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Finding Comfort in Your Own Space

A Blended Family’s Point of View

Recently I had an amazing conversation with one of my best friends regarding our families. She is a mother of 3.5 (one on the way!). Her family is blended just like mine; however, she is the biological mother where I am the step mother. It’s nice to chat with her because I get to see both sides of the cards and it often helps to see other point of views when stressful situations arise. (That NEVER happens in a blended family though, right??) This conversation was really eye opening for me in terms of what many of the members of my family may be feeling within the walls of their own home. We were discussing comfort levels and she told me that her and her two youngest children will be the only ones who are ever fully comfortable in their home. (Wait, What??!?)

Let me back up a little, my beautiful friend, has two biological daughters from a prior relationship and has since remarried a wonderful man. They now have a son and another daughter on the way. Her teenage biological daughters have a great relationship with their step father which is blossoming into something incredible. They also love their younger brother and are adjusting to this new “blended” life. As an outsider, or maybe as the biological mother, or biological children it may be difficult to understand why some of the members of your home don’t feel comfortable. They’re all family now, how is that possible to be uncomfortable in your childhood home or the home you live in with your spouse? How is it possible when in all other areas, everyone is truly bonding and adapting and getting along?

 The truth is, that when you have a biological child and raise them from birth there is a deep unexplainable comfort and ability to be yourself. You aren’t always worried about locking the bathroom door or offending someone by saying the wrong thing. This is because the love you’ve built is unconditional and deep and there isn’t any doubt in that relationship. It’s blood. Imagine you invite your closest friend, or sister or brother over for a week. You ADORE them and you are family, but your household will run a little differently. Maybe you lock the door when changing so their two year old won’t bust in on you, or you wear more modest pajamas. Maybe you watch what you say just a little more, because you want them to feel comfortable in your house. When you become a blended family, it feels like this scenario every day you’re together for some of the members of the house. My friend’s teenage daughters will be more aware of locking their door when their step dad is home because they don’t want their little brother opening it if they are changing. Their step dad is more aware of closing doors for the same reason. There isn’t anything unclean or impure about their actions, there is no worry for safety, it’s truly and simply an act of wanting to feel comfort and offer the same to the other members of the household. The step dad may also be more unsure of parenting his step children, or offending them where he has no fears when it comes to his own child. There’s a unique balancing act when it comes to parenting kids who are not your own. You want to be involved, but don’t want to overstep for fear of upsetting the balance with the children and their biological mom and dad.

In my home, it’s myself, my husband, his teenage daughter from a prior relationship and our two biological sons. I love his daughter and we have a great bond, and our family feels like a family. But after this conversation with my friend, I realized that there was a lot of truth in her words. I would be willing to bet that my step-daughter feels most comfortable when her step parents aren’t home. (Although as a teen, she probably just feels most comfortable when no one is home! Hah) And honestly, if my teenager is home, I probably wouldn’t walk out of the bathroom in my towel unless there was some emergency. I am just more aware of being modest. The biggest part of this realization came when we were talking about how the children from prior relationships may struggle to find that deep comfort with every member in the house. I have thought about this as I pray often that my step daughter feels that she has a place and belongs. Her mom and dad both remarried and had children with the new spouses so there are small nuclear family units in her homes and I know she often doesn’t feel like she has a “place.” This is the hardest part, knowing that a child needs to work through this and process this.

So how do we make our home a place of connection and comfort? How do we make it so that every member can be themselves and feels that they have enough personal space and privacy etc. We started by making a commitment that our family is one, we are whole. We don’t treat anyone differently, whether biological or not. We all do what is needed to take care of each other and we are all active members in our home. Honestly, that meant expecting all the kids to help with small chores, whether we saw them every day or not. After dinner we all help. It meant that on Christmas, they all received similar amounts of things to open, regardless if one of them got more because they have two families. It meant having conversations at dinner and eating together every night possible. It meant attending each other’s events, games and awards. It means celebrating each other. It means we pray together and for each other. It means that we teach privacy and respect to our little ones. It means we allow my teenage step daughter her own space, and my sons get the same. We respect each other’s space and property. It means acknowledging that my step daughter has another home and another family. It means that we never make her feel badly for sharing about them or her experiences there of for missing them. It means encouraging her to build deep relationships with her other family, not knocking her down for having them. It means we never speak badly of her other home or family in front of our children, or at all as much as possible. It means that we openly recognize our differences and that it won’t always be fair, but we communicate with each other.  Blending a family takes time and you can’t expect everyone to bond quickly, or push it. One of the best things my husband did for his daughter and I is allow our relationship to form naturally. He never forced anything for either of us. He gave us all to spend time together and expected us to act as a family (see above), but he never forced a bond.

