Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Family Identity Begins At Home, Even in Blended and Step Families

Every child needs a place where they know they belong.  When they aren't included in the recess games or invited to the party, we can provide confidence that they are included and wanted in our homes, in our hearts - this is the privilege of family: Belonging.

Divorce complicates this because there is a division of loyalty among two homes.  The people who were once family (husband and wife) are no longer related to each other, but the child is still connected to both.  This is a difficult concept for children to grasp and it rocks the core of their security.  Many wonder if their own connected-ness can be as easily severed?

At the core of family identity is belonging, and we may not realize that a child moving between two home may not feel a sense of belonging in either place.  Belonging is about having security in relationship to a group of people and gives a sense of worth that translates to all other groups: peers, school, church, community.  It can help them deal with challenges and difficulties and creates an important foundation for their own family one day.

I think often about our home and ways to create a sense of belonging for my children along with my step daughters.  They have lived here for many years and we have been here for just over one.  Balancing the identities of everyone requires some thought, but it's doable.

  1. When I first married Mr. Wonderful, I was excited to embrace my new last name!  I am proud to be Mrs. Robinson and wanted to Monogram the front door, the fireplace, all our napkins, you name it!  But my children have a different last name.  They are sensitive to the fact that our names aren't the same.  If I put a big "R" on my front door wreath, they don't connect with that.  It makes them feel more like an outsider than a part of the unit.  So, I have a monogram in my room, but elsewhere I'm keeping things more generic.
  2. Routines create a sense of predictable, consistent peace for a child who needs to know what is expected.  Bedtime stories, family meals and even cleanup provide stability.  Chaos in the home can create chaos within a heart, so habits like making the bed, wiping the counter, putting away dishes remind children that they are part of the family, not just sucking its resources.  A phrase I use often is "We are a family and families help each other." 
  3. Consider Tagxedo art on display somewhere in the common areas of your home.  Each family member can contribute words and it they will be artfully displayed together.
  4. Celebrate individuality.  Display artwork proudly, embrace photos of unique moments, create
    holiday traditions.  Notice what makes each person unique and embrace that - make sure he or she knows that the family isn't the same when they are away.  Communicate in a positive way, not reinforcing that you understand the need to be a part of another home, but that there is a place for them here. Always.  "Our home isn't the same when you're not here," isn't a negative message, but reinforces that their presence is a welcome part of your space.
  5. I've always been a big fan of tradition and it is possible to merge two unique families into new, but familiar, tradition.  It's fun to learn how to do life together.
  6. Create opportunities for each person to talk, listen and be heard.  Mealtimes, bedtimes, and transition times between activities or school often provide space for this.  Emphasize the importance of courtesy, not interrupting and hearing others, too.  We don't have this skill down among my elementary children, yet, so I use phrases like, "I'm listening to --- right now, but I want to hear what you have to say in just a minute."  Or, "It's ----'s turn to talk, you're next."  
  7. Provide a sense of history.  My children beam when I talk about their baby days or relate a story from their grandparents.  Baby books, portraits, older toys and valuable heirlooms are important - perhaps more so in the families of divorce because so much of that feels lost as the original family disintegrates.  I can be intentional about rebuilding that sense of history and we get to write a whole new story from which these souls will launch.

The message that your child is valuable, respected and loved begins at home but resonates into the world.  By teaching them a positive sense of self and belonging we can encourage them to be confident wherever they are.  They can gain a sense of self, learn to voice their thoughts, make personal choices a shape their own futures as part of our legacy.

I'd love to hear your ideas about providing identity for your children,  as a family unit and an individual.  Do you think about this?  Are there any step moms who work to include non-bio-children?  That's what I'm writing about next.

Monday, September 8, 2014

My Son Thinks I'm Gorgeous!

I think that every woman has moments of feeling less than gorgeous compared to magazine spreads, fitness gurus, commercial beauties and even the lady down the row at church.  We innately want to feel beautiful, but sometimes we just don't.

Yet when I hear my son talk about me, it's enlightening to hear his mindset regarding his mama.  He thinks I'm beautiful.  He thinks I'm such a great cook that I should open a restaurant.  He thinks I strong and super-smart.  He hasn't yet realized that I'm making things up as I go through this life!  His confidence in me is strong and real and he inspires me to be my best self.

