Stepdaughter Lesson

I am feeling left out. I am feeling angry. I feel threatened. I feel like I am being replaced. I am feeling like I cannot have my dad to myself when she is around. Why can’t she just stop sitting next to my dad and holding his hand like they’re teenagers?  I feel like he defends her when I try to talk to him about my feelings. Why does she think she can tell my dad what to do, how to feel, where he should go?

My mom has been gone almost three years.  I felt sad she didn’t ever seem to like me very much, but my dad made up for it. My dad and I could talk, tell each other secret things, our feelings, our hurts and our joys.  I am very close to him. My dad has had lady friends since mom died. He loves to dance and he’s had a couple close friends, one lady he felt love for, but then she broke up with him. I was happy my dad was trying to stay social and involved and healthy. Dad also has lady friends that he car pools with and a couple that call him and chat.  I have had no issues with him enjoying the company of another female.

But now this particular woman comes into his life, a classmate that attended last year’s gathering.  She and dad hit it off and began calling each other.  It’s been about a year.  She lives approximately 4 hours away.  She calls him and gives him lots of attention.  I can see dad loves this attention.  They’ve been together perhaps a handful of times this past spring and summer.  Her and I don’t know each other, we were together only once this spring at a graduation party. A couple days later after she returned to her home, my dad told me she said she didn’t think I was very friendly. I was shocked…we didn’t have the chance to talk, and besides, I was really uncomfortable because the two of them held hands the whole afternoon.  I was also feeling confused, wondering just where this relationship was going. I guess I thought because of the distance, it would fizzle.  

I felt my heart putting up a wall hearing those words from her through dad after a brief meeting at a family event. I felt if she was that quick to judge, perhaps there were other characteristics about her I might have issues with.  I practice “no judgment”, it is completely unfair for me to use my paradigms and expectations to determine someone else’s worth.  When one enters a new family, it is very wise to observe, practice good silence and good conversation, and observe more. I realized I felt very hurt by her assumptions and worse…..voicing them to my dad.

My dad recently had surgery and at first she wanted him to go to her home to recover for two weeks. Not talking to me, his primary caretaker, but trying to convince him of this idea. I became very upset and being respectful of my dad, told him “We’d just have to see”.  I didn’t let on just how upset I was.  Driving for 4+ hours two days after prostate surgery was not going to fly, the trip was out of the question, so she came here.….for two weeks.  

I admit, I am struggling. I am a Christian woman, intelligent, responsible, a professional career woman, what is going on in my heart?  As I reflected on this, I realized I feel no respect from her, no conscious effort to step back and observe the relationship between my dad and I.  I’ve been my dad’s advocate and primary caregiver for over four years.  I journal every doctor appointment and any issues he has at home.  I know his medical history better than he does.  Why is she behaving as if dad has no one to look after him?

It is my contention she is trying to control things. Maybe, maybe not….but that feeling is real. Even dad said she is a little “bossy”.  When I went to visit the other day, she was sitting next to him and said, “We thought we’d have your dad come to my house this second week of recovery, but then we thought it might be too much of a drive.” I did not respond according to my emotions!  Whoa…hold back, breathe first, then speak.  However,  I did say I would not have agreed to that as dad needs to stay near us and his doctors. Full recovery usually takes about three months.  I couldn’t believe it…what was she thinking…and again, why would she try to do something like this and not speak with me about it first?

Yesterday I called him and she answered the phone. Again, I felt…why are you doing this? You are a guest.  Dad should answer his phone! (Yep, I was feeling that jealousy thing again) Dad tells me there are no marriage possibilities for either of them. Neither wants to move.  So….what is going to happen? If you are a part-time girlfriend, why are you trying to take over?

So, you may ask….what is my point in sharing this personal reflection and circumstance? I believe God gave me a nudge in the direction of how a daughter that is close to her dad feels when “the other woman” enters the picture. And what the other woman needs to do and not do when entering the picture.

I felt my dad’s friend should have avoided: Saying something negative after the first time we met, asking my dad to do things that are completely out of our normal realm, trying to take over his care and well-being, and making comments to me as if I weren’t doing a good job. The constant touching, hand-holding, closeness…it’s hard to understand when I don’t see a permanent “together” plan coming. 

My “little girl” was definitely stomping and crying and having a fit.  I imagine what I am sharing with you honestly and openly here would not be far off the mark for a young girl in junior high into adulthood to feel.  I’m a grandma for goodness sake, and look what I am telling you about my hurt feelings!

