Are you ready to bond with Biomom? Check out these 5 ways to begin…

Yes, you read it right! Imagine a world where you actually like BM and don’t see her as the source of pain and frustration for your family. Imagine that your days of territorial battling, venomous words and blows to each other’s self esteem were a thing of the past. Can you see it even if it’s a flicker of hope? I understand that it is in our nature to find every possible excuse to avoid reconciling with someone who has hurt us. I know you may be thinking, why would I want to bond with BM? What if I told you that it’s the road to healing for your family? Typically, the core of the issues blended families stem around the relationship between the stepmom and BM.

Warning! This applies to those who are mature enough to move forward and who have found ways to dehumanize the BM. If you haven’t already read “Girl, bye”, you are definitely missing out because Naja explains why it’s so easy to treat the BM in your life with cruel intentions by dehumanizing her. Too often, we overlook factors that show us how much we actually have in common with BM. For one, the desire to care for your stepchild connects you both as well as having similar taste in men. Since we are playing on the same team and cheering for the same player, why not explore team-building efforts that are practical and effective? I’m not saying you will be friends like Jada Pinkett and Will Smith’s first wife because it takes time and effort from both sides. Genuine efforts will slice the tension and shatter the stone wall you put in place to protect yourself when you view co-parenting as a daily process. Some days will be better than others but don’t give up. You just have to find what works for your blended family.

Since we’ve established that she’s not going anywhere and neither are you, here are a few things you can do together:

1. Manicure/Pedicure or Spa day: This is a relaxing activity that most women enjoy and allows you to connect woman to woman without the added noise.

2. Going to the movies: Who doesn’t like to be entertained? Besides, most of the attention is on the screen so there is less talking. Who could use some peace and quiet for once?

3. Meeting for lunch or dinner: A good meal and some liquid courage will definitely ease the anxiety you’ve built up from being alone with BM.

4. Crafts: Since it’s extremely difficult to flourish creatively while stressed, why not look for activities that requires attention so you don’t have to focus on the obvious awkwardness between you two? Explore your tastes but try painting classes, scrapbooking, crocheting or knitting, photography, etc.

5. Therapy: Some times we all need a little help getting to our destination. Successful blended families have a strategy and working with a trained professional might be the missing piece to your puzzle.

Consider the list above and more because living in a state of stress and chaos is no way to live. It was your decision to be a stepmom and it’s also your responsibility to have a life full of peace, love and healthy relationships. You don’t want to wake up one day full of bitterness and resentment because you were too stubborn to keep trying. By putting forth conscious efforts, it will begin to change the dynamic of your family’s life. Good luck!

Let’s talk it out…3 signs that therapy might be the right move for your family!

For many, the idea of therapy is frowned upon. The idea of telling complete strangers your dirty business and exposing yourself to possible judgement makes people cringe. Imagine having that mindset and now you’re a stepmom dealing with all types of emotions you don’t know how to process or communicate. It is nothing shameful about seeking an alternate perspective or insight into the sometimes chaotic world of co-parenting.

Here are three warning signs that might sound familiar that will have you considering therapy for your blended woes:

When your daily life begins to suffer as a result of the ongoing conflict, seek individual therapy. As stepmoms, we’ve frequently discussed the option of stepping in and stepping out as we see fit to preserve ourselves. Sometimes our daily responsibilities or expectations may be overwhelming and we don’t know how to ask for help. In other cases, we are full of pride and don’t want to admit it’s just too much. It is important to be self aware especially when you begin to notice that your peace and mental stability are being affected. At times, fathers unwillingly place unspoken expectations on stepmoms and we willingly accept the burden out of fear of how he will respond and/or society will view us. It’s the ugly truth! We are too busy trying to reshape how society views the importance of our role in the family and we don’t want to let anyone down. As a result, we are so drained by the ongoing drama that we begin to react out of character by projecting our feelings onto others around us who are not the issue. When any or all of these things are happening, it’s time to speak with a life coach and/or therapist to sort through your issues in a healthy way.