If you’re feeling uncomfortable in your home, or your children or spouse are, consider carving out space that is just for you or them. Consider ways you can spend time together that encourages bonding in a low pressure setting, whether that’s doing an activity they are into or cheering them on from the sidelines, or just going out for ice cream as a family… spending time together will help the bond grow.  Encourage your step kids to spend time one on one with their bio parent and take time for yourself. This will be good for both of you! We need to give space for the members in our home to truly be themselves, allow for self expression. We need to extend grace, because it won’t always be easy. Blended families have a lot of learning to do at first and our family members may have different personal tastes, different schedules, different passions. Our step children may be used to certain rules in their other home and we need to try to offer understanding and grace making our home a safe space. As a step parent or bio parent, you need to have grace with yourself too! Allow room for your own growth as well. Speak with your spouse, communicate your feelings and needs. And most importantly, know that you’re not alone.

Dear Step Daughter

I wrote the post below 5 years ago now. It’s crazy how much has changed and how we’ve grown even in that time! There’s so much I could add to this letter to our oldest, but just re reading it now shows me that my intentions and feelings for her haven’t changed. It reminds me that we are in this for her, that we are building a life for our children, one that hopefully they won’t need to recover from. We’ve created more memories, bonded in new ways and experienced more conflict in our family dynamic in the past five years.. but we keep blooming. We keep growing and I love the family we have created. I am so utterly grateful for this life i get to live with the people I get to live it with. ❤

This year I celebrated my 30th birthday. I can’t believe 30 years has flown by so fast. I have had some incredible experiences. This year, I celebrated my birthday in a way that I never dreamed. I always thought I would be on a cruise ship headed for Greece with my best girl friends having margaritas and soaking up the sun. This year, I  am celebrating with you. I get to celebrate with my husband, son and you. I never imagined myself as a step parent and I never imagined that being one would be so difficult, so rewarding, so scary or such a blessing. I can’t lie to you, life as a step family hasn’t always been easy. I am sure you can attest to the truth in that as well. As of today, I can name countless mistakes I have made with you, things I shouldn’t have said but did, things I should have said but didn’t and missed moments just to name a few. I am confident that I will make more mistakes as the years ramble on. I know that I will not always act selflessly, or even in your best interest. It will NEVER be intentional, but I am human, and prone to mistakes. I am a simple package of skin, bone, blood and emotions. Sometimes, the emotions rule and I fail. I promised you the day I married your dad that I would always try my best. I meant it then and I mean it now. I pray that someday, our life won’t feel so complicated. That my relationship with you will feel nearly as natural as the one I have with my biological child. I pray that there will be peace between both your homes and that we, as adults, take responsibility for our own relationships with you. Our bonds with you don’t negate any feelings you have for or with any other parent and you are allowed to love each and every adult in your life.
I want to speak truth into you. I want to be an encouraging force to you. I want to help you to see that you truly can accomplish anything. I want to be there when you screw up, so that I can remind you that imperfections and failures make us human.
I attended an awards ceremony for you recently. When I saw you, I had tears in my eyes. I quickly swallowed them back. I felt I couldn’t allow anyone to see, because I am not your mother. Sometimes it feels like society has expectations of step parents that are hard to fulfill. I am “supposed” to fulfill motherly duties like taking care of you, but showing emotions like being attached and proud of you can cause resentment and confusion from others because I am not your mom, and if I am not attached and bonded with you, then why not?  If you ever read this, I hope that you can understand that I am trying my best to navigate these waters, to know you, and to be someone who tells you the truth and creates peace in your world for you as you try to navigate the waters of multiple homes and blended families.