It's interesting that my inner voice can be so loud, unaccepting and critical.  Yet this boy who depends on me so much finds me completely adequate, fully capable and even gorgeous.  At ten years old, I think he's become more aware of women and I'm the first and most prominent example he will ever have.  May I wear the representation well - it's a gift to see myself through his eyes.

Has your view of self ever been altered by the perspective of another?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Is Divorce Wrong?

My easy answer would be, yes, divorce is wrong.  It isn't the "ideal" plan for my life or anyone else's.  The real answer is more complicated.  There is little in our life that resembles God's original, ideal plan set forth in the Garden of Eden.  We live in a fallen world and the consequences of our brokenness are experienced in differing ways every day.  One of those consequences are broken families.  My marriage was broken long before the divorce.

The loudest voice of condemnation that I experienced was from myself. Because after repeated betrayals, I was the one who finally said, “Enough.” I asked him to leave. I filed for divorce.

I remember praying through that gut-wrenching decision.  I do not believe was sin, I came to the sense that God was actually preparing me for a different life – delivering me from the bondage of my marriage. I remember having to come to grips with the fact that if I was, in fact, making a horrible decision and sinning against the Lord, He would forgive me. My life would not be wasted, written off or over. Even if I was wrong, He would walk through the consequences with me.   

He will. He does. I am able to know now that I was not in sin, but I can never feel good about a choice that ends what we believed would last forever and which comes as the result of living in a fallen world.

The beautiful thing is that even in our fallen state, riddled with consequences of sin, God walks with us and draws meaning and beauty from that experience. It is His beautiful way of making good from that which the enemy meant for evil. Only our Lord could do this…It is His way, the calling card or hallmark of life lived with Him.

And whether the decision of divorce is yours or not, God will walk with you through the pain.  Hand the hurt to the Lord, feel it and learn from it as you build a healthier life.  Be open to whatever possibilities become of the loss and trust that you are never alone.

I felt like the article below articulated it so well.  What do you think?

Misconceptions the Christians Have About Divorce

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Mom Matters: Finding (And Keeping) a Great Babysitter

I have a great deal of experience with managing childcare.  I've gone the route of full time day care (didn't last long), paid preschools, enlisting family to help, Parent Day Out part time care, and the nanny/babysitter route along with hybrids of both.  For my current elementary aged kiddos, I only need childcare during the summer time.  Since we moved last year, I had to locate and hire a new summer babysitter for my crew.  I'm happy to say, we found a new sitter and a new family friend.

It can feel daunting, but you can set yourself up for the best results by sticking to the following steps:

1. Find referrals to locate a fabulous girl and be clear about what you need.

As you prepare to need a sitter or nanny, use your current contacts to ask about those who may be interested.  I have found the most reliable sitters through our church, but have also hired off Craigslist and the daughter of an acquaintance.  It makes all the difference in the world to have someone you trust give you the name of someone they trust, but still - do a background check.  I was able to get them for around $49 online.

Think about what you will need so that you can articulate to a potential sitter what you will expect.  For instance, can she provide transportation to classes or activities for all your children?  Is she willing to do work on learning skills?  Is she willing to prepare meals and help with cleanup?  How will she handle sick days?  Does she have any time scheduled to be away?

2. Establish a pay scale in your budget, then negotiate.

Do some research and find out what is reasonable pay for your area, determine if you can truly afford it.  Establish what you are willing to pay and then ask a candidate if she is willing to provide the needed duties for that compensation.

For example, my budget allows me to pay $75 per day (seven hour day).  My sitter needs to be able to transport three children to occasional activities, church functions or boredom-busting events like $1 movie morning.  The costs or fees are covered by us in addition to sitter compensation.

3. Set expectations and deliver what you promise

If promptness is important, make that clear, and be prompt about your return time.  If you come home a half hour early, compensation should not be adjusted.  In fact, if you suddenly don't need her for a day, she should not be penalized.  However, scheduled time "off" need not be compensated unless this is a full time position including paid vacations.

The way this works in real life may look like this: Sitter lets me know weeks in advance that she will be unavailable on dates x, y, z so she can attend a wedding.  I let her know at the beginning of the summer that we will be away for vacation for the week of ----.  These situations are planned ahead and noncompensatory.  However, if I find out that next week the children will be spending the night with Aunt Mindy and we don't need childcare, I let my sitter know, but do not dock her pay.  Another example may be that on Tuesday night I realize that I'll be staying home with a sick baby on Wednesday.  I'll call the sitter and she'll get the day off, but I will pay her for the time she was scheduled to come.