Communication with BM is filled with confusion and constant misunderstanding. Misunderstandings are bound to happen when you say one thing and BM processes something completely different. How about when you both are constantly talking over each other which means no one is listening?! Perhaps you explode on them over small things that have begun to pile up over time. Communication is key but also understanding each person’s communication style would be helpful to prevent these things from happening. Some people prefer to text or email but by doing so, it is left up to the recipient to understand what you are trying to say. This is tricky when dealing with sensitive issues because tones and true intentions can be misinterpreted. Believe it or not, there is a group out there that still prefers to speak on the phone to eliminate the undertones a text message may carry. Sometimes you may not want to hear the sound of their voice so this may not work for you. Lastly, there is the stepchild who is often the messenger between households where he is frequently being used a tool between the adults. This is unhealthy in some many ways because children should be protected from the drama that the adults have created. By including the stepchild as the messenger, you are offloading your burdens onto them which may affect them in the different areas of their life. They may begin to act out at home, in school or withdraw from activities they once enjoyed. All of these scenarios point to a serious breakdown in communication which can be resolved in a group family session over time.

When physical violence is the solution to resolve your issues. Everyone’s blended situation is quite different but as adults, we have to find another way to sort through stressful times without physically assaulting the other person. Not only are personal boundaries broken but the family dynamic is downright toxic. If a referee is needed for you to deal with your BM, therapy should definitely be an option but you also need to check your level of accountability. Do you have to involve law enforcement? Is your stepchild(ren) witnessing these altercations? When people communicate with their fists, it means they have a difficult time controlling themselves and can be viewed as impulsive. If there is enough discord or tension, anger may manifest in your body as knots in your stomach, sweaty palms, headaches, anxiety, etc. Out of anger, you can seriously hurt someone and it is a known fact that a few minutes of anger can leave you with a lifetime of regret. Anger management is absolutely needed in cases where you health is affected by your stressful situation but family therapy would be beneficial especially when law enforcement must intervene.

In blended families, therapy can provide healthy boundaries and effective communication as safeguards to protect your sanity when emotions run high and patience runs low. Ultimately, we all want to co-parent to the best of our ability but often lack the knowledge and resources to do so. It is at this time that you need to speak up and get help for the sake of yourself and your family.

The Package Deal

I define “The Package Deal” as an understanding that a woman accepts before taking on the role of stepmom or bonus mom. At times, we believe it’s enough to just love your partner and all things will just work out. However, it’s a bit more complex than that when you consider the family dynamic before you entered the picture. In the beginning of a relationship, you are enjoying the blissful aspects of your relationship such as the romantic dates, flowers, gifts, sex, daily text messages and phone calls. You are aware he is a father but depending on the visitation schedule, you may not have that much exposure to the child(ren). As a result, you can easily make a decision with limited information. I would suggest giving yourself time to see the family dynamic firsthand before making such a commitment. Because your partner has a dual role, you can’t have one without the other which is why it’s considered a package deal. If you try to divide the two, you will lose! When I started dating my future husband, he would have his son every other weekend but made it to school events, games and anything he was involved with. Every other weekend is not enough time for anyone to bond with their child(ren) and certainly not enough time for a future stepmom to catch a glimpse of what her life could be like.

As a stepchild myself, I resented the relationship or lack thereof with my stepfather no matter how bad I may have wanted it. He would make it clear that I wasn’t his daughter so we never connected on that level. I believe his rejection shaped me into the stepmother I am today because I refused to allow someone else to feel that pain. Many years later, I found myself feeling the same way because as much as I loved my stepson as if he was my own, he still wasn’t mine. Ironically, I have my stepfather to thank for showing me all the things I wouldn’t ever do with my stepson. I had so many choices early on to reject the package deal and make excuses to avoid connecting with my stepson. As I said yes to my future husband’s proposal, I was also saying “I DO promise to love you, be loyal, faithful and protect you and I DO vow to love your son and nurture him as my own.” It’s been many years since I’ve accepted the package deal and I still stand by decision to be the best stepmom/bonus I could be.

In-Laws

When you find a man you want to spend your life with, very seldom do you take into account your in-laws. After all, you are marrying him not them, right? This mindset can be helpful or hurtful especially when your husband a close relationship with his family. So when it comes to co-parenting issues and your in-laws, should they stay on neutral ground? When I say neutral ground, I am referring to inclusion of the biological mother at your man’s family event despite knowing of the existing issues? I am not referring to birthday parties or events for the child(ren) that you are co-parenting for but family cookouts. The presence of the biological mother at the events showed the family’s lack of concern for the distress she often caused for us. In my family, if a person is a known source of issues for a family member, they are not invited whatsoever. I had to learn the hard way that my husband’s family were quite different.

