Thankful Thursday

I’ve got a lot of thoughts brewing for prospective posts that need a bit of refinement, so I’ll take an opportunity to walk down the sunny side of the street and count a couple of blessings.  (Maybe this will become a regular thing, who knows?)

Blessing Number 1:  After many years of a self-imposed laryngitis of the soul, I’m finally getting my voice back.

Writing here and guest blogging on LWOB has been an incredibly freeing exercise. I’ve realized that when I process everything internally it ultimately skews my perception in such a way that I misread the signs of life and end up taking a wrong turn into Crazy Town. Getting things out of my head and onto paper puts some distance between me and the inner-ramblings of my mind, so I can course correct.

As one of those people who needs to time to get their thoughts together,  I have great admiration for people who can say what’s on their mind, at the proper time, and are able to do so with tact and grace. I want that presence of mind, so exploring my wants, needs, thoughts, and feelings here is helping me better articulate them in my daily life. (So, yay me!)

I am also truly touched by the responses I’ve received here and at LWOB.  Thank you for your supportive and encouraging words.  Many of you have helped me when I needed it most, so it is even more humbling to hear that something I have written has spoken to your experience or helped you in some way.  It leaves me thanking God for the courage and inspiration to share.  It’s a comfort not to feel so alone, which leads me to the next blessing.

Blessing Number 2: I’ve found wonderful communities of support both online and offline .

My upbringing was Christian, so I am trained to believe there are reasons for where we are in our lives (although I have been struggling with the validity of that belief lately). 

The one time I can undoubtedly say I was in the right place at the right time was after I lost my first husband.  When he died, I was 36 years-old. I worked at an organization where four other widowed women were among my co-workers.  Of the four, three of them had lost their husbands in their 30’s.

This was an incredible gift for me.  It was a very powerful reminder that I was not the only person to have this experience. Without their presence, I could have very easily curled up into a ball of self-pity and isolated myself from the world, thinking that nobody could possibly understand what I was going through.  Instead, the mere fact of these women –who were living, breathing proof that I wasn’t unique –left me without any excuses to needlessly hold on to the “why me’s?”  They also served as examples that this storm could be weathered.  It helped me realize that I would, eventually, move on.

Since then life has brought a more struggles, all of which have been very isolating in their own way:  stepmotherhood, pregnancy loss, and childlessness not by choice are all clubs that no one dreams of joining.  They also are not issues anyone outside the ranks of their membership wants to discuss.  Who wants to hear a women talk about the ambiguity she feels towards her husband’s children, the agony of never even getting to hold a baby she desperately wanted, or the suffering that comes with a dream unfulfilled?  It’s all very depressing stuff.

Honestly, I find that people who have never been through any of these situations are much more receptive to hearing about my first husband’s death. For whatever reason, it is easier for them to relate to that struggle over the others.  Since I am remarried, I think that maybe they feel that it is a success story.  Of course, they fail to see that the “happily-ever-after” has been bumpy and any discussion of our challenges are usually met with avoidence (miscarriage is a depressing subject), platitudes (being a stepmother is simple, just be nice and the kids will like you), or problem solving (have you considered adoption, IVF, etc?).  Is it any wonder that I’m having a hard time finding peace?

I think it goes without saying that it is difficult for women in these situations to find a place in their immediate circles where they can voice their pain and feel understood.  We live in foreign lands that are hard to comprehend unless you have been there.

I feel extremely lucky that there are communities out there that allow women discuss their struggles openly without fear of judgment or misunderstanding. There are bloggers, writers, and groups in all the arenas in which I struggle (and arena is the perfect word, because there are days when I feel like a gladiator when facing down my grief).  These resources have been a tremendous help.  I’ve shared links to many on this site. 

While we all have different paths, we share the same fundamental pain that brings us together.  And, while I may not be in the same place as the others, I choose to learn from everyone. I may not hear the lessons the first time (or the second or third time), but at some point they speak to me.  Each one gets me closer to a place of healing and reminds me I am not alone.  And for that, I am extremely grateful.

