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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

It's Quiet Here, But We're Just Summering...

Summer is just always a sweet time for me.  Sunshine and blue skies are my favorite, but the more restful and relaxed pace of life is what really fills my heart.  We do best with a bit of routine, so there are still bedtimes and chores, but the pace of life in general is much more slow.  There aren't looming homework requirements and my commuting time to taxi children back and forth is greatly reduced.  The slow life is definitely for me!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Summer Screen Strategies

Every year summer bring more time for screens to dominate our home.  The children get older and more tech savvy and my mama-heart gets more protective!  We had a good plan last summer and I liked the framework established for screen time and games.  The plan adjusts for our school days and needs a bit more adjustment this summer as we now have more devices and one child even has his own phone.

For our definition, devices are different than the tv.  The television has more lax restrictions and is permitted early in the day as they wake up and go about their basic morning tasks.  Devices, which are tablets, phones, Nintendo DS, ipods, etc., are not permitted until later in the day after reading, chores and outdoor time.

We don't do screens in the car, unless the trip is longer than an hour.

So our general plan goes like this:

Summer mornings usually begin with the tv on a cartoon.  It's not ideal, but it works.  They watch cartoons, I watch news.

By mid-morning, screen time is OVER and daily activities begin.  I'm out of the house and our sitter (ie: big step sister) takes on the managerial duties.  This may be a trip to the park or library.  It may be a walk around the neighborhood or just time watering the garden.  Chores must be done, crafts or reading are accomplished.  All this happens without the background glow of screens.  After lunch and cleanup, the kids sometimes have activities, but if not, they are welcome to watch Netflix or a movie.  By mid-afternoon, they are free to play games on their devices, etc.  This is usually full-on device mania!  I arrive home during this time and it helps the transition from working out of home to my "second shift" of home duties.

It's always a challenge to pry them away at dinnertime, but we do have a screen-free table.  Following supper, we often watch a movie together.  All phones and devices must be turned off and charging at 9 pm.  The charging stations are outside of the bedrooms.

Throughout the day internet access must be used in the common rooms of our home.

Within this general framework, we manage to spend many more minutes away from devices than on them.  I'm comfortable with that.

Do you have a summer screen strategy?  How does it change with the rhythms and seasons of your family life?
Note: these guidelines apply for the persons under the age of sixteen in our home.  

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Father's Day in a Blended Family

Like just about everything else, there isn't a "normal" in a blended family.  We have to create our own kind of normal.  Father's Day means that part of our crew will be out of the home, spending time with their bio-dad.  I do my best to honor their dad and teach them to give value to the special times we set aside to remember those we love.   

Mr. Wonderful is an amazing father and we will spend the day together with his daughters, doing something he loves.  We will treat him a special lunch and make sure he knows how much we love him.  I want my children, his step-children, to honor that bond, also.  He is amazing at engaging them, disciplining and guiding them.  I love the example he is of manhood!  We face and uphill battle of competition from my ex-husband regarding the role of stepdad, so I use every opportunity to remind the children that he is the dad of this home.


I'm so very grateful for the role of my own Daddy.  He remains my most ardent supporter and champion.  I never knew how much I would value Mr. Wonderful as stepdad.  He is a source of so much wisdom and stability.  I am so thrilled for the lifetime influence he has on my children.  I enjoyed this article by Laura Petherbridge:  Stepdads and Father's Day.  There may not be a "normal" for blended families, but I'm so grateful for all the ones out there sharing their story.

Father's Day can be full of emotions and feeling.  Each of us has at least some kind of  Daddy Wound, but each of us can also find something to value about the father-roles in our life.  I hope you spend your day with ones you love!

To my own Mr. Wonderful, you remain and always will be, the hero of our family!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Kids In Blended Families: Honor the Old, Nurture the New

When I consider the unique needs of children raised in blended families, one thing that stands out are the variety of relationships that unfold in unique ways.  Within our one family unit, we have three different parenting schedules at play.  Change is the standard way of life, so it magnifies each child's desire for consistency.  Honoring the original bonds is a key way to provide steady, consistent security for children from tots to teens, and even through adulthood.

Sometimes, I crave unstructured time with the three little souls that began their lives with me.  We know each other better than anyone and we share a wealth of history.  We each value the time we share with just us, honoring the ties that began before our family blended.  My husband and step daughters thank me over and over when I encourage them to go out on a "date" with just the three of them.

In the same way, continue the traditions and rituals that you began before your families blended.  Some of these may be adopted by everyone, others may remain your own private personal privilege.  Nighttime prayers, Sunday morning coffee, favorite restaurants, custom artwork drawn in toddlerhood and proudly displayed can all be incorporated into the blended home to honor and value to the original bonds.

However, a sure signal that things are progressing well in your blended family is watching some of those original traditions be shared with new siblings and parents.  When your daughter wants to watch her favorite movie with her step sister, she is seeking a joint connection.  When your son wants to go alone with his stepdad to a much-anticipated movie premier, he is blazing his own trail of firsts with someone now close to him.

Initiate new traditions that bridge the two families.  Some things that work for us are birthday dinners, regular hikes to the mountains and a yearly vacation together.  Even with all the schedule conflicts and possible stress of our large group, we make the effort to spend time together.  We always gain a sweet return on the investment of time.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Mother's Rule the World!

I really do believe Mother's rule the world, in the sense that for a child, Mother really does control most of his or her world.  I'm so grateful that my own mother was available and raised me unselfishly.

This time of year is one that brings perennial strong feelings.  My first child was born the day before

Mother's Day.  So early May brings memories of anticipating a child, newborn fog, and learning a love I had never experienced before.  I am overcome with the power of mother-love, and learned to recognize that my own mother had that same strong emotion over me!  It's powerful.  For years I longed to be a mother and the living of it is greater than anything expected.