Here are my thoughts regarding a new understanding of daughters who love their daddy and meeting or getting to know their potential stepmom.  Take it slow. Slooooooow.  Try to meet in a gathering rather than just the man and his children. It is easier when there is more action going on. Focus on the child/adult when you meet them and avoid intimate touching with their dad until the appropriate time and place. Get to know the daughter, go shopping, see a movie….get to know her. Speak encouragingly to her, support her role as a daughter.  Be respectful of her dad rather than using love language too quickly. Write her a letter affirming how you feel about her, the love for her dad, and creating a new family (if things are serious).

When I met my husband, his daughter was eleven (his only child). She was twelve when we got married. I did what I believed to be all the right things prior to our wedding: Spent time alone with her, wrote her a letter, I didn’t act intimate or romantic with her dad…we barely held hands. We were both very conscious of her reactions and well-being. We laughed and included each other during outings.

The emotions I began this post with were real and raw. As an adult, I am now on the receiving end of a woman entering a romantic realm with my dad. I embraced these raw feelings and took each one and examined it.  I have learned many things.  I assure you, I’ve told my dad at 85, he has the right to make his own decisions about his social life. I shared I may not like them, but I would never say “no”…..I love my dad and I admit I am selfish for my time with him, whatever God deems that to be. I want my dad to be happy.  

No matter how old we daughters get, our “little girl” is alive and well inside and she needs to be understood and loved.  God bless us all!

Stepfamilies – Reconciling Those Decisions

     I love spontaneous conversations at unexpected places because I never know where they will lead and what material I will be inspired with for my blog. Recently I had a lovely conversation with a stepmom. The point that struck me from our talk is how we are ultimately faced with having to accept certain decisions and reconcile ourselves to the reality of those decisions. We marry, we divorce, we remarry.

     Once we pass between the gates of marital extraction (divorce), we can become aware of doubts and questions. Is this what I thought would happen, why am I feeling sad, why are my family and friends treating me differently, why is my ex behaving this way and now their family is becoming hostile too. Many of us forge ahead believing that it is for “the best”, whether or not we were the ones initiating the divorce. The stakes are driven into the ground, the boundaries set.

     When I listen to and read various stepfamily situations, issues, and problems…the realization that reconciling with the consequences of our divorce decision is something not many of us consciously think about, but we should. Is the single life difficult? Can be. Is the idea of remarriage, even into a stepfamily exciting and full of positive expectations? Can be. Is stepliving often a good whack in the head once entered into? Absolutely. Only then do we begin to fully realize the ramifications and consequences of divorce decisions made…good, bad, or ugly decisions.

     “Picture it….” as Sophia Petrillo (Golden Girls) would begin: The marriage fails, separation, then divorce, then remarriage. What happens? Stipulations, custody, and considerations of the biological parents’ children are agreed upon by parents and mediators and judges. Then routines and daily life begins and reality sets in!

    It is impossible to foresee what is ahead once a marriage with children ends. Divorce is much different than death of a spouse regarding remarriage and stepfamilies. But, no matter how we may think we can handle and/or control things…it just doesn’t ever happen that way.  We begin to realize just how much IS out of our control.  “But I miss them when they’re not here”, “Can’t I keep them a couple of hours longer?” “Why can’t we switch, we’re having a family reunion?” “Why didn’t you tell me they (child) had to see a doctor?”….. living every day life without our children sets in. Decisions are not always arrived upon in the best way…and we feel out of control and angry.

     It is a very bitter pill to swallow when we understand that this is how it is going to be.  I made some choices and decisions and not being a fortune-teller or prophet…there was no way to see that I would regret some of them. Children do not choose their parents, do not choose to be born, do not choose divorce, do not choose marriage or remarriage. I know a lot of adults feel like victims after divorce as well as in stepliving. However, whether it was our choice to pursue the divorce, or we were pulled along in a “no fault” divorce proceeding, or we fell in love and entered the world of stepliving, we have to maintain structure in our homes. We need to acknowledge our stepfamily roles and the importance of them. God, husband and wife (Marital Perch), children, everyone else.  For the sake of our children and their well-being and adjustments, we turn away from ourselves (selfishness) and turn toward the children (selflessness).  I need to consider their peace of mind and calm, even if it means I cannot have or see them whenever I want.  Believe me, this doesn’t change when they grow up, get married, and have their own families. I still have to share with the “other household and extended families”. Many times, I choose to smile and be silent.

     I think of under-age children and their new lifestyles and I simply cannot imagine life in two homes…every other day, every other week, every other weekend, every other holiday, etc. etc. Their lives are go, go, go…drive through this and that, hurry here, hurry there. One example of this stands out clearly: How many times during the week does your family sit around the dinner table with nothing else to do for the evening but eat, talk, relax, and go to bed? We adults choose a dwelling and live there. Period. Our children have to exist as we tell them…here, now there, now here, now there….