If you wish to share any resources not listed here that help you, please feel free to leave them in the comments section of the post.  

Wishing you love & peace!

Thick Skin, Soft Heart

As I’ve been chronicling my struggles in trying to become a mom and the small window that is closing on me, some of you might wonder about why this struggle is as painful as it is.  After all, I am a stepmom, so I do have child in my stepchild.  This is true, and I do love my Skid, but those of you who aren’t in a blended family situation may find it hard to comprehend how it is not exactly the same as having a child of your own.

Oh my Skid… my wonderful, funny, sharp as a tack Skid.  I have never met a person who can so completely capture my heart and break it at the same time. Well, not since the 8th grade when I had a crush on a boy with deep-brown eyes who never gave me the time of day, but he liked my friend.  Putting puppy love aspect of the metaphor aside, it is actually very similar scenario.  Living life with Skid is painfully like being that insecure 14 year-old girl in that invisible love triangle.

The life of a step parent, especially that of stepmom, means reconciling to the fact that you’ve come into a pre-established relationship, and even if your are entrenched in both your husband’s and your stepchild’s life, you are still a bit of an foreigner.  It’s a role that psychologist Patricia Papernow coined as “the intimate outsider.” You are privy to the ins and outs of your family, but you are without the ties and history that bond child and parent. You can perform the duties of a parent – pack the lunches, do the laundry, complete registrations for basketball camp, and anything else that’s required – but you do not (and cannot) occupy that space that rightly belongs to Mom and Dad in your stepchild’s mind and heart.  Your role lies outside that sacred space, and most stepchildren do not appreciate it if you try to cross over into it.  Life is a daily dance:  The “Don’t get too close; don’t step too far back” cha-cha.

I count myself lucky that I’ve never heard the dreaded, “you’re not my mom!”  I feel I can safely assume Skid doesn’t hate me; yet at the same time, I’m acutely aware of daily behaviors that clearly delineate where I rank on the totem pole.  They are often imperceptible to Hubs, but speak volumes to me:

  • The family is watching a movie. Hubs can’t stay awake, so he gets up to go to bed. Skid takes off as well leaving me by myself
  • Skid offers Hubs a sip of soda, taste of ice cream, or piece of a candy bar, but never offers the same to me.
  • When Hubs cooks dinner, Skid hovers around the kitchen when food is being plated; when I cook dinner, Skid sits at the table with Hubs while I’m doing the plating.
  • When driving Skid to basketball, school, or sports camp, Skid pulls the most amazing contortionist’s act in order to be turned away from me and toward the passenger’s side window. 
  • Any suggestion or offer of help I have to give is met with a “No,” with the possible exception of an offer to go to McDonald’s.

Now, these behaviors are small and seemingly innocuous.  But no matter how big or small the act, it underscores that they mean a lot more to you than you mean to them -and that can really mess with your self-concept.  You know you’re nice, you know you’re lovable, but any amount of rejection on a daily basis will wear a gal down.

When you become a stepmother, there is one directive you will hear again and again:  Don’t take it personally.  It was a phrase I learned to hate in the first years of being a stepmom.  Being naturally thin-skinned, taking it personally was EXACTLY what I did, especially after my pregnancy losses.  I’d be lying on the couch for days emptying boxes of tissues and nursing my broken heart, and Skid would sail right by and not even acknowledge my presence.  I was in total despair. Not only was my body betraying me, but my step child acted like I did not exist.  I sadly admit that I let it harden my heart for a while.

One day, I was lucky enough to stumble across a blog post written by a women who was both a stepmom AND a stepchild.  Her perspective helped me finally “get it.”   While I haven’t exactly gotten it all figured out, I have adopted the mantra of “Tough skin, Soft heart” to keep myself centered during those times when I’ve seemed to slip into invisible mode in my family.