Inclusion and being amicable towards the biological mother took a long time to come to terms with because I never understood it nor agreed with it. For me, it was difficult to appreciate them as my in-laws when they failed to preserve our peace at a family function. At certain functions, I would alienate myself from them to avoid being the “problem.” I struggled to respect their decision, not despise the biological mom and enjoy myself at the function. Whew, that was a lot of work and exhausting! As a result, these choices, if not all, allowed me to build resentment towards my in-laws and the biological mother. How could I enjoy myself with the presence of a person that I despised? What is the bigger problem?

Some may believe that it’s okay for the biological mother to be there because she had been invited and is amicable with your in-laws. If we were co-parenting successfully, inclusion wouldn’t have been an issue for me at all. The fact that she would show up as if we were had become more disturbing than anything. Did I really expect my in-laws to ban the biological mother for the sake of my husband and I? Truthfully, yes! I would have preferred for them to wait until both sides were amicable before inviting the biological mother. I understand they made the decision based on her being my stepson’s mother. However, it created a false sense of reality for my stepson because once the event was over, we went to back to business as usual with us barely speaking to his mother. Essentially, what was this really communicating to him?

The question remains: Is it okay for the in-laws to invite the biological mother to functions knowing that there are unresolved issues? Does the answer depend on the offenses of the mother? Should it? Every family is different but by choosing to invite the biological mother, does that translate to your family member and his wife that you are not concerned about their feelings or situation? Can the actions of the in-laws be viewed as waving the white flag and choosing not to pick a side? I would love to hear another perspective on this.

The Uneven Seesaw

My stepson came to live with his father and I when he was nearly 8 years old and one month before giving birth to our first child. I thought it would be a great bonding experience because although the boys had different mothers, the idea of “half brothers” would never be an option in our house. A few months after moving in with us, my husband got promoted on his job which meant longer hours. My husband never once asked me to increase my responsibilities as a custodial stepmom but it was easy to take care of my stepson like he was my own. During this time, my stepson and I spent a lot of time together and began to strengthen our bond. However, you can call me naïve because I stepped knee deep into the role of being a martyr stepmother without a clue. I was foolish enough to not have expectations for this transition because I honestly believe that my role wouldn’t change besides helping with homework.

Six months later, I become pregnant for the 2nd time with my daughter and I just got comfortable with a routine with the boys. It didn’t bother me to help my stepson with homework, scheduling and bringing him to doctor appointments, transporting him to and from football practice, picking him up from after care, school shopping, etc until I became overwhelmed. My husband made himself available as much as possible so we would take turns with bringing him to doctor’s appointments, football practice and other things as his schedule allowed. I’m definitely blaming the hormones for the range of emotions I was experiencing because my normal routine became exhausting. Therefore, it would make sense that I began looking for our co-parent to help out a bit.

At the beginning of the school year, I remember receiving help with school clothes from my stepson’s mother then not much after that. There were missed opportunities at school to be involved in and she was unavailable to help out with homework, doctor appointments, sports, after care, etc. It was a stressful time because I was learning to be a mom to two kids at the same time. I had no experience with being fully responsible for a child yet alone two so I was looking forward to the weekends where my stepson would visit with her. Sadly, the visits were not on the regular as we hoped. Naturally, there was a lot of resentment towards her because I expected her to be more involved as his mother and needed her as a co-parent. As a result, the tension between us grew and she never did assume the responsibilities I had hoped she would.

So my mind began to wonder…Why wouldn’t she want to do the things she once did for him? Was it my fault? Was I a threat to her? Not in the physical as in bodily harm but as it relates to role and position. How can I fix this? Do I simplify my efforts to put her at ease? Or do I boldly exercise my strengths which unfortunately highlights her weakness and insecurities? How do we find a common ground? Will there always be an uneven seesaw in the relationship where one side is carrying the heavier load?

The obvious solution would be for both sides to share the load to balance the seesaw. If one side continually handles the heavier side, they enable the other side to not do their part. As I’m looking back, the adults (us) did a terrible job in communicating the transition my stepson would have to face. We never set boundaries, expectations and really thought it would naturally work out. I often vented to my husband but never directly with my stepson’s mother. I regret not doing that because it led to countless arguments, tension and anger for years. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if we took one responsibility at a time from our plate and placed it onto hers? As she managed that, we could add another and so forth until the seesaw was level. We understand now that both sides that are willing to manage the load together will find balance, peace and a stronger relationship but I wish I would have learned this years ago.