Communicating about these issues makes things so much easier for me and the my sitters have always appreciated it.  Loyalty is important when establishing a relationship with a sitter, so I have found that over-explaining is better than leaving questions out there.

On a final note, let her know clearly when you will pay her.  Will it be daily? weekly? monthly?  I need to track childcare costs for tax and support purposes and so I let her know up front that the income will be reported.

4. Endorse the sitters authority

My children know that when I'm gone, she is in charge.  She is aware of our family rules and schedule and I expect her to enforce them.  She children cannot try to side me against her, I will take her side and her word.

5. Begin and end each session with a realistic chat.  

In order to keep communication flowing, be sure to welcome the sitter with a plan and instructions for the day/time period.  For me, this included general schedule, menu, etc.  Upon returning, I go out of my way to ask if there were any troubles or discipline issues, then ask a few more probing questions: What can I do to make the time work best with the children and a sitter?  Especially in those first few weeks, I like to ask if there have been power struggles or sibling incidences. Are the children treating her respectfully?  Do they need more outdoor activities?  Are they cooperating with the menus and chores?  What does the sitter need from me?  Let her know you on her team for a good relationship with your children.

Ask about her life beyond your children.  Encourage her where you are pleased and be clear about areas you need her to step up.  It doesn't happen instantly, but the best sitters eventually become like extended family members. They add to the family support dynamic and provide you with the freedom to pursue things beyond your little ones.

If you find a sitter who loves your children, is reliable and communicate well - keep her around! Think of little ways to encourage her and communicate your respect:

  • Have the children do something fun for her birthday.
  • Provide a holiday bonus or gift card.
  • Keep her favorite snacks handy.
  • Provide great references, when she needs it.
  • Let her know your schedule well in advance.
  • Include her in family celebrations, if she lives far from home.

Do you employ a regular babysitter?  What do you do for occasional childcare needs?  Do you remember any fabulous sitters from your own childhood?

Friday, August 15, 2014

If Your Summer Hasn't Been Picture Perfect

School began for our family this week and I thought I wasn't quite ready for the transition back to schedules and homework, extra activities and calendar crunching.  I thought I wasn't ready, but it turns out, I was!  I enjoyed our summer and I'm listing the highlights for my own sake:
  • Our first blended family vacation
  • A week-long, cross-country trip to grandma's house including "Cousin Camp"
  • Several serious hikes and our usual trip to the mountains - this continuous to be a highlight for us
  • In introduction to the theatre by watching a children's performance of Disney's Alladin
  • Boy Scout and Kids Church Camp
  • Learning to bike ride without training wheels
  • First jobs and candy striper volunteering
  • Our anniversary!
  • College Girlfriend Reunion - our annual time together is a treasure
  • The boys quit sharing a bed and each have their own
These are all wonderful, treasured memories.  It's been a sweet season for me and I was sorry to see it end.  Still, the return to routine reminded me that not every memory was a favorite:

Tired, whiny and hot.
  • There was that evening at the restaurant on our vacation where my children acted so poorly, ate so rudely and I was thoroughly embarrassed in front of my in-laws.  I seriously wondered if my husband would decide we were just too much chaos and be done!
  • All three children were together so constantly every single day this summer that the squabbling and competition have been at record levels for the past month.  This drives mom to insane levels of irritation!
  • The brain work and educational material I planned remained on the shelf all summer long.  We did lots of reading, but never turned in our time to the library for the reading club prizes.  Mommy failure.
  • All that hiking and I've twisted my second (good) ankle.  And I am nursing plantar fasciitis.  And I can't wear heels right now which makes me feel frumpy.  Way frumpy.
  • Our summer babysitter was fabulous, but our savings is depleted from the new line-item in the budget. I'm so glad all three of mine are back in school with no tuition or childcare costs.  How bad is it that I don't want to pay others to care for my kiddos?
  • High schoolers have summer homework - hard stuff like writing essays and math!
  • That new bike rider, wiped out hard on a couple of occasions.
This was taken at that very same dinner where I thought, "Surely, only blood-family could deal with our mess."
There are even more highs and lows than I have mentioned.  We were eager and ready when students began lining up for classes this Monday.  There were no tears at drop-off this year and each child happily greeted friends.  I waved at fellow moms as we sent our children into classrooms to do their thing independently.  I'm proud of them.  I'm happy for them.  I love them and know them more than ever.  It was a good summer, but I'm thankful for the routine and diversity of our school year.  

