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.