     Our children live in a faster paced world than ever before. Television, movies, video games flash images over and over and over again, demanding our eyes and brains to adjust, take it all in. When I go to a movie and it is one of my husband’s action-packed choices, I just close my eyes during some scenes. I do not want those strobe-type images assaulting my mind….I do not believe it is good for us. Iron Man 3? Closed eyes frequently! I want to ask the individuals creating these images….why?      

     Our children/stepchildren need compassion, understanding, empathy! They need someone in their lives to be calm, responsible, consistent, safe, dependable, trustworthy, loving, understanding, willing to listen, nurturing…..and that dear ones, is where stepmoms come in. Yes, stepdads too…..but more often than not, as women, God built us for just these things. We stepmoms affect everyone around us, especially children. We reconcile to the underexposed reality of our decision after some months of stepliving, that we will be called upon to be brave, endure great things, work hard, cook, clean, taxi, and rarely a thank you.  And through it all, maintain a servant attitude. Not a doormat, dog, or slave….those are other problems. I am talking about strong women who are confident within themselves that that can choose to rise above emotions, be helpmates to their husbands or partner, and live examples of a good marriage.

     Sometimes, the reconciling of our decisions is reached personally, and sometimes as a spouse, we are called upon to help them reconcile with their decisions. It is an important “step” to the health and vitality of the marriage and the family.

       Let me end with this thought. We cannot undo a divorce if we get remarried. That is true. However, reconciliation after divorce should never be thrown out the window. Faciliating Divorce Care, I’ve seen people attend the class, only to drop out because they and their spouse decided to try to work things out. I’ve seen couples divorce, remain single, and even after a few years pass…reconcile and remarry each other. It is not impossible. It is only rare.  So when you hear of your friend or someone you know who has marital problems, please please please listen…talk to them…share with them your experience of the “after and the now”. If we can prevent further divorce, we may be able to help our children grow up to desire marriage, to desire a best-friend spouse for the rest of their lives. According to an email I received from a Stepfamily Coach seminar in Dallas, it was reported that children who grow up in a healthy stepfamily can overcome the propensity to divorce as married adults. Amen!

God bless each and every one!  dori:)

Stepfamilies – Preparation, Paradigms & Purpose

Tuesday morning, October 1st, I was part of a radio presentation to discuss Divorce Care. The host has been so taken with my passion for separated, divorced, and remarrieds into stepfamilies, that he has asked me to continue with informative discussions.

I have committed to the next several weeks to discuss the various topics in Divorce Care including… Forgiveness, New Relationships, What About the Kids. I feel Divorce Care is the last chance I have to not only help them recover and heal, but to help these individuals avoid the pitfalls of entering another relationship too soon and more tragic, another marriage too soon. I have been there and done that.

The past several days I have been reading several entries from stepmoms on our group FaceBook page that I will keep private until such time as they give me permission to discuss their stories. But reading these recent posts, I have an ardent desire to capture their pain, struggles, frustration, anger….and run to the nearest pre-marital meeting between couples and their pastor, or gather anyone contemplating stepliving life. I want to share these stores and say, “Wait, are you prepared for this…Can this happen to you…What if…?”  There are so many issues that come up once a couple steps into life with each other and the kids, it is virtually impossible to write a book (mine is currently at the editor’s) and list or discuss all the variables that crop up in a stepfamily because each one is unique and has a life of its own. We all understand the language, but in each stepfamily the “words” of the language are different. Not every stepfamily deals with the exact same issues.

This is why I do not use the word “blended”. “Blended family” sounds easy, but it is far from that….as if you could just take a big spoon and in a big bowl stir together two adults, one or more children, ex-spouse and their parents, step-grandparents, counselors, lawyers, school officials, doctors, well-meaning friends, add a gallon of emotions and POOF!, instant family cake. Yeah, that sounds easy, but it is far from realistic. Everything mixed together, losing all role identity and purpose? I think not. The well-intended “cake” will fall.

Stepfamilies include many, many steps and baby steps at that. Slow, crock-pot or roaster style cooking…that is how a stepfamily is created. God, husband and wife, child or children, then add everyone else, season appropriately with patience, flexibility, forgiveness, understanding, and several handfuls of love. Each component of the stepfamily mixture maintains their role, look, shape, and purpose. The critical element is time. Lots of low-temp time. Stepfamilies do not instantly develop a routine or history. Some statistics say a sense of regularity and relationship stability within a stepfamily can take up to seven (7) Years. Sound like a long time? Talk to a few stepmoms or stepdads in the early years of their union or marriage, and they will concur that it is a longer process than they ever imagined….and much more difficult. Does that mean you should feel depressed or hopeless because of a long stretch? Of course not, it means you can release your preconceived expectations, and relax and enjoy the journey because time will be your best friend as you become familiar with each other, share, laugh, and make your own new memories. Love is a decision, not an emotion. So is the goal to be a successful stepfamily. It is a decision you and your husband/wife or mate are committed to, refraining from emotions running your household.