Do you have ones going back to school?  Do you see the treasures and the disasters of your own summer break?  How are you feeling about the changing seasons of parenting and of life?

Ooops, mommy tried to save money
and make the hand-me-downs work!

Monday, August 11, 2014

My Easy Life

Every so often, I get the urge to complain about the fact that dishes need to be done and there is another load of laundry to fold.  I feel a little put out that our grass is too high and there is no one else to go the grocery store.  Sometimes I get annoyed that my children want me to fill out school papers, read another book or play another game.

Then I hear about the Christians who are being persecuted for their faith in a hostile land.  I remember that every day there are those who face dire difficulties and count their belief in Christ more valuable than the ease of life.  These are heroes.  These are the ones who have counted the cost and chosen the jewels of eternity above the trinkets of this world.

I feel helpless to offer encouragement or aid to brothers and sisters in Christ, but they have my prayers.  I pray they have courage and strength.  I pray I could hold the same banner of faith that they do if I was faced with the charge to convert or die.  Convert, or my child will die.  I believe I would chose Christ.  I even have tiny desire to have the privilege of taking such a bold stand in His name, to have the honor and fellowship of His suffering.

Most of all, I feel small for my petty complaints.  I am reminded that while there are annoyances that I must deal with day to day, most of my issues are not eternal in nature.  I am praying for my fellow Christ followers and I'm asking the Lord if there is any more He would ask me to do.  What are you doing?

There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. - Hebrews 11 36-38

Monday, July 21, 2014

The First Year

Tonight I will celebrate one year of marriage with Mr. Wonderful.
It feels like our lives have been intertwined for so much longer,
and I cannot overstate the benefits of marrying my very best friend.
He is the one I want to turn to when life gets interesting...in a good or a bad way.  He reminds me of God's goodness and faithfulness and creates a deep security in me.  He loves me well and provides the support and freedom to be my best self.  He is more than I dared to hope for in a lifelong companion.

We are young, as far as relationships go.  Yet one of the best part of dating in mid-life is that you really know yourself.  You know what you like, what you do and don't care about and you know what you need.  I think we both did the work to learn what was right and what went wrong in our first marriages to make the best choice this time.  And so, while our relationship is young, we benefit from years of maturity as individuals that make our relationship so rich.

This has been a year of learning to cook enough at mealtimes to feed seven people.  We have tried to balance speaking up to help each other and stepping back to allow freedom for trial and error.  We have both had vehicle blunders, and our schedules have been stretched to the max.  As a big blended family we have visited the pumpkin patch, hung our stockings together, hiked and gone to the beach.  We have celebrated birthdays and first dates.  Our washing machine has held on through hundreds of cycles.

Sometimes we divide and spend time in our original nuclear forms. We honor the people and paths that brought us to where we are today.  Not one person in our home would have, or could have, imagined what this family would like like five years ago.  I'm so thankful that God had this in store and that we each trusted Him in our own journey to this day.

We can only credit Him with crazy-romantic-unpredictable-wonderful story that is our family!  If you can't imagine a life better than where you are today, I would encourage you that is okay.  What God plans is so much more - He is with you!

"Not For a Moment"

You were reaching through the storm 
Walking on the water 
Even when I could not see 
In the middle of it all 
When I thought You were a thousand miles away 
Not for a moment did You forsake me 
Not for a moment did You forsake me 

After all You are constant 
After all You are only good 
After all You are sovereign 
Not for a moment will You forsake me 
Not for a moment will You forsake me 

You were singing in the dark 
Whispering Your promise 
Even when I could not hear 
I was held in Your arms 
Carried for a thousand miles to show 
Not for a moment did You forsake me 

And every step every breath you are there 
Every tear every cry every prayer 
In my hurt at my worst 
When my world falls down 
Not for a moment will You forsake me 
Even in the dark 
Even when it's hard 
You will never leave me 
After all 

Not for a moment will You forsake me.