If I could tell you some things today, it would be this:
#1 I am not you mom and that is okay. I am blessed because I get to have you in my life and hopefully and prayerfully be a positive influence in yours. We get to know each other and learn from another relationship standpoint. I have no intention of ever, ever trying to take her place. I am just trying to find mine.
#2 I don’t hate your mom. It’s extremely difficult from an emotional stand point being married to a man who was married before. I came second. I will always come second. My baby won’t be his first child. Our wedding was his second wedding. Your dad has memories with you and your mom that I will never be a part of. It’s hard, I get jealous. And if I am completely honest, there are times I am extremely frustrated that there is a woman in our lives that can have a say in how we live and how we make decisions like when we can travel together as a family. But, I don’t hate her. Honestly.. your father’s life with you and your mother has made him a better husband for me and a better dad for all of you. His experiences with her have allowed us to have the life we have today. It allows me to know you, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
#3 I pray for you. Daily.
#4 Watching you as a big sister has been amazing. Your brother adores you. Seeing how he loves you and looks up to, and your kindness, patience and acceptance of him has been an eye opener to who you are at your core. I can’t imagine our family without you in it, and I feel like your brother’s life is better because of you.
#5 You had every right to feel hurt and resentment when your dad married me. It would have been a justifiable reaction to your dad having someone new in his life. You accepted me immediately and rarely offered any disrespect. You never accused me of not being your mom out of anger or hurt and you have always seemed to work just as hard as me to create a “family” For that, I am eternally grateful. I pray that as we will soon navigate your potentially rocky teenage years and as we face the unknown future, our bond continues to grow and that you will remain confident in your place in this family.

Blended family life may not have been either of our dreams, but I think we are pretty lucky to be stuck with each other. ❤

How I am Learning to STOP the Judging and START Living

Why is it so easy to judge? Why is it, that it’s more difficult to take a moment and try to look at the picture through someone else’s eyes? Why are we so quick to defend ourselves, even when wrong.. to the point of hurting others?
For the people reading this who know me, you know that I am a second wife and step mom. These are terms that don’t necessarily define who I am, but they are very defining roles in my life at the moment. Often times, my family deals with stress, turbulence, and unnecessary conflict because of miscommunications, quick judgements and pride

I spoke with a great friend yesterday and one of the things we talked about was the “broken family” dynamic. The truth is, NO ONE, I mean NO ONE, imagines themselves living the life of a blended/broken family. No one imagines that they will get a divorce, no one imagines they will be a second wife/husband. Brokenness hurts. Brokenness causes grief and confusion for all involved. If the adults living within this dynamic aren’t mature enough to be in touch with their own grief and emotions, a lot of unnecessary conflict and confusion will arise. One thing we try to focus on, is that our family isn’t broken! We aren’t broken. We are a different shape and size and we deal with many things that a “typical” family doesn’t have to deal with. But our strength, love for each other and drive to provide a positive and loving home means we are not broken!

This drive for a positive environment has taught me to slow my reactions…which is not always easy, (and I certainly don’t always do this!) It has taught me to TRY to look at the bigger picture, and to be humble… even when others are not. I am not always right. (NO ONE IS) I can’t see the whole picture and communication is a hard thing, especially when it is between two totally different households who have very different views on things. I have never had to send my child to be with his dad and another woman. I have never had to raise my kid and then listen to another’s opinion of care, thankfully. Taking this standpoint has not stopped some of the negative things from happening, nor has it changed anyone else in our story. It has changed MY family though. It has made ME a better person. Accepting that this is our life, choosing to love our life in all of its different shapes, and acknowledging I can’t change someone else has made it easier to let go of the crap – filter out the unnecessary and only respond to the important. It hasn’t changed the fact that the court system is broken and that sometimes the truth isn’t seen, but my little family and I choose to have enough love within our little house to get us through it.

            Am I perfect… ABSOLUTELY NOT! Not in any single sense of the word, I am not a perfect person, I am not a perfect parent, I am not a perfect wife, and the list goes on!! And that is OKAY! I don’t have to be. Flaws are real, flaws make people approachable, beautiful and relatable! Honestly, letting go of the desire to compete and be perfect is freeing. It feels good. Sure, words can still sting, but maybe those words are aimed at us because there are deeper personal issues within. I still have a long way to go, I am still looking for myself and trying to find my own identity apart from all this “blended” stuff… but today I have hope. I have hope that our blended family is beautiful and there will be peace someday… at least in our home. ❤