Half Empty or Half Full?

I found myself looking at my contribution as a custodial stepmother to measure what I was bringing to the table. I always found the analogy of the half empty/half full glass of milk to be interesting so I applied it to my co-parenting situation.

To answer the question whether the glass is half empty or half full depends on the perspective of the one holding the glass. One parent may feel that he/she is doing everything possible for the sake of the child but in reality they are not pouring enough milk (time, money, resources) into the glass to nourish their child. We can describe their parenting level as the glass being half empty. Another parent may actually be doing everything possible to nourish the child and pours all of their milk (time, money and resources) to fill up the child. Their parenting level can be described as the glass being half full. Theoretically, each effort adds more milk to the cup in hopes of filling it to the brim. It seems unfair to have one parent do more than the other, right? I argue it’s all about your perspective. If both parents are lucky, they will see an overflow of what they poured into that child which then can be used to help others. How would you describe your parenting style?

As parents, we believe that we are doing all that we could to pour the right things into our child so that one day we can be proud to show off our accomplishment: a smart, respectable, mature, responsible, talented young person ready to take on the world. However, I challenge every parent to reconsider what else they may have poured into their child(ren). While you may have paid for sports or music lessons, have you also allowed the drama and negativity of your co-parenting to seep in? Is your child(ren) aware of the ongoing battle over him/her? Are they able to communicate this to you or do they internalize it? As co-parents, we must be mindful of what we pour into our children because if not, we can cause more damage which will result in expensive therapy now or later.

The Unforgiving Heart

I’ve always struggled with unforgiveness no matter the size of the offense. It’s deep rooted in me. I am guilty of putting grown adults on “time out” unbeknownst to them for something I had not forgiven them for. It was my problem not theirs. So I began to wonder…..

How do you forgive others who aren’t truly sorry? How do you overcome forgiving others when they are unaware of their offense? How do you overcome forgiving others when they don’t understand the depth of your pain? How do you overcome forgiving others when they are unapologetic? More importantly, how do you forgive yourself? How can you move forward with the person you forgave? Do you stop all interactions until the feelings pass? What if they are family or even a spouse or child? It’s much easier to forgive them, right? Does forgiving mean that you are weak? Does forgiving mean that you allow the same opportunity for another offense to occur? Are you supposed to resist the urge to speak your mind and destroy them with your venomous words if you have truly forgiven them? Is this a sign you are on the road to forgiveness when you choose not to unleash hell on them? What does forgiveness even look like? Is it an ongoing behavior that must be consistent without pretense? Are some people more unforgiving than others? Does it depend on your upbringing? Is it a learned behavior?

For years, this was a sore spot for me and honestly, it still is. Too many times, I confused forgiveness with being soft or passive out of fear of the offenses continuing. In retrospect, I would say my upbringing had alot to do with how I chose to forgive others. In my family, we held grudges for so long that people often forgot what they were originally mad about and instead of dropping the matter altogether, the cycle continued for years. I knew it was unhealthy to hold these grudges but my pride wouldn’t allow me to give in.  Every now and again, the BM (Biological Mom) needed grace and I was ruthless in withholding it. I had been scarred pretty early on in my stepmom journey so it took very little effort to spark an outburst. The few times when I tried to convince myself that I had actually committed the act of forgiveness, I would find myself in a situation that proved to me how wrong I was. I would hear people say that forgiveness is for you and by doing so, it would free the burden in your heart. After a while, I decided that forgiving BM took too much effort and I would never learn the lesson. Eventually, I began to look at forgiveness in a practical way because as humans, we all mess up and will continue until the end of time. Everyone has at least one thing in their life they just can’t get right. Just think about how draining it would it be to have someone constantly holding that over your head. Get the point? Choose to forgive over and over if you have to. It’s not a one time thing and then you’re done. Forgiveness takes daily discipline.

Unforgiveness freezes time while forgiveness allows the sun to rise daily and the moon to take its place. Whether you choose to hold onto grudges or forgive with no expectations, only you can decide how to use your time.

