can fill a box to donate.

10) Do a "secret angel" activity in your family. Put each person's name on a slip of paper folded up in a hat. Then have every person draw out a name. Every day for a week you each do a secret service for that member of your family. On the seventh day, have a family dinner & reveal who each family member's secret angel was. This teaches both service and a love for family. A great way to bond family members together and help them to be more thoughtful and aware of things around the house.

Bonus: You can also look for service opportunities through your work, church or synagogue. Many employers now incorporate a community service day into each year and most churches have many ways to serve and get involved.  If you don't know of any, ask your neighbors. Their church or workplace may need help with their projects.

Doing service side-by-side with your children will give them unforgettable memories and teach them a level of graciousness and thoughtfulness that will bless their lives again and again. How have you taught your kids to serve others? What projects have worked best in your family?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Our Traditions Have Built A Tightly Knit Family

We have bottles of shells all over our home. It's a tradition we started very early in our family life together. As we have traveled we have gathered shells, driftwood and sea glass from beaches along the Pacific and Atlantic shorelines. Every time we look at those jars we are reminded of some of our very favorite family trips and beach days.

One one trip we came to a much neglected beach and found loads of sea glass and shells everywhere. It was clear no one ever visited this beach that was surrounded by shipyards and buildings. Every day we would take the small bag the hotel packed our breakfasts in and walk across the road to the beach and gather shells and sea glass to our hearts content.

Each beach we visit has shells of different types and sizes and I have enjoyed researching the different varieties we have found. Gathering shells is one of our family traditions. As a family we have also spent many happy hours riding bicycles together, since the little one had a seat on the back of dad's bike. Then we transitioned to a trailer bike and now she is riding her own bike all around the park. We hope soon, with a little more experience, she'll be ready to ride around town with us.

Another tradition is family dinners: homemade pizza night, spaghetti night, tacos night. Each of these meals holds a special place in the family's hearts and are requested often. Everyone of these dinners involves cooking with herbs and tomatoes we have grown in our garden -- another family tradition and source of happiness. We also have our family tradition museums, ice cream parlors, and trips around town.

Building traditions as a blended family have helped us create our own family history, to bond together through our activities and our memories, and give us good things to look forward to. There's nothing like having a funny memory to laugh about together or a special day to reflect back on to help a blended family feel tightly knit.

What traditions have you established in your family? How have they strengthened your bond?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Join Inspired Stepmoms On Twitter And Facebook

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You can join in the Inspired Stepmoms community on Facebook at Inspired Stepmoms and on Twitter at @inspiredstepmom (with no 'S' on the end.) You can also email us any time at inspiredstepmoms (at) gmail (dot) com. We'd love to like, link and follow you in your stepmom world. Let's connect.

Share Your Talents With Your Stepkids

There are things that are unique to you and that you have interests and talents in that you can share to bless your stepkids lives and build a bridge with them. Maybe there is a sport you are especially good at, or you know how to sew or knit, or paint. Sharing your talents is a great way to build a bridge with your stepkids. Kids love adults who are interested in doing things with them, especially new things. Sometimes building a bridge with a kid is as easy as just spending time with them.

As I have been working on my photography skills, my stepdaughter has taken a lot of interest and she says, "You're a good Sa-tographer." I love that there are still a couple of words she hasn't quite mastered in her constantly expanding vocabulary. She cracks me up.

So a few weeks ago I gave her my oldest digital camera with a clean SD card inside. She was ecstatic. She immediately went to town taking pictures. And later on her dad and I were astounded at the photos she took, when she shared them with us at dinner. She has a talent for framing photos.

We inadvertently uncovered one of her talents. Now she has taken a few hundred photos and is a "sa-tograher" herself. Her camera is one of her greatest joys. And all it took was gifting her an old camera and a 30 second lesson to get her on her way. It gave me yet another chance to show her I care, that I'll take time with her, and that I'll appreciate her talents. What a gift that is to me and to her.

What talents do you have that your step kids would enjoy? If you've been doing this for a while, share your experiences. How has it changed your relationships?

all images by the sweet stepdaughter