In This Story, I Play the Villain

In This Story, I Play the Villain

We’re all familiar with the wicked step mothers portrayed in movies. It’s a known fact that the villain will usually be the step mom. It’s funny to me now, but in the beginning of my  blended family journey it kind of sucked. You see, I felt completely alone. There weren’t many people who understood blended family dynamics and getting told over and over that I knew what I was getting into, or to stay in my lane because I was JUST the step mom got really old really quickly. I focused on my family, the people I love and who I am instead of the outside. I focused on the things I can control and on creating beautiful memories with my family. My focus couldn’t be on the outsiders opinions. My happiness depended on knowing I can only control so much and I should focus on that.

We are growing as a family in amazing and beautiful ways. We all still hit bumps and we all have rough days where we owe an apology or two. In this messy beautiful life there are a few things I have come to accept as fact:

I will always be the bad guy and villain in someone else’s story.

There will always be a group of people, people whom I love, who will never get it, and that’s ok!

I control my own happiness!

Let’s talk about how I will always be the villain to some. It will NEVER matter to some people how pure my motives may actually be. It will never matter where my heart is. It will never matter that I give credit where credit is due, or take the higher road, or encourage positive co parenting and parent child relationships with my step child and husband. None of that will ever matter.. because for some in my story.. I am the easiest to blame. You know what, that’s ok! There are days it still stings to be told how I am second class citizen and my efforts don’t matter, but ultimately, that opinion doesn’t matter! It takes a lot of focusing on wat truly matters, gratitude and intentional living to remember this when life gets mucky. But I get to write my own story. I get to choose if I am in fact the villain to my family. I get to choose my actions and there are some opinions that just shouldn’t matter. That doesn’t mean that they don’t create stress in our household, but we choose how we react to that stress. That’s where the power lies. We get to control our reaction, our happiness.

Some people won’t ever understand the stress, the frustration or the pain that someone living in a blended family deals with. And that’s ok too! Be grateful they don’t get it! That is one less family dealing with brokenness and trauma. That in itself is beautiful. It’s important to just remember, that not “getting it’ doesn’t meant they don’t care. It may just mean that when seeking wise advice, you may need to seek elsewhere.

My biggest lesson that I have learned these past 8.5 years is that I am in control of my future, my happiness and my family’s memories together. We may not have the control of our decisions the way we would if there wasn’t another family in the picture, but it’s such a small portion of our story!

Discouragement or Gratitude?

Recently my blog was featured on the Top 50 Family Blogs ( https://blog.feedspot.com/family_blogs/) and it got me thinking, I bet most people agree that some version of family is important to them. I think a lot of people had an idea for what that would look like as they grew up too. Maybe they wanted their family to look just like their grandparents’ beautiful love story and the holidays at their grandparent’s home. Maybe they envisioned being the cool mom. Maybe they envisioned being the one that all the kids spilled their hearts out to and all the house that all the neighborhood kids wanted to come to. Maybe they envisioned a high-powered career but Sunday dinners with their parents. I would be willing to bet that no matter what an individual dreamed; their life looks a little different. (Hey, if we could simply dream our lives into existence, I would be married to Jonathan Taylor Thomas and driving a bright yellow VW beetle, thank you 7th grade self.) We are human and with humanity comes being perfectly imperfect. It comes with having little control over what life actually looks like (don’t’ get me wrong, you can create your life and go after goals, but that’s a whole different post.) You don’t get to choose that your grandfather will get sick and pass away before ever meeting your children. You don’t get to choose who your kids are. You can’t choose everything along your path, and you don’t get to choose a lot of your family members. But you have a choice every day to live in the moment you’re given. You have choices to choose joy, to love the ones you’ve been given. It’s interesting to me how we value this idea of family and hallmark holidays, but when our lives don’t reflect that, we can easily become discouraged. Who cares if your gifts aren’t wrapped to Pinterest perfection?! Are you choosing to love your family when it matters, to show up? Are you creating the Sunday dinner tradition you thought you’d have? Our lives may not look like what we imagined, but everything in our story has shaped who we are. So why not choose joy? Why not choose to love where we are? Let’s try to treasure the family we have, even the difficult members, being grateful for the lessons we learn from them instead of being bitter that they exist. I think this simple shift in attitude can be the catalyst for joy. It all starts with gratitude.