Queen Lioness

Enter at your risk into the warm and inviting den of the lioness. Once you cross over that threshold, you are now close to her heart which puts you under her magnifying glass. Everything she holds dear and truly values are within these walls. Come in peace and tread lightly because she watches you closely. When she listens to the words you speak, she is communicating with her inner spirit to discern facts from fiction. In her mind, she dissects your words and measures them with a grain of salt. To trust or not to trust is the question troubling her soul. Don’t be fooled by her eloquent speech or the light in her eyes because they are deceiving and hide the truth of her mood. Her calm demeanor is like a painted veil because beneath it all is a raging beast.

Who can love such a lioness? Her cubs are covered by her maternal instincts to nurture and nourish but are smothered by her controlling personality. She wonders if her cubs will see beyond the constant rules in order to see her playful side. Will they love her if she shaves her mane and exposes the scars and invisible wounds? Her companion, the King, is clothed with affection and loyalty but is easily pushed away by her independence. Can her King penetrate her thick skin to touch her heart? An even bigger question is whether she will let him?

Small fires become ravenous and consumes everything she touches. How can she control it so that those she loves dearly don’t get burned and grow to have scars? How would she manage if her cubs grow with visible scars that are indicative of her smothering and controlling ways? How would she manage if her King roams the lands to find another lioness who would submit to him as she once did? Would she be a failure?

She has a kingdom to maintain so this is not the task of a weak lioness but of an ambitious and strong willed hunter. She often wonders who she will become when her kingdom becomes empty. Who is she without the daily tasks and art of busyness that she’s mastered? Will she be able to relax and be still? Perhaps she can train other lioness in the tribe on how to maintain their future kingdoms. She knew that would mean cleaning up her own kingdom. She was wise enough to know that the blind couldn’t lead the blind. She retreated to the bathing area of her cave to dip into what she called “healing water” which was warm and relaxing. In this place, she would connect with her higher self to see her reflection clearly.

On her journey into the deep levels of her subconscious, the desire to find answers leaves her weak and vulnerable. She knows she must trust the process and remain open to hard truths. How did she become this way? Was it her upbringing or true nature? Could she really change? Would she want to? She doesn’t recognize the young lioness she once was. The lioness that followed and willingly submitted to her young King’s demands and fleshy desires. The lioness who believed in ruling her kingdom with kindness, unconditional love and humility. The lioness who showed up for members of her tribe without questioning loyalty or motives. She breathes deeply and the hunger to see her reflection clearly forces her to answer her own questions.

She observed her mother rule her kingdom and that level of control was imprinted in her memory. When the time came to create her own kingdom, her stored memories awoke and allowed her to function in an almost identical state. Overtime the demeanor and thought pattern required to maintain her kingdom became a part of her DNA. She knows no other way to cope with the demands of being Queen Lioness. There was no other Lioness that stayed around to imprint on her to provide an alternate perspective.

When her inner peace is interrupted, her world becomes chaotic and explosive. As Queen Lioness, she demands respect and has no tolerance for dis-loyal and troublesome members of her tribe. She punishes herself in private after she withdraws her claws and sees the blood drawn. How can she repair the damage of the harsh words spoken or physical assault once the rage leaves her body? Will they forgive her? Can she forgive herself?

In her mind, her position is sound and reasonable but has she considered the feelings of others? Will she be willingly to admit her shortcomings or will pride prevent her from restoring dying relationships? She recalls watching her mother handle similar issues with troublesome members of her own tribe using an iron fist which led to isolation and rejection. The pain her mother carried for years to come was not something the Queen Lioness wanted for her life. She wanted to settle tribe issues fairly without compromising her boundaries but was unwilling to allow herself to be mistreated in any way. She decided that she wouldn’t rule like her mother with an iron fist but love from a distance with a wall around her heart for protection. This was a temporary solution until she gained enough wisdom to do better.

If only the members of her tribe behaved like those of her inner circle who showed consistent love, respect and support. Because she was valued, the Lioness was easy to reciprocate the actions of her trusted inner circle. The Lioness observed that the troublesome tribe members had grown envious of her inner circle. She understood that too much conflict and tension would cause a kingdom to crumble and her purpose in life was to maintain her kingdom at all costs.

Failure was not an option. The Queen would stay on her throne and continue to rule over all that she’s been entrusted with: To love herself first. To love and protect the king until the day she dies. To love and develop her cubs until they are ready to face the world. To love members of her tribe for who they are and not for who she wishes them to be. Her work will never be done as long as there is breath in her body. Long live the Queen!