My mind will often take a thought and turn it around and around like a brilliant jewel. I ponder and think about the thought. Something has been weighing heavy on my mind lately…today’s “jewel” was why and how do lovebirds become birds of prey? Couples fall in love, head over heels….have-to-have you love, get married, have children, and somewhere down the marital drive, the wheels fall off. Soon the lovebirds are fighting, arguing, leaving, having affairs. Once they separate, these once-upon-a-time lovebirds often turn into angry, vengeful, bitter birds of prey! No more love stuff….this is war! Then things get worse. They turn their diabolical maneuvers on the children….to retaliate against their ex-love. They shuffle paperwork, engage lawyers, the court system and school system, demand more money, get their friends and family, including boyfriends or girlfriends to stand up and join the fracas. Kids are found to be ADHD, feeling isolated or depressed, being diagnosed with all kinds of issues/illnesses, taking pills, seeing counselors, failing, angry, taking it out on other students with bullying, and some…become suicidal. And then bring to the mix……a stepdad or stepmom who then find themselves in the middle of it all.

My first inclination is to think their wedding is an event in the minds of too many. Not enough couples sit down together to plan the rest of their lives together. They plan the wedding, they do not plan the marriage. The wedding is a one day event, their marriage is a life-long covenant, a promise. I’m not sure how many times “til death do us part” is said at ceremonies anymore…besides, it is beginning to sound like a dance to me. We need to say it like it is, “We are going to be married until one of us dies. Period. Divorce is not an option.” The marriages of 40+ years ago were just plain different than they are now. Something changed after that. In Divorce Care and life in general, I’ve heard of marriages ending before and after 20+ years, rarely after 30+, and not ever have I heard a marriage dissolving after 40+ years.

Even with abuse and adultery, individuals can repent and change and resume marriages, it has been done. No marriage should exist with abuse, violence, ongoing affairs, or danger to the spouse or children. But I wonder how many marriages end because of just those things.

Do couples enter marriage and then begin to take each other for granted and don’t take the time to realize they are? Do they stop caring? Does cute humor turn into vicious jokes and ridicule? How does blame, condemnation, criticism, and defensiveness weave its ugly head into the lovebirds life? Why don’t couples routinely go to marriage retreats or conferences? Teachers, doctors, and other professionals are required to renew or update their education and skills (I know I want MY doctor to!)…and they aren’t committed to these things until the day they die! Why aren’t we taking better care of our marriages, especially once children come on the scene? Little things if not addressed, turn into big things. I believe we all take things too personally, we live in a society that has become me, me, me….and “right now” for me (instant gratification).

I believe God has been pushed aside in lieu of “I know what I want and need and I certainly know what I’m doing and how to get it.” I believe couples and families need to pray together more. I believe there needs to be better communication (and more listening than talking), less blame. We should strive for more humility, less pride, more work and service to others, less self-centeredness. Respect must reign in a home between everyone, especially between the adults to set the example for the family. Stepfamilies should seek to have harmony, calm, respect in their homes as the first stepping-stones. Be happy with these initial and important attributes. Kids are stressed to the max…I cannot imagine shifting my stuff to multiple homes…every other day, every other week, every other weekend, holidays become running from one household to another. And deal with school, parents/step-parents, peers, and a very fast-paced world. I just can’t imagine it. Us adults decide what house we are going to live in and then we do. How often do we seriously contemplate and understand and appreciate the shifting lives of our children and stepchildren? 

I don’t have the answer as to why there is so much divorce today, I am pondering things and wanted you to do so as well. Ponder the lives of the children in your household. Ponder your marriage or relationship. When is the last time you spoke lovingly to your husband/wife or mate and sincerely complimented them…what about to the kids? Do you wear a smile? (Best facial feature & relationship builder!!) When is the last time you had alone time with your spouse/mate to talk over the day, share ideas, look at the calendar of events for your family? Please don’t allow an air of ugly little “demons” in your household such as bitterness, disappointment, envy, hurt, anger….and too much busy-ness.

Stepfamilies are everywhere, more than ever in history. Stepfamilies have a different lifestyle and couples need encouragement and support and must take the responsibility of choice for their behaviors and environment in their homes. We choose how we think, speak, and act. We have full control over ourselves. I encourage husband and wife/mates in stepfamilies to unite in protecting each other and their marriage/relationship. It is hard work, requires diligence and endurance, but the reward is waiting for you!

I leave you these words from Scripture, Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance (endurance), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Post these words where you can easily see them each day. Stepmoms and stepdads have a new opportunity to make a difference in each other’s and a child’s life. Take this responsibility seriously, you are a part of their future and hold it in your hands.

God bless you, each and every one!