What I Wish I Could Say

There’s a place, deep in my heart, that is filled with compassion for you. A place of longing for your relationship with your daughter to be one of joy and love. I wish you could see that, for me, it’s never been a competition. I never intended to step on toes, hurt feelings, or compete. Actually, quite the opposite. You see, I never imagined myself being a second wife, as I am sure you never imagined yourself divorced. I understood that we both were in places that were new and unsettling. I never imagined that I would be living in a role that is thankless and often times hurts. I never imagined there would be another woman in the picture, one who shares joyful beautiful memories with my husband, and one who has a ton of control over our schedule and decisions. But, at the end of the day, this is the life I chose. I grew. I embraced it. Conflict and all. There are still many, many days I close my eyes and see us all making effort. I see us all showing up. Because we are family in a way, and family shows up. I see us having Christmas and Easter dinners together… and the awkwardness fades away. I don’t know if that will ever happen, and I have come to accept that, but there’s so much I wish I could say. Some of what I want to say is probably blunt, hurtful and unnecessary. I’ll just keep that to myself. My feelings of hurt and anger are my own to process and I want this to say the things that are welling up deep, deep within.  I want to say thank you for giving life to your daughter. Because of your motherhood, I get to be a part of her life and she is a beautiful soul. I get to participate in the life of someone I adore. I want to tell you that no matter what… there is no replacement of the mother role. I am sure you know that. Actually, your self confidence is pretty darn intimidating at times, so I probably don’t need to tell you anything, but – your role is irreplaceable. I want to tell you that, this may not be the life you imagined, but it really can be beautiful. I wish you could see that all I ever wanted was to be allowed to be a family too and love your daughter. I want to tell you that I pray for you and your other children, that I love them too, because they are my (step) daughter’s siblings. I pray for your marriage, because I want you to be happy and I want our daughter to see that happiness. I want your success. I silently root for you thousands of miles away.

When your daughter saves every letter and card you give her, there’s a tiny place in me that stings a little bit. I don’t wanna lie, of course it hurts knowing the cards I give her will never matter as much. But then my heart sings.. because I know those words you spoke to her filled her. When your daughter shares things with me that are personal and deep, it hurts too, because my heart aches knowing she should be sharing with you first. All I want is for her to grow knowing she is adored, loved and not remembering or knowing the tension and hurt we felt. It’s not a child’s place to carry an adult’s burden. She will have her own heavy loads to shoulder one day.  I guess I write this to say… NONE of this is easy. NONE of this is clear, but my intentions have never been to hurt or compete. 8 years in and I am still imagining blended holidays and vacations. I wish you knew that. I also know that it probably wouldn’t change anything if you did know, but we won’t stop praying for you guys and rooting for you. I won’t stop that. You may need me to be silent, to quiet myself from the picture. I will do that. You may need me to step up one day. I will do that too. Because it’s not about me, it’s about our daughter – and that means I have to consider you too. Marriages weren’t meant to fail, families weren’t meant to blend. But, here we are. I pray this journey creates beauty from the ashes.

Been There, Traveled with Them, Now I’m Tired…

I love vacations! No, I mean I really LOVE vacations. I live for planning a trip somewhere. Whether that is a short weekend an hour away, a cruise to a new exotic location or a family trip to see grandparents, I LOVE it. There is something about getting out of our day to day routine, unplugging a little more and creating memories together that I just adore. We get to have adventures and bond in ways that we can’t at home. We are faced with challenges we wouldn’t be at home and get to see who we really are. (No, really, vacations often bring challenges. Ask me someday to tell you about our car in Georgia!) So, why am I choosing to write to you about vacations, when honestly how can anyone think there’s anything wrong with family time??? Well, that’s because when you are planning vacations in a blended family… there is suddenly a butt load of challenges that nuclear families have to deal with.