If you mother is still a part of your life, be sure to recognize her.  If you are a mother, create your own celebration with a walk down memory lane.  Bring out the photos and share the memories with your children.  Look for the women in your community who have mother-hearts, but might not be celebrated this year.  Maybe there is a single mom with children to little to celebrate her?  Could you give her the gift of a gift certificate for dining out?  Maybe there is a mother whose children have moved far away.  Could you invite her to join your family for lunch?  It doesn't take much for us to feel appreciated and recognized.

Of all the names I'm called, Mommy is my favorite.  Here are some other thoughts about Mother's Day:

The Day I Became a Mother

My First Mother's Day

Happy  Mother's Day

Rules of Motherhood (That I learned from my own Mama)

Celebrate You!

Stepping Through Mother's Day As a Stepmom

Mother's Day Steps

My Greatest Accomplishment

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Snippets of Life Lately

Our spring has been as colorful as our fall season this year.  It was been the backdrop for a calm and peaceful season of routines and simplicity for us.  "Simple" isn't a word that I often use to describe blended family life, but it has been a predictable stretch for us, which is nice.  We have just begun to count the days until summer.  It has a more relaxed vibe, but there is also a great deal of unpredictability and variety of schedule with vacation travel, lack of routine and other changes to come.  Always, the undercurrent of a school year ending prompts me to note the passage of time and the importance of making the most of the time I'm given to instill values and truth in the hearts of our home.

We have a small home remodeling project planned for summertime that will make our space more comfortable.  We have several family trips on the schedule for summer and plenty of fun activities!  We're already enjoying longer days.  My winter Christmas and birthday gifts (a grill and garden swing) are used almost everyday.  The garden is starting to bloom and we are loving more time outside. 

It's been a good spring.  It's a sweet season in the life of our family.  Thank you for reading along and joining our journey!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Kids Need To Know: This marriage will last, but so will our bond.

A coworker and I had a long conversation about blended and nontraditional families this week and it really got me thinking about the unique needs of children in modern day family units.  In my personal situation, this means two separate households, and periodic moves between the two homes and two sets of caregivers.

Many children experience their first big life change when their original parents divorce or separate.  The people who matter most in their lives will nevermore have the same residence.  It is a split to the core of their identity, with varying consequences depending on age and ongoing relationships.  The next great life change happens when a new coupling and marriage occur.  The web of connections are complicated and challenging to navigate as an adult.  They are confusing and intimidating for children and will threaten stability and security.

Because so much feels like it is swirling, children need to know that this marriage is going to last.  For several months before and after our wedding, a little voice would ask, "What if Keith leaves?  What if he doesn't keep his promise?" Other variations came out, but ultimately each of my children had experienced loss through divorce and feared it could happen again.

Over and over I tell them we will keep our promise.  We will choose to remain together.  We will be part of their lives until we die.  We are a team - all of us in the family - and we will always stick together.  When Mr. Wonderful chose to be with me, he chose to be with you, too.  He loves you.

We back this up with affection and activities to promote memories and bonds.  Time helps strengthen their belief, but ultimately only living out the promise will prove it to them.

On very few occasions, I have been pressed far into the, "What if..."  Then I tenderly hold the hurting child and reassure him/her that God has always taken care of us and He will continue to do the same.  We made it on our own before and can do that, but we won't have to.  God already knows our future we can trust Him.  This seems to end the verbal wondering, and I hope provides security by anchoring life to something greater than us.

So while this marriage is real and lasting and secure, sometimes children suddenly feel less secure of their own place in the family.  Divorce, remarriage, even long term coupling/uncoupling magnifies these feelings which leads to insecurity.  I have felt it, so I know it passes through each mind in our home.

If there are two sets of children blending together, firstborns may not remain the oldest child in the home.  The youngest may lose their role as the "baby" of the family.  There is a shuffling of roles and it is vital to honor the original families and cultivate the bonds that have already been in place.  Reinforcing the existing bonds offers security and continuity to the sometimes chaotic changes taking place in blended homes. Here are some ways we do this:
  • Schedule nights with just mom or just dad.  Take advantage of errands or activities with just you and your child.  Sometimes we drive through Starbucks after gymnastics.  Create your, "thing" with each individual child.  With my middle schooler, our "thing" is to get a Chick Fil A biscuit every now and then.  It's something I only do with him.  Encourage your spouse to take time for a date with just he and his children.  They will all be so grateful!
  • Honor their history by looking at their baby book or newborn pictures on their birthday.  Tell the story of their arrival.  Remind them you were there in the beginning and will always be there.  Say, "My love for you will never end."  
  • Do something big every now and then.  Take a roadtrip, camp overnight or schedule a photo session.  Cultivate a team attitude that we are in this together and for each other.
  • Weave small reminders into everyday life.  Cook favorite meals together.  Read books aloud. Focus on the relationship with your child by asking questions and enter his or her world.  Play that favorite video game.  Download a new song or completely unplug.  
  • Continue the legacy that was given to you by passing down family favorites.  Our family gardens and worships together.  Remind your child when they have a trait like grandmother or grandad.
Complexity is mired into the fabric of blended or second families.  The natural slant for some children will be toward insecurity.  Children, teens and even adult children need to know that the current arrangement is permanent.  They need to know their bonds will last.  When you enter into a new family status, you have the opportunity to provide deeper security and permanence.

Please share any tips you have experience to foster blended family unity and security.  Also, I would love hearing from adults who experienced childhood in a blended did you feel?  What helped?  annoyed?  hurt?  How do you perceive the experience today?