This past year our family had some big changes. My step daughter’s biological mom moved out of state and she moved in with us full time and started public school in our district. We began an out of state parenting plan where she is spending most of the summer and school breaks with her mom, step dad and other siblings. We get a lot of time together with her and we are so thankful, however, a large amount of that time is school time. We actually pulled our kids out of school for 4 days this year to go on a cruise. (BEST vacation ever for a family of mixed age groups, by the way!) Next year, we don’t think we can do this as my step daughter’s schedule is getting more demanding with school, work and dual enrollment and AP courses. After meeting with her career counselor and discussing this with her, we have decided that vacations during school days are not what’s best for her as she feels utterly overwhelmed to catch up. With summer and school breaks as our only options for vacations, we are a bit more limited now. Then, we need to take into account our time sharing schedule and try to plan around that. Suddenly, our vacation time opportunities are VERY limited.

This year, I earned a travel voucher through work. It was very exciting (because, did I mention, I LOVE vacations?) We originally planned to use it to go overseas this Summer. My step daughter was going to travel to Europe on a short term foreign exchange trip before traveling to her mom’s for the Summer. We were going to meet her there and spend some time together. Sounds perfect right?? Well, as can happen with raising kids, our plans didn’t work out. My step daughter made some decisions that caused us to say that her foreign exchange trip wouldn’t happen until next year or her senior year. My husband and I then decided that traveling overseas with a very wild 2.5 year old wasn’t exactly what we wanted to do this year, and we would only be able to go during the time our teenager was with us which didn’t really work out with our work schedules.  Our travel voucher had to be used in this calendar year and our time that we were all together and the kids are out of school really was very limited. We stressed about how to make it fair, how to include everyone, how to make it fun for all the kdis of different ages etc etc. I am sure I will get some negative feedback for what we decided, but this is why I am writing this. There isn’t a one size fits all answer for raising kids, especially in blended families! We only have my step daughter for a week or two this summer and during that time I will be doing annual appointments, school supply shopping, registration etc. We will definitely spend some time doing a fun weekend trip, but our teen has already expressed that she really wants to spend as much time as she can with friends after being gone for so long. (That’s not normal for a teenager at all, is it??!?)

So, with all of the schedules considered, ages of our children and the expiration of our voucher, we booked a trip this summer without my step daughter. To say that we have struggled with guilt would be an understatement. It’s funny because the trip we chose wouldn’t even excite her, and she has some awesome vacations planned with her mom’s side, and yet we have literally lost sleep over feeling guilty! But the truth is, we can’t stop living our lives just because she is away living hers in her other home. We decided to take our smaller children to Disney. We live in Florida so our teen has experienced Disney often and wouldn’t feel like she missed anything.

How, as a parent do you balance those guilt emotions? How do you provide “fair” experiences when living in a blended family? A couple things that really help me while planning our family vacations is understanding that our family is made up of multiple family units. My step daughter is living life at her mom’s. She is not being “excluded” from our family. My sons are living life with us while she is away. While there are certain trips we would never take without her, we can’t always schedule everything together due to the complicated schedules blended families have. We also always keep the children and what is best for them in mind. It is best for my step daughter to have a healthy realationship with both homes. It is best for her that we encourage this. It’s best for my sons that we keep our home running as normally as possible while she is with her mom. There isn’t always an easy answer, but the one thing we have always tried to do is just make sure that no matter what my step daughter knows she belongs, that she is loved in both homes and that we miss her even if life is going on without her, and acknowledging her sadness if she feels she has missed out. We encourage her to share her experiences and vacations that she has had without us, and we share ours with her. Communication is huge in our home.

Are you carrying guilt or struggling to find balance? Are you a family trying to figure out what is best for your home and your children? There isn’t an easy answer, but just remember, your home keeps running even when there are people who aren’t home. Your step children have experiences you aren’t part of and it’s ok to have some that they aren’t part of. If your motives are pure and you consistently try to consider what is best for all members of your home, your children will feel that love. And lastly, remember you aren’t alone!

Hi! I’m Stephanie

Hey there! Thanks for stopping by. Let’s start off on the right foot, I’m Stephanie. I am a self proclaimed coffee lover, Jesus lover and a bit of a spaz. I am honest to a fault and love all things outdoor and adventure. (Although I am TERRIFIED of flying!) I am passionate about hard work, creating spaces where people can gather and be themselves, hosting, and reveling in the beauty of nature. I am a mother of three (kind of…). Well, mother to two boys and step-mother to a teen girl. Family can be messy, blended families can be super messy and this is the reason I blog. I hope you find some inspiration here for the beautiful mess you’re living and that you can learn to grow where you’re planted, even if it’s